1. Four Corners (AKA Four Corners Of The World) – 2:41
2. From Russia With Love – 4:18
3. Dr. Ring Ding – 3:05
4. Jack Ruby – 2:41
5. El Pussy Cat Ska (Take 2) – 3:16
6. Federal Special – 2:43
7. Do It Good – 3:18
8. Jah Shakey (AKA Jack Steady) – 2:05
9. Pepe To – 2:57
10. Your Trouble Me – 3:06
11. Rollie Pollie – 2:17
12. Proof Rum – 3:25
13. James Bond – 2:59
14. Provocation – 2:19
15. Grand National – 3:00
16. Hully Gully Rock – 2:52
17. Something Special – 3:27
18. Rolando Special – 3:22
19. Groovy Sax – 3:14
20. Maria Elena – 3:44
A Remembrance of The Chief Musician
Rolando Alphonso 1931-1998
It’s not easy to assess a life in music such that Rolando lived. His career spanned 50 years, and he was one of the first musicians to record in Jamaica. When Roland started in 1948, Mento was the only Jamaican music. Largely a country pastime, it was the province of buskers who’d play at parties and often to cruise ships for spare change. Remember that this was before there were any electric instruments. It was a time when Louise Bennett was writing patois poetry lamenting the departure of the trams [street cars]. She suggested “Buy A Tram,” reasoning that, “We fortune done meck ef we put We tram pon East Street line!” There were but a handful of bands in Jamaica in the forties when the tram was replaced by the bus on East Street. All of those bands were based at hotels and played foreign music, and if musicians weren’t in one of those outfits, they had a warm time. That means it wasn’t easy to hustle for country gigs and play for 2 or 3 shillings a night at the “Coney Islands” around Kingston, like Dodge City in Jonestown or the Crown & Anchor on Bond Street.
It was that music scene of the late forties and its limited opportunities that prompted Jamaica’s first generation horn men, tenor Bertie King, altoist Joe Harriot and trumpeter Roy Burrowes, to leave for England and America. Now, however the Jamaican music scene has grown into an industry that employs hundreds. There are literally dozens of recording studios in Kingston and Jamaica has the world’s highest per capita output of music. Those considerations will take you to Rolando Alphonso. Roland’s flavor was one of the first tastes of the emerging nations’ musical identity. His saxophone sounds shaped Jamaican music at its “Boogie Shuffle” inception, and into and through Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae. As one of the country’s most recorded musicians, his instrumentals and solos can be heard on thousands of recordings, and he was a member of over a dozen bands while leading a half dozen more. The most famous were the Skatalites. As a member, Roland played in Jamaica, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, over 40 American states and even the Indian Ocean island of Reunion!
The musical component of this package surveys Roland’s work for producer Clement Seymour Dodd during his most prolific years, 1958 to 1968. Roland was the best supporting actor in Dodd’s musical cast, and played on more Studio One recordings than only Jackie Mittoo. The remembrance that follows seeks to go beyond the music to describe the life of the man behind the horn.
What was Roland like as a person? Well, as he often said, after his stroke at age 41, he was a changed man. He became deeply religious and he struggled with the after effects of stroke. But he never let that limit, in any way, what he wanted to do. It was inspiring to see the way the man lived. Roland was dedicated to his family and to his music, and loved nothing better than to play, talk about or listen to music, particularly Jazz. “It’s Jazz I was playing before the Jamaican sound,” was a common observation of his. One of Roland’s greatest pleasures was to hear and feel the applause after he uncorked a solo. Whether on record or in concert, the music he made swings, pulsates and sparkles as did his horn, his heart and his eyes. This is what I know about my friend Rolando, and I hope it helps everyone come to love him as his family and friends did.
The 30’s & 40’s
Roland was born on January 12, 1931, in Havana, Cuba to his Jamaican mother, Gertrude Russell, and his Cuban father, Bernardo Alphonso.
According to Roland, he returned to Jamaica with his mother when he was 2 and lived first in the Parish of St. Ann. He left St. Ann around the age of 5 and went to Kingston where he lived with his grandmother, Mrs. Lewin. After a few years, she and Roland’s mother decided that he should go to a school where he could board. So Roland was started at the Stony Hill Industrial School, where he also received his first musical instruction. Roland was the only Skatalite who attended Stony Hill and is often mistakenly taken for an “old boy” or alumni of the Alpha School, which is where four Skatalites were educated.
His first instrument was the side drums, which he began playing in 1941 at the age of 10. According to Mickey O’Bryan, bandleader and journalist, who was a class and bandmate of Roland at Stony Hill, “Roland was taught by a senior boy, Cummings, and he got quite professional on drums before he switched to saxophone.” He played drums for nearly three years before asking his mother to ask the bandmaster, “please to put my son on saxophone.” The master complied, but only after first trying Rolando out on trumpet. The Stony Hill school band played overtures, strolls, waltzes and dead marches. The latter was played on at least one memorable occasion when, according to Roland, a classmate climbed an electric post near the schoolyard and fell to his death, electrocuted!
