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By Howard Campbell—

 Jackie Mittoo—


Wailers organist Tyrone Downie recalls telling Kingston College music director Douglas Forrest of his decision to leave the school in 1972 and work as a professional musician. Forrest, his mentor, was not impressed.

“Him sey, ‘You’re worthless. You’re just like that Mittoo boy,” Downie said.

Downie took Forrest’s backhand comment as a compliment. Mittoo, who also left KC while in fifth form, was his biggest influence.

Donat “Jackie” Mittoo was reggae’s original beatmaster/musical director. A prodigy and founding member of The Skatalites band at age 16, along with Trinidadian guitarist Lynn Taitt, he was the creative force behind rocksteady, the beat that followed ska.

Mittoo died in Toronto, Canada, in 1990 at age 42. His impact on contemporary reggae is immense, even though many current producers know little about him.

Jackie Mittoo

Jackie Mittoo

They should, because his unique playing and out-of-the-box arrangements created some of the most enduring jams in reggae. They include: Hot Milk, Ram Jam, Peenie Wallie, Drum Song, Darker Shade of Pale, and the wistful Autumn Sounds.

Most of Mittoo’s magic was done at Studio One with producer Clement Dodd and a host of master musicians, including bassists Brian Atkinson, Leroy Sibbles, drummers Fil Callender and Joe Isaacs, and a throng of ‘hornsmen’ such as Headley Bennett, Bobby Ellis and Vin Gordon.

Atkinson, who now lives in Canada, visited Jamaica this year and spoke about Mittoo’s talent.

“Jackie was like Lynn Taitt. A penny could drop on the floor an’ him sey, ‘A minor’.”

Mittoo’s unique approach to playing gave the organ a presence in music dominated by horns and rhythm section. As a result, younger, likeminded musicians like Downie, Horace Swaby (aka Augustus Pablo), Harold Butler and Robbie Lyn had the confidence to follow his path.

One song that demonstrates Mittoo’s genius is Real Rock, a horn-hooked instrumental by the Sound Dimension band. Mittoo arranged the piece, which also hears his memorable fills on the Hammond Organ.


That song has been covered or sampled countless times by dub, reggae, dancehall, hip hop, and punk artistes.

In the early 1970’s, Mittoo migrated to Toronto where he became a key member of that city’s growing reggae colony. While he was a fixture on its club and festival scene, his work there never measured up to the productions at Studio One.

For their 1983 reggae tribute album Labour Of Love, British band UB40 recruited Mittoo who played on four of the songs including Many Rivers to Cross and Johnny Too Bad.

February 2016 saw a special occasion at the KC Chapel on North Street in Kingston. Karen Morrison-Gayle, proprietor of of Bryck Rose Entertainment out of New York, and the school’s old boys association presented a salute to Mittoo.


It was attended by Downie, Butler, Lyn and Addis Pablo, son of Augustus Pablo. Jackie Mittoo’s days playing secular sounds in the hallowed room were remembered with a jam session of some of his finest songs.

After 50 years, the prodigal finally returned home and graduated with honors.

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