Ronnie Nasralla still celebrating ska!

Ronnie Nasralla with his Order of Distinction that he received in 2013. Photographed in Nasralla's home by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Ronnie Nasralla with his Order of Distinction that he received in 2013. Photographed in Nasralla’s home by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

 

This is the legendary Ronnie Nasralla, of Ronnie & Jannette fame, the two who taught the world to do the ska at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. He is proudly showing his Order of Distinction that he received from the Jamaican government in 2013 for his contributions to music. He showed me his beautiful award on July 25, 2015 when I visited him in his home in Georgia to talk about his life and career. What a sweet man!

Among the topics we discussed were his days managing, and he revealed to me something that was not shocking, but still, it was incredible to hear from the mouth of someone who was there, who experienced it. Nasralla told me, “I was managing artists, Byron Lee, Blues Busters, The Maytals, and Eddie Seaga said to me that all these artists were being used by these producers. They were giving them like a penny for a record, if I could take them over, manage them and help them with recording, and so I said, ‘okay, I’ll do it.’ So I took over the artists and I recorded them and paid them twelve times more per record, and the downtown producers who were recording these artists threatened to kill me. He threaten me. He had four men threaten me. Coxsone Dodd.”

He also talked of his childhood and family and the fact that he is involved in many of the arts, such as theater and he paints as well. Here are a few of his paintings that are hanging on his wall.

Paintings by Ronnie Nasralla on the wall of his home. Photo taken by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Paintings by Ronnie Nasralla on the wall of his home. Photo taken by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Ronnie Nasralla with his art in his home on July 25, 2015, photo by Heather Augustyn

Ronnie Nasralla with his art in his home on July 25, 2015, photo by Heather Augustyn

 

He talked about discovering a female vocalist. Nasralla said, “There was a downtown bar I used to go into regularly, upstairs, and Boasie (Phillip James) said to me, ‘Ronnie, how is girl be like that downstairs that can sing?’ I asked him to have her come up so I could hear her and he brought up this girl and she sang for me. She said she couldn’t sing in front of me, she would sing behind the door. She sang from behind the door and I couldn’t believe it, she was so good. Marcia Griffiths. I wanted to use her on Byron Lee’s Christmas morning show and I asked Byron to use her and Bryon says no, he can’t use her, they are full. I said, ‘Byron, just use her on one song,’ and he said, ‘Okay, tell her to come.’ So I got my first wife, she was a hairdresser, to fix up her hair and I got a gown for her and she went on stage and she brought down the house! She sang ‘Born to Lose,’ and brought down the house and everyone called encore and she sang it a second time because she didn’t rehearse a second song. I started Marcia Griffiths. When I got my Order of Distinction, she was there and she said, ‘Ronnie, you started me. You got me where I got to.’ And I’ll never forget it.”

Heather Augustyn showing Ronnie Nasralla a photo of him dancing with Arthur Murray's wife, showing her how to do the ska, at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Photo by Linda Martin, July 25, 2015.

Heather Augustyn showing Ronnie Nasralla a photo of him dancing with Arthur Murray’s wife, showing her how to do the ska, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Photo by Linda Martin, July 25, 2015.

 

Ronnie Nasralla also told me how he came up with the different dance steps that he designed based on the moves he had seen at Chocomo Lawn in downtown Kingston, moves that he taught to crowds at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. I have written about this many times and you can read more here and here and here and here. But Ronnie Nasralla regaled those long-ago days once again this past week to me, with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. He said, “Jannette danced at school with my sister. And when I went to promote the ska with Eddie Seaga, I asked her if she would do it. Eddie Seaga, we were very close friends, she was very close with my sister, he said there was music in Western Kingston where he comes from, he said it’s called ska, and I should get Byron to promote it. So I said, ‘Byron can’t promote it if he don’t know it.’ So he said they are having a dance at Chocomo Lawn and Eddie Seaga said, ‘Watch what the people are doing and see if you can come up with a brochure for people to dance the ska.’ So I mingled with the people and danced with them and came up with a brochure in about two weeks time and I give it to Eddie Seaga and he sent ska all over the world.”

