Annotation for “This Is Jamaica Ska”

This Is Jamaica Ska Presenting The Ska-Talites was released in 1964, if the evidence below is borne out, when Ska was at its zenith.

Producer and hit maker Clement Seymour Dodd was riding high on the strength of The Ska-talites and he was promoting the band with zeal.  The inclusion of The Ska-talites in the album title was deliberate but nearly incidental as the band dominated the recording and the concert scene in Jamaica during 1964 and ’65.  Their ubiquitous presence in studios and on stage, and their musical prowess, are well represented by these recordings.

The first 12 were hits and compiled and likely sequenced by Mr. Dodd.  The bonus tracks are included here, on CD only, for the first time. The cuts range from the biggest of Ska smashes, “Simmer Down” by the famous Wailers, to one off’s such as “Change Your Gear” by the super obscure Blue Beats.

Most discographies, especially the venerable publication Downbeat Special, established by Rob Chapman, and its web counterpart,, list This Is Jamaica Ska as a 1965 release.  I’m going to crawl out on a limb and suggest that it may have dropped in 1964.  Wailers discographers Roger Steffens, Leroy Jodie Pierson and Werner Kajnath maintain that The Wailers first session at Studio One with The Skatalites took place on July 6, 1964 and that “Simmer Down” was recorded that day.  The original, uncredited annotation to the LP maintains that “This inimitable group [The Wailers] has been on the scene on record less than three months, . . . “  I could easily be putting too much stock in the latter account but if correct, the album was issued in October, 1964.

The praise lavished on The Skatalites by that author rings true 56 years later.  “If there were any doubts about this, Volume 1 & 2 of ‘SKA AUTHENTIC’ have long removed any such doubts from the minds of all who had any scruples about their being the best ever SKA exponents the world has seen and heard.”

“Simmer Down” sets a high bar, as its among the most identifiable Ska classics and The Wailers best known song along with “One Love.”  The lyrics invoke the proverbs “Chicken merry” and “What sweet nanny goat a go run him belly.”  Those preview the plethora of cultural references made herein.

The Skatalites take a dive into a classic Mento and leave us wondering why they didn’t delve into more Jamaican work and ring game songs.  What I’ve heard as “Swine Lane Gal” by Lord Fly with Dan Williams and Orchestra, a 1952 release, becomes the flavorful “Salt Lane Gal.”  Salt Lane being deep downtown and seaward off Spanish Town Road.  On your right before “Old Way” according to a dated Jamaica Tourist Board map.

The horn arrangement entrances and then goes full on magical near :39!  Dizzy Johnny Moore solos with vim and vigor on trumpet.

The powerhouse Bajan singer, songwriter and performer Jackie Opel was a special match with The Ska-talites.  His quality and extraordinary range as a singer blended with the band’s virtuosity to give us pieces like “Push Wood.”  A double entendre in fine Caribbean tradition gets taken up a notch by the fire in Jackie’s belly and the band’s ability to stoke it.  “Sit Down Servant” is a glorious gospel tinged outing that appears to be based on the Rev. James Cleveland’s 1962 cut on Savoy 7”.  Uncredited backing vocalists in a call and response with Opel build up to the solos before Jackie raucously takes it out with growling exhortations.

The duo Reuben “Andy” Anderson and Joanne “Joey” Dennis were steady hitmakers and among the first singers to record with The Skatalites.  Their evergreen “You’re Wondering Now” has been famously covered by The Specials and the late Amy Winehouse.  “Wonder No More” was an earnest follow-up and the Ska-talites delivered on the hit formula.

“Bongo Tango” was likely titled after the Monty Kelly And His Orchestra recording “Tango Bongo” from 1959.  But Rolando and The Ska-talites, led by drummer Lloyd Knibb who lays down a fierce Buru beat, lift the song into space with furious playing.  Don Drummond rips through a precision solo with pace, setting a high bar for Alphonso to follow on tenor and then Moore on trumpet.

The Ska-talites and Mr. Dodd’s proclivity for Latin source material meant their ears were open to sounds around the diaspora.  While “Sucu Sucu” may be titled for Cuban folk music from La Isla de la Juventud, the style and the term were popular throughout the Caribbean.  “Ping Ping Sucu Sucu” also penetrated Europe during 1961.  Of course folks in the UK may recall “Sucu Sucu” as theme song of the TV series Top Secret.  Alphonso and Moore are the soloists but drummer Lloyd Knibb merits mention for his cymbal crashes and splashes and the potent tempo.