The first sax that Roland owned was an alto purchased for him by his mother at Montague’s Musicke store on Tower Street in Kingston for 25 pounds, a considerable sum in those days. Roland told of how future bandleader Sonny Bradshaw was working at the store then and he wrapped up the sax. Also, of how Mr. Montague made it loud and clear to the teenager (15) that he had better appreciate, “how kind your mother is to you, to buy such a saxophone for you.” Montague’s was the only place in Kingston where sheet music with orchestrations and Jazz could be purchased in the forties, according to Roland.
Illinois Jacquet was the sax player that Roland cited as his first influence. Later on, he grew to deeply appreciate John Coltrane, calling him “the master for the century with the saxophone. He get gifts from the master and that man inspire me a whole lot man. He let me know that saxophone can be played man, it depends on how you take it.”
It was around his 17th birthday, in January 1948, that Roland left Stony Hill for his big break, an offer to play with the vaunted Orchestra of Eric Deans. However, he departed Deans band after a few months, explaining to me that, “Eric Deans treat me like a child man, and it was six nights a week for small money. So I left him and went to play with Redver Cooke’s band. Redver used to steal Dean’s band all the time, regularly.” Cooke was a drummer and bandleader with a hotel engagement in Montego Bay.
Soon after leaving Redver Cooke’s aggregation, Roland began playing with Willie Nelson’s band. A year or so after that, he was with Roy Coburn, and then the bands of Cyril Beckford, “Baba” Motta, Sonny Bradshaw and Val Bennett, not necessarily in that order. Also, he alternated between tenor and alto, depending on the needs of the group. For instance, in Coburn’s legendary Blu-Flames Orchestra, Alphonso played alto in a section with Bobby Gaynair and Coburn. The Blu-Flames included future Skatalites Tommy McCook and Don Drummond.
Hermine Alphonso, widow of Roland, recalled that when he started with Cyril Beckford, “he asked Rollie to play tenor as he already had an altoist. That was his start on tenor.” Of course, there were other gigs such as backing comedians Bim and Bam on stage at various theatres and playing in the house band at Metropolitan Hall. Roland’s talents were utilized by foreign artists visiting the island, who wanted a big band but weren’t willing to fly down their orchestras. Sarah Vaughan brought a rhythm trio and augmented it with a Jamaican band that included Alphonso, Drummond and Ranglin, for shows at the Tropical Theatre.
The first recordings that Alphonso participated in were as a member of a hotel band. He was likely playing with “Baba” Motta’s group that was in residence at the Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston when he first heard himself on a soft wax, an early form of record also known as an acetate. That was around the time that Lester Sterling first met Roland. As the bebop altoist related in his inimitable fashion, “When I first met Roland? Oh, that was in, let me see, in 1954. He was in Baba Motta’s band.”
Baba’s group recorded, according to Alphonso, at elder brother Stanley Motta’s “studio” on a one track board, starting in 1952. Stanley must have liked Rollie’s work as he used him on recordings he made of calypsonians such as Young Kitchener, Count Lasher, Lord Flea and Lord Fly. For instance, Alphonso is featured as a soloist and also plays the intro and ending on “Reincarnation,” as sung by Young Kitchener and included on the seminal LP Authentic Jamaican Calypsos, released on Motta’s MRS label.
Alphonso was making waves on the Jazz scene in Kingston by the time he performed in the Big Band All Stars concerts first organized by Sonny Bradshaw and Lloyd Adams in 1954. On December 11, 1957 Roland played at the Carib Theatre in the Jazz All Stars 3rd annual concert. He was a featured soloist on two numbers in Section 1, “Big Band Sounds.” Both solos were in compositions by Woody Herman. In Section 2 “The Combo Sounds,” Alphonso played with the Baba Motta Sextet. His write-up in the program read, “Roland Alphonso’s work is so well known that very little need be said about him, he can speak for himself. He’s about the most fluent saxman on the local Jazz scene, and certainly an asset to the Baba Motta Septet.” That type of regard among the Jazz cognoscenti in Kingston gave him an edge in the fledgling recording scene that was starting at Federal Records under the engineering of Australian Graeme Goodall.
Mr. Clement “Coxson” Dodd did not mince words in an interview speaking about his start. “I first went into the studio with Roland Alphonso- Federal Records owned by Ken Khouri. That was in 1956,” according to Mr. Dodd, which was when he first cut material for play on his Downbeat sound system. Unfortunately, that session’s tapes were lost on their way to get mastered. “It was Bell’s Studio in New York we sent them to, on Long Island I think. They never came back,” Sir D recalled. [Bell Sound Studios were on West 57th in New York City] All agree that Alphonso’s first recordings for Dodd were made with Cluett Johnson and his Blues Blasters. The Blues Blasters started by backing the first vocalists to record for Dodd, Jackie Estick and Theophilus “Easy Snapping” Beckford. Roland soon became a regular with the Blasters, playing tenor on many of Dodd’s early sessions at Khouri’s Federal Records studio. However, Dodd recently said it was not only Roland on tenor with Clue J. “I came up with the Blues Blasters name and that was a recording band. Is not only Roland on tenor, Sammy Ismay is the soloist on ‘Shuffling Jug’ and ‘Cane Juice’ and others. Dennis Campbell was contracted to me from then too. Although he was not too great a soloist.” Dennis “Ska” Campbell was however the consummate section man.