When I told Ronnie Nasralla that people today still love ska all over the world, he didn’t believe me! Downtown, uptown, race, class, countries, ska knows no boundaries. Ska was created downtown through the ingenuity of the Alpha Boys and their colleagues, championed by the ambassadors of ska, like Ronnie Nasralla, Byron Lee, and Eddie Seaga, and the world has been dancing ever since! What a debt of gratitude we owe these originators and exponents of ska!

Ronnie Nasralla with Heather Augustyn, July 25, 2015. Photo by Linda Martin.

Ronnie Nasralla with Heather Augustyn, July 25, 2015. Photo by Linda Martin.

Eddie Seaga, former prime minister of Jamaica, with Heather Augustyn in February, 2015. Photo by Julianne Lee, Byron Lee's daughter.

Eddie Seaga, former prime minister of Jamaica, with Heather Augustyn in February, 2015. Photo by Julianne Lee, Byron Lee’s daughter.

 

 

More Margarita!

I have been going through Star newspaper archives over the past year and came across these two photos of Margarita, Anita Mahfood. For those who have read my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, you will know the book is almost just as much about Margarita as it is about Drummond. She was also the impetus for my writing Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music because she is a classic example of a woman whose value has been largely unrecognized. She was tenacious, charismatic, talented, and powerful.

From an advertisement in the Star newspaper, February 17, 1960 for the "Let's Rock" show at the Palace Theatre.

From an advertisement in the Star newspaper, February 17, 1960 for the “Let’s Rock” show at the Palace Theatre. 

From the Star newspaper, July 16, 1959 in a pictorial review of "The Big Beat" show at the Palace Theatre.

From the Star newspaper, July 16, 1959 in a pictorial review of “The Big Beat” show at the Palace Theatre.

So when I came across these two photos, I was like a kid in a candy store, seeing two new images I had never before seen of this woman I idolize. And I was even more astounded when I read two accounts of her performances, which I think are indicative of two aspects of her performances–the sensuality, and also the danger. Neither can possibly mention the aspect of Margarita that I am most interested in, which can only be recognized through the eyes of looking at her historical impact, and that is her role in helping drumming and Rasta musicians come to the mainstream, by crossing from the camps into the upscale clubs. Therefore, Margarita was crucial to the evolution of what would become reggae.

Here are the two reviews of her performances, and the later is the more chilling.

From the Star newspaper, January 3, 1959, “Xmas Revue–good to the last tune.” “Curvacious Marguerita, fittingly costumed, did a spot of rhumba dancing ‘shimmying’ that had the girls holding down the boyfriends in their seats and the wives daring their husbands to look.”

From the Star newspaper, February 19, 1960, “A Bit Overdone,” by Archie Lindo. “. . . Marguerita, nicely costumed, didn’t do very well. It appears that she was a bit scared of the boys up front who threatened to climb on stage during her number.” Margarita performed with other artists such as Rico Rodriguez, Totlyn Jackson, The Jiving Juniors, The Downbeats, Laurel Aitken, Girl Satchmo and others. The event was hosted by C.B., or Charlie Babcock. It is interesting to note that in the Let’s Rock advertisement on March 16, 1960, the following month, Margarita is not on the lineup. Nor was she on the line up in May of that year. Perhaps her experience in February kept her away, but this is also the year that she had her daughter, Suzanne, so perhaps her pregnancy could also be a reason. She had previously appeared at this show, so it is curious why this was the last, at least for a while, that she performed on the bill.

I would also like to draw notice to the fact that both reviews acknowledge Margarita’s costume. Zola, Margarita’s niece who adored her aunt, told me that Margarita made all of her own costumes herself. She taught herself to sew, just as she taught herself to dance. What a phenomenal woman.