Alphonso and The Ska-talites ability to create quality Ska from disparate sources remains on display with “20.75.”  Trumpeter Willie Mitchell’s hit instrumental, titled after its catalog #, was released March 10, 1964 and peaked at #31 on the R&B chart.  You’d think The Ska-talites had been playing this one for years but it was a current hit when they covered and exceeded the original.

Jackie Opel combined with Doreen Schaeffer to bring variety to Skatalites concerts and “The Vow” was a staple of live sets.  Solo by Rolando Alphonso.  Reissues of This Is Jamaica Ska substituted “Stop Making Love” by The Gaylads for “The Vow.”  Despite this change,“The Vow” remains at lower left on the front cover.

“How Many Times” was recorded at The Wailers initial session at Studio 1 with The Ska-talites.  Lovely doo-wop Ska that they revisited a few years later for JAD.  The sweet fluttering jazz solo is by McCook.

“When Don solo like that it come like he wants to tear dung heaven & earth!”  Not sure if Knibb said this after or during the playback of the recording but the power and the gravity generated by Drummond’s solo is something to behold.  “Heaven & Earth” shouldn’t be confused with the Rolando & Powie and Port-O-Jam label releases of “Roll On Sweet Don.”  The confusion stems from original Jamaican issue of the LP wrongly listing “Roll On Sweet Don.”  Then in 1991, Heartbeat Records compounded the error by titling “Heaven And Earth” as “Roll On Sweet Don” while including in parens “(Heaven And Hell).”

“Go Jimmy Go” is paced by Dennis “Ska” Campbell’s insistent, honking tenor and sees The Wailers lick over Jimmy Clanton’s 1957 eponymous affirmation.  


Change Your Gear – The Blue Beats – This and “Finger Mash” appear to be the only recordings made by The Blue Beats, or The Blue Beat, depending on which title is correct, for producer Clement Dodd.  The name may have been the creation of the producer seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the British based label that was issuing Jamaican productions.  Solo by Roland Alphonso.  The vocalists were uncredited and are apparently unknown to this day.  However their billing for a concert organized and promoted by Clement Dodd on “Monday, 27th July, 1964″ at the Jamaica Success Club likely provides a clue as to when “Change Your Gear,” “Finger Mash” and their flip sides, “Salt Lane Ska” and “Lee Harvey Jnr.,” were recorded.  The concert billing read “Dancing to Tommy McCook and the Ska-talites with Jackie Opel, Doreen Schaefer, Delroy Wilson, Lee Perry, The Blue Beats and many more artist. Cover 3/6.” [Three shillings and six pence.] [Transcription of lyrics below.]

Courtesy of Al Kaatz


Finger Mash – The Blue Beat – The subject and chorus are derived from a line in the next tune, “Gal & Boy”  The trumpet solo is accompanied by the exclamations and interjections of hype man Lee “Scratch” Perry!

Gal & Boy – The Gaylads – Harris B. B. Seaton, Maurice Roberts and Winston Stewart.  were adept at turning folkloric tunes from ring games, digging songs and Mento into Ska hits.  That alchemy was accomplished with the assistance of The Ska-talites.  Revel in their catchy “Gal & Boy.”  Solo by Lester Sterling on alto saxophone.  The Gaylads/Skatalites combination also struck gold with their versions of “Chi Chi Bud” and “Brown Skin Gal.”   According to BB Seaton, all three songs were suggested for the group by Mr. Dodd.  Perhaps the earliest published reference to “Gal & Boy” is by Walter Jekyll who compiled it in his book Jamaica Song And Story in 1907, as “Me go da Galloway road, Gal an’ boy them broke rock stone.”  A version by Lord Composer And His Silver Seas Hotel Orchestra titled it “Mandeville Road” while Louise Bennett’s 1957 recording of the song used “Manuel Ground.”


Posted on May 12, 2017 by author: suz in Jamaican Folk Songs

This Jamaican folk song is usually sung by children who imitate the work done by men working at a quarry.

All the children will stoop and form a circle; and as they sing, each child will take up selected stones at his left and place them on the ground at his right, to be picked up by the person beside him. The stones are moved around the group  . . .  one by one, then moved in twos, threes, and fours.

The song is done slowly at first, then sung very quickly the second and third time around, adding fun and excitement to the game as the children try moving the stones fast enough without crushing their fingers.

