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

Count Prince Miller

count 1

Part actor, part vocalist, part, well, dare I say funny guy? Count Prince Miller is an entertainer extraordinaire and a true Jamaican legend. Born Clarence Linberg Miller in 1935, Count Prince Miller performed on numerous stages in Kingston beginning in the 1950s. He typically performed as part of a larger stage show, appearing with other acts, including Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and Jimmy James & the Vagabonds.

I happened to find an article on Count Prince Miller in the Star Newspaper,in the National Library archives in Kingston last winter and thought I’d share it here. I’ve typed the text below in case your eyes, like mine, are not as good as they used to be! The article is written by Mickey O’Bryan on June 29, 1962.

count articleThe article reads:

The demand for music of other nationalities is so popular in Jamaica that our musicians and artistes give little or no thought to the excellent idea of creating and maintaining styles of their own.

Most of them who have tried to accomplish this quality of self-confidence are discouraged by either non-appreciative audiences or economical reasons, which are so commonly known.

Here is a young hero, one who has fought the battle of discouragement, one who has persisted long and hard years of studies: a singer who approached the musical profession with a desired goal and worked honestly and sincerely. He is no other person that Count Prince Miller.

Count Prince Miller, christened Clarence Miller, was born in Port Maria 25 years ago, as a lad attending the elementary school in his hometown, his first desire was to be minister of religion. Seeing the ambition of this lad, his mother encouraged him to take part in all the activities of the local church of God where he was noted for his emotional approach to singing.

After reaching the age of ten, his mother thought it best to take Baby Count to Kingston where he could get an early start on his desired profession.

But the Count changed his mind the moment he landed at his new home at the western side of this city.

In Kingston he was sent to Stewart’s School in the Greenwich Town area. At that school Clarence did well with his lessons but rock ‘n’ roll was getting popular in Jamaica and was also infiltrating into the young man’s blood.

Well in his teens, Clarence decided to try one of Vere Johns’ auditions. He didn’t make the grade but was encouraged by Vere Johns to keep trying. After several weeks studying the lyrics of the current rock ‘n’ roll songs, Clarence decided to form his own group.

In his search, he found vocalists Bobby Weston, Herman Weston, Winston Service, and Howard Butler pianist. He named this group the ‘Downbeats.’ The group was dissolved when the Westons started attending high school and Howard Butler started making appearances on the Northcoast.

Again alone, Count started making his name as a lone-man singer.

‘I can’t bother to imitate the American artists. To do that I would have to sound exactly like the person I am imitating, and that is very hard.’ Those words came from Count when he was asked why he is not a copy cat.

But Count’s own imaginative creation took him to the Edison Club in Toronto, Canada.

In Bermuda, Count Prince Miller’s appearances were so successful at the Eara Club that he was handed a five-week TV contract. Count Prince Miller also made smashing appearances at the Slipper Club in Nassau and the Town Hall in Grand Cayman.

Count Prince Miller is one of our symbols of gaiety. His showmanship has so far been the spark that ignites our social moods.

 

count prince miller photocount caption

From the Star Newspaper, May 25, 1962.

 

count 2 count 3

 

In 1969, Count Prince Miller was emcee of the Caribbean Music Festival at Wembley Stadium. Here is the page from the program with a short feature on Miller:

archivewembley181

The following is an article that appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner on January 25, 2007:

COUNT PRINCE Miller won the coveted Best Male Actor Award at the 2006 Black Film Makers’ International Awards Ceremony, held recently at the Curzon Theatre
in Piccadilly, London West End, England. He was the lead male actor in the film Winnie and the Duppy Bat, which was written and directed by Annette Laufer. Born Clarence Linberg Miller in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica, Count Prince Miller is a veteran performer involved in the international entertainment industry for over 50 years. He has previously appeared in several film and television productions, including;
■ The James Bond Original Dr No-1962
■ Kid Creole’s Something Wrong in Paradise – 1984
■ For Queen and Country with Denzel Washington – 1989
■ The Popular B B C situation comedy The Desmonds – 1989-1994

Miller is perhaps best known for his hit recording for the Trojan label, Mule Train Parts One & Two, which was recorded in 1971. In the early 1980s, he re-recorded Mule Train with Sly and Robbie, adding to his popularity as a performer. Mr. Miller resides in the United Kingdom.

