Tribute to Apple Gabriel

I was shocked to learn of the death of Apple Gabriel at the end of March. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, but that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes Apple would hit a rough patch and go silent. His health, his bouts with homelessness, his transient lifestyle all made keeping in regular touch difficult. But this, I did not expect. You see, Apple was always tough–one of the toughest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I guess I thought, in a way, he was invincible. I was wrong. Apple Gabriel was human and vulnerable and emotional and such a beautiful creature. I am really going to miss him.

As a tribute to Apple Gabriel, I post here the chapter I wrote for Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music. As Apple would tell me all the time, this is just a small slice of his life. “We could have a whole book! Two books, man!” he would regularly say at the end of some particularly fascinating story. And he was full of stories–so many of them that one wondered, could this be real? Could this be true? It’s unbelievable! But they always checked out. They were real. He was a conqueror fi true. Walk good, Apple.

Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig   

          Under the cover of darkness, the field slaves, house slaves, children, gathered with their sticks and torches, set the cane on fire and retreated into the mountains where the bush gave them refuge. Here they ambushed their attackers, warning their brothers and sisters across the mountain with the call of the abeng. They were warriors—fierce, ruthless, organized, and smart. They were undefeatable and today their most zealous leaders are national heroes. These are the Maroons, and their blood runs thick in the veins of Apple Gabriel, descendant of this rebellious and conquering people.

           Apple Gabriel is, like his Maroon ancestors, a fighter, defensive against attack, but as he will also tell you, he was made to be this way. He has had a hard life. He has been a sufferer in many ways, including during his days at Alpha, about which he does not mince words. Apple Gabriel’s days on this earth have been tough. But despite his warrior shell and words he throws like stones at his foe, Apple Gabriel is a kind and strong man, a funny and smart man, a creative and productive man, and he is a hell of a musician.

           Apple Gabriel was born as Albert Craig, the youngest of 10 children. “My great grandparents were white. My great grandfather was General Brumfield, a British military officer in Jamaica in 1906. I was raised by my mother and my grand aunt Kate, a white woman. My mother used to have a big grocery shop and a bar and was doing good. My mother’s white grandparents were wealthy and they had acres and acres of land in Clarendon and they produce a lot of stuff with dozens and dozens of workers with trucks coming in to chop the cane and pick the ackee and the fruits and everything,” he says. But soon, the promise of a bountiful life changed when Craig was just a toddler. “That’s when I got the polio, when I reach 3 ½ years, I got the polio.”

           The Jamaica Gleaner on December 21, 2014 reported on the polio outbreak in Jamaica, saying, “It’s a part of Jamaican history which is not often recalled…. The outbreak in the 1950s was severe…. For most children around the island it was very difficult to access treatment because they didn’t know what it was; vaccines were not available. It was new to the island and there were no symptoms. People were simply fine one day, and by the next morning they couldn’t walk or they couldn’t breathe.” There were two outbreaks—one in 1954 and one in 1957. Craig contracted polio during the second outbreak in 1958 after playing in a nearby river. Polio is a waterborne virus. “I was playing in the river and that’s how I got polio. My mom take me to the river and I’m playing in the water, looking at the tadpoles swimming and we went back home. In the morning, I get sick overnight. I always wake up early, but in the morning I couldn’t wake up when the cock crow. She keep shaking me to get up and when I woke up, I start crying but I couldn’t move. When she lift me up to make me stand up, I fell on the floor, and that’s when she realized something was wrong with me. She put me back on the bed and took off all of my clothes to check my body and that’s when she saw my right leg was shorter and smaller than the left one. She said when she touch it, it feel ice cold. All this happen at night when I was sleeping, it shrink down my muscle,” he says.

​            Though his mother tried a variety of bush remedies, his leg continued to get smaller. When nothing worked, two weeks later she took him to one of the island’s three hospitals where the doctor diagnosed him with polio. Apple was quarantined at the hospital and then sent with other patients to Mona Rehabilitation Center until Jamaica received Jonas Salk’s vaccine and the virus disappeared. “They were testing the vaccine on us. They sweat us out with heated blankets like fire on us on aluminum tables. I was a guinea pig. I was only 3 ½ but I can see it like it was yesterday. There were babies dying all around me, but God keep me alive,” he says. It was here, as one of the first shipments of patients to Mona Rehab, that Apple met two other victims of the polio epidemic, Cecil “Skelly” Spence, and Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin after they arrived months later. Apple would go on to form the group Israel Vibration with Skelly and Wiss. Other notable musicians who contracted the polio virus throughout the world during the outbreaks of the late ‘40s and ‘50s include Ian Dury, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Donovan, Neil Young, Steve Harley, and Gene Simmons.

            Craig took the name Apple early in his life, but Gabriel came later and was given to him by Haile Selassie’s grandson. Both have biblical significance, and the Bible was an important part of Apple’s life at Mona, though he says he was always a spiritual person. “My mother told me I was born as a prophet. After a while she became a spiritual healer and had a church and did spiritual healing. She was very powerful and she was called a “Mother,” which means spiritual healer. My mother told me I have the spirit of a leader. I asked her to read me and she told me I am going to be a great leader in the world and that millions of people are going to follow me as a prophet.” Such a maternal expectation on a child may cause anxiety or feelings of inadequacy in others, but not for Apple Gabriel who wears his mother’s premonition as a badge of honor, a revelation of love, a blessing. He knows it will be fulfilled, and in many ways, it already has.

            While at Mona, Apple’s grandfather died and the family became embroiled in estate disputes, leaving his mother fighting for her share of 16 acres of bauxite land worth millions of dollars that was left to her in her grandfather’s will. Apple says that his mother was cheated from her inheritance, it was stolen from her by a greedy family, and as a result she became depressed and she lost her businesses. Apple’s father disowned Apple when he was just six years old, unable to accept his son’s handicap and blamed Apple’s mother for the misfortune.

            After a few years at Mona Rehab, Apple was transferred to the Salvation Army children’s home called The Nest which sent him to an able-bodied school called Swallowfield School where he nurtured his love for music, teaching himself to play piano by watching his teacher perform at lunchtime. He wrote his first song for his childhood love when he was just 10 years old. But Apple says he was also teased relentlessly by the able-bodied children, and so he fought back. “They made my life a living hell.” The Salvation Army administration at The Nest punished him for fighting back by withholding food and putting him in isolation. They didn’t investigate why Apple fought back—to retaliate being bullied because of his handicap. “The students hit me on lunchbreak in the school yard. When the bell rang and everybody went back to their classes, I asked to use the bathroom and instead of going, I went into their classes and hit them over the head. The woman who was in charge of The Nest, the brigadier, never investigated why these fights took place in school. Instead she put baking soda in my wound to punish me and it turned black after months. She was an evil Dutch woman from Holland. She sent me to walk three miles to the clinic after it get so bad. She didn’t want to use the children’s home van so the medical people at the clinic could not identify where I was coming from and who was doing this to me. She was covering up the abuse. The doctor said, ‘Oh my God, what happen to your leg,’ and I told him the woman at the Salvation Army childrens’ home put baking soda on my sore,’ and he said, ‘You don’t put baking soda on a sore.’” Out of the brigadier’s fear of being investigated, she transferred Apple to Alpha Boys’ School. “This is how I end up at Alpha. It was a youth detention center for bad and runaway children. They send me there in 1967 in the middle of the year. I was 12 ½ going on 13. It’s a prison for kids. They have jail there, they lock us up, with bars on the windows and you have to sleep on the concrete. It was cold at night,” Apple says.

