By Geoff Stanton
A common sight in the ghettos of Kingston back in the 1970s was Charlie Ace’s colourful Swing-a-Ling mobile recording studio, a moveable feast of sound from which Ace handed vinyl pressings like leavened bread for the crowds. Footage of the man at work is pure vintage. “C’mon mon, I’ve got a lot of people to serve today!” he hectors one dawdling customer who pisses him off. Working from a converted Morris van, most of the material Charlie sold was his own.
Born Vernel Dixon, Charlie Ace in fact remains one of music’s largely forgotten deejay originals. Initially making a name for himself after working with Lee Scratch Perry, cutting “Django Shoots First”, “The Creeper” and “Cow Thief Skank”, and delivering the goods for Vincent “Randys” Chin on “Country Boy”. He also worked on the 1973 Rasta classic “Father and Dreadlocks” for Coxsone Dodd. He put out a number of records on his Swing-A-Ling label included “Firing Line” – a reworking of a popular disco hit – credited to Charlie Ace & the Inswings and released in the summer of 1974.
Tragically, he was shot and killed in 1980 – although details of the exact circumstances of his death remain unknown. It is a fate sadly not uncommon among a number of Jamaican reggae artists. In 1987 reggae star Peter Tosh was murdered in Kingston by gunmen, while fellow Wailer Bob Marley himself only just had a narrow escape after gunmen broke into his home in 1976.