 

As the article above states, Count Prince Miller had a small role in Dr. No, but if you’ve seen it, it’s a memorable one! He is the crazy dancer in the calypso club scene in which Byron Lee & the Dragonaires play.

Here is a still I tried to get from the clip, as well as a link to the clip itself. Count Prince Miller appears at 32 seconds into the clip, and again at 1:19.

no

Link to Dr. No calypso scene

 

count sept 2014 Count Prince Miller, Jamaica Gleaner, September 20, 2014

See Count Prince Miller perform the beginning of his classic song Mule Train live in 1970 HERE.

Hear the entire song here: Mule Train

Bewildered

The Monkey

When We Were Children

Rupert the Bear

count bw

The Sombrero Club

sombrero2

I haven’t posted in the past week or so because I have been entrenched in writing my biography of Byron Lee, literally spending hours everyday at my keyboard surrounded by notebooks and newspapers. I decided to refresh my spirit with what was likely about my 52nd time viewing the “This is Ska” documentary from 1964, hosted by Tony Verity and found on YouTube (clip seen above), and I realized I had recently come across an article on the site of this historically crucial film–The Sombrero Club. So here, from the Jamaica Gleaner on November 20, 2005, is the text from that article entitled, “The nightclubs of yesteryear: Sombrero: rustic, intimate,” written by the prolific journalist Mel Cooke.

Just below the famous ‘Four Roads’ intersection of Molynes and Waltham Park Roads in St. Andrew, a long grey wall marks the first right turn. There was a time when 1 Pitter Avenue was not so drab and businesslike, when the sights and sounds of merriment carried all the way to one of the capital city’s major intersections, long before the commerce of construction replaced the commerce of merriment. And although it carried a Mexican name, the senors and senoritas who stepped inside the Sombrero nightclub did it in true Jamaican style.

“When you stay out at Four Roads you can look down and see Sombrero and hear the music. If you climb up on the wall you look down into Sombrero,” said bass player Jackie Jackson, who was once a member of Tommy McCook and the Supersonics and now plays with Toots and the Maytals. Looking over was one thing;
jumping into the fun without paying was quite another matter. “Nobody naa beat the gate,” Jackson said, remembering an entrance fee of 50 shillings. “It was a mature audience.”

It was also an audience that demanded a certain quality of entertainment and, in the height of the band era the cream of the cream played there. “It was one of the premier dance halls for bands, live music,” says Jasper Adams, a regular at The Sombrero. “If you capture the image of the dance hall in London at the time, you get an idea of what it was like.”

The Sombrero was owned by the Young brothers, one of them. Owen, is now reportedly in the USA.

sombrero

Putting a “1966 onwards” stamp on the heyday of The Sombrero, Adams named Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, as well as Kes Chin and the Souvenirs, among the many bands that played there. But there was one that owned the joint on a Friday night: Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Caribbean Rhythms, with Winston ‘The Whip’ Williams as the MC. He remembers Derrick Harriott, as part o f the Jiving Juniors, singing there.

Winston Blake of Merritone also notes the presence of The Mighty Vikings, with Sonny and Victor Wong on lead vocals, and a very powerful Tomorrow’s Children, who “were a great show band. They played a lot of Chicago.”

“The Sombrero came up when the Bournmouthe (in East Kingston) sort of got down. It was the new uptown place,” Adams said. “The lively era was when you had to park on Moresham Avenue.”

“Normally the place would ripen from Monday to Sunday, but Friday night was dance night,” Adam s said. On Sundays there was jazz. put on by Ken Peart, with people like Billy Cooke on trumpet,  Thaddy Mowatt on bass and Aubrey Adams on piano.

With a raised bandstand over the dance floor, performers got a bird’s eye view of the audience they were playing to. Whether jazz or dance (or in the later days of the club, the sound system of Merritone Music), the decor of Sombrero was standard and, for the time, very different. “It no run down or mash up,” Jackie Jackson emphasised, terming it as what would now be boo, and there were four covered edges around the dance floor. “It was square, like a carton box,” Jackson said. And along with the rusticity was a certain feature that made it even more notable. “The club dark!” Jackson said, laughing. “That was what the club was famous for. It just dark and nice.”