           He says that he rejected the nun’s attempts at indoctrination, which frustrated administrators, and so he was denied his requests. “They have trade shops in there including the printery shop, that is what I love, and the music class. I wanted to join the band and play keyboard. The bandmaster said I was brilliant and he want me in the band, but the nun wouldn’t allow me to be a part of the band, so I wanted to learn printery and they reject me again. They put me in the damn tile shop. I said hell no, the hell with this shit, so I quit going. Then they put me in the woodworking shop and I curse out the teacher and I leave. I am very sensitive to dust. It’s not my line of work, but all of this was done to hurt me. They get mad at me now.” Apple says that this is when he experienced a side of Alpha that many have either never seen, or those who have rarely talk about. “The head staff, big men who walk around with big strap and things and he slap me with the strap and I curse him out. I say if you do that to me again, I’m going to be the last person you do that to. You don’t beat with a strap. I was in the big dining room and I feel blam! Right across my back! The same man come and hit me with the strap. I took up my breakfast and the hot cup of tea and I throw it in his face and I walk outside of the dining room and he come out and I hide behind the door and the Maroon spirit rise up in myself. I broke two bottles and with the pieces I am ready to stab him. I say if you think you’re bad, come out here. I told you not to put your hands on me again. They go and call the nun and I tell them to go back to Italy with your brainwashing stupid shit. Every-thing just come out of my mouth. I ain’t no damn Catholic, I ain’t no damn slave, I’m not into your program, fuck that program. They put me in the jail for seven days. Another time I tell the staff to go suck his bomboclaat ass because he hit me with a strap and the nun come now with a little plate, a saucer, with three scotch bonnet pepper in it and told me I must eat the peppers to burn the bad words out of my mouth. She got seven big boys to hold me down over a bench to force me to eat the peppers. When they hold me down, I bite down on their flesh, I become a vampire now, I want to taste blood. Seven boys I bite them up. Every one of them have to go to the medical when I’m done with them, and I look at that nun and I say, ‘Fuck you, you nyam that pepper!’ She turn red, I tell her if she approach me again I’m going to take that and stuff that in your fucking mouth and rip up your bomboclaat face. I was like a mad man. After that they put me in the senior center. Out of revenge they send me down to the garden, and I am handicap, how am I supposed to walk with a damn bucket of water? To punish me worse they put me in with the garbage dump where they dump the garbage.  So they make me shovel the garbage through mesh to get fertilizer. It was a dump full of scorpions. We call it the scorpion pit in Alpha. That was the worst punishment. And that’s when I start to plan to run away. I’m not staying in that place.”

          Officials at Alpha today say there is no record of Apple Gabriel having ever attended the school. But Albert Malawi confirms that Apple did indeed attend and the two were friends. “Yes, we were at Alpha. He was in the junior home part. Apple was there. How dem don’t have his record?” Malawi asks, in disbelief. Apple says he remembers that his friend Malawi had a nickname at Alpha—Turbit—which Malawi confirms. “Perfectly right. Dat shows we were together because when we are getting beating, we nuh cry. We tough like turbit fish,” says Malawi. Apple says he thinks his missing record is because Alpha wants to “hide the mistreatment they have done.” As a result, he ran away. “The nuns never called the police to bring me back. I was the only one no police try to bring back. They never had an experience like me, they were facing a Maroon!” He had no immediate plans when he ran away from Alpha, but he dreamed of a better life. “I used to go up and sit in a tree out on the playfield and sing and play this pan as a drum. I used to look at the planes flying overhead, leaving Palisadoes Airport, and I say, ‘One day, one day, I am going to be on one of those planes going to America.’ I decide I’m leaving this place today. I climb through the fence and I just hit the damn street, at 13 years old, went straight to downtown and never look back. My 14th birthday I was on the street as a homeless sleeping on the sidewalk in downtown Kingston.”

           While on the street, Apple met many people, including rude boys and musicians. He was a beggar, wiping car windows at stoplights for change, asking shop owners at Bruce’s Patty at Crossroads for a patty or two. “That’s one of the places where I used to hustle.” Though he took up with his mother again for about a year in 1970 after living on the street for three years, she had been living with another man who wanted Apple to help clean his hog pens and he refused because he was becoming Rastafari and didn’t eat pork. “He threw me out.” Apple was 16 and he started sleeping in the Hope Riverbed for months. His mother brought him food so he could survive and broke up with the man, unable to stand the way he treated her son. She moved to Rockfort and Apple moved with her in an area with his cousins. “We were all family inside that yard, 7 St. Patrick Road at the foot of the Wareika Hill, and people come out and play domino and smoke some chalice pipe. It was a gathering yard, island style, and my mom didn’t like that kind of gathering I’m involved with, with the Rasta. She said I couldn’t stay around because my Rasta ways was clashing with her spiritual vibes. I was 17 and my mom threw all of my clothes over the fence!” he says, laughing.

          Apple went back to Mona Rehab in search of the rights that were given to him by the government as a victim of polio. “I rode my bicycle all the way up to Mona Rehab. There was an open bush with cows, donkeys, horses, goats and it was government property. I hide my clothes there and live there for years in that bush. I went up there for help because John Golding and Sammy Henriques who ran the rehab were obligated to help me and set me up with a job and live. They live like two gods. They were rich, millionaires. I told them I need help because my mom signed papers for you to help me. I was a spokesperson for the people in Mona Rehab because I snuck in the office and read all the papers and I knew our rights. I want to see if I can still get the help I can get my parents sign up for, but I went as a Rasta, and they did not like that shit. But I start to sleep and eat on the compound and I need help, I need a job, and they say if I stop preaching Rasta we will help you but I have to stop preaching the Rasta thing, but I said to John Golding in his office, ‘What does my religion have to do with the obligation you have to give to me by law?’ They call the police and I said I am going to live inside this damn institution and the police said this man is right, you people owe him that obligation to rehabilitate him. It is his right to be here.”

Apple met up again with Skelly, who was his best friend from three years old, and Wiss, who both grew up in the institution. Apple says he read the Bible to Wiss and Skelly so soon they too were associating with the Rasta culture. “Every day I used to sit in the bush at Mona Rehab in a big big open land, bush land, and Skelly and Wiss come with me and we sing and sing and sing and every evening we make a likkle audience and people passing by in the bush used to clap at the end of the song and encourage us, so we became known in the whole area as the three Rasta handicap who sing.” Because Apple used to play piano every day at the Theological College with Donald Manning, lead singer for the Abyssinians, and all the students knew him, he was asked to perform at a college party, their first performance. Apple named the group Israel Vibration. Apple played piano while all three sang.“By this time now we join the Twelve Tribe people and we do stage shows for them and everyone come to see the three handicap. We were the headliner. A lot of people join Twelve Tribe because of we. This was the first time in history this sort of thing rise up. This guy named Hugh Booth, me and him were close bredren, and he own a sound called JahLoveMuzik and he take us to a studio and he produce us. We made Skelly lead vocal first because he cannot sing back vocal. He sing a song we call ‘Why Worry’ and two other songs.” Apple says that though there were many other artists with Twelve Tribe, they all left because “it wasn’t real, it was fake people. Take the money and feed them big belly, jump in their fancy car and leave us standing there. Bob was a member, Dennis Brown was a member, Jacob Miller was a member and Gad Man [Vernon Carrington], the leader of Twelve Tribe, treat us ghetto dreads all worse than the light-skin dreads. Bob was angry and said it was racist and he left Twelve Tribe and make a song call, ‘Running Away.’ He was telling the Twelve Tribe people about the divide in the organization and the favoritism show to the light-skin dreads over the black dreads. He was angry over it and that’s why he left Twelve Tribe. Bob sit down and tell me he wrote that song and record it, he said, ‘I have to sing about this shit.’ After they left, we left. We lick them like Bob, by singing the ‘Same Song,’ and the first album we put out also called Same Song. Twelve Tribe was full of hypocrisy.”

           Israel Vibration then recorded with Tommy Cowan and his newly developing Talent Corporation, but Apple says they left there too after a short time because of conflicts with Inner Circle who was also with Cowan. “There was a conflict between Inner Circle and Tommy Cowan because of us. We were number one and the band become jealous and they take the original tape for ‘We Are the Rasta.’ To this day that tape was never found. It was a different mix from the album and it was revenge so they could be the front line again for Talent Corporation. It wasn’t Jacob Miller. Me and Jacob was best friends. It was the other guys and they were jealous and because we were handicap they look down on us.”