‘Be Original’ is Stranger Cole’s Advice

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From the Star newspaper, April 14, 1964

 

Stranger Cole. Love this man. He is then, an original, and now, an original. Looking dapper in this Star newspaper article on April 14, 1964, Cole talks about how he chose not to follow the style of the American rhythm and blues singers. Sure the style influenced him, as it influenced the style of the music he was singing, but what Cole is likely alluding to is that many other vocalists patterned their style so much after singers like Shirley & Lee and Sam Cooke and others. Here are the words of the article:

“More young Jamaican vocalists should emulate ‘Stranger’ (Ruff and Tuff) Cole by refusing to copy the singing style and vocal arrangements of American singers. ‘When I started out I thought that I could be more popular if I imitated one of the American blues singers. Now I am glad that I changed to a style of my own,’ he says. ‘I think that success comes by being original.’ The 19-year-old Kingstonian–real name Wilburn Cole–has attained a position of prominence since he made his debut three years ago. Unlike most other local singers, ‘Stranger’ was not influenced by friends into starting his career. ‘I just felt that I could sing well enough to please the people and then I started out,’ he says. Cole has made over 50 recordings, the two most popular of which are: ‘Ruff and Tuff’ and ‘When I call your Name.’ Each has sold over 10,000 copies. His recordings, ‘Hey, Hey Baby’ and “Hush, Baby,’ are currently on the local hit parade. He was not alone in his second hit. Patsy, of Derrick and Patsy fame, severed her connections with Derrick Morgan and teamed up with Stranger for ‘When I Call Your Name.’ Cole also sings with Ken Boothe, writing the words for his songs. He is assisted with musical compositions by bandleader Babba [sic] Brooks and pianist Gladstone Alexander. Cole, who hopes to perform in America, has appeared on several stage shows around the island with impresario ‘Sir’ Anthony Cobb. He will appear on the Cat’s ‘Trinidadian Spectacular’ stage show at the Odeon on April 19.”

Stranger certainly did go on to perform in America, and all over the world! As he loves to say, “More Life!”

 

Having a beer with Stranger in Kingston in February, 2013.

Having a beer with Stranger in Kingston in February, 2013.

The Presidents

Star Newspaper, January 8, 1963.

Star Newspaper, January 8, 1963.

Not every band made it during the fruitful days of ska. Some bands who performed live but never recorded disappeared from history like a ghost, only to whisper that they once existed. Case in point is a band called The Presidents. I have only been able to find two articles on this group, one an advertisement and one bearing a photograph of the band. I can find no evidence of them ever recording. They, like many other bands that come together in youth and dissolve as life happens, were really just kids when they formed, as referenced in this article from the Star Newspaper on January 8, 1963. The caption reads, “They call themselves The Presidents, but they could well have been The Youngsters or The Teenagers. However The Presidents is their name and they are one of the newest bands to hit the local music scene. Just over two months in operation, the average age of the band is a little more than 15 years. From left to right are guitarist Carley Simon, Bobby Demercado (leader) and Phllip Chen. Back row (left to right) Bill Pitt, percussion, Francis Chen, percussion, Sidney MacFarlane, drums, vocalists Peter Dawes, Richard Kirkwood, and Neil Dalhouse, Clive Morris, trumpet and Sidney Smith clavolin.”

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Daily Gleaner, November 4, 1962.

This advertisement above must be from one of The Presidents’ first public appearances, if the Star article is correct that the band had formed two months prior. This show occurred two months prior and the names are relatively the same in the lineup with the addition of a saxophone player, Rupert Williams.

What ever happened to these musicians? Did they grow up and move into other occupations? Is Phillip Chen on bass the same Phil Chen that became the world-famous bass player with Jimmy James & the Vagabonds, the Vikings, Bob Marley, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Jerry Lee Lewis, and countless others before being awarded the Order of Distinction from the Jamaican government in 2014? If anyone has any further information on these young guys, please add to the discussion below!

 

 

Jamaica’s Threat to the Beatles–the Zodiacs?