Roland explained that it was several years after he cut at Stanley Motta’s when he first made a record designed for local consumption. “I was working at Tower Isle Hotel and the band went to Khouri’s studio [Federal] to make a recording for the hotel. After we were finished, Coxson come inna the studio and say Roland, man you have to do something for I, cause we’re starting up Jamaica’s sound. Then after he say that, ‘Four Corners’ just come into my head and I blew it right away. I name it as I want it to be heard, ‘Four Corners of The World.'”
That’s not quite right according to Mr. Dodd. “Roland’s memory could get shaky sometimes. About 100 tune after Roland started cutting for me he did ‘Four Corners.'” It was likely 1958 when Roland and the Blues Blasters cut the earliest track chosen for this set, ‘Proof Rum.’ ‘Hully Gully Rock’ is likely from 1959. Both exemplify what’s known in Jamaican parlance as “Boogie-Shuffles.” Derivative of the wailing sax and dance beat that was proffered on so many platters out of New Orleans studios and devoured by Jamaican dance fans, “Proof Rum” projects Alphonso in a role that his inspiration, Illinois Jacquet, often played. Honking his horn, he leads the band into and then out of a bluesy romp that’s spiced by hot solos. “Hully Gully Rock,” while similarly showcasing the soloists, is done at a distinctly Jamaican tempo.
By 1960, the recording scene in Kingston was starting to bustle and Alphonso had work from several producers. In addition to weekly sessions for Mr. Dodd, he was in demand by sound system owners such as Lloyd “The Matador” Daley and Vincent “King” Edwards. Both were interested in challenging the pioneering efforts of Dodd and Arthur “Duke” Reid in cutting their own records. It had become a real scramble for sound system owners who craved ascendancy, and Roland was in demand by all of them. For Daley, Roland cut “Bridgeview Shuffle,” and joined “Dizzy” Johnny Moore and Emmanuel “Rico” Rodriguez on other instrumental Shuffles and also backing vocalists such as Neville Esson and Owen Gray.
Of course Roland was also playing sessions for Arthur “Duke” Reid and Vincent “Randy” Chin by 1960, which became a slight problem when Dodd insisted he sign an exclusive contract. I say slight because Alphonso laughingly confessed that he broke it within a week! “When Coxson found out he tried to act upset, but it didn’t last. We were good friends and I just tell him that I can’t refuse the work.” Perhaps that was because on July 27,1960 Roland made his childhood sweetheart, Hermine, his wife.
It was in 1959 or ’60 that a new label, Rolando & Powie began to be distributed by Dodd. The Rolando & Powie imprint was in existence for about four years, as recollected by Roland, and it was used for multiple releases by Lee Perry, The Maytals, Lord Creator, Shenley Duffas and Delroy Wilson. Powie was remembered by Alphonso as “a Chiney friend of mine who love the music and come to see me play everywhere.” “Powie’s Hop” refers to him and the 45 is credited to Roland on their label. According to Dodd, the label was started by Powie, who was “a fan and friend of Roland. When they did the sessions, Powie had the money. The Rolando & Powie label, what really happened was it was purchased. I bought the label from them. It lasted about six to nine months with them, and after that Roland decide to pack it up and come back to the Studio One stable. After that I released my own stuff on it.”
After the Blues Blasters, with whom Roland cut the Boogie Shuffle “Grandnational,” (track #16), Roland helped form the Alley Cats. The Alley Cats provide the backative on “Hully Gully Rock” and “Four Corners Of The World,” both essential tunes. After the Cats, Roland and pianist Herman Sang formed the City Slickers, recording and backing acts for Dodd, among others. Roland also recorded with Aubrey Adams in the Dew Droppers group for Dodd. For a short time in 1960 or ’61, Roland tried his hand at record retailing. He opened a shop on Charles Street, between Bread Lane and Regent Street, and attempted to capitalize on his knowledge of the nascent Jamaican music industry. As Hermine recollected, “Yeah, he had a shop downtown. At that time he wasn’t working regularly at the hotels. Sometime in the early ’60 into ’61. He decided to try a thing, but it didn’t work out for long.” It was during 1961 that Roland cut “Federal Special” for Dodd, a hot boogie we’ve included that features Jamaican pianist and Julliard graduate Cecil Lloyd on organ. Around this time in 1962, Roland formed the first Upsetters band in Jamaica. On Monday, August 6, 1962, Roland and the Upsetters played at Molynes Four Roads in Kingston as part of the Independence Night Celebrations that promoted street dancing.