           They next went to Tuff Gong because Bob Marley hired Tommy Cowan who produced their second album, backed by the Wailers band. “Five of us start Tuff Gong Distribution in Jamaica—Israel Vibration, Nadine Sutherland, Rita Marley, The Melody Makers, and Bob Marley himself, five of us. We start Tuff Gong Distribution in Jamaica. Then Bob have a radio show called the Tuff Gong Package and every Saturday Bob have a one hour show on JBC Radio and they only play the five of us music, emceed by Errol Thompson, the number-one disc jockey then. All this was going on and I’m still sleeping in bush on the property alongside the Mona Rehab, and I also slept at the Island House after Bob bought it when it wasn’t fixed up or anything yet. That’s where Bob and the band used to rehearse every weekend. Family Man was living in the back. It wasn’t Tuff Gong yet. We did the album called Unconquered People and Bob love it. We was Bob’s favorite singing group in Jamaica. It was the Wailers who played all the backup on the album, all the rhythm section dem.”

​           Apple did have his childhood dream realized when he boarded a plane to come to America in 1979 for a sold-out show in New York, returning again in 1981 for another sold-out show. “We did a show in Manhattan at Negril Club and that was the last show that Bob Marley came to before he died. He sit right at stage side and give us juice. He do his show the next night with the Commodores and he collapse on stage. He never come back. But Billboard magazine interview him, the last interview Bob make to the world, he said if God take away this illness from me, the only group I would produce is Israel Vibration, I’ll take them on every tour with me. These are the words of Bob Marley.”

           In the subsequent years, Israel Vibration toured the world and sold out shows everywhere they went—all over Europe, North America, and South America. But Apple says that the band was torn apart due to division within the group which he believes was fostered by their manager, Doctor Dread, who he accuses of stealing money from the group—money from the shows, merchandise, and music sales. Despite what Doctor Dread has written in his book, Apple says he did not walk off the stage during a performance and quit the group. “That’s a damn lie,” he says. Instead, Doctor Dread sent Skelly and Wiss on tour with the Roots Radics without Apple. He heard about it through a friend who called him from Germany, wondering why the trio was now a duo.

         “After the group break up, a lot of things happen to me,” he says, noting the death of one of his three children. He has also moved a number of times, but he continues to write music from his home studio in Atlanta and he has had a successful solo career. “I could put out 50 albums back to back, right now, but I have no investor. I never stop writing. I never stop making music. I’m the fountain of music, I can’t dry up!”                           

–Heather Augustyn

Sister Ignatius’s Record Collection

Sister Ignatius, Daily Express

Sister Iggy was a deejay. A selector. A collector.

In order to help instruct her boys in the Alpha Boys’ School Band, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies curated her own record collection, enlisting the help of Alpharian Floyd Lloyd Seivright who sadly passed away in November 2018. Seivright, Winston “Sparrow” Martin, and numerous other Alpha Boys had told me about Sister Ignatius playing her record collection for all the boys, and I always wondered–exactly what was in her collection.

Sister Iggy’s Garrard turntable, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle.

Knowing that Sister Ignatius sold a large number of artifacts to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in 2003 in order to raise much needed funds for her boys, I consulted the staff to inquire. This museum was owned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen and rumor had it he had purchased her collection personally since he was an avid record collector himself. Sure enough, I received a list of Sister Ignatius’s records, all located at the MoPop! There are over 600 records that were part of her collection, now housed in storage at the MoPop in Seattle, along with other artifacts of Jamaican national heritage such as the iconic Alpha Boys’ School sign, one of Don Drummond’s trombone and case, photos, and Sister Ignatius’s Garrard turntable (photo above).

You can read all about Alpha Boys who recall Sister Ignatius spinning records for them, how she helped to build and retain the Mutt & Jeff Sound System for fundraisers at the school, and how Seivright made these purchases for Sister Iggy in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I authored with Adam Reeves. Click on the home page of this site to see all of my books for sale. You can also read more about Sister Iggy and the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem HERE, and her turntable HERE. But in the meantime, here is the list of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ records!

It’s A Small World: Millie Small’s Daughter, Jaelee Small, Releases Memoirs EP

You can hear it in her voice–she is definitely her mama’s child. But Jaelee Small does not, by any means, sing in the shadow of her mother, Millie Small. Jaelee is her own woman, with her own sound and her own deeply creative vision which is on full display in her new EP titled Memoirs (Part II). This five-song collection, released on October 11th, showcases the many facets of Jaelee–sweet and glimmering, catchy and feisty, soulful and layered. Woman has got some chops!

This is Jaelee Small’s first EP. She studied at LCCM, the London Centre of Contemporary Music, graduating with honors and earning a bachelor of arts degree in Vocal Performance and Music Production.

Check out Jaelee’s new video for the enchanting “Memoreveolody.” This song is a soundscape, aural poetry, a wisp of light and air. Her video for “Home” is a fun and catchy breakup song, and “Tic Tok” channels  Kate Bush with dramatic vicissitudes in pitch that skip effortlessly like a fluttering butterfly. “Small World” is ethereal layer upon layer of harmony.

This work was recorded at Antonio’s Fish Factory Studio, St. Johns Studio, and Steve’s Flat and was mastered by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering in Liverpool.

Though she is the daughter of Millie Small, Jaelee Small’s voice, both in its physicality and personality, is all her own.

jaelee1

More info on Jaelee Small here:

https://www.jaeleesmall.com/?fbclid=IwAR3qHZ9kmJhzqlyVH3EId6t-MAcbW9SupJ0OVcwlDQ8XjrBwc48iiRoC__U

Listen to and order Memoirs (Part II) here:

https://jaeleesmall.bandcamp.com/releases?fbclid=IwAR3TwQo_jel-RdvTJ5D-N9IaBc5PYfsCVvjUvTYF4hv87a3zDIAg6CUALDU

https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jaeleesmall/memoirs-part-ii?fbclid=IwAR0fMtYLCiSkP43MftGxg-q7IT2M7J-v3lNYXtsn7BaslQgNIVFsuYi9QuQ

Ska Supporter Edward Seaga Dies

I was sad to learn that Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga died yesterday on his 89th birthday. Though not a fan of his politics to say the least, I do admire his passion, dedication, and support of Jamaican music–especially folk music and ska. His contributions to Jamaican culture are undeniable.

My most recent book, Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound, revolves around Edward Seaga as a prime mover in promoting ska as a way to shape Jamaica’s newly-independent identity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Seaga in February, 2015 when Byron Lee’s daughter brought me to his office at the University of the West Indies Mona.

seaga and heather

Mr. Seaga is a complicated character. He was a champion of his people, deeply loved them and was devoted to them, but he also was ruthless. He, in many ways, embodies Jamaica and its many facets and dichotomies.

The following is an excerpt from my book that tells of Hon. Edward Seaga’s beginnings and his support of Jamaican music:

… Edward Philip George Seaga, born in 1930 in Boston to Jamaican mother Erna Alleta Maxwell and Lebanese-Jamaican father Phillip George Seaga. He was born in Boston since both of his parents resided there after marrying in the city. But they soon returned to Kingston, Jamaica when Edward was just three months old and he attended school at St. James and Wolmer’s High School. Edward headed back to Boston to attend Harvard and graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social relations, a field that would serve him well in many ways.

As part of his research as a student, Seaga channeled his curiosity and interest in Jamaican folk music and traditions and studied the people of rural Jamaica, recording it and producing it for an album by Folkways for the Smithsonian Institute. Seaga says this was not popular with his family, particularly his father. In his induction as a fellow of the Institute of Jamaica on May 1, 2006, Seaga told the crowd, “My father could be heard at the breakfast table grumbling loudly as I replayed the tapes of the revival sessions I attended the night before. He repeatedly asked my mother in an audible voice, ‘Is this what I sent him to Harvard for?’” And Seaga told NPR’s Michel Martin on December 27, 2012, “They didn’t think good of it at all. My mother had to protect me from my father. He thought he had wasted his money. But it turned out, eventually, that it had a link to political life, and that’s how I got into politics because that study that I did eventually made me realize that there was work to be done in the folk society of the country and in helping the people who are poor.”

