1962 The Year Of Jamaican Independence

What were the future Skatalites, Jamaica’s Greatest Band, doing in 1962?

Eight future members of The Skatalites were engaged around the island during 1962.  Their future leader, Tommy McCook, was in The Bahamas, where he had been living and playing alto and tenor saxophone professionally since 1954.

The anticipation of Jamaican independence was one of the reasons that McCook decided to return.


“So after I left Nassau I went back to Jamaica and I decided I was gonna play Jazz.  This was in ’62, so when I went back I formed a little combo and we were playing Jazz.  We were playing shots by Coltrane, ‘I Love You,’ ‘But Not For Me and others.” [1]

When I got back the #1 tune was “Schooling the Duke.”  It was on RJR all the time, as it was #1.  I think Cecil Lloyd, Aubrey Adams, Johnny, Gaynair, Don Drummond, and maybe Lennie Hibbert were all on there.”[No Hibbert. Soloists in order; Gaynair, Moore and Drummond.]

The May 10, 1962 issue of The Star has a brief item that’s notable for two reasons.  Titled, “The return of Don Drummond,” it noted that the session “. . . will mark the return of another Jamaican jazz wizard, Tommy McCook (tenor sax) who returned last week from engagements in Nassau.”  

That pegs McCook’s return to the beginning of the month, consistent with his Nassau stint concluding at the end of April, 1962.  

The item noted that the occasion, at Ossie’s Lucas Inn, 15 Mountain View Avenue, “would be the first musical encounter between Drummond and McCook.  Also attending this titanic session was Rolando Alphonso.”  

We don’t have to only imagine how that session went down as the following week The Star had a brief item headlined, “Tommy McCook for Lucas Inn.” 

“Tommy McCook, Jamaican tenor saxophonist who has been creating quite a sensation since his recent return from Nassau, will be playing tonight and tomorrow night at Lucas Inn, Mountain View Avenue.

In recent weeks Lucas Inn has been a spot for ‘the most’ jazz fans and Sunday last Tommy brought the house down when he appeared on the session, which included such names as DON DRUMMOND, trombone, ROLAN [sic] ALPHANSO, tenor saxophone, BABA MOTTA, piano and BILLY COOKE, trumpet, among others.

Tommy has been busy preparing some new sounds for his engagements.  He sounds off tonight at 9.00.”  [2]

On Sunday, June 8th, McCook was a featured member of Bertie King’s 14 piece band for Jazz Concert 1962 at the Little Theatre.  “Individual stars of the evening were TOMMY MCCOOK, professionally brilliant, making poetry of everything, but most of all ‘Polka Dots And Moonbeams.’” [3]

“This was before I did any sessions.  In late ’62 into ’63.  I had no time for any sessions or much interest.  Coxson and Randy’s were asking me to do sessions.  When I was playing Jazz in ’62, I had no idea who was going to be the Skatalites.  That started in ’63 when I started to record and do sessions.”  [4]


Roland turned 30 on January 12 and he was making records and playing on shows all around Jamaica during 1962.  Roland started the year leading and playing with The Alley Cats.  By mid year that group was defunct but Alphonso was still leading his own group, The Upsetters. 

The best known recordings credited to Roland and His Alley Cats are “Central Kingston,” “Four Corners” (Of The World) and “Jerk Pork.”

On Sunday, March 18, 1962, Alphonso and His Alley Cats & the Management of Coxson’s Sound System Proudly Presented “Return Of Serenade At Gold Coast” & BIG Stage Show.”  [5] 

This big show at Gold Coast on the St. Thomas Road featured Sir Coxson’s Downbeat and Ernest Ranglin & The Modernaires, who joined the Alley Cats backing acts such as Alton & Eddie, Derrick Morgan and Owen Gray.

Alphonso had formed his Upsetters band in late 1961.  They recorded brilliant instrumentals such as “Stream Line,” “Way Out West” and “If I Were A Bell” for Dodd.  The group was together through 1962, but Alphonso had other gigs on.  He was recording Jazz for Dodd with a next aggregation.  

I Cover the Waterfront was the first set of straight Jazz produced by Clement Dodd.  Alphonso was joined by Don Drummond on trombone, Cecil Lloyd on piano, Lloyd Mason on bass and the Australian drummer of The Caribs, Lowell Morris, for a Jamaican take on standards such as “I’ll Remember April” and “Green Eyes.” 