As Winston Blake of Merritone puts it, The Sombrero was “extremely intimate”. He ”also recalls an outstanding feature of the decor which was really natural. There was an almond tree at the right of the entrance, which was on Molynes Road. “Merritone took the last lap,” Blake said of The Sombrero. “We used to play there midweek and weekends. It was the place to go on a Saturday night. It was a dress-up place, suits. Those days when you went to a night-club you wore a jacket. We are talking about the late 1960s, about 1965 to 1972.”

He said Merritone actually played there till the days of the Sombrero as a nightclub came to an end. “For us, Sombrero was a lot of daylight sessions, 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. At some of these sessions breakfast was served,” he said. “We called it the mid-week and breakfast club,” he said, chuckling.

There was a particular item that Sombrero was renowned for, which was not necessarily breakfast fare. Their chicken was fried, fabulous and famous. Jackie Jackson equates the clientele in the club to the other great place for bands at the time, the Glass Bucket in Half-Way Tree, “At the same time the Glass Bucket used to bring out the upscale people, Sombrero used to bring out the little bit down,” he said.

And, eventually, it was bringing out fewer and fewer of them. “It just did its time. We notice it start getting less and less, till we just stop going there,” Jackson said. ‘That is Jamaica. Everything is just for a while.”

Even after it closed as a nightclub, The Sombrero continued as a lounge until, Adams said, Keith Young Chin took over and started making paper cups there. And they were not cups that the happy people were drinking out of, at least, not at 1 Pitter Avenue. Today, motorists whiz past without even a glance at where The Sombrero once welcomed the party people, but somehow even if history does not exactly repeat itself it comes close. Hot Mondays, what dance hall has now evolved into, is held relatively close by.

Incidentally, it is also the Sombrero Club at which Margarita appears in this tourist postcard of limbo dancers. She is the one on the back right in the blue bikini top with yellow and red ruffle bottoms. Here are two versions of that iconic postcard.

margarita postcard 2margarita postcard

Prince Buster Alleges Discrimination from Radio Stations

buster photo

These two articles from the Daily Gleaner in 1969 reveal allegations of discrimination from Prince Buster against the two radio stations in Jamaica, RJR and JBC. Buster complains that his records are banned from airplay, and the response reveals the reasons why in addition to an explanation of how records are selected for play. They are an interesting insight into one part of the Jamaican music industry in an era gone by.

First, here is the first article, the allegation from Prince Buster published on January 24, 1969, followed by the transcription for easy reading.

princebuster editorial

THE EDITOR, Sir:— Kindly allow me the opportunity through your widely read column to bring to the  attention of the public a situation which exists with regards to the promotion of my records over the radio stations. I must say that it is a situation which is causing me great concern and makes me wonder just where does the Jamaican stand in this society.

It seems to me that there are some agencies operating in this island to rid me of whatever deserved publicity I might obtain in my field of an entertainer as invariably my records are banned from our airwaves. And these records are neither slanderous, nor lewd, nor are they aimed at holding any individual to ridicule in the society.

Last year alone nearly one dozen of my records were banned from our two radio stations (as usual no reasons were given by the authorities for this action) and these included Ten Commandments which enjoyed high rating in the United States of America and the United Kingdom (not that I am saying we should pattern what these countries do).

Mr. Editor, without being immodest, I must say that I have contributed a great deal to the promotion of Jamaican music both in the USA and Britain, and my records have always been well received in those countries. But from the latest action it would appear that I have no honour in my own country.

The latest action directed against me concerns a release ‘Pharoah [sic.] House Crash’ which bears stark similarity to the No. 1 song ‘Everything Crash’ with the exception that the words Pharoah [sic.] House are substituted for Everything. This record has also been banned and no reason given.

I cannot help feeling, sir, that some personal attack has been aimed at me, for reasons unknown to me. And it makes me feel that Jamaicans should only pay lip service to those in high places who keep on labouring on the fact that  Jamaicans must be patriotic and stay here and build the country. I could quite possibly have pursued my field in another country, maybe with success, but I have chosen to remain here. But these latest actions make me start thinking of calling it quits.

