Sheila Rickards–The I’m Gonna Live Girl!

sheila rickards

The following is a excerpt from my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music on the vocalist Sheila Rickards:

The Daily Gleaner on March 31, 1963 stated that she was born a “preemie” weighing only three pounds at birth. She was born just seven months into her mother’s pregnancy in 1942. Sheila got her start at age 14 when she appeared on the Lannaman’s Children’s Hour, a talent show broadcast on RJR. She then got the chance to compete at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour in 1956 where her talent for singing jazz was recognized. She was hired to perform with the Baba Motta at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and the Glass Bucket for long runs, as well as on the North Coast and for Sonny Bradshaw. “From Colony Cottage Hotels on and then Nassau. There, it was the Goombay Club for nearly a year of making warm friends with every not she sang. Spots at the Junkanoo Club there too, singing onetime with Billy Cooke and his Combo who did a spread in Nassau at the time. And at the Nassau Beach Lodge. She says, ‘I had one of the swingingest times of my life!” states the Gleaner article which goes on to list another number of performance venues that booked Rickards. She was billed as the “I’m gonna live girl” after one of her performances at the Ward Theatre Pantomime where she sang a song with these words.

Sheila Rickards’ father, Ferdinand Arthur Rickards, was a contractor for the Sugar Manufacturers Association. He grew up in St. Catherine and was a performer—a singer, actor, and comedian. He helped foster his daughter’s love for music by purchasing records for the family phonograph. There were over 200 records in their Greenwich Town home, which was quite a substantial amount in the 1960s for a family to own. Her father said, “Sheila was born to be a singer, she’s been singing since she was four years old, started music when she was seven, very musical like her mother and sisters.” Her sister, Thelma, sang on the radio, on ZQI.

Sheila Rickards, from the Daily Gleaner, 1963.

Sheila Rickards, from the Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963.

Sheila Rickards performed opened for Sammy Davis Jr., when he came to Jamaica and she became well acquainted with him and his wife. In fact, she even babysat their eight-year-old child for a couple of days. Sheila traveled to the United States to try to further establish her career. That same Gleaner article states, “And now Sheila is in America and the house, they [her parents] say, is too quiet without her. She stays in America with the family of Mrs. Benskin who visited Jamaica last year and was so impressed with Sheila’s talent that she insisted that she come to the USA and train. She will, go to a school to do dramatics and to develop her singing and acting. Singing and acting she wants to make her ‘career!’ And she will also study dress-designing which she says she will make her ‘profession.’” Dan Monceaux, director and camera operator for a documentary on Sheila Rickards which never came to fruition says, “Many people knew of her, but not of her whereabouts. Evidently she emigrated to the USA, and married, likely changing her name in the process. I believe she had ambitions to make it in the USA, but these dreams were never realised.”

Sheila Rickards with Roy Morrison (piano), Al Fletcher (bass), Barrington Saddler (sax), Lloyd Fletcher (drums), Larry McDonald (bongo), and Lennie Hibbert (vibraphone), 1963

Sheila Rickards with Roy Morrison (piano), Al Fletcher (bass), Barrington Saddler (sax), Lloyd Fletcher (drums), Larry McDonald (bongo), and Lennie Hibbert (vibraphone), 1963

The film was constructed around a song that Rickards recorded for Bunny Lee called “Jamaican Fruit,” a haunting song whose lyrics talk of the slave trade and is a fairly obvious reference to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Monceaux says, “The song ‘Jamaican Fruit’ has very strong lyrics for its time, and our research revealed that it was actually a cover (with lyrical variation) of a song by American soul singer Zulema Cousseau (her artist name was simply ‘Zulema’).” Zulema’s version was called “American Fruit.” Rickard’s version states, “We came from a distant land / our lives already planned / we came in ships from across the sea / and never again our home we’d see / and now we’ve become Jamaican fruit of African roots.” It talks of how their children’s last names were erased, they were commodities, and it encourages an uprising that is not present in Zulema’s version. “The time has come for us to join hands / let’s not be punished by the rules of this land / now that we’re aware of what we must do / let us no longer be fooled, no longer be fooled / let us all be black, let us all be black / and Jamaican fruit of African root / I wanna be black, let me be black, black is beautiful.” Rickard’s original version was only released unofficially in Canada, according to Monceaux, but his co-producer, Chris Flanagan, negotiated rights to re-release the song. Her whereabouts are still unknown.

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

Listen to a sample of Sheila Rickards’ “Jamaican Fruit of African Roots” from Shella Records HERE

Sheila Rickards & Mapletoft Poule Orchestra’s “Say and Do” HERE

More info on Shella Records, the documentary, and quest to find Sheila Rickards HERE

 

 

 

Last Train to Expo ’67

From a brochure for the festival.

From a brochure for the festival.

I have written before about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires made an appearance to debut the ska, along with numerous other Jamaican musicians, vocalists, dancers, and delegates, but did you know there was another World’s Fair where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed? Expo ’67 in Montreal was an incredibly popular and well-attended World’s Fair, so successful that organizers extended the length of the fair beyond the October 27th end by two days, on October 29th. It was such an important event for Montreal that they even named a baseball team after the festival–the Montreal Expos. The fair kicked off on April 28th, 1967 and a number of notable musicians performed at Expo 67 including The Supremes during a live broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show, Petula Clark, Thelonious Monk, The Tokens, Jefferson Airplane, Tiny Tim, and even the Grateful Dead. Numerous dignitaries from around the world attended, including Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace, Charles de Gaule, and perhaps most interesting for those fans of Jamaican music–Harry Belafonte and Haile Selassie.

But fans of Jamaican music know best of Expo 67 from the Melodians’s tune, Last Train to Expo 67, recorded for Duke Reid in 1967. It might be hard to take a train from Jamaica to Montreal, but trains were popular objects in Jamaican music (and all music, really) as symbols of transition, movement, and escape. Perhaps some collectors even know of the Diamonds’ Expo ’67 (Silhouette) recorded on the JDI label, for Copley Johnson. of the same name.

Expo 67 was an important event for Jamaica. The Daily Gleaner on June 2, 1967 reported that the Jamaica Military Band traveled to the fair in August of that year to perform at “Jamaica Day,” August 3rd. The newspaper stated, “‘Jamaica Day’ has been so named by Expo ’67 Authorities as a tribute to Jamaica’s participation in Expo ’67 and the authorities hope that Jamaicans will try and attend on that day. The Jamaica Military Band returns to Canada for the period August 23 to 30 to appear in the Calypso ’67 Carnival in Gait and later in Toronto. This tour is being arranged by the Jamaica Tourist Board and the band is part of the Jamaican participation.”

expo 67 b

Edward Seaga, who was at that time Minister of Finance and Planning, also attended Expo 67 on Jamaica Day and he also met with dignitaries on economic and trade matters. Prime Minister Hugh Shearer also attended. In December, 1967, Shearer received a gold medal of commemoration from Expo 67 officials for their participation in the fair which exceeded attendance expectations.

Tony Cohen, also known as “Caps,” said in a Jamaica Gleaner article in 1995 that Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed during Jamaica Day. Cohen was a percussionist and sometimes vocalist for the band. He stated, “I recall with pride our performance on Jamaica Day at the Montreal Expo in 1967. Thirty five thousand persons were in attendance. That was my first concert outside of Jamaica. It was magnificent, awesome.” The band performed on Thursday, August 3, 1967 at a reception for Shearer at the fair, which was followed by a performance of the National Dance Theatre Company.

Acting Prime Minister, Donald Sangster, smiles as he receives the official flag of Expo '67 from Mr G. Ross Herington, of Canada (second from left), at a presentation ceremony in the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday May 10, 1966. From the Daily Gleaner.

Acting Prime Minister, Donald Sangster, smiles as he receives the official flag of Expo ’67 from Mr G. Ross Herington, of Canada (second from left), at a presentation ceremony in the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday May 10, 1966. From the Daily Gleaner.

 

Even though Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed, and even though there were songs commemorating the fair, the focus was not on music this time around, as it was during the World’s Fair in 1964 in New York. This time, the focus was on cocktails. That’s right, cocktails. Jeffrey Stanton on the westland.net website describes the Jamaica Pavilion as the following:

“The Jamaican pavilion was a replica of a 19th century two-story country shop. It was constructed of thick, sand-colored plaster walls with shuttered upper windows and a cedar shingle roof. The entrance was through a small courtyard attached to the main pavilion. Panels and displays in the open entranceway told the proud story of the island’s industrial, social and cultural progress. The visitor passed through carved wooden doors into a smaller foyer displaying artistic works, and into the large bar, a cool, high ceilinged oasis. Barrels of rum, coffee and ginger lined the upper balcony and baskets and cylindrical wicker fish traps hung from the heavy beams. Cases along the walls displayed a wide variety of Jamaican products. Bartenders served the tastiest, most thirst quenching rum punch at Expo. Jamaican hostesses dressed in vibrant pink and orange, offered a choice of a Soon Come Sling, Half Moon Haze, or Look Behind Ambush rum punch to visitors seated at corner tables.”

expo 67 pavillion 2 expo 67 pavillion

Above is a photo of the Jamaican pavilion in recent years, as well as one from 1967 during the fair.

Below are a few of the cocktails available at Expo 67 at the Jamaica Pavilion which were described in a brochure.

expo drinks   expo drinks2

See a promotional video for Expo ’67 HERE.

Listen to the Melodians’ song HERE.

Listen to the Diamonds’ song HERE.