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One of my all-time favorite Jamaican songs, or songs period, is Renegade by The Zodiacs, recorded for Duke Reid in 1965. I could never find too much on this band, whose sound I think is pretty tight and polished, so that surprised me, as I would have thought they’d be destined for greatness. Then I stumbled across this article in a Star Newspaper during my recent lock-up in the National Library of Jamaica. They should have put me in there and thrown away the key! I could have been there for years! Anyway, The Zodiacs, who are Winston Service, Dellie Delpratt, Eugene Dyer, Roy Robinson, and Claud “Junior” Sang, were once considered “Jamaica’s threat to Beatles.” Although that may seem like a surprising claim now, with 20/20 hindsight, it was a claim made by others, like Prince Buster (no surprise there either!) as many musicians tried to take on the big guns!

This article, dated April 17, 1964, reads: The Zodiacs have come a long way in a comparatively short time. Former members of the JIVIN’ JUNIORS, the Zodiacs–five in number–are the only pro-singing quintet in Jamaica. Formed a year ago, the group made its first appearance with Carlos Malcolm and his Afro Jamaican Rhythms and was featured with this band for some time. The Zodiacs got a feature spot on the Chuck Jackson show and were popular with the audience. They have been making an impression on show fans with their antics and clown-singing in their recent performances so much that they are spoken of as Jamaica’s threat to the world popular BEATLES. Although they are keener on stage and night club appearances, the Zodiacs are also interested in the record industry, and have a disc entitled, “Daddy’s Gonna Leave,” backed with “No Greater Love.” –Jackie Estick.

According to the Roots Knotty Roots database, “Daddy’s Gonna Leave” was recorded for producer Winston Sinclair on the Zeeee label, the only song on this label, with the song “If You Need Someone” on the A side. Other songs by the Zodiacs include “Cry No More” for Prince Buster in 1967; “Down in the Boondocks” and “Slow Slow Ska” for Ernest Ranglin, dates unknown; “Little Girl” for Leebert Robinson in 1966; “Pearly Gates” for Prince Buster in 1964; “Who’s Loving You” and “Walk On By (Renegade)” for Sam Mitchell and Keith Scott (Scotty) in 1967; and of course, the classic “Renegade” in 1965 for Duke Reid.

The Zodiacs had been performing live since at least 1963. In May, 1963 the Zodiacs performed with Mighty Samson, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the Blues Busters,  Count Prince Miller, Jimmy Cliff, Tony Gregroy, Keith Lyn, Pluggy and Beryl, and others with Tony Verity as emcee at the Carib Theatre. They continued to perform at various venues throughout Kingston in 1963 and 1964. An advertisement in the Daily Gleaner on December 10, 1965 showed a photo of the Zodiacs and listed one of the members as Gino Dwyer, instead of Eugene Dyer, and John Service instead of Winston Service. Spelling and mistakes in names, and well, almost everything during this era, were common!

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.

 

This album was produced by Ernest Ranglin, and a Daily Gleaner article, January 16, 1966 stated, “A locally-recorded and pressed RCA Victor album
titled RANGLIN PRESENTS THE ZODIACS should also prove popular but more so amongst the younger set. The Zodiacs burst on to the showbiz scene only six months ago and are currently riding high with the song “What Will Your Mama Say” which was written by one of the trio’s brothers. Federal Records’ Musical Director Ernie Ranglin has got a Big Band feeling behind the dozen selections recorded. Three numbers are instrumentals with the James Brown hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” giving Organist Leslie Butler an opportunity to exercise his tremendous talent Current standards like “Follow Me” and “She’s Gone Again1′ show that the boys know how to project a distinctive style.

An article in the January 2, 1966 Daily Gleaner featured the Zodiacs in a small article with a photo that talked about their appearance on Teenage Dance Party (TADP). The article states, “TADP HITS THI ROAD WITH FEDERAL RECORDS. Caught in a real holiday mood, is this lively group who took part in one of two special TADP Hit-The-Road programmes from Record Plaza at Tropical Plaza recently. Pictured with “MR. TADP”.JBC announcer Roy Hall, are (from left) Winston Service, one of the Zodiacs singing group, Ernest Raaglin, well-known Jamaican guitarist and Musical Director at Federal Records, Pamela Blyth, one of Federal’s fastest recording stars, Buddy llgner whose, latest LP was featured on the programme and Claud Sang, Jr., another of the Zodiacs. The show was sponsored by Federal Record Mfg Co. TADP is heard over JBC-Radio daily (except Sundays) from 4.00 to 5.00 pm.”

