Bellevue Mental Hospital

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It is the week of Halloween and I see advertisements everywhere for haunted houses, many of them “insane asylums” with silly images of fake butchered patients at the hands of saw-wielding zombies as Marilyn Manson plays in the background. I can’t help but think of the real life insane asylum that is part of ska history, Bellevue Mental Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, home to trombonist Don Drummond during the last years of his life and periods throughout his life. While Bellevue was never a site of such horrific butchering as will likely be portrayed in haunted houses, it is still haunted with inhumane treatment and horrifying scenes, as I witnessed when I visited the interior of this hospital last February. The photo above is a patient’s artwork on a boarded up, abandoned building located on Bellevue grounds.

First, let me share a little about Bellevue’s history, which you can also read about in more detail, including information on Don’s treatment and death in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, available by clicking the books link above.

In the mid-1800s, Kingston had only a single public hospital located on North Street and West Street. This hospital served the city’s 30,000 people and contained the Jamaica Lunatic Asylum, as it was called at the time. Accommodations were so awful that one former senior medical officer claimed they were “little better than stables for animals.” Treatment for patients during these early years was primitive at best and included such procedures as “tanking,” or submerging patients into a shallow tank of water many times to reduce their aggressiveness, or rather forcing compliance, not unlike today’s torturous water boarding. Private medical practitioner Dr. Lewis Bowerbank changed these conditions when he appealed to the Colonial Office in London to make investigations into the mistreatment of patients. As a result, Bellevue Mental Hospital was built in 1861, delayed initially by an outbreak of cholera in 1850. But the hospital wasn’t known as the Bellevue Mental Hospital in those days. It was called the Jamaica Lunatic Asylum, then in 1938 the name changed to the Jamaica Mental Hospital and later it was called Bellevue Mental Hospital.  

It is interesting to note that as improvements were made over the years, namely in the areas of nutrition, uniforms and sleeping conditions, recreation, occupational opportunities, and skilled treatment, there was also a brass band that was organized in 1860 to help provide recreational and therapeutic opportunities for patients. This continued during Don Drummond’s tenure and he periodically played with this band, even tutoring a patient there. A senior medical officer remembers that this student was known as Trommie but his real name was Eleazor Beckford. Music is still used as a form of occupational therapy at the hospital today.

The medical treatment patients received at Bellevue were rudimentary in the early days and during the days of Don Drummond’s stay. In the 1800s, the main medication for patients in the asylum was alcohol—brandy, wine, rum, and gin were given to patients. This was greatly reduced and replaced by drugs and castor oil. Overcrowding was always an issue so knocking out patients helped the limited staff, who was not skilled in the early days, deal with clients. During my visit to the hospital, no staff at all was visible in multiple buildings as patients roamed their fenced-in areas, barefoot, bandages unraveling from their heads.

In the 1960s, when Don Drummond lived at Bellevue, one form of treatment was prevalent, having just emerged into the medical industry in Jamaica. In addition to drugs that would have rendered Drummond a zombie, he also was treated with electro-shock therapy. Don’s fellow musicians confirm that he received this treatment at Bellevue, as does the senior medical officer’s (SMO) family who was there, living on the estate, at the time. “EST was definitely the thing, electroshock. The medication would have been basically heavy sedatives. There were basically things to kind of conk you out. Drummond was pretty zonked out from early on,” says the SMO’s daughter. The drugs that Don was given by the unskilled staff were drugs that have since been banned since they are fatal. One administrator told me, “We used strait jackets to restrain different patients. We also had chemical restraints, sodium barbital. The patient would be tranquilized to the extent that they would sleep for a few days and given glucose. They would come out and be in a different state. We also used chlorpromazine, or CPs for short.” Sodium barbital is the same class of drug that killed Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe.

Was Don Drummond killed in this house of horrors? You can read my thorough research into this and my conclusion in my book. What do you think?