 

From the Daily Gleaner, January 25, 1967

From the Daily Gleaner, January 25, 1967

Bumps Jackson

bumps jackson

I’m trying to locate Keith “Bumps” Jackson and hoping today’s post will help someone to point me in the right direction. He was a bassist who performed with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires before relocating to the U.S. to found his own group, Bumps Jackson & the Caps. Below is an article that ran in the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1969.
Bumps Jackson . . . Arranger, composer, guitarist and band leader

“Music is a mind-soother; it’s one of the ways In -which an individual can express himself” says ‘Bumps’ Jackson, tenor guitarist and leader of the Caribbean No. 1 band, BYRON LEE AND THE DRAGONAIRES. Born in Kingston on December 1, 1946. Keith Jackson later nick-named “Bumps’ attended Central Branch Primary and Excelsior School. He was graduated in 1965. From an early age Bumps had a flare for music and during his spare time especially during summer holidays, be com posed songs. It was in 1964 that he was first exposed to a musical instrument — practicing the bass-guitar with the Tytans band. After several months of thorough rehearsals, Bumps gained confidence and when the band’s bass-guitarist left he took over the role. He was associated with Tie and the Tytans for a year, after which he joined the Virtues.

 
Until late 1965, Bumps had only short engagements with most of the Island’s leading bands. He felt that those he had been around with did not really have anything to suit him. He tried free-lancing and in this way became associated with Byron Lee in Christmas of 1965. Bumps Jackson recalls that one night he was listening to the Dragonaires at the Club Sombrero, when Byron Lee approached him and asked: “How come a good bass player like you is not working?” Bumps said he told Byron that he was not interested in being confined to one band.

 
Byron Lee had to travel quite often to the United States and Canada on band business so he arranged with Bumps to take his place whenever he was not available. Bumps then became associated with the Dragonaires. After four months he was introduced to the six-string tenor guitar and took the bandstand as a second guitarist when Byron was able to play the bass. During that time Bumps created a name for himself and to many music fans he was regarded as one of Jamaica’s leading bass and tenor-guitarist. In the Dragonaires Ken Lazarus was the No. 1 tenor guitarist and leader in the latter part of last year. Lazarus left the group and Bumps took over as deputy band leader.

 
Bumps’ greatest moment came in January of this year when he was appointed leader and his first assignment was a Sunday night at the Club Maracas, Ocho Rios. “It was a fantastic experience for me and one I’ll never forget” he recalls. “I kept calm and observant and the other boys gave me confidence as the night went by,” he told me. Bumps says: “Most people feel that being a band leader is an easy job, but it is certainly one of the most difficult.” One has to develop a good working relationship with the members and Bumps says this the Dragonaires have achieved. As a member of the band, Bumps has travelled to New York. Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut and Lake George in the United States and to Toronto and Montreal in Canada. The band’s recent tour to Belize, British Honduras came in for high praises and was described as one of the best tours. Bumps is the band’s arranger and composer and his work includes Keith Lyn’s latest hit “Having a hard time.” He has been featured also in several recordings with the bass guitarist from Ska to Rock Steady and Reggae. “The Dragonaires are sounding magnificent,” says the leader, “and all I am interested is to keep it on a standard second to none in Jamaica and to maintain our place at the top in the Caribbean.” —J.S

A Horse Named Ska

Ska Romps Nursery from the Daily Gleaner, December 28, 1965.

Ska Romps Nursery from the Daily Gleaner, December 28, 1965.

This horse has a name, Ska, so take that America (the band, not the country)! I came across this article that was written during the summer of 1964, when ska was all over the Daily Gleaner after finally being accepted by the colonial newspaper. Apparently, ska was such a rage that owner Jacques Deschamps named his horse after the genre! It got me thinking about Jamaican music and the horses. I’ve previously written about Jamaican music and boxing, which you can read about here, and there is definitely affair between the Jamaican culture and boxing, but there is also one between the Jamaican culture and horse racing.
Perhaps the most well-known song about a race horse is that classic, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” by the Pioneers. Before this song was made, the Pioneers recorded their song “Longshot (Buss Me Bet)” which was written by Lee “Scratch” Perry, according to Dave Thompson in his book, Reggae & Caribbean Music, and was produced by Joe Gibbs. This racehorse, Long Shot, had a long career, yet never won. “He gallop, he gallop, he gallop, but he couldn’t buss [bust] the tape.”
Their more popular sequel, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” was about that same horse and begins with the same horse track trumpet call. According to Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen, it was producer Leslie Kong (Beverley’s) who first heard about the death of Long Shot and so he had the Pioneers write and record a song about it and it was not only an immediate hit, but it has been covered many times over, namely by The Specials, as a staple of Jamaican music. The song references Caymanas Park which is the popular horse track in Kingston. The lyrics tell of the death of Long Shot, and the details of his death are told here, in this article I found in the Daily Gleaner on April 1, 1969, along with a photo of Long Shot! There he is folks, before he kick de bucket! And here’s Rameses who also met his demise that same week. The article states this horse was voted the “Horse of 1968.” Naturally, he became the subject of the Pioneers “Poor Rameses,” which has a similar sound to their previous horse homages. A post mortem conducted on Rameses revealed that he died of a heart attack. There is a trophy called the Rameses Trophy which is named in his honor and is still awarded today at Caymanas Park.

longshot april 1 1969

From the Daily Gleaner, April 1, 1969.

Yet another Jamaican music and horse race connection comes with Vincent Edwards, better known as King Edwards, who ran a sound system with his bother George called The Giant. It was one of the big three sound systems along with Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat and Duke Reid’s The Trojan. But did you know that King Edwards was also involved in horse racing? Today, King Edwards is the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers Association (JRTA). In an interview with Michael Turner and Brad Klein in February 2013, King Edwards told him of his work with horses. “I’m a politician. And a race horse trainer. I’m training horses now. For forty nine years. Even when I was a member of Parliament I was a trainer,” Edwards said. You can read the entire interview here, and I would recommend you do—it’s fantastic!

 

There have been plenty of songs referencing horses and horse racing over the years, including “Race Horse Touter” by Leon Wint which was later covered by Ranking Roger, and “Horse Race” by Derrick Morgan and Neville Brown. There were horse songs full of innuendo like “Small Horse Woman,” “Horse Tonic,” “Ride a Cock Horse,” and “Ride a Wild Horse.” There were horse songs full of metaphor like “Death Rides a Horse,” “Selassie Rides a White Horse,” and “Can’t Flog a Dead Horse.” Then of course, there was the record label called Horse, a sublabel of Trojan Records, appropriately!

horse
Share your Jamaican music and horse connections in the comment section below!

How to Dance the Ska

skaaaaaaaaa

We have seen the photographs of Ronnie Nasralla and Jeannette Phillips teaching us to dance the ska, step by step. These guides appeared on the back of various LPs, especially those by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. But a dig through Daily Gleaner archives this week revealed that these dance steps also appeared in the newspaper in the summer of 1964, and so I post them here for you to see. They are essentially the same as those on the back of the albums, but they are sponsored by Desnoes & Geddes, the brewer of Red Stripe.

First a little background, which I posted earlier this year. Ronnie Nasralla told me how he came to create these dance steps to showcase the ska with Seaga and Byron Lee. “Let me tell you how it started. One day, Eddie Seaga, who was my close friend, called me. Eddie Seaga was friends with my sister. He was my sister’s boyfriend and he used to come by my house and I help him with his political campaign. Advertising was my forte. So I did all the advertising for the government, Eddie Seaga at that time. I help him with all his promotion. He told me he heard a music that was breaking out in Western Kingston called ska and he asked if I could promote it for him, so I said, ‘Well, I’d like to learn about.’ And we organized and I said, well Byron Lee is the best person to promote it. So we get together with Byron Lee down in Western Kingston and I learned the ska music. Eddie organized a dance at the Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston—it’s an outdoor nightclub. And Byron played there and all the ska artists performed with Byron and it was a sensation. He [Seaga] said to me, ‘Ronnie, move around the crowd and see what they are doing on the dance floor and see if you can come up with a brochure about how to dance the ska. So I did that, saw the people dancing around and came up with a brochure about a week after, how to dance the ska, give them different steps in the ska, and something that 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 and I was asked to go to the states and promote the ska with somebody and I got Jannette Phillips to dance with me. Jannette was a dancer, a belly dancer, a friend of my sister. We took pictures doing the different steps and the brochure was produced and given to the government and it was put in all the ska albums,” says Nasralla.

Nasralla had traveled to the U.S. with the group of musicians from Jamaica to promote the ska at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. You can read more about this visit in my posts here: Ska Ska Ska! Jamaica Ska!

Without further ado, here are the advertisements from the Daily Gleaner, so get ready to put on your dancing shoes!

From the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, June 30, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, June 30, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, July 7, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, July 7, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, July 14, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, July 14, 1964

 

From the Daily Gleaner, July 24, 1964.

From the Daily Gleaner, July 24, 1964.

Pioneer Hedley Jones

hedley photo

Hedley Jones and his twin-neck, five-string guitar he invented and built in 1961. Photo from Caribbean Quarterly.

The renowned historian and musicologist Garth White recently brought to my attention the contributions of Hedley H.G. Jones to the world of Jamaican music. So today Foundation Ska honors this great inventor and musician who was born on November 12, 1917 and is still alive and well in Montego Bay at 97 years young! Hedley changed music forever in Jamaica and throughout the world with his invention in 1940 of an electric guitar with amplifier. Although Rickenbacker and Gibson had been making electric guitars in the 1930s for use in the big bands and orchestras (so they could be heard over the large number of horns), these were not commercially available and certainly not in Jamaica, and Hedley’s was the first with a solid wood body. A photo of Hedley Jones in the Daily Gleaner on September 2, 1940 (seen below) features the caption, “AUTOMATIC GUITAR AND ITS MAKER Mr, H. G. Jones of Kingston who has, after a lot of experimenting, produced the Electric Spanish Guitar he is seen holding in the Picture. The principal feature of the guitar is its electro-magnet pick-up which has been made up from a pair of horse-shoe magnets and a number of stove bolts. The sound reproduction of the instrument is very good, as compared with the commercial types of electric Hawaiian guitars, a few of which are in the island. So far, Mr. Jones’ guitar is the first of its kind here, and should prove a success as the maker promises to go further into that branch of electricity. Says Mr. Jones: ‘It’s a pity that a few of our talented young men have not the ‘push’ to make ourselves of some benefit to this our island, but I hope to pursue the line I have started to a real success, provided I get the necessary encouragement to do so—-that’s in the line of L.S.D as these instruments are very costly ones’ to build.’”

