I hate the term “home studio.” This oxymoron does the concept a complete disservice. Although it’s meant to contrast with “studio studio” for its relative informality and closer approximation of real life/non-lab conditions, the expression instead employs clinical legalese, like “mixed-use property” — the emphasis should be on the “home,” and “studio” should be deemphasized. Which perhaps explains why some home recordings fail. Not because of imperfect acoustic space or insufficient equipment or poor budgeting/marketing or any of the technical reasons. Rather, they fail because the artist and/or the producer approaches the idea like transplanting a studio into a home, thus sacrificing all the comfort, flexibility, and indescribable “vibe” of being in one’s own temple. Though current portable recording technology better enables artists to bring it all back home, perhaps such gizmos should come with a simple reminder to just be yourself before hitting the red button.
So, consider Jerry Brown the business model for aspirant stay-at-home artists. The founder of and occasional singer for Summer Records, a record label in the loosest sense, is known mostly in the Toronto West Indian community for working with the handful of Jamaican musicians that managed to make it that far north. However, Brown deserves greater recognition with the release of Summer Records Anthology (1974-1988). Recorded entirely in his basement, the songs reflect a distinctly intimate setting. Though major artists (Johnny Osbourne, Willi Williams) and local talent (“house band” Earth, Roots & Water) made the music, Brown established the atmosphere for this magic to happen. In true weekend-warrior fashion, he funded the equipment purchase/maintenance, recording, and record distribution with money from his 9-to-5. More important, as described in the liner notes based on interviews with Brown and of his key cohorts, Brown made Summer Records more than a label; he made it a home away from home for like-minded souls.
The bulk of the tracks date back to the mid- to late ’70s, when Brown had worked out many of the “kinks.” By this point, he had built his setup, taken guidance from the recently transplanted Prince (now King) Jammy, and had settled into his digs. As a result, there are a number of outstanding tracks on Anthology, including Osbourne’s gentle “Right, Right Time” and the rootsy instrumental “Awakening.” The recording dates jump from 1979 to 1988, likely a result of life interfering with his extracurricular hobby. Subsequently, the last two tracks, Willi Williams’s “Run Them a Run” (a closet karaoke re-version of Williams’s major hit “Armagideon Time”) and Ska Doo’s “Call Me Nobody Else,” jut out awkwardly from the rest of the compilation. Representing a different time period, rhythms, and production, these two songs create an awkward coda for an otherwise warm and remarkable run of recordings. A bonus DVD collecting footage from an abandoned film Brown commissioned in the ’70s to document the Canadian reggae scene rounds out the package.
These tracks are not hits in the traditional sense, nor are they highlights of the reggae, dub, or dancehall canons. They do not reveal the secret “Truth and Rights” precursor, nor the Stalag riddim re-up. Rather, these recordings capture a moment in time, a particular culture in motion, and that inexplicable vibe. They capture expatriates yearning for home yet content to be in the company of others in a similar predicament. They capture the warmth and comfort of a true home for recording (not to be confused with a studio), where food, herb, and good conversation were shared in abundance. They capture music of love, plain and simple — a welcome lesson for any age.