Guh dung a Manuel Road,

Gallang bwoy, fi guh bruk rock-stone.

Guh dung a Manuel Road,

Gallang bwoy, fi guh bruk rock-stone.

Bruk dem one-by-one (galang bwoy!)

Bruk dem two-by-two (galang bwoy!)

Bruk dem three-by-three (galang bwoy!)

Bruk dem four-by-four (galang bwoy!)

Finga mash nuh cry (galang bwoy!)

‘Memba a play we’d a play (galang bwoy!)

Other top versions include Baba Brooks’s jaunty instrumental “Emanuel Road” on Sir Mike 7” for producer Mike Shadeed.  Recorded in 1964, matrix FMS 3036.  Harry Mudie later produced a fine Reggae version in 1969 credited to The Two Spars.

Lee Harvey Jnr. – The Skatalites – This tune stands out among Skatalites recordings by featuring the most solos, five.  A 12 bar blues in the key of F, I had the pleasure of playing it for McCook, Alphonso, Sterling et al and recording their mutual conclusions.  The soloists, in order of appearance, Tommy McCook on tenor sax, “Dizzy” Johnny Moore on trumpet, Michael Coggins of St. Thomas on trombone, Lester Sterling on alto sax and Rolando Alphonso on tenor sax.  According to Sterling, “Coggins” played on a cruise ship that plied the Caribbean circuit and he would try to make sessions when docked in Kingston.  He was a member of the band Milo And The Kings, based in St. Thomas.

-Brian Keyo,, July 27, 2020, Worcester, Massachusetts


Downbeat Special, researched and compiled by Rob Chapman, 1996.

Never Grow Old, researched and compiled by Rob Chapman, 5th edition, 2016.

Roots Knotty Roots, compiled and edited by Mike Turner & Robert Schoenfeld, 3rd edition, 2004.

Bob Marley And The Wailers The Definitive Discography – Roger Steffens & Leroy Jodie Pierson, 2005.

The Wailers At Studio One The Ultimate Discography – Werner Kajnath with support of Joe Bailes, copyright 2013.

The Hi Times Records R&B Years, The Right Stuff, 1995.

The Avengers & Other Top Sixties TV Themes, Sequel Records, 1998.

Jamaican Song And Story: Annancy Stories, Digging Sings, Ring Tunes and Dancing Tunes – Walter Jekyll, Published by David Nutt, London, 1907.

Guh Dung A Manuel Road

Thanks to:

Masato Teraguchi, Ash Mohan and Masa Hayashi.  Also to Lester Sterling, Lloyd “Mohair Slim” Dewar, Roberto Moore, Todd Campbell, Rob Chapman, Jeremy Collingwood, Carl Finlay, Richard Fletcher, Al Kaatz, Werner Kajnath, Roger Steffens, Leroy Jodie Pierson, Mark Williams, Chris Wilson, Dr. Bassie and Steve Barrow.


The Ska-talites:

Tommy McCook – Leader, tenor saxophone

Rolando Alphonso – Tenor saxophone

Lester “Ska” Sterling – Alto saxophone

“Dizzy” Johnny Moore – Trumpet

Don Drummond – Trombone

Lloyd Knibb – Drums

Lloyd Brevett – Bass

Donat Roy “Jackie “Mittoo – Piano and organ

Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haynes – Rhythm guitar

Dennis “Ska” Campbell – Tenor saxophone

BONUS LYRICS:!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Change Your Gear – The Blue Beats

Woy, girls are coming along the street

And man say boy dem yah gal look sweet

Bigs chatter box call out right away, 

Lords upon? A weh you deh stay?

Watch the gal in a the short skin frock

Rahtid boy wonder who make that?

Kiss my neck, what should I expect, 

People always favor, what shall I do?

Oh, Oh, Oh, 

Mind, Mind, bad minded people, where you go

Let me tell you, 

Bad, bad, bad minded people deceitful so

At night if I visit or give you a call

Them start to listen against the wall

And if you turn hard and make them hear

Them say a change you a change your gear

Top tenor sax solo by Rolando Alphonso

Bad minded people that give you a call 

Then start to listen against the wall 

And if you turn hard and make them hear

Them say a change you a change your gear

Them say a change you a change your gear.

Them say a change you a change your gear.

Them say a change you a change your gear.

Transcribed by Brian Keyo

RSCSLP-002 This Is Jamaica Ska pdf