Experience of an Inmate at Bellevue Mental Hospital

From "Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Institution," by Christopher W. Rowe, Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961.

From “Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Institution,” by Christopher W. Rowe, Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961.


In my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, I write extensively of the treatment and experiences Don Drummond likely had at Bellevue Mental Hospital during his numerous stays in the 1960s and his ultimate death there in 1969. I have visited there twice, once unaccompanied, and the sights I saw, the conditions in which the patients were made to live, the facilities and buildings that these people called home were horrifying. I can only imagine the treatment they received, and this was just a few years ago. The conditions during Drummond’s stay were rudimentary at best, and the medications he received are now banned–too dangerous, too deadly. He ran away a number of times on his own, unable to continue with the treatment. It was awful.

The way that the mentally ill were treated during the time of Drummond’s life was cruel. Drummond was spat upon, teased by his own band mates, laughed at, pointed at, and he was called a madman. He was misunderstood. So imagine my surprise when today I scanned the pages of a Star Newspaper from April, 1961 to find one inmate giving his own account of his stay in a mental hospital, in an attempt to be understood, accepted, and expose the conditions inside. The seven-part series ran from April 19, 1961 through April 27, 1961.

The mental hospital is not named, but it is in Kingston, and so we can assume correctly that it is Bellevue. The only psychiatric hospital in the whole country was Bellevue. In the late 1930s, when the following account takes place, Bellevue was not yet named as such, so this article does indeed reference the same facility that Don Drummond was at and three decades prior to his time there. Additionally, the individuals the author reference were officials at what became Bellevue. I have long heard about outdoor “cages” at Bellevue that were used to imprison patients. The following account seems to confirm this in the passage where the author recounts his experience being placed in a “railed room,” a “compartment,” after being hit by a staff member.

I find this account fascinating since it is likely the day-to-day existence that Don Drummond had while a patient at Bellevue, something that until I have found this text, was mere speculation based upon memories. His medical records have long since been destroyed (I was officially told they were destroyed in a hurricane) or officials choose to leave the records buried. In the coming days I will continue to post these accounts, but for now, here is part one, from the Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961, of Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital by Christopher W. Rowe:

I was arrested in Port Antonio on Sunday, third June, 1934, and placed in custody until the Wednesday, 6th June. I was handed over to the police by my father who presumed that I was acting strangely, but no offense was committed by me. My father is now dead, died on the 2nd June, 1960, and was buried the 3rd, June. I was taken by motor car taxi at the time to the railway where I was placed aboard the train for the mental hospital under escort of a constable. The constable told me that in his possession was a strait jacket, a thing made pull-over fashion with the sleeves on the inside so that a person that is placed in one could not move his arms until it is taken off him. I had the happiness of not being placed in it. We went along all right, reached the Kingston end of the railway and was taken to the hospital by animal drawn hackney carriage buggy. There were buggies at the time in Kingston playing for hire June 6, 1934. (Nowadays the escorts are by police service cars driven by uniformed constables).
My Mistake
On reaching the institution I was taken to the medical office which is the main office it being a medical corps. And there I was examined by the medical superintendent (Dr. R.D. Hewson) which was procedure at the time. The examination took the form of questioning and I in turn answering what I could manage.

I made out good enough but was a bit bleary and was told that as soon as I was cooled down I would be all right. The constable left and I was taken over by an attendant or male nurse (equal to a warder in the prison service) and taken to the ward or hospital compound. The time was about 12 noon.
The administration ward is made up of two wards, one for patients with sores and the other for cleaner patients.

On being taken to the ward or sleeping quarters my street clothing was taken away by the head nurse or chief charge (the senior person in charge of the ward at the time) and I was issued a nightgown made of Osnabergh, a whitish looking material worn in government institutions by both patients of this hospital and prisoners.

All went well until about an hour after admission I mistook an attendant for a police man I know at Half Way Tree even though he the attendant was in khaki uniform. I said something to him and he hit me in my head with a heavy ruling stick he had ruling up a book. About two hits he gave me. I felt groggy and was taken and placed in a railed room, a compartment that you can see outside and likewise can be seen from the outside by others. I was made to remain there until the night shift which was six o’clock.

(The constable for whom I took the attendant and the attendant himself are brothers. The constable’s name is Black and the attendant’s Jackson, sons of the same mother I heard).