Seaga lived on the west side of Kingston and saw the value in both recording the traditions and music of his people, as well as representing and empowering them. “During more than three years in Buxton Town, St. Catherine, and in the inner-city community of Salt Lane in West Kingston, and elsewhere, I had living in these areas experienced life not as a visitor seeing to capture some basic understanding with a few photos for testimonials, but as part of the community, experiencing the widest forms possible of participation in everyday life. I collected folk tales, folk music, participated in nine-nights and digging sports, played ring games, attended a great many revival spiritual functions, and, in short, was immersed and ‘baptized’ in the folk culture of Jamaica,” he says in his book, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership. The record for the Smithsonian took him three and a half years to make since he was also studying and researching in these communities. As a result, Seaga became close to his people, including Malachi Reynolds, “Kapo,” the Zion Captain and the most prominent of Zion revivalists in Jamaica; as well as Imogene Kennedy, known early on as Sister B and later as Queenie, an African Kumina Queen. Seaga says in his book, “We would greet each other with a ‘malembe, malembe buta munte,’ a salutation in a language of Angola, the country of origin of the Kumina people.”

queenie
Imogene “Queenie” Kennedy. Jamaica Journal, Sept. 1978.

When Seaga recorded this folk music, it led him to involvement in the newly emerging recording industry in Kingston and further developed his fascination with Jamaican popular music, which evolved from these folk traditions. “I had also become involved in the emergence of Jamaican popular music, which borrowed some of the idioms of traditional music. In 1959, as a manufacturer of records at that time and a promoter of Jamaican music, I produced on vinyl the popular hit ‘Manny Oh’ created by Jamaicans—sung by Higgs and Wilson, written by Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards. The song had won a Vere Johns Opportunity Hour contest,” Seaga says in his book. “Manny Oh” was released by Seaga after he produced a popular recording by Byron Lee on a label Lee had established for himself. “Dumplins” was a cover of a song by American keyboardist Doc Bagby.

manny oh

“Dumplins,” like “Manny Oh,” was pressed at West Indies Records Limited, or WIRL, a record manufacturing plant located on Bell Road in the Industrial Estate of Kingston. Seaga built this plant after finding little success distributing his folk music LP. “When the album was out in about ’56,” he told David Katz in the book Solid Foundation, “I was interested in having the material exposed to people—what’s the use of doing research and nobody knows about it? I took it around to music stores—Stanley Motta’s on Harbour Street, KG’s at Cross Road and Wonard’s on Church Street—but they weren’t too interested. It was a little bit too way out for them. Then they asked me if I could import other types of music for them, which I did. They wanted stuff like Pat Boone and Nat King Cole, but there was also a very strong interest in rhythm and blues music …” So Seaga began importing records, which was his foray into the music industry. “I became an agent for Columbia, Atlantic, ATCO, Epic—probably more labels than anybody else. Then I had a manufacturing operation and there was only one other manufacturer, Khouri—Federal Records, but he was more interested in calypsos and mentos. He started two years before me, but they were manufacturing for the tourist market,” Seaga told Katz. The Seaga recording sessions took place at RJR, while the production took place at WIRL which was officially founded by Edward Seaga in 1958. The relationships Seaga established with other record labels would prove crucial in the coming years in the promotion of Jamaica’s music—the same music Seaga had started to record and the same music he heard in his home district at soundsystem dances at Chocomo Lawn.  

Seaga saw that there was potential for music to put Jamaica on the map after he heard the music in West Kingston at Chocomo Lawn. This was the same area where Seaga lived and was the district he represented when he was appointed by founder of the Jamaica Labour Party, Sir Alexander Bustamante, to the Upper House of the Jamaican Parliament in 1959, three years before independence. In February, 1959, Edward Seaga wrote two articles for the Daily Gleaner that discussed the reality of independence and seceding from the West Indies Federation. One consideration that Seaga discussed in these articles was the cooperation of the United States, should Jamaica pursue independence. Already, the United States and its cooperation and support was on Seaga’s mind. He would continue to operate with this mindset throughout his career, and certainly in the years post-independence.

Seaga was elected by the constituents of West Kingston to Parliament in April 1962 where he was then appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Development and Welfare. In this position, Seaga was charged with all areas of planning, social development, and culture. Seaga recognized that during an era when Jamaica was literally breaking the bonds of colonialism leading up to independence, Jamaica needed to embrace its own identity more than ever before. There was a “… need for greater self-identity as a people, following on the heels of Garvey’s teachings of the need for greater self-identification as a race,” wrote Seaga in his book, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership.

One way that Seaga sought to showcase Jamaican culture to the world was through an exhibition of Jamaican arts and crafts at the Jamaica Reef Hotel Arcade in Port Antonio in December 1964 after a year-long program spearheaded by the Craft Development Agency. Seaga organized this program because he saw a market for the arts and crafts, including works “in needle and straw,” with merchandisers in the United States. He visited arts and crafts centers throughout the island to enlist and train artisans for the program. Again, it was a push to put Jamaica’s music, arts, and landscape in the minds of American marketing outlets. That same month a delegation from Jamaica hosted an exhibition in the Rotunda of the Bronx County Building in New York with “arts, crafts and industries of Jamaica with photographs, posters and publications,” according to the New York Amsterdam News on December 26, 1964, in addition to “Calpyso music which includes the new Ska tunes and many of the original folk tunes of the British West Indies.”

cover flag small

Another way Seaga sought to promote the Jamaican identity was through the creation of his Jamaica Festival. Centered around independence, the first annual Jamaica Festival took place in August 1963. Seaga chose Byron Lee to produce the final show. Competitors vied for honors in a number of categories, including ska singers, ska composition, ska dancers, ska band, mento singers, and mento band. They were also organized according to region—eastern, western, southern, and northern. It took place at venues around the country in Kingston, Christiana, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay. Seaga continued the festival each year after and in 1966 brought the Popular Song Competition into the offerings. Seaga’s meetings of the Parish Festival Committee were broadcast on JBC and RJR so the public was aware of his agenda to promote the Jamaican identity through music and the arts. Seaga says, “Festival Song Competition was to preserve Jamaican music. The folk music of the country wasn’t being focused on. It wasn’t being used and I wanted to bring it back and give it a platform and I did and all the schools took up that challenge teaching the children and choral groups and that sort of thing and they held the contest in July of every year to select the best group. In the beginning it was natural for the winner of the song competition to go on to do records.” Toots & the Maytals won the first Festival Song Competition in 1966 with “Bam Bam,” with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performing backup. The song was a raging hit. Seaga also stated that the Jamaica Festival was a way to provide a “major national vehicle promulgation of Jamaican arts and culture.”

The rest of my book discusses in great detail the campaign that Seaga spearheaded with his friend, advertising executive, and music/dance aficionado Ronnie Nasralla, as well as Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. Other efforts include those by Carlos Malcolm and His Afro-Jamaican Rhythms; a tour of teachers to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada with Lynn Taitt; a tour of the U.S. with The Ticklers, and, of course, the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York with Millie Small.

Bob-Marley-joins-the-hands-of-Michael-Manley-Edward-Seaga

Perhaps one of the most recognizable examples of Edward Seaga’s work with music is found here, in this iconic photograph by Adrian Boot that captures Bob Marley’s message of unity, on April 22, 1978 when he brought political foes Edward Seaga (JLP) and Michael Manley (PNP) together on stage at the National Stadium in Kingston during the One Love Peace Concert to join hands in an attempt to quell the violence that had gripped the country.

In the words of Bob Marley at the moment of that monumental event on stage,” I just want to shake hands and show the people that we’re gonna make it right, we’re gonna unite, we’re gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite.” Clearly, these words still resonate today–for Jamaica, for the world.

Read more on Edward Seaga on my previous Foundation Ska posts below:

Dance the Jamaica Ska

Jamaica Ska brochure, designed and written by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

In my most recent book, Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound, I chronicle the efforts of the Jamaican government and music industry to establish the identity of this newly-independent country through a series of events in Jamaica and the United States. Central to this effort was the ska, both the music and the dance. Ronnie Nasralla, manager for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, personal friend to Edward Seaga (then minister of development and welfare, later prime minister), and masterful advertising executive of his own company, told me on a number of occasions how and why he developed this dance and promoted it in numerous ways–one of which has recently come into my possession and I share photos of it here, for the benefit of the preservation of history.

