Giving Thanks

rude-turkey

In the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving on November 24th this year, a holiday that according to history.com was designated by Abraham Lincoln. “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.”

So in honor of this holiday when people from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon will break bread together with family and friends in a tradition of community, love, and unity, let us give thanks, and skanks, with some Jamaican tunes of thanks. Here’s a selection of songs of thanks, and though the artists may be thanking and praising Jah, we too can celebrate this spirit this time of year and always, by being kind to each other and embracing one another in love and unity. Feel free to chime in below and add yours to the mix–after all, that’s what this post is all about.

 

Bob Marley–Give Thanks and Praises

Hortense Ellis and General Roy–Give Thanks

Derrick Morgan and The Scorpions–Give Thanks

The Abyssinians–Satta Massagana (Give Thanks)

Sugar Minott–Give Thanks & Praises

The Versatiles–The Thanks We Get

U Roy–Give Thanks Continually

 

Lord Charmer–Louis Farrakhan

charmer1
Though it is not new news, it was still new to me, to discover that the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose mosque I frequently pass on Stony Island in Chicago, was once Lord Charmer the calypso singer. Even the Nation of Islam website itself states this. “Popularly known as ‘The Charmer,’ he achieved fame in Boston as a vocalist, calypso singer, dancer and violinist.”
charmer
Louis Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Wolcott in the Bronx, though his parents were Caribbean. His mother was from St. Kitts and Nevis and his father was Jamaican, though he never met him. He lived with his mother and his stepfather who was from Barbados though he died when Louis was three so his mother moved to the Bronx and then to Boston. While in Boston, Louis developed his love for music and he took violin lessons, growing proficient on the instrument. He performed with the Boston College Orchestra at age 13 and he won a number of competitions for his skill. In 1950 he performed as Lord Charmer, a calypso singer, touring as well as recording a number of songs, including the classic folk tune “Jumbie Jamboree” which he recorded as “Back to Back, Belly to Belly” with the Johnny McCleverty Calypso Boys in 1954. The Kingston Trio recorded their version, “Zombie Jamboree,” four years later and Harry Belafonte recorded his cover in 1962 before Peter Tosh and the Wailers in 1965 and The Jolly Boys in 1989.
charmer3 charmer4
Though I’d love to have a copy of this album, or even the CD, they go for hundreds and thousands of dollars! So have a listen to this classic “chune” here.
Below is an article on Louis Farrakhan’s calypso career that appeared in the Washington Post in 1995.
Louis Farrakhan, Calypso Charmer
Washington Post
October 14, 1995
She knew him as “The Charmer,” and he certainly was that. A lean and handsome young man, with a hint of island breeze in his patter, he’d drop by Daisy’s desk at the neighborhood newspaper every so often with a new publicity photo, hoping to plug one of his upcoming calypso shows.

“Oh, honey, he was gorgeous,” remembers Daisy Voigt, who in those days wrote a teen column under the name Dizzy Dame Daisy. “He was as fine as new wine. We were all half in love with him. We thought he was as good as Harry Belafonte.”

It was lower Roxbury, Boston, the mid-1950s. Belafonte’s Caribbean sound was breaking big-time, but in the neighborhood, Voigt said, The Charmer held sway. Everybody also knew him as Gene Walcott, the musical pride of the West Indian immigrant community served by the Boston Graphic weekly newspaper. In coming years, he would make news under another name: Louis Farrakhan.

The calypso period isn’t a part of the Honorable Minister’s resume that’s eagerly promoted by the Nation of Islam, but those early years help to illuminate his personality. Louis Farrakhan (born Louis Eugene Walcott) always wanted to be a musician. The man has been drawing — and pleasing — crowds since the age of 16, as both a calypso singer and a classical violinist.

“Music, like truth, is the essence of my life,” the minister says in a recent Nation of Islam video — yes, a music video — that documents his talents as a violinist. “People really don’t know Farrakhan, they don’t fully know the soul of a man — and I think that can be expressed through music.”