In early 1963, Roland got an offer from overseas, accepted it, and he and Hermine moved to Nassau in the Bahamas. “Roland was working at the Cat & Fiddle Club for several months, and we took up residence,” Hermine recounted to me. But later that year, by the time Dodd opened his own studio in October in a large building he purchased on Brentford Road, Roland was an integral member of his session band. In fact, it was the men who would within a year be known forever as the Skatalites who helped Dodd test the recording equipment that he had purchased from Ken Khouri and was installing with the help of Hedley Jones and Sid Bucknor. Dodd called them the Studio One Orchestra when the future members of the Skatalites cut instrumentals, backed his artists and waded through auditions of the many men and women who came to sing at the Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio. Roland was soon known as “Mr Versatile.”
It was the talent that coalesced at Studio One that provided the impetus for the formation of the Skatalites. As Alphonso put it, “The music we played with the Wailers, around ‘Simmer Down’ time [December 1963], is that encourage the Skatalites to form.” The Skatalites were an entity for less than two years, and the juggernaut often featured Alphonso as second soloist after “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Acknowledged as the “most loved” of all the Skatalites, Roland was the favorite tenor of Don Drummond, and shared a special relationship with him. As Mickey O’Bryan, who chronicled Drummond and his works in many pieces for The Gleaner and The Star in the fifties and sixties puts it, “When Roland play, his personality comes through. He was an attraction and everybody loved him. Don, a genius himself, thought that Roland was a genius.”
At the time the Skatalites were blasting off, Alphonso was also moonlighting, sometimes with the Granville Williams Orchestra (GWO). For example, check his solo on Ernest Ranglin’s arrangement of “Santa Claus Is Ska-ing To Town,” a 1964 release on the GWO label. Sometime in early 1964, with the world still shocked by Kennedy’s assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald’s subsequent death at the hands of nightclub owner Jack Ruby, Dodd used the gunman’s name as a title for an instrumental by Alphonso. Most of the musicians on “Jack Ruby,” a rollicking Ska included herein, became the Skatalites. The demand for the band’s services was such that Alphonso was beginning to find it difficult to fulfill the numerous recording engagements he was asked to do. The musical virtuosity and the star power of the Skatalites was transforming the music business in Jamaica by bringing session men out from the studio and into the bright light of the public’s attention. As the Skatalites toured Jamaica and the public got to see the men who played on all the hits doing them live for the first time, the band’s orbit reached a zenith. That attention illuminated Don Drummond, Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook, in particular, and made them household names. Skatalites drummer, and the man responsible for what the world knows as the Ska beat, Lloyd Knibb, speaks of this time as, “when all the radio stations play was pure Skatalites. We backed every singer and group in Jamaica, and our instrumentals were all hits too.” It was during this time that the band cut “El Pussy Cat Ska” and “From Russia With Love,” which are on this set. It was also at the advent of the Skatalites that the columnist Stella, who wrote Partyline, or the Gossip Dept., for The Star newspaper wrote the following: “Now, about the Ska-tallites[sic], Dawg newspaper brought me word . . . and dawg newspaper never lie . . . that the hottest Ska group in town is the Ska-tallites[sic]. According to the news, last Sunday at Bournemouth was the likes of which you’ve never seen, with grown men prostrate at the tuffness of the sounds which spilled forth from said Ska-tallites[sic].”
When the Skatalites’ orbit ended in August 1965, Alphonso, “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, Lloyd Brevett, Jackie Mittoo, Bunny Williams and Wallin Cameron were playing out as the Soul Brothers by the end of the month. According to Dodd, they even did a show before the Skatalites did their last show. The Soul Brothers did their first session on August 23rd according to ‘Ray,’ who wrote that in a column in The Star that week. The Soul Brothers sessions that year and in 1966 yielded “Rollie Pollie,” “Dr. Ring Ding,” “James Bond,” “Provocation,” “Pepe To” and the previously unreleased “Do It Good,” all of which can be heard on this package. The Soul Brothers had metamorphosed into the Soul Vendors by 1967, with guitarist Wallin Cameron exchanged for Errol Walters, when Roland led them on a tour of England backing singers Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis and Owen Gray. The Soul Vendors On Tour LP, which came out that year, featured “You Trouble Me,” a tight Rock Steady we’ve included.
In the studio, Alphonso recorded for producers Leslie Kong, Bunny Lee and Dodd in the late sixties. From that period, we’ve chosen the ballad “Maria Elena,” a favorite of the Alphonso family, the previously mistitled “Rolando Special,” and the hit “Something Special,” all produced by Dodd.
