Annotation from Tribute To Jackie Mittoo, a 1995 Studio 1/Heartbeat release.

Disc 1 Disc 2
1. Black Organ – 3:09 1. Black Out – 3:14
2. West Of The Sun – 4:02 2. Mission Impossible – 2:12
3. Rack Track – 2:14 3. Gold Mine – 2:40
4. Fireball Rock – 2:08 4. Rainy Nights Of Sound – 3:50
5. Some Kind Of Memphis – 1:56 5. Summer Breeze – 3:45
6. Ghetto Organ – 4:20 6. Hot Tamale – 2:22
7. Blackman’s Pride – 3:13 7. Memphis Groove – 2:41
8. Reggae Riff – 2:41 8. Millie Militant – 2:12
9. Soul Call – 4:26 9. Jackie’s Mood – 1:56
10. Give Sounds A Chance – 2:51 10. Got My Boogaloo – 3:02
11. Gold Streak – 2:56 11. Wire Higher – 2:35
12. Wild Bunch – 2:07 12. Dream Organ – 2:48
13. Nature Boy – 2:48 13. Drum Song – 4:07
14. Who Done It – 2:38 14. Change The Mood – 2:42
15. Freak Out – 2:11 15. Ska Matic [Ska Shuffle] – 2:56
16. Night Doctor – 2:45

Coxson Dodd’s remembrance of Jackie from the ceremony at Jamaica’s National Arena . . .

“Mr. Donat Roy Mittoo, a legend in his time. There are great memories and these memories will always linger on, especially the first time that Jackie came to the studio for an audition. Jackie was a very good musician and I was so impressed with his artistic styling on the keyboard, he started recording the same day. Jackie was very kind and very willing to learn. And also helpful, he has played a great part in bringing and tutoring a lot of our current artists today.

He started recording on the Coxsone label in 1963. From then on, Jackie and I worked together hard in the studio creating new sounds and arrangements. We worked steadily for a period of five years, improving the Jamaican sound, the Ska and also created Rock Steady and Reggae music. In 1967, Jackie, ‘the messenger’ Mittoo and the Soul Vendors, the first set of Jamaican, Jamaican band to tour England and promote Jamaican sounds. In 1968, Jackie left Jamaica to reside in Canada. Ever since, Jackie has been promoting our music worldwide. He was an ambassador of our music, there can be no doubt, read the legacy this young man has left behind. [Choking up] May his name be remembered and his music live on. Thank you.”

To Jackie Mittoo, Reggae’s Keyboard King, ’nuff, ’nuff respect is due. Since Jackie died from cancer and left us on December 16, 1990 in Toronto, music lovers around the world have tried to come to grips with his passing. Jamaicans honored him as he lay in state at the National Arena in Kingston and tribute concerts were held in London, New York and Toronto. Reggae broadcasters such as Winston Williams on RJR in Jamaica, David Rodigan on BFBS in the UK and Roger Steffens on KCRW in California, paid homage over the airwaves with specially dedicated programs. Heartfelt tributes have been paid in verse, such as those by Lorna Goodison and Sherman G. Nelson of Spanishtown. The lyrics of a musical tribute, “though small in stature, a giant king…and an opener of the Dancehall door”, scratch the surface of the vast musical legacy that Jackie Mittoo is responsible for. As a solo artist and as a founding member of the Sheiks, the Cavaliers Orchestra, the Skatalites, The Soul Brothers, The Soul Vendors and the Sound Dimension, Mittoo’s portfolio as an ambassador of Jamaican music is akin to, or greater than Marley’s.

So, with 31 cuts spanning Jackie’s years at Studio One, and with remembrances from Norma Frazer, Lloyd Knibb, Nearlin ‘Lynn’ Taitt and Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd, Heartbeat and Studio One pay deep Tribute To Jackie Mittoo.

Donat Roy ‘Jackie’ Mittoo was born on March 3, 1948 in Euton Square, Kingston. He began playing keyboards at age 4, receiving instruction from his grandmother Leila Mittoo, who was a music teacher. He moved to Brown’s Town in the country parish of St. Ann, where he was raised by his grandparents.

Jackie attended York Castle High School in Browns Town and often played piano during break times at school.

After high school, Leila Mittoo retired from teaching and the couple purchased a house in the new Harbour View development, east of Kingston at the Palisadoes roundabout. Soon after, Jackie began attending Kingston College.