He’s been in the spotlight since playing the violin as a teenager on television’s “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” in 1949. He’s expert at arranging music and words to move the mind, the body and the soul: His calypso-tinged tune “A White Man’s Heaven Is a Black Man’s Hell,” released in the late 1950s, became a standard for the Nation of Islam. He wrote and starred in two musical plays. He even released a lively recording in the ’80s that represented a reaffirmation of his calypso roots.

From his earliest years, Farrakhan, 62, has been drawn to both the classical and calypso genres, which share a certain power and passion. His mother, who immigrated to the United States from the British Caribbean colony of St. Kitts, was an Episcopalian and supported her son’s violin training. She was somewhat chagrined to see her son performing as The Charmer at age 16 in nightclubs — “a child in a Gomorrah of marijuana, loose sex and double-entendres,” according to “Prophet of Rage,” a forthcoming biography of the Nation of Islam leader.

“Some of them were songs with double meanings,” Farrakhan explains in the book, written by Arthur Magida, a former writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times. “On the surface, it was one thing, but underneath it was kind of filthy. {My mother} would register some of her disapproval of my gyrations in my dance and some of the songs that I sang.”

Like today’s rappers, calypsonians hail from an African tradition that places the singer’s wordplay and message in the forefront. “It’s much more of an oral tradition that values extemporaneous speaking and singing; musically it’s not a very rigorous form,” says Jeffrey Thomas, a calypso scholar and steel band percussionist in Chicago. “Words are used to sway people and get their attention, so I find it revealing that Farrakhan came out of that tradition.”

Those who heard the musical stylings of young Walcott — who sometimes went by the nickname Calypso Gene — were impressed. “He was good, there was no question about it,” says Voigt, who now lives in Washington. “My theory is that if there hadn’t been a Harry Belafonte, there would have been a Gene Walcott. But in that historical moment there could only be one — it was what society would tolerate.”

Even then, his message was political. As a student in the early ’50s at the Winston-Salem State Teachers College — where he was known to serenade classmates on guitar and ukulele with his calypso trio — Walcott titled one of his songs “Why America Is No Democracy.”

Recordings of Farrakhan’s pre-Nation of Islam work are exceedingly rare, if they exist at all. Nation of Islam officials in Chicago said this week that they were unable to locate any calypso material to make available to the press. “The minister may have some of that,” said Sister Safia Muhammad, Farrakhan’s personal assistant. “I don’t know if he will release any of his personal collection at this point.”

Publicity stills of the singer are also hard to find. Magida has been unable to obtain one for his biography of Farrakhan, which is due to be published in February.

Farrakhan has not authorized the biography, but he has facilitated Magida’s research in some ways, inviting the author to dinner and encouraging old friends to talk. This opens up Farrakhan’s little-known calypsonian past, when the singer was earning up to $500 a week by touring the Northeast and Midwest. When Farrakhan married at age 20, he listed his occupation as “musician.”

After he joined the Nation of Islam in 1955, Farrakhan continued touring and singing, staging his plays “Orgena” (“A Negro” spelled backward) and “The Trial.” His best-known song was “A White Man’s Heaven,” a favorite on jukeboxes at Nation of Islam snack shops in the ’60s.

The lilting tune, which features guitar, bongos and piano, backs a fiery excoriation of white oppression of African Americans throughout history, especially during slavery. Sings Farrakhan, then known as Louis X:

“Though you are pregnant, black woman, you pull the plow/ Like a horse, like a mule, sweat from your brow

“He filled your womb with his wicked seed/ His half-white children you were made to breed. Ah, my friends, it’s easy to tell: White man heaven is black man hell.”

Writer and music critic Nat Hentoff once characterized Farrakhan’s singing voice as “high, flexible, attractive.” “Entertaining and inspirational” is how Washington writer and Nation member Askia Muhammad describes Farrakhan’s style. He recalls hearing “White Man’s Heaven” in the ’60s along with another jukebox number, “Look at My Chains,” that had “a real West Indian flavor.”

“Obviously, it’s not very commercial, but it’s not meant to be,” says Skippy White, a former Boston deejay who has one of the rare copies of the original “White Man’s Heaven” 45. “It was meant to deliver a message and that’s exactly what it did.”