I think I owe it to the public who has supported me down the years to let them know why they have not been
hearing my sounds on the airwaves and I thank you for allowing me space to state my case.

I am, etc.
Cecil (Prince Buster) Campbell
Orange Street,
Kingston,
January 10, 1969

prince buster 2

The Daily Gleaner published this response the following month on February 6, 1969 in an article written by “W.M.” titled, “Prince Buster records: Radio stations say no discrimination.” The article reads:

In the letter to the Editor on January 24, recording artist Prince Buster made the accusation that the two local radio stations were intent on stopping him from “eating bread” by not playing his records.

As a result of this I visited Buster at his record mart on Orange Street and then made rounds of both radio stations with him.

At the end of the investigations on Tuesday, January 28, I had discovered that only three of Buster’s records — “Ten Commandments”, “Pharaoh House Crash” and “Walking up Orange Street” — have been banned from the “airwaves” and that the radio stations said they are willing to play his other records, if they are requested by listeners.

However, Buster maintains “somebody up there doesn’t like me because they think that as an advocate of the Black Muslim religion in Jamaica I am subversive and, the only thing they can do against me is to advise the authorities at the stations not to play my records”.

Mr. Hugh Wong, Programme Director of Radio Jamaica gave reasons why Buster’s three records were banned. Mr. Mike Bukht, Director of Programmes at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation also explained, like Mr Wong, how the records for the various programmes are selected. Of RJR’s reasons for banning for three Buster tunes Hush Wong stated that “Ten Commandments” was irreverent to the sacred Ten Commandments. “Walking up Orange Street” was a commercial for Buster’s record mart and “Pharoah [sic.] House Crash” because Pharoah [sic.] sounds a little like Shearer on the record. Mike Bukht was not in Jamaica at the time of the banning of “Ten Commandments”, but gave similar reasons why the JBC imposed their ban on “Walking up Orange Street” and “Pharaoh House Crash”.

At both stations, the “Prince” and I were informed how the Hit Parade charts are compiled and how the records for the programmes are selected. New records reach the stations each week and on a particular day, the disc jockeys meet to assess the records they think are good enough to make the “Top 30”.

Hugh Wong told us that if a particular record does not meet the approval of the disc jockeys, the record is played on the air for listeners to judge. The record is then billed according to the rating derived from the request of radio listeners. He added that sometimes records which are rejected by disc jockeys at auditions
receive so many requests that they make it to the top of the charts.

Mr. Wong stated that no one is trying to “stop Buster from eating bread”, but most of his records fail to get a popular vote from the disc jockeys and when they are played for radio listeners, they are not requested.

He pointed out the fact that if there was a “deliberate act” not to play Buster’s records, “Dark end of the Street” would not have made it to the “No. 1 spot” some time ago.

The “Top 30” is compiled by the radio stations from the returns made by the record marts.

At the JBC, Mike Bukht and Librarian Hartley Cousins told us that nine record marts — four in Kingston, two in Montego Bay, two in Ocho Rios and one in Mandeville — are contacted each week to find out the records which are most popular. From the averages of these returns, the records are rated and the “Top 30” chart is compiled.

At RJR, Hugh Wong also backed up his case that there was no discrimination by the station against the “Prince” by calling a couple of record marts. The answer was that Buster’s records are not very popular. And consequently, said Mr. Wong, they are not played frequently on the radio.

Buster told me that he is frustrated with how his records are treated by the radio stations. So, he has decided to concentrate on “suggestive records” which find a ready market. However he will continue to make a few releases which he hopes will conform with the required standard for the “airwaves”.

His latest record, which is backed by the Beatles “Ob-La-di Ob-la-da” has the same melody as “Little Drummer Boy” and is not only the top request at every party, but has attained island-wide popularity in under two weeks. But the title rules it out for broadcast — and publication. Buster is very serious about his decision that by singing suggestive tunes, he can make it to the top rung of record sales on the local market.

Buster said “Year after year I have lost a lot of money on the productions of my records because they are not played by the radio stations. Last year I had to dump over 30,000 copies of my releases because the
public was not familiar with them so there were no requests for them from the record marts.”