The LP was released in February or March, 1962. “Roland Alphonso, tenor saxist at Arawak Hotel, will be guest of honor at a cocktail party in appreciation of his new LP I Cover The Waterfront.  Roland’s record is a favourite on the northcoast and in Kingston.”  [6]

At the Arawak Hotel, Alphonso was a member of the Luther Williams Orchestra. 

On Jamaica’s very first night of Independence, August 6, 1962, street dancing was promoted with government sponsored entertainment.  Among the acts at the six stages around the city were Rolando Alphonso’s Upsetters band, who were stationed at “Molynes/Four Corners.”


Drummond was on the front page of the entertainment section of The Star “Covering Saturday June 2, to Friday, June 8.”  Sporting a smile, his right hand lifting the brim of his hat and his left hand on the trombone slung across his shoulder.  The caption reads “Don Drummond, undoubtedly the best trombonist in the island, is back on the music scene. Drummond, the man who has received rich compliments from many top personalities in show business, will be featured on Pre-Independence Showcase at Ward Theatre on Saturday, June 2.”

There was also coverage of Drummond that week in The Gleaner.  The Wednesday, June 6 issue featured a photo and the caption, “WHEN IT COMES to a man who knows his instrument and what he is about Don Drummond has no peer in the local music world.  Don who has been playing, composing and arranging for over ten years, is considered the best trombonist in the island.  He is currently engaged with the Kenny Williams Band and is a popular performer on the customary Sunday jazz session in the corporate area.”  [7] 

Don did voluntary stints in the Bellevue Sanitarium in 1961 and 1962..  When he ‘came back’ he made a hit record.

“After a short illness, Don returned to the musical scene with a new approach.  His first introduction to our current musical age is a Blues like flip called ‘That Man Is Back.’  Hearing this tune for the second time, Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd handed him a recording contract, which he accepted.  ‘This Man Is Back’ has already passed the 4,000 mark on the record market.”  [8]

On Sunday, June 8th, like McCook, Drummond was a featured member of Bertie King’s 14 piece band for Jazz Concert 1962 at the Little Theatre.  Also, like McCook, Drummond was lauded.  “Individual stars of the evening were DON DRUMMOND, playing a sadly-appealing trombone:  [9]

The State Theater hosted an “Independence Jump Up with Don Drummond & Lord Creator Guest Artists.”  Undated, but “Winston Chung Presents!” 

On Sunday, September 10, there was a Jazz Benefit for Don Drummond at the Regal Theatre.  It featured Tommy McCook, Ernest Ranglin, Cecil Lloyd, Billy Cooke, etc.  Organized by bandleader and tenor sax player Mickey O’Bryan, it was to assist Drummond with a new trombone.  [10]  

O’Bryan reported that the benefit was, “A big success.  The management at the Regal even had to call the police and report that the people were getting unruly.  Yes, those were the people who couldn’t get in because the show sold out.  There was a lot of people out in the street.  Adrian Robinson was the MC that day.  I gave Don 40 pounds and a brand new trombone after the show.”  [11]


Lester joined the Jamaica Military Band in 1961 and was a member into 1962. 

The band was led by Sergeant Joe Williams during Sterling’s tenure.  During his stint, the Military Band included top instrumentalists such as Lloyd Mason, Cedric Brooks, Joseph “Jojo” Bennett and Johnny Moore.  

“For a part of the time I was there, Clue J was there too, playing bass.”  [12]

While a member of the Military Band, Sterling was in demand for sessions and appeared regularly on stage shows.  For instance, on January 1st, 1962, it was “Lester Sterling & His Sax” at State Theatre for a 10 am “New Year’s Jump Up.”

“I go into the Military band as a saxophone player and they come to begrudge me because of the money I was making cutting records.  That’s right though, they did try to get me to play trumpet, but I refuse.  I just stand up and kiss my teeth, is like they talk to a donkey.  I was in demand as a saxophonist and needed to play as much as I could.  Trumpet would’ve messed me up, messed up my timing.  I never did get a blue slip, I walked out myself.  You see my Army pay was £25 a month and I’d make £30 to £80 a week on sessions.  Up a camp they’d send a car to pick me up. Sometimes I have to bribe Joe Williams £3 to leave on sessions when he was the Sergeant on the gate. ” [13]

On April 6, Lester played as a guest with Kes Chin and his Souvenirs at “The New Mac’s Midway Club.”  An advertisement in The Star noted “top flight artists such as Les Sterling, Dennis Sindrey and Owen Gray,” appearing.