Despite his popularity as a performer, Farrakhan dropped his musical efforts in the early 1960s, reportedly at the urging of Elijah Muhammad, founder and leader of the Nation of Islam. “Do you want to be a song and dance man or do you want to be my minister?” Elijah Muhammad asked his acolyte, according to Magida’s book.

“When I gave up my music and became totally focused on the plight of black people, I became somewhat nationalistic and narrow in my focus,” Farrakhan reflects on the music video. But he eventually returned to recording — updating “White Man’s Heaven” in 1979 with a flourish of flute and funky bass, and releasing a 12-inch record with two tunes, “Let Us Unite” and “Benefit of Unity,” in 1984.

“Let Us Unite” calls for an end to the kind of racial and religious strife that many critics say Farrakhan is guilty of fomenting:

“Well, I’m talking to you: Muslim, Christian and Hebrew/ It’s the thing to do/ We’ve got to unite or else we are through,” Farrakhan sings in a crisp Caribbean accent.

On the video, Farrakhan puts it another way. “Music is a universal language,” he says. “There is healing in music.”

Name That Tune

sammy-dead-comic

“Sammy plant piece a corn dung a gully, an ’ it bear till it kill poor ole Sammy. Sammy dead, Sammy dead, Sammy dead oh. Sammy dead, Sammy dead, Sammy dead oh.”
Eric Monty Morris sang the now-classic “Sammy Dead” at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York backed by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, thereby helping to introduce audiences outside of Jamaica to the sounds of ska. Morris attended with others like Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, Millie Small, and an entourage of dancers.

Eric Monty Morris is still quite a showman, and a few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in Chicago. Here is a photo of Mr. Morris that I took during that performance.

montyIn addition to “Sammy Dead,” Eric Monty Morris is known for his songs “Oil In My Lamp,” “Penny Reel,” “Into This Beautiful Garden,” “Live As A Man,” “What You Gonna Do,” and one of my personal favorites, “Solomon Gundy.”

Roy Black wrote the following article on Eric Monty Morris in the Jamaica Gleaner, May 19, 2013:

ERIC ‘MONTY’ Morris seems to be the forgotten ska superstar. This perhaps has a lot to do with his disappearance from the Jamaican music scene somewhat early, as he migrated to the United States.

In a relatively short period, between 1961-1969, Morris majestically crafted several outstanding hit recordings in the ska and rocksteady mould. Oil in My Lamp, Humpty Dumpty, Money Can’t Buy Life and Sammy Dead were early pieces that set the stage for what was to follow. Drawing on lyrics mainly taken from traditional
nursery rhymes and employing a slowed-down ska beat, Morris’ advent was truly significant. He was the first real ska superstar, preceding others like Delroy Wilson, Stranger (now Strangejah) Cole, Lord Creator and Jackie Opel.

Morris arrived on the scene at 15 years old in 1959, singing with Derrick Morgan on the Little Wonder Smith produced recordings Now We Know and Nights are Lonely. In an interview with Derrick Morgan, he told me “I used to live in a big yard named Orange Lane, off Orange Street. Monty lived there too. We became childhood playmates and began singing and knocking old cans and cars until one day when I went to record what would become my first release – Oh My Love is Gone – I took Monty with me. We recorded those two songs”.

Monty Morris was born in Kingston on July 20, 1944, and grew up at Orange Street and in Trench Town, attending Alvernia Primary School. His meeting and close association with Morgan, four years his senior, was extremely crucial to his future career. When their focus shifted to music seriously, entering a talent competition occurred to them. This led them to the very popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent competition, at the Palace, Ambassador and Majestic theatres in Kingson during the late 1950s.

THE LAUNCH
Morris didn’t win, but the exposure provided the springboard from which he launched his career and
precipitated his first set of hit recordings. His next move, to producer Prince Buster, was another important
step. Again taken there by Morgan, who was fulfilling a request by Buster for help in setting up his business, Morris seized the opportunity to record the 1961 nursery rhyme based song, Humpty Dumpty. Backed by the
Drumbago All Stars, the slowed down, ska-tempo song rode the higher echelons of the Jamaican charts for that year and set in motion a ska craze that took deep root in Jamaica’s music history.