 

hedley 1940

 

Hedley trained as an electronics technician during WWII and he went on to open his own electronics shop which also housed a record store called “Bop City” that sold records largely imported from England. He sold amplifiers, repaired equipment, and built sound systems. Then, in 1947 he built the first sound system, his own, which he used to amplify the sounds of the records he sold at his shop and demonstrate his skills as an electrician. After attracting a crowd, his first customer for one of these new sound systems was Tom “the Great Sebastian” Wong who went on to launch the era of sound systems that continues even today, all over the world.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, February 22, 1948.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, February 22, 1948.

Hedley was also president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians in the 1980s and 1990s. He spoke out against the use of technology in music which he felt replaced musicians with computers and eroded the art. He was outspoken on issues such as copyright infringement and he felt that the Jamaican music industry was rife with violations and any laws or contracts that protected the musician were frequently relegated to the trash can. He battled the hotels to use the musicians of the JFM rather than shirking their fees to obtain musicians who didn’t abide by professional standards. His son, Ron Jones, was also an electronics technician and musician and was blind. Ron died on March 20, 2000 at the age of 45 and his father Hedley performed in a jazz band at a celebration of his son’s life.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, September 19, 1950

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, September 19, 1950

You can hear Hedley Jones himself talk about his guitar here in an interview conducted by the esteemed historian Daniel Neely. The Caribbean Quarterly, December 2010, included a brilliant article entitled “The Jones High Fidelity Audio Power Amplifier of 1947,” written by Hedley Jones himself on how he invented the sound system. Here, the pioneer speaks:
IN THE YEAR 1940, I designed and built a solid Jamaican mahogany-body electric guitar, which required a special type of audio amplifier design that would properly respond to particular guitar sound frequencies generated from a magnetic transducer. The amplifier should be portable, responsive, self-contained with its own speaker and cabinet, and be able to accommodate at least two instruments. It should be equipped with individual volume and tone compensating controls; not the high cut-off tone control commonly used in radio circuits of those days, which served to subdue static noises, but specially designed electronic tone compensating circuits. This type of amplifier required knowledge of sound engineering. There were no amplifiers commercially available at that time for the required purpose. Most superheterodyne radio receivers were equipped with two stages of audio amplification and were totally inadequate and unsuitable for the reproduction of an electric guitar. Although there were some high-quality radio receivers around, owned by people with ample means (the famous Scott thirteen-tube superhet receiver sold by Frank E. Lyons and Company of Lyons’ Wharf in Kingston, for instance, used an output section of six valves in push-pull parallel circuitry, driving a thirty-inch electro-dynamic speaker weighing over eighty pounds, housed in a silverplated steel enclosure set on casters), such luxuries were not available to me for the simple reason that I could not afford them. I probed around for electronic literature, and discovered some audio circuit designs in electronic magazines, such as the British Wireless World, and the USA publications Radio Electronics and Electronics World. Using the information thus derived, I designed and, with some experimentation to avoid electronic feedback howls, produced a reasonable guitar amplifier of good response and fidelity.

I produced an electric guitar and amplifier for Fitz Collash, guitarist and music arranger for the Milton McPherson ten-piece orchestra. I supplied the band of the USA Military Expeditionary Force stationed at Vernamfìeld, Sandy Gully, Clarendon, with a guitar constructed from Jamaican mahoe and satin woods, along with a compensated amplifier using power pentode output tubes. The same was done for Don Hitchman of the Red Gal Ring Sugar Hill Club in St Andrew with the exception of the guitar, which was an American Gibson hollow-body concert model that I converted to electric. As was done for Hitchman, the same was done for Victor Brown, guitarist with the Redver Cooke Red Devils dance band; guitarist Gladstone Taylor of the Roy White dance orchestra; Jellicoe Barker, who led his quartet doing hotel duty on Jamaica’s north coast; and my own guitar-led sextet doing duty at the Silver Lining Club in downtown Kingston. My electric guitar served to bring me a sort of connoisseur status among musicians of the era.

Later, when I volunteered for war service and joined the British Royal Air Force in 1943, my commanding officer would give me the privilege of constructing and using an electric guitar during my war service. On my return from the war in 1946, I did electronic guitar conversions complete with amplifiers for Keith Stoddart of the Sonny Bradshaw Seven, and Ernest Ranglin of the Val Bennett Band. Bennett was a comical tenor-saxophone-playing bandleader – in the tradition of the colourful American Cab Calloway, who visited Jamaica with his band and was featured at the popular Carib Theatre in Cross Roads, Kingston, in or around 1950. Bennett wore colourful five-shilling Jamaica Government Savings Bank notes as lapel bouquets. Ernest Ranglin’s guitar-playing was a feature of the Bennett band as well as of the Colony Club band of 1951 led by Eric Deans (whose real name was Dudley McMillan). The devastating hurricane in August of that year put paid to one of my converted model guitars on loan to Ranglin.

I must note here that there were public address systems commercially available in at least one electronics store in downtown Kingston. These were RCA public address systems suitable for voice only, making use of piezo-electric microphones (crystal types). These systems were unsuitable for amplification of the electric guitar. Designing electronic guitar amplifiers made me acquire sound amplifier techniques, knowledge and experience not then known, nor available in Jamaica, and not practised elsewhere except by specialist electronic sound engineers. I had to design and wind my own power output transformers. This activity was always a very long and tedious process, done entirely by hand. The magnetic pick-ups used in my guitars were also hand-wound; and thanks to my very first apprentice – Duke Lawrence1 – who learnt very quickly to use my coil winding jig, made from a Meccano set and hand drill purchased from Hole In the Wall (a small variety hardware store in downtown Kingston, which also supplied me with appropriate gauges of magnet wire), I was always able to do a fairly good job.

But one day in 1941, something quite inadvertent took place. I received for repair a Marconi six-tube radio, which used an audio coupling transformer as a transducer in its output stage. I discovered the fault as a defective transformer, which I replaced with a new unit before delivering the finished job to its proud owner. The audio quality of the radio was so remarkable that I immediately, out of sheer curiosity, dismantled the discarded unit. The coils of the transformer were wound in four sections on two collapsible forms, the smaller inserted within the larger. I found that each section of the secondary winding had the electrical characteristics and physical proportions necessary to fit into the design of my guitar units. I had quite unexpectedly and ironically made a discovery that solved my guitar unit coil winding problems and freed Duke to concentrate on my guitar amplifier transformer designs. Duke’s obvious relief was my gain in achieving audio output transformer and guitar magnetic pick-up design unit perfection.

I continued to study the subject of sound engineering, eventually becoming quite adept in sound amplifier engineering designs. At this time I was also an electronics practitioner quite adept at radio repairs. The types of radios I was required to repair were: Zenith, Philco, Westinghouse, Marconi, Tesla, General Electric, RCA, His Masters Voice, Philips, Telefunken, Kolster Brandes, Sears, Pilot, Farnsworth, GEC of London, Hallicrafters, Scott, and a host of other makes, all available through Jamaican manufacturer’s representatives, who made a fetish of tying up any importation of foreign electrical home appliances on which they could lay their hands, making it well nigh impossible for anyone with entrepreneurial ability to import name-brand electronic parts or accessories, particularly at that time with a war on. This was an opportunity for introspection and innovation.

By 1943, with World War II having been in progress for over three years, I had made considerable innovative inroads, and my skills at radio repairs, manufacturing electric guitars and electric guitar amplifiers, as well as playing the guitar, had improved tremendously. On 8 May that year I made a decision to volunteer for war service in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). My aim, if I survived the war, was to become an electronic sound engineer of some reckoning; so I applied for the radar engineering category as an optional trade in that organisation, and was promptly told by the recruiting officer that my Third Year Pupil Teachers’ Examination Certificate obtained from the Jamaican school system – although it allowed me access to college training – did not qualify me for that category of electronic engineering. I should have been a matriculant. I was told I did not qualify for radio wireless engineering either, but the categories of wireless operator and electrician were available, either of which I could choose. I chose to be an electrician, and was subsequently called up, given a few weeks of military training at the Palisadoes Military Training Camp situated in Port Royal, and transferred to the Up Park Camp in Kingston for military fieldwork.

One year later, on Sunday 8 May 1944, I, along with two thousand other airmen and two thousand Jamaican farm workers destined for the USA, was put aboard an awful ship in Kingston Harbour – the SS Cuba – awful because it was dirty and unkempt. The ship set sail from the Kingston Harbour for Newport News, Virginia, USA. The ship docked at Newport News the following Thursday morning, 12 May. After undergoing a process called delousing, which entailed being sprayed with an unfamiliar chemical, we were made to pass through an automatic hot and cold shower – like a Jamaican cattle-dip process. The RAF group was subsequently carted off to Camp Patrick David.