Sterling played trumpet in Roland’s band, The Upsetters, and was on their August 6 Independence night show at Molynes/Four Corners.  After The Upsetters demise, Sterling went back to saxophone and joined Kes Chin and The Souvenirs.  

“I did a show with Kes at the Palace Theater and Don Drummond was a special guest.  We was to play his tune ‘Reload.’  But when Kes Chin started, Don turned and walked off the stage.  This was 1962.”  [14]

Sterling remained with Chin and The Souvenirs until May, 1964.


Johnny Moore had left his position with the Mapletoft Poulle Orchestra and was living roughly with his brethren during 1962.  

“I played around for some time until my hair start going too long and he [Poulle] figure it’s time for me to get a haircut.  I say ‘uh uh.’  No more cutting.”  [15]

“After I left Mapletoft Poulle, things were not all that rosy.  Because in that time nobody catered to Rastas, y’know?  Rastas were like outcasts in society.  Even your very best folks would try to get you out of sight y’know?  So I went with my bredren some.  We used to play around with Count Ossie with the drum and music and entertain ourselves and whoever wanted to, could come and listen.

I was always a Rasta.  I was in love with Rastafari from my early childhood days.  But it started coming out now.  That was part of the problem in the military band too, like I refuse to shave and that sort of thing.  At that time in the military you had to be clean shaven, y’know?”  [16]

Moore was discharged after three years for “not [being] amenable to military discipline, though a good musician.”


Jah Jerry had been playing for years with The Jocelyn Trott Orchestra.  First at the Royal Caribbean Hotel in Montego Bay and then at The Casa Montego Hotel.  The Orchestra also played in Kingston often.  The group dissolved when the leader emigrated to England in 1962.  

Haynes freelanced with several aggregations until he became a member of Auckland “Drumbago” Parks group.  As a member of Drumbago’s group, Haynes recorded for most of the producers active during 1962, including Duke Reid, Clement Dodd, George “King” Edwards and Leslie Kong.  His unique upward strumming of the guitar became his signature style on Boogie Shuffle and Ska recordings.

Haynes’ recording credits for 1962 include “Forward March” by Derrick Morgan and “Judge Not,” the first recording by Robert Marley.


One of the Billy Cooke Quartet’s first shows with Lloyd Brevett was at a nightspot at 13 Brentford Road called The End.  The December, 1961 show was promoted by “Batman” in his “With The Stars” column in The Star.

“The End re-opens this week end with the Billy Cooke Quartet.  Versatile Billy has settled on the piano stool, Ernest Ranglin is on guitar, Lloyd Brivet [sic] on bass and Rupie Anderson drums.”  [17]

The club was owned by Noel Tappin Sr., who ran it with his son, Noel Jr..  From all accounts, it was a classy joint.  The Billy Cooke Quartet was the house band into the spring of 1962.

After the Cooke Quartet, Brevett rejoined the Jocelyn Trott Orchestra in Montego Bay.  Trott’s Orchestra had moved over to the Montego Beach Hotel when Brevett re-upped in mid-1962.

As he explained, it was that experience which broadened his repertoire and helped open his ears a bit too.

“I started to get my real experience by playing with different bands at hotels near Montego Bay.  I play this hotel for six months and that hotel for three months.  I played at the Royal Caribbean hotel in Montego Bay, Sunset Lodge, The Guest House, The Montego Beach Hotel and many others all around the North Coast starting from inna the fifties.  At the hotels we play a lot of different music.  If people request something we have to be able to play it.  Sometimes I use a bow and we play some soft tunes in the hotels.  I used the bow when certain singers were with we.  Like Totlyn Jackson.  She sing some soft, nice tunes where the drummer must use brushes and I must use a bow on my bass.”  [18]


In late 1961, or early 62, Knibb and wife Enid moved from 6 Oliver Road, off Windward Road in Kingston, to the Harbour View district.  

On January 1st, Lloyd Knibb, “Jamaica’s No. 1 drummer,” started at the Marrakesh Hotel, according to correspondent Mickey O’Bryan.  [19]

In addition to being the leader of his own Mickey O’Bryan Orchestra, the late saxophonist was an entertainment correspondent. 