His follow-up, Money Can’t Buy Life, with emphasis on the offbeat, was equally impressive and somewhat changed the whole nature of Jamaican music up to this point. Morris, an unsung hero of immense musical talent, wrote almost all the songs he recorded, adding his words to the nursery rhymes where required. Every song seemed to have a message, backed by a traditional nursery rhyme, but he somehow lacked the determination and dedication necessary to make it to the top in a competitive music arena.

Morris became the first forgotten ska superstar. His songs show a man in various moods. There is Monty the storyteller, expressed in Sammy Dead, Humpty Dumpty and Solomon a Gundy. There is Monty the lover, with songs like the Clancy Eccles produced Say What You’re Saying and Tears in Your Eyes, in which he declares:

It was the tears in your eyes
That made me realise
That a man like me should never
be in love with you

There is Monty the preacher, who warned about “ungodly people” in the recording of that same name, and reinforced it with a Duke Reid produced track:

What a man doeth this day
Stands in his way
What you sew, that’s what you
will reap
What you reap, that’s what you
will eat

Morris also warned men against falling prey to the guiles of women. On the recording Temptation Monty claimed:

It’s a thing I don’t like
It’s a thing that always stirs strife
Nature provided everything
For man to live like a king
Don’t tempt me to do the things I
don’t want to do

Strongman Sampson was perhaps one of his best-known recordings during the ska era. In it, he depicted Sampson as being:

The strongest man in the days of olden
Until a woman take it from him.
Solomon was wise, (he claimed),
he had seven wives.
Be careful of her lies
She will also paint her eyes
Just to get you in misery

Morris had several other popular ska recordings during that era, which included Pack Up Your Troubles, In and out the Window, Eena Balena, For Your Love and Into This Beautiful Garden. In 1964 Morris was included in a contingent of singers, musicians and dancers sent to the New York World’s Fair to help promote and expose the new dance craze and music, ska, to the American public. The tour was built around Morris and his two big hits with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Sammy Dead and Oil in my Lamp. Morris’ contribution was enormous, as he spread ska’s popularity while establishing the foundation for the succeeding genres to build on.

TRANSITION TO ROCKSTEADY
As the 1960s wore on he recorded for a number of other producers, including Leslie Kong, Byron Lee, Duke Reid (who did the bulk of his works), and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry in 1969. A year earlier, Morris had adjusted his arrangements to suit the new rocksteady beat to record a popular and frequently covered song in Jamaica’s music history, Say What You’re Saying. However, Morris didn’t survive the transition to rocksteady and reggae, as he migrated in the early 1970s to the USA, returning occasionally in later years to perform on
oldies shows in Jamaica. One of these performances was at the Mas Camp Village, then on Oxford Road, New Kingston, on Saturday, June 11, 2005. He also performed at that venue on Saturday, April 24, 2004.

Eric Morris, the man who entertained thoughts of creating something different from the regular fast ska beat, the man who thought he could use simple nursery rhyme lyrics to disseminate his messages but was somewhat disinteresed in reaching the highest level, is still alive and lives abroad. He may be the forgotten ska superstar, but with his string of enduring hits, hopefully some day this anamoly will be addressed and Monty Morris will receive the true recognition he deserves.

Blossom and Louise Lamb

blossomThis photo of the lovely Blossom Lamb appeared in The Star newspaper on March 12, 1960. Blossom and her cousin, Louise Lamb, were popular jazz singers in Kingston during the mid-1950s and early 1960s. I featured the Lambs in my recent book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, and here is that excerpt on these women who contributed to early Jamaican music. I would like to give credit to Michael Garnice, author of mentomusic.com, for helping me source some of this info on the Lambs, and give a shout-out to his new book, The Ultimate Guide to Great Reggae: The Complete Story of Reggae Told Through Its Greatest Songs, Famous and Forgotten published by Equinox. Check it out–it is a big one!

