Don Drummond:  The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist



By Brian Keyo

I was looking forward to this book since I first heard about it. Even signed up with the publisher for a review copy. They promised it on PDF, if not a hard copy. The publication date was bumped from July 15 to August, and I waited. Then it was available but still no PDF. So purchased a copy in September and read it and enjoyed it, although lack of attribution was annoying. Perhaps more so for me than others as I’m completing a Skatalites biography.

Read it again and took notes this time. Was dismayed by errors of fact and annoyed, again, by comments from those who did not know Drummond yet were quoted without attribution of their remarks.

I also spoke to three folks who knew Drummond and who’ve been solid sources for me, who weren’t interviewed. Lester Sterling, Mickey O’Bryan and Cedric “King” Bravo. The latter two were merely disappointed while Sterling declared, “No one can write a book on Don and not talk to me!” Then he went off.
While Sterling’s name should be familiar to all, he was a schoolmate as well as neighbor and bandmate of Drummond. O’Bryan played with Drummond in the 1950s and he organized the September 9, 1962 benefit concert at the Regal Theatre that raised funds and a trombone for him. Bravo knew Drummond and Marguerita and shared billings with them in the 1950s and 60s. He also booked Drummond and Marguerita, together, for a special show he promoted on June 12, 1964.  There’s new information here on Marguerita and on Drummond plus several unpublished photos of Marguerita and two of Drummond.  At nearly $40 for a less than 200 page paperback without endnotes, a glossary or an index, it’s not a great value, but with no other lit on Drummond, it’s a start.

The following are my thoughts and criticisms. Kindly note that I use the spelling Marguerita rather than “Margarita” because that’s what Anita herself wrote. Also please note that the photos and advertisements accompanying this article do not appear in the book.

I really did enjoy the book, despite the catalog below, it’s just not meticulous, as the author claimed when reproached with the items below in the newsgroup, Pama Forum.  See the entertaining exchange here;


Page 13; “Hitchen Street” is “Hitchin” on maps of Kingston.  Not insignificant as this is the street Drummond grew up on and where he lived with his mother into adulthood.

Page 14; Clive Chin, born May 14, 1954, is quoted extensively. His birthdate is cited to show that any experiences with Drummond occurred when he was 7 to 10 years old.

Page 44; Laurence Cane-Honeysett is quoted writing about “one person’s memory” of Drummond playing “Full Moon And Empty Arms.” That person is not cited or credited.

Page 45; Drummond travelled to Haiti with Eric Deans band on February 22, 1951.

Page 46; “A January 12, 1951 issue of the Daily Gleaner recounts this trip to Haiti.” How could it? They hadn’t left yet. There’s no source or attribution for the February 22 departure date.

Page 46; Laurence Cane-Honeysett quoted on Drummond’s reaction to his grandmother’s death. Cane-Honeysett did not know Drummond during the 1950s, or later, who told him of the bond between Drummond and his grandmother and why aren’t they credited?

Page 47; “Drummond never travelled outside of Jamaica other than two times with Eric Deans in Haiti.”
I have accounts of Drummond travelling to Nassau Bahamas with the Deans Band in 1953, so am curious what this pronouncement is based on?

Page 72; “Rudolph Bent wrote the following challenge to a fellow boxer, coining his own nickname for himself. . . “
Rudolph Bent didn’t coin his own nickname in a December 19, 1963 letter to the Daily Gleaner, he was called the Dark Destroyer at least as far back as August, 1956.

Page 80; “He [Duke Reid] hosted a radio show on RJR called “Treasure Isle Time.”
It was hosted by Radcliffe Butler, not Reid.

Page 84; “Studio One at 13 Brentford Road . . . didn’t open till 1965.”
This type of error got by Steve Barrow, credited for reading the manuscript? Studio 1 opened in October 1963.

Page 84; “Duke Reid’s recording studio didn’t open till 1967.”
No, Reid’s Treasure Isle Studio began operation in early 1966.

Page 98; The reason Drummond was off the scene for a while in 1957 was because he endured a hospital stay of nearly two weeks after he was involved in a road accident.

Page 99; Tommy McCook “merely the group’s organizer and the group’s administrator of sorts.”
Not merely and not just. McCook was the leader in title and in pay.

Page 99; Knibb probably didn’t say “on Coney Island” but at Coney Island. The term means a venue which featured live music and games of chance upon which people bet, in addition to serving food and drinks.

Page 100; Arkland Parks, Harold McKenzie, Rupert Dillon, Baba Brooks, Karl Bryan and Lynn Taitt were not members of the original Skatalites. McKenzie and Dillon performed with the group in concert only. Brooks, Bryan and Parks recorded with the members but not with the Skatalites. Taitt did record extensively with the Skatalites but didn’t perform with the band.