“I think it was in 1962, because it was about a year after my wedding, which Lloyd played at.  We, myself, Knibb and Luther Williams, were all sharing a large room at the Marrakesh Hotel.  It was known as the musician’s home and we were the residents at that time.  Well, there was a Detective Leevers who was a friend of mine from when I played with Luther Williams at the Arawak Hotel.  Leevers knew I was living with Knibb and he tipped me to let Lloyd know to have no ganja in the room as the police were to raid the musicians home.  Well sure enough, the next night when we were getting ready to play, the police show up and search our room.  They didn’t find any ganja.

I can remember from when I hired Lloyd that because he smoke so much ganja a lot of bandleaders were leery of him.  But he was a great musician and he was a good band member because he got along with everyone and was always on time.  I never had problems with him and he was with me for a few years.  [20]

Knibb was commuting to Kingston from the Marrakesh to play sessions during the day at the Federal Recording Studio.  Toward the end of 1962, he was recruited to join the Kingston based band The Shieks.


“Fred Locks” Elliott elaborated on how he came to know Mittoo.  

“One day in 1962 or ’63, Jackie Mittoo came to the Elliot household, 47 Driftwood Drive, and take off his KC tie [Kingston College], put down his text books and examination books and did not take them up again.  There was one Spanish textbook and several examination books that I can remember.  I wish we had kept them as we only just throw them out and his KC tie, a few years after Jackie died.  It was very soon after the Rivals form that Jackie come and leave his books at our house.

I’m pretty sure that the Rivals were Jackie’s first band,” Elliott declared, before he continued.  

“It was a Chiney guy who started the Rivals, his home in Harbour View was the rehearsal space.  ‘Honeyboy’ Martin was the vocalist, Leroy Elliot, my brother, was the guitarist, Jackie was on keys, and Brian Atkinson, who came from Westmoreland, was on bass.”  [21]

Brian Atkinson confirmed that the “Chiney guy” was Ansel Smart and the drummer was Hugh Malcolm.  According to Elliot, Smart didn’t play an instrument, and was a manager at Singer Sewing Machine Company in Kingston.]

The Rivals band couldn’t hold Mittoo however, although it gave other musicians a chance to hear him.  During 1962, Mittoo was approached by several musicians who asked if he’d like to join their bands.  Among those were guys in The Shieks, such as Lloyd Knibb.  The Shieks enjoyed a higher profile than The Rivals and it was by joining the former that Mittoo began to attract island wide attention.  By late 1962, Mittoo was a featured member of The Shieks, who were managed by Ian Jones.  

According to Norma Fraser, The Shieks played every Sunday before the movies at theaters throughout Kingston such as The Majestic, Gaiety, Tropical, Rialto and The Ambassador, and at clubs such as Johnson’s Drive Inn, The Sombrero uptown and Gunboat, down on the waterfront. 

“Jackie was instrumental in getting the musicians together and at rehearsals he was the one who led the band through the arrangements,” Fraser explained, “he was definitely a leader.”  [22]

-Brian Keyo, June 29, 2022, Worcester Massachusetts 



1. Interviewed on air by The Midnight Ravers, WBAI-FM NYC, November 16, 1990.

2. Page 4, Friday, May 18, 1962., The Star.

3. June 10, 1962, The Daily Gleaner.

4. Interviewed on air by The Midnight Ravers, WBAI-FM NYC, November 16, 1990.

5. Page 4, Saturday March 17, 1962, The Star.

6. March 9, 1962, The Star.

7. Wednesday, June 6, 1962, The Daily Gleaner.

8. Mickey O’Bryan, June 9, 1962, ‘Fun For Friday’, The Star.

9. June 10, 1962, The Daily Gleaner.

10. Tuesday, September 12, 1962, The Star.

11. Mickey O’Bryan interviewed by the author, June 24, 2003.

12. Lester Sterling interviewed by the author, August 21, 2003.

13. Ibid

14. Ibid

15. Johnny Moore interviewed by Lloyd “Mohair Slim” Dewar, May 2000.

16. Ibid

17. December 1, 1961, The Star.

18. Lloyd Brevett interviewed by the author, August 2, 1995.

19. Mickey O’Bryan, January 6, 1962, The Star.

20. Mickey O’Bryan interviewed by the author, June 24, 2003.

21. Stafford “Fred Locks” Elliot interviewed by the author, January 29, 2000.

22. Norma Fraser interviewed by the author, November, 1994.