A Brief History of the Skatalites
The Skatalites story, and the story of Jamaican music, is still being written. But, to paraphrase a Jamaican proverb, the heights these great men reached were certainly not attained by sudden flight, they, while their companions slept, were toiling through many nights, and still do.
As Tommy McCook would say, ‘I am your musical servant,’ and through teachers, musicians, producers, and collectors, will endeavor to relay a little of the story of the Skatalites.
There are at least three sides to every story, and with the Skatalites there are nine sides. So of course, there are conflicting accounts, for instance the spelling of Jah Jerry’s last name. However, their resolution depends only upon further research. [BTW, It’s Haynes]
The Skatalites were formed in May of 1964 and played their first gig on May 16 at the Hi Hat club, 4 Hannah Street in Rae Town, which was owned and operated by Orville ‘Billy’ Farnum. The Skatalites were led by Thomas ‘Tommy’ McCook, on tenor and flute. The brass section included Don Drummond on trombone, Rolando Alphonso on tenor saxophone, Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling on alto saxophone, and Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore on trumpet. The rhythm section was led by Lloyd Knibb on drums, and included Lloyd Brevett on bass, Jerome ‘Jah Jerry’ Haynes on guitar and Donat Roy ‘Jackie’ Mittoo on piano and organ. These nine musicians are the original Skatalites.
The Skatalites featured four vocalists in their live performances. Initially, it was Tony DaCosta, Doreen Schaefer and the Mento singer, Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon. They were joined by a man who sang like Jackie Wilson and danced like James Brown. Barbadian Jackie Opel was a dynamo on stage who could really drop legs (dance), and reportedly possessed six octave range!
Clement Seymour ‘Coxson’ Dodd helped out initially. Dodd explains, “At the formation of the band, I supplied the PA system, microphones and what ever it is. Also the guitar amplifier and other amplifier. I helped with transportation and I supplied storage for equipment and instruments. I was a part of promoting the first gigs and other gigs to get it off the ground, because I figured more or less, if I am recording the Skatalites, its good to get them popular out in the streets, yunno?”
Blondel “Ken Lack” Calnek also assisted as road manager, once Tommy McCook had everything going. Dodd recalls Ken Lack as “very helpful to them”, and also claims that, “the honorable PJ Patterson did some management of the band”. (Patterson is the Prime Minister of Jamaica)
The bond between the musicians was forged in the nascent recording studios of Kingston from 1955 through ’63. The studios were Federal, which opened in 1954, and the facilities at RJR and later JBC which opened in 1959. Ironically, Tommy McCook, a senior figure to the rest of the future Skatalites, did not participate in any of the boogie blues and shuffle sessions which the other eight members cut their studio teeth on. In fact, McCook had left Jamaica in 1954 for a Jazz gig at the Zanzibar Club in Nassau, Bahamas. But before McCook left Jamaica, he did become the first future Skatalite to record, though not for commercial release. It was with Don Hitchman’s Group in 1953. Hitchman had been asked by Archie Lindo to cut a few tunes at Jamaica’s pioneer radio station, ‘ZQI, on their new equipment. He obliged and his group played a few tunes live to the machine, which used soft wax to cut what was basically an acetate. That might’ve been the very start of Jamaican musical recordings. Soon after that, sound system pioneer Stanley Motta began to operate his studio, where he recorded calypso and mento that were released on 78’s. Rolando Alphonso was one of the first to record with him, probably in 1954.
McCook returned to Jamaica in June of 1962, and began playing regular Jazz sessions around Kingston. He had heard some Ska and about the record industry in Jamaica while living in Nassau, but he was a committed Jazzman. Satisfied with live gigs, he initially resisted offers to record and to lead a studio group which were made by Coxson Dodd. Dodd scoured the Jazz spots around Kingston for talent to record, and since McCook had returned to the scene, he was intrigued and impressed with his playing. Unlike most observers, Dodd was Jamaica’s busiest producer, and at the end of 1962, his operation was just picking up steam. He was looking to expand and was searching for a building to buy in which he could build his own recording studio. In 1961, after three years of producing and releasing 7″ 45 singles, Dodd had compiled and released his first LP, All Star Top Hits. In 1962, Dodd recorded and released I Cover The Waterfront. Two of the players are Don Drummond and Rolando Alphonso, who comprise the brass section and are featured soloists. In 1963 came Jazz Jamaica From the Workshop, which were Tommy McCook’s first recordings since returning to Jamaica. McCook explains, “It was done in ’63, but before I was with the Skatalites. Ernest is on that, Cecil Lloyd, Don Drummond, Roland, Lloyd Mason, myself, the Reverend Billy Cooke on trumpet and Carl McLeod on drums, whom I had been playing with in my Jazz combo.”
Don Drummond has two tunes on Jazz Jamaica and McCook’s composition, “The Answer,” is included. “I wrote that just after I got back to Jamaica, in ’62, but it wasn’t the first. ‘Roadblock’ was the first tune I wrote when I got back,” McCook recalled.