The night attendant enquired of me why I was there. I told him I did not know. He opened the door and jerked me and pushed me to the wall, he afterwards slammed the door and went his way.

The next morning I was taken out of the room (temporarily) for it to be washed… I was issued a piece of canvas in order that it could be spread on the floor for the purpose of laying down whether to sleep or rest the legs.

I was after that given something to eat consisting of a bread baked at the general penitentiary and a can of cocoa.

The Diet
The bread is made of cassava mixed with flour and weighs about six ounces about one o’clock I was given a flat pan commonly called a pudding pan, with something to eat comprising the half of a bread (same six ounces loaf cut into) a piece of potato, some liquid matter which must be gravy and a piece of meat grounded or crushed. Five o’clock that evening I was again given another six ounces bread and a can of cocoa very weak and scanty of sugar.

After that we bedded down for the night, I still being in the room with the bit of canvas. The other patients with the exceptions of those that were in rooms were given beds. It being the admission ward it was single iron bedsteads with mattress and blankets the same as in public hospitals with a few canvas cots to make up the required number. The census of the wards called A2 was about fifty and the other A1 about thirty.

Whilst in the room for about four nights I was given one of the canvas cots on being told that my behavior was very much better. I was still given the same diet every morning and evening with changes in the mid-day meal, sometimes rice and other times cocoas with salt fish with the same liquid composition. I was taken out of the room and given an iron bed the same as the other patients in the open ward. The day after being out of the room I was taken to the dosier in charge of the ward (Dr. James) who sounded me and enquired of my feelings and of my behavior from the head nurse (Mr. S.C. Young). He reported favorably.

The doctor recommended that I could smoke if I wanted. I was given a pipe and a bit of tobacco from the store and re-taken to the ward. On going to see the doctor I was given a trousers which was reclaimed after returning. I remained in the admission ward for 20 days from the 6th June to the 26th June. I was issued a pants permanently to wear with the nightgown about three days before being transferred to the convalescent ward which are four in number – O Ward, G Ward, B Ward, and N Ward.

I was transferred to B Ward which was the worst at the time where the patients are more ferocious and bad behaving. This ward consisted of about 200 patients with about six attendants.

A chief charge who wore khaki with red stripes and three small stripes on his jacket sleeves as his office insignia, a second in charge dressed the same with two stripes on his sleeve and to senior staff nurses or attendants with one stripe each and two juniors who only wore ordinary khaki.

This ward consisted of one sleeping ward for about sixty patients and about fifty cells also a railed court where disorderly patients are placed during the day. At nights they are taken out and placed in the cells or if not they are taken to some other tenant wards known as sleeping wards which are known as D Range, Q Ward, E and L and H Wards. Those being tenant wards of B Wards where it’s surplus sleep at nights. In the mornings they are made to return and remain in the ward compound for the day’s routine which consists of tea in the morning, a different thing altogether from what goes on in the A Ward or admission ward.

Here (B Ward) you are given a six ounce bread and a pudding pan of cornmeal porridge – Sunday morning, Monday morning the same Tuesday, a pan of bush tea and the bread same six ounces, Wednesday, same as Sunday, Thursday same as Tuesday, Friday same as Wednesday, Saturday same as Thursday until Sunday again. At times the midday meal consists of rice and peas with salt fish slab fashion.

On Mondays and Tuesdays soup mostly gungo peas with potatoes and a small bit of beef. Wednesdays it would be same as Mondays, Thursdays, salt beef fixed with heavy liquid. Friday is the same as Tuesdays. On both occasions you get a half of bread accompanying the soup.

Saturdays you are given a saltfish water with whatever food kind on hand whether potatoes or yams but this days diet is not relished by any patient no matter how crude he be. It was afterwards abolished.

Unpeeled Food
(The foodstuffs in the admission ward were peeled but not so in the convalescent ward. There they were served cooked in the skin or peel-yams, potatoes and cocoas).

On Sundays we were given the same sort of mid-day diet as that served on Thursdays. The evening diet as it is called, consists of a six ounces bread and a pan of bush tea every day, sometimes ginger is in it and sometimes bush alone which is supplied by the Tender Board same as the rest of the things used. At nights I was made to sleep down at the D Ward or D Range as it was called in the railed room on a canvas cot. I was locked in at about seven o’clock by the attendant on night duty and reopened at six in the morning in order to be on my way to the main ward to be rechecked for the day.

