Skatalites Go Into Orbit

From the Star Newspaper, June 27, 1964.

The following article appeared in the June 27, 1964 issue of the Star Newspaper with the headline, “Skatalites Go Into Orbit.” The article by Lloyd Davis states, “Whether it was ska-ing ‘On Broadway,’ painting a ‘Ska-trait of my love’ or just plain ‘I’m in the mood for Ska’ there was something for every taste at Bournemouth on Wednesday night when Tommy McCook and the Ska-Talites went into orbit. It was just the shot in the arm the Bournemouth needed to revive this once popular night spot. The dance floor was a sea of heads bobbing up and down in ska tempo. Any physical training instructor would have been proud of the hand movements. It seems as if diets will be out soon, for the Ska could well pull that extra pound from the tummy area. Jamaicans all know of ‘Carry go, bring come’ but wait until you hear it set to music in the Ska beat. It’s a different kettle of fish. For the past few weeks, the band have taken over Bournemouth and have kept the place alive. Roland Alphonso on tenor sax, Don Drummond on trombone (when he sits in), leader Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Lloyd Brivett [sic.] bass, Lloyd Knibbs [sic.] drums, Johnny Moore trumpet, and Lester Sterling, alto sax and trumpet combine to produce a sound that’s great.”

Tommy McCook is the man who launched them:

“In 1962 a young musician returned to his island home after spending a few years in England and the United States. This young man, having wide experience in jazz music, linked up with a local group of jazzmen and started to make a name for himself. He was Tommy McCook. Tommy, who was then an authentic jazz musician and an increasingly popular artist, was invited by Messrs. Coxon [sic.] and Randy, to do recording for them, but for McCook, jazz was not to be given second place for SKA (which at the time was of very little significance). Roland Alfonso [sic.], who was doing recording for Coxon [sic.] and Randy left the island and also a vacant space for a recording artist which could only be filled by someone as proficient as Tommy McCook. It was at this stage that he decided to enter the recording scene and he did so with terrific force. One of his first record releases was ‘DOWNBEAT’ which was a hit, and he then went on to make his next hit ‘Road Block,’ a Ska instrumental. This release projected McCook to the front rank of leading recording artists where he was in constant demand by Ska Lords like Randy, Tip Top, Duke Kid [sic.], and Prince Buster. Today Ska as it should be played is produced by the talented musicians who are not attached to any particular band. Tommy McCook is one of these musicians. He realised that the Ska boom was being heard all over Jamaica and in other parts of the world and he organised his fellow musicians and formed a new Group called the SKATALITES. The SKATALITES have made four public appearances so far and have made a good impression.”

skatalites at uwi

This article, which appeared in the Star Newspaper just two days later on June 29, 1964, provided a photographic account of one of those performances that the Ska-Talites made at the University of the West Indies, presumably at Mona. The top left photo shows Tommy McCook performing with the caption, “Tommy McCook, leader of the Ska-Talites, intent on his interpretation as the Skatalites play for the University’s undergrads.” The next photo bears the caption, “Press along, in various stances, ska-ites ‘dig the hot beat’ of Tommy McCook and the ‘Ska-talites.'” Below a photograph of a woman doing the “Wash Wash” appears, the song that Prince Buster made famous at the 1964 World’s Fair with the dance moves to correspond. Two ska dancers appear above the caption, “Getting With It, two respond to the ‘Skatalites’ keen sound during ‘Ska-talites Night’ at the University Students’ Union.” The two photos at the bottom feature a group shot of the band with the caption, “The men with the big sound: ‘The Skatalites’ at the Students’ Union of the University of the West Indies on Wednesday night last ‘Skatalites Night’ during the University’s ‘Festival Week.’ From left Johnny Moore (trumpet) Lord Tanamo (guitar), Roland Alphonso (Tenor Saxophone), Loyd Knibbs [sic.] (drums), Lester Sterling (alto saxophone), Lloyd Brevet [sic.] (bass), and leader Tommy McCook. Absent on the night was Don Drummond.” The next photo features a dancer with the caption, “‘Oh, Ah Can’t Take No More,’ this ska-ite seems to say.”

Don Drummond’s absence, incidentally, could be due to a number of circumstances. One, he could have been struggling with mental health issues, though he was not likely in Bellevue at this time, but more likely is a second scenario–while Don Drummond was certainly a member of the Skatalites, and a crucial member at that, he was also a widely recognized solo performer as well. In fact, that same month he headlined as a solo performer at Johnson’s Drive-Inn where he was billed as “Mr. Ska himself.” He appeared that same night with Margarita “Rhumba Queen,” so the point is that it is possible that Drummond may have had another engagement, or he simply turned this engagement down. We can only speculate with educated guesses at this point. Six months after this performance, Margarita would be dead, murdered at the hands of Don Drummond.


skatalites tour

The following article appeared in the Star Newspaper the following month on August 20, 1964 with the headline, “The Ska-talites to tour Island.” The article reads, “Tommy McCook and the Ska-Talites will be performing in a series of stage shows at the Appleton ‘SKA-TA-RAMA’ presented by J. Wray & Nephew Ltd. at certain theatres. The Ska-Talites will be accompanied on the tour by The Maytals (with their theme song ‘Pain in My Belly’) and Maria Cordero, Dominican Republican rhumba dancer. Opening in St. Ann’s Bay in the Seville Theatre Monday August 31; Highgate, Movies Theatre, Tuesday, September 1; Port Antonio, Delmar Theatre, Wednesday, September 2; Old Harbour, Reo Theatre, Thursday, September 3. Kingston, Majestic Theatre. Sunday, September 6; Duncans, Crest Theatrem, Monday, September 7; Santa Cruz, Santa Theatre, Tuesday, September 8; Mandeville Tudor Theatre, Wednesday, September 9; Linstead, Theatre Royal, Thursday, September 10; and into Kingston at the Ritz Theatre Sunday, September 13. Other supporting artistes will be Hortense Ellis, Pluggy and Beryl, Ranny Willians, Alton Ellis, Don Drummond, Roland Alfonso [sic.], Sonny Bair, Delroy Wilson and other top local artistes. There will be free bottles of Appleton Rum given away to lucky ticket holders at each theatre.”

Below are two advertisements from these Ska-Ta-Rama shows.

Daily Gleaner, September 2, 1964:



Daily Gleaner, September 3, 1964:



Real Dance Crasher

From the Daily Gleaner, September 20, 1961.

This article from the Daily Gleaner, Septemner 20, 1961, tells of a real dance crasher. It was uncovered by my friend and colleague Roberto Moore, an extraordinary historian of Jamaican music. We’ve heard the stories of the violence and pilfering at the hands of opposing thugs, rude boys associated with competitive sound system operators. Lloyd Bradley in his brilliant book, This is Reggae Music: The Story of Jamaica’s Music, writes about these dance crashers and the ones assembled by Duke Reid. “They were there, he maintained, for his protection as he claimed he’s made so many enemies as a policeman that his life was permanently under threat, but really it was anybody else’s set who needed protection from his crew. Their main function was one of aggression, storming rivals’ lawns punching, stabbing and kicking indiscriminately, frightening off the crowd and aiming to get to the rig and cut wires, smash amplifiers, hack at speaker boxes and upend turntables. Maybe even snatch the box of records.”

Here is what appears to be evidence of one of those examples of thievery, a real dance crasher who stole three of Coxsone Dodd’s exclusive tunes where they were played at a competitor’s dance. The article reads: “A young man who heard a sound system playing records he had reason to believe were the property of his employer, told his employer, who brought in the police. In consequence, Herman Moore, 48 of 66B Love Lane, was arrested by Cons. A.D. Redley of the Fletcher’s Land Police and charged with the theft of three records valued at 15 pounds, the property of Clement Bodd, [sic. Dodd], owner of the Coxson Sound System of 22, Beeston Street, Kingston. The police said the Bodd [sic. Dodd] missed the records on September 3. Chancellor Eccles of 155 Church Street, heard the records being played the following day and informed his employer, knowing that the records were the only ones in use in the island. They had not yet been released for sale to the public.”

Could this Chancellor Eccles be Clancy Eccles? It is likely since Clancy worked with Coxsone Dodd during these years. In David Katz’s outstanding book Solid Foundation, Eccles states, “In early 1960, Coxsone had a talent hunt. It was sixty of us and I was a runner-up by I was the first one that Coxsone recorded out of that crop. I did ‘Freedom’ and ‘I Live And I Love.’ Around eight months later I did ‘River Jordan,’ ‘More Proof’ and quite a lot of other tracks.” Katz says that Eccles recorded with Coxsone until late 1961 and that he didn’t record anything for three years after that because he was under contract with Coxsone and, unlike all the other artists, didn’t want to break the contract and incite trouble.

It is fascinating to imagine the scene, what records were stolen, who may have spun the spoils. What are your thoughts?

Skatalites Reorganized in 1975


It is well known that the Skatalites disbanded in 1965 despite their trying to stay together for a few months in the wake of Margarita’s murder at the hands of Don Drummond. They came back together briefly in 1975 to support bass player Lloyd Brevett in the studio for his African Roots album which was finally released in 1997 by Moon Ska Records and it is a fine body of work. But I was surprised to find that they not only came together this year to record, but they also performed live at a public event called the Peoples’ Ball along with the Cimarons. The event took place on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1975 at the National Arena.

Daily Gleaner, January 3, 1976.

The article in the Daily Gleaner on January 3, 1976 reads: Swing Magazine’s ‘Peoples Ball’ Wednesday night drew a half hall of people, most of whom were enthusiastic to hear the sounds of a reorganized 1975 Skatalites band. The band featured Lester Sterling, Roland Alphonso, and Tommy McCook, leader, on saxophones, Lloyd Brevett on bass, Jah Jerry on rhythm guitar, and Roland’s son Junior on drums and Gladstone Anderson on keyboards. There were no trombones, probably owing to the inability of finding a replacement for the late, great Don Drummond. On trumpets was an unidentified member of local recording band, the Soul Syndicate. Lester, who is in the island with the Buccaneers band from New York was a surprise guest artist, as he was appearing with his group at the St. Andrew Club. The audience at the Arena went wild with the sound of the new Skatalites and the dancing of the well received Pam Pam and Partner, who performed to the music of ‘Far East.’ The Skatalites included in their repertoire hits like ‘Eastern Standard Time,’ ‘Ska Goes Latin,’ and ‘Lee Harvey Oswald,’ tunes that captured the interest of the audience but never matched the old Skatalites, probably because there was no trombonist on the show.” The article continues with discussion of the award ceremony at the event and other holiday performances.