Jamaica ska brochure, written and designed by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

These are the same photos of Ronnie Nasralla and Jannette Phillips who appear on the covers of a number of ska albums. This was an insert placed in many of those albums, and this one was included in the 1964 Original Cool Jamaican Ska album with a track list of almost all Laurel and Bobby Aitken tunes. Mr. Nasralla explained how this brochure came to be. “Eddie said to me, ‘Ronnie, move around the crowd [at Chocomo Lawn] and see what they’re doing on the dance floor and see if you can come up with a brochure on how to do the ska,’ so I did that. I danced with the people and moved around and I came up with a brochure about a week after, how to dance the ska—something they could use to promote ska worldwide. That brochure was used by the government. They put it in all the record albums and it was sent all over the world,” Nasralla says.

Jamaica ska brochure, written and designed by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

The photos on the cover of this album were taken by Brian Motta, who had an amateur career in motorcar racing before training at Kodak Eastman in the United States, subsequently heading up the photography department and lab at his father’s store. His father was Stanley Motta, owner of Motta’s Recording Studio, the endeavor that launched an industry, both for Motta and for Jamaica. Below are a few of Brian Motta’s photographs, which you may recognize as color (oooh, Kodachrome!) versions of the black and white film shot at the Sombrero Club. The filmmaker for that event was Cinematographer Franklyn “Chappy” St. Juste who told me, “This is Ska was filmed at two locations—Sombrero Club and The Glass Bucket Club. The intro was shot in a studio at the JIS Film Unit and at Sombrero. I was the cinematographer for the studio scene and filmed mostly at Glass Bucket, only a few times at Sombrero. Most of the Ska films—there were two released—were done in 1964. There was some filming in 1965 I think, and this would be at Sombrero.”

Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.

I have never been a record collector because I know it would be a dangerous slippery slope for me and I would quickly go broke. But I do have a small collection of long-playing albums, mostly for the jacket copy and the historical value, and this particular album is a miniature library. Here is the back jacket copy, written by Clay Perry.

Singing and Signing

I had the pleasure of attending the Back to the Beach Festival at Huntington Beach State Park April 27th and saw one of my all-time favorites, The Beat. Though Dave Wakeling has not performed with Ranking Roger for many years, this one was especially difficult since Roger passed away on March 26th and his funeral was just this past Monday, April 29th in Birmingham. Dave paid tribute to Roger, dedicating the song Ranking Full Stop to him as he sang with an extra bit of emotion.

But it was hard to keep my focus on Dave, as an ASL interpreter was stationed stage right during the entire festival. This interpreter was full of the same level of emotion and excitement for the performance, perhaps even more so. For a hearing person like me, this interpreter brought an additional dimension to the music. For the deaf culture, he brought ska to a whole new audience. I was intrigued.

This interpreter is Matt Marquis and he has been an interpreter for almost 25 years. He interpreted his first music show 12 years ago and he says he is a fan of ska and The Beat. The photos below show his ASL interpretation for “Mirror in the Bathroom.”

I asked Matt about his connection to the music and his service. “I am familiar with The (English) Beat. I’ve seen them a few times. l even saw Dave’s side project Bang! In San Diego sometime in the 90s. I’m a big fan and have much respect for Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger (RIP) both for their music in The Beat and General Public. I also have had the opportunity to interpret for them before at a different festival,” says Marquis.

He continues, “I am a fan of ska for sure. When the third wave ska hit, I also expanded into some second wave stuff.  But third wave stuff … big fan! My 12 year old daughter Marci is a huge Aquabats fan.”

Matt Marquis explained how interpreting for a large music festival with bands like The Beat, The Aquabats, and others on the Back to the Beach bill works. He says, “In a dream world we would get set lists far in advance and prepare early on. So mostly our team does our homework on the internet. We look up set lists that other fans have posted and try prepare accordingly. We find lyrics online, translate the concepts into ASL, then do our best to match them with the music and tone of the song. We have worked with SGE, the promoters of Back to the Beach, last year and other events. They are amazing and supportive in trying to get us whatever we need and intercede on our behalf with the artists to request for set list days in advance. We practice the best we can. Plus being a fan of the artist or genre makes prepping easier. Some acts like the English Beat though don’t use set lists and just go by reading the crowd. So you just have to be on your toes.”

He says that the reception for ASL interpretation has been wonderful. “Audiences have been great. Shows and fans have evolved over the years. For years, deaf patrons have struggled to get the access they deserve. Interpreters have been required if requested since 1990 but venues often wouldn’t provide them, or they would wait so long to hire someone that they couldn’t do an adequate job. Also things like interpreter and patron placement, lighting and sound were not considered. Then the deaf would come and not enjoy the show, and the circle would continue. That is often still a issue at smaller venues. But now promoters and venues  have started to catch on. They are providing interpreters more frequently, in some cases without request from a deaf person, so more shows are being interpreted and more deaf people are coming to shows. The more shows interpreters do, the better the quality interpretation and overall experience.”

Matt Marquis says that many of the artists also embrace ASL interpreters. “It has spread to the artists as well. When I started, bands we’re unsure of what Interpreters did, and sometimes even felt like the interpreters were a distraction. Now bands are recognizing the deaf patrons and accessibility. Some artists take a vested interest in ASL and the interpretation process. Monique Powell from Save Ferris is a great example. She learned a few signs before her show and added it to the performance. Deaf patrons loved it!” he says.

Tribute to Ranking Roger

Ranking Roger, from The Beat album, Bounce, 2016.

One of my all-time favorite people in all of ska, in all of music–Ranking Roger–has died on March 26, 2019, according to The Beat’s official website. Cancer. Again. Cancer.

Ranking Roger, whose real name was Roger Charlery, was one-half of the dynamic duo that fronted The Beat and General Public with Dave Wakeling. He was tremendously talented and charismatic and his percussive toasting gave The Beat’s version of ska authenticity and spice. He was also one helluva nice guy.

Nearly two decades ago, on June 27, 1997, I had the pleasure of interviewing my idol via phone. He regaled me with tales of how he grew up in an artistic family, how he became involved in music, ups and downs with The Beat, and of course, love and unity.

I’ve finally figured out how to digitized my interviews, which I recorded on microcassette tape (go ahead, laugh, I don’t mind!) and so I am providing audio of that entire interview here. May the words of Roger inspire those who listen, and may his music continue to touch the spirit of all of us. I know it did for me. Godspeed, Roger.

Listen to the Ranking Roger interview with Heather Augustyn here.


The Voice of Coxsone Dodd

Advertisement for Coxsone Dodd’s sound system dance, Star Newspaper, 1957

It is fascinating to imagine Coxsone Dodd in Studio One, calling his musicians “Jackson” as a term of endearment. But for those of us who have to imagine and have never heard this legend’s voice, what did he sound like, exactly? Thanks to the record industry that he helped to launch and establish in his country, we can hear Dodd’s voice in the flesh, or in the wax. The following is an excerpt from Roy Black who writes regular music columns for the Gleaner newspaper.

From The Music Diaries, Roy Black, June 5, 2016:

So often we have heard on-air radio presenters, who we would expect to know better, referring to Delroy Wilson’s early 1960s ska recording of King Pharaoh, as the only one in which Dodd’s voice is heard.

In the recording, the Studio 1 honcho is heard admonishing his arch-rival and former worker, Prince Buster, with the words:

“When I say get down, I mean get down, I have no use for you. Your father was King Pharaoh and you are Prince Pharaoh. You must go down as your father did go down. Go down and drop your crown”.

The recording came at a time when Dodd had just returned from one of his overseas trips to find the recording scene being taken over by Buster, who had parted ways with him in unceremonious fashion. In parting, Buster voiced his dissent in a recording, titled, One Hand Wash the Other, which prompted several Delroy Wilson responses, including King Pharaoh.