We were allowed to smoke. We were issued a bit of tobacco about three inches long on Wednesdays and Saturdays which we minced up and folded in cigarette fashion with newspaper and smoked. The pipe that was issued to me was retaken from me before I was transferred from the admission ward.

After being in the admission ward for 14 days, I was visited by my sister who was a dweller in Kingston at the time (it is a regulation of the institution for a patient to be allowed visitors after the expiration of 14 days if he has anyone to visit him). She, my sister, enquired of me what I would want.

The head nurse told her that I could be given a pair of soft shoes that in case I was one that meant to kick any other patient I could not hurt him greatly. She left and returned with the shoes, some things cooked by herself and a newspaper, that day’s edition, also a shilling in order to buy cigarettes at the canteen. I was afterwards visited about twice per week by her until discharged.

We kept up our daily routine as already related until I was made to join a party that ate out in the main dining hall.
New Faces
There you see patients from all the other convalescent wards they being as follows – O Ward who sent a party, G Court or G Ward with the same name, and N Ward with all their patients they being the boss of the dining hall.

Here the diets are the same in the majority of those served in the ward with the exception of a few semi private patients who are served sliced bread and jam in the mornings with green tea in cans; in the midday a mixture of custard in a can, the same sliced bread with grounded meat and rice.

In the afternoon they get the same fare as in the mornings. There are a few patients from G Court who are given what is called crushed diet. It being whatever is served to the ordinary patients being grounded in a mill. The cause of it either due to bad stomach or loss of teeth.

Most patients that are transferred to G Court are those that suffer from fits or apoplexy.

The dining hall is attached to the kitchen from where everything is issued for the dining hall. First thing a patient is issued a flat pan afterwards a bread and down the table a big pan is pushed in which tea or porridge (cornmeal) is served by an attendant in the khaki uniform. In the middle day you are served a spoon with your diet not so in the ward. The dining hall is more orderly.

The ordinary diet is called a diet, those for the semi-private patients D diet, and for the G Court patients crushed diet. There is another diet called B diet consisting of a bread cut in half but not served with butter inserted which is served to few of the ordinary recommended by the ward doctor. He is at the main office but visits the wards at times.

Tomorrow—Christopher joins the working party—one of the many groups within the institution.

The Flintstones at the World’s Fair!

From The Flintstones souvenir comic book of the 1964 World's Fair.

From The Flintstones souvenir comic book of the 1964 World’s Fair.


Okay, so we know the controversy surrounding the selection of certain musicians and vocalists to represent Jamaica at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and the omission of others. For those who are still feeling enraged that the Skatalites weren’t selected to travel with the delegates to promote ska, what will it do to their sensibilities now to know that the Flintstones were even there, at the Singer Bowl, at the World’s Fair! That’s right, the Flintstones–Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, Bam-Bam, Pebbles, and yes, even Dino!


02241301 From the souvenir comic book for the 1964 World’s Fair.

So in this text, Fred ducks into the Singer Bowl to get away from guards. Sounds like an original rude boy to me, eh? Dance crasher! A girl can dream, but actually, in the story there is a track meet going on at the time. The Singer Bowl was used for concerts, such as the one where Millie Small performed during that exhibition, along with Eric “Monty” Morris and Prince Buster and others with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires as the backing band. The Singer Bowl, however, was also used for track events, such as the Olympic trials that same year. Years later it was used for the Doors concert (The Who was the opening band) where the famous riot took place, and Jimi Hendrix performed that same year as well, 1968. Led Zepplin and Janis Joplin also performed here. The venue, however, was built for the World’s Fair and located in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. The opening ceremony of the World’s Fair was held here and Lyndon B. Johnson attended. The Singer Bowl was one of the first examples of a corporation purchasing naming rights for a stadium, which is now common practice. Singer, the sewing machine company, had a number of exhibits underneath the bleacher stadium, highlighting fashion and their company’s equipment, which also included vacuum cleaners, typewriters, and even computing devices. The stadium was an open-air arena that could seat 15,000 people. It also played host to boxing, tennis, and martial arts competitions.


The Singer Bowl during the 1964 World's Fair.