Jackie soon had a regular thing going during lunch where he’d jam on a piano that was in a chemistry lab. He explained during an ’82 interview on the Reggae Beat radio program that one time the headmaster of KC walked in on him and his friends during one such lunchtime session. According to Jackie, the headmaster, Mr. Douglas Forrest, came in and listened for a bit and then told him to “keep playing!” At Kingston College, Mittoo met fellow students Augustus Pablo and Tyrone Downie. They jammed together so often, mostly playing Mittoo’s compositions, that they became known as The Jackie Mitree.

“In Kingston, it was the first time I start to feel proud of the piano because when you walk around and look into somebody’s house, they had a piano too. Then you would stand and listen to see how good somebody was, and over my house we would listen to the latest tunes.”

Through a friend, Mittoo joined the Harbour View based Rivals, which was mainly an after school band that played on the weekends. That band didn’t last long, but the Sheik’s keyboard player was moving abroad, and so Jackie replaced him. Mittoo first began to attract island wide attention in late 1962 playing with the Sheiks band, which was managed by Ian Jones. The Sheiks included Lloyd Spence on bass, Nearlin ‘Lynn’ Taitt on guitar, Lloyd Knibb on drums, Roy Sterling and Johnny Moore on trumpets, Headley Bennett and Bobby Gaynair on saxophones and Lloyd Wilks, Norma Frazer and Honey Boy Martin on vocals.

According to Norma Frazer, the Sheiks played every Sunday before the movies at theatres throughout East Kingston such as the Majestic, Johnson’s Drive In, Gaiety, Tropical, Rialto and the Ambassador, and at clubs such as the Sombrero 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”, Frazer explains, “he was definitely a leader”. It was a trait that he demonstrated throughout his career, from musical director at Studio One to the fight for copyright legislation in Jamaica.

Within a year of forming, the Sheiks re-emerged as The Cavaliers Orchestra under the management of Bill Gentles, and were described in a late 1963 article in the Gleaner newspaper as, “the only co-operative orchestra operating locally. Each member has a share in the band and the profits are divided”. Norma Frazer recalls the Orchestra’s first concert on August 1, 1963 in Kingston, “as a festive affair, we knew we were going to be big”.

Frazer first saw Jackie when he was a member of the Rivals band playing at the Carib Theatre in 1961. “Jackie was standing up and pounding his piano while he was giving directions to the other band members”. “He was always conscious of the other musicians and what the audience was up to, and he was always giving cues”.

In 1961 and ’62, Jackie would skip, or skull school to go play at Federal Studios. Or he would sneak out at night to play with The Rivals or The Sheiks. It was at Federal that Mittoo first met producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd, who had use for him one day when a piano player didn’t show up for a session with Delroy Wilson.

Through studio work Jackie came to meet all the members of the unformed Skatalites. They were all doing sessions. Jackie, having an uncanny ability to pick up a song, became their teenage mascot (still only 15).” As guitarist extraordinaire Lynn Taitt says, “He had the charisma that audiences loved, that’s the best way to put it”. Taitt met Jackie Mittoo in 1963 when he joined the Sheiks band. “He was playing a little 16 note piano called a clavoline when I first met him”. Taitt arrived in Jamaica from Trinidad for a two week tour with Byron Lee’s band which went fine except that when it ended the promoter vanished with the money and left the musicians stranded. Though Mittoo was but 15 when they met, Taitt states firmly that “he was just an amazing musician, very, very quick”.

In fact, Mittoo so impressed Coxson Dodd that he was asked to run the sessions at Dodd’s Studio One facility at 13 Brentford Road in Kingston when it opened in October 1963. Also among the first artists signed to Studio One was Norma Frazer. Frazer describes Mittoo’s role at Studio One by saying “Every song that was recorded at Studio One, Jackie played on. He arranged, composed and did anything it took to put a song together. Singers would come with a piece of junk and Jackie would build it and polish it until it shined! And I know because he did it with my songs, such as ‘First Cut Is the Deepest’. It was Jackie that developed the intro, and that’s the real hook in the song. He arranged it and I give him full credit. Whenever he was there, which was almost always, I would go to him first to check my songs”.