Dodd is better known for his shrewd production tactics that inspired hundreds of aspiring artistes and produced scores of hit songs, but in an interview I had with him a couple years before his passing in 2004, he credited himself with other musical skills.

“I was one of the first rappers in Jamaican music, and I have rapped on about half a dozen recordings done by artistes for Studio 1”, he asserted.

The Studio 1 boss seemed to be at his best as a rapper on a mid-1960s Burning Spear track titled, Rocking Time. Before Burning Spear made their vocal entry, and with a rock rhythm in the background, Dodd had a rapping prelude with:

“Moses struck the rock and brought forth water.

I man open my mouth and bring to you another scorcher”.

Interchanging with Spears, Dodd continued to ride the rhythm throughout, with other peppy toasts like:

“Straighten up yourself, it’s rocking timemove, move, move your body line.

Rock it to me, sock it to me.

Move and groove, move baby move, rock your body line

Work up a heat, move your feet

It’s rocking time”.

Dodd’s voice can also be heard on The Skatalites’ instrumental recording, El Pussy Ska, in which Dodd introduces the recording with:

“Come on everyboys, let’s ska El Pussy Ska”.

But perhaps the biggest shock to many untaught music connoisseurs and presenters is to learn that Dodd, in fact, sang in a recording. Singing in duet with the keyboard maestro, Jackie Mittoo, and calling themselves, The Soul Agents the duo produced one of the most powerful rocksteady pieces to appear on the ‘Coxsone’ label Get Ready Rock Steady. Dodd featured prominently in the recording as the lyrics ran:

“Get ready to do rocksteady

get ready to do rocksteady.

Get in the mood, face your

partner

Move to the left, shake your

shoulder

Move to the right, rock your

hips.

Now jerk your body line

Rock your rocking time

Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me”.

Chapter Excerpt from Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound

The following is an excerpt from chapter six, “Dance Craze,” of Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound by Heather Augustyn. This book is 200 pages of exclusive interviews, photos, archival documents, and narrative that chronicles Jamaica’s effort to bring ska to the United States, and the world, in 1964.

Reggae Steady Ska’s Charles Benoit recently published an interview about this book, so have a look here.

The book is available for purchase ($20) at skabook.com.

Marketing a dance to accompany the music was a brilliant way to further the reach of the music, especially in the days of a thousand dances. The “Mash Potato” had been a popular dance in the United States and audiences in Kingston knew all about it since King Coleman, creator of the song and subsequent dance, came to the Regal Theater to perform in December of 1960. Also in late 1960, Jamaican papers carried the news of a “new dance craze in Trinidad” called “de saga ting.” The Star Newspaper on November 10, 1960 stated, “It’s a bit like that latest Jamaican craze, the mash potato. The big difference is that there isn’t such a pronounced stamping of the feet. In a way, it’s like the dance of the John Canoe men, with the head tilted at forty-five degree angles, first this way, then that, and the hands held either motionlessly in the air or the fists used to ape the stance of a pugilist.” In mid-1961, another dance called the La Pachanga was delcared a “new Latin craze” by the Star Newspaper on June 15, 1961. “Although the shenanigans of Fidel Castro and the rift with Cuba is giving Americans a big headache these days, and there is talk of putting an embargo on more Cuban products besides sugar, just about the hottest—and zaniest—Cuban export, the La Pachanga is catching on like wildfire in dance halls all over New York, and the nation … Pachangaging is the nearest thing to a cross between a Cha Cha, the Charleston and the Bunny-hop,” stated the article which featured a diagram complete with footprints, arrows, and numbers along with instructions like “bend knees” and “kick.” The Hully Gully was also a craze in 1962. The Star on April 6th stated, “Reason for the name, nobody knows,” though it also went by the moniker The Continental. “A group of Hully Gullists, as they are called, form a line facing in the same direction and to the chants of a caller goes through the movements—strange movements with equally strange names. They dance to such shouts as ‘Spank the Baby,’ ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ ‘Fidel Castro,’ ‘Slop,’ etc.”

In 1959 a little song called “The Twist” was released in the United States as a B side performed by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. It was only a moderate hit until the following year when Chubby Checker covered it and performed it on American Bandstand complete with dance moves that launched a worldwide craze. In late 1961, the Twist was already popular in Jamaica. A full-page photo spread appeared in the Star Newspaper on November 6, 1961 depicting two London dancers showing readers step-by-step how to do the Twist. “It is called the Twist—the wackiest, gayest dance since the Charleston … The Twist started in San Francisco. Skipping New York, it turned up next in Paris, where it is the rage of every Left Bank night club. Next place to get Twist Fever was St. Tropez, on the French Riviera, where they dance it till dawn on moonlit beaches. The rage went from there to New York. Now London. And, soon, your local dance,” read the photo caption.

twist
Star Newspaper, April 3, 1962

Sure enough, the Twist did soon come to the “local dance,” as clubs hosted competitions and events. The Carib promised “£10 cash for anyone who out-twists Big Maybelle,” and at the Odeon Theatre in July 1962, a “colossal show” featuring Jimmy Cliff, Roland Alphonso and his Upsetters, Higgs & Wilson, Hortense Ellis, and “Special Guest Don (Trombone) Drummond” was billed as an event called “Twisting to Independence.” Merchants like Davon, men’s clothier, depicted twisting men in print advertisements and encouraged buyers to “ask for Davon’s latest—‘The Checker.’” The popularity of the dance craze brought Chubby Checker himself to Kingston to perform in mid-June 1962 at the Carib Theater. It was “Chubby Checker’s Twist Spectacular” and guests were encouraged to “Come ‘Fly’ with Chubby.” A preview article in the Star Newspaper on May 31, 1962 stated, “Not only have the teenagers gone mad over the Twist, but adults of all age groups are taking Twist lessons from the teenager set.” Sam Cooke came to Kingston and the North Coast in May, 1962 for his show called “Twistin’ the Night Away” after his hit tune, and when Johnny Nash came to Kingston to perform at the end of April, 1962, he was sure to bring with him the “Tom Johnson Twisters,” who were billed as “New York’s Champion Twisting Team from the famous Peppermint Lounge in New York.”

In addition to the creation of a dance to promote the ska, a film was also created to showcase what Seaga hoped would be the next big trend. Cinematographer Franklyn “Chappy” St. Juste recalls, “This is Ska was filmed at two locations—Sombrero Club and The Glass Bucket Club. The intro was shot in a studio at the JIS Film Unit and at Sombrero. I was the cinematographer for the studio scene and filmed mostly at Glass Bucket, only a few times at Sombrero. Most of the Ska films—there were two released—were done in 1964. There was some filming in 1965 I think, and this would be at Sombrero.” One of the films, from 1964, featured Byron & the Dragonaires backing up numerous artists including Stranger Cole, Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, and others. The other film featured Carlos Malcolm as backing band for artists like Prince Buster. Malcolm says, “Carlos Malcolm and His Afro-Jamaican Rhythms, we accompanied Buster at the Sombrero Club singing the American song ‘Lucky Ol’ Sun,’ re-named in Jamaica, ‘Wash-Wash.’”