McCook also recalls hearing the Dodd produced tune, “Schooling the Duke,” after returning to Jamaica. “It was tearing down the airwaves, and I listened in. Johnny Moore was on that tune, young Gaynair was on that tune and Don Drummonds. Well, I listened and I liked what I heard, yunno. Dizzy was blowing some nice jazzy solo on that tune, Don as his usual self, as a Jazzman too. That’s well, where I became involved.”
Lloyd Knibb also made a habit of checking McCook’s Jazz gigs and of asking him to lead a band. McCook initially declined Knibb’s offer, as he had Dodd’s. Eventually he warmed to the idea, and by late 1963, told Knibb to form the band and he would lead it when his engagement with pianist Aubrey Adams at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel was up. Knibb laughs, recalling his answer that the band was already formed, and all that they needed to do was to have a meeting together and then get some gigs.
The meeting came to bump at the Odeon Cinema Theatre, (Johnny Moore dissents on this point, insisting it was the Regal) which was owned by the family of Dada Tewari (possibly Dada Tewari). Tewari and family also owned the Regal Theater and the Caribbean Records plant on Torrington Road. Tewari had agreed to book the band at his theaters and to provide microphones and equipment. But, Moore relays that, “As it worked out, it didn’t happen the way Tewari thought it would and he kind of backed out.”
Tewari had been introduced to the band by his friend Joseph Gordon, better known as Lord Tanamo. Before the group could book gigs, they needed a name and that was the matter at hand. Lord Tanamo recounts the meeting, “several names were proposed and criticized, such as the All Stars, before I suggested the Orbits, and someone say Itallites, then Lloyd Knibb said no, Satellites, and Tommy said no, we play Ska, Ska-talites. And that was it.”
After the initial gig at the Hi Hat, there were conflicts within the group, and according to Jackie Mittoo, the Skatalites almost broke up. Mittoo described the situation, “there were too many stars in the group and not everybody could get along.” According to Lloyd Knibb, Jah Jerry had been very upset with the gig and stopped playing shows thereafter. However, the band persevered and landed a regular engagement at the Bournemouth Beach Club in Eastern Kingston, playing Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Skatalites also picked up a regular gig at the Orange Bowl on Orange Street on Sundays. Of course they took spot dates too, which according to a Studio One 45 sleeve, included Monday, July 27 when they played the Jamaica Success Club at 63 Wildman Street. There was “Dancing to Tommy McCook and the Ska-talites with Jackie Opel, Delroy Wilson, Doreen Schaefer, Lee Perry, The Blue Beats and many more artists. Cover 3/6.” I’m told that means three shillings and six pence.
The Skatalites played all around the island. Notable shows were played at the Club Calypso on Good Hope Road in Falmouth. Including one at which a nurse who worked at Falmouth Hospital reportedly danced herself to death. They played the Embassy Club, the Wooden Spoon and the Cellar Club in Mobay.
The Skatalites proved a solid draw; the nine musicians had their followings, the band featured guest soloists and singers, and audience participation was encouraged by ‘launching’ the band to start each show. Lord Tanamo started the countdown, and then Jackie Opel made it a tradition. At certain venues such as the Odeon Theatre, during the show a satellite moving through space was projected onto the wall behind the band! Antics included Johnny Moore twirling his trumpet and Brevett spinning his bass during breaks in tunes. Dancers such as Pam Pam Gifford, Glory, Jabba, Persian the Cat and a rhumba queen named Madame Pussycat, gained fame by dropping legs during Skatalites shows. PJ Patterson, current Prime Minister of Jamaica, was an up and coming barrister in the early sixties who became a big fan of the Skatalites. Patterson later represented Don Drummond in court, and much later had the Skatalites play Independence Day festivities in the National Stadium 1992 as PM.
The Skatalites played around Kingston at the Yacht Club, Wicky Wacky, the Silver Slipper, Club Havana and the Blinking Beacon, according to Sister Ignatius. A nun with the Sisters of Mercy, and an instructor at the Alpha School for Boys, Sister Ignatius met Don Drummond, Lester Sterling and Johnny Moore in the first and second form, when she was their teacher.
“I didn’t have Tommy as a student, as he was older. I knew Don Drummond, I knew Lester Sterling and I knew Johnny Moore,” Sister explained. “Music is a big part of the curriculum here at the school. Back when Tommy, Don, Lester and Johnny were students, we would have all day classes in music. Nowadays, the music classes are a half day.”
Known as ‘Jamaica’s Nursery For Brass Band Music,’ the Alpha Boys School band has earned an international reputation for excellence through ‘Music in Education’. The school is on South Camp Road in Kingston, and inside its spacious Lennie Hibbert Music Hall, the walls are adorned with photos and memorabilia honoring the achievements of Alpha School graduates. Don Drummond has his own corner amid fellow Alpha ‘old boys’ such as Joe Harriot, Bertie King, Dizzy Reece, Dudley Farrier, Harold ‘Little G’ Gaynair, Joe Bennett, Wilton Gaynair, Headley Bennett, Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Raymond Harper, Ron Wilson, Emmanuel ‘Rico’ Rodriguez, and Leslie “Bobby Ellis” Wint.