The Skatalites went on to reform again for that now historic show in 1983 at Sunsplash. Journalist Richard Johnson writes in the June 15, 2012 issue of the Jamaica Gleaner about this reunion. “The group disbanded in 1965, some members have died, there is no direct contact for the living members and some of the surviving bandmates don’t even speak to each other. However, for Syngery director Ronnie Burke, it was the ultimate challenge, and he thought: ‘Why not?’ ‘For our fifth anniversary we wanted to do something really special for our patrons. So we arrived at the idea of presenting the old and new faces of Jamaican music,’ Burke tells Splash. For the new, Synergy brought in Musical Youth — the young band of second-generation Jamaicans based in Britain, who had hit the airwaves with Pass The Dutchie, their rework of the The Mighty Diamonds hit Pass the Kutchie, as well as their collaboration with disco diva Donna Summer on Unconditional Love. The ‘old face’ of the music would be represented by the disbanded Skatalites. So Burke and his team, with the help of music insider Herbie Miller, set about trying to locate the members of the band, one by one, to convince them to get together for the event. ‘I first made contact with the drummer Lloyd Knibbs [sic.]. He was very enthusiastic about the prospects of taking to the stage as the Skatalites once again,’ Burke remembers. ‘It was then on to meet with Jah Jerry and then Lloyd Brevett,’ he continues. Burke clearly remembers his meeting with bass player Brevett, who died on May 3 [2012]. ‘We got word that he was working as a mason on the construction of the Conference Centre in downtown Kingston. We found him covered in cement on the site, and he put paper on my car seat before he sat down for us to talk. We told him about the plans and immediately he was on board.’ Synergy would soon hit a bump in the road to having the Skatalites on the Sunsplash Stage. It was realised that one of the major problems with reuniting the Skatalites was the fact that Tommy McCook and Johnny Moore had not spoken to each other in nearly 20 years. Burke recalls: ‘I was familiar with Dizzy Johnny (Moore) and took him to meet McCook at his house in Harbour View. Both men just sat staring at each other for what seemed like hours before the ice was finally broken and all agreed that they were getting old and should just go ahead and stage the reunion for Sunsplash.’ The Skatalites were booked and took to the stage at the Bob Marley Performing Centre at Freeport in Montego Bay. If Burke and his team have any regrets it is that the band was scheduled to perform too late and the audience was already somewhat weary and looking forward to the headline acts. ‘They gave a fantastic performance. It was well worth the effort it took to put them back together. What is great is that based on the Sunsplash performance it brought the group back together and they are still touring. It was a landmark for us at Synergy and if anyone should ask what am I most proud of it would have to be bringing the Skatalites back together.'”

Doreen Shaffer told me of this reunion as well. She remembers, “I was still living in Jamaica and I think it was the Sunsplash organizers, they were the ones who got in touch with them (the members of The Skatalites) in some way and I was informed that they were going to come down for Sunsplash and they wanted me to be a part of it. But everybody was away. I hadn’t seen them for a good while. So that was quite exciting, meeting everybody again. But I didn’t get back with them until I got to the U.S. Sunsplash was in ’83, but they went on to London and I wasn’t a part of that.” Shaffer moved to the U.S. in 1992 after living in Jamaica her entire life. When Shaffer arrived in the U.S., word of her presence quickly spread to the members of The Skatalites and Coxsone’s wife facilitated the reunion. “Ms. Dodd took me down to Central Park. They were having some concert. They were part of this festival and she took me directly because she knew where to find them and she was the one who took me there. So I was happy, meetin’ and greetin’. So we decided, they said, ‘Well, you are here now, you’ve got to work with us,’” Shaffer says.

The Skatalites continue to tour together under the management and tireless dedication of Ken Stewart. And a new generation of Alpha Boys School alumni under the direction of Bandmaster Sparrow Martin continue to perform the Skatalites music under the name Ska Rebirth. See info on this group HERE .

A Message to You from Dandy Livingstone!


On January 7th, I had the honor of interviewing one of Jamaican music’s biggest legends, Dandy Livingstone, perhaps known best for this classic song, “Rudy, A Message to You,” recorded in 1967 for the Ska Beat label, which was subsequently covered by The Specials during the 2Tone era. Livingstone has built a career of his own, recording for a number of labels including Ska Beat and Trojan, as well as producing countless other artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s including The Cimarons, The Marvels, Owen Gray, and Tony Tribe on his classic, “Red Red Wine.”


Robert Livingstone Thompson was born on December 14, 1943 and he lived in the Kencot neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. “I had a small family. I’m an only child. My mom was a seamstress, draperies and things like that. My father, he worked with the railway corporation. My mother migrated to London before me in 1958 and I joined her in ’59. I finished school in London,” he says. His love for music started as a child. “Music was always around me. My father used to play 78 records, mainly jazz and ballads. From then I’ve always been a rhythm and blues jazz man. My collection of jazz music is strong.” Livingston is also a first cousin to Ansel Collins, though the two weren’t close growing up. He explains, “My mom was a very independent woman. She wasn’t into too much mixing with relatives, not selfish or anything, just private, like myself. But I used to see other kids around the place and we didn’t think of music then and I didn’t know he [Ansel Collins] was a musician until 1969. I found out that he played keyboard.”

Livingstone says that it was when he was in school that he developed this love for music even further. “I was going to school in London, technical college. I learned engineering and toolmaking. While in school, all of these Jamaican songs were abundant. As a teenager, it was music. That was all I wanted to do.”


It was during these school years that Livingstone made a friend that would change the rest of his life—Lee Gopthal, founder of Trojan Records. Livingstone explains, “Lee Gopthal was an accountant by profession. He got involved in those days in mail order records. He had this mail order thing going. One day I went down to visit a friend of mine who was a professional musician. He had a group that was rehearsing and I was listening and at a certain point I said, ‘I could do that! (laughs)’ I went back a second time and met Lee Gopthal and we started talking and he asked me where I lived because he wanted to get his records all over London, not just in the shops but to guys who would buy these records, so I told him I’m interested in selling records for him on the weekends or whenever, so he trusted me. I remember the first batch of records I got there was 25. There was an assortment of 45s, four or five different songs—Laurel Aitken and Prince Buster and these people. Within two days, I sold them all. That weekend (laughs). I was selling to people, go knock on their doors, people I knew. I would play it for them and they’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’ It saved them from going to the record shops because on a Friday or Saturday, the record shops were filled because records were selling then (laughs)! So I sold it all, went back and he gave me 50. I did well.”

Lee Gopthal

Livingstone says that he had a passion for more than selling music—he wanted to sing! “Then one day I got a phone call from him [Lee Gopthal] because he knew that I was interested in singing as well. He told me of this record company, Carnival Records, Mr. Crawford owned it. Actually it was Cross-Bow Records was the mother company and Carnival was the subsidiary label. At that time he owned one of the early pirate radio stations, Radio Caroline. So he said I should get in touch with Mr. Crawford because he wants to get in touch with the Jamaican music scene, and that is where I did my first recording. That was in 1964.”

But Livingstone didn’t just go to sing the song solo. According to G. Cooksey in his encyclopedia entry on Dandy Livingstone, “Carnival, in search of West Indian acts, had expressed a desire to record a duo, which Livingstone accommodated easily by tracking over his own voice on tape, for a two-record deal. The tracks were released, and credited to an imaginary pair called Sugar and Dandy, their names chosen to capture the persona of Livingstone’s sweet voice and impeccable dress.” I asked Livingstone about this and he laughed, “You heard about that huh? That was the time they wanted a duo but back then I was a brave lad. I turned up alone and he said to me where is the guy to do the track? And I gave him an excuse or something because I double tracked my voice. And from there things started to roll.” As for the name Sugar and Dandy, Livingstone explains, “It was just a name. I tell you this, you know names stick on people, right? So I didn’t want to be called Sugar (laughs)! So I took the Dandy bit! We did three songs on that session. ‘One Man Went to Mow,’ was one and the other two were ‘Time and Tide’ and ‘What a Life.’ Sugar and Dandy was never really a duo as such. Roy Smith was a friend who used to hang around with me, I taught him the little I knew…yeah the first session for Carnival he didn’t show, that’s when I found out about double tracking one own’s voice. Roy Smith sang on three songs after that first session at Advision Studio Bond Street London 1964. Tito Simon had his own thing going ,but he sat in on one session with me, ‘Only Heaven Knows’ b/w ‘Let’s Ska.'”


After the success of “What a Life,” Livingston says that he focused on his schooling, but always kept one foot firmly planted in music. “From there on, things didn’t work with Carnival Records so I moved on to Rita King, Ska Beat label. By this time I’ve known Rita from her original shop in Stratford, London. Stratford Market was where I met Rita and Benny King. Their record shop was the prime shop for Jamaican music. I went there one afternoon and she asked me what I’m doing now. After ‘What a Life,’ she said she hadn’t heard anything. I said, ‘Well I’m concentrating on my schooling.’ And she said, ‘Come and see me, maybe we can do something.’ Another month or so after, I went back to see her and we arranged a recording session and did a few songs and compiled the album ‘Rock Steady with Dandy.’”

dandy livingstone rock steady with front coverIt was during this time that Livingstone recorded his iconic hit, “Rudy A Message to You.” He explains, “At that time the rude boy scene in Jamaica was very strong with the rudie records, everyone was singing rude boy songs, speaking of the rude boys and telling them to cool it. This idea came to me, ‘Rudy, A Message to You,’ and the idea came and the song was finished in about 10 minutes. It was very simple. I remember calling Rita [King of Ska Beat records] on the phone and saying, ‘Look, I have a song,’ and she said okay. She didn’t want to hear nothing, just gave me the studio and I went in and recorded it, just like that.” I asked Livingstone how the song was written and he replied, “It was just a couple of words—my brain was good then, young (laughs). It was just a few lines and we went and did it, did the song on Old Kent Road. Vic Keary was the engineer. He was the engineer who did my early recordings and I did this track and in those days we did two track recordings. I went in a week after and I remember calling up a few people, how could I find Rico Rodriguez? Everybody knows Rico where he hangs out and I was told he was hard to get on with. Now I’m a likkle youth so I was saying to myself, I wonder? So I got in touch with Rico. I was told he wouldn’t show, but he did, of course. He did, right? He did the recording and I was so glad. He said to me, ‘Wha yuh wan me play?’ And I’m just a likkle youth, nobody knows me and so I say, ‘Just play the melody line,’ and that was it! I told him to play the melody, (sings) ‘Stop your runnin’ around,’ and he plays the same melody. He says, ‘I’m going to play it in the intro and play it in the solo.’ And that was it. And you know what happened to that song after that (laughs)! It was like The Specials signature song and it is an anthem. That song is amazing over the years, people keep repeating it, in so many adverts and movies. It’s uncanny in the sense that it is just a special song (laughs) and it had a cult following. I was just telling people to cool it, cool it.”