After a further two weeks’ sojourn there, we were taken by rail to the city of New York, where we boarded a vessel that was included in a trans-Atlantic convoy. This was D-day six. Approximately nine days out of New York harbour, the convoy was put on U-boat alert. Depth charges were deployed and the convoy, which was scheduled to dock at Southampton, England, was diverted via the Irish Sea, to dock at Liverpool on 18 June. We RAF personnel were taken to Camp Filey in East Yorkshire for further training and orientation under wartime conditions. In August (by then I had gained a point in rank – from A2 to Ai – for aircraft recognition) we were called up for muster (orientation), and I again chose the radar engineering category. Little had I realised that the Jamaican recruiting officer (Mr Ernest Rae, Sr.) had recorded that I had considerable experience in electronic circuitry. The English RAF interviewing officer presented to me the schematic circuit diagram of a complicated superheterodyne radio receiver, then asked me five questions regarding the circuitry. I promptly answered three questions correctly, and another partially, while the answer to the fifth eluded me. The officer commended me with the following remark: “023 Jones, you are the type of man we want.” My RAF service number was 714023 – and he recommended me for training as a radar engineer.

Off to the Royal Technical College of Glasgow, a company of twenty- two, including me, was sent. From September 1944 to January 1945 we were given intense training in electrical theory, radio reception and transmission theory and practice, six days per week, ten hours per day. In February 1945, eighteen of the twenty-two, including myself, graduated from the college with diplomas in radio engineering. After a brief one-day holiday, off to the number 12 radio school in Swindon, Wales, we went for training in basic radar theory and practice. Another six weeks of intensive equipment-training ensued. Then we moved again. After further intensive training and successfully sitting the various written and oral examinations, we graduated from the number 3 radio school in Cosford, Midlands, in June as radar engineers. Fifteen of the original eighteen trainees graduated.

On 8 May 1945, victory in Europe was declared. I would spend another year in Europe doing various technical radar duties and services all over the British war-torn country, the nearby French coastline and Ireland.

On 8 May 1946, two thousand West Indian RAF personnel sailed out of the Scottish harbour of Glasgow City on the Norwegian vessel SS Bergensfjord,2 destined for our separate countries of abode and disbandment. On Sunday 19 May the ship set anchor in Port of Spain, Trinidad. On Monday we set sail for Jamaica; and after what so far had been an uneventful journey, an element of the Jamaican psyche for resisting insulting behaviour took hold when some Norwegian security police pointed a gun and used insulting remarks to a group of Jamaican airmen. The vehement protestations resulted in the military’s declaration of a mutiny at sea, the arrest of a few, and a diversion of the intended dispersion site from Palisadoes to the Mona prisonof-war camp (at the present site of the University of the West Indies). Here we went through the process of disbandment on 24 May.

As an aid to rehabilitation, we were given a choice between obtaining a two-acre plot of land in the parish of Trelawny or a repayable loan of fifty pounds. I selected the latter option, and in collaboration with a close RAF buddy, Altamont Edwards, opened an electronic service facility called “Premier Radio Service” at the odd address of 136 7A King Street in Kingston. The partnership lasted only a short while before Alty decided to do electrical installation and moved on to Montego Bay to ply his trade in the fast-expanding tourist industry. We decided on his keeping the name “Premier” and I moved on with the name “Hedley Jones’ Radio Service”. In December 1946 I took the decision to add a record sales department. It had transpired that as the war progressed, most of the big bands mentioned earlier had disintegrated, some of their personnel going into war service as I had done, while others went into formation of smaller groups serving the musical needs of the then rapidly growing tourist industry on Jamaica’s north coast.

The paucity of live music to which the urban population of Kingston had been accustomed resulted in a turn towards recorded music, which had begun to be supplied by three innovators: Count Goody and Count Nicholas out of western Kingston (Pound Road, now Maxfield Avenue), and Tom Wong, a small hardware store owner operating out of his business place in upper Luke Lane, Kingston. These perspicacious gentlemen had bought into the idea of supplying recorded music for house parties, and used some of the popular dance halls in the heart of downtown Kingston, such as Forrester’s Hall on North Street, Jubilee Tile Gardens on upper King Street, Success Club on Wildman Street, the People’s Onward Relief Association (PORA) on Laws Street and Central Branch School Hall on Church Street, to their advantage.

These popular dance halls that had in the pre-war and early war years accommodated the big bands providing live dance music for common folk, now featured what were commonly called “sound systems”3 – a Tom Wong designation. The sound system operators mentioned above used RCA PA systems with very limited audio range, as they were made for voice reproduction and their output mostly was with steel re-entrant horns as speakers. Where there existed a cone speaker, it was a small unit in a no-vent wooden enclosure hung from any convenient structure. The operators mentioned above depended on me to service their equipment. I made improvements where possible, but was limited by the original purpose of the equipment plus the speaker limitation. Except to point out these drawbacks, I made no attempt to sell to them ideas that perhaps they could ill afford.

I made a decision to sell recorded music, and immediately ran into a brick wall. The recordings used by the existing systems were mostly commercial 78-rpm discs of big band recordings of popular tunes from movie shows available from the four record sales departments downtown, or R&B discs brought back by returning war and farm workers or obtained by other means, fair or foul.

I discovered that it was impossible to import the most popular labels. The brands RCA, His Master’s Voice, Decca, Brunswick, Parlophone, Columbia and Capitol were all tied up by commission agents – mostly lawyers with offices along Kingston’s Tower and Duke Streets; and whatever was available had to be acquired via these commercial agents. Fortunately for me, during my sojourn in England, I had become acquainted with some export sources, which I immediately contacted. I was informed that they could comply with the supply of any label I desired. Thus began my foray into the sale of commercial recordings, which served to break the cartels. My English suppliers added the Savoy label, which covered recordings of all the American and European jazz greats of the era: the MGM label featuring the George Shearing Quartet and the voice of Billy Eckstine, as well as the Mellodisc label which featured the West Indian calypsonian great, Lord Kitchener. These labels with their offerings made a direct and astonishing impact on the record-buying public, as the sales were nothing short of phenomenal. I remember dispensing of a shipment of three hundred Mellodisc recordings of Lord Kitchener’s “Kitch Come Go to Bed” in only two days. The manufacturer’s representatives of the establishment, taken by surprise, did not take this interference very lightly, and I was later to suffer somewhat for my feistiness and effrontery.

For this my record-selling venture, I needed top-class reproduction, so I immediately imported two eighteen-inch English Celestian bass woofers (speakers) and half a dozen of the twelve-inch, heavy-duty variety. These arrived in February 1947. I mounted the woofers in bass reflex cabinets that I had constructed for them and turned to my trusted power amplifier designs to set them alive.

The amplifier I had prepared was of split spectrum design, powered by two RCA 807 power pentodes (designed for the modulation stages of highfrequency radio transmitters) in a 120-watt class ABi push-pull output configuration. The pre-amplifier section was built around active filters designed to split the audio frequency spectrum into three overlapping frequency components, fed into parallel-connected double triode cathode followers, each with their individual volume controls. This approach eliminated the need for the proverbial tone control, and the raucous surface noises that emanated from the old PA systems with their high audio hum, used to play gramophone recordings, were on their way out. The modern split-spectrum active-filter equaliser – although I did not recognise it then – had arrived.4

I had also designed and constructed a pre-amplifier with switch-selectable equalisation compensation for all the record manufacturing companies who provided non-active filter circuitry for their high-fidelity (hi-fi) micro-groove recordings just being put on the open market. The various compensations included Columbia, RCA, Decca, Philips, RIAA, and Orthroscopic circuit legends with claims of electronic compensation for the Fletcher-Munsen effect of the human ear.

My record sales department was given the name “Bop City” with a flashing electric sign espousing my radar technology; and although I sold a variety of recording labels with popular and R&B titles on 78-rpm discs, my accent was on the jazz development taking place and the new technology of hi-fi in stereo. I still have in my possession two such demonstration recordings of the era.

With my record sales department in place, I designed and built a highfidelity audio amplifier using my newly acquired electronic technology. Equipped with what I presumed to the best recorded sound reproducer anywhere, I set out on a Saturday night in mid-1947 to demonstrate my thunder. I started to play some Perez Prado recordings. A crowd gathered, and from the crowd emerged two streetside dancers. They called themselves “Pam-Pam” and “Chicken”. Little did I realise that Tom Wong’s sound was contracted to perform at the Jubilee Tile Gardens, almost opposite my business place. Tom’s puny sound with his re-entrant steel horns was no competition for my bass reflex baffles, mid-range speakers and high-range tweeters. His dance, in Jamaican parlance, flopped.

The following Monday morning, I was in for a surprise, as Tom paid me a visit, complete with cash down for one of my amplifiers. Within two weeks his system was transformed with a Jones amplifier and two bass reflex speaker baffles loaded with twelve-inch heavy-duty Celestian speakers. The true Jamaican sound system was born, and scratchy recorded noises receded into oblivion forever.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I deem it appropriate to end this essay with a few plaudits for some of the individuals who helped me along the way. My sincere thanks to Tom Wong, the first owner of one of my systems; Roy Johnston, salesman of Desnoes and Geddes Red Stripe Beer, and the very first user of my speaker horn-type baffle boxes, which were nicknamed the “House of Joy”; Duke Reid for giving me the opportunity to build his first two systems; Yellow Canary from Seaforth, St Thomas; Clement Dodd (“Coxon” the original until polluted to “Coxsone” by persons unknown); and many others from all over Jamaica, who lent their support. I also thank Mr Bridge of Times Store’s radio department, who recognised my potential for electronics and gave me discarded battery radios that I experimented with, and managed to convert to electric mains operation. Finally, I am grateful to Mr Galbraith, chief engineer of the firm of Wonard’s Radio Engineering in downtown Kingston, and an RAF buddy with like training, for recommending me to the Kingston Technical High School Board as the only one he thought capable of setting up their day-release classes to instruct students in radio technology. This I did for five years, from 1959 to 1964, thereafter pulling up roots and exiting Kingston for the friendly city of Montego Bay.