Louise and Blossom Lamb

Born in Kingston, Louise Lamb was a mento vocalist who married Carlton Morales and together they had three children, two sons and a daughter. One of those sons went on to play guitar for Julian Lennon [John Lennon’s son] in the 1980s, and the other son performed bass guitar, touring with his band in the U.S. and Norway. Blossom Lamb, Louise’s cousin, was born in Greenwich Town in Kingston. She was a pretty girl and won many beauty competitions. Her mother died when Blossom was just 13 years old so she grew up with her grandmother. At age 21, Blossom had her first child and shortly thereafter another, although she wasn’t married at the time which was controversial for her family. She did marry Clive Evans and had three more children. In total, she had three daughters and two sons. Louise and Clive, known to his friends and family as Jimmy, were married for 40 years before he died of a heart attack in 2000.

Louise and Blossom began performing either solo or together at locations around Kingston in the early 1940s. In 1944, Louise performed at the Ward Theatre with Miss Lou and others in the lineup. It was a show called “Hot Chocolate,” an all-star musical that she had performed in since 1940. In 1949 Louise performed at a club called the Wickie Wackie and was billed as “Louise Lamb, the Heptie-Hutie Song-bird. Hear her dramatize the dynamic and popular hit ‘Dont You Worry ‘Bout Dat Mule.’” It is unknown was a “Heptie-Hutie” is. Louise also performed with the Roy Coburn Orchestra, the Eric Deans Orchestra, and the Redver Cooke Orchestra. In 1953, Blossom Lamb,

who was described by the Jamaica Star as “a beautiful Indian girl with a sure manner at the microphone,” won the weekly amateur night contest at the Glass Bucket Club. That same year, Louise was described by the Jamaica Star as one of Jamaica’s leading female jazz singers. In 1956, the cousins performed together at the YWCA auditorium on North Street in Kingston, promoted by the Ivory Club, at a show called “Evening with the Lambs.” It was presented by the Jazz Committee and featured the Lambs along with Foggy Mullings on vocals and May Foster on piano. Blossom performed in 1957 for the Harold Forbes Show, backed up by Frankie Bonitto and the Rainbow Orchestra, and Louise recorded a number of mento songs for Stanley Motta in the late 1950s.

blossom2Blossom Lamb in the Bahamas

After meeting Martin Luther King Jr. on his visit to Jamaica in the 1960s when he stopped by Blossom’s craft stall at the souvenir market in Kingston, she struck up a conversation with him and invited him to their family home in Harbour View for fried fish and bammy. King asked her if she ever thought about hosting her own Mother of the Year award after he commented that she was a wonderful mother and should be a role model to other mothers. Encouraged, she began the contest in the early 1980s. She also owned her own store, Blossom’s Dollar Shop and Calypso Records stores.

 

 

 

Clancy Eccles Slashed in Face by Bottle

bottleI found this article in the Star Newspaper, September 29, 1961 that reveals an altercation occurred in a vehicle returning from a performance, resulting in Clancy Eccles being slashed in the face by a broken bottle. He received 32 stitches. Because the resolution is bad (I had to make a photocopy from a microfilm copy of the original), here is how it reads: “Mr. Clancey [sic.] Eccles, recording artiste of 155 Church Street, was treated at the Kingston Public Hospital recently for wounds to the face. He received 32 stitches. Mr. Eccles reported to the CID that late on the night of September 24, he was in a car with other artistes returning from the Monoca Club, Nine Miles, St. Thomas Road, when an altercation developed. He stated that during the fuss he was cut all over the face and head by another artiste with pieces of broken bottles. Owen Gray, a recording artiste of 2 Glen Road, is wanted for questioning by Constable Lloyd Falconer, of the CID Central STation, who is in charge of the investigation in connection with the matter.”

I was unable to find any further information on this incident, but thought it was rather interesting. If anyone has any information to add to the story, please post below.