It was in late ’63 that Jackie began discussing the formation of a new band with the contract musicians that he worked with daily at Studio One. Musicians such as Tommy McCook, Lloyd Brevett and Lester Sterling, as well as Lloyd Knibb and Johnny Moore from the Cavaliers. The calypso singer Lord Tanamo was present at one of these discussions and it was suggested that the musicians meet at the Odeon theatre to discuss a name. The Odeon was owned by Dada Tawari and he agreed to finance the microphones and other sound equipment the group would require to play concerts, as soon as they could settle on a name. Tanamo came up with the Orbits, someone said the All Stars and Knibb offered up the Satellites before McCook suggested the Skatalites and the group was born. As Jackie described the early days of the Skatalites, “It was beautiful while it lasted, because the first night when the band started it almost broke up because there were too many stars, but it actually lasted for three years”. In fact, it was only 14 months, from June of ’64 to August of ’65.”

Though Mittoo was the youngest member, the group recorded several rip roaring Ska shakers which featured his piano and organ. “Killer Diller” and “Hanging Tree” are two such numbers and “Ska Matic”, newly titled for this release, is another. [“Ska Matic” is actually “Ska Shuffle”, originally released on the B side of Delroy Wilson’s “We Gonna Make It”, with the matrix # CSD 148.]

Skatalites drummer Lloyd Knibb recalls the early days with Jackie, playing in the Sheiks and Cavaliers and later how that schoolboy progressed to become a top session player. “When I first knew Jackie he was but a boy, a little schoolboy, but he could play. He was always a wizard on the piano and he could arrange any song. But back then, I used to have to shake him awake to go to Cavaliers gigs. Jackie played hundreds of sessions and Coxsone really take him on a steady arranger. Jackie rehearsed the Heptones first session at Studio One yunno?” Jackie became a session regular when Studio One opened on Brentford Road in 1963, while playing with The Cavaliers. That led to him becoming a member of the Skatalites. He was later a member of the Soul Vendors, Soul Brothers and Sound Dimension bands on Brentford Road.

Mittoo’s creative talents were harnessed by Coxson Dodd after the Skatalites split, and as noted by Knibb, his solo career took off in 1966 with that of the Heptones. Mittoo’s version of the Heptones song “Fatty Fatty” was his first solo hit. “Ram Jam” came about because Jackie overheard the name of a venue that he would play with the Soul Vendors in ’67 in England. The tune is on Jackie Mittoo in London, his debut LP. “Ram Jam” was a smash and led to a string of instrumental LP’s on the Studio One labels. After In London came Evening Time, Keep On Dancing, Now, Macka Fat, Reggae Magic and the EP Showcase,which comprise Mittoo’s work for producer Coxsone Dodd on album.

Dodd’s basic employment arrangement with Jackie was payment to compose five new rhythms a week. This arrangement went on for over five years and among the thousands of compositions he produced and arranged for Dodd, it’s sometimes difficult to assess the exact contributions of each session man. For instance, after teaching him to play bass, Mittoo often collaborated with Heptones vocalist Leroy Sibbles on the arrangement of basslines, such as on “Mean Girl” (’69), “Never Let Go” (’69), “Pick Up The Pieces” (’69), “How Can I Leave You” (’69), “Back Out With It” (’70) and “Mr. Bassie” (’71). As Dodd’s musical director and as the leader of Studio One’s session musicians, Mittoo was the driving force behind hundreds of classic riddims. In particular, his legacy includes compositions such as ‘Darker Shade Of Black’ (’66), perhaps best known as the bed for “Pass The Tu Sheng Peng” by Frankie Paul. And it was Mittoo who delivered the “Fattie Fattie” (’66), riddim. Mittoo wrote the melody and bassline of “Hot Milk” (’67), and it was also Mittoo who fashioned the riddim Freddie McGregor made known as “Bobby Bobylon”.

Jackie’s cut came first and is titled “One Step Beyond” (’67). Mittoo’s arrangement of “I’m Still In Love With You” (’67) was popularised by Alton Ellis before it was versioned for “Uptown Top Ranking” by Althea and Donna. For “You Don’t Love Me” (’67), Mittoo wrote the brass arrangement and then did his thang on the instrumental “Loving You”. Jackie also arranged the Rock Steady anthem “Baby Why” (’68), by the Cables, which the Mighty Diamonds laid claim to on “Have Mercy”. He re-arranged the Maytals tune “54-46″ into “Feel Like Jumping” (’68), which became Marcia Griffiths first hit, it was later versioned by Supercat in 1985 for “Boops”. Jackie’s “Heavy Rock” (’68) was first cut by Sound Dimension, the Studio One session band named after a piece of audio equipment. The organ instrumental is titled “Our Thing”, and though it includes a vocal, or perhaps because of that, versions by Culture, “See Dem A Come”, and Josey Wales, “Leggo the Rhythm”, were more popular. Mittoo’s “Peanie Wallie” (’70) was quickly versioned by the Wailers and emerged as “Duppy Conqueror”. In its essence, Jackie’s work on these top rhythms forms the foundation of Studio One and of plenty Reggae.