After this recording session, Livingston says that a familiar face came knocking at his door. “It was a 360 thing because Lee [Gopthal] by this time acquired a building in East End, London to start Trojan Records. By 1968, four years after meeting Lee, this guy start his own company. As it works out, he calls on me, so it was a 360 thing, you know? I remember the morning when I went down to see Lee for him to show me this building, an old warehouse type place. Bunny Lee, Striker Lee was present and Lee [Gopthal] was there, he said he want a name for this company and he’s been juggling around and he said, ‘Guys, what about Trojan Records?’ and Bunny looked at me and I looked at Bunny and we said, ‘Yeah!’ Because all the early Jamaicans in London know of Trojan, Duke Reid, it’s a good idea, a good idea. He probably thought of it before he saw us but he came up with it this morning and that was it. I remember him calling Dave Betteridge and they were in some partnership as well, Dave Betteridge at Island Records and Chris Blackwell and obviously they said yes, and that is how Trojan was born.”


Livingstone went on to produce a number of artists over the years, including Tony Tribe with “Red Red Wine.” Livingstone says, and I can almost see the twinkle in his eye through the phone line, “Tony Tribe. God bless his soul.” But Livingstone says that it was his own version of “Suzanne Beware of the Devil” that was more successful than the one recorded by Nicky Thomas. “Nicky had his thing going before but ‘Suzanne Beware of the Devil,’ I recorded that song three times, twice in London, once in Jamaica. There was something about this song. It was simple and it was just bugging me. I put ‘Suzanne Beware of the Devil’ on tape and in those days you had B sides, right? Remember? So I had this song, I can’t remember the title, on the A side and this company wanted to rush this particular song and I didn’t have a B side and something came to me and I said, ‘Hey, I have this song called Suzanne Beware of the Devil, so let me put it on the B side,’ not thinking about anything, they just needed a B side, so it went as a B side. The record was released, distributed all of the place, and there was a disc jockey, I think his name was Emperor Roscoe, he started playing the B side in the clubs and the kids really went for it and he called Trojan and he said, ‘Hey, you guys have a hit recording,’ and they said, ‘Which one?’ He said, ‘Which one? Suzanne Beware of the Devil!’ and Lee said to him, ‘The B side?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, the B side, that’s what the kids want.’”


“Lee asked me how about Nicky Thomas doing it and Nicky had ‘Love of the Common People,’ right? And he had about two songs after that and nothing happened so they needed Nicky to have another hit record so Nicky did it, they put a lot of brass and thing over the track which didn’t work. The same disc jockey called him up one day and said to Lee, ‘You guys are a bunch of you know what! The kids want Dandy Livingstone! That raw ethnic version (laughs).’ Two or three weeks after that I was on Top of the Pops, just like that. Amazing isn’t it? What must be will be. That is how I got my first national hit because ‘Rudy’ was an underground hit at the time. ‘Suzanne’ was really the first national hit, and then ‘Big City’ of course was the follow up.”


He says that his songs have appeared on a number of albums over the years, though not through his direction. “There were some tracks the company just kept compiling. There wasn’t a set thing. I wasn’t too much in the everyday scene of music, so when I went around they put these tracks together and some of them I didn’t like, of course. Some of the compiling things, some tracks I didn’t like, as a musician. You just like that track and don’t like that one, but that’s how that went. They did their thing when I didn’t come forward,” he says.


And so after a time, Livingstone says that he decided to heed the call to head back home. “I started thinking about Jamaica when The Specials hit with ‘Rudy.’ My family and I always thought about going back to Jamaica and it was about 1979 I started thinking about going back home and that was it, we came home. I went back [to London] a couple of times, but it took me 20 years before I went back and not to live.”

Today, Livingston has what he calls “a small family again (laughs)! One daughter. Everybody is healthy. She is not in the music business.” His mother lived in New York for nearly 50 years, leaving London for the Big Apple in 1969. She has resided in Jamaica since 2013.


When asked if he still performs, Livingstone chuckles. “You’ve heard of the three-day music festival called Skamouth? Well I was there last March. It went down great. And I’m going back this April. I am one of the most peculiar recording artists. Production was my thing mainly. And when I did Skamouth last March, it was the first time in 42 years that I went on a stage. I just wasn’t interested in performing. When ‘Suzanne Beware of the Devil’ happened I did a few shows and in the 70s, but I did not have to live on music. I did just producing.” When I tell him that he has fans the world over who adore his music, including myself, this charming man on the other side of the phone humbly responds, “That’s what I realize!”

Enjoy a few of Dandy’s tunes below:

Rudy, A Message to You

Suzanne Beware of the Devil

Big City

Reggae In Your Jeggae

Tribute to John Bradbury of The Specials

From a photo by Adrian Boot, part of Heather Augustyn's personal collection. Terry Hall vocals, John Bradbury drums.

From a photo by Adrian Boot, part of Heather Augustyn’s personal collection. Terry Hall vocals, John Bradbury drums.

It is with sadness that we learn of that John Bradbury, drummer for The Specials, has died. Bradbury joined The Specials just after their first tour when they were still known as the Coventry Automatics and they supported The Clash. Bradbury replaced Silverton Hutchinson who left the band when he decided he didn’t want to play ska and instead wanted to play roots reggae. When Jerry Dammers asked Hutchinson to play differently, Hutchison, who was known to have a temper, packed up his drums and simply left. The rest of the band chose to replace Hutchison with John Bradbury, also known as Brad. Bradbury was a friend of those in the group as well as a housemate to Dammers in 1975.

From a photo by Adrian Book. Part of Heather Augustyn's personal collection. John Bradbury on drums.

From a photo by Adrian Book. Part of Heather Augustyn’s personal collection. John Bradbury on drums.

Back in the 1990s, Neville Staple told me that John Bradbury and all of the members of the band were crucial to the sound of The Specials. He remembers the writing process during those days. “You might have a rough backing track or a rough idea and then you get the rest of the guys, the drummer, you might give him an idea of what the beat is or he’ll probably know anyway. You just click in on it,” he says. Many of the songs were written by various members of the band, but Staple says there was always one leader. “With a band you need somebody who’s like, there’s one. You can’t have four or five people making decisions. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to one. So Jerry, he started the band and so he had a bit more say and he was doing most of the writing then anyways, but to say he was the leader, well it was his band when it started and then everybody started to get more of their influence in,” Staple says.

Of John Bradbury, Horace Panter wrote on his Facebook page, “It feels very strange to know that I will never work with my ‘other half’ of The Specials’ rhythm section again. Brad jokingly referred to me as ‘the glue’, the man who held it all together, but he was the backbone, the bedrock of the music, and he was responsible for its signature sound, that tightly stretched snare and highly original style that he called ‘attack drumming’. He drew on the drive of Northern Soul but had the jazz influences of ska and the sensuality of reggae. He always played like his life depended on it, always on the money, always in the pocket. To have been able to play music with him has been an absolute privilege and the fact that I’ll miss him is the height of understatement. Thanks Brad, you played great!”

From a photo by Adrian Boot. Part of Heather Augustyn's personal collection. John Bradbury on drums.

From a photo by Adrian Boot. Part of Heather Augustyn’s personal collection. John Bradbury on drums.

After The Specials broke up, Bradbury was a member of The Special A.K.A. and he co-wrote the classic song “Racist Friend” with Jerry Dammers and Dick Cuthell. The song was released in August 1983. The song begins:

If you have a racist friend,
Now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end.

Be it our sister
Be it your brother
Be it your cousin or your uncle or your lover.

If you have a racist friend,
Now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end.

Be it your best friend
Or any other
Is it your husband or your father or your mother?

Tell them to change their views
Or change their friends.
Now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end.

My personal favorite song by The Specials with John Bradbury on drums and Rico Rodriguez on trombone (he also died earlier this year) is Ghost Town. Below is my analysis of this crucial song in an excerpt from my book Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation:

Ghost Town
In early 1981, the Specials met in a small studio in Leamington to record a song that best captured the zeitgeist of the ska revival. “Ghost Town,” a song with an eerie, haunting, discordant sound whose words echoed the violence on the streets, was serendipitously and coincidentally released the same time as massive rioting took place in across the country. The song’s words, “Can’t go on no more, the people getting angry,” prophetically paralleled police randomly stopping and searching people in Operation Swamp, so named because of Thatcher’s comments about people being “afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people of a different culture.” Most of the 943 people that were searched in six days were black. As a result, rioting broke out in Brixton, Coventry, and literally dozens of other towns and neighborhoods. Hundreds of people were arrested and people were murdered in racist attacks. “Ghost Town” was ska music’s version of the Sex Pistols’ no future. It was more than a warning—it was a declaration. The song reached number one on the charts. “Music didn’t cause the riots, of course,” says TV Smith, vocalist for the Adverts in Thompson’s book. “But songs like ‘Ghost Town’ helped make people aware that there really was something wrong with the country, and when you realize something is wrong you want to do something about it.” Lynval Golding opined, “”It’s terrible when you have a song like that and you see that, gradually, it’s all coming true. . . . It’s a bit frightening when you predict something’s gonna happen, it’s always horrible when you actually see it’s coming true.”
In many ways, “Ghost Town” was the end of the ska revival because it threw in the towel. It was the last single the original lineup of the Specials would record together, as members split up to try their hand at other bands, projects, and genres, and the Specials were the seminal ska revival band. But “Ghost Town” also threw in the towel because the aim of the ska revival, the aim of Jerry Dammers, had succeeded, because the West Indian immigrants were no longer sitting down accepting “No dogs, No blacks.” Through the revolution and rioting they were standing up and demanding to be recognized as equal. They were no longer West Indian immigrants—they were British citizens.