Tony Verity, emcee of the film, and popular emcee of entertainment events throughout Kingston, narrates a bit like Rod Serling, “Since 1959, the west-end of Kingston, Jamaica has throbbed with a musical beat—a hypnotic sound of surging excitement and power. People hearing it became caught up in a frenzy and couldn’t help moving to the tempo of this pulsating, almost religious beat. This is Ska!” After the “Jamaica Ska” song plays, and dancers including children are shown enjoying the various moves of the ska, Verity reappears on the screen and states, “Yes, this is Ska, original and indigenous, the music of guitar, saxophone, trumpet, bass, and drums. These instruments are playing a monotonic, grassroots rhythm. This beat has taken Jamaica by storm and is swiftly spreading to other parts of the world. Now what is the authentic style of this new dance craze? Let’s take a looksee, shall we? There are four basic steps to the Ska. The first is to keep the beat with the upper half of the body, bowing forward with a straight back and a slight bend in both knees. At the first bow, the arms extend to the sides. At the second bow, the arms cross in front. The body straightens up in between the change of arms from one position to the other. Basic step number two is practically the same as step number one, but with the addition of a sidestep. First to the right by moving the right leg on the extension of the arms, then bringing up the left leg on the closing of the arms. Step number three is once again, very similar. Only the arms change. First right, then left swing up and down in front of the body, finishing with the body beat when the right arm is in the air, and then when the left arm is in the air. The arms are to be very relaxed and then swung on either side of the legs, or between the legs. These basic steps may be done face to face, or side by side with your partner. Finally, our fourth basic step. Now this is perhaps the most energetic of all basic Ska steps. It’s being done by two members of the band [Keith Lyn and Carl Brady] and is called rowing—a similar action to rowing a boat. It’s either done facing your partner or beside your partner. The first move is to reach out with the arms keeping both back and legs perfectly straight to form an angle at the waist. Then, a pull back, throwing backwards the upper half of the body from the knees up. Ska is as easy at that. How about us joining a regular ska session.”

jimmy
Jimmy Cliff and Byron Lee in the This Is Ska film.

The next section of the film then shows Eric “Monty” Morris performing “Sammy Dead-O” with pans of the floor covered in ska dancers, and shots of the bandstand musicians, up close. Next performance on this film is Jimmy Cliff with his tune, “One Eyed Jacks,” his arms in the air like a champion, singing into two microphones on stands. Prince Buster in his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap appears next singing “Wash Wash” surrounded by other singers including Derrick Harriott and Carlos Malcolm who steps off of his trombone for a few vocals on the mic. The Maytals perform next with “Treat Me Bad,” the three singers gathered around two microphone stands that captures the harmonies, Vernon Möller, Sammy Ismay, and Byron Lee clearly visible in the background with cutaway shots to Granville Williams on keyboard. They continue with “She Will Never Let You (sic) Down” though Toots Hibbert is visibly absent from the trio. “So Marie” from The Charmers follows with plenty of footage of the crowd dancing and a shot of the Charmers, Lloyd Charmers and Roy Willis, under the banner, “Cool Ska Cool.” Stranger Cole with “Rough and Tough” is next in a dapper suit, white dress shirt, and dark tie singing, “For the good you do lives after you,” as the crowd bobs and swings. Roy & Yvonne then appear singing, “Two Roads Before Me,” dressed to the nines in a buttoned-up suit and gown with sparkly jewelry, respectively. They each take their turn at the microphone for the duet before The Blues Busters (Philip James and Lloyd Campbell) take the stage with their song, “I Don’t Know.” All the while, Ken Lazarus along with Keith Lyn and Carl Brady call out to the dancers to “get ‘em up, get ‘em up” or “get down, and up! Get down, and up!” Keith then takes over the microphone for his version of “Sammy Dead-O” as Ken ends the tune with some vocal percussion invented by toasters like Lord Comic and Count Matchuki. Jimmy Cliff is back up with a few roars before launching into his “King of Kings,” bouncing on the stage with energetic dynamism. Derrieres wiggle, arms flail, and feet hop as the film comes to an end. A crowd seated at a table filled with empty beer bottles and plates applauds.

The stage was now set. Step one utilized a dance-obsessed America. Step two brought a music that was lively, spirited, and made for dancing. Step three was showcasing a newly-independent country that was eager to show the world its culture and people. Now all America had to do was follow the steps.

dancers.jpg
Ronnie Nasralla, second from right, and the ska dancers. Photo courtesy Ronnie Nasralla.

Trevor McNaughton of the Melodians Dies

trevor mcnaughton edit
           Trevor McNaughton in Chicago, October, 2014. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Trevor McNaughton, the last member of the Melodians, died on Tuesday, November 20th at the age of 77, according to the Jamaica Observer. He died of respiratory failure at the Kendrick Rehabilitation Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, according to his wife, Irene.

McNaughton was the last remaining member of the Melodians’s trio. Brent Dowe died in 2006 and Trevor Brevett died in 2013.

I had the pleasure of seeing Trevor McNaughton perform four years ago when Chuck Wren brought him to Chicago. He took the stage after Eric “Monty” Morris and it was so much fun to “swing and dine” with Trevor as his beautiful voice entertained the crowd. To sing along to “By the Rivers of Babylon” with the man who wrote this iconic song, along with Brent Dowe, was chilling. This song, which is traditionally performed by Jimmy Cliff at festivals all over the world, was part of the soundtrack to the 1972 Perry Henzell film, The Harder They Come. It was produced by Leslie Kong.

Trevor McNaughton was not one of the lead singers for the Melodians, but he did provide harmonies, perfect harmonies, on all of the Melodians songs. He only sang lead on one song, “No Sin At All,” and left the lead duties to both Dowe and Brevett. Other classic songs include “Little Nut Tree,” “Sweet Sensation,” “Come On Little Girl,” “I’ll Get Along Without You,” “Ring of Gold,” and “Swing and Dine.” This is one of those CDs I put on in my car, crank it, and sing at the top of my lungs on the way to work.

The Melodians performed together since they first began in 1963 in the Greenwich Farm neighborhood of Kingston. They recorded for Duke Reid, Sonia Pottinger, and Leslie Kong and they were frequently backed by Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. The first time they appear in the Daily Gleaner was on July 21, 1965 for the Jamaica Festival competition at the Palace Theatre where they competed for most popular singing group against The Jamaicans and The Clarendonians, as well as other groups like The Flippers, The Sparkles, The Staggers, The Dukes, and The Lunch Boxers. The Jamaicans won that competition, earning an award of £100.

august 29, 1967 daily gleaner melodians
 Advertisement from the DailyGleaner, August 29, 1967

Roy Black in the Jamaica Gleaner, September 21, 2014 wrote, “One of the prominent features of 1960s and 1970s popular music was the prevalence of singing groups. The feature seemed to have been triggered by the penchant of many artistes of that period to emphasise harmony in their musical output. According to the late Brent Dowe, leader of the 1960s Jamaican vocal trio, The Melodians, ‘At the time, the whole emphasis was on harmony, not on the lead singer. Harmony was the thing. That’s why I had to sing in the background many times,’ he explained to me in an interview.”

In February 2017, the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) honoured The Melodians with its Iconic Award and McNaughton accepted the award on behalf of the trio. He said, “Well, it means a lot, and knowing that they still remember us in Jamaica to give us an award make me feel good all over.”

sept 29 1967 melodians
Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, September 29, 1967.

Stephen Nye wrote the following for the Trojan Records website on the Melodians:

In the mid-sixties Jamaica enjoyed a particularly hot summer. This Caribbean heatwave is often cited as the reason that the driving rhythms of ska slowed down to the melodious style of rock steady although the prominent Melodian, Brent Dowe had a theory that seems more likely. In the BBC television series ‘The Story Of Reggae’, he explained how he believed rock steady evolved…

“The ska was very fast.

You had to spin, you had to dance, and you had to dance at a fast pace.

So what we did was, at the time most of them, had the same bass line.

Because the bass man didn’t have enough time to emphasise his bass line.

So what we did was cut it down a little, so the bass man could move his fingers and have a line.”

While Jamaican performers such as Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis benefited from the laid back rhythms it was chiefly the island’s vocal groups such as the Maytals, the Paragons and the Wailers who benefited most from the change of tempo. The laid-back style of rock steady introduced a new wave of groups and of these, none proved more popular than the aptly-named Melodians.

Tony Brevett, who was the nephew and namesake of the legendary Skatalite, Lloyd, formed the group while still at school. He initially enrolled George Alison, Bradfield Brown and Eddie Fraser before the line-up settled with the aforementioned Brent Dowe alongside Trevor McNaughton who replaced Eddie and George. It is widely rumoured that the group initially recorded with Prince Buster although the result of these sessions are believed to have remained on acetate for the producer’s Voice Of The People sound before Bertram left the group in 1966.