In 1969, JMA Records released “A live Interview & Set with Jamaican Jazz Crusaders” which featured Jamaican expatriate trumpeter Roy “Bubbles” Burrowes. Burrowes was accompanied by, “some of the finest Jazz musicians Jamaica has produced,” to quote narrator, and radio commentator Neville Willoughby. Ernest Ranglin, Aubrey Adams, Carl McLeod and Harold Williams joined Alphonso. It was a showcase for Burrowes, a veteran of bands led by Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Clifford Jordan, Ray Charles and Sonny Rollins. Rolando lays out his Jazz credential with outstanding solos on “Split Kick,” “‘Round About Midnight,” “The Highest Mountain” and “Green Dolphin Street.” Also in 1969, Alphonso was asked to form and lead a band called the Ruineers. They were the house band for a new restaurant and nightclub, The Ruins, which opened in Ochi Rios that year.
The 70’s, 80’s & 90’s
The Ruins gig went well for Alphonso until he was felled by a stroke. According to Hermine, “He was bringing in crowds six nights a week, Monday through Saturday, for a year and a half, to see the band, before he took sick. After he got sick, they just deducted from his pay and treated him bad, but Rollie was never one to carry a grudge.” As Roland tells it, “I took sick when I was 41, and I was born again before I became well again. I heard the master say to me very loudly, ‘I put you on earth to please people with music and that must be comprehended.’ I heard that loud and clear while I was in my sick bed in the hospital dead ward. They put I in the dead ward because I was in a coma for so long! . . . Everyone think me gone dead, but me is just sleeping! Ha, ha, ha, aha, ha, hai!” Rollie dissolved in laughter before continuing. “I was at the St. Ann’s Bay hospital for a long time and then they moved me to University Hospital in Kingston. While I was sick, the man in Ochi who me bought me house from sold it to someone else. When he first saw me well again, he took fright and bawl out that I must be a duppy!”
Since before Roland’s stroke, the family had contemplated emigrating to America. After the recovery, Hermine went first and over the course of the year, the children followed. It was just before Christmas in 1972 when Roland departed their yard at #3 Waltham Crescent in Kingston to join the family in the US.
By 1973, his first solo LP, The Best of Rolando Alphonso, was released on the Studio One label. Its success was helped by tunes such as “Jah Shakey,” which is included on this set. “Jah Shakey” features Alphonso on alto sax, a rare occurrence on a Dodd production. By 1975, Mr. Dodd assembled a next LP compilation on Rolando, King of Sax. During these years Roland would often be present at rehearsals of his son Noel’s band, Outer Limits. It was at one of those rehearsals, at Matrix Studios on West 27th in New York City in the spring of 1975, that David “Dro” Ostrowe first met Rolando. “He had his old Selmer tenor that never got polished in its case. Roland was just sitting there watching, but he never played with them, at least when I was watching,” Dro recalled. That was probably because the stroke had left Roland with limited dexterity in his right hand, and it took him time to develop new techniques that would enable him to play the music the way he had before.
Dro elaborated, “It was a couple of years later that I saw him come onstage with Noel’s band Jah Malla, and he blew a tune. Nobody seemed to know who he was and when he left no one seemed the wiser. So I approached him and asked if he would play with my band, Terrorists. I told him we could provide a proper stage for him. He said yes, and we planned it for Max’s Kansas City. By spring of 1979 we were ready to do them. We’d play our set, and then bring on Roland as the headliner to blow his own set of tunes. We worked with him for about two years, even playing a show for Ron Delsner in the Diplomat Hotel’s Main Ballroom. It went great, Roland was in good spirits, and blowing really well. Terrorists played shows with him through ’79 into 1980, and by the end of the year his name was properly established in New York and he had developed a following.” Dro notedthat, “we did some recordings with Roland that Max’s Kansas City backed, the aborted Sax Scandal album.”
In 1980, the government of Jamaica recognized Roland and awarded him Officer of the Order of Distinction, for his “service in the field of Culture, particularly music.” It was an honor that Roland was deeply proud of and that afforded him certain privileges, such as signing O. D. after his name. He was signing autographs that way on March 7, 1981, when he appeared at Samantha George’s Isaiahs Dancehall in Manhattan on a bill with Terrorists and Jah Malla. After the demise of Jah Malla, Roland formed a band, DJ’s Choice, with son Noel on drums and played out in Los Angeles and the New York area. Also by the early eighties, Alphonso was a regular attraction at Brooklyn’s Apache restaurant, near Nostrand and Church, where he sold albums and tapes, specializing in Studio 1 classics.
By 1983, calls to reform the Skatalites were heeded by Synergy, the founders and squanderers of Sunsplash. Roland returned to Jamaica and played on the practice sessions at the Blue Monk club in June and the triumphant Sunsplash set, which was filmed by Robert Mugge, in July. The following year, the Skatalites spent two weeks recording The Return Of The Big Guns LP for Island Records at Dynamic Studios in Kingston. Roland contributed his composition, “Reasoning.” However, the record was only a limited release due to the band’s refusal to assign their publishing to Island.