Painting by Horace Panter, part of Heather Augustyn's personal collection.

Painting by Horace Panter, part of Heather Augustyn’s personal collection.

Prince Buster Interview

A couple of weeks ago I posted the lost chapter of Ska: An Oral History and mentioned how I was unable to use an interview from Prince Buster in my book because negotiations with his manager proved unfruitful. I have decided that it is wrong to leave this important piece of history buried because of money. So I use this platform to post the interview since there is no money to be made here. There is no money to be made in publishing academic books either, which is why his manager did not want to grant me permission. So hey, it is almost two decades after I conducted this interview on a microcassette tape over the phone, and it is time it sees the light of day, for the good of Jamaican music history, because Prince Buster is a legend who deserves our respect and admiration for all he has contributed. I’ve included a few photos along the way for your visual pleasure.


Prince Buster Interview with Heather Augustyn, 7-14-1997

I was in a dance troupe and would sing solo. I used to have problems going to school in the day because I stayed up so late at night. I paid less attention to singing and was more into boxing and wanted to be in fights but really there was no money in boxing. You’d get punched up and then there was no money. So I leave that and go back to singing and started recording. From day one, I started for me. [See post on Prince Buster’s boxing days HERE]

prince buster cover

Tom the Great Sebastian had a hardware store and he’d play music there all day long on Fridays and Saturdays. They used to play rhythm and blues at the time imported from America. I used to hear a lot of rhythm and blues. I used to play at Tom’s and Coxsone came around one day and asked if I would help him, because of my popularity and a lot of people followed me at the time and I helped Coxsone. Coxsone took off by himself but I was the one who used to help Coxsone to find who were the artists on the records that Duke Reid played at the dance. Duke Reid was his competitor. But in those days they would scratch the labels off the record so you could read nothing. But Tom didn’t do that, and when I was at Tom’s, I read the names on the label and I identified the players who played and tell to Coxsone the labels they were recording on in the United States and he’d buy these records and bring back and the agreement was that a certain portion would be for me. But every time he came back he had something to fix or something to do, I didn’t get my work. So knowing I was the one keeping up his sound system, I went off and did my own sound system and challenged Coxsone and Duke Reid and dethroned them and became king of sound system.

tom the great sebastian

I had tried to get a visa to come to the United States to buy some rhythm and blues by going into the farm work program. I passed every test and the morning we were supposed to leave, one of the inspectors took me out of line. Very disappointed was I so I went back to my friends, everybody thought I was going to leave—I was telling everybody when I came back I was going to have these recordings because I knew the nae of the artists and what to look for. And that didn’t work, so I went to Drumbago who played a club and I asked him to come with me and play a march, similar to a procession. I would wander off in processions to the beat of the drum, and that is what I did. I get together with Drumbago. I put the march on the track and I asked him to put the accent on the one and the three and I had Jah Jerry come up with the strum of the guitar and I had Rico Rodriguez do the ‘pop pop pop’ on the tenor sax [sic. Rico was trombone–see photo below] and recorded the sound that took over Jamaica. And that was called ska.

prince buster rico

Understand that rocksteady is a child of ska and reggae is a child of rocksteady. So that makes ska the grandfather of reggae. Because Bob Marley said it quite plain. He said ‘I feel it in the one drop.’ My thing from day one was the one drop. Everybody knows, that what Drumbago play, the one drop. And he and, ‘I feel it in the one drop,’ and to this day, his alto sax player who alone tells that Drumbago was where the ska jump come from.



I was called that [Prince Buster] from day one. I was born in a riot. There was a man who was fightin’ for the working class because in Jamaica, I was born in that day and they name me after him. He became the prime minister and they name me from him. Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero of Jamaica. He is also cousins to the Manleys. I was born Cecil Campbell, but they call me Prince Buster. But to this day people call me Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell.

Alexander Bustamante

Alexander Bustamante

There were all of these political divides in Jamaica and on a similar scale, you tend to forget what happened then because the divide is so huge now. We had some violence, but compared to now, it was nothing. The politicians will do nothing to stop it. That’s part of the thing, you know, we hire them and employ them to go and find a better solution for the country and they go there and cannot do nothing to stop the violence and then the violence affect the economy and the country now is in a drain because of the violence. It becomes a hostile environment and then people think twice before they put their money in. So I am still asking them to do something about it, to this day, to do something about it regardless of political affiliation and they don’t do it. I’m up and down there. I’m from the people. I was called The Voice of the People. I have championed the voice of the people. That put me with many clashes with governments in Jamaica.

Prince Buster and his first wife.

Prince Buster and his first wife.

The music was born from the people and Kingston is where the music came from, that is the area and ska was laughed at by Duke Reid, Coxsone, and the more well-to-do people up on the hill who at that time could profit from the American imports. Even the radio station gave us a hard time promoting ska because they had their thing going with the manufacturers of the American imports. People got licenses and started pressings in Jamaica, so most of the DJs had a good thing going with the manufacturers. We didn’t have much money to give them and we had a hard fight with the disc jockeys on the radio station to promote ska. Ska took over by the will of the people. People started writing to the station, they want to know why they’re not hearing this and that constant barrage converted them. And today I hear a lot of people praising that ska is good, but now they must remember we adapt ever since then. The people went through it and today even those hypocrites have done it.

prince buster

A rude boy was like a disobedient child. There were criminals but a rude boy was a little disobedient, yah?

Derrick is my friend, you know? Derrick used to sing for a man named Hi Lite. Smithy was his name, but we call him Hi-Lite and at my shop he was about three or four miles away from me. I started making hit after hit after hit and Derrick came down to the shop because we had a lot of young singers we were bringing along. And he sang ‘Hey Fat Man’ and all that but we said we could do better with him than ‘Hey Fat Man,’ so he joined the group with us and we took him to the studio and we made records. Then at a later date he used one of my songs. He encouraged one of the members of my band to play with Beverley’s, a person who do recordings, so I called him a ‘Black Head Chinaman.’ He went back and said I’m a ‘Blazing Fire’ and then I said ‘Praise and No Raise’ and we keep on saying to each other. Our competitiveness is in support of the music. We will compete with each other. Derrick Morgan would come to the back of my shop. I counted him close to me. We had a war but we didn’t have a physical war. I don’t remember ever talk to Derrick that hard for a war, you know, more than for the music, to get things done, but still today we still compete with music. He said it too. We argue about some things but it was always a friendship because with me, he’s got a voice to speak and it’s a democratic kind of thing.


I came out in the society for the people, so I had government banning my songs from the radio. I had the other part of society fighting me as a rebel. And the rest of the singers didn’t have this—they just compete with sounds. But I guess that’s why the people of Jamaica respect me, because they knew, as young as I was, the spirituality was in me and the love of God could stand up against everybody–government, Duke Reid, Coxsone—I stood up to everybody. It’s the great love I have for God.

[About new ska bands] I love them. These are the younger people now and they’re putting new energy into the things. At their age, they’ve got the young appearances for the audience now. I greatly appreciate that.

buster shack



Happy Skalidays!

From the Daily Gleaner, December 23, 1964.

From the Daily Gleaner, December 23, 1964. Hope Santa brings me a time machine for Christmas so I can travel here!

The winter holidays are upon us, so why not take a look at holiday traditions in Jamaican culture and how these relate to ska? Then, make sure to get your vinyl ready because I have a fairly comprehensive list of holiday-related Jamaican tunes, some ska, some post-ska, for your festive parties! I’ve also included a few clips throughout to keep you dancing as you read!

First of all, here is a little primer on holiday traditions and history in Jamaica, which is very important to ska history, as you will see. Much of the showmanship and competition found in the music industry in Jamaica today and throughout the last century can be traced back to the pomp and swagger of the Caribbean festivals where music and performance combined in a flamboyant display of prowess. These festivals, Carnival in Trinidad, and Jonkunnu in Jamaica, were celebrations that took place during the height of the Great Revival (spiritual traditions that stemmed from African religions–Pukkumina, Zion, Kumina, etc.) and continue today. Jonkunnu in Jamaica has its origins in the Carnival celebration in Trinidad, which, in turn, had its origins in the Masquerade celebrated by Europeans. Carnival began at Christmas time and lasted sometimes until Ash Wednesday. Celebrations included feasting and processions through the streets, the biggest of which took place on Shrove Tuesday, or the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Pitchy Patchy linoleum print by Heather Augustyn

Pitchy Patchy linoleum print by Heather Augustyn


These processions were called canboulay, a derivation of the French words cannes brulees, which translates as burning canes. Slaves carried burning canes as torches to light the way during the night when a plantation owner’s crops caught fire. Slaves from nearby plantations were summoned to help extinguish the fire. Taken to the field by a driver with a whip, the slaves carried flaming torches to light the way. Canboulay processions draw elements from these events, utilizing participants with whips who emulate the slave master, masked characters representing people and animals, in an entertaining lampoon of life. The content of these processions, these marches, were serious, but the tone was lighthearted and enjoyable.

One of the main displays in canboulay during Carnival is kalinda. Kalindas were stick fights, similar to the art of dula meketa in Ethiopia or mousondi in the Congo, and were tests of strength and skill. During Carnival, a group or band of some two dozen men were led by a “big pappy” who directed his crew through the streets until they encountered a rival group. In a spirit of camaraderie and competition, each group threw out boasts to one another, stating their prowess and challenges frequently set to song which was called kalinda, since the warlike song and the stick fight itself were part of the festival procession. Fighters chose their sticks carefully, visiting a region in Trinidad called Gasparillo to select a stick made of Baton Gasparee wood. They then prepared their stick by singeing it over a fire until the bark came off, then they rubbed coconut oil into the wood. The stick was ready to use and when horns or empty bottles were sounded, the bands assembled accompanied by instrumentalists, singers, and dancers who performed a dance called a belair, or bele. The display involved the participation of all and the boasting was competitive in a respectful, boisterous, convivial manner. This spirit of competitive camaraderie continued in the days of sound system clashes in the 1950s and 1960s as producers attempted to one-up each other to appeal to the crowds. And ska recording artists, following the lead of the big pappies, also threw down challenges to each other to boast of their talent–Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster is a classic example, as are the boasts and challenges between producers like Coxsone, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, and King Edwards.