We thank Hedley Jones for graciously giving us permission to include this essay, an adaptation of a chapter of his forthcoming autobiography, in this publication.

NOTES

1. I originally trained six apprentices. First was Duke Lawrence, who subsequently became chief engineer for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), London. Second was Arthur Hassan, subsequently employed to the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) studios, Kingston, as operator. Third was Fred Stanford, Duke Reid’s sound engineer for a decade. He migrated with his family to the USA in 1962, taking the Jamaican sound system expertise to the New York Borough of Brooklyn, from where he launched the Jamaican contribution to the world of electronic sound reproduction. Fred was a witty fellow. He found sobriquets for both sound operators Tom Wong and Duke Reid, naming Tom “The Great Sebastian” and Reid “The Trojan”. He also named Roy Johnston’s huge sound baffles “The House of Joy”. Fourth was Jackie Eastwood, who served as the sound engineer of Sir Coxsone Downbeat (Clement Dodd, chief executive officer of Studio One) from 1956 onwards, still operating from his electronic repair establishment in Kingston. Fifth was Neville Cha Fung. He migrated to the USA during the early fifties; there he pursued studies in electronics at the college level, emerging with a degree, before joining the family electronics sales business (KG’s) of Kingston. Sixth was Ucal Gillespie. He joined Fred Stanford in Brooklyn, New York, USA, during the late 1960s.

There were also others who emerged from my electronics classes at the Kingston Technical High School, which (as noted in my acknowledgements) I taught from 1959 to 1964. For example, there was Richards, whose first name eludes me at this juncture; this student migrated to the USA and pursued further studies in electronics, joining the NASA work force, where he was elevated to an electronic design engineer. Last but by no means least is Oval Lue, who emerged from my Kingston Technical High School classes to eventually become the chief engineer of JBC TV studios in Kingston.

2. Two years later, in the late summer of 1948, the British ship SS Windrush docked at the Victoria Pier in Kingston Harbour, discharging its human cargo of the last remnants of RAF service personnel wishing to be back home in Jamaica. The goodly ship then sailed out with the first wave of the mass emigration of Jamaicans to Great Britain that was to follow in subsequent years – and accompanying that emigration would be the initial entry of the Jamaican sound system that was to make a profound change to the music accepted as normal by the British people.

3. The sound system style of recorded music reproduction is a Jamaican phenomenon, of Jamaican originality, conceived on the science of electronic sound reproduction, firstly around my electric guitar amplifier designs of the early World War II years. This original initiative was considerably advanced by the training I received in the Royal Air Force (RAF) of Great Britain as a colonial war service volunteer airman (RAF radar engineer). There have been several claims and counter-claims as to origin, but the foregoing and what follows are the plain unadulterated facts, which may not be successfully refuted anywhere in the world. The identification by sundry writers of the 1960s to 1970s as the beginning of the sound system/dancehall era, is woefully off-base. Those days saw the growth and enhancement of the phenomenon as a result of the proliferation of recorded music and local recording studios, and the rapid expansion of radio and television broadcasting as well as the rise of road bands. Until the publication of Norman Stolzoffs Wake the Town and Tell the People (Durham, NC: Duke, 2000), there had been no proper investigation of the subject. And even Stolzoff was misled in certain aspects, perhaps inadvertently by individuals who were too young to know. I must also emphasise that considerable research was done on early designs of audio power amplifiers; and those who benefited most did not have a clue regarding the design origins.

Persons who wish to call themselves musicologists ought to avail themselves of any opportunity to make a scientific study of the art of music. One typical example of the use of natural resonance can be found in the design of the brass instruments of an orchestra. The instruments are designed using the natural harmonics of any given note or sound so that only three valves are found necessary to produce myriad octaves of musical tones by the application of human choice and ingenuity. This simply means that music is of cosmic origin and retains both beneficial and destructive powers, depending on its use. This comment is not intended as a barb. I do hope my readers consider this sound advice.

4. Two gentlemen – Mr Baldwin Lennon, musicologist, a government civil servant who subsequently became chief accountant for the commercial firm of H. D. Hopwood and Company Ltd., and Mr Oscar Durant, violinist and musicologist, at the time senior shorthand writer of the Supreme Court of Jamaica – bought into my invention. In 1950 I designed and built a three-channel stereo audio amplifier. Each channel – bass, mids and highs – was fed via an active filter into triode cathode followers (in order to minimise audio hum) with individual volume control and a complete amplifier power output stage, each into its own separate speaker system. This surely was a very complex arrangement at that time. These gentlemen each purchased a system complete with a pre-amplifier with equalised compensation (Fletcher-Munsen equalisation) for any recording from any recording company they chose. The reader will recognise, and please pardon, the foregoing as technical jargon. This could hardly have been avoided, considering what is being described.

My own prototype, a bit cumbersome, disintegrated when I moved from the capital city to Montego Bay in 1965, but I produced another three-channel stereo system for Mr Peter Honiball, owner and operator of the famous Club 35 of Montego Bay, in 1966. Most of what I retained, including my very first design of a twin bass guitar (1961), suffered from irretrievable damage in a very devastating flood that damaged my business place in Montego Bay on the night of 12 June 1979. I am still in possession of an amplifier for electronic instruments which I designed and built in 1956, as well as my present 70-watter built in 1986 and still in use. All my amplifiers have been tube (USA)/valve (UK) types.

Author Affiliation

HEDLEY JONES is an historical figure in the development of modern Jamaican music. He is the author of Jamaica electronic sound technology, an important agency in the articulation of the modern global soundscape.

Hedley Jones is also a musician and performed with the Jamaica All-Stars, as noted in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 19, 1964.

Hedley Jones is also a musician and performed with the Jamaica All-Stars, as noted in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 19, 1964.

 

Here is an article that appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner on August 24, 1987 written by Carmen Patterson with the title, “Hedley Jones, inventor, creating the unusual.”

AS AN inventor, St Catherine-born Hedley Jones, has had no fame, nor has he made a fortune He gets satisfaction from doing and creating things that are different from the usual A radar electronics engineer trained by the RAF in World War II Hedley read of the development of the electric guitar m the United States in 193O s and took nine months of continuous work to create the first solid-body electric guitar in 194O His was an advancement on American guitarist Charlie Christian s electrified standard model, made by Gibson Guitar Company, USA Twenty years later, Hedley built the twin-neck electric five-string bass and guitar, the only one of its kind Over the years he has built several amplifiers, one of which, although 32 years old, is still in use today. As a young musician, who was taught vocals by his parents, Hedley resolved never to play a manufactured instrument and set about building his own Ukelele, tenor banjo and a cello and bow, all of which he played well as a child JFM’s President Hedley Jones is widely known as the decisive president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, who some members consider harsh. His aim is to instil discipline among performers, by dealing with the problems of drug abuse and indecency on stage. To this end, the JFM, through its president, recently suspended Gregory Isaacs from the Federation due to a number of court appearances on charges of cocaine involvement and at the recent Festival Song Finals Lovindeer’s performance, carried live on national television, was chicled by the JFM because of his choice of songs and props. Medley is also concerned about the quality of lyrics that is being unleashed on the public and cites the urgent need for our musicians to be formally trained so that the local product can progress professionally and commercially. He has been involved in the transition of Jamaican music before he built Studio One on Brentford Road, Kingston and worked as recording engineer in the -Coxon Studio for Bob Marley’s classic ‘It hurts to be atone’. As designer he created the early sound systems used by Tom ‘The Great Sebastian’, Coxon, Duke Reid, Mellow Canary and others. He’s also known as guitar teacher and stage performer at such old Kingston favourites as Glass Bucket Club and Carib Theatre with the 20-piece Carlysle Henriques Orchestra of the early 40s featuring Mapletoft Poulle, Joe Harriot and Wilton Gaynier. He’s known at the Cellar Club, Club 35, Breezy Point and Tryall Club in western Jamaica. Astronomy fascinates him But only very close associates know of Hedlev’s fascination for astronomy and his obsession with research in history — whether Black, Indian, Chinese or Mexican — and the scriptures. He has reams of notes from his research that just this month he organised to have typed, for posterity. His love for the outer worlds spurred him to build a telescope 16 years ago, which he used to re-discover Halley’s Comet on the night of November 2, 1985. And every night otter a day’s work as an electronics engineer In Montego Bay, Hedley makes preparation to gaze at the stars from 1O p.m. to 3 a.m. It was in April 1956 while watching the planets Jupiter and Venus in close western coni unction with the new moon, that the inspiration came for the first and only poem he has written. It says in part: I LOOKED: A western planetary conjunction; a wonderous sight; As if to outshine the crescent moon, did Venus and Jupiter shed their light. AND LO! The tri-starred orion with Sirius, Green Dog Star gay, imbued with perspective; exquisite nebulae! An act of nature’s interplay. Amid transcendent, immaculate and resplendent beauty. The cosmic scene stood vigil, sentinel of life’s eternal duty. I WONDERED! How prone was man to spurn his maker. This was the perfect picture God the master painter. “A look into the outer world makes me humble. Sometimes seeing certain aspects of the Heavens for the first strikes a feeling of unbelief for a time, but never to the point where I feel I shouldn’t look. I always want to take a second and third look to make sure that what I saw is really there. But seeing it again and again, does not dispel my awe”, he beamed. Studying the effects of astral travel Hedtev’s Insatiable appetite for knowledge, especial ly of the spiritual world, also led him to study the effects of astral travel. He said those who possess the gift should not be frightened of it, but use It to develop greater knowledge at the time of travel. He disclosed that one night, during man’s first landing on the moon, lust as he was about to fall asleep he found himself looking down at his body lying in the bed. He recalled learning that during such ‘spirit travel’ the traveller could learn any subject he wished. So, because he always wanted to know more about the moon, he said aloud, ‘Moon’. In a flash he found himself landed on the moon. But he didn’t stay long, because shortly after he landed, he woke up. Hedley’s life-long ambition has been to establish a planetarium In Montego Bay and he completed a feasibility study on the project in 1978. However, because of red tape it fell through. But being the patient and determined person he is, Hedley has not given up the Idea and intends to revitalise the project. For him the planetarium would mean ‘that every child in Jamaica would have a chance to look above him, into the vault of the sky — and that’s striving for the highest goal. Isn’t It?”