Among the top musicians that you’ll hear on these cuts are guitarist Ernest Ranglin, percussionists Count Ossie and Ras Michael, saxophonists Roland Alphonso and Cedric ‘Im Brooks, and trombonist Vin ‘Don Drummond Jr.’ Gordon. Ranglin’s effects pedals get a workout with Jackie, and his picking is par excellance. There are but two vocal numbers, leaving 29 glorious instrumentals. The first song is by Alton Ellis. He makes a fierce statement of “Black Man’s Pride” and shines, as usual. A previously unreleased Jackie Mittoo song shows him giving all he’s got on “Summer Breeze”, giving you the chance to judge Jackie’s infamous vocal stylings for yourself. Other previously unreleased tracks include “Fireball Rock” and “Jackie’s Mood”.

In 1968, shortly after Mittoo left Jamaica to emigrate to Toronto Canada, he began playing at various clubs on Young and Bloor streets, including the West Indian Federated Club. Mittoo was not alone in venturing to Toronto, at that time he was joined by Lynn Taitt, Johnny Moore, Bobby Gaynair and drummer Joe Isaacs, among others. “I always had this dream of becoming a good organ player, playing a Hammond organ with foot pedals…Coxson used to send me the Evening Times when I first came to Canada and all my records as a form of royalty. Rock Steady was big in Canada and it’s what they still like. That’s why ‘Hold Me Tight’ by Johnny Nash was big in Canada, and also ‘Double Barrel’ by Ansel Collins stayed a long time in the charts.” It was in 1970 that Jackie cut his first record in Canada, “Soul Bird/Wishbone”, a single for Summus Records. That was followed by an LP, “Reggae Magic” and then two more LP’s for the Canadian Talent Library, which is “the Canadian version of the American Library of Congress”, a copyrighting organisation that produces records. These records were made available to nearly every radio station in Canada and were recorded with the idea of projection Jackie’s name as a popular stylist. That is, they were mostly comprised of American pop with only a few originals, although all were Reggae versions.

When he wasn’t playing out in Toronto, Jackie worked for the Canadian Talent Library. In 1988, he told I. Jabulani Tafari that the Talent Library “gave me a lot of recognition on all the Canadian stations. The Canadian Talent Library is an organization which is like a pool up between the radio stations to see to it that mostly Canadian content is played on their radio stations. At the time I had qualified for Canadian content because I’d already lived there for about four years. So I did one album for them called Reggae Magic. Being as it was instrumental it got favorite radio play. They didn’t have to put up with no lyrics and all that, but them was still getting Reggae. And so that became the favorite Reggae album in Canada. This is in 1972. Financially, it was a non-profit thing, but I could have never financed the amount of advertisement that I got from these people.”

“Wish Bone” was a big hit for Jackie in Canada and Lynn Taitt recalls how it was effective in putting Jackie’s name out in Canada because it was a purely Canadian production.

Jackie resided in Toronto for just over 20 years, and over those years he played with such artists as Willie Williams, Desmond Dekker, Johnny Nash, and Lord Tanamo, and was afforded the opportunity to jam with Quincy Jones, Paul Shaffer and Oscar Peterson.

During the seventies, he regularly visited England and Jamaica and he recorded a series of 4 LP’s for producer Bunny Lee on the Third World label between 1974 and ’78. He also played on LP’s by Rico Rodriguez. In the early eighties he divided his time between Sugar Minott and his Black Roots organization, and various projects where he was a guest musician such as with UB-40. Mittoo plays on two cuts on their wildly successful Labour of Love LP. Jackie also worked with Foundation, Cat Coore, John Holt, Jack Radics, Judy Mowatt, Dennis Brown and Little Roy in the mid eighties and mixed LP’s by Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, the Tamlins and Leroy Smart.

In 1985 Jackie toured Ghana with Musical Youth. While there he recorded in Accra at the Black Note Recording Studio with tour manager Toney Owens producing the tracks he laid.

The late eighties found Mittoo working for a while at SKD Studios, AKA the Skengdon Recording Company in Miami, and for the producers Sonny Ochiai and Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes and their Wackies studio and label in New Jersey.