Due to the perceived threat of riot and revolt, canboulay and kalindas were banned by the government and police. The masks used by characters in the procession were also banned in festivals in 1840 by the British governor. Drums and fiddles, associated with Africa, were considered heathen and therefore instruments of the devil, plus they were loud and disturbing late at night. Open letters in local newspapers called the revelers “savages” and spoke of celebrations as “orgies” full of “crime” and “barbarism.” The people resisted, but they were squashed by military troops and were forced to either conform to the establishment or they simply adapted the festival in ways to elude the establishment.

In Jamaica, this festival was called Jonkunnu, named after John Conny, a powerful leader of the Guinea people in the early 1700s. The British spelled his name John Canoe, hence the name Jonkunnu. The white planters allowed their slaves to celebrate this secular festival which took place during the Christmas season. Elaborate street parades began on the island as early as 1774. Like Carnival, Jonkunnu involved masked characters. Performance and music always went hand in hand. The leader of the festival wore cow horns, a cow tail, and sometimes carried swords or wore a mask with tusks. This character was John Canoe. Other characters included those mocking the military, aristocrats, police, sailors, the devil, Horsehead, Jack-in-the-Green, Pitchy-Patchy, Belly Woman, Warrior, Red Indian or Wild Indian, Koo-Koo or Actor Boy, King and Queen, and Red-Set and Blue-Set Girls. These characters did not remove their masks in public, nor did they speak or sing.


Those who did provide the vocal and instrumental accompaniment for the procession included a band of drummers, bamboo fife, banjo, and metal grater performers. Tambour-bamboo bands also provided percussion by banging together lengths of bamboo or using one to knock on the ground. Since they were hollow they produced varying tones. Soon musicians sought other items for their percussion as well, especially since the stick bands were prohibited by the British government. Participants used household items such as spoons, bottles, and metal pans. In Trinidad, this progression soon led to the use of oil drums which were crafted to produce different notes and tones, and the steel bands were born. But everyone was a participant. Jonkunnu was not a spectator event. Everyone performed, everyone played, everyone danced, and this custom was always a part of the people’s music.

The Burru, a group of men who became influential to ska musicians through their association with Rastafarianism, emerged during the days of slavery on the island. Bands of Burru, African drummers, were permitted by slave owners to play drums and sing for the workers in the Jamaican fields to raise the slaves’ spirits—not for emotional reasons, but to impose more productivity. After slavery was abolished, the Burru could not find work and so they congregated in the impoverished areas of Kingston. Their drumming style, like the African vocal styles, exhibited a call-and-response format with a drum leading the rhythm, followed by “licks” from the answering drums.

Each Christmas season, the Burru men gathered to compose their own music with words about local events or about people in the community who had committed an act of wrongdoing. They worked on these songs starting in September and then on the holiday they traveled throughout the community, in a procession not unlike Jonkunnu, going from home to home, playing their bamboo scraper, shakka, and rhumba box for percussion, singing their songs which were intended to purge the evil of the previous year before the new one began. Although the music was composed during the months previous to the event, they also improvised on the spot, a practice that musicians continued in the decades that followed. Because the Burru were mischievous in their songs, and because they lived in the slum areas of the city, they were mistakenly considered by many to be criminals or undesirables. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Burru came to live with the Rastafarians at camps throughout the island’s mountains, especially in Kingston, and the music of the Burru combined with the spirituality of the Rastafarians, as both groups found solace together from society’s rejection. These camps became a refuge for musicians as well during the ska era since they were a place for uninhibited musical communion, a place for performance without restriction or limitations, and a place for retreat from the hardships of oppressive life. The Burru drumming became a part of ska music as Prince Buster recorded “Oh Carolina” using Count Ossie and his drummers who were informed by the Burru tradition.


So, how can you enjoy this tradition this holiday season? Well queue up a little ska, rocksteady, and reggae–here is a list I compiled using the Roots Knotty Roots database, thanks to good friend Michael Turner. If you prefer something more contemporary, I would recommend Toasters Christmas Ska which is a killer selection of 11 holiday songs and it is available on colored vinyl from Jump Up! Records here:

Here’s one of my personal favorite holiday selections from the incredible Byron Lee and the Dragonaires album Christmas Party Time in the Tropics–super fun stuff!

And for those who want to bring a little island flavor to the snow, here you go!

Admiral Bailey, Christmas Style

Al Vassel, Happy Christmas

Albert Morrison, Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Alton Ellis, A Merry Merry Christmas

Alton Ellis, Christmas Coming

Amlak, Christmas Is Here

Angela Stewart and U Brown, Gee Whiz It’s Christmas

Aquizim, Merry Christmas

Arcainians, Christmas In Jamaica

Barrington Levy and Trinity, I Saw Mommy Kiss A Dreadlocks

Black Crucial, Christmas Time

Black Pearls, Babe In Bethlehem

Black Pearls, Christmas Joys

Bob Marley and The Wailers, Christmas Is Here

Bob Marley and The Wailers, White Christmas

Boris Gardiner, The Meaning Of Christmas

Cables, Christmas

Cables, Christmas Is Not A Holiday

Cables, White Christmas (When Christmas Is Here)

Carlene Davis, White Christmas

Carlene Davis and Trinity, Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto)

Carlos Malcolm and His Afro Jamaican Rhythm, Good King Wenceslas

Carlos Malcolm and His Afro Jamaican Rhythm, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Carlton Livingston, Long Cold Winter

Cassandra, What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas

Cedric Bravo and Rico Rodrigues, Merry Christmas

Charmers, Merry Christmas Blues

Charmers, Long Winter

Chatanhoogatin, Christmas Reggae

Cimarons, Holy Christmas

Cimarons, Silent Night White Christmas (Medley)

Claudelle Clarke, Franking Scent and Merry Christmas

Coco Tea, Christmas Is Coming

Cornel Campbell and The Eternals, Christmas Joy

Count Lasher and Lord Tanamo, Christmas Time

Culture, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Cutty Ranks, Christmas Time

Danny Dread, Winter

Dennis Brown, Trinity, Dhaima, Mighty Diamonds, Christmas Rockers

Denzil Dennis, Christmas Message

Derrick Harriott and The Tamlins and Joy White and Reasons and U Brown, Christmas Songbook

Desmond Dekker, Christmas Day

Desmond Tucker, Oh Holy Night

Devon Russell, After Christmas

Diane Lawrence, Have A Merry Christmas

Diane Lawrence, Ring The Bell For Christmas

Dicky Roots, Christmas Rock

Dillinger, Christmas Season

Doreen Schaeffer, Wish You A Merry Christmas

Eek A Mouse, Christmas A Come

Eric Tello, A Child Is Born (When A Child Is Born)

Father Richard Ho Lung, Christmas Mento

Frank Cosmo, Merry Christmas

Frank Cosmo, Merry Christmas

Frankie Paul, Christmas Time

Gable Hall School Choir, Reggae Christmas

Gaylads, Christmas Bells Are Ringing

Gladstone Anderson, Lights of Christmas

Glen Adams, Christmas Rock Reggae

Glen Brown, East Christmas Song

Glen Ricketts, This Christmas

Granville Williams and Orchestra, Santa Claus Is Skaing To Town

Granville Williams and Orchestra, Silver Bells

Heptones, Christmas Time (Give Me)

Home T 4, Rock It For Christmas

Home T and Trinity, Dub It For Christmas

Hopeton Lewis, Happy Christmas

Horace Andy, Christmas Time

I Roy, Christmas Dubwise

Inventor and Studio One Band, Caribbean Christmas

Iron Phoenix, Natty Dread Christmas

Jackie Edwards, Bright Christmas

Jackie Edwards, White Christmas

Jackie Mittoo, Christmas Rock

Jackie Mittoo, Joy Joy (Ghetto Child)

Jah Walton, DJ Christmas

Jamaican Folk Singers, A Christmas Carol

Jamaican Folk Singers, John Canoe Medley (Christmas A Come, Tenk Yu For De Christmas)

Jays, Dancehall Christmas Medley

Johnny Clarke, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Judge Dread, Christmas In Dreadland

Judge Dread, Merry Christmas Mr. Dread

Junior Soul, Christmas Party

Karl Bryan, Christmas Version

King Everald, Santa Claus

King Kong, Nice Christmas

Kingstonians, Merry Christmas

Kojak, Christmas Style

Laurel Aitken, Rock Santa Rock

Lee Perry and Sandra Robinson, Merry Christmas Happy New Year

Little John, It’s Christmas Time

Little John, Save A Little For Christmas

Lord Creator, Merry Christmas To You

Lord Kitchener, Party For Santa Claus

Lord Nelson, Party For Santa Claus

Lucy Myers, Christmas Day

Maytals, Christmas Season (Christmas Feeling)

Maytals, Happy Christmas (Christmas Song)

Mel Turner and Souvenirs, White Christmas

Methodist Male Voice Choir, A Christmas Medley

Methodist Male Voice Choir, Silent Night

Michael Palmer, Christmas Time Again (Happy Merry Xmas)

Michael Powell, Christmas Time

Mikey Dread, Herbal Christmas Gift

Miss Misty, Merry Christmas

Mr. and Mrs. Yellowman, Where Is Santa Claus

Mutabaruka, Postpone Christmas

Neville Willoughby, Christmas Jamaica

Neville Willoughby, J.A. Xmas Day

Nicodemus, Winter Wonderland

Nora Dean, Merry Christmas

Norma Isaacs, Christmas Time

Norman T Washington, It’s Christmas Time Again

Norman T Washington and Lloyd Clarke, Happy Christmas

Nyah and The Sunflakes, Merry Christmas

Nyah and The Sunflakes, White Christmas

One Blood, The Christmas Present

Pablove Black and Bagg, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Palemina, Faith D’Aguilar and Cedric Brooks, Santa Ketch Up Eena Mango Tree

Pat Rhoden, Christmas Song

Pat Rhoden, It Must Be Santa Claus

Phillip Fraser, Rub A Dub Christmas

Raymond Harper, White Christmas

Reuben Anderson, Christmas Time Again

Rhythm Aces, Christmas (C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S)

Richard Ace, Christmas Reggae

Rio Guava, Christmas Day Is Coming

Robert French, Have A Merry Christmas

Roman Stewart, Christmas Affair

Roman Stewart and Glen Brown and Dean Beckford and Charley, Christmas Song

Ruddy Grant and Sketto Richard, Christmas Blues

Ruddy Thomas, Roots Christmas

Ruddy Thomas, What A Happy Christmas

Rupie Edwards,                 Christmas Rush (Christmas Parade)

Sammy Dread, Christmas Jamboree

Sheridons, Merry Christmas (And A Happy New Year)

Sheridons, Silent Night

Shorty The President, Natty Christmas

Sir Jablonski, Merry Christmas Day

Sonie and Pretty Boy Floyd, It May Be Winter Outside

Steve Golding, Strictly Rock Christmas

Sugar Minott, Christmas Holiday

Sugar Minott, Christmas Jamboree

Sugar Minott, Christmas Time

Tappa Zukie, Red Rose (Archie The Red Nose Reindeer)

Teddy Davis, Christmas Bells

Tim Chandell, Christmas Time

Tony J and The Toys, Christmas Dragon

Top Grant, A Christmas Drink

Trinity, Video Christmas

Trinity and the Mighty Diamonds, Christmas Carol

Triston Palmer, Christmas Jamboree

Tyrone Evans, International Christmas Medley

Ugliman, Christmas Boogie Christmas Is Here)

Vibrators, Merry Christmas (Merry Christmas Is Here)

Wain Nelson, Christmas Time

Wain Nelson, Santa Claus

Winston Groovy, Merry Christmas

Winston Jones, Joyful Christmas

Zoot Simms and Roy Robinson, White Christmas

Vere Johns is Santa

From the Star Newspaper, December 18, 1961.