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.

 

 

They performed in July, 1966 at the National Arena along with Hortense Ellis, the Jamaicans, the Techniques, Derrick Harriott, the Granville Williams Orchestra, Count Ossie and the Maytals in an independence celebration.

A Daily Gleaner article on July 4, 1969 revealed that the band had broken up. In an article on Zodiacs singer Claude Sang, Jr., the journalist stated that Sang had gone on to form a band called the Pace Setters in 1967 which performed soul music. It stated that the Zodiacs continued to perform live at clubs after the Ernest Ranglin recording until they broke up because members of the Zodiacs got married and left. Claude continued with a solo career in London.

Duke Reid Crowned “King” 6th Time

duke reid crowned king

This advertisement from the Star Newspaper in July, 1959, features a photo of the great Duke Reid being crowned “King” by Mrs. Iris King, the mayor of Kingston. Mrs. King was the first female mayor of Kingston and she served from 1958 to 1959. The ad reads, “Duke Reid the Trojan, proprietor of Reid’s Sound System & Liquor Store at 33 Bond Street, was crowned King of Sound and Progressive Jazz for the 6th consecutive time at a Dance held in Honour of Her Worship The Mayor, Mrs. Iris King at Shepherd’s Hall, 68 Hanover Street on Saturday night July 18. Mrs. King expressed her appreciation and admiration of Duke Reid whom she said she had known a very long time as a hardworking . . . conscientious and honest businessman, and deserved the success he has achieved.”

This version of Reid is a very different one than the version painted by David Katz in his book, People Funny Boy which is on the life and career of Lee Scratch Perry and is a fantastic piece of work. Katz’s version, which is undoubtedly more accurate, states, “The Duke, born Arthur Reid, was a flamboyant and intimidating figure who bludgeoned his way to the top of Kingston’s popular music scene. His ten years in the police force had left him with a fondness for firearms, a close association with the Jamaican criminal underclass, and strong links with certain factions of American organised crime.” Katz goes on to talk of Reid’s association with the Whoppi King, who was “Public Enemy Number One.,”

So here we have two versions of Reid, in a country defined by versions, of history and of music. From being crowned King by the mayor, to being associated with the notorious don Whoppi King, Duke Reid is a crucial element of Jamaican music history, for his bravado, his ingenuity and inventive tenacity, and for his ear for classic music that has stood the test of time.

Lloyd Knibb

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Check out this article from the Star Newspaper in September, 1964. Lloyd Knibb is a young 33-year-old master, looking snazzy as always in his sharp threads. The article reveals that he was ranked the top ska drummer in Jamaica. As we all know, he went on to world-wide fame and is a legend. Here he tells how he helped to develop the ska beat–“I was playing at a north coast hotel when I first heard what sounded like a poor example of a new beat. With this I originated the current beat that we are now hearing. I then returned to Kingston and recorded a disc.”

 

Back in 1996 at a Skatalites show at the University of Chicago, Knibb told me this story personally. It is one I will never forget and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to talk to this lovely man. “I didn’t go to Alpha. I was self taught at my house. I teach myself,” he told me. “I am the original drummer for the Skatalites. I was the original drummer for all recording sessions. Everyone, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Coxsone, Treasure Isle, you name them all. I was the drummer they come to, for everybody. You name them all, Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, everybody. Every show they go on are the same tunes we cut for them. I am the originator of the ska beat also. In the studio, me and Coxsone Downbeat try out a beat. My beat sound different, heavier, so my drumming is distinct. So most all the drummers try to play like me. They like the beat but then can’t get it to sound like me. So that is how it started.”