Johnny Moore recalls his days at Alpha fondly, “They[the nuns] were serious people and don’t take to joking, but I enjoyed it at the Alpha School. I was there with Don and Lester and I remember Don always study music by reading piano books. He played trombone but he would sit under the dibby-dibby tree studying his piano book for hours.” Moore also recalled being close to Sterling while at Alpha, “Sterling was kind of a teacher of mine. We were close in age, he was in the next form, and he played trumpet in the Alpha band.”
Moore left Alpha in 1955, and “a couple of months later I joined the military band.”
Tommy McCook also warmly recalls his days at the Alpha School, “My brother was already at Alpha when I first went there with my Mom to visit. Frank was a little older than me and he was a good singer. Alpha helped bring that out and later Frank was a singer with Roy Coburn’s Blue Flames Orchestra. When I started at Alpha in the band, I played tenor right away, and it was my teachers sax. It came about because his time was up. I was given the school sax to use as my first.”
McCook recalls his start at Alpha, “The nuns took good care of us. Sister Marie Therese, who was the caretaker and superintendent of the school when I started there in ’39, was a very stern person. We called her Sister Martarez. She was kind of cool, saintly. Sister Alphonso was her helper, and she was big and robust, like a man. Sister Ignatius came next.”
As for Don Drummond, according to school records, he entered Alpha at age nine, “because his mother could no longer tolerate his truancy.” It also states that he spent three years in third form, and completed level five before he left on September 12, 1950 to join the Colony Club Orchestra, which was led by Eric Deans. Eric Deans was a popular bandleader who recruited heavily from Alpha. His bands played American swing and Latin rhythms which emanated from Cuba and points south.
“Eric Deans had a way of grooming young kids into playing the music,” states Tommy McCook. “Us kids kept going in the band, whenever we see a member left the band, he would come to Alpha and audition a young chap to fill in.” During the forties and fifties, most of the Skatalites spent time working in his bands after they first left school. Including Skatalites who did not attend the Alpha School.
Before Rolando Alphonso joined Deans band, he attended the Stony Hill Industrial School, whose curriculum included musical instruction. “I started on side drum when I was 10, in 1941. When I was thirteen my mum asked my schoolmaster, ‘please to put my son on saxophone.’ They did, but eventually because first they put me on trumpet! (Much laughter!) We played overtures, strolls, waltzes and dead marches.”
Dead marches? Why did they teach school kids to play dead marches?
“We needed to know them man. Because people were dying all the time and no one could afford a professional band for a funeral, so they had the school band play. Also, we played at the funerals for school kids. I remember one kid died from climbing an electric post near the schoolyard.” Roland hilariously, yet solemnly, stands up and acts out the dead march . . .
Roland recalls his first sax at age 15. “My mother bought me an alto sax at Montague’s Music on Tower Street. It cost 25 pounds and Sonny Bradshaw wrapped it up for us. Mr. Montague said that I better appreciate how kind my mother is to me, to buy such a saxophone for me, and that I better make sure I take good care of it. I think Montague’s was the only place in Kingston selling Jazz sheet music then.”[’46]
Lloyd Brevett was taught everything by his father David, who played and built his own basses. It was a difficult process, according to Brevett. “We start by salvaging fine wire to make the A, D and G strings. Then you would wax the wire and then you must wrap it by hand with twine, a kind of tough hemp. That take a long time and you must be careful to do it tight. One time I had wrapped the strings and while my old man was playing it, the string start to unravel, and oh man, that mean troubles for poor me.”
Jah Jerry, who is retired from performing, has been living in the Jones Town section of Kingston for at least 40 years. Haynes started in music late in life compared to his mates. “My old man used to have a little guitar yunno? When I was a big young man of 22 I decide say, well I’m gonna try a little of this thing. Well, there’s a guitar player named Ernest Ranglin. We get Ernest Ranglin and he set me on yunno, assist me on to what I really know.” According to Ranglin, he was asked to teach Jerry’s father, who was blind. At the same time he also instructed Jerry. “I taught Jerry for seven years,” Ranglin recalled. They also played together frequently before the formation of the Skatalites in Prince Buster’s All Stars where Ranglin was the house bassist.
Lester Sterling played trumpet and cornet at the Alpha School from 1949 to ’55. It wasn’t until his early twenties, after stints in Stanley Headlam’s band, as second trumpet, and with Rolando Alphonso’s Upsetters band, also on trumpet, that he decided he wanted to play alto saxophone. “I told my friend Bushie Pitt that I didn’t want to play trumpet no more. Him say him have a sax and that I can trade my trumpet to him for it. I say no, but how much for the sax? Him say 20 pounds. So, I did leave my trumpet with him but I told him that I’d pay him in a couple of months, and that’s what happened. I sold the trumpet to someone else who wanted to learn music. Cannonball [Karl Bryan] helped me out a lot when I just got that saxophone man. I didn’t know anything about reeds and such. Cannonball helped me to get the right mouthpiece. We were good friends, we used to get gigs from when I was on trumpet. We got gigs with Rico too, mostly little shows in country at parties.”