Page 101; Not sure that Drummond arrived to the session with ‘Confucius’ “already written.” I interviewed the bassist, Lloyd Spence. His account was that he came up with the bass part after Drummond played him what he had so far.
What’s the source that Drummond had “already written” five songs prior to that session?

Page 103; “Yap, Chin, Coxsone, Reid, Beverley, King Edwards and Lindon and Sonia Pottinger did whatever they could to get Don Drummond to lay down tracks for them.”
Drummond didn’t “lay down tracks” for Edwards or Lindon and Sonia Pottinger. The latter held her ‘first session’ with Baba Brooks, Lynn Taitt, Joe White and Chuck Josephs in 1965, after Drummond was off the scene.

Page 103; “He was responsible for directing the sound of the Skatalites.”
Where’s the supporting evidence, or attribution? The “historian” Lloyd Bradley says, [Drummond’s] “compositions provide the basis for many of their greatest works.”
That’s true but it doesn’t assign Drummond responsibility for directing the collective sound of the band. What does? Are there any accounts that do? Not here.

Page 103; Karl Bryan did his stint in the Skatalites after Cedric Brooks departed at the end of 2003, so perhaps he’s misquoted as he’s obviously referring to the 1960’s in speaking of Drummond.

Page 104; “Most of the other songs, unfortunately, that the Skatalites play were either plagiarized or stolen from Mongo Santamaria.” [Comments of Ken Stewart.]
That’s not true. Of the dozens of Skatalites recordings less than one dozen were originally recorded by Mongo Santamaria’s band. Although songs were not always properly attributed, its a major leap to claim Skatalites versions of anything were “plagiarized” or “stolen.”

Page 104; “. . . so many of Drummond’s tunes are versions of other songs,”
They are? Which ones? None are cited.

Page 107: “(W. I. R. L.), which he sold to Byron Lee in 1968.” Edward Seaga did not sell WIRL to Byron Lee in 1968. He’d sold it to George Benson and Clifford Rae in 1962.

Page 107; “Dizzy” Johnny Moore was not “dreadlocked” during Skatalites heyday of 1964-65. He had previously been “locksed” but was convinced to ‘clean and trim’ by Knibb and his mates. It was a perequisite to joining a band at that time.

Page 110; Five songs are cited as UK releases; “. . .for which he received no compensation of any kind.”
That may well be true but such a pronouncement neglects to explain that since Drummond performed them as works for hire, he wasn’t entitled to further compensation when they were released outside of Jamaica.

Page 110; Of the songlist in second paragraph, Drummond had nothing to do with a bunch, including “Freedom Sounds,” “Keep On Coming A The Dance,” “Roots Undying,” “Valley Princess” etc. So, any outrage over those royalties not going to descendants of Don Drummond is misplaced. At least two were recorded by Vin Gordon. Tommy McCook, writer of “Freedom Sounds,” published it with Calvin Cameron’s Oameron Music Ltd.

Page 110; “The exploitation broke Drummond’s fragile mental state.”
Unfounded. A romantic notion but where’s the evidence?

Page 111; “During Drummond’s tenure with the Skatalites, the 18 months the group was together. . .”
Incorrect. The Skatalites were together 16 months, from May 1964 to August 23, 1965. Drummond’s “tenure” was 8 months because he was imprisoned from January 2, 1965.

Page 111; “During one of these stays, says Lloyd Bradley, Drummond destroyed his trombone.”
Bradley wasn’t in Bellevue, how does he know this? A 2nd hand account, at best, without source or attribution.

Page 111-112; Smith’s tale of searching for Drummond, who was late to a Skatalites show, could be true but his citation of “This Man Is Back” is mis-remembered or false. That song was composed and recorded several years before the Skatalites started. Further, if the Skatalites had played it live at Bournemouth with Drummond, Smith’s memory that it “lasted the better part of one hour” is open to question.

Page 113; “Ken Stewart, too, has vivid memories of Drummond’s unusual behavior.”
“Vivid” second hand memories? Is there such a thing?
BTW, the “green chicken” story he relates that Knibb told him was also told to Kevin Aylmer. Aylmer published his Knibb interview in Rhythm Music Magazine in 1990s.

Page 115; Clive Chin claimed “He would not pose for any picture taken. If you notice on the Skatalites lineup, when you see the full band, you notice you don’t see him in the lineup. He never posed for any picture taking.”
That’s ridiculous, but these are recollections of an 8 year old child, nearly 60 now. Drummond posed for photos as a member of the Colony Club Orchestra and as a member of the Jazz Big Band All Stars. He also posed with fellow musicians for the full band shot of Skatalites taken at Bournemouth which adorned the back of the Latin Goes Ska LP, and a Skatalites group shot taken at Studio 1 and published in The Star.

