Thanks to Steve Hoffman‘s blues show on WPFW, today I was able to make the connection (as many others have done before me) that the inspiration for Dawn Penn‘s massive 1967 rocksteady hit, “No No No,” came directly from Willie Cobbs‘ hugely influential 1960 blues single, “You Don’t Love Me” — which, itself, was derived from a Bo Diddley tune five years prior, “She’s Fine She’s Mine“:
“You Don’t Love Me” Willie Cobbs 1960
Long before Kingston, Jamaica became known as the “Nashville of the Third World,” some of reggae’s most famous producers and label owners originally gained fame as mobile sound system operators playing obscure (at least, at that time) American jump blues and boogie 45s — albeit with identifying information removed from the labels to prevent other sound systems from knowing the names of the songs or artists behind their most popular records. Relying on non-Jamaican recordings worked well enough in the pre-Internet 1950s. Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, for instance, long enjoyed a reputation as the ranking sound system operator whose signature tune, “Coxsone Hop” (in reality, a 1950 honking sax instrumental called “Later for Gator” by Willis ‘Gatortail’ Jackson) ruled the Kingston dancehalls for an impressive seven years. Until, that is, the fateful night Coxsone’s chief rival, Duke Reid, pulled the rug out from underneath him completely. Prince Buster witnessed it all go down (as recounted in Lloyd Bradley‘s definitive history of Jamaican music, Bass Culture):
“I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand. He drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar. I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom [compatriot] to give me a hand. The psychological impact had knocked him out. Nobody never hit him.
We hold him up against the bar and try to shut out the noise. Not only they play ‘Coxsone Hop,’ but they play seven of Coxsone’s top tunes straight. When that happen, you know that tomorrow morning those tune’ll be selling in every fried-fish shop.”
Fortunately for the rest of the world, what initially seemed like a door slamming shut was actually a window of opportunity for sound system operators instead to obtain their musical “exclusives” by forging their own original sounds – which, in Coxsone’s case, led directly to the creation of Studio One, whose songs continue to rule the dancehalls today.
Coxsone behind the board
How interesting to see Dodd draw on his prior experience as a sound system operator in refashioning “You Don’t Love Me” for a Jamaican audience. Even more interesting to learn that Dawn Penn, who initially dropped out of the music business in 1970, would re-work “No No No” in a more contemporary dancehall style and hit the top of the Jamaican charts in 1994. Most fascinating of all is that fact that two of the world’s top pop singers, Rhianna and Beyonce, breathed new life into this nearly 60-year-old tune when they covered “You Don’t Love Me” in 2005 and 2010, respectively.