“Rico introduced me to Coxson, and carry me to Federal for a session, my first, in 1958. It was a Coxson session at Federal that I started to blow Ska, Ska, Ska and they start call me Ska Sterling. It was a guy named Blackie was the first to call me Ska. He was one of the hep guys who say Skavoovee and ting. He was also a tailor.” Blackie was indeed a tailor and made clothes for Rolando Alphonso. Blackie can be seen dancing on the cover of the LP, All Star Top Hits, and underneath the second CD in this package, he’s got a hankerchief, or something tied to his left arm.
Lloyd Knibb started out playing two condensed milk tins between his feet, while seated in the back of his yard. While in his teens, he worked with his Aunt Sylvia making patties and pudding and selling them to businesses downtown. They lived for a while in Trenchtown, where he was fascinated by the drummers playing goat skin fundes and repeaters on the streetcorners. Rastafari was growing in Jamaica, and Trenchtown in the early forties was a hotbed of the movement. Knibbs’ first experience with a real drum was when he played a repeater at a Rasta meeting.
“Before I start to play I followed Donald Jarrett, drummer for Sonny Bradshaw’s band,” Knibb explains. “In ’45 or ’46, as a little boy, I used to follow him and sit down behind him and listen and watch him. So, eventually I got my inspiration from Jarrett.”
I didn’t ever have a teacher teaching me so I just watch man and listen to radio, anything. I was 18 before I really start to go from band to band. It was Lester Williams, a trumpeter who was in Deans band, he taught me how to properly count bars.”
Jackie Mittoo was the baby of the Skatalites. A child prodigy on the piano, Mittoo was reportedly playing under his grandmother’s tutelage on her piano at the age of three. He was playing professionally by 12 with bands such as the Vagabonds and reportedly The Vikings. Soon after, he was playing with the Rivals band and hanging out at Federal Studio. Mittoo made a name for himself with the public while in the Sheiks and Cavaliers in 1962 and ’63 respectively, and was 16 when the Skatalites formed in May of 1964.
“From before the music change, we were together,” says Rolando Alphonso, describing the link between the future Skatalites. In fact, seven of the nine, Drummond, Alphonso, Sterling, Moore, Haynes, Brevett and Knibb, had recorded Jazz, boogie blues and shuffle as work for hire musicians during the late fifties at Federal. They also were instrumental in the change in music Alphonso alluded to. (McCook was in Nassau during those years and Mittoo was too young for those sessions, though he did play on one or three for Coxson at Federal in 1961-2.) The change was rhythmic, and it was a gradual process which began around 1958, with experiments conducted by Ernest Ranglin and bassist Cluett Johnson, under the guidance of Coxson Dodd. Dodd encouraged Ranglin to emphasize the upbeat of the then popular shuffle rhythm, to pick it up a bit. The shuffle became a Jamaican boogie, and often featured a wailing sax.
The next rhythmic experiment involved Lloyd Knibb, again at the direction of Coxson Dodd. Dodd was seeking a faster and more exciting beat, which would be able to really push the horn players. He knew Knibb as “a much busier drummer” than predecessors Arkland “Drumbago” Parks, or Aston “Wackie” Henry.
Knibb spent years developing a crack rimshot which allows him to refrain from ever using the open snare. He’s also the only drummer to appropriate the African burru style on a trap set, and check out his figures on the hi hat, say at the beginning of “Simmer Down” or “Addis Ababa.” When he started playing Ska, he took over the beat for his own, and his inimitable style reigned through the Rock Steady era into 1967. According to Keith Scott, who was employed at Federal Studios briefly in the sixties, “Between 1962 and 1966 Lloyd Knibbs was the dominant drummer-he played on over 90 percent of the records.”
Knibb has a large callus, or “corn” as he calls it, on his hand from delivering his powerful rimshots. “Anyone seriously playing the Ska for a long time must have a corn like this,” he insisted.
Knibb played burru over the years in the Warieka Hills at the encampment of Count Ossie. Outside of the studio, Count Ossie’s place was where most of the future Skatalites played together before the band formed. “Count Ossie had a big ranch kind of house with several bedrooms, where musicians would stay,” according to Knibb. Rico Rodriguez, Drummond and Moore all lived there at times and Coxson Dodd recalls first meeting them there. “I think that I really first met a lot of the guys up at Count Ossie’s camp. In the earlies, before I started to do recording, I used to go up there to just listen to the musicians. There were regular jam sessions up there. Johnny was up there, Roland, Don, Rico, Knibbs . . . I kind of creamed the whole early scene from up there, yunno?”