Speaking of the newest of his creations, he said “This record is such a hit with the public that I have decided to concentrate on suggestive tunes so that I can stay alive!”

Like the Mighty Sparrow, many times Calypso King of Trinidad, Prince Buster can “make it” by recording suggestive tunes. However, if the wants his tunes to be heard on radio and thus get more popularity than they have been receiving, he will have to feature a different slant.

–W.M.

 

What are your thoughts? Do you think Prince Buster was justified in his accusations? Or do you think that the radio stations had a valid reason for keeping his songs from airplay? What do you think of Prince Buster’s solution, to become more suggestive in his lyrics to obtain more popularity? Would this work? Did it?

Tribute to Totlyn Jackson

totlyn_jackson

I heard word from Myrna Hague-Bradshaw this week that the talented Jamaican jazz singer Totlyn Jackson died on June 15th. Totlyn had a long career in entertainment, first in Jamaica and then in England. I devote an entire chapter to this beautiful woman in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music.

The Voice wrote of her passing, “TOTLYN JACKSON, one of Jamaica’s little known musical exports from the 1960s, passed away in London on June 15 after a short illness. She was just one month short of her 85th birthday.

Once described as Jamaica’s first lady of song, Totlyn Jackson, made her name as a popular cabaret singer performing at some of the finest hotels on the island’s north coast during Jamaica’s tourist industry boom period of the 1950s.

It was at these venues that she met some of Hollywood’s famous actors including Clark Gable, Bob Hope and Paul Newman.

Totlyn once said that her journey into music started when she would sing in her mother’s church choir along with her four siblings while growing up in St Mary in rural Jamaica. ‘I always had music and inner harmony. By the time I was seven or eight I knew all the songs. My parents wanted us to speak the best English possible so I always won elocution and singing competitions.’

As she progressed in the church choirs, she was spotted by Stuart Sharp, the maitre d’ at the Silver Season hotel who felt she could utilise her singing talents in the hotel’s entertainment nightly shows. It was from here that Totlyn became the island’s best known cabaret singer performing at venues such as Jamaica Hilton, Round Hill and the Kingston Sheraton.

As Jamaica gained Independence in 1962 and the tourism industry slowed down from the boom years of the 1950s, Totlyn changed her cabaret style to musicals which gave her the opportunity to go on tours to America, Britain, Europe and the Soviet Union.

She later settled in London with her mother and her son Fran and continued her singing career in clubs and also the theatre. She performed in some of London’s prestigious venues including, Quaglino’s Allegro, Royal Albert Hall, London’s Playboy Club, the Cabaret Club Manchester and the Royal Restaurant in Liverpool.

Her theatre performances included the rock musical Catch My Soul and William Shakespeare’s Othello. Her singing and theatre career gave her the opportunity to perform in countries like Canada, Scandinavia, the Soviet Union, Holland, Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Africa.

As she retired from touring and cabaret performances, she switched her focus to Jamaican art and culture and in 2002 teamed up with Batteresa Arts Centre to produce ‘Boonoonoonus’ a celebration of Jamaican music to mark the island’s 40th Independence anniversary.

At the time, Totlyn said it was her way of reaching out to the second and third generation to remind them about their Jamaican heritage.”

Just last November I devoted a blog post to this wonderful woman complete with archival photos and clips of her performing. Click on the link below to link to that post, have a read, and let’s remember this legend and thank her for her contribution to music the world over.

TOTLYN JACKSON: JAMAICA’s FIRST LADY OF JAMAICAN JAZZ

Rude Boy Busbie and Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan will be coming back to Chicago for Reggae Fest on August 13th along with Toots & The Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Hepcat, and others, and it got me thinking about the story that Derrick Morgan told me back in 1996 when he had a run in with a rude boy that resulted in the recording of one of his most classic songs, Rougher Than Rough. I found some information on this rude boy, named Busby, and so here is Derrick’s account of that episode, along with research on this nefarious character.

