It is with heavy heart that I dedicate this week’s Foundation Ska blog post to Graeme Goodall who died this past Wednesday, December 3rd. Graeme was a good friend who had generously provided me with numerous interviews over the years and was always ready to answer any question I had. He had a terrific sense of humor and deeply loved his wife Fay, recalling their days together at dances when she was pregnant, her little bun in the oven jumping to the bass of Downbeat’s sound system. Graeme was crucial to Jamaican music in so many ways it is almost daunting to write a blog post about him—he deserves so much more. But I shall give it a go and hope you will all chime in with your memories and thoughts in the comments section below.
Graeme Goodall was known affectionately as Goody. He was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1932 and died at the age of 82, although you’d never guess he was that old. His spirit and lucidity could trick you into thinking he was at least two decades younger, and his memory of minute details was sharp as a tack. He was a studio engineer for Ken Khouri’s Federal Records an in July, 2011 he told me in an exclusive interview how that came to be.
“I went from Australia to England in 1932 mainly to study more than anything else. In 1954 I was working for a commercial broadcasting station in Melbourne but I looked around and everybody older than me looked very very healthy, including the chief engineer and I figured, I better do something to leap frog over them. At the time the Australians were very into going overseas because they had been restricted through the Second World War and so I went to England, dead broke. I needed to send enough money for my ticket I suppose so I worked selling appliances that that didn’t last long so I worked my way into a company called IBC-UPC, International Broadcasting Company, Universal Program Corporation, and they did programs for Radio Luxembourg and they also did recordings and were probably the largest independent recording studio in Great Britain and so one way or the other I was trained as an engineer and they got me into doing remote broadcasts, or remote recordings actually, of shows like ‘Shilling A Second,’ ‘People Are Funny,’ ‘Strike It Rich,’ and during the week we had to make recordings of people like Petulla Clark. During that time, one of the girls who worked there in a sort of secretarial position said why don’t you go down there and see R.P. Gabriel who is chief engineer of a company called Rediffiusion, and Rediffusion, of course, had commercial broadcasting stations throughout the British Commonwealth, specifically the British Empire, countries that had not achieved independence. It was sort of funny because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man in king. They had no commercial broadcasting engineers in the U.K., so it was down to the Canadians and the Australians. So I guess I passed with flying colors at the Rediffusion house in London and they said we’ve got two positions going—one in Nigeria, one in Jamaica, and I thought about that for a while and to be honest with you, I’d been so much an engineer that I forgot about geography, so I called an uncle of mine and he said, ‘Come out old chap and have tea with us,’ so I went out to his house and he said, ‘I thought the Goodalls were smart, and they offered you a job in Nigeria and Jamaica? My cousin Tom,’ who was my father, ‘I didn’t think he’d breed an idiot! What are the times?’ and I said, ‘Well, Nigeria is 18 months and Jamaica three years,’ and he said, ‘Well shouldn’t that tell you something?’ I said, ‘Well not really.’ He said, ‘We send British people down to Nigeria,’—he worked for the British government, he said, ‘They’ve had enough after 18 months!’ I said, ‘Oh! Okay, thank you!’ So I went to BOAC and I got a map of the place and it was a tourist brochure that was obviously 30 or 40 years old with voluptuous-looking ladies walking around and I said, ‘Well that sounds good,’ and so I signed up for three years for Radio Jamaica. I was always a studio person, an audio man plain and simple.
We designed and put on the island’s first commercial FM service in the British Commonwealth in 1954 in Jamaica, in a time when you couldn’t buy FM transmitters and we put it in basically as a studio transmitter link, and STL from Kingston, which is where the studios were, into Montego Bay. It was a double hop across the island and it just worked out that it was a wonderful system and people started buying FM radios from the United States that were definitely better quality and at the same time, they had a network of amplifiers made by the parent company. So that’s kind of how it all sort of started.
This went very well for three years and my three-year contract was up and I had three months of fully-paid vacation and the equivalent of paid airfare back to England, so I said, well that’s good, I’ve got three months paid for, so I cashed in my return ticket to England, flew to Miami, went Greyhound across to San Francisco and got a ship from San Francisco back down to Sydney, a train down to Melbourne and used all of my fare allowance on betting back to Australia. That went very well, everything was fine, but after about two weeks I got bored to tears and I talked my way into working in television in Melbourne. I worked there for about four months and Jamaica started calling me, the government started calling me, saying they were putting in a government broadcasting, not just as a competition, but as an adjunct to Radio Jamaica—we need you back here to put it all in and by the way, there’s a ticket on the way if you need it. I was 25 or 26 and all of my friends were settled down and I was the last person they wanted to see around the house. I’m a single bachelor, making good money, wearing American clothes, and they didn’t want me around, so I was short of friends and all of my other friends were back in Jamaica, so I said okay, back I go! I flew Pan Am back to Jamaica and that was my second stint with RJR, and that time it was for JBC Broadcasting, which was exciting because it was a new approach.