By the early sixties, Knibb, Moore and Mittoo were playing together in the Shieks. The band underwent a name change in 1963 when they got a new manager, Bill Gentles, and emerged as the Cavaliers Orchestra. It was at that time that Knibb, Moore and Mittoo started talking to others about starting a new band. Drummond and Alphonso were involved from the start, as was Brevett. Brevett and Knibb had been hustling gigs together since the forties at the Coney Island Amusement Centre, and had an understanding that one would always try to get work with the other. Ernest Ranglin was too busy to commit to the new group but recommended his pupil, Haynes. Sterling had been in the military band with Moore, was the leading altoist of the era, and a studio stalwart. This nucleus was together at sessions all day and at night would play their varied live gigs. They knew they needed a leader, but no one was up to the task. So, as Moore tells it, “It was Jackie and I that handpicked the group. That was while we were in the Cavaliers Orchestra. I told Knibb to go after Tommy McCook.” Knibb corroborates Moore’s account and notes that before they decided to go after McCook, Lyn Taitt, guitarist with the Cavaliers, had declined the bandleaders chair. Taitt says, “I just turned it down. Mainly because I’m not a born Jamaican and if those guys were going to go on the road promoting Jamaican music, I thought they must be led by a Jamaican.”
Taitt set them back for a while, and then McCook too, declined the invitation from Knibb. “It was a headache to get Tommy,” Knibb has stated. “I used to check him regular and ask him to lead the band all the time.” Another impetus to forming the Skatalites is offered by Coxson Dodd.
When asked if the groups formation was rebellious to an industry run by the producers, Dodd replied, “Well this was very true, because when the interest in the Ska first started escalating, because of that, Eddie heard that the Ska was moving big now. Eddie Seaga urged Byron Lee to go to New York and to make a presentation of the Ska. [At the August 1964 World’s Fair] At the same time, I heard of it and went down to Khouri’s studio where they were rehearsing. It didn’t make sense, because what these guys are doing is not Ska. It was something more like they took it off of an American band. As it was, I had to carry a guy by the name of Castro, who was one of our roots guys who come to dance when we formulate our Ska. So it went that they had was to carry Castro. Castro got with them and work out some movements yunno, how to do the Ska. After this now, we were aware that other people would be coming in to cash in on the stuff that we had worked so hard on. So, we got in the studio, and so before a session now, I call a meeting and show them what was happening. So I show them say, that away from just what we were calling the stuff, they had to get on the road with a band, and ah, show authority, they had to name the band projecting the word Ska.”
During the heyday of the Ska, it was only producers such as Dodd, Duke Reid and Justin Yap who were able to land the entire Skatalites for a session. Even so, those three at times required fill ins. The main producers whom the Skatalites worked for are Coxson Dodd, Arthur S. ‘Duke’ Reid, Cecil B. ‘Prince Buster’ Campbell, Justin ‘Phillip’ Yap and Victor ‘Randy’ Chin.
The Skatalites recorded with literally everyone of the era who was making records. Groups ranged from the Aces to the Zodiacs, with a few dozen in between, while individual artists span Bobby and Laurel Aitken to Joe White and Delroy Wilson.
The Skatalites first anniversary gig was at the Glass Bucket Club on June 27, 1965 according to Johnny Moore. Moore’s account is supported by a decorative pint glass painted, “Tommy McCook And The Skatalites, 1st Anniversary, June 27, 1965. That artifact [Knibb’s] is proof that the band lasted at least one year. Its importance grows amidst conflicting tales of the Skatalites ‘last show.’ McCook recalls it as a police dance at the Runaway Bay Hotel in August 1965, while Moore and Sterling feel that the last gig was the first anniversary show. That difference in opinions is magnified by the fact that the band was torn apart violently at its demise. Whether by vigorous personality clashes, or sabotage by the producers, the Skatalites break up was precipitated by an event that captivated the whole of Jamaica.
It’s clear from all accounts that the band was never the same after Don Drummond stabbed his girlfriend Marguerita Mahfood to death in the early hours of January 2, 1965, and was incarcerated. Drummond had been absent from the scene and from shows before, but everyone always knew he would return. However, he never returned after the early morning hours of January 2nd.
Drummond had awoken and grown enraged because he had overslept and missed the Skatalites New Years Day show at La Parisienne club in Harbour View. Reportedly, he missed the gig due to a misunderstanding with Mahfood over when she should give him his medication. The medication was to treat recurrent bouts of mental illness which had already caused Drummond to voluntarily commit himself to the Bellevue Sanitarium. Mahfood was a professional dancer known as ‘Marguerita the Rhumba Queen,’ and she gave two performances on the evening of January 1st, one at the Baby Grand and one at Club Havana. Shortly after she arrived home, after midnight, Mahfood’s and Drummond’s careers ended in tragedy.