By the time the Skatalites had come together in the States in 1986, Roland had finished work on his solo LP, Roll On, for the Wackies label. In the summer of 1986, Dodd arranged for the Skatalites to play at the legendary New York City Jazz club, the Village Gate. Dodd set up a series of four consecutive Sundays in August that featured the band playing with Jazz luminaries such as pianists Charlie Palmieri, Arthur Blythe, and trombonist Steve Turre. Sporadic concert dates in 1987-8 led to the first US tour in 1989, the Skatalites opening for Bunny Wailer on his Liberation tour. The Liberation tour paved the way for the Skatalites own headlining US tour in January and February 1990. The Skatalites first European tour was in 1991, and the band’s first Japanese shows in April 1992. The extensive touring allowed Roland to meet with young musicians that knew his work, but never thought they’d see him and the Skatalites perform it. This contact led Alphonso to record as a special guest with notable bands such as Jump With Joey in America and The Ska Flames in Japan.
The Skatalites 1994 and ’96 releases, Hi Bop Ska and Greetings From Skamania, were both nominated for the Grammy award for Best Reggae Recording. Despite two losses in that capricious contest, Roland proudly wore his nomination medals. In 1996, Roland was a guest on Ernest Ranglin’s Below The Bassline; the debut release on Chris Blackwell’s short-lived Island Jamaica Jazz label. Roland blew soprano and tenor saxophones on Ranglin’s version of “Ball Of Fire,” which was made famous by the Skatalites in 1964.
The final recording that Alphonso made with the Skatalites was also for the Island Jamaica Jazz label. Titled Ball of Fire, it was done in Manhattan in March 1997 with special guest and old friend Ranglin joining the band on all 10 tracks. Unfortunately, Island executive producer Trevor Wyatt, who only wanted remakes of certain Studio 1 and Treasure Isle hits, stifled the band’s creativity. The remakes of “Occupation” and Eastern Standard Time,” (original versions are on the Skatalites Foundation Ska HB 185-86), and “James Bond,” the master of which can be heard here for the first time on CD, resulted in disappointing sales. It was in promotion of the Ball of Fire release that Roland played on his final tour with the Skatalites.
The past five years have seen the Skatalites endure an arduous touring schedule that would exhaust anyone. For someone past the age of retirement, Roland’s fortitude was admirable. Despite the burdens he bore as a result of his strokes, he never complained and in fact was as kind a soul as one could hope to meet in this life.
On November 2, 1998, during the second song of the Skatalites set, Roland was stricken onstage at the Key Club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Just as he finished a solo, Roland fell over backwards and struck his head on the stage. He was promptly attended to and within minutes was about to board an ambulance when according to the band, he began to speak, declaring, “I’m alright, I don’t want to go.” He soon realized that he should at least get checked out and went along. They found that during a brief seizure, he suffered a burst blood vessel in his head.
Roland’s recovery began almost immediately and he spoke to his family each day from the hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
On November 17th, Alphonso was to begin physical therapy, when, according to his daughter Michele, he suffered another burst vessel and slipped into a coma from the hemorrhaging. After he was nonresponsive for three days, the family made the decision to terminate life support and Rolando Alphonso, 67, AKA the Chief Musician, Flats, passed on.
Roland left his wife Hermine and children Barry, Pauline, Dennis, Noel, Rolando Jr. and Michele, thirty-three grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
There was a tremendous Home Going Celebration for Roland on November 27, 1998 at the Trinity C. M E. church on the Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn that saw an overflow crowd pack in to hear tributes to The Chief Musician. The singing of Doreen Shaffer, Anthony “Rocky” Ellis, and JD Smoothe inspired us and there were musical performances by Lester Sterling and Will Clark and by Jerry Johnson, Kevin Batchelor and Clarke Gayton. Remarks by Lloyd Brevett, Mickey O’Bryan and others moved us to tears and laughter.
Roland’s smile could light up any room, club or concert hall and when he laughed, he’d bawl “tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu . . . ” until everyone was laughing along with him. Lately I’ve found myself uttering his trademark affirmation, “awwrighty,” often. Each time I say it, I remember Rolando, my soul brother.
–Brian Keyo, January 2000
Thanks to Michele and Hermine Alphonso, Coxson Dodd, Lloyd Knibb, Chris Wilson, Mickey O’Bryan, Dro, Richard Fletcher, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett, Jah Jerry Haynes, Lyn Taitt, Dizzy Johnny Moore, Greg Lawson, and Rachel Racine.
Respect to all who’ve paid tribute to Rolando, especially Dana Alphonso, Noel Alphonso, Dermot Hussey, Bunny Goodison, Vinnette Pryce, Howard Campbell, Brad Stein and Albino Brown. Big up to Jon Pareles for the New York Times obituary.
Four Corners of The World-1960-Originally released as a 45 on the D. Darling label credited to Roland Alphonso & The Alley Cats.
From Russia With Love-1965-Originally released as a 45 on the All Stars label credited to Roland Alphonso & The Studio 1 Orchestra. Skadapted from John Barry’s composition from film of same name.
