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THE SKATALITES: JAMAICA’S SUPER BAND!

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

 

IN the age of experimental music during the 1960s, there were the super bands. Jazz had the Miles Davis Quintet; in rock there was Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Jamaica had The Skatalites.

The Skatalites

The Skatalites

Like Cream and The Experience, The Skatalites did not last long. The classic line-up formed in 1963 and were together less than two years, long enough to assemble a catalogue of timeless music.

The Skatalites defined a new sound known as ska, or Jamaican jazz. They recorded for a number of producers including arch-rivals Duke Reid and Clement “Coxson” Dodd.

One of the songs that announced them was Eastern Standard Time, an instrumental produced by Reid, a former policeman who operated the Treasure Isle label. It was composed by Don Drummond, a talented but troubled trombonist who learned music at the Alpha Boys’ Home in Kingston (now Alpha Institute).

His bandmates were just as accomplished: saxophonists Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso and Lester Sterling; trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore; drummer Lloyd Knibb; Jackie Mittoo, a prodigy on organ; Lloyd Brevett on bass; and guitarist Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haynes.

On vocals were Barbadian Jackie Opel and Doreen Schaeffer.

The Skatalites cut countless gems including Freedom Sounds, Confucius, and Guns of Navarone. They also backed other artists including a young group named The Wailers on their 1964 breakthrough song, Simmer Down.

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After Drummond was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend on New Year’s Day, 1965, The Skatalites’ memorable first run ended. He died at the Bellevue asylum in 1969.

Members of The Skatalites filtered into two influential groups: Alphonso led The Soul Vendors which was Dodd’s house band, while McCook directed The Supersonics at Treasure Isle.

Following a reunion at Reggae Sunsplash in 1983, The Skatalites began touring the world, playing to legions of fans, and were nominated for a Grammy Award.

Now 81, Sterling is the sole survivor of the original line-up.

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