Drummond died four years later, in 1969 in Bellevue. The exact date and cause of Drummond’s death, and where he is buried, are matters of contention because his funeral was announced and then cancelled. The wake had begun at Madden’s Funeral Home but it was halted by Mr. Madden because of a ruckus created by mourners who weren’t going to let Don go quietly. According to Jamaican radio broadcaster Vaughn “Bunny” Goodison, Drummond was likely buried in an unmarked grave in the vast Maypen cemetery by soldiers as he died in the asylum a criminal lunatic and convicted murderer.
Don Drummond epitomized the Ska, caught as he was between genius and madness. Above all others, it was his artistic sense and supreme dedication to his instrument which transcended the derogatory ‘uptown’ dismissal of Ska as ‘bufbuf’ music, to create a thriving legacy. Despite the music’s worldwide popularity, and the fact that he wrote his last song over thirty years ago, Drummond remains Ska’s leading composer.
Part of that legacy is shouldered by the continuing effort of the Skatalites, part of it can be heard through new bands playing Drummond’s music, and part of it can be seen at the Alpha School. Especially now since, according to Sister Ignatius, a trombone belonging to Drummond which was given to the school by Bellevue, is on display in the Music Hall.
The Skatalites play on. Anchored by Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Rolando Alphonso and Lester Sterling, the group also boasts Doreen Schaeffer and three fresh faces. Devon James is on guitar, Will Clark is on trombone and on trumpet is Nathan Breedlove.
In the studio, the Skatalites were frequently augmented by other musicians. Foremost among the Skatalites galaxy of sidemen were Ernest Ranglin and Nearlin ‘Lyn’ Taitt. Ranglin and Taitt were employed for their power and finesse on lead and rhythm guitar. Like a few Skatalites, Ranglin hustled gigs at the Coney Island’s before moving through the various big bands, including Eric Deans. Taitt was new to Jamaica from Trinidad, but had made a name for himself through the authority of his playing. He claims that, “three quarters of those tunes [the 32 foundation cuts] I play on. Jerry plays on the earliest ones.”
On live performances, Haynes was replaced after the first gig by Harold McKenzie or Leonard Laylor (AKA Poomberry).
On keyboards, Lloyd “Richard Ace” Richards plays on pre 1964 tunes. Cecil Lloyd and Aubrey Adams also contributed.
Larry McDonald played congas live and occasionally in the studio. Noel “Scully” Simms played percussion also.
Oswald F. “Baba” Brooks plays trumpet on most Treasure Isle material. Raymond Harper plays trumpet on some studio recordings and Percival “Rupert” Dillon played second trumpet at live performances.
Robert “Bobby” Gaynair played tenor on a few tunes. Stanley Notice (AKA Ribbs) and Sammy Ismay also play tenor on a handful of recordings.
Dennis “Ska” Campbell is a tenor and baritone player who must get his due, for his contribution to Ska is inestimable. “Ska Campbell very quiet, tall and slim, he was a nice guy. I used to pick him up and carry him a studio. He used to deh ‘mongst we in five piece band to play jam sessions and country party,” stated Knibb. “Campbell always reach early. Him late to a Ska session? Never!”
Campbell was essential at Ska sessions. On many tunes he sets the pace by literally blowing, ‘ska, ska, ska.’ He can be heard especially well on “Dick Tracy,” “Hanging Tree” and “Killer Diller.” It’s said that his style was so taxing to his structure that, Moore reported, “they say that the first time Ska Campbell got a solo, he died shortly thereafter. I think that he really did die a few months after the Skatalites fell through. What he did just became obsolete and no one needed it anymore. He had to try something different, but what he did just about had killed him. It was very hard to do. What he did set a certain ‘marchlike’ pace and was good for us to play off of. It gives the music a special flavor and that’s one part that they can never get back.”
Song Notes & Matrix Numbers
Christine Keeler- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, third solo Lester Sterling. (BK) Titled after a young woman who inadvertently helped to bring down the British government of Harold MacMillan in what is known as the “Profumo Affair” after John Profumo. Adapted from the Herbie Mann tune “Coming Home Baby.” Matrix = WIRL CD 07.
Fidel Castro- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Don Drummond. (CD) Written by Drummond, titled by Dodd, [as were “about fifty percent”] after the Cuban revolutionary who captured the worlds attention. matrix = FC 4096.
Simmer Down- First solo Tommy McCook. Ska Campbell. (BK) “The music we played with the Wailers, around Simmer Down time, is that encourage the Skatalites to form, how the public respond to that music,” recalled Rolando Alphonso. McCook arranged the horns.
Ally Pon- First solo Don Drummond, second solo Rolando Alphonso. Ska Campbell and Jah Jerry are there also. “That’s what our band want now. Man shoulda back up man ‘pon solo, not just sit there and watch. Don blow what he want them fe blow and then he solo while they back him.”- Lloyd Knibb. Allypon is the name of the obeah woman of Annie Palmer, who was the white witch of Rose Hall. Allypon was 3 feet tall! (LK) Matrix = FDR 6416.