Dr. Ring Ding-1965-Originally released as a 45 on the Studio One label credited to Roland Alphonso & Soul Brothers. Skadaption of “Twine Time” by Alvin Cash and The Crawlers. Alternative take. King Sporty shouts the interjection.
Jack Ruby-1964-Originally released as a 45 on the Studio One label credited to Rolando Alphonso & Group.
El Pussy Cat Ska-1965-Originally released as a 45 on the Supreme label credited to Rolando Alphonso & Studio 1 Orchestra. Written by V. ‘Bobby’ Capers who performed it as a member of Mongo Santamaria’s band. Mr. Dodd can be heard speaking the intros to El Pussy Cat Ska and Rollie Pollie on this set. Despite the claim made in the Rough Guide to Reggae that, “Prince Pharoah is the only record in which his [Dodd’s] speaking voice can be heard.” In fact, there are at least half a dozen records on which Sir D ‘speaks.’
Federal Special-1961-Orginally released as a 45 on the ND Records label credited to Rolando & His Group.
Do It Good-1966-Previously unreleased.
Jah Shakey-1968-Originally released on The Best of Rolando Alphonso LP on the Studio One label. The box that contained the master tape was labeled ‘Jack Steady.’
Pepe To-1966-Originally released on Ska Au Go Go LP on the ND Records label credited to Rolando Alphonso & Soul Brothers.
You Trouble Me-1967-Originally released on the Soul Vendors On Tour LP on the Coxsone label credited to Soul Vendors.
Rollie Pollie-1965-Originally released as a 45 on the Supreme label credited to Rolando and His Soul Brothers.
Proof Rum-1958-Originally released as a 45 on the Worldisc label credited to Roland with Clue J & His Blues Blasters.
James Bond-1965-Originally released as a 45 on the Studio One label credited to Soul Brothers. Adaption of John Barry’s “James Bond Theme.”
Provocation-1966-Originally released as a 45 on the Studio One label credited to Roland Alphonso & The Soul Brothers.
Grandnational-1961-Originally released as a 45 on the All Stars label credited to Clue J and His Blues Blasters.
Hully Gully Rock-1959-Originally released as a 45 on the Sensational label credited to Roland Alphonso & The Alley Cats. Dennis Sindrey and Lowell Morris, along with Keith Stoddart, were members of the Australian group the Caribs, who came to play in Jamaica in the late fifties and ended up staying a few years. Morris played drums on the I Cover The Waterfront LP for Dodd and he and Sindrey can be heard here on “Hully Gully Rock.” Herman Sang is credited as the writer on the British issue on Blue Beat.
Something Special-1966-Originally released as a 45 on the Coxsone label credited to Roland Alphonso & Soul Brothers. Roland overdubbed his solo.
Rolando Special-1967-Originally released on late repressings of Soul Vendors On Tour LP under wrong title of “Just A Bit O’ Soul.” Earlier issues of LP have Jackie Mittoo instrumental as “Just A Bit O’ Soul.”
Groovy Sax-1967-Previously unreleased. Rolando and The Sharks. Written by Dwight A. Pinkney.
Maria Elena-1966-Originally released as a 45 on the Studio 1 label credited to Roland Alphonso and The Studio 1 Orchestra. Skadaption of Los Indios Tabajeras of Mexico. Hermine on Maria Elena; “When Roland made that song, he was all over with other people, and hadn’t been home in a while. So a friend of mine saw him coming home very early in the morning and said, “Roland where’ve you been? Hermine is gonna kill you.’ ‘He said I just made a record for her, a special record and wait till she hear it.’ Since then, it’s been my favorite.” A family favorite I’d say, as Roland and Hermine’s daughter Michele, (after whom Roland named his “Shelly Belly”) walked down the aisle to be married to the strains of “Maria Elena.”
-Dro and Brian Keyo with respect to Coxson’s Music by Charlie Morgan.
Players Of Instruments
Rolando Alphonso-Tenor and alto saxophones
Tommy McCook-Tenor saxophone
Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling-Alto saxophone
Dennis ‘Ska’ Campbell-Tenor saxophones
Carroll McLaughlin-Tenor saxophone
“Deadly” Headley Bennett-Alto saxophone
Karl Bryan-Alto saxophone
Sam Walker-Baritone saxophone
“Dizzy” Johnnyt Moore-Trumpet
Emmanuel “Rico” Rodriguez-Trombone
Hector “Bunny” Williams-Drums
Joe Isaacs- Drums
“Jah” Jerry Haynes-Guitar
Nearlin “Lyn” Taitt-Guitar
Dwight A. Pinkney-Rhythm guitar
Trevor Lopez-Lead guitar
Aubrey Adams-Organ and piano
Cecil Lloyd-Organ and piano
Donat Roy “Jackie” Mittoo-Piano and organ
Clement Dodd-Vocals and handclaps
Lee Perry-Vocal percussion
Noel G. “King Sporty” Williams-Vocal percussion
SOLOISTS & ACCOMPANISTS
Four Corners Of The World*= 1st solo Cecil Lloyd, 2nd solo Rolando. Ken Williams-drums, Cluett Johnson-acoustic bass, Ken Richards-guitar.