Out of the RJR concert studio, which I’d already built, I utilized all sorts of things like outside broadcast equipment to get extra mic input, and the famous story that goes down in history is that I converted the men’s lavatory into an echo chamber, which was quite interesting. So that’s all the original Island Records, the Caribs, Laurel Aitken, Wilfred Edwards, people like that, we recorded them all at Radio Jamaica Studios. I’d go home and relax a bit, maybe go out and dance with the Caribs a bit and we’d all go back into the studios around midnight and record until about four or five o’clock in the morning, go home, get a couple hours sleep, and come back and work at Radio Jamaica all day. How I survived, I don’t know.
I built a studio, a very primitive studio up on King Street in the back of Ken Khouri’s furniture store. The only person who was making records at that time was Stanley Motta and you couldn’t really call it making records, although I guess it was making records because he was cutting the record disc, but Ken Khouri wanted to do something a little bit better, so I advised him. He got a mic recorder, a tape recorder, some microphone and I threw a studio together for him and so he started making records. And that was progressing and people don’t realize that Ken Khouri and his wife, Gloria, they were the principal owners of Federal Records. Actually it started off as Records Limited up on King Street and one of the big shareholders in Records Limited was Alec Durie who owned Times Records. And Time Store is probably the biggest retailer of phonograph records, so this is how it all came about. Ken started pressing records. I know he had the Mercury franchise and he started pressing Mercury Records so when he got more into it and it was obviously a money-making venture, he built this studio that became Federal Records, and it was rather primitive and I don’t know how it all came about, but all of us started talking and I said, the hell with Radio Jamaica. I quit Radio Jamaica, went down there and literally took the studio under my wing and also the cutting system and we could do everything when they walked into Federal Records. They make a noise and they would end up with a finished product. And that was the secret. Ken Khouri literally saw it as I saw it. There’s no point in making a disc and sending it away, because it has to go through several processes and then it would come back, you’d have to order the labels and it was restrictive because if it took off you’d have to wait for product to come back from England and it did not make any sense. So Ken had the foresight and I had the technical knowledge and we managed to pull it all together and everybody came to Federal Records.
I remember when I said to Ken, we got a problem here. We’ve got to get some echo in here somehow. He said, what does that require? I said, well I could design an echo chamber. I could modify the equipment, which I did. I rebuilt a lot of it to make it a lot more professional and I said I’d design an echo chamber and tag it on the back there. He said, that sounds good. All the walls were a different angle from one another. The Jamaicans that we got to build it refused totally to build it. And I remember one of them talking to Ken and they didn’t figure that I could understand. They said, ‘It’s not right, Mr. Khouri, it’s not right. We cyaan build it because all the walls dem different,’ (laughs). I figured it all out, these guys were used to putting up walls vertical, floors and ceilings horizontal, and everything at 90 degree angles from one another. And Ken said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing but trust me, you’ve got to do it his way.’ So we built it that way and I think that was one of the primary things because then when we started adding reverb, it brought it into a completely different area. And that was the start of Federal Records.
I went down to this horrible place in Trench Town in my little Mini Minor and I went up to Coxsone’s dance on a Friday night and I went up to the guy at the door and I said, ‘Where’s Downbeat?’ and they all sort of looked at me and said, ‘Just a minute,’ so he said, ‘Come on in,’ and it was amazing, all these people, there was probably a couple hundred people or more, and they all looked at me, ‘Who is this apparition? Did this guy just fall out of the sky? Is this the fifth coming of Christ?’–this gory-looking white guy in the sound system dance in Trench Town, and this little Chinese girl. And then all of a sudden Coxsone appeared and said, ‘Hey Mr. Goody, yuh make it deh, come, lek me buy yuh a drink.’ So I walked through and when Coxsone came it was like the Red Sea parting and he just walked through and I walked through with him and the crowd parted between us, and then it was the funniest thing because a lot of people that I knew, like Bim Bim and people like that that work for Coxsone, it was different. ‘Let me buy you a drink, Mr. Goody,’ ‘What do you want to drink, Mr. Goody,’—all of a sudden we’re exalted and they’ve got to buy me a drink, and my wife was all upset because this bass boominess was upsetting the baby that she was carrying. The baby started moving because the bottom end was so heavy. I could see the look on her face saying, ‘What’s going on here?!’ And I heard exactly what I had to do to make this record for the people. Because now I could see what they wanted. And I could feel what they wanted. So I went back to Federal the next week and I knew exactly what I had to do, I knew exactly how I had to do it and how exactly I had to weigh it down. And this is the problem that all these other people, including, I have to say it, Eddie Seaga, who I would love to be in there, but he never really understood what he had to get out there to influence the people. So that was it.”
Over the years, Graeme shared with me stories of the artists themselves, the producers, the wives, and tales of life in Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s which I have included throughout my books. I am forever thankful to Graeme for all he has given me—the history, the music, and most of all, the friendship. We all should be profoundly thankful for all he has given to Jamaican music. You will be deeply missed, my friend. Love to you. To see Graeme Goodall interviewed in the flesh, make sure to catch a screening of Brad Klein’s Legends of Ska film which is now showing at locations all over the globe, including next week in Havana, Cuba!