 

Listen to Horsemouth pay respect to the master, Lloyd Knibb, in this fantastic interview HERE

National Ska Day

From the Star Newspaper, September 12, 1964

From the Star Newspaper, September 12, 1964

Did you know that there was a National Ska Day? And it’s not a new creation! I found this advertisement for it in a Star Newspaper from September 12, 1964 which proclaims that National Ska Day is on September 13th, the following day, and it is the fifth birthday of the ska, which is interesting. In 1959, Theo Beckford’s “Easy Snappin'” was released, but not sure which month it came out, and not sure if that is what this anniversary refers to–plus, that song was actually recorded in 1956, so it’s even fuzzier. And then there’s Prince Buster’s mug up there at the top of the ad. But look at the lineup–can you even imagine being there back in the day to hear these guys and gals! To jump on a bus at the Ward Theatre and head to this show to hear the drums of Count Ossie and Drumbago, and the horns of Sterling and Alphonso, and the sweet sounds of Hortense and Doreen Shaffer, here called Madam Dorene, love that! And then Eric Monty Morris, Derrick Morgan, Roy Panton, Toots and his crew, Alton Ellis–and the sound systems of Duke Reid and King Edwards, Prince Buster, and a guy from Spain named Ruddy! Chills. I’ll wait for my time machine and punch in September 13, 1964 first thing!

Jive and Toasting

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There is a definite link between the jive talk of Harlem and the jive talk of the American deejays who followed, and then the toasters of Kingston. I have written about this connection and evolution here and here and have also written an article on this topic that is in the current issue of Caribbean Quarterly which just hit the stands and I look even further at the link to hip hop and rap.

But this week I would like to share some scans of a Jive & Swing Dictionary that was compiled and published by Vic Filmer of Penzance in England–a few miles away from Harlem! Or should I say kilometers. Filmer had been a pianist at the Cafe at the Folies Bergere in Paris and had also been rated “Jazz Musician No. 1″ by many publications in London, as he tells us in the “About the Author” section. This publication was one of a few jive dictionaries that had been published during the 1940s, but most of those were published in America, and I discuss those in my previous post. This one was published in England. The trend had spread. I love it when Filmer writes of the trend hitting society clubs in England, “And didn’t the old Dowagers looked shocked when they saw the youngsters cavorting around their drawing rooms in bunnyhugs, turkey-trots and what-nots, we would call it jitter-bugging now, or the later term, gandy-dancing.” Reminds me of Downton Abbey or Mr. Selfridge! Or Mr. Burns.

Anyway, have a look at this jive dictionary. Could this be one that made its way into the hands of Count Matchuki? Perhaps, or perhaps it was one of the others that was produced during these years. Amusing to imagine.

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Modern Rhumba Box Invented By Leabert Bowen

From the Star Newspaper, May 29, 1964

From the Star Newspaper, May 29, 1964

The week after an article ran in the Star Newspaper on Vincent Bogle’s creation of a hand-held guitar-like electric version of the rhumba box, this article appeared in the Star Newspaper, May 29, 1964 in response. I posted the original article in my blog two weeks ago, and you can read it here to gain context. The response article above reads:

Dear Sir–Please give this letter equal prominence in the Week-End Star as was given to the article “Jamaican Rhumba Box Goes Modern” and which appeared on the Front Page on Friday, 22nd May, 1964, written and released by the Tourist Board.

There are scores of persons who know that Vincent Bogle did not design or invent the new electric rhumba box. This letter is to let those who don’t already know, that it is I who created the design and did the electrical fittings on the electric rhumba box, which Bogle posed with in the picture in the Star.

The instrument is not working at present because I have removed the part of it which belongs to me. Bogle has no knowledge of how this instrument is made, and neither can he play it. Bogle asked me to teach him to play the instrument and I am still teaching him whenever I can find the time from my busy schedule at Club Maracas in Ocho Rios.

I am, Leabert Bowen, Club Maracas, Ocho Rios P.O. St. Ann

So you see, it seems that Bogle was NOT the inventor of this contraption and Bowen was! He set the record straight then, and we set the record straight now! Were there any others, or similar contraptions, that preceded this? Perhaps, as it was a time of tinkering, innovation, and creation, so post any knowledge you may have in the comment section below. If you would like to read about Hedley Jones’s inventions, including a double-necked electric guitar, see his article that I posted here.