The Melodians continued to perform as a trio and embarked on recording sessions for Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd at Studio One. Their debut, ‘Lay It On’ proved a local hit and led to further releases recorded at Brentford Road, such as ‘Meet Me’, ‘I Should Have Made It Up’ and ‘Let’s Join Hands’. Usually the group’s songs were self-compositions, written individually and collectively, although some of their more famous hits were either solely or co-written by their long time associate and silent partner, Renford Cogle.

In 1967, the trio began recording for Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid, Coxson’s main rival. The Duke allegedly paid the group a more generous fee, which attracted them to his Treasure Isle studios in Bond Street. This partnership resulted in a series of hits such as the legendary ‘You Have Caught Me’ that provided the foundation to U Roy‘s classic ‘Version Galore’ and the celebrated, ‘Last Train To Expo.’67’. Following further sessions that resulted in ‘Come On Little Girl’, ‘I Just Know How She Feels (aka Far Away Love)’ and a re-make of their earlier Studio One hit, ‘Let’s Join Hands’. Their run of hits with the Duke came to an abrupt end in 1968 when the group ironically fell out with the Duke over money.

After leaving Treasure Isle their next sessions were recorded with the Orange Street-based Tip Top Record Shop owner, Mrs. Sonia Pottinger. The partnership resulted in the hugely popular hits, ‘Little Nut Tree’ and ‘Swing And Dine’. It was at the same time as working with Mrs. Pottinger that the group teamed up with fellow label mates, the Gaylads, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, to set up the short lived Links label. Whilst with the cooperative, the Melodians released the favoured ‘Sweet Rose’ before the company folded towards the close of ’68.

Immediately after the demise of Links, the trio were briefly linked with Winston Lowe‘s newly launched Tramp imprint, where they were given the freedom to produce their own material including ‘When There Is You’, ‘Ring Of Gold’, ‘You’ve Got It’ and ‘Personally Speaking’. They also returned to recording hits with Mrs. Pottinger as well as Coxson Dodd and, having resolved their financial wrangles with Duke Reid cut ever popular ‘Everybody Bawlin”, alongside the lesser known ‘Lonely Nights’, ‘Hey Girl’ and the succinct `What More Can I Say’ for the producer.

The Treasure Isle sessions that yielded these sides were immediately followed by a move to Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s label. Kong was enjoying unparalleled success in the UK with Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and the Pioneers all crossing over into the British pop listings. The Melodians’ debut with Beverley’s was the celebrated ‘Sweet Sensation’, which despite limited national airplay climbed into the lower reaches of the UK pop chart, peaking at number 41 in January 1970.

While further British mainstream success proved elusive, the quality of the group’s output for the producer remained undiminished, with their releases from this period including ‘A Day Seems So Long’, ‘Say Darling Say’, ‘It Took A Miracle’ and the renowned ‘Rivers Of Babylon’. While the latter failed to make the British charts, it featured on the soundtrack to ‘The Harder They Come’, a film that played a major role in introducing reggae around the world.

A cliched disco version of ‘Rivers Of Babylon’ also provided the manufactured pop group, Boney M with a huge international hit, with the record spending 40 weeks on the UK chart, becoming the second best-selling UK single in the history of record sales at the time.

The Melodians themselves meanwhile recorded a plethora of additional material at Beverley’s and while working with Kong also moonlighted for Mrs. Pottinger, who produced a handful of sides by the group, including ‘Love Is A (Doggone) Good Thing’ and ‘No Nola’. But it was the partnership with Kong that continued to prove most rewarding, with their final sessions at Beverley’s resulting in ‘Come Ethiopians Come’, ‘My Love My Life’, ‘No Sins At All’ and ‘The Time Has Come’, all of which were recorded shortly before Leslie Kong’s untimely demise in August 1971. Despite of the devastating loss of their producer, the trio rose above the tragedy to record some of their finest material, which included Tony Brevett‘s productions of ‘This Beautiful Land’ and ‘Without You’.

In 1971, the trio released two hit medleys with Mrs. Pottinger: ‘The Sensational Melodians’ and ‘The Mighty Melodians’ and worked with Sid Bucknor who produced the inspiring, ‘In Our Time’, Warrick Lyn, for whom they cut ‘You Are My Only Love’ and the enigmatic Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who issued ‘Round And Round.’

As 1972 came to a close, the group returned to Treasure Isle for their final sessions with the Duke, cutting the laudable ‘Passion Love’ and ‘Love Makes The World Go Around’ before re-united with Mrs. Pottinger to record the deeply spiritual ‘Black Man Kingdom Come’. But sadly for lovers of the group’s close harmonies the Melodians began to concentrate on their solo careers.

Tony Brevett had already recorded material such as ‘You Took Me By Surprise’ for Jimmy Riley and ‘Don’t Give Up’ with Bunny Lee as well as the self-produced  ‘Don’t Get Weary’, ‘So Ashamed’ and ‘Black Girl’. Following the official break-up of the Melodians soon after, he recorded a series of exceptional releases, such as ‘Words Of Prophesy’, ‘Star Light’, ‘I’ve Got To Get Back Home’ and an outstanding version of ‘Over Hills And Valleys’.

Brent Dowe had also recorded as a soloist notably with Byron `Smitty’ Smith and Leslie Kong and following the group’s demise he recorded a number of hits for Mrs. Pottinger, many of which featured on his debut album, ‘Build Me Up’. Although most of his work was with Mrs. Pottinger, he recorded on an occasional freelance basis having released ‘Down Here In Babylon’ for Lee Perry and a re-recording of ‘Your Turn To Cry’ for ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson. He also cut two fine versions of the Jamaican favourites, ‘Things You Say You Love’ and ‘Come On Pretty Woman’, while, as is often the case in the field of reggae, he went into self-production, issuing ‘A Deh Pon Di Wicked’ along with ‘No Sweeter Way’ and ‘Unfaithful Mankind’.

By 1974, while the group had officially disbanded, Brevett, Dowe and McNaughton re-formed to record ‘It’s All In The Family’ and a rare cover version of the Drifters’‘I’ll Take You Where The Music’s Playing’. The group also recorded with the Revolutionaries who provided the backing to ‘Why Little Girl’ along with a re-make of ‘Passion Love’ at Channel One studios.

Other releases credited to the group from the seventies include ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’, an updated version of ‘Swing And Dine’ with the Soul Syndicate band, as well as ‘Stop Your Gang War’, produced by Yabby You. Furthermore, the group returned to Brentford Road where they cut three singles, namely ‘Burning Fire’, ‘Loving Feeling’ and an updated version of the classic, ‘Little Nut Tree’.

In 1983, the Washington-based RAS label commissioned the group to record an album’s worth of material. The sessions resulted in the suitably titled ‘Irie Feelings’, with notable tracks including ‘Warning’, ‘Jah Reggae’, ‘Get Up And Dance’ and the melodious title track. Also included were two earlier recordings from the group, ‘Down Here In Babylon’ and `You Don’t Need Me’ from 1975 and 1967, respectively. The trio’s reunion was short-lived and it was some years before they again recorded as a group.

Soon after the release of the RAS album, Trinity‘s brother, Clint Eastwood teamed with General Saint to record a version of the trio’s ‘Last Train To Expo 67’ as ‘Last Plane (One Way Ticket)’, resulting in a return to the UK Pop charts for the song writing skills of Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton, with the disc peaking at number fifty-one in the British national listings.

The group’s next reunion was with celebrated DJ-turned-producer, Tapper Zukie who in 1992 released ‘Song Of Love’, which led to the veterans performing in a series of highly praised shows in Jamaica. The trio continued to tour sporadically throughout the remainder of the 1990s and into the new century, but on 28th January 2006, after a rehearsal for a performance at the Jamaican Prime Minister’s residence , Brent Dowe suffered a fatal heart attack.

Over the years that immediately followed, Tony Brevett and Trevor McNaughton maintained the group’s name with regular live appearances throughout Europe and the USA, but on 25th October 2013  Brevett passed away in Miami from the effects of cancer. His passing left McNaughton,  the only surviving original member of the group to tour as a solo artist prior to forming a new versiuon of the Melodians, featuring former Mellotones‘ singer,  Taurus Alphonso and Winston Dias, previously of the Movers.

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