Don Drummond Royalties

Royalties from Coxsone to Yap

This is a document showing royalties that Coxsone paid to Justin Yap for use of the Top Deck songs Justin recorded that Coxsone then used on the Studio One album, The Best of Don Drummond. These songs were “Confucius,” “The Reburial,” and “Ringo” which appeared on this album, also Yap also recorded others with Drummond like “Chinatown,” “Smiling,” and “Marcus Junior” but Coxsone didn’t place these on this album. So this statement is for three of the songs that Top Deck recorded, a measly $157 for seven months of sales. It is surprising the royalties were paid at all, frankly. But Drummond was dead by this time, having just died that May 1969, so he certainly didn’t see a dime and even if he were alive, he still wouldn’t have seen a dime. Other songs on the album that were not recorded by Studio One and were instead recorded by Duke Reid for Treasure Isle, according to the album notes, are “Eastern Standard Time,” “Occupation,” “Don D Lion,” “Cool Smoke,” “Aliphang” (should be Alipang), “Corner Stone,” and “Burning Torch.” Wonder if royalties were paid to Reid?!

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This album also credits the artist who performed with Don Drummond on these tunes, or certainly some of them: Roland Alphonso, Johnny Moore, Tommy McCook, Bobby Gaynair, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Brother Jerry (Jah Jerry Haynes), Jackie Mittoo, Gladstone Anderson, and Charlie Organaire. If you are near Chicago and attend any of the Jamaica Oldies events hosted by Chuck Wren you will see Charlie Organaire take the stage with his harmonica for a few tunes, and let me tell you, he is amazing. Charlie lives in Chicago. Lester still performs frequently with the Skatalites, but unfortunately, all other musicians listed here have returned to the universe to commune.

Back to the topic of royalties. Musicians during the days of ska never received royalties. They didn’t know about royalties. They knew their instrument, not the business, in many instances. The way it worked in the studio was artists either punched in and out on a time clock, or others were paid by the record side, about two pounds a tune if they were lucky. And today, the royalties are owned by the producers and their estates, so those whose talent and imagination created the song, like Don Drummond and Roland Alphonso and even Bob Marley in his earliest years, either don’t see a dime or receive a small slice of the pie from reworked agreements. For example, on one of Bob Marley’s first songs, a ska song called “Simmer Down,” only Bob Marley’s estate and Coxsone Dodd’s estate, since he recorded the song for Studio One in 1964, receive royalties, and they fought in court in the 1990s for monies from the song. None of the artists who perform the actual music on this song that sold 80,000 copies just in the months following its release, not Roland Alphonso on saxophone, nor Lloyd Knibb on drums, nor Lloyd Brevett on bass, nor Don Drummond on trombone, nor Tommy McCook on saxophone, nor any of the others, not even the Wailers who sing backup, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, Junior Braithwaite, and Beverley Kelso, get one red cent from Simmer Down. Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, said she had never received money from any of Marley’s early work with Coxsone. This is but one song of hundreds, thousands, earning hundreds, thousands for their producers’ estates. Producers defend their exploitation by saying that it was the system of the day, akin to today’s “free culture” of ripping tracks from a torrent or megaupload music site.

 

 

 

Ska at the Glass Bucket

Glass Bucket

This is the Glass Bucket Club, a stage that once bore the greats before ska ever existed. This stage helped to shape the musicians who would go on to create the sound that swept Jamaica and the world. Without this stage, it could be argued that Jamaican music would be altered and unrecognizable.

The Glass Bucket Club opened on December 22, 1934 on Half Way Tree Road in Kingston owned by Bob Webster and later Joe Abner. This area of Kingston was a border between uptown and downtown and the club certainly catered to high-class clientele. On opening night, some 700 patrons packed the club to see “the Rhythm Raiders, a new dance orchestra under the direction of’ Dan Williams. These musicians have been carefully chosen. not only to play for dancing, but to accompany the Vaudeville troupe which will be a regular feature of the Glass Bucket dances. Vaudeville acts are to be brought from the United States, each troupe remaining on the island for six weeks beginning January 5th,” read the Daily Gleaner announcing the opening.

Because the club catered to the upper classes and tourists, the entertainment offered was according to established tastes and was frequently dictated by trends in the U.S., such as Vaudeville. But when tastes changed from Vaudeville to the sounds of big band orchestras, the Glass Bucket adapted. It was here, at the