From the Star Newspaper, December 18, 1961.


It’s December, and so the winter holidays are right around the corner. It’s a time of celebration, so why not celebrate Vere Johns, that Santa himself whose show, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, gave the world a gift by launching so many musical careers?! Here is our Santa, or a sketch of him, in 1961 in the same newspaper, the Star, where he had his column in which he discussed various aspects of Jamaican culture and life–everything from politics to medical care to labor issues to the mistreatment of the “bearded men.” The column was called “Vere Johns Says” and he always spoke his mind, sometimes eliciting readers to write in their opposing thoughts and maybe throw a barb or two.

Vere Johns' column in the Star Newspaper.

Vere Johns’ column in the Star Newspaper.

In the column from which the illustration above was taken, Johns weighs in on the “gifts” that he would like to give to local leaders in the year before his country would gain their independence. And when I read about the “referendum” I can’t help but cue up Lord Creator’s “Independent Jamaica” in my musical mind.


This is a pretty typical Vere Johns column, and I think it’s interesting in light of the independence on the horizon. On the “crossroads” Jamaica certainly was during this time. And Vere Johns was involved as conduit or a discriminator and analyst of the events, just as he was with the musical acts that came across his stage. He presented this cultural revolution as it was happening, a conduit of the music that would go on to change the world.

Here is Vere Johns and his wife, the lovely Lucille whose idea it was to host a variety show on the stages of the movie theaters the Johns managed.

vere johns and lucille johns

This is the same Lucille Johns who appeared with Margarita (Anita Mahfood) in the film “It Could Happen to You” which I had the pleasure of sharing with Margarita’s daughter last week. Incidentally, Margarita won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour herself in 1952 at the age of 12. Below is an excerpt from my book Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music that sheds a little light on this powerhouse couple.

Ask any vocalist from the 1950s and 1960s where they got their start and they will often tell you that they either participated in or attended the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. This talent show was responsible for launching the careers of a great percentage of Jamaican vocalists during the time when studios were looking for talent. It was a test, a rehearsal, a springboard for further success. They began the show in April, 1939. After the first show, Lucille told a reporter, “Everybody wishes to be a singer,” and she was nicknamed “Lady Luck.” The Daily Gleaner, July 25, 1939 gave a review of the Opportunity Hour series which had just wrapped up for the season. It stated, “At the close of Friday night’s finals of the popular all-Island ‘Opportunity Hour’ at the Palace Theater, Mr. Vere Johns and his popular wife ‘Lady Luck’ received tremendous compliment for their very laudable efforts of unearthing the talent of Jamaica in the entertainment world and for the undoubted success achieved. . . . with the close of the ‘Opportunity Hour’ we say to Mr. and Mrs. Johns ‘THANK YOU!’ We hope Friday night’s close will not bring an end to such fine efforts. We hope that with Friday night’s close the work of unearthing Jamaica’s talent will continue by this pair, and we hope that by their effort bigger and greater things will be achieved for Jamaica in this respect.” If ever there was a statement of prophecy, this was it.

Music historian and journalist Roy Black said of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, “It goes without saying that stars such as Millie Small, John Holt, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis, The Blues Busters, Derrick Harriott, Derrick Morgan, Lascelles Perkins, Higgs and Wilson, Bunny and Scully, Laurel Aitken, Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards. Jimmy Tucker, Girl Satchmo, Lloyd ‘Sparrow’ Clarke, and musicians Roy Richards, Charlie Organaire, and Rico Rodriguez, who all came under his wing, played significant roles in shaping Jamaica’s popular music. They came in droves – hopeful actors, dancers, tricksters, singers, kneeling at his feet for an opportunity to become popular entertainers. There was hardly a performer who grew up in Kingston who didn’t come into his fold. To them it seemed that only one man held the key to the door of success. The city’s famous theatres – The Palace, at the corner of East Queen Street and South Camp Road; The Majestic, which faces Maxfield Avenue from the Spanish Town Road intersection; and The Ambassador, along Seventh Street in Trench Town – were the venues that Johns found logistically convenient to host these shows. The events took on a carnival atmosphere following auditions held mainly in the hometown of the aspirants. With the winners being decided by crowd reaction, competition was fierce and intense.”

Black describes how the idea for the talent show came about. It was a team effort with his wife who also acted as emcee of the events alongside her husband. Black states, “According to Colby Graham, who did extensive research on Johns, the idea for a Vere Johns talent show was born out of a request by the boss of the Savannah Journal newspaper with whom Johns worked, to devise a strategy to boost attendance at cinemas. With the help of his wife, Lillian, they came up with the idea for the show which began in Savannah, Georgia, in 1937, before the couple moved the event to Jamaica in 1939. In the late 1940s, he began a long-running STAR newspaper column ‘Vere Johns Says,’ mainly on the topic of music. But half the story has never been told as, in the 1950s, Johns added another dimension to his already illustrious career where he was a talent scout, impresario, journalist, radio personality, elocutionist and war veteran, by venturing into the world of movies. He played roles in the 1955 adventure thriller Man Fish, which also featured Eric Coverly, and returned a year later in the 26-minute documentary, It Can Happen To You, in which he played the role of a father of two sons who had syphilis.” That film was the same documentary in which Margarita (Anita Mahfood) portrayed a rhumba dancer who performed in a club as patrons watched and caroused with one another.

Not only did Vere Johns encourage other performers to have a career through his talent show, but he himself was a performer on stage and screen. He even dressed up as Santa Claus at some of his holiday shows. He and Lucille performed a comedy radio show in 1943 called “Razzle Dazzle.” Lucille was also a stage actress, “Lady Luck,” who conducted the talent show band and sang at the talent performances. In 1940 on New Year’s Day, Lucille danced in a troupe that performed a production of “Show-Boat,” which was described as a vaudevillian presentation. An article in the February 18, 1941 issue of the Daily Gleaner states, “The cast of ‘Pagan Fire’ stage presentation at popular Majestic tomorrow night is hard at work and will be ready to give of their best. They comprise the following: Mrs. Vere Johns (Jungle girl)—returns to the Jamaica stage and will be seen in two dance specialties . . . Vere Johns (Chief Crandall)–veteran actor and director in a stirring dramatic role. . . . ‘Pagan Fire’ is an original playlet by Mr. Vere Johns. Place: Kango Isle in the South Seas. Production and direction by Mr. Johns, dance sequences by Mrs. Johns.” In 1943 Lucille Johns wrote a play called “Fool’s Paradise” that was directed by Vere Johns. It was performed at the Ward Theatre and was billed as “A Rich Action Packed Drama of Our Every Day Life in 3 Acts.”

Lucille and Vere Johns had served as supporters, mentors, and directors to the Caribbean Thespians, a group of actors from various theaters around the city. An August 5, 1941 Daily Gleaner article stated, “Vere Johns, well known locally for his many talents, has been heard only too infrequently in the one role in which he excels as a truly great artist. Vere Johns is a Shakespearian actor of extraordinary power. His grip and understanding of the dramatic possibilities of the Shakespearian tradition will amaze and delight his audience, sustaining at the same time the lyrical beauty of the Elizabethan English,” showing that both Vere and Lucille were greatly involved in the theater community.

Another article from the Daily Gleaner on June 22, 1939 with the headline “Play at Palace,” detailed another one of the plays presented by the Johns that Lucille herself had written. “’When a Heat Wave Hit Breadnut Bottom,’ a one-act comedy written by Mrs. Vere Johns and directed by her husband, and in which both took leading parts, was presented, at the Palace Theatre last night to a very appreciative audience. Like their ‘Opportunity Hour’ progammes, this presentation was a further endeavour of Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns to present to the Jamaica public, Jamaica talent, and they succeeded in no uncertain way in this respect. Throughout its 40 minutes duration, the presentation was followed with interest, interspersed with the applause of the audience. Apart from Mr. and Mrs. Johns, outstanding performers in the play were little golden-voiced Frederick Stanley, who sang three very delightful songs, little Lester Johns (son of Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns), and Ranny Williams, who as Tom, the headman of Mass Charlie’s (Mr. Vere Johns) plantation did justice to his part.” Lucille and Vere also had at least one other son, Vere Johns Jr., who went on to emcee in 1984 for the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour where Bunny and Scully performed. This event took place at the Odeon Theater and Vere Johns Jr. was billed as the “Ace from Outa Space.”

Here is a link to the article I cite from Roy Black, the legendary music columnist: VERE JOHNS

Vere Johns

Vere Johns



Lost Chapter of Ska: An Oral History

For those who have read my book, Ska: An Oral History, you may notice there are two significant artists who are omitted. In fact, the subject of ska history is so large that there are many artists who are not in this book because it is a cursory introduction to the music, many artists have died and therefore cannot be interviewed, and there are some who were unwilling to participate. One of these artists was Prince Buster who granted me an interview for my book, but then when I went to obtain permission in writing, asked for monetary compensation. It was disappointing, to say the least, to receive such a response after being granted the interview, which I still have on tape. I do respect Prince Buster though and know that as a producer, money is the name of the game. Unfortunately, in publishing a book for an academic press, there is no money to be made for authors at all. When I explained this reality, he said this was another reason why he would not want to grant me permission. I also explained that journalism ethics prevented me from offering those I interviewed any money, as that would taint the interview and bias the material. Thus, I maintained my integrity and rewrote the chapter in the eleventh hour.