From Russia With Love= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Lyn Taitt-guitar, Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano, Dennis “Ska” Campbell-tenor saxophone, “Deadley” Headley Bennett-alto saxophone.
Dr. Ring Ding= 1st solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, 2nd solo Rolando, 3rd solo Tommy Mc Cook, 4th solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano, “Jah” Jerry Haynes-guitar, Dennis ‘Ska’ Campbell-tenor, King Sporty-vocal percussion, Rita Marley vocals.
Jack Ruby= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, 3rd solo Rolando. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Charles “Organaire” Cameron-harmonica, Jackie Mittoo-piano, “Jah” Jerry Haynes-guitar, Dennis “Ska” Campbell-tenor saxophone.
El Pussy Cat Ska= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore. Clement Dodd, Lee Perry-vocals, Lester Sterling-alto, Tommy McCook-tenor, Lyn Taitt-guitar, Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano.
Federal Special*= 1st solo Rico Rodriquez, 2nd solo Cecil Lloyd, 3rd solo Rolando. Cluett Johnson-acoustic bass, Ken Williams-drums.
Do It Good= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo Karl Bryan. Bunny Williams-drums, Bryan Atkinson-electric bass, Wallin Cameron-guitar, Jackie Mittoo-piano.
Jah Shakey= Solo Rolando. Bunny Williams-drums, Leroy Sibbles-electric bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano, “Dizzy” Johnny Moore-trumpet.
Pepe To= 1st solo & 2nd solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, 3rd solo Rolando Alphonso. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Dennis “Ska” Campbell-tenor, Sam Walker-baritone, Lester Sterling-alto, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano.
You Trouble Me= 1st solo “Dizzy” Moore, 2nd solo Rolando. Jackie Mittoo-piano, Bryan Atkinson-electric bass, “Bunny” Williams-drums, Errol Walters-guitar.
Rollie Pollie= Solo Rolando. Lyn Taitt-guitar, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Lloyd Knibb-drums. Vocals by Rita Marley, Lee Perry and Clement Dodd.
Proof Rum*=1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo Rico Rodriquez, 3rd solo Lester Sterling. Herman Sang-piano, Cluett Johnson-acoustic bass, Ken Williams-drums, Ken Richards-guitar.
James Bond= 1st solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, 2nd solo Rolando Alphonso. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Bryan Atkinson- bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano, Lyn Taitt-guitar, Rupert Dillon-trumpet, “King Sporty”-vocal percussion.
Provocation= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo “Dizzy” Moore. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano, Harold McKenzie-guitar, Dennis “Ska” Campbell-tenor.
Grandnational*= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo “Dizzy” Moore, 3rd solo Rico Rodriquez. Cecil Lloyd-piano, Cluett Johnson-acoustic bass, Ken Williams-drums, Ken Richards-guitar.
Hully Gully Rock*= 1st solo Rolando, 2nd solo Cecil Lloyd. Dennis Sindrey-guitar, Cluett Johnson-acoustic bass, Lowell Morris-drums, Herman Sang-piano.
Something Special= 1st solo “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, 2nd solo Rolando Alphonso. Lloyd Knibb-drums, Jackie Mittoo-organ, Lloyd Brevett-acoustic bass, Lyn Taitt-guitar.
Rolando Special= Solo Roland. Bobby Ellis-trumpet, Dennis “Ska” Campbell-tenor, Errol Walters-guitar, Leroy Sibbles-electric bass, Lloyd Knibb-drums.
Groovy Sax/How Could I= Solo Roland. Sharks Band with Trevor Lopez guesting on lead guitar; Dwight A. Pinkney-rhythm guitar, Lloyd Robinson-drums, Fred Crossley-electric bass.
Maria Elena= Solo Roland. Lyn Taitt-guitar, Lloyd Knibb-drums, Lloyd Brevett-bass, Jackie Mittoo-piano.
-Clement Dodd, Dro, Lloyd Knibb, Brian Keyo & Chris Wilson.
PRODUCED BY C. S. DODD
*Recorded at Federal Record Manufacturing Company Studio, 220 Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston 11.
Engineer Graeme Goodall
Recorded at Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio, 13 Brentford Road Kingston 5, Jamaica West Indies.
Engineers C. S. Dodd, Sylvan Morris.
Compiled by C. S. Dodd, Dro & Brian Keyo.
Coordinated for Reissue by Chris Wilson.
Album research, resource and annotation by Brian Keyo.
Album research and resource: Dro
Thanks to Dro for supplying “Proof Rum” and “Rollie Pollie.”
Thanks to Greg Lawson for supplying “Federal Special.”
Thanks to Hank Holmes for supplying “Hully Gully Rock.”