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 15, 1955.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 15, 1955.

Charley Organaire–Master of the Harmonica

Charley Organaire, center

Charley Organaire, center

You may know Charley Organaire best from his harmonica solo in Stranger Cole’s classic “Rough and Tough,” (listen to it here: Rough and Tough), or over 1,000 other Jamaican recordings over the years, but did you know that Charley is still going strong, singing and harmonizing all over the world? His song, “I Never Stop Loving You” was featured in the classic movie “Love Jones.” And Charley Organaire is performing tonight in his hometown since the mid-1970s, Chicago, to kick off his European tour with the Prize Fighters, a stellar band from Minneapolis. Charley Organaire, along with Roy Richards, was responsible for pretty much all of the harmonica in ska and rocksteady, even reggae, during the 1960s and 1970s in Jamaica (unless you count Lee Jaffe on Bob Marley’s “Talkin’ Blues,” because we all know, he sure likes to count himself!). The harmonica is an important but overlooked instrument in Jamaican music. But the harmonica not only provides lyrical musical harmonies—it also gives Jamaican music its spine, the essential rhythm that makes ska ska, rocksteady rocksteady, and reggae reggae.

Smoooooth moooooves! Charley Organaire

Smoooooth moooooves! Charley Organaire

Charley not only performed the harmonica back in Jamaica, but he also sang. In fact, in 1967, at a New Year’s Day show, a three-hour show at the Ward Theatre, Organaire was touted for his vocal performance. The Daily Gleaner article on January 3, 1967 stated, “One of the featured singers, Charlie Organaire, brought down the house with such popular hits as ‘Goodnight My Love,’ and ‘Stand’ By Me’ and was called back to give another performance.” As Rico Rodriguez would say, “Nice!”

Charley Organaire

Charley Organaire

According to the Jump Up! Records website, which is the label founded and operated by Chicago ska, rocksteady, and reggae authority Chuck Wren, Charley Organaire has a rich history as a musician and entertainer. The Jump Up! website states, “Charles Cameron was born in Kingston, Jamaica on March 20, 1942. He was inspired by the singing of his mother Louise, and his neighbor Mr. Randolph, a mean harmonica player. From the early age of 5, Charles started performing in neighborhood concerts, churches, and lodge halls – reciting poems, singing and playing his plastic harmonica. At the age of 9, a talent scout named Vere Johns had Charles performing on the “Opportunity Knocks” radio program and at various theatres in Kingston, such as the Palace, Ambassador, Gaity, and Majestic. He performed with all the big singers like Jimmy Tucker, Winston Samuels, and Laurel Aitken, plus was a side-kick to Bim and Bam, Jamaica’s leading comedians at the time. In his teens, Charley “Organaire” Cameron performed with big bands lead by Carlos Malcolm and Sonny Bradshaw. Then Charles teamed up with Bobby Aitken and formed a band called the Carribeats, recording the hit track “Never Never” with Bobby on vocals, Charley on harmonica. Charley “Organaire” was now unstoppable, becoming a well known studio musician performing on sessions with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, The Tenors, Derrick Morgan, Millie Small, Toots and the Maytals, Phyllis Dillon, Stranger Cole, and Lord Creator. The “Organaire” worked for the biggest labels in Jamaica: Prince Buster, Studio 1, Beverly’s, Duke Reed, Treasure Island, Highlights and King Edwards. Charley also started producing hits for his Organaire label, most notibly “Little Village/Little Holiday”, “London Town”, Illusive Baby”, “Sweet Jamaica”, “Your Sweet Love”, and “Let me Go”. Being one of the most popular entertainers in Jamaica, he moved to the north coast and worked in the tourist industry. Playboy, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Yellow Bird, you name it, he played there. Charles moved to Chicago in the late 70’s, eventually forming his own band called “The Charles Cameron & Sunshine Festival”. The “Organaire” band played in various night clubs, for major corporations, and political functions throughout Chicago including events for former Mayors Harold Washington and Jane Burn. Charles also played at Chicago Fest, Festival of Life, Taste of Chicago, and the African Fest. Charley “Organaire” Cameron continues to write and record to this day, the title track from his “Never Stop Loving You” CD appeared in the movie “Love Jones” starring Nia Long and Lorenzo Tate, and his newly released “Friends” CD features collaborations with Charlie Hunt and Steve Bradley. In 2012/2013 Charlie Organaire became a regular fixture at Chicago’s Jamaican Oldies productions at Mayne Stage, performing with Stranger Cole, Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison, Eric Monty Morris, Derrick Morgan, Derrick Harriott and Dennis Alcapone.”

 

Daily Gleaner article from December 24, 1967

Daily Gleaner article from December 24, 1967

My friend Aaron Cohen wrote a fantastic article on Charley Organaire in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune. Here is the text from that article:

“Charley “Organaire” Cameron is a harmonica player and singer, but sitting in the Good To Go Jamaican restaurant in Rogers Park, he is regarded somewhere between a celebrity and favorite uncle. He deserves both roles.
More than 50 years ago, Organaire performed in the instrumental section on a plethora of pivotal early Jamaican ska and rocksteady recordings. Since 1976 he has lived in Chicago, where he’s worked in different musical idioms; until relatively recently only a few fans knew about his historical role. But his upcoming first European tour will focus on the music that he helped originate.
“Charley was the harmonica sound of ska music, as well as an important arranger,” said Chuck Wren of Chicago’s Jump Up Records, which released three new Organaire ska singles this month. “He was on so many sessions; that Wailers tune you hold closest to your heart could have been 90 percent arranged by him.”
All of which began simply enough. Organaire listened to his mother sing and a neighbor play harmonica while he was growing up in 1950s Kingston. He heard different music through Radio Jamaica and from signals farther away.
“That one radio station in Jamaica would play country, blues, jazz and classical music,” Organaire said over glasses of Caribbean ginger beer. “A Cuban station would play Latin music. But where all music came from is basically the R&B from New Orleans.”
When Organaire was a teenager, he picked up a chromatic harmonica, which could play all 12 notes on a scale, as opposed to the more typical diatonic model that covers eight. His colorful tone and dexterity throughout shifting tempos made him valuable on pioneering ska and rocksteady recordings by the Wailers, Prince Buster and Jimmy Cliff. He owned his own record label, also called Organaire, which released his locally popular “Elusive Baby.”
“Back then we’d start every day at 9 in the morning and do no less than eight songs for each session,” Organaire said. “I had a great time working with (saxophonists) Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso. Since they were jazz guys, I learned so much from them.”
Those lessons proved helpful when Organaire got fed up with the Kingston record industry’s often desultory (at best) payment system, and he left to work in hotels and resorts on the country’s north coast. He’s still amazed that tourists preferred hearing him sing jazz standards instead of Jamaica’s own music.
After Organaire accepted an invitation to play in a Greek venue in Chicago in 1976, he stayed here. That gig turned into engagements at the Latin clubs that thrived here decades ago, including El Mirador and Las Vegas in Humboldt Park.
“I would play salsa and a little jazz,” Organaire said. “I’d also sing ‘My Way.’ It didn’t matter if you were from China; everybody knew ‘My Way.'”
A show at the reggae club the Wild Hare led to Organaire’s appearance singing his ballad “I Will Never Stop Loving You” in the 1997 film “Love Jones.” But for the past 27 years, his contributions have not just been musical. He has also worked on behalf of Chicago Concerned Jamaicans, a foundation that raises money to provide scholarships to needy students on the island.
“One student’s mother had six children and couldn’t afford a home,” Organaire said. “We helped her through a scholarship, and now she’s an engineer.”
Organaire’s generosity also emerged two years ago when he began participating in the Jamaican Oldies concerts that Wren has organized at Mayne Stage. Along with performing, Organaire helps the veteran artists feel more at ease working with much younger American backing ensembles. The musicians in one such group, the Minneapolis-based Prizefighters, have been fans of Organaire’s early ’60s sessions and perform on his new recordings. He does not expect this to be the last generation to rediscover his legacy.
“When the right time comes, all you have to do is be ready,” Organaire said. “If you stop, it’s over, and I will keep going on until I drop.”

Read even more about Charley Organaire here: World of Harmonica article

Read an interview with Charley here: Reggae Vibes interview

And visit Charley’s website: Charley’s website

And see Charley with the Prize Fighters on tour: Tour

Here’s a great blog post on the harmonica in Jamaican music: Harmonica

 

Goodbye Mr. Goody

Graeme Goodall at the controls with Coxsone Dodd and Owen Grey.

Graeme Goodall at the controls with Coxsone Dodd and Owen Grey.

It is with heavy heart that I dedicate this week’s Foundation Ska blog post to Graeme Goodall who died this past Wednesday, December 3rd. Graeme was a good friend who had generously provided me with numerous interviews over the years and was always ready to answer any question I had. He had a terrific sense of humor and deeply loved his wife Fay, recalling their days together at dances when she was pregnant, her little bun in the oven jumping to the bass of Downbeat’s sound system. Graeme was crucial to Jamaican music in so many ways it is almost daunting to write a blog post about him—he deserves so much more. But I shall give it a go and hope you will all chime in with your memories and thoughts in the comments section below.