Page 116; According to Lloyd Bradley, “Drummond was ‘virtually destitute’ and would frequently forget to pick up his money at the end of the night.”
Never heard anything of the sort from his fellow musicians. Knibb stressed that Drummond was very particular about his pay. Since Bradley wasn’t Drummond’s banker or broker, again, his source?

Page 122; “The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari was a group consisting of Count Ossie and some of his drumming brethren. They later recorded music and performed on stage, even for the visit of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica on April 21, 1966.”
That’s too early for Mystic Revelation. Count Ossie played for Selassie with his African Drums or Drummers, but not with the Mystic Revelation, a much larger group.
According to the late Cedric Brooks, he led a group called the Mystics that played “Afro-Jazz.” Nambo Robinson was on ‘bone and Winston “Bo Pee” Bowen was on guitar, among others. Around 1970, Brooks wanted to get together a show band, and so invited Les Samuel, a tenor player with “a small thing” called Revelation, to play at a Mystics show. He also invited Count Ossie and His African Drummers and the dancers that usually accompanied Ossie. They all played together at that show and after that it was Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari.

Page 125; “‘The Reburial,’ which is a Pocomania ritual of West African origin;”
Dr. Gordon Rohlehr is way off. The title of “Reburial” was used to capitalize on the reburial of the remains of Marcus Garvey. Garvey was proclaimed a Jamaican National Hero in October 1964, and subsequently his remains were repatriated from England, accompanied by his sons Marcus Jr. and Julius and their mother Amy Jacques Garvey. His body lay in state and crowds paid homage before he was re-interred at Heroes Park in November 1964, same month the songs were recorded.
Producer Justin Yap chose the titles “The Reburial” and “Marcus Junior.” When interviewed he stated, “Don didn’t give me any titles for his tunes.”

Chapter 10
Page 131; “In 1965, Margarita recorded the song ‘Woman A Come’ at Treasure Isle.”
Two mistakes. Marguerita was killed January 2, 1965 and she hadn’t recorded on January 1st. Her song was recorded in 1964 at Federal Studio. Skatalite accounts of the session at Federal were published in 1997 in notes to Foundation Ska CD/LP. On page 139, the author quoted these notes although she claimed the incident happened at “one of the recording studios” rather than Federal.
Secondly, the author wrote on Page 84, “Duke Reid’s recording studio didn’t open till 1967.” So how could Marguerita have recorded there in 1965?

Page 135; “They moved in together at 9 Rusden Road, in the Rockfort area, in August 1965.”
That can’t be correct because Marguerita was killed January 2, 1965.

Page 140; “Tommy McCook has said that he went to pick up Don at eight pm, prior to the gig, and found him asleep so he left without him and returned after their first set during intermission to try again. Still, Don was asleep, a side effect of the medicine he took, said McCook.”
That is incorrect. I think the author is referring to a July 1984 interview McCook gave to British broadcaster David Rodigan in which he said he sent Lloyd Knibb to pick up Drummond. Also, that Lloyd Knibb returned after their first set during intermission to try again. However, no source is given for “Tommy McCook has said . . . “
Knibb told me that he was the one who tried to pick up Drummond for that show. Further, McCook did not own a car.

Page 143; Ken Stewart is quoted; “He liked it when she came to the show with him and danced at the Skatalites show.”
Stewart never met Drummond, how could he know this? Since someone told him, why aren’t they cited?
I was told by several Skatalite members that Marguerita never came to a Skatalites show as Drummond didn’t like her dancing.

Page 146; “Sister Shuggas says that Don Drummond actually came to the hills after the murder to visit Lloyd Knibb, who was living at Warieka. She says that Lloyd Knibb knew that Margarita would die that night,”
Sister Shuggas has 1 of 3 points correct. Don Drummond did not visit Knibb before or after the murder. Knibb was not “living at Warieka.” Yes, Knibb did admit to having a premonition that Marguerita would be killed by Don Drummond. He’d told his wife just that, she explained to me with Lloyd sitting there, nodding. Knibb picked up the story and told of violent arguments in his car between Drummond and Marguerita that led him to think murder at Drummond’s hand would be her fate.
After the murder and before the police secured the area, Knibb was there and reported that he removed the trombone and other property such as music and composition books. The Knibb family lived at #6 Oliver Road from 1961 until November 1970, just a few streets over from Rusden.

Page 146; “Janet Roper, Tommy McCook’s daughter . . . says she doesn’t know what happened to Drummond’s notebooks, nor does she remember ever having them.”
Did the author speak to Janet Roper? [As I’d told her what she wrote above.]

Page 148; “The Skatalites, despite having a few remaining pieces of Don Drummond’s music smuggled out by Knibb, were unable to continue on without their famed trombonist.”
Huh? The band continued to play on, without Drummond, for eight months. Evidence shows their final concert was August 23, 1965.