Another artist who was omitted was Desmond Dekker. I had obtained an interview with Dekker’s manager and close personal friend Delroy Williams and was unable to publish it in the book at the time due to some publishing obligations that Delroy had at the time, but five years have passed and so now I offer this chapter here. Delroy is a sweet man, a kind soul, and an artist in his own right. He still carries the legacy of Desmond Dekker forward and his words here are full of love and friendship. Enjoy.

Delroy Williams (left) and Desmond Dekker (right).

Delroy Williams (left) and Desmond Dekker (right).

My Brother’s Keeper, by Heather Augustyn
Featuring Leon Delroy Williams on Desmond Dekker

His tassels swing from the length of each arm, punctuating the rocksteady rhythm. He electrifies the stage with his charisma, Desmond Dekker in his slanty black beret while people in the crowd who are half his age, even younger, sway to his voice which has become more mellow, more soulful with age, and he still nails every note in the wide vocal range of the hit song “Israelites.” Behind him stands his manager and fellow musician. He echoes the chorus, strums the guitar. But Leon Delroy Williams is much more than a mere manager or performer to Dekker. They are life-long friends, standing together on stage, and standing together through life, and now death. They are brothers.
Desmond Dekker was born Desmond Adolphus Dacres on July 16, 1941 in Kingston. He had a talent for singing, even as a very young child, performing the tunes of artists popular in the U.S., such as Little Richard, Bill Haley, Nat “King” Cole, and Sam Cooke. He attended the famous Alpha Boys School as an orphan since his mother died and his father was unable to raise him. Later in life, Dekker began working as a welder apprentice, but after his fellow employees heard his singing, they encouraged him to seek a career in music. He performed at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour like so many of his contemporaries and he took time off from work repeatedly to audition at the leading studios of the day. He auditioned for Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, but both turned him down. However, Leslie Kong saw Dekker’s immeasurable talent, and after a couple of auditions, in front of Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff, accompanied by pianist Theophilus Beckford of “Easy Snappin’” fame, Dekker impressed them all and Kong signed him to the Beverly’s label in 1961.
Dekker was excited to have the promise of a new life and he shared his experience with a fellow welder at his work, encouraging this worker to give Kong another try. This worker, a young Bob Marley, had previously been rejected by Kong, but with Dekker’s support, Marley visited Kong’s studio again, met Jimmy Cliff, and went on to overwhelming fame.
But for Dekker, it would be two years before Kong’s label recorded and released a song. Derrick Morgan recalls, “Desmond Dekker used to be my backup singer because he was with Beverly’s for two years before he sang a song called ‘Honour Your Mother and Father,’ so while he was there, he was doing backup with me.” Dekker’s brother George Dekker, of later Pioneers fame, also sang back up for Morgan on the song “Tougher Than Tough.” For Desmond Dekker, “Honour Your Mother and Father” was an immediate hit in Jamaica. It was recorded under the artist name, “Desmond Dekker & Beverly’s Allstars” since Kong suggested Dacres change his moniker to Dekker. Dekker recorded two more songs before “King of Ska” was another huge hit in 1964, backed up by the Cherrypies who would go on to be known as the Maytals with Toots Hibbert. “King of Ska” put Dekker “right there on top.” He assembled his own group, Desmond Dekker and the Four Aces, backed by Clive Campbell, Easton Barrington Howard, Wilson James, and Patrick Johnson. Dekker continued to put out hits in 1965, including “Get Up Edina” and “Generosity,” among others.
The topics of many of Dekker’s songs were finger-pointing prescriptions for good behavior and finger-wagging admonishments for bad behavior. But in 1967, Dekker added another topic to his repertoire that would endear him, not only to Jamaican youth, but to the British who craved the Jamaican style. The rude boy culture was commemorated in Dekker’s huge hit “007 (Shanty Town)” which reached number one on Jamaican charts, as well as number 15 in the U.K. The tune even became a hit in the U.S. and it was also featured in the movie The Harder They Come. Dekker wrote the song about the violence among the Jamaican youth in the late 1960s. “Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail in Shanty Town,” said it all. And for the British youth who glamorized such stylish culture, the song sealed Dekker’s position as an icon.
The next year, Dekker won the 1968 Jamaica Festival song contest with “Intensified” and in the same year Desmond release perhaps his greatest song that established Dekker even further as one of the greatest Jamaican artists of all time. The song, “Israelites,” was such a huge hit in Jamaica that Commercial Entertainment, a management company, brought him to the U.K. to tour where he met Leon Delroy Williams. “I first met Desmond when he came over to do ‘Israelites’ and ‘Israelites’ was number one. And we were with the same management company at the time and I was the only black artist they have on their book, and Desmond was the next black artist to get on the books. So the first tour Desmond did, I had to go around with him. He didn’t know nobody,” says Williams.
Leon Delroy Williams was an artist in his own right, and still is today. Raised on a farm in Bamboo St. Ann, Jamaica, Williams moved to England when he was just nine years old. Always having a great love and talent for music, Williams became involved in a soul band and they signed to the Commercial Entertainment management company. “I was doing my own thing with my band at the time,” says Williams. This involved recording for Bell Records in 1968 with reggae renditions of Ben E. King and Billy Joe Royal tunes since Williams had a love for both reggae and soul music.
After the tour with Dekker, the two remained friends, which Williams says was hard for others, but not for him. “Desmond wasn’t the kind of guy that . . . it’s not easy to be his best friend. Desmond did not really trust people. I’m more English and he just arrived from Jamaica and I used to speak the truth to him and I wasn’t a yes man. Because he was a big star, all he had around him was yes men. Nobody was really telling him the truth or trying to educate him about the English ways and the music business,” says Williams. Williams left his management company and signed with another, but he and Dekker would join forces again later, for good.
Until then, Dekker continued to be a popular artist in England as the 2Tone era kicked off in the late 1970s. Dekker signed with Stiff Records, a label that embraced punk and ska music with a slogan, “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck.” Bands like Madness, The Belle Stars, The Damned, The Pogues, and Elvis Costello also called Stiff Records home. Dekker’s work inspired the reggae of the Clash, and he produced hit after hit over the years. When the 2Tone movement waned though, Dekker found himself looking for new work.
“About a year after I left, Desmond fell out with his management company so he just went down the road a bit and one time he just say to me, ‘Why don’t we just join together. You do the management. We’ll work on stage together and you be the manager.’ And I just thought about it for a while. I said, ‘Okay, let’s go for it,’ and it lasted for 27 years,” Williams says. It was the longest business partnership that Dekker had. “The longest time he had a manager before I came around was Leslie Kong, which only lasted a few years, and then Commercial Entertainment, he only lasted a few years with them as well. But we were 27 years, traveled the world. We had a good time together,” he says. The two joined forces in 1981.
That business partnership took time, says Williams. “It took him about a year to really put his trust in me. Of course, he had a rough time. All the people he work with before, the managers, they really kind of took him to the cleaners financially. That was the nature of the business. If I was there from day one, he would have made a lot of money. And I could understand why it took him a year to really put his trust in me,” he says. Williams was good for Dekker, both personally and as a business partner. His career grew. “Even when ‘Israelites’ was number mine in the Billboard charts in America, he never get to go there to promote it. Because this company was owned by two people. One don’t like to fly, and one wouldn’t let the other one go with Desmond alone because they know that in America when you go there, next thing they are left behind and they’re out of the picture, so Desmond didn’t get to America until I take over and we did a tour or America. The first tour was five weeks and every couple of years we do five weeks tour and we’ve been all over America,” says Williams who also sang back up for Dekker as a member of the Aces.
One listen to Dekker’s awe-inspiring vocals tells anyone that he was an incredible talent, far surpassing the skill of most all others. So why then isn’t Dekker held up by the masses as one of the greatest artists of all time? Says Williams, “There’s nobody else, no reggae artist, that’s got Desmond’s voice. There are people like Bob Marley and all them who was marketed in a big way. Desmond Dekker wasn’t marketed in a big way. He just got his fame by doing his thing. You don’t read about Desmond in the paper going out with Miss World, or Desmond smoking, and you don’t read those things about Desmond, you understand? You don’t see Desmond on no television game show. He would go on TV just to sing. Desmond was happy to go on stage to sing but he wasn’t happy with being a star, you understand? He just wanted to sing. He didn’t want nothing else, and a lot of people don’t understand that. But that was Desmond. And because people didn’t read a lot of propaganda, people trying to build him up in the papers and things like that, when they see him, they just love him. Of course he wasn’t blasted all over, going out here, doing this, doing that. When you come to a tour, that’s when you see him. And when he’s coming and touring to your part of the world, that’s when you read about him. But apart from that, Desmond wasn’t one of them people that you find in the nightclubs. Desmond, when he’s on tour, he’s on tour. When he home, he’s hard to get out of his house. He love his home. It’s hard to get Desmond out of his house when he’s not working. He just love to be home,” Williams says, speaking of his friend, flipping between past and present tense because he knows he is gone, but yet he is somehow still very present.
Williams speaks of Dekker’s death with great pain. Even though Dekker died of a heart attack at his London home, where he loved to be, on May 25, 2006, the hurt is still so strong for Williams, as well as Dekker’s many fans. “When Desmond died, he was at his fittest. And I say fit because about two weeks before he died we were getting ready to go on this long tour and he left my house on Wednesday at seven o’clock in the evening. At first we were going around looking, he was trying to move from London and he want to go out to the country. For about a week we’ve been driving around looking at different property and we went looking at property on Wednesday and I drop him off and I came home about three o’clock and then at seven o’clock he came round by me because he had to see his kids on Thursday to give them the places of where we were going to be on tour, where we could be contacted and all that. But when he came in, my computer was down so, my printer was down, so I had to write it off. That took a while and he left and the last thing he said to me, we were supposed to meet up at 10:30 the next morning. The last thing he said to me was, ‘Make sure. Make sure. Don’t be late,’ and I laugh, he laugh, and he got in his car and drove off. Four o’clock in the morning, he was dead. So fast. Four o’clock in the morning he was dead. And that was one of the worst times of my life. The worst time of my life. A heart attack came on through high blood pressure and that was it. He was gone,” says Williams.
It is still difficult for Williams to perform, having been used to performing together with his best friend for nearly three decades. “Now I’m back on the road and it took me a year and a half to muster up the strength and the courage to go up there and stand there on my own. The only difference, why we weren’t brothers, was because we weren’t from the same mom and dad. But we were brothers and the whole world knows that,” he says.
As it was in life, now it is in death, that Williams is Dekker’s brother and his keeper. “It still hurts. He’s buried not far from here. I walk down there about once every two weeks. He’s got a beautiful tomb. Some people say I shouldn’t go down there so often, but I have to go, and the reason why I have to go is because he has fans that go down there, and they go and see it in terrible condition, they’re not going to say it’s his children, they’re going to say it’s me. How can you let Desmond’s tomb get in that condition, so that’s why I do it,” says Williams.


