Trojan Records - The History Of

Since its creation in 1968, Trojan Records has led the way in presenting the very best in classic Jamaican sounds, from the Rocksteady and early Reggae sounds that dominated in the years of its launch, up to the modern styles of Dancehall and Jungle. The company has always taken pride in the quality of its releases, which has highlighted the cream of Jamaican talent, with the likes of Bob Marley & The Wailers, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Ken Boothe, Toots & The Maytals and The Inner Circle all included on its illustrious roster. The output of the leading producers who have been instrumental in the developing sound of Jamaican music has also received due attention, with the works of such legendary figures as Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and Leslie Kong all featuring prominently on Trojan releases.

The Trojan story begins on July 28th 1967 when the first incarnation of the label was launched by Island Records as a showcase for the productions of Duke Reid. The name itself derived from the seven ton Leyland ‘Trojan’ trucks that were used to transport the producer‘s huge sound system around Jamaica, and which had emblazoned upon its sides, ’Duke Reid, The Trojan King Of Sounds‘. In fact, long before Island launched their version of the imprint, Reid had used the name on a series of 78s, although it was by the early sixties it had been dropped in favour of the Duke Reid’s and later, Treasure Isle labels. Meanwhile, the first British inception of Trojan proved a short-lived operation, folding after a mere dozen or so releases, with Reid‘s productions subsequently highlighted on the UK incarnation of the aforementioned Treasure Isle imprint.

In 1968, the Trojan name was reactivated by businessman Lee Gopthal, whose company, B&C (Beat & Commercial) had recently merged with Island. Unlike its previous manifestation, the new Trojan label showcased material from varying sources, ranging from British-based producers such as Dandy and Joe Mansano to their esteemed Jamaican counterparts, among whose number included Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, Clancy Eccles and the aforementioned Duke Reid. Meanwhile, the increased volume of recordings being purchased and licensed by the company led to the formation of a series of subsidiary labels, most of which showcased the output of a single producer. Included among these were Amalgamated (for Joe Gibbs), High Note (Sonia Pottinger), Upsetter (Lee Perry), Jackpot (Bunny Lee), Clandisc (Clancy Eccles) and Downtown (Robert ’Dandy‘ Thompson). So substantial was the volume of material obtained for release that further labels such as Blue Cat, Big Shot and Duke were also created to fulfil a similar function to the parent label, issuing recordings from an array of producers. Over the next year or so more than thirty different labels under the Trojan umbrella were launched.

Soon after its creation, Trojan also began releasing albums, with the TRL (S) series featuring packages considered more up-market and the TTL line (later superseded by TBL) aimed at the budget-price market, predominantly featuring various artist compilations, the most successful of which were the popular ’Tighten Up‘ volumes.

In 1969, the company enjoyed their first taste of mainstream success, when Tony Tribe’s upbeat version of Neil Diamond‘s ’Red Red Wine‘ briefly entered the lower reaches of the UK singles chart on 16th July, re-appearing the following month to peak at number 46. Rather than proving a one-off success, the record in fact marked the beginning of a deluge of hits for Trojan and its associated labels. In the Autumn, the Upsetters, led by saxophonist, Val Bennett, hit the number five spot with their double-header, ’Return Of Django‘/’Dollar In The Teeth‘, while the Pioneers’ ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ peaked at number 21. These were swiftly followed by top ten singles from Jimmy Cliff (‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’) and the Harry J All Stars (‘Liquidator’).

The hits continued into 1970, with Desmond Dekker, the Melodians, Toots & the Maytals, Bob & Marcia, Nicky Thomas, Horace Faith, Freddie Notes & the Rudies, as well as the aforementioned Jimmy Cliff, all breaking into the charts. In the spring of 1971, ‘Double Barrel’ by Dave (Barker) & Ansel Collins gave the company their first British number one, while further chart entries were provided by Bruce Ruffin, Greyhound and The Pioneers.

Aside from the more commercially successful releases, Trojan also showcased work from an array of artists previously considered virtual unknowns outside the shores of Jamaica. Among these were a number of performers who were later to become major international recording stars, including Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, U Roy and a Kingston-based vocal trio called Bob Marley & the Wailers.

The dramatic rise in the company‘s fortunes since its humble beginnings just a year or so before were nothing short of phenomenal. While its incredible success could certainly be credited in some part to the British West Indian ex-patriot community, it was undoubtedly the buying power of the white and proudly working class youth movement, the skinheads, which had the most profound effect. Unable to identify with either the teen-based style of bubblegum or the psychedelic sounds so favoured by the middle-classes, skinheads found the direct, unpretentious approach of Reggae in keeping with their lifestyle and attitudes and readily adopted the music as their own. But as Reggae became mainstream, Trojan’s releases developed a more sophisticated sound, which although initially proved successful, ultimately led to the disenchantment of the music‘s loyal skinhead following. Nonetheless, the hits continued for the company into 1972, with singles from Greyhound, The Pioneers, Dandy (Livingstone) and Judge Dread. The same year Trojan finally severed all links with Island, which began to concentrate its efforts into promoting UK-based acts.

Over the next few years, Trojan released further UK chart hits, with singles by Dandy, Judge Dread and John Holt all breaching the top thirty, while Ken Boothe’s soulful rendering of Bread‘s ’Everything I Own‘ gave the company its second UK number one. Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, the sound of Reggae was changing. Increasingly apparent was the rise in black consciousness and the growing influence of the Rastafarian faith, while Dub had also begun to make its mark, with the pioneering sound engineer, King Tubby continually furthering the boundaries of the sound with his innovative mixing style.

In 1975, Trojan was sold to Saga Records and despite a number of worthwhile releases, sustained commercial success proved elusive. Despite this, the company continued to present some of the best in Jamaican sounds, showcasing the work of leading vocalists, including Linval Thompson and Sugar Minott, DJs, such as the late Prince Far I, and leading Dub masters, Scientist and Prince Jammy.

Ten years on, the company changed hands yet again and its new owners embarked on an extensive re-issue programme, with the imprint quickly becoming established as world leaders in field of vintage Jamaican sounds. In the summer of 2001, Trojan was acquired by Sanctuary Records Group who immediately set about raising the label’s standards even higher. Today, Trojan‘s future looks brighter than ever and with some of the leading authorities in the field of vintage Jamaican music contributing to future releases, there are undoubtedly some truly exciting times ahead.