Advertisement for June 8, 1955 show at which Marguerita and Drummond were each billed to appear.

Page 148; “By that summer, a brutal heat wave came to the island and slowed the music down. The era of rocksteady was ushered in.”
No, it wasn’t the summer of 1965 that’s heralded for a mythic heat wave which slowed down the popular rhythm. That was the summer of 1966.

Page 148; “The foundation is gone, suspended on a few remaining pillars of concrete . . . “
Those concrete pillars comprise the foundation of #9 Rusden Road. I don’t think they were ever linked by concrete blocks or anything else. I photographed the property in February, 1996 when it was in similar condition to the author’s photos.

Page 183; “Drummond taught the boys at Alpha when he returned, fostering the growth of numerous young students, as well as fellow patients during his time in Bellevue.”
Where’s the support for initial part of this statement? Sister Ignatius said, “Don was never a teacher at Alpha. He didn’t come back here except to visit with his friend Skipper.”
There is documentation offered that he instructed at least one patient while at Bellevue.

Page 185; Ken Stewart quoted; “Don Drummond was by far the most prolific composer and soloist in the Skatalites.”
Drummond was not the most prolific soloist in the band, that would be “Dizzy” Johnny Moore or Rolando Alphonso.

Page 185; A lengthy quote wrongly attributed to Tommy McCook is by the poet Robin “Bongo Jerry” Small. The quote is from the Requiem For Don Drummond radio program broadcast in 1969. Produced for RJR by Dermot Hussey and Lloyd Chuck, it included interviews with Coxson Dodd, Robin Small, Prince Buster, Tommy McCook, Fred Wilmot and Jimmy Carnegie. The quote runs from page 185 to 186.
Host Dermot Hussey introduced the guests in order of their appearance.
The quote omitted several sentences but is not broken up accordingly. Liberties are taken with the actual remarks. For instance, “Music like The Reburial of Marcus Garvey” except Small says, “The Reincarnation of Marcus Garvey.”
“The unity that reveal in that music is something civil, like sweet.” Except Small says, “. . . something to be savored, like sweets.”
After “. . . like a man telling of the said scandal,” two sentences are missing. Small goes on to say, “Every verse of his improvisation is just a different version of these stories that these same people from who came had when the scandal was about. In a different, in a different mood, going slower. . . “ [We can go back . . .] . . . of the moon in a different light.”
Here again the quote omits a sentence. “Also slower but behind vocalists, backing up Dotty and Bonnie with ‘Dearest.’
The quote picks up again, with “You hear man submitting himself to the will of the vocalist and helping that vocalist express what that tune [“Dearest”] was trying to say.”
Not sure what purpose could’ve been served by omitting the title.

Page 188; “In 2007, the Skatalites released their album, Rolling Steady, which featured the song ‘Big Trombone,’ a tribute to Don Drummond sung by Lord Tanomo, one of the Skatalites’ four original vocalists.”
The Skatalites didn’t release Rolling Steady. It was put out by the now defunct Motion Records. Correct spelling is Tanamo.

Page 190; Another mis-quote. “Every piece of music that Don Drummond ventured into was like a theme for a [very] great movie or a [very] great Broadway show,’ says Tommy McCook. ‘Every one of them, like ‘Street Corner,’ was like an announcement of some sort, ‘Man in the Street,‘ [Every one of these tune sound like a very great theme song] and every one of them was.”
Again, this is not McCook’s quote. Those words were spoken by Robin “Bongo Jerry” Small. He’s not accurately quoted as the words and phrases in brackets were omitted.

Mike Turner’s Discography includes many tunes which Drummond is not on, including ones with no trombone at all.
Page 193; “Fisherman Sam (Sam The Fisherman)” has no trombone. Neither do “Below Zero (Drifting),” “Third Man Ska,” “Phoenix City,” etc. Another one Drummond couldn’t be on was “Devil’s Triangle,” recorded in New York City in 1979 and issued on a Deep Grooves 12.”

Emendations for Photo Captions

Page 90; Not from Studio 1 but from the control room at Federal Studio. Published July 27, 1961.
(left to right; Rolando Alphonso, Clancy Eccles, Don Drummond in foreground, Clement Dodd behind Drummond, Desmond Elliott, Herman Sang standing.)

Page 101; Despite Clive Chin’s contention, Don Drummond didn’t excuse himself from this group shot taken at JBC-TV because he was “not liking to have his photograph taken.” It was taken in 1965, when he was being held for murder.

Page 102; Don Drummond photo not “circa 1964.” It was taken at Lucas Inn in Kingston on May 13, 1962.

Page 109; Don Drummond photo not “circa 1964-1965.” It was also taken at Lucas Inn on May 13, 1962. Drummond wasn’t circulating after January 2, 1965.

Don Drummond was leading his own group by early 1955.