Exodus- First solo Frank Anderson, second solo Tommy McCook. (BK) Lloyd “Richard Ace” Richards played piano and Frank Anderson played trumpet. Tommy McCook’s first Ska recording, he recalled that the session was in November 1963 at a brand new Studio 1 [That’s incorrect as it was recorded at Federal Studio.] Johnny Moore explains his absence. “I didn’t play on ‘Exodus’ as I was on retreat. I was wearing a burlap sack and was talking Amharic with my Rasta brethren at Back O’ Wall.” [Back O’ Wall was a hardscrabble Western Kingston community largely constructed along the back of a wall. The community was bulldozed by the government in 1966.] An adaption of the movie theme. Matrix = FC 2808.
King Solomon- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Frank Anderson. “That is a Cha Cha or Merengue that we used to play in Deans band. I hummed that tune to Tommy. One day, me and Tommy alone pack up a pipe and carry it go a bush. We went up Mountain View Avenue, then a turn and a drive and we go up to some bushy, bushy place. We a lick cup and then I hummed the tune and, I think it’s a him flute him use really. We cut it fe Coxson and him give me five pound fe it.” (LK) Matrix = ND 301.
Eastern Standard Time- First solo Don Drummond. Sister Ignatius and Tommy’s favorite tune. (BK) “Don’s tune, he named it. Don and we were all living in the East.” (LK) Matrix = FDR 3031.
World’s Fair- First solo Rolando Alphonso. Ken Boothe and Stranger Cole sing about the big gig that the Skatalites didn’t land. (BK) Matrix = WIRL CS 1025-2.
Two For One- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Lester Sterling, third solo Lloyd Knibb. (BK & CD) Matrix = FC 2984.
I Should’ve Known Better- First solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, second solo Rolando Alphonso. Ska Campbell. (BK) “We first played that on the Cable and Wireless float in the Independence Day parade, we just played that song over and over again, till the parade done near Half Way Tree.” (LK) Surprise, its also known as Independent Anniversary Ska. Matrix = CS 0007. Adapted from the Beatles tune.
Hot Cargo- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Rolando Alphonso. “Sterling brought this tune come a studio.” (LK) Matrix = FC 2809. Credited to Lester Sterling on ND Records.
Black Sunday- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Rolando Alphonso. “Ska” Campbell. (BK) Tommy McCook recalled that it was versioned after hearing the music, “from the show in New York, Black Orpheus.” Matrix = FC 4088.
Ska La Parisienne- Intro Lloyd Knibb, first solo Johnny ‘Dizzy Moore’, second solo Tommy McCook. Adapted from “Mambo Parisienne” by Mancini, with the ‘La’ likely supplied by the La Parisienne nightclub in Harbour View, far Eastern Kingston (BK) Matrix = CN-9.
Don D Lion- “This is all Don and myself. Don loved buru style and did ask me to play it. Don listen to Cuban stations all the while and him take a little bit there, learn a little thing here and from that make tunes. ‘Ska’ Campbell is there.” (LK) Matrix = FDR 6369.
Dick Tracy- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo ”Dizzy” Johnny Moore, third solo Don Drummond. “Ska” Campbell. (BK) Matrix = CSD 50.
Hanging Tree- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo Jackie Mittoo, third solo Tommy McCook. “Ska” Campbell is there. “This is Jackie’s tune.” (LK) Matrix = WIRL CS 1033-3.
Scandal- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo Don Drummond. “This is just blues. At some times Don come with 5 tunes, daily.” (LK) Aston “Wackie” Henry on drums. A movie was titled after this Drummond composition. Matrix = FC 2263.
Occupation- First solo Rolando, second solo Don Drummond. “Don’s tune.” (RA) Matrix = FDR 6561
Old Rocking Chair- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo Ernest Ranglin. A classic Jackie Opel/Skatalites killer! (BK) Matrix = CSD 193.
Third Man Theme- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. “A stock arrangement” (LK) Adapted from the movie theme. [Third Man Ska] Matrix = WIRL 150
Ringo’s Theme Version 1- First solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, [w/ mute] second solo Rolando Alphonso. Adapted from the Beatles tune, “This Boy.” (BK) Matrix = WIRL CS 1007-3 or WIRL CS 1264-1?
Ringo’s Theme Version 2- A ballad featuring Rolando Alphonso. (BK) Matrix = WIRL CS 1007.
Nimrod- First solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, second solo Lester Sterling. AKA “Ska Train” and “Drums of Fueman True.” (BK) Matrix = CS-72.
Woman A Come- Solo Tommy McCook. (BK) “I arranged the horn section on that tune, whatever we had to play, there wasn’t much. It was a difficult tune to get down, mostly because she was new.” (TM) “From she start sing, I can feel this is a buru tune. I can feel the vibes of the tune. Is only Baba Brooks and Tommy really back it up. Is Don she a sing ’bout, yes [‘the king of ace from outer space,’ five years before U Roy!]. She call it ‘Ungu Malungu Man,’ is Duke Reid call it ‘Woman A Come.’ Don didn’t like that, a woman a come.