Here is the excerpt from my book, Ska: An Oral History: “I originally came out with a song called ‘Cry Tough’ and this rude guy who call himself Busby, he heard of it and he come to me one day. He used to come around often when we living in Greenwich Farm. They come to me and said, ‘Well I want you to make a song after me. You make sure to make a song off of me and I want it Friday.’ We were afraid of him. So I said, ‘What kind of song you want me to make of you,’ and he said, ‘You sing of me,’ and I said, ‘Okay, well I will make you one,’ and I go ahead and I write a song called ‘Rougher Than Rough’ and I go to Leslie Kong with it and I said ‘Leslie, this bad man threaten me to bring a song to him and I will write a song of him and to come back Friday,’ but Leslie Kong said, “Well we can’t release a song by Friday.’ He said, ‘Do you have the song ready?” I say yes and I used to play piano around there and I go around playing this song, ‘Tougher Than Tough’ that I wrote in Beverly’s one day and I said, ‘Ready. We will go to the studio Friday.’ And we cut the acetate on Friday and I took it to the guy and I said, ‘This is your song,’ and we’re having a dance right there in Greenwich Farm that night on West Avenue, and he was going to play it that night to hear its sound. So that night he took the song from me and he gave it to the disc jockey and said he don’t want to hear it play until twelve in the night. And at twelve o’clock in the night this rude boy went to the man and said, ‘Well okay, I would like you to play my song now.’ And when it reached the part that said, ‘Rougher than rough, tougher than tough, strong like lion, we are iron,’ he said, ‘Stop it there! Sell me a box of beer,’ and I give him a box of beer, and to play back the song. And then we go with him and the beer to the back and he crash it against the wall and said, ‘Iron!’ and get rough,” remembers Morgan.

The song featured the legendary vocalist Desmond Dekker on harmonies and Morgan spoke at the beginning of the song’s instrumentals, declaring:

You’re brought here for gun shooting

Ratchet using, and bomb throwings.

Now tell me rude boys, what have you say for yourselves?

The response came:

Your honor, rudies don’t fear.

The incident made Morgan’s song a hit and when it would play on jukeboxes around Jamaica, drinkers smashed their beers on the wall upon hearing the words, ‘Strong like lion, we are iron.’ The song was therefore banned from radio play.

And the song sparked one final act of violence, upon that rude boy Busby himself. “This guy that was getting out of hand now that song been made and him get worse, say rudies don’t fear. Every jukebox in Jamaica was playing it then. And this guy that I wrote the song for, he listen to this song that night and go on with his antics. That was a Friday night and he died on the Saturday night. They shoot him on Saturday night. He was bad. That song really really takes him to the graveyard,” says Morgan. Busby was shot in the head by a rival gang member while at a party.

 

Historian Clinton Hutton tells of Busby, spelled Buzzbee in his account, in his crucial article “Oh Rudie: Jamaican Popular Music and the Narrative of Urban Badness,” published in the Caribbean Quarterly, December 2010.

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What’s In a Name? The Skatalites

Perhaps you have heard that the name “The Skatalites” came from a play on the words “ska” and “satellites.” It’s true. It was the height of the Space Age and satellites were in the news. The Soviets had launched the first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in 1957. Others followed, including Sputnik 2 a month later with Laika the dog inside. In 1958, the U.S. launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, followed that same year by Sputnik 3 and the race was clearly on. In Jamaica, coverage of these satellites and subsequent satellites was substantial. It is no wonder that the members of what would become The Skatalites would have been influenced to name their group of musicians after the popular culture of the day. In an interview conducted by Journalist Claudia Junqueira with long-time Skatalites Manager Ken Stewart, he explains, “At the time the band started it was the beginning of the space exploration era and the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite and the Americans started launching their rockets, etc. Someone suggested the name Satellites but Tommy McCook said, ”No it’s ska we play so let’s call it Ska-talites.” Song titles were also often named for current events of the day. The band would record a tune in the studio and look for a name and many times would pick something relevant to what was going on in the world outside. Songs like Christine Keiler, Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy, Nuclear Weapon, Fidel Castro, all had names talking about the news of the day, even thought they were instrumentals with no lyrics.”

The following is a sample of the some of the coverage of satellites in The Star which likely would have influenced Tommy and the others to name their band The Skatalites. Perhaps their eyes gazed in wonder upon these very articles. A romantic notion? Perhaps, but what is the story of ska without a bit of wonder?!

scan0010scan0008scan0009 editThe Star, August 24, 1961