On August 1, 1987 Jackie played a show at the Miami Marine Stadium with Judy Mowatt, The Tamlins, The Diamonds, Dennis Brown, John Holt and others. Mittoo spent plenty time at the Skengdon Studios, 6157 NW 167th Street Unit F-4, in Miami, as all the artists on the above bill had Skengdon releases which he worked on. Mittoo also is supposed to have cut a solo LP for Skengdon, but label founder Kenneth Black’s later incarceration seems to have kept that on the shelf.

Jackie always became animated when discussing copyrights, usually rendering the concept as “copywrongs”. He gave Reggae Report magazine’s I. Jabulani Tafari an earful about how Jamaica’s lack of copyright law has effected his works, and also accurately predicted the advent of the law. “It will come at some given point. It’s just that certain people don’t understand what’s happening. They don’t know how it feels for someone like me who create some bass lines from the ’60’s. And in the 70’s, hear another set of people use the same bass lines. In the 80’s hear another set of people use the same bass lines, which I personally created. Put yourself in my position. You created it in the ’60’s and even now in the ’80’s you hear someone else use it as a support for their ‘new’ song, and you can’t even claim anything because it’s not a melody line. But it’s going to come together soon. By the time you have meetings and everybody realizes that you can use a bass line and claim copyright on it as a “melodic bassline”. That’s why if you ask me where is my finances, it’s all in everbody else’s songs via my bass line.”

Jabu: Do you think the lack of a copyright law in Jamaica for so long has humbugged Reggae? Jackie: It’s humbugged me immensely. As it is, that’s what the whole snag is all about and why there is no recompense.

When asked if he was bitter, Jackie didn’t bite his tongue, “More then bitter, because the only time I ever get any recompense is if I go out and get a lawyer or get some kind of real strong support to claim. And it doesn’t really feel pleasant to go trying to claim and tell people, ‘I’m the one who did this.’ And the whole industry knows that Jackie Mittoo created those bass lines. But my most recent successful claim was for ‘Pass the Dutchie’, which was one of our instrumentals from Studio One. The Mighty Diamonds were very complementary because hadn’t it been the Diamonds, who did the first rendition of a melody on top of our bass line, which was an instrumental called ‘Full Up’, hadn’t the Diamonds done that (“Pass The Kutchie”) then there’d be no song. And while I was in England I was working with the young kids called the Musical Youth and eventually they made a rendition of the same thing, ‘Pass the Dutchie’. I had to prove to the whole world that I had something to do with the bassline. And that bass line was played by Leroy Sibbles. Robbie Lyn played a keyboard and myself played a keyboard. We all worked at Studio One.

Jabu: You made this claim in England?

Had it been Jamaica, like we know, I probably would have had no claim at all, but in the High Courts of Law in England, something like that is pretty legal if you can prove that you had anything to do with the material.”

In 1989 Mittoo joined the reformed Skatalites as the opening act of Bunny Wailer’s Liberation Tour for several weeks, playing alongside Ken Stewart, who had taken over Jackie’s spot on keyboards. Stewart laugh’s about Jackie being a “ham” onstage and video of the tour bears out his description. “Before I met Jackie I hadn’t learned the right chords for loads of Skatalites tunes”, Stewart explains, “I was shown chords that worked, but weren’t correct, but after 10 days with Jackie I knew all the correct chords.” Before the tour played its last date however, Jackie, Roland Alphonso and Lester Sterling joined Lord Tanamo, Brian Atkinson, Lynn Taitt, David Madden, Calvin Cameron, Gladstone Anderson and Winston Grennan in Japan for a series of dates.

On September 29, 1990, Jackie was scheduled to play with the Skatalites on a bill with Desmond Dekker in Toronto but as he was growing very sick, he telephoned Ken Stewart in Boston and asked him to make the trip. Stewart recalls an emotional Mittoo discussing the pain and anguish of cancer and chemotherapy treatments, and that he was “worried that I won’t be able to play”. Jackie was able to play, but Knibb and Stewart recall it as the only time Jackie ever performed while seated.

Lynn Taitt received a call from Jackie “sometime after the show in Toronto, maybe in November[1990]”, and “he just said, Taitt, I’m not gonna make it, and we both broke down and cried over the lines”.

On 12/16/90 at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto Canada, Jackie Mittoo died of lung cancer.

He’s buried in the Pye River Cemetery near Montego Bay.

– Brian Keyo
May 1995