Well, it happened ’round the back of the studio. Come like the front, but is the back. Everyone would hang there, sitting on the post or just inside, until their time come. Marguerita bothered Don with an argument and he just stick her with the pen [a steel fountain pen]. He was writing out a next tune, to get it ready and she rush in. I have to go and carry her to a doctor nearby. It was on top of her right hand, I think. It needed to be dressed and plastered. The doctor was at Three Mile, near the roundabout. It was a pharmacy place and he just pressed it and put a bandage on and she can come back to the session. When we get back her and Don just a hug up like nothing happen.” (LK) Matrix = FDR 2954.
Cleopatra- Knibb signalled the band by noting, “red light.” First solo Tommy McCook, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Tommy McCook and Sam ? on flutes, and that’s Taitt on guitar. (BK) Titled after the 1963 film. Matrix = CS 75.
Beardman Ska- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Beardman is a version of Ernie Freeman’s “Live It Up.” We used to play it at Count Ossie’s place. (LK) Matrix = CS 73. [By the end of July 1997 Beenieman’s cut on the rhythm, also on Taxi and ironically titled, “Foundation,” was at Number 1 on Jamaican charts and sat there for seven weeks!]
Addis Ababa- First solo Tommy McCook, second solo Don Drummond. “Ska” Campbell. One of the top Drummond/Knibb burus recorded by Dodd. (CD) Matrix = FC 6158.
Silver Dollar- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo Don Drummond. “Jerry is on there. Don’s solo sounds like the way Marguerita sings, yunno hear that?” (LK) Matrix = FDR 4018
The Vow- First solo Rolando Alphonso, Jackie Opel and Doreen Schaeffer in a duet that they often performed live. (BK) Matrix = C DODD II or III, unclear as its from the master.
Dr. Kildare- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. “Ska” Campbell. (BK) Titled after the TV show, which was popular in Jamaica. Matrix = C DODD II 16.
Killer Diller- First solo Lester Sterling, second solo Jackie Mittoo. “‘Ska’ Campbell is there, that’s Taitt on guitar. This is a stock arrangement from a big band tune, but Jackie did change it up.” (LK) Matrix = CS 71.
Naked City- First solo Rolando Alphonso, second solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, third solo Lester Sterling. “Ska Campbell and Lyn Taitt are there.” (LK) From Master.
Photo Caption Emendations to CD Booklet
Cover photo; (l to r) Jackie Mittoo-Piano, Tony DaCosta-Vocals, Doreen Shaffer-Vocals, Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon-Vocals, Lloyd Brevett-Bass, Leonard Laylor-Guitar, Noel “Scully” Simms-Percussion[pointing at Knibb], Rupert Dillon-Second Trumpet, Lloyd Knibb-Drums, Rolando Alphonso-Tenor Saxophone, “Dizzy” Johnny Moore-1st Trumpet, Tommy McCook-Tenor Saxophone. (BY ROY BAILEY?)
Inside the booklet, page 4, photo beneath A Brief History Of The Skatalites; (l to r) Lester “Ska” Sterling-Alto Saxophone, Tommy McCook-Tenor Saxophone, Rolando Alphonso-Tenor Saxophone[seated], Lloyd Brevett-Bass, “Dizzy” Johnny Moore-Trumpet, Jah Jerry Haynes-Guitar. (ROY TOMLINSON)
Page 6; Cecil Lloyd Trio at the Playboy Club in Ocho Rios. (l to r) Cecil Lloyd-Piano, Cluett Johnson-Bass, Lloyd Knibb-Drums. (UNKNOWN)
Page 7; (l to r) Lloyd Knibb-Drums, Hugh Malcolm[next to the piano, face behind the mike], Jackie Mittoo-Piano. (ROY TOMLINSON)
Page 11; (l to r) Don Drummond-Trombone, Emmanuel “Rico” Rodriguez-Trombone, Coxson Dodd [standing]. (UNKNOWN)
Page 14; Coxson Dodd and his eldest daughter Sandra. (UNKNOWN)
Page 16; Photo below Drummond is of the entrance to Bellevue Mental Hospital in Kingston. (BRIAN KEYO)
Page 17; (l to r) Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Will Clark, Doreen Shaffer, Nathan Breedlove, Lloyd Knibb, Devon James, Bill Smith, Lloyd Brevett and Rolando Alphonso. (BRIAN KEYO)
Page 24; The last page of the booklet, the page with the below credit, features the same photo as underneath the CD’s. It features Coxson follower and friend Blackie dancing with a rag or kerchief tied around his left arm.
I want to credit Sister Ignatius, Lloyd Knibb, Tommy McCook, Coxson Dodd, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore, Rolando Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Doreen Shaffer, Lyn Taitt, Ernest Ranglin and Lord Tanamo for their involvement. Respect is due to Mike Kelly and Joey Altruda, as well as to Dro, David Rodigan, Kevin Aylmer, Hank Holmes and Roger Steffens.
-Brian Keyo, June 4, 1997