 
Graeme Goodall was known affectionately as Goody. He was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1932 and died at the age of 82, although you’d never guess he was that old. His spirit and lucidity could trick you into thinking he was at least two decades younger, and his memory of minute details was sharp as a tack. He was a studio engineer for Ken Khouri’s Federal Records an in July, 2011 he told me in an exclusive interview how that came to be.

 
“I went from Australia to England in 1932 mainly to study more than anything else. In 1954 I was working for a commercial broadcasting station in Melbourne but I looked around and everybody older than me looked very very healthy, including the chief engineer and I figured, I better do something to leap frog over them. At the time the Australians were very into going overseas because they had been restricted through the Second World War and so I went to England, dead broke. I needed to send enough money for my ticket I suppose so I worked selling appliances that that didn’t last long so I worked my way into a company called IBC-UPC, International Broadcasting Company, Universal Program Corporation, and they did programs for Radio Luxembourg and they also did recordings and were probably the largest independent recording studio in Great Britain and so one way or the other I was trained as an engineer and they got me into doing remote broadcasts, or remote recordings actually, of shows like ‘Shilling A Second,’ ‘People Are Funny,’ ‘Strike It Rich,’ and during the week we had to make recordings of people like Petulla Clark. During that time, one of the girls who worked there in a sort of secretarial position said why don’t you go down there and see R.P. Gabriel who is chief engineer of a company called Rediffiusion, and Rediffusion, of course, had commercial broadcasting stations throughout the British Commonwealth, specifically the British Empire, countries that had not achieved independence. It was sort of funny because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man in king. They had no commercial broadcasting engineers in the U.K., so it was down to the Canadians and the Australians. So I guess I passed with flying colors at the Rediffusion house in London and they said we’ve got two positions going—one in Nigeria, one in Jamaica, and I thought about that for a while and to be honest with you, I’d been so much an engineer that I forgot about geography, so I called an uncle of mine and he said, ‘Come out old chap and have tea with us,’ so I went out to his house and he said, ‘I thought the Goodalls were smart, and they offered you a job in Nigeria and Jamaica? My cousin Tom,’ who was my father, ‘I didn’t think he’d breed an idiot! What are the times?’ and I said, ‘Well, Nigeria is 18 months and Jamaica three years,’ and he said, ‘Well shouldn’t that tell you something?’ I said, ‘Well not really.’ He said, ‘We send British people down to Nigeria,’—he worked for the British government, he said, ‘They’ve had enough after 18 months!’ I said, ‘Oh! Okay, thank you!’ So I went to BOAC and I got a map of the place and it was a tourist brochure that was obviously 30 or 40 years old with voluptuous-looking ladies walking around and I said, ‘Well that sounds good,’ and so I signed up for three years for Radio Jamaica. I was always a studio person, an audio man plain and simple.

 
We designed and put on the island’s first commercial FM service in the British Commonwealth in 1954 in Jamaica, in a time when you couldn’t buy FM transmitters and we put it in basically as a studio transmitter link, and STL from Kingston, which is where the studios were, into Montego Bay. It was a double hop across the island and it just worked out that it was a wonderful system and people started buying FM radios from the United States that were definitely better quality and at the same time, they had a network of amplifiers made by the parent company. So that’s kind of how it all sort of started.

 
This went very well for three years and my three-year contract was up and I had three months of fully-paid vacation and the equivalent of paid airfare back to England, so I said, well that’s good, I’ve got three months paid for, so I cashed in my return ticket to England, flew to Miami, went Greyhound across to San Francisco and got a ship from San Francisco back down to Sydney, a train down to Melbourne and used all of my fare allowance on betting back to Australia. That went very well, everything was fine, but after about two weeks I got bored to tears and I talked my way into working in television in Melbourne. I worked there for about four months and Jamaica started calling me, the government started calling me, saying they were putting in a government broadcasting, not just as a competition, but as an adjunct to Radio Jamaica—we need you back here to put it all in and by the way, there’s a ticket on the way if you need it. I was 25 or 26 and all of my friends were settled down and I was the last person they wanted to see around the house. I’m a single bachelor, making good money, wearing American clothes, and they didn’t want me around, so I was short of friends and all of my other friends were back in Jamaica, so I said okay, back I go! I flew Pan Am back to Jamaica and that was my second stint with RJR, and that time it was for JBC Broadcasting, which was exciting because it was a new approach.

 
Out of the RJR concert studio, which I’d already built, I utilized all sorts of things like outside broadcast equipment to get extra mic input, and the famous story that goes down in history is that I converted the men’s lavatory into an echo chamber, which was quite interesting. So that’s all the original Island Records, the Caribs, Laurel Aitken, Wilfred Edwards, people like that, we recorded them all at Radio Jamaica Studios. I’d go home and relax a bit, maybe go out and dance with the Caribs a bit and we’d all go back into the studios around midnight and record until about four or five o’clock in the morning, go home, get a couple hours sleep, and come back and work at Radio Jamaica all day. How I survived, I don’t know.

 
I built a studio, a very primitive studio up on King Street in the back of Ken Khouri’s furniture store. The only person who was making records at that time was Stanley Motta and you couldn’t really call it making records, although I guess it was making records because he was cutting the record disc, but Ken Khouri wanted to do something a little bit better, so I advised him. He got a mic recorder, a tape recorder, some microphone and I threw a studio together for him and so he started making records. And that was progressing and people don’t realize that Ken Khouri and his wife, Gloria, they were the principal owners of Federal Records. Actually it started off as Records Limited up on King Street and one of the big shareholders in Records Limited was Alec Durie who owned Times Records. And Time Store is probably the biggest retailer of phonograph records, so this is how it all came about. Ken started pressing records. I know he had the Mercury franchise and he started pressing Mercury Records so when he got more into it and it was obviously a money-making venture, he built this studio that became Federal Records, and it was rather primitive and I don’t know how it all came about, but all of us started talking and I said, the hell with Radio Jamaica. I quit Radio Jamaica, went down there and literally took the studio under my wing and also the cutting system and we could do everything when they walked into Federal Records. They make a noise and they would end up with a finished product. And that was the secret. Ken Khouri literally saw it as I saw it. There’s no point in making a disc and sending it away, because it has to go through several processes and then it would come back, you’d have to order the labels and it was restrictive because if it took off you’d have to wait for product to come back from England and it did not make any sense. So Ken had the foresight and I had the technical knowledge and we managed to pull it all together and everybody came to Federal Records.

 
I remember when I said to Ken, we got a problem here. We’ve got to get some echo in here somehow. He said, what does that require? I said, well I could design an echo chamber. I could modify the equipment, which I did. I rebuilt a lot of it to make it a lot more professional and I said I’d design an echo chamber and tag it on the back there. He said, that sounds good. All the walls were a different angle from one another. The Jamaicans that we got to build it refused totally to build it. And I remember one of them talking to Ken and they didn’t figure that I could understand. They said, ‘It’s not right, Mr. Khouri, it’s not right. We cyaan build it because all the walls dem different,’ (laughs). I figured it all out, these guys were used to putting up walls vertical, floors and ceilings horizontal, and everything at 90 degree angles from one another. And Ken said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing but trust me, you’ve got to do it his way.’ So we built it that way and I think that was one of the primary things because then when we started adding reverb, it brought it into a completely different area. And that was the start of Federal Records.
I went down to this horrible place in Trench Town in my little Mini Minor and I went up to Coxsone’s dance on a Friday night and I went up to the guy at the door and I said, ‘Where’s Downbeat?’ and they all sort of looked at me and said, ‘Just a minute,’ so he said, ‘Come on in,’ and it was amazing, all these people, there was probably a couple hundred people or more, and they all looked at me, ‘Who is this apparition? Did this guy just fall out of the sky? Is this the fifth coming of Christ?’–this gory-looking white guy in the sound system dance in Trench Town, and this little Chinese girl. And then all of a sudden Coxsone appeared and said, ‘Hey Mr. Goody, yuh make it deh, come, lek me buy yuh a drink.’ So I walked through and when Coxsone came it was like the Red Sea parting and he just walked through and I walked through with him and the crowd parted between us, and then it was the funniest thing because a lot of people that I knew, like Bim Bim and people like that that work for Coxsone, it was different. ‘Let me buy you a drink, Mr. Goody,’ ‘What do you want to drink, Mr. Goody,’—all of a sudden we’re exalted and they’ve got to buy me a drink, and my wife was all upset because this bass boominess was upsetting the baby that she was carrying. The baby started moving because the bottom end was so heavy. I could see the look on her face saying, ‘What’s going on here?!’ And I heard exactly what I had to do to make this record for the people. Because now I could see what they wanted. And I could feel what they wanted. So I went back to Federal the next week and I knew exactly what I had to do, I knew exactly how I had to do it and how exactly I had to weigh it down. And this is the problem that all these other people, including, I have to say it, Eddie Seaga, who I would love to be in there, but he never really understood what he had to get out there to influence the people. So that was it.”

 
Over the years, Graeme shared with me stories of the artists themselves, the producers, the wives, and tales of life in Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s which I have included throughout my books. I am forever thankful to Graeme for all he has given me—the history, the music, and most of all, the friendship. We all should be profoundly thankful for all he has given to Jamaican music. You will be deeply missed, my friend. Love to you. To see Graeme Goodall interviewed in the flesh, make sure to catch a screening of Brad Klein’s Legends of Ska film which is now showing at locations all over the globe, including next week in Havana, Cuba!