The Singer Bowl during the 1964 World’s Fair.

singer bowl Singer_Bowl

The Singer Bowl no longer stands in its original form, although it is important to ska history as a launchpad for Jamaica’s music worldwide. The Singer Bowl today is the Louis Armstrong Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and it was converted to this use and remodeled in the early 1970s. It was named after Armstrong, the legendary jazz musician, who lived nearby and died in 1971.


Don Drummond and the Murder of Margarita

Looking into Don Drummond's home on 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Looking into Don Drummond’s home on 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn


I have heard over the years, read in books, and still hear today that on that fateful night, January 1, 1965, that Margarita did not give Don Drummond his medication, or gave it to him late, thus causing him to sleep through his Skatalites gig and, in anger, stab her when she returned on January 2nd in the wee hours of the morning. I want to take a moment to address this myth because I think what this argument does is very subtly places blame on Margarita for her demise, takes away some of the responsibility from Don, and gives some sort of justification or reason where there is no reason other than untreated insanity.

First on this matter, an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

But many have thought over the years that Drummond became upset when he finally awoke to find he had not only slept through his performance, but that Margarita was gone. His defenders claim that Margarita manipulated his medication dosage or gave it to him late so she could go dance at the Baby Grand on Crossroads for her first show, and at Club Havana in Rockfort where she had her residency to dance the rumba for wealthy gawking men. There is no way to prove such a claim that Margarita somehow altered Drummond’s medicine he took to treat his schizophrenia, nor is there any way that anyone would know such information. Zola Buckland Sergi, Margarita’s niece, feels that many fans, band mates, or Rastafarians are skeptical of the events and merely looking for an explanation, looking to put the onus on Margarita for Drummond’s actions. She dispels this myth saying, “People say she must have given him his medication improperly and so he slept through it. She didn’t give him his medication! He took his own medication! My mom said it was impossible and people are looking for a reason why he killed her. The reason is, he was nuts!”

Now, let’s take a moment to think logically about this argument. How would anyone know that Margarita gave Don his medication late or not at all? Don never showed up at his gig that night, so he never left the house and was asleep. Margarita, the only person involved in the interchange, was dead, so was unable to tell anyone that she had done such a thing. If Don later told someone that Margarita had given him his medication late, that would be an excuse offered by the murderer, so is suspect, and has never been stated by any of the musicians. Instead, what we have are musicians or friends of Don who offer this as a sequence of events, as a way to provide reasoning. It is blaming the victim of abuse and it simply defies logic. But it speaks to the love for Don, that his friends and musicians would want to protect him, give him a reason. The reason, as Zola says, is he was insane and it was untreated properly. That is the reason, the only reason, and it is sad and horrible, but time that we accept it.

Here’s a similar blog post I wrote in October 2013. Still the myth persists, so I write it again.



Carlos Malcolm to release book this fall!

Carlos Malcolm and Heather Augustyn on July 30, 2015 in Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by Linda Martin.

Carlos Malcolm and Heather Augustyn on July 30, 2015 in Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by Linda Martin.


I had the honor of visiting with the legendary Carlos Malcolm and his lovely daughter Michelle Williams while in Florida last week and was so pleased to learn that Mr. Malcolm will be releasing his own book this fall! It will be the story of the rise of Jamaican music as he experienced it, as son of a trombone player; as bandleader of his own orchestra, Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms; and as music director as Jamaican Broadcasting Company and producer of Teenage Dance Party and Hit Parade. Mr. Malcolm played trombone for everyone was was involved with musicians and artists in almost every facet of the industry, from stage to studio. He said that the book is complete and is currently with the editor and will be released very soon! Please keep checking back here, or sign up for the mailing list here, to be kept in the loop on updates on this exciting new book from Mr. Malcolm!

Ronnie Nasralla still celebrating ska!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



More Margarita!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Be Original’ is Stranger Cole’s Advice

stranger stary april 14 1964

From the Star newspaper, April 14, 1964


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

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

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


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

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

The Presidents

Star Newspaper, January 8, 1963.

Star Newspaper, January 8, 1963.

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

presidents 11 4 62

Daily Gleaner, November 4, 1962.

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

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



Jamaica’s Threat to the Beatles–the Zodiacs?


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

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

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

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

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.


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

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

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.



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

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

Duke Reid Crowned “King” 6th Time

duke reid crowned king

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

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

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