Clancy Eccles at City Road, London on 17 December 1987

Clancy Eccles at City Road, London on 17 December 1987

clancy

Out of Many, One Music: Ska

I recently wrote the following article for the Vinyl Record Collectors Association’s Magazine and thought I would share it here. I want to thank Charlotte Smikle for asking me to write it, and Roberto Moore for content editing it for me. He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of Jamaican music history.

 

p1p2p3p4

The Days of the 8 Track

8 tracks april 3 1970

I’ve heard the younger generation talking about “mix tapes,” and I realized it is not the same mix tape as when I was a teenager. This mix tape is just a playlist. But then I started to see actual cassette tapes making a comeback and I grew nostalgic. Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records has been issuing cassette versions of some of his newest ska releases and so it got me thinking about these methods of music delivery from yesteryear. I remember well riding across country in our navy blue van in about 1986, interior walls carpeted, plush captain chairs, no air conditioning through the desert in Nevada, bus-style windows open, tin-metal drawstring blinds jangling at every sway of the chassis, listening to Bob Marley on 8-track. That’s right, 8-track. Either you know it or you don’t. So when I came across this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 3, 1970 for 8 track tapes from Dynamic Sounds, it had me thinking about this medium. Anyone remember the whir of the reels inside as they clicked from track to track? Did you have any reggae on 8 track? Think it will make a comeback too, like cassettes and even vinyl? Or is it gone for good reason?

 

Tribute to Deadly Headley

headley

The August 31st issue of the Jamaica Gleaner featured a wonderful article by music historian and journalist Roy Black on the legendary career of Deadly Headley Bennett who passed away on August 24, 2016. I post this article here, along with one from Howard Campbell at the Jamaica Observer, and will save my own writings on Bennett for my forthcoming book on Alpha Boys School. Let it be said though that we have lost another fine musician whose music will live long beyond his years. Thank you, Mr. Bennett, for your contributions to music all over the world.

Saxophonist Felix Headley ‘Deadly Headley’ Bennett’s mid-song solos were largely responsible for the success of several hit recordings, particularly during the ska era of the 1960s. He passed away at his home, 6B Lincoln Road, Franklyn Town, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. He was 85 years old.

There have been so many great solos by Bennett that it becomes difficult to single out one for special commendation, but perhaps his solo in Delroy Wilson’s Dancing Mood would take the cake. Bennett’s involvement with the song was crucial, as I believe the recording became the single most important one that heralded the start of the rocksteady era.

Bennett, a dancer himself, seems fascinated by dancing as he also got himself involved with Dancing Shoes, sung by The Wailers (Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Constantine Walker) about that same time. It was a masterful introductory solo, followed by a mid-song solo that resulted in many vocalists and bands of the day requesting Bennett’s inclusion in their recordings. As it turned out, Dancing Shoes became one of the most beautifully executed songs by The Wailers.

MUSICAL WAR

Bennett’s solos again decorated another exclusive recording by that same Wailers combinations, titled What Am I To Do, shortly after. Bennett’s saxophone solo can again be heard on Jimmy Cliff’s Hurricane Hattie after an introductory guitar rang out to the tune of a vintage classic called Forty Miles of Bad Road.

But perhaps unknown to many is that it was Bennett’s instrumental solo in Derrick Morgan’s Independence song Forward March that started the musical war between Morgan and Prince Buster. Buster claimed that he had created the solo, which he had earlier used, and Morgan stole his ‘belongings’.

Housewives Choice by Derrick and Patsy in 1963 is another of the public’s favourite in which Bennett’s saxophone can he heard.

INSTRUMENTAL HITS

Among Bennett’s instrumental hits is Full Up, the origins of which was dramatically related to me in an interview I did with Bennett more than 10 years ago: Studio One boss Clement Dodd had introduced a rhythm to Bennett for him to work on, but it seemed bare – no vocals, no horns. When Bennett enquired of Dodd about the song, Dodd’s response was “just full it up, man”. Full Up, originally created by Leroy Sibbles and featuring Bennett on saxophone, became a big hit for The Sound Dimension Band.