THE AUSSIE CONNECTION: (From left) Graeme Goodall, who came to Jamaica in 1995 to help set up RJR’s broadcast system; Lloyd ‘Mohair Slim’ Dewar, receiving on behalf of his friend Lowell Morris of the band The Caribs; Dennis Sindrey; and Peter Stoddart of The Caribs. Morris, Sindrey and Stoddart came to Jamaica in 1958 and added a flavour to the music. (Photos: Jermaine Barnaby)

THE AUSSIE CONNECTION: (From left) Graeme Goodall, who came to Jamaica in 1995 to help set up RJR’s broadcast system; Lloyd ‘Mohair Slim’ Dewar, receiving on behalf of his friend Lowell Morris of the band The Caribs; Dennis Sindrey; and Peter Stoddart of The Caribs. Morris, Sindrey and Stoddart came to Jamaica in 1958 and added a flavour to the music. (Photos: Jermaine Barnaby)

Plenty Bottle of Kola Wine

Advertisement for kola wine in the Daily Gleaner in 1901

Advertisement for kola wine in the Daily Gleaner in 1901

The lyrics of the classic song “Sweet and Dandy,” written by Frederick Hibbert, known to us as Toots, tell of a young couple’s wedding day jitters and reassurances from their family, who have spent money on food and refreshments for the assembled guests. As I sing along, I belt out the words, “kola wine,” realizing that I, once again, have no idea what I’m warbling! So I decided to check it out, for those non-Jamaicans like me, so we can know the history of this beverage called kola wine with the hopes that I may someday try a glass and toast to Toots himself.

Advertisements for kola wine first appear in the Daily Gleaner in 1900. One ad describes this new drink:

It is a powerful Stimulant, A Pure Product, Palatable as well as Nourishing, An Agreeable Beverage that is also a Nutritive Tonic. It is tolerated by the weakest stomach and is a substitute for solid food in cases of acute disease and is valuable to digestion in all chronic conditions including mal-assimilation of food. In cases of acute disease in which other nourishment cannot be received, Club Brand Kola Wine is effective and easily bourne. But perhaps its widest usefulness is among chronic invalids, those convalescing from wasting illnesses, those who are constitutionally feeble and those who are temporarily or frequently require a tonic.

Advertisement for kola wine from the Daily Gleaner in 1900

Advertisement for kola wine from the Daily Gleaner in 1900

The advertisement goes on to state that it is good for “various ailments” including dyspepsia, asthma, sea sickness, diarrhea, heart weakness, following fevers, brain and nerve ailments, neuralgia and migraines, and as a general tonic to aid circulation. These advertisements are not unlike those of Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper in the same era in the United States and elsewhere. The “stimulant” found in kola wine is, like Coca-Cola and other popular soft drinks, caffeine, which is found in the cola nut used in production of both Coca-Cola and kola wine. The nuts have been used for centuries as a diuretic, stimulant, cardiac tonic, astringent, and anti-depressive.

Coca-Cola advertisement from 1886

Coca-Cola advertisement from 1886

These sorts of tonics were and are still popular in Jamaica and among Jamaican musicians. Pianist Herman Sang revealed to me that Don Drummond was known to drink a tonic in the studio, although it is unknown exactly what it was. Sang told me, “I noticed that he had this brown bag, a paper bag with something that looked like a one pint little bottle and he would bring it and put it beside the piano, like on the ground where the piano was. And whenever we had a break he would come over and open the bag and nobody really knew what it was. Maybe it was an energy drink! (laughs) But I always remember that.” Kola wine? Perhaps! Drummond’s favorite drink, however, was limeade or a concoction of Ovaltine and clay.

A Jamaica Observer article on September 1, 2003 revealed more information about what is called “root tonics.” Author Gwyneth Harold writes, “There is a variety of roots wines in the supermarkets and on bar shelves. They have names like Zion, Baba, Allman Strength Roots Drink, Lion Brand, Kola Wine, Magnum, Ginger Joy, Ginger Wine with Ginseng, and Pump It Up. They have stiff competition from the ‘small man’ who mixes a batch in his kitchen and sells it unlabelled out of a knapsack under names like Front End Lifter. Some of the roots drinks claim to be specially recommended for those ‘suffering from a run down constitution’ or ‘fatigue.’ Some say that they are number one in their class for enhancing one’s energy level ú taking it to a whole new plateau. The makers of Magnum proudly declare their drink to be with ‘Vigorton 2′ – a popular drink of an earlier time that was immortalised in ska by Lee Scratch Perry and King Stitt. There are also virility claims because some of the natural ingredients contain aphrodisiacs such as peanut root, sarsaparilla and medina. . . . Pump It Up, itself used to be known as Samsons Wine, The modern blend has 27 roots. It is recommended for adults only. A serving size of roots drinks ranges from one to two wine glasses. But while they are a popular part of Jamaican culture, we wondered if there were any standards in place to regulate these beverages. Diane Robertson, registered pharmacist, herbal consultant and author of ‘Live Longer, Look Younger With Herbs’, explained that one of the first distinctions to be made was the difference between roots tonic wine and a roots drink or roots juice. Tonics are for perking up the system, she said, but once the word tonic was on a bottle, it had to be registered by the Ministry of Health (MOH).” The article goes on to advocate regulation and proper labeling.

Below are the lyrics to “Sweet and Dandy” as well as a link to the song. Please post below if you have tried kola wine and share your experiences—for those who are unfamiliar with the beverage, like I am, we’d love to know your thoughts!

Listen to the song here and see Toots & the Maytals perform this classic in the film The Harder They Come: Sweet and Dandy

Sweet and Dandy
By Toots & the Maytals

Etty in the room a cry
Mama say she must wipe her eye
Papa say she no fi foolish
Like she never been to school at all

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Johnson in the room afret
Uncle say he must hold up him head
Aunty say he no fi foolish
Like a no time fi his wedding day

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

One pound ten for the wedding cake
Plenty bottle of kola wine
All the people them dress up in a white
Fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Etty in the room a cry
Mama say she must wipe her eye
Papa say she no fi foolish
Like she never been to school at all

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Johnson in the room afret
Uncle say he must hold up him head
Aunty say he no fi foolish
Like a no time fi his wedding day

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

One pound ten for the wedding cake
Plenty bottle of kola wine
All the people them dress up in a white
Fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

But they were sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy

Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy

They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy

Remembering Bim Bim

Bim Bim, also known as Allan Scott or James McKenzie, from the Jamaica Observer, 11/20/14

Bim Bim, also known as Allan Scott or James McKenzie, from the Jamaica Observer, 11/20/14

I saw a post by Mark Williams yesterday that Allan “Bim Bim” Scott had just passed away. He died on October 20, 2014 and a service in his honor took place on November 16th. I thought this would be an opportunity to talk about Bim Bim who was Coxsone Dodd’s associate producer, without whom we may not have one of the most impressive set of recordings of Skatalites tunes, for Justin Yap on his Top Deck label.

First, let us read the article that Howard Campbell wrote in the November 20, 2014 edition of the Jamaica Observer on the burial of Bim Bim, whose name was James McKenzie, although most knew him y Allan (sometimes spelled Alan) Scott or Bim Bim:

Dodd’s ally laid to rest

Thursday, November 20, 2014

James ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie

JAMES ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie, a close associate of producer Clement Dodd during the 1960s and early 1970s, died on October 20 at the Kingston Public Hospital at age 74.

The St Mary-born McKenzie was also known as Alan Scott. The thanksgiving service for his life took place last Saturday at the Dovecot Chapel in St Catherine.

He was interred at the Dovecot cemetery.

Scott worked with Dodd at his Studio One label when it was transitioning from rocksteady to reggae in the early 1970s. He is said to have been instrumental in introducing singer Winston ‘Burning Spear’ Rodney to Dodd, as well as a group of musicians out of Linstead who ‘changed’ the Studio One sound.

Those musicians were the Soul Defenders band which included percussionist Joseph Hill who later found fame as singer Culture.

McKenzie eventually left the music business and moved to Prospect, St Thomas, where he went into farming.

James ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie is survived by two children (Anice Scott Mullings-Anderson and Michael Scott), four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

– Howard Campbell

 

In my biography Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, I write a few words about Bim Bim, including the following:

The Skatalites also continued to record for various producers but they sought to get better wages than they earned as solo artists. One of the producers they recorded for, who was known for offering fair wages, was Justin Yap and his brother Duke Yap who ran the Top Deck label. Justin Yap was introduced to the Skatalites by Allan “Bim Bim” Scott, Coxsone’s assistant, who knew the musicians personally and suggested Yap record them. During a now-famous all-night recording session using Studio One in November, 1964, Yap recorded some of the Skatalites’ most classic tunes, all written by Don Drummond. He arrived for the session with five songs already written—Confucius, China Town, The Reburial, Smiling, and Marcus Junior. In the liner notes to Ska-Boo-Da-Ba, the re-release of Top Deck’s Skatalites sessions, Yap recalls his thoughts on Drummond. “I admired Don Drummond. I call him maestro. He takes over. He’s in charge. He knows what he’s doin’, he very professional. And when you hear my recordings with Drummond, you listen, you know that he took charge,” said Yap to Steve Barrow. He says it was a little tough to deal with Drummond at first because of his idiosyncrasies. “I remember when I drove Bim down town . . . we drove to his home. First of all, I didn’t go in—Bim Bim went in and talked to him first. I remember one time he took off! Just went down the road and come back with his answer—it’s ok! Whatever he had to do, you know?” Yap told Barrow.

Sure, one can argue that without Bim Bim these songs would have just been recorded for a different producer, perhaps Coxsone himself, but we all know that each producer has his or her own sound, own take on the music, own production and creative interpretation. Without Bim Bim making this connection, ska history would not have been the same. Thank you Bim Bim for your contributions to Jamaican music.

Enjoy these now-classic ska tunes:

Confucius

China Town

The Reburial

Smiling

Marcus Junior