Totlyn Jackson–First Lady of Jamaican Jazz

Totlyn Jackson, Star Newspaper, June 14, 1961. Caption reads, "Jamaica's Singer, Totlyn Jackson--pictured above with internationally-famous Jamaican entertainer Sagwa Bennett--scatting the ever-popular Mack the Knife at Round Hill Hotel, Montego Bay. Totlyn left Jamaica on Sunday for Bermuda by air en route to London where she expects to fill singing engagements. Whatever her turn of fortune, she expects to be back at Round Hill for the next winter tourist season."

Totlyn Jackson, Star Newspaper, June 14, 1961. The caption reads, “Jamaica’s Singer, Totlyn Jackson–pictured above with internationally-famous Jamaican entertainer Sagwa Bennett–scatting the ever-popular Mack the Knife at Round Hill Hotel, Montego Bay. Totlyn left Jamaica on Sunday for Bermuda by air en route to London where she expects to fill singing engagements. Whatever her turn of fortune, she expects to be back at Round Hill for the next winter tourist season.”

Totlyn Jackson is one of the leading ladies of Jamaican jazz, and beyond. She has an incredible vocal range and can scat with the best of them. Many may know her from her recent work with Basement Jaxx on the 2003 album Kish Kash. But Totlyn has had a long career that started in Jamaica before she moved in London where she still lives today.

Although I devote an entire chapter to Totlyn Jackson in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, I recently came across these photos and articles on her when I was scouring the Star Newspaper on microfilm this summer–only four years have been preserved so hopefully the Gleaner, who owns these archives, will be able to fund digitizing all of them. I know they are in the process of making this a priority before the history crumbles forever, as these newspaper are in a very fragile condition at this point. But I digress.

Here is an excerpt from my book that gives a bit of background on Totlyn Jackson:

Totlyn Jackson was born in 1930 in a small village in Port Maria, St. Mary. Her father worked for the government so the family had a bit of status in their town, and their mother was a skilled dressmaker who took care of the home and raised Totlyn and her three siblings—sisters Claire and Peggy and brother Peploe. The family was extremely involved in the Hampstead Presbyterian Church and other social and civic organizations in the community so Totlyn had the opportunity to sing in the church choir and participate in Christmas and other holiday performances. Plus, there was an organ in the family home, so Totlyn taught herself to play and sing, and she also began taking piano lessons from a neighbor. She was born with a club foot which was aggravated by an operation in her childhood. As a result, she has always had a significant physical deformity but she has never let that slow her down.

When Totlyn was 19 years old she moved to Kingston after winning a scholarship to Lincoln College. It was an enormous change for Totlyn, moving from a small village where her family enjoyed social status, to an urban city where she was an unknown. She joined the choir at North Street Cathedral as a soprano and then, like many other talented vocalists and musicians, Totlyn decided to try her hand at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. Accompanied by Frankie Bonitto, Totlyn won by singing, “With a Song in My Heart.” She then entered a contest at the upscale Colony Club where Eric Deans led the orchestra.

In Myrna Hague’s article in the spring/summer 2009 issue of Wadabagei, Totlyn remembers, “Coming out of a church situation, I was wearing boots and socks and an inappropriate dress, but Eric [Deans] knew what he was doing with me. Eric had inherited a big band folio—we didn’t call it jazz—I didn’t know anything about jazz. I was treated as a curiosity but I didn’t know it then! . . . I began to work with Eric and was making a name for myself at the Bournemouth Club every Friday where I came into my own. When Lester left, many of his abandoned musicians joined the Eric Deans band including Don Drummond, Brevett, and Lloyd Knibb. He [Lloyd Knibb] never had the hang-ups like Brevett and Don Drummond; Drummond and I never spoke more than ten sentences; he had his anger and stuff that he did—I was never a part of what was going on. I was the only full-time professional singer; the others were part-time with daytime jobs. Friday nights at the Bournemouth and Sonny’s [Bradshaw] got in touch with me for the first big band concert at the Ward; by this time everyone thought of me as a jazz singer because of this concert, and I could sight-read, so I was easy to work with.”

From the Star Newspaper, February 23, 1962. Caption reads, "Back in the island for a holiday since Sunday after stints in London and Bermuda night clubs is Jamaica sweetheart of jazz and blues, Totlyn Jackson who makes an appearance at Flamingo Hotel at 11.30 tomorrow night. Totlyn, who is currently engaged at Bermuda's leading night club, Jungle Room, spent three months in London appearing at the Stork Room, among other spots. She says that while in London she met tenor saxophonist little 'G' McNair whom she affirms is 'just gone with his sounds.' Tonight's show will be Totlyn's only one in the island as she leaves on Sunday for Bermuda. Music tonight will be supplied by Charlie Binger's Band."

From the Star Newspaper, February 23, 1962. Caption reads, “Back in the island for a holiday since Sunday after stints in London and Bermuda night clubs is Jamaica sweetheart of jazz and blues, Totlyn Jackson who makes an appearance at Flamingo Hotel at 11.30 tomorrow night. Totlyn, who is currently engaged at Bermuda’s leading night club, Jungle Room, spent three months in London appearing at the Stork Room, among other spots. She says that while in London she met tenor saxophonist little ‘G’ McNair whom she affirms is ‘just gone with his sounds.’ Tonight’s show will be Totlyn’s only one in the island as she leaves on Sunday for Bermuda. Music tonight will be supplied by Charlie Binger’s Band.”

Totlyn Jackson also performed at the Bournemouth Beach Club with Lester Hall’s Orchestra featuring Don Drummond and she frequently sang with Baba Motta’s Band, the Zodiacs, Sonny Bradshaw’s Orchestra, and Herman Lewis and the Glass Bucket Band. She performed in a show at the Carib Theatre on February 5, 1966 with the son of Frank Sinatra, the 18-piece Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and the Caribs. She even performed for Prime Minister Norman Manley’s birthday on July 3, 1956, singing a song composed for him by Frank Clarice of Little London in Westmoreland that moved Manley to tears. Her only recording on the island was for W.I.R.L—“Island in the Sun” with the B side “Yellow Bird” in 1963 with the Audley Williams Combo.

From the Daily News Thursday June 7,1973. Courtesy Roberto Moore.

From the Daily News Thursday June 7,1973. Courtesy Roberto Moore.


In the mid-1950s, Totlyn frequently sang with another jazz vocalist who predated her career—Julian Iffla. Iffla had been singing in Kingston clubs since the late 1949s and also performed with orchestras of the day including Eric Deans, Baba Motta, Sonny Bradshaw, George Moxey, Frankie Bonitto, and Lester Hall with Don Drummond. Iffla also performed in musicals and pantomime and was billed as “Velvet Voiced.”

While Totlyn’s life was beginning to thrive in Kingston, her family’s life back in Port Maria was crumbling. Her mother and father split up and her mother came to stay with Totlyn. But Totlyn had been living in the home of one of her professors at Lincoln College as part of the scholarship arrangement and her mother couldn’t live there. So Totlyn moved her fractured family into the home of Joe Issa, owner of Issa’s department store. “One day my two sisters and brother arrived, because Dada said that if I was big enough to look after Mama, I could look after them too,” she said in Myrna Hague’s article. Hague comments, “Her father was probably resentful of her [Totlyn’s] show of independence, and because of whatever had gone on between her mother and him, he no longer wanted them or perhaps responsibility of them.”


Soon, Totlyn had yet another family member to care for while balancing her career. She met an advertising executive from New York on his travels to the island when he came to Glass Bucket Club for one of her performances. “I eventually became pregnant. I didn’t want to get married. I had seen how unhappy these wives were, including my mother. I wondered, ‘Should I have this child?’ There was no one to ask this kind of intimate question,” she says in Hague’s article. But she did have the child, a son named Franz. His father, Jack Conroy, the ad executive, died in a car accident shortly before he was born. Totlyn never married—not then, not ever. But she did have her share of boyfriends. “That’s where I met my contacts and my boyfriends,” said Totlyn to Myrna Hague of her time singing at the Glass Bucket Club. “I wanted a first-class life and so what I needed was people who could take me onto that plateau, to take me up.”

One of those boyfriends who took her career up was a man named Michael Rouse and she left Jamaica to go to London with him in 1960. She also left her son to be raised by her mother. “I went to London to join him [Michael Rouse] when he offered to handle my career, and then he became a fully-fledged impresario who was handling people like Juliet Greco, Los Paraguayos, Gilbert Becaud, Miriam Makeba, and others of that ilk. We eventually broke up because he couldn’t sell me and I resented that. When I complained he said that he loved me too much. I thought that was crap but friends said that it was possible because he was afraid of losing me. . . . He couldn’t or wouldn’t arrange a tour for me. He was not a very good businessman,” Totlyn told Myrna Hague.

You can read more about Totlyn and her career in my book, but suffice to say that she has had a long and successful career in London. Below are a few clips of Totlyn Jackson performing in recent years. She’s still got it!!

Here’s a video of Totlyn Jackson performing a tune with Basement Jaxx to get you in the mood for Christmas!

Amateur footage of Totlyn Jackson performing in 2011, scat-a-lat-a-dong-dong!


Basement Jaxx with Totlyn Jackson, “Supersonic.”

Here is a link to Myrna Hague’s brilliant article about Totlyn Jackson, which begins on page 40: