Let’s Do the Rocksteady

A few months ago I shared the advertisements that Ronnie Nasralla had made showing how to dance the ska. These advertisements pictured himself with Jeannette Phillips along with dance steps, five of them to be exact, and they appeared on the back of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires’ albums, and in the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Star newspapers for five sequential weeks. These dance steps were also demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and at various events in the United States during that year, by Ronnie & Jeannette, Sheila Khouri Lee, and other dancers who brought the ska to the world. You can see these advertisements and read about them here.

So when I saw the back of this Byron Lee album, I realized that a similar approach was taken a few years later with the rocksteady, and it got me wondering about the dance steps for this genre that came in 1966 to 1968.

Ronnie Nasralla is this time photographed with a different female dancer, perhaps because Jeannette Phillips had gotten married, although I am not sure who the new dancer is, so if anyone knows, please comment below.

The dance steps are as follows:
























































The dance steps are described on the back of the album, so put on your dancing shoes and get ready.

One step shuffle — completely relax then sway your body from right to left sliding on your feet, allowing your hands to sway from side to side (A) following your hip movement. The shoulder must be raised and tucked under the chin. This shuffle is done all around the dance floor with couples swaying in and out of each other.

Stamp one foot at the same time bending both knees (B). Come up wriggling the body very loosely, then extend the foot which you did not stamp to the side (C). Repeat using other foot going to other side. This is done facing your partner. A variation of the step is shown in (D) where the leg is placed forward then backward instead of to the side. The girl does the reverse by placing her leg backward when her partner places his leg forward. When the leg is placed forward you lean back, and when the leg is placed backward, you lean forward. Remember: loosely wriggle your body when coming up on each stamp.

A bouncing one step action like marching with the body bobbing at least two beats to every step (E). The whole body is loose with the hands very limp up about chest high. This is a continuous action with the partners “marching” and bobbing all over the dance floor.

A variation to this step is when the right leg is placed across the body (F). Then you press back by placing the left or back leg further behind at the same time, leaning forward from the waist (G). You continue by stepping to the right, then left, then ready to repeat. The same marching action is continued during this, only with the hands swinging alternately to maintain balance.

The “Rock Steady” dance is probably the most relaxed dance ever done — the whole body at all times must be loose & “oily” and partners never touch each other. They get on and leave the floor together but once on the floor, everyone dances with everyone, getting into the spirit of the Rock Steady beat which is sensuous, heavy and throbbing. The lyrics are so catchy that they are sung by everyone while dancing.

Alton Ellis recorded his hit “Rock Steady” for Duke Reid in 1967. The lyrics gave a few tips on how to dance the rock steady, whose steps were more smooth and fluid than the ska since the tempo and energy were more subdued as well.

Better get ready
Come do rock steady, ooh
You got to do this new dance
Hope you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know

Just shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything in time
Then see

You got to shake your shoulders

Better get ready
Just to do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Just like Freddy
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake them shoulders, ev’ry thing in time
Then see

You got to shake your shoulders

Now you’re ready
Let’s do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Now that you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
Now that you know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything is fine
Now see

Ev’ryone, oh dance

Hopeton Lewis’s “Rock Steady,” recorded in 1967 for Merritone, also offers a few instructions for the rock steady dance:

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Heads are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
Then go steady
If you’re ready
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Hips are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
If you’re ready
Go rock steady
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Although it offers no actual dance steps, Dandy Livingston’s “(People Get Ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady,” recorded in 1967 for King Edwards’ Giant label told us, “When you’re feeling blue, you know just what to do, do rocksteady, uh-huh.” There’s the Uniques’ “People Rocksteady” where Slim Smith sings, “Out in the moonlight we will dance.” And there were plenty of other songs that referenced the genre but not too many that gave us the dance steps we needed to do the dance, possibly because the era of the twist and mashed potato and stroll were now passé.

Share your thoughts on the rocksteady dance below, especially any memories from the days when it originated.

Lord Tanamo

From the Jamaica Star, June 5, 1964.

tanamo From the Jamaica Star, June 5, 1964.  


Found this article in the Jamaica Star recently, noting how Lord Tanamo had switched from calypso to ska. What a dapper young Tanamo! Handsome fellow! In case you don’t want to get out your glasses, here’s what the article says:

Big name in the world of ska today is Joseph Gordon, alias Lord Tanamo. The 28-year-old Kingtonian entered show business 13 years ago as a calypso singer appearing at leading hotels in the city with his small band before moving to the North coast to perform at hotels. After two years on the north Coast, where he appeared at such hotels as the Royal Caribbean, Tower Isle, Casa Montego and Casa Blanca, Tanamo began recording calypsoes, his first one being “Crinoline.” In 1962, however, he switched from calypso singing to ska and today his first ska recording, “Come Down” is still a favourite with radio, juke box and sound system fans. Tanamo now claims hit parade tunes “Iron Bar” and “Matty Rag,” both of which are old Jamaican folk songs done up in ska style. His popular “Ol’ Fowl” recently finished a long stay on the hit parade, but is still riding high in juke boxes and on sound systems. Apart from thrilling thousands of record fans, Lord Tanamo has long been a favourite with stage and nightclub audiences.

If you have the chance to see the Legends of Ska documentary by my good friend and skamrade Brad Klein at the International Ska Festival at 2pm on April 4th, BFI Southbank in London, you’ll see footage of Lord Tanamo performing at the Legends of Ska concert on his rumba box–what a treat! Here he is photographed below during the concert. Tanamo is on the far right next to Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Justin Hinds, and Stranger Cole.


And of course, here is the great Lord Tanamo here with the Skatalites, as one of the four vocalists for the legendary group. Lord Tanamo is to the right of Doreen Shaffer.

The Skatalites

So raise a Red Stripe in toast to Lord Tanamo, and enjoy these fine chunes from Mr. Gordon!

Iron Bar

Come Down

Dash of Sunshine

Watch him perform in 2003 at the Glastonbury Festival with Lester Stirling, Lloyd Knibb, and of course, Ken Stewart on keyboard and band manager for decades! I’m in the Mood for Ska

One of my favorites, a tribute that Lord Tanamo did for Don Drummond Big Trombone

Click on the link to Side A to hear Crinoline Incident and click on Side B to hear Wedding Bells

Happy Birthday Cosmic Don

clinton hutton don drummond

Clinton Hutton’s masterful art dedicated to Don Drummond.


Yesterday, March 12th, was Don Drummond’s 83rd birthday, had he been provided with proper treatment for his mental illness, given Margarita love and respect instead of violence and death, and gone on to live and share the wealth of his talent with the world as he did for his short 37 years. Don Drummond was a complicated man with genius skills on the trombone and my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist unravels the myth behind the legend, but today I would like to share a few of my favorite works by the master, and a few photos that I took while in Jamaica in recent years.

Please share your thoughts on Cosmic Don. Keep the beauty of his spirit alive by enjoying his music, today and every day.


Addis Ababa



Music is My Occupation


The classroom at Alpha Boys School (now Alpha Institute, a day school) where Don Drummond went to class. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

The classroom at Alpha Boys School (now Alpha Institute, a day school) where Don Drummond went to class. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

The stage at the Ward Theater upon which Don Drummond stood and played during the 1950s and early 1960s. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

The stage at the Ward Theater upon which Don Drummond stood and played during the 1950s and early 1960s. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.


The Palace Theater stage, upon which Don Drummond performed for many years. Photo by Heather Augusty, 2013.

The Palace Theater stage, upon which Don Drummond performed for many years. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2013.


Inside Bellevue. Photo by Heather Augustyn 2013.

Inside Bellevue. Photo by Heather Augustyn 2013]

Looking through the back door of 9 Rusden Road, the residence of Don Drummond and Margarita, the site of her murder at his hands. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

Looking through the back door of 9 Rusden Road, the residence of Don Drummond and Margarita, the site of her murder at his hands. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.


Debris beneath the home at 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

Debris beneath the home at 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.


The gate at the Rockfort Police Station, through which Don Drummond walked to report the tragedy. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.

The gate at the Rockfort Police Station, through which Don Drummond walked to report the tragedy. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2010.



Roy Panton–Over 50 Years of Sweet Song



This photo appeared in the Star Newspaper on November 6, 1964. A few days ago I sent this to Roy Panton who appears smiling to the right of Phyllis Dillon in the front row and he told me how this moment with the Vulcans was a happy one for him, but shortly thereafter he and Phyllis experienced a disappointment. “They went to Germany without us,” Roy told me. I know that this may have been horrible for Roy at the time it happened, and still it is hard for him to remember without feeling sadness today, but I told him that had he gone, his life’s path would have been altered so who knows if it was actually may have been for the better. He told me that he also had recorded a song with Rita Anderson (Marley). “At Studio One. I only recorded there once. Title was “Everyday,” but don’t know if it was ever released. And by the way my first recording was for Duke Reid not Beverley. Stranger & I recorded two songs titled, “Adam & Eve b/w “Freedom Land” but Duke change the name to “Come and Hold My Hand.”


The above article appeared in the Star Newspaper with a dapper-looking Roy Panton on January 17, 1964. The article reads:

For most entertainers the way to the top in the entertainment world is usually hard. In the case of Roy Panton, however, there was comparatively little hardship before he made it.

Roy Panton, a 23-year-old Kingstonian born Samuel Panton, made his first move about three years ago. That was in 1961 when he made his first disc, “She’s Mine,” backed with “Girl Of My Dreams” on the Beverly [sic.] label [Roy Panton says this is not true as noted above] with vocal accompaniment by popular Eric Morris.

A great lover of teamwork, Roy decided that singing solo was not for him and true to his word he teamed up with a female vocalist. Soon after, a record entitled, ‘We’ll Meet’ on the E&R label sung by Roy and Millie, as they were soon to be known, was released.

This record made the No. 1 spot on the Hit Parade and held it for sometime, causing the pair to be in demand for public appearances.

Very keen on public appearances, this duo appeared on many big shows around Jamaica and were featured on The Ray Charles Show when he appeared here.

Now singing with “sweet voiced” Yvonne Harrison after splitting with his former partner Millie, who is now in London doing well vocally, Roy, a married man, records exclusively with Gay-disc. He has several records to his credit of which, “My Happy Home,” “This World,” “Oh Shirley,” “Seek and You’ll Find,” and his latest release, “Two Roads Before You” are tipped to do well.”

–Jackie Estick

As mentioned in the article, Roy recorded and performed with Millie Small beginning in 1962 and it was their song “We’ll Meet” that piqued Chris Blackwell’s curiosity in Small’s tiny voice, leading to her future success. “She got the opportunity to go to England with Chris Blackwell. We talked about it and I told her, it’s an opportunity, why not?” says Roy.

Millie’s return to Jamaica in August, 1964. From left to right, Roy Panton, Hon. Russell Graham, Millie Small, and her mother, Elvie Smith.

Millie’s return to Jamaica in August, 1964. From left to right, Roy Panton, Hon. Russell Graham, Millie Small, and her mother, Elvie Smith.


Yvonne Harrison recorded with Roy Panton in 1964 and today the duet is married and performing all over the world. “Don’t ask me how Roy and I got together. I don’t remember. I think it was Derrick who told him about me. Roy and I did a lot of stage show and were all-island tours with Byron Lee, we were the local artists when the foreign artists came to Jamaica—to name a few, Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke, the Drifters, and quite a few others,” says Yvonne.

She explains how they got back together. “I lived in Kitchener for a while. I came over in ’91, lived in Kitchener, all this time not knowing that Roy Panton, my partner all those years, was living in Canada. I thought he was in England and he thought I was still in New York. It wasn’t until I decided to move down to Jamaica in ’97 and I was there for a while when Michael Barnett who puts on a show, Heineken Startime, he wanted me to do a show with Derrick Morgan on the show. Michael Barnett is also a good friend of my nephew. So in talking to him he asked me, ‘Where is Roy?’ So I said he is in England and just then it was Merritone (producer Winston Blake) who was in Canada, in a show, and he happened to see Roy. Merritone was at the show and said he knows where Roy is, he has connections. And so they wanted to put on the 60th birthday party for Byron Lee in Jamaica and so the plan was to bring Roy down and we do the show. So, not seeing Roy in over 40 years, I decided to come back up to Canada, meet with him to do some rehearsals and see if our voices were still in working condition. Unfortunately, the show didn’t come off because of funds, but I think it was a way of Roy and I connecting. I met him in August of 2005 and we were together in October and got married on June 23, 2011,” she says.

It was the rekindling of a musical career too, for Yvonne as well as the duo of Roy & Yvonne. But Yvonne points out that the two never had a romantic relationship in the early years. “When we sang before, it was business because I was involved with somebody else and he was married and I keep out of that thing because back home it was a known fact that when a female and male work together there’s something hanky panky going on. But I stayed out of that because I didn’t want to get involved in that kind of thing. He used to tell me he was afraid to hold my hand because when he hold my hand I pull it away when we are on stage,” says Yvonne.

The couple will perform on March 15th in Toronto, so make sure to check out this fantastic-looking show if you are in the area.



Granville Williams

granville photo

Granville Williams was leader of his own orchestra which he founded in the late 1950s. Granville was a keyboard player who performed on numerous recordings on piano and organ. He was also a musical arranger. There are advertisements for Granville’s orchestra performing in December, 1959 at the Mimosa Lodge.

From the Daily Gleaner, December 18, 1959

From the Daily Gleaner, December 18, 1959


Granville also performed with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires as guitarist and arranger during the early 1960s. In late 1964 Granville  teamed up with Ernest Ranglin to “produce a band whose brassy big-band sound is tempered with imaginative arrangements and some first class solo work,” according to the Star Newspaper, November 19, 1964. They made their debut on October 30, 1964 at the St. Andrew Club and it was a big success. Granville’s brother, Audley Williams, performed on bass guitar, recruited from his position with the Carlos Malcolm Orchestra along with drummer Freddie Campbell. Granville brought Sammy Ismay to play tenor guitar [sic. should be tenor saxophone] from Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, as well as Roland Alphonso from the Skatalites. Vocalist Lloyd Williams came from his own small combo. It was a 14-piece group. Ernest Ranglin had just returned from England.

granville star

From the Star Newspaper, November 10, 1964



granville star1

From the Star Newspaper, October 30, 1964


Granville recorded with other musicians and vocalists such as Baba Brooks, Ernest Ranglin, Derrick Harriott, Lascelles Perkins, Roy Shirley, Ken Boothe, and many others. He had his own album, Hi-Life, released in Jamaica 1966 on his own label, G.W.O., and in the U.K. on the Island label in 1967. The back of the album tells the story of the orchestra:

From the moment in 1964 the Granville Williams Orchestra was first heard, it was obvious that this was a band destined to be among the select top five in the country. For although the band itself had just been born, it consisted of some of the most talented and respected musical giants in Jamaica.

Although still in his twenties, Granville has had many years of musical study and experience behind him. In fact, he relates, he had been playing piano since the tender age of five. Of course in those days, under the watchful eye of his mother and school music teacher, his taste leaned towards the classics, but as he grew older, Granville was quick to realise that in Jamaica a musician was more likely to make a living if he jazzed it up a little.

So it was then that Granville, having come to a compromise with himself and between Bop and Bach, made his professional debut at the Shaw Park Hotel–as a cocktail pianist. It was round about here that the second of young Mr. Williams’ two great loves–acting, which also had been with him since childhood, began to have an effect on the first–music. For it was from the filmed life story of another pianist, the immortal Eddie Duchin, that Granville drew a great deal of his inspiration.

At about this time Granville turned his attention to the organ which had become a more popular instrument than the piano for band work, but in 1963 Granville decided to devote himself to drama and to this end he left the Island and went to the United States to study. It wasn’t very many months however, before news of the great Ska boom reached him and the potential of this new Jamaican music caught his imagination. He came home and in partnership with the great guitarist Ernest Ranglin, formed the Granville Williams Orchestra–a big, brassy, hard-punching 15-piece band that had an immediate impact on the Jamaican public.

In the short time of its existence a lot of things happened to the band and to its personnel, but it never left the headlines of the entertainment world. Now a nine-piece band, with three vocalists, the orchestra is still noted for its punchy big-band sound, but more important, it has matured into one of the most versatile groups in the Island.

To demonstrate this versatility, many of the currently popular beats have been included in this first album by the Granville Williams band. On ‘Sloopy’ and ‘Loving Feeling’ we hear the latest Motown beat. A little bit of Soul is in there on ‘More’ and a Latin beat on ‘La Engandora.’ With ‘My Pussin’ we switch to calypso and this is coupled with ‘Come Le We Go.’ ‘Tear Up’ and ‘High Life’ are among the examples of our Ska beat. One of the highlights of this record is a really driving arrangement of the old Glenn Miller favourite ‘String of Pearls.’ The popular singer and recording star Derrick Harriott is featured on some of the cuts along with resident vocalist Lloyd Williams.

Granville Williams is a young man who has come a long way in a short time and judging from this first L.P. he and his orchestra are destined for even greater heights.”


Album scan courtesy of Charlie Chalk from 45worlds.com


Granville’s younger brother Audley Williams was a musician in his own right. He was born in Kingston in 1953 and was discovered by Byron Lee and asked to perform on bass guitar whenever Byron went abroad on business. Audley was a tall man who went to St. Jago High School and he started out performing piano when he was six years old. He went on to master the vibraphone, violin, harmonica, accordion, organ, steel guitar, percussion instruments, and the bass guitar. He left Byron Lee to perform with the Kenny Williams Orchestra, the Caribs, and Kes Chin & the Souvenirs for two years. He also performed for Carlos Malcolm and his Afro-Jamaican Rhythms for two years, traveling to Miami, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Martinique, Montserrat, and Venezuela. He composed music, radio commercials, and he recorded for RCA before joining his brother’s band. He moved to Canada in later years along with his other brother, Clinton.

audley williams

From the Star Newspaper, June 12, 1964


I am looking to find Granville Williams to interview him and so if you know his whereabouts, please let me know. I have heard that Audley pass away in recent years, but Granville is still alive and living in Jamaica perhaps. In the 1980s, Granville entered politics and he served as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Public Service. In the meantime, enjoy a few of Granville Williams’ popular tunes!

The Jerk

Honky Tonk Ska

Popeye Ska


Santa Claus is Ska-Ing to Town



From the Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1965

From the Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1965

Sparrow Martin–Drummer, Bandleader, Alpha Legend

Star Newspaper, November 29, 1964

Star Newspaper, November 29, 1964

I came across this article on Sparrow Martin while combing through the Star Newspaper archives and was reminded of yet another Jamaican musician who has never quit and continues to leave a legacy to the next generation of musicians. I have had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times and he is always full of love and smiles. He has coined  nickname for me–Scary Bird. I’m a tenacious American, what can I say?! In 2011 he told me how he got his nickname while a student at Alpha Boys School. “We were told in school we are not to go out in the rain ’cause of the cold that you would catch, and we liked to play in the rain. But Sister (Ignatius) always come down when the rain starting. She would come down with her umbrella and she walk and look to see who is in the rain. So one day, I was in junior home, and I didn’t see the Sister was coming up. I was playing in the rain. So I climb up in a tree and when I climb up, it start to rain some more. And she come under the tree and said, ‘Come out of the tree, you naughty little sparrow. What would your mother do if you stayed here and drown?’ The boys now heard her so they start singing, ‘Sparrow treetop, la la la la la.’ From that come my name. When I left Alpha, I wanted a name as a musician, so I used the name because my name is Winston Martin, so the name is Sparrow Martin, and I became world famous.”


Winston “Sparrow” Martin channels Don Drummond playing the trombone where the Monkey Tambourine Tree once stood. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Winston “Sparrow” Martin channels Don Drummond playing the trombone where the Monkey Tambourine Tree once stood. Photo by Heather Augustyn, 2011


The following is the text of the Star Newspaper article from November 29, 1964:

Top Drummer ‘Sparrow’ is a Man of Many Parts

“Meet Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, the new top drummer with Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms. Tall, quiet and with an easy smile, 23-year-old ‘Sparrow’ has stacked up a great many successes in a few short years of professional musicianship. He has mastered five instruments.

During his school days at Alpha, ‘Sparrow’ began on the E-flat horn, then he learned trumpet, then drums. The last, now his favourite instrument, he learned about from Lennie Hibbert. In his ‘spare time’ he learned to play the euphonium and it became ‘Sparrow’s’ specialty, with the trumpet as his second instrument for the three years he was in the Jamaica’s Constabulary Force Band. This was from 1958 when the band was formed at a time when its members were not required to be in the force.

Came 1961, and ‘Sparrow’ moved to the Jamaica Military Band and alternated the euphonium this time with the French horn, which he learned to play by the ‘do-it-yourself’ method. His ‘spare-time’ also stretched at this point to allow him to branch out into the popular music field, and his first recording he proudly states, was when he drummed for the Joe Williams group in the accompaniment for Lord Creator’s ‘Independence Calypso.’ On a more solid footing, he joined the Sonny Bradshaw Quartet and was with them for a year.

Red-letter days for ‘Sparrow’ are too numerous to list. Remember the drummer of the LTN pantomime production ‘Jamaica Way;’ the ballet production ‘Footnotes in Jazz,’ the 1963 Independence Anniversary Jazz Festival, and the all star band for the Sammy Davis Show? Then you’ve remembered ‘Sparrow’ Martin. He recalled his three-month tour with the Vagabonds to England early this year, cut short because he had to return home to go with the Jamaica Military Band to St. Kitts to represent Jamaica at the West Indies Arts Festival. For with all this ‘sideline’ activity, ‘Sparrow’ has still all along been a permanent member of the Military band.

To prospective drummers, ‘Sparrow’ advises dedication as the keynote to success. Of all the instruments he plays, he finds the drums allow him to express himself most. ‘You have to listen keenly to the other instruments, know the other members of the band, be with them, ‘read’ them. At the same time, you enjoy going with all you’ve got–your hands, your feet, your mind . . . ‘

There’s the greatest possible scope in jazz drumming ‘Sparrow’ avows as he rhapsodies about Sammy Payne, Sam Woodyard, Rufus Jones, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones.

Above all, though, as he beats it out with the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms, he has a feeling of being the closest he’s been so far to his fans. ‘They’re with it,’ he says, ‘and of course it works both ways.’ He leaves the Jamaica Military Band this month to join the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms on a permanent basis.” –Joy Gordon


Sparrow came to Alpha Boys School because he was a bit unruly. He told me, “My father couldn’t mind me. I was a guy who was very rude, didn’t want to go to school.” After he left Alpha and performed with the Constabulary and Military bands, and Carlos Malcolm’s group, he event formed a group of his own, as seen here in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 3, 1980.

sparrow martin band

From the Daily Gleaner, December 3, 1980.


Sparrow Martin had a successful career in music before bringing his knowledge to the youth as band master at the Alpha Boys School. “I used to do recordings and I left all of my musical life and it feels good,” he told me about taking on the role as band master in 1989. He still leads the boys band today even though Alpha Boys School is now known as Alpha Institute and is a day school only, no boarding after over a century of housing and schooling the students. When I drove by the school on South Camp Road last week, even the sign had changed to proclaim the new name, Alpha Institute. And Sparrow continues to school his boys in music and today leads his own band of musicians, a group that in 2011 he was just starting to put together in his creative mind. He told me in 2011, “I am very excited about the New Skatalites, the Young Skatalites, because I think it is going to be very big. These guys are young. I was with them, there are five of them who are ages 23 to 25. When they founded the Skatalites band, these guys were over 30 years old and you guys have more of an advantage because you are young,” he said. That band is not called the Young Skatalites but instead is Ska Rebirth. They were formed in 2011 and I had the pleasure of seeing them perform in 2013 during a rehearsal. They performed Skatalites tunes classics like Guns of Navarone and Rockfort Rock.

Sparrow Martin brings the rhythm with two drumsticks and a metal chair during rehearsal of his group, Ska Rebirth, in February, 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Sparrow Martin brings the rhythm with two drumsticks and a metal chair during rehearsal of his group, Ska Rebirth, in February, 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn


Just last week, another group that Sparrow leads, the Alpha All Stars, performed for Reggae Month with Travis Wedderburn on trombone, a young graduate of Alpha who promises to be the next Don Drummond, and Alpha Old Boy and Skatalites’ Lester Sterling on sax. Who is that on drums? Yes, Sparrow himself!

Ska Rebirth performs in Kingston on February 13th with Lester Sterling for Reggae Month.

The Alpha All Stars perform in Kingston on February 13th with Lester Sterling for Reggae Month.


Ska Rebirth with guest performer Lester Sterling. Sparrow Martin leads the band and performs on drums.

The Alpha All Stars perform with guest performer Lester Sterling. Sparrow Martin leads the band and performs on drums.


Below is an article ran in the Jamaica Gleaner on April 30, 2012:

From the Jamaica Gleaner, April 30, 2012

From the Jamaica Gleaner, April 30, 2012


Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, OD, has had a highly distinguished musical career and is now celebrating 50 years in the music industry.

Since 1989, he has been the musical director of the Alpha Boys’ School Band. In 2007, he was awarded a Bronze Musgrave Medal for his eminence in music, and was only just awarded at the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons Limited’s Jamaica 50 Living Legacy Award for contributing invaluable service to Jamaica since Independence. It is indeed noteworthy that Sparrow was one out of two musicians so awarded.

Ska Rebirth

Now focussed on his brainchild, Ska Rebirth, a band formed in June 2011, the band is said to be Jamaica’s only existing ska band.

Sparrow leads the charge as its band master, and is also on drums, and has a complement of nine persons. The other band members are: Odane Stephens (keyboards), Kemroy Bonfield (saxophone), Rayon Thompson (saxophone), Camal Bloomfield (saxophone) Lance Smith (trumpet), Kemar Miller (trombone), Rohan Meredith (bass guitar) and George Hewitt (lead guitar).

More than half of the band members are graduates of Alpha Boys’ School, the home of ska music. The band is deeply committed to keeping the indigenous music form, ska, alive in Jamaica and the rest of the world; following in the tradition of their mentor, the legendary Skatalites.

“What we are doing here is not just starting a band!”, says Sparrow, in between one of his signature off beat, on beat, snare drum slaps, during a Ska Rebirth rehearsal session, “We are starting a movement, one which will bring back the original sound of ska from its roots and home, Alpha Boys’ School in Kingston, Jamaica, and spread it once again across the entire world, this is the real SKA Rebirth!!”

Since inception, Ska Rebirth has performed four times: On the talent stage at the 16th Annual Jazz Festival in January 2012, where they thrilled the audience who danced to the memorable ska sounds.

Flexibility with music

They also entertained at the Jamaica Cricket Association Annual Awards Dinner held at The Jamaica Pegasus on February 18, 2012, displaying their flexibility with background music during dinner and a lively entertainment segment. Among the distinguished guests there were the prime minister and governor general.

They again graced the stage during a joint venture that was held with Vinyl Record Collectors Association, Jamaica Chapter, on February 25, at Heather’s Garden Restaurant on Haining Road. Here the band showcased its versatility in a live show, doing a number of jazz and blues cover pieces, tantalising ska beats and backing the renowned ‘Stranger Cole’.

The band’s most recent event was a lunch-hour concert hosted by the Institute of Jamaica on March 29, targeting school children at the primary level. The children were thrilled with the novel sounds of ska and were eager to show their moves in the dance competition.

Winston "Sparrow" Martin at the Alpha Boys School, February, 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Winston “Sparrow” Martin at the Alpha Boys School, February, 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn


Here is an interview with Sparrow Martin in 2007 on YouTube.

Here is a rehearsal of Ska Rebirth performing in 2013 on YouTube.

Here Ska Rebirth performs live on Jamaicansmusic.com



Margarita and Domestic Violence


American news has been finally focusing on the epidemic of domestic abuse, particularly in professional sports like football. It always brings to mind, for me, the abuse that Margarita, Anita Mahfood, suffered at the hand of her professional boxer husband Rudolph Bent before leaving him to enter a relationship much worse, the one with Don Drummond that would end in her death at his hand. This past week I traveled to Kingston where I combed through the Star Newspaper archives which are still in original form, never digitized or put on microfilm, and with white-gloved hands, turning the pages of the yellowed and crumbling bound editions of the newspaper, I came across the following article. I picture it here and have transcribed the text below and ask the following question for those who have claimed that Margarita liked the violence, and yes, there are those men who have even spoken publicly about this theory of theirs–tell me how a woman likes this? That is all I will say for fear of letting my anger toward such claims run away with me.

From The Star, Saturday, November 21, 1964

Chopped, hit, kicked by her boxer husband

Repeated beatings by Jamaican and British Honduran middleweight champion, Rudolph Adolphus Bent (now in America), of his dancer wife, led her to seek her freedom from him in the Divorce Court yesterday. The court heard her story, of a number of violent assaults in which the boxer’s fists were brought into play, in her undefended petition.

Petitioner was Anita Bent (nee Mahfood), who is Jamaica’s premier rhumba and interpretive dancer with the stage name of “Margarita.”

Mr. Justice Shelley granted her a decree nisi with costs against her husband. Custody of the two children of the marriage is to be decided in Chambers. Petitioner was represented by Mrs. Margaret Forde, Legal Clerk.

Mrs. Bent wept as she told the Court that her husband had forcibly taken away the children and transported them to his homeland, British Honduras where they now reside with his mother. Mrs. Forde said that respondent entered an appearance only with regard to their custody.

Petitioner said that they were married in St. Andrew on March 15, 1961, but were never happy as he gave her no monetary support and had too many girl friends. She gave her present address as 32 Coral Way, Harbour View.


She recounted some of the many assaults made on her by respondent. She said in June, 1961, he came home about 3 a.m. and when she spoke to him he told her, “Why don’t you take your pickney and go and leave me in peace?” Then he hit her with his fist in the right eye and on the mouth, which was cut and started bleeding. He grabbed her by the hair, opened the door and threw her outside. Next he threw their little daughter, Susie, after her.


She ran up Slipdock Road to a friend in her nightgown and found shelter. In July, 1961, they quarrelled over money and he said, “You want money. Well, you’re not getting any from me.” He twisted her arm and choked her.

In September, 1961, there was another row over money and a girl and he tore off her dress and punched her down on the bed. He put a pillow over her face and tried to suffocate her. Another boxer in the house came in and rescued her, she said. A further assault was committed in November, 1961, when he choked her and tore off her clothes. She then left him to live apart as she was afraid of him.

In February, 1962, he asked her to return to him and hen she said she would not, he dug his two fingers into her eyes, hit her on the chin with his elbow, chopped her on the side of the neck with his open right hand and kicked her down. This took place while she was alone in her father’s home.

After they returned living, in July, 1963, he dragged her by the hair, thumped her with his fist in the face and tore off her clothes. Her sister came to her rescue.


Fay Roberts, dressmaker of 2 Glasspole Avenue, gave evidence of the assault committed in June, 1961. She said she was at the Slipdock Road address when Mrs. Bent came screaming into the home with blood flowing from her mouth and her eye swollen. She was in her nightgown and was carrying her baby.


Jive Talking and Toasting part two

Last week I wrote about the connection between toasting and jive talking from Cab Calloway and Albert Lavada Hurst, which writer and historian Beth Lesser brought my attention to through her work. This week I continue this connection between the jive talking DJs in America and toasters like Count Matchuki, Sir Lord Comic, and King Stitt and I focus on a few of the key DJs during the 1950s.

Dr. Daddy O

Dr. Daddy O

One of these jive-talking DJs was Vernon Winslow who broadcast his show, “Jam, Jive, ‘n’ Gumbo,” from New Orleans with his character, “Dr. Daddy O,” and partner DJ Duke Thiele who portrayed the character of “Poppa Stoppa.” Winslow explains, “Poppa Stoppa was the name I came up with. It came from the rhyme and rap that folks in the street were using in New Orleans. Poppa Stoppa’s language was for insiders.”

vernon winslow

Vernon Winslow, also known as Dr. Daddy O, was the first African-American disc jockey.


Tommy Smalls was a DJ in New York known as “Dr. Jive,” though he got his start in Savannah, Georgia. His catch phrase was, “Sit back and relax and enjoy the wax. From three-oh-five to five-three-oh, it’s the Dr. Jive show.” He was known as the “Mayor of Harlem” and unfortunately, in 1960 he was one of the DJs arrested, along with Alan Freed, in the payola scandal.

tommy smalls dinah

Tommy Smalls plants a kiss on Dinah Washington.

Dr. Jive

Dr. Jive


And Douglas Henderson, known as “Jocko” broadcast from a number of cities with his show, “Rocket Ship.” Henderson was also known as the “Ace from Outta Space.”Author Bill Brewster writes of Henderson: “Using a rocket ship blast-off to open proceedings, and introducing records with more rocket engines and ‘Higher, higher, higher…’ Jocko conducted his whole show as if he was a good-rocking rhythmonaut. ‘Great gugga mugga shooga booga’ he’d exclaim, along with plenty of ‘Daddios.’ ‘From way up here in the stratosphere, we gonna holler mighty loud and clear ee-tiddy-o and a bo, and I’m back on the scene with the record machine, saying oo-pappa-do and how do you do?”

The Ace from Outta Space, Douglas Henderson

The Ace from Outta Space, Douglas Henderson


Notice any similarity between the jive talking of these DJs and the toasts of Lord Comic and Count Matchuki? Some of Matchuki’s toasts have the same language as the jive of these DJs. Matchuki’s toast include “When I dig, I dig for mommy, I dig for daddy, I dig for everybody,” and “It’s you I love and not another, you may change but I will never,” as well as, “If you dig my jive / you’re cool and very much alive / Everybody all round town / Matchuki’s the reason why I shake it down / When it comes to jive / You can’t whip him with no stick.”

Count Matchuki, born Winston Cooper in 1934, is widely considered the first toaster. He was raised in a family that had more money than others so he grew up with two gramophones in the home and was exposed to swing, jazz, bebop, and rhythm & blues. He says that he got the idea to begin toasting over records after hearing American radio. He told this to Mark Gorney and Michael Turner as they recount in a 1996 issue of Beat Magazine. “I was walking late one night about a quarter to three. Somewhere in Denham Town. And I hear this guy on the radio, some American guy advertising Royal Crown Hair Dressing. ‘You see you’re drying up with this one, Johnny, try Royal Crown. When you’re downtown you’re the smartest guy in town, when you use Royal Crown and Royal Crown make you the smartest guy in town.’ That deliverance! This guy sound like a machine! A tongue-twister! I heard that in 1949. On one of them States stations that was really strong. I hear this guy sing out ‘pon the radio and I just like the sound. And I say, I think I can do better. I’d like to play some recordings and just jive talk like this guy.”


Count Matchuki

Sir Lord Comic, whose real name was Percival Wauchope, began as a dancer, a “legs man.” He began toasting for Admiral Deans’ sound system on Maxwell Avenue in 1959 and his first song was a Len Hope tune called “Hop, Skip, and Jump.” In Howard Johnson and Jim Pines’ book, Reggae: Deep Roots Music, Sir Lord Comic recalls, “When the tune started into about the fourth groove I says, ‘Breaks!’ and when I say ‘Breaks’ I have all eyes at the amplifier, y’know. And I says, ‘You love the life you live, you live the life you love. This is Lord Comic.’ The night was exciting, very exciting” (Johnson Pines 72). Lord Comic’s first toast, he says, was, “Now we’ll give you the scene, you got to be real keen. And me no jelly bean. Sir Lord Comic answer his spinning wheel appeal, from his record machine. Stick around, be no clown. See what the boss is puttin’ down.”

Sir Lord Comic

Sir Lord Comic

One article in the Daily Gleaner on May 1, 1964 advertised Sir Lord Comic’s performance at the Glass Bucket Club, an upscale establishment. “Sir Lord Comic will be at the controls with his authentic sound system calls,” it stated. Some of his recorded songs include “Ska-ing West,” “The Great Wuga Wuga,” “Rhythm Rebellion,” “Jack of My Trade,” and “Four Seasons of the Year,” among a few others. Sir Lord Comic’s “The Great Wuga Wuga” was likely inspired by the jive talk of Douglas “Jocko” Henderson who spoke of the “great gugga mugga.” Additionally, Henderson’s show, “Rocket Ship,” became a song recorded by the Skatalites with Sir Lord Comic toasting over the instrumentals, calling out the title of the song to begin the instrumentals and continuing with his percussive techniques.

Last week, a reader made me aware of a connection between Canadian jive-talking DJs as well and they cited this article here. His name was Charlie Babcock and he came to Kingston in 1959.  He was the “cool fool with the live jive.”

DJ Charlie Babcock with legendary female Jamaican DJ Marie Garth, the woman who gave the classic Derrick & Patsy tune, "Housewives Choice" its name.

DJ Charlie Babcock with legendary female Jamaican DJ Marie Garth, the woman who gave the classic Derrick & Patsy tune, “Housewives Choice” its name.

Share the connections you see, or hear, between jive-talking American DJs and Jamaican toasters!

Jive Talking and Toasting

"The Jives of Dr. Hepcat" by KVET-AM DJ Albert Lavada Durst, published in 1953.

“The Jives of Dr. Hepcat” by KVET-AM DJ Albert Lavada Durst, published in 1953.

I was reading Beth Lesser’s amazing Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, which is available for free download here, and I found a quotation from Clive Chin that set me off on a wild goose chase through the roots of toasting. I have long had a fascination with the connection between toasting and hip hop and have written about that in this blog before, and presented on it at conference after I had the pleasure of interviewing DJ Kool Herc last year, but I hadn’t thoroughly ventured back to jive–until Beth Lesser.

Clive Chin, writes Lesser, remembers toaster Count Matchuki carrying around a book. “There was one he said he bought out of Beverly’s [record shop] back in the ‘60s. The book was called Jives and it had sort of slangs, slurs in it and he was reading it, looking it over, and he found that it would be something that he could explore and study, so he took that book and it helped him.” Lesser writes that this book of jive may have been a boo, written in 1953, The Jives of Dr. Hepcat, which was published by Albert Lavada Durst, a DJ on KVET-AM in Austin, Texas. This version (read the entire copy here) featured definitions for words and phrases commonly used by jive talking DJs like “threads,” which are clothes; “pad,” for house or apartment; “flip your lid,” for losing one’s balance mentally; and “chill,” to hold up or stop. Durst wrote in the introduction to his book, which sold for 50 cents, “In spinning a platter of some very popular band leader, I would come on something like this: ‘Jackson, here’s that man again, cool, calm, and a solid wig, he is laying a frantic scream that will strictly pad your skull, fall in and dig the happenings.’ Which is to say, the orchestra leader is a real classy singer and has a voice that most people would like. For instance, there was a jam session of topnotch musicians and everything was jumping and you would like to explain it to a hepster. These are the terms to use. ‘Gator take a knock down to those blow tops, who are upping some real crazy riffs and dropping them on a mellow kick and chappie the way they pull their lay hips our ship that they are from the land of razz ma tazz.’

Cab Calloway's "Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive," 1944 version.

Cab Calloway’s “Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive,” 1944 version.

I decided to search further and found there was another popular book of jive written before Dr. Hepcat, although it is likely that Matchuki obtained Durst’s version given the era and the content. But Cab Calloway had his own publication of jive called “Cab Calloway’s Hepster Dictionary: Language of Jive” which was first published in 1939 and then revised to add more words in a 1944 printing. Calloway was the original emcee, the master of ceremonies, the hepcat, who understood jive and brought it to those who wanted to become part of this culture. As frequent band leader at the Cotton Club in front of Duke Ellington’s band during performances that were broadcast all over the continent, and as star in a number of feature films, Calloway brought the language of Harlem, jive, to audiences uneducated in the dialect of the black musicians. He established jive as a form of discourse.

Interior of Cab Calloway's "Hepsters Dictionary"

Interior of Cab Calloway’s “Hepsters Dictionary”

Some of the words in these dictionaries, and certainly the word “jive” itself, appear in the toasts of Count Matchuki, Lord Comic, and King Stitt. The style is similar as well, scatting over the music, punctuating the rhythm with verbal percussion, and boasting. Next week I will blog about the jive-talking American DJs like Vernon Winslow, Tommy Smalls, and Douglas Henderson, who influenced the Jamaican toasters since these similarities are fascinating as well.

Sheila Rickards–The I’m Gonna Live Girl!

sheila rickards

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

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

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

Sheila Rickards, from the Daily Gleaner, 1963.

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

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

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

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

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

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

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

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

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