Green Moon, a beautiful mid-tempo, kette drum-dominated instrumental, is shrouded in controversy insofar as the performer is concerned, but Bennett vehemently asserted that he blew the saxophone in the recording.

There were others, including his well-executed albums Poolside Reggae and Victory, which showcase a variety of ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub selections.

Bennett, who earned the moniker ‘Deadly Headley’ after one of his bewildering performances elicited the comment ‘boy, what a deadly sound’, remains one of the most unsung heroes of Jamaican music.

 

Jamaica Observer: Howard Campbell

Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett, a prolific saxophonist who played on Bob Marley’s first song, died on Sunday at age 85.

His daughter, Carol Bennett, said he passed away at home in Rollington Town, East Kingston. He had suffered from hypertension for years and was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Born in Central Kingston, Bennett learned music at the Alpha Boys School. Leaving after 12 years at age 16, he played in several bands and was an established session musician by the early 1960s.

He was a member of producer Leslie Kong’s house band in February 1962 when a 16-year-old singer named Robert Nesta Marley approached Kong to record songs for his Beverley’s Records.

Kong produced Marley’s first song, Judge Not, with Bennett on sax.

Bennett played on other Kong classics, including Derrick Morgan’s Forward March and Hurricane Hattie done by Jimmy Cliff, another teen singer destined for greatness.

Throughout the 1960s, he played on some of the biggest songs from the ska and rocksteady eras, including Delroy Wilson’s

Dancing Mood which featured his signature solo.

Other noted songs Bennett played on are I Want To Go Back Home (Bob Andy); Dancing Shoes — The Wailers; I’m The Toughest — Peter Tosh; Love I Can Feel — John Holt; I Shall Be Released — The Heptones; and Full Up — Soul Defenders.

He lived in Canada for several years before returning to Jamaica in the mid-1970s. His career got a second wind during the early 1980s when he recorded and toured with the Roots Radics Band.

It was during that period that he got the nickname ‘Deadly Headley’. In 2005, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to Jamaican music.

Headley Bennett is survived by a brother, two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

— Howard Campbell

A Ska Mystery

Buster

Can you help solve this ska mystery?

I attended Reggae Fest Chicago last weekend, which was extraordinary, by the way, and had a chat with fellow ska fan Jim Cascino, co-host of the Windy City Sound System podcast on Mix Cloud. He asked me if I knew if Prince Buster had been to Chicago in 1964 or prior, and I admitted that I had no idea and I was curious why he asked. He explained that he thought that Prince Buster may have worn a Chicago Bears cap in that now-famous “This Is Ska” film from 1964 at the Sombrero Club narrated and emceed by Tony Verity. I was familiar with the film, of course, but had never noticed Prince Buster’s cap! Jim’s brother Kevin produced a photo on his phone, a still from this film, and there it was! Or so it appears. Could it be the Chicago Bears? Or perhaps, as Jim noted, it is the Cincinnati Reds logo from the mid-1960s? Jim has supplied me with the photo and the logos below so that you all can sleuth an answer for us!

Thoughts?

Bears_Logo

Chicago Bears Logo

Reds_LogoCincinnati Reds Logo

In the meantime, check out Jim Cascino’s show HERE.

And if you missed my Radio M two-hour show with Tony Sarabia on WBEZ to promote Reggae Fest Chicago artists Toots & the Maytals, Keith & Tex, Charley Organaire, Derrick Morgan, Hepcat, and the Prizefighters, listen HERE (thanks to Jim Cascino for recording this for me).

Ska in Jamaica Advertisements

Again I’m busy writing my biography on Byron Lee so don’t have a lot of time to blog this week, but still wanted to share some interesting advertisements I came across in a few copies of Life magazine in the late 1960s that mention ska. As you may well know, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Ministry of Development and Welfare promoted ska in 1964 at the World’s Fair, but these are a few of their advertisements that demonstrate that mission beyond that initial push.

Life magazine may 20 1966From Life Magazine, May 20, 1966

Life magazine may 5 1967From Life Magazine, May 5, 1967

Life magazine dec 22 1967From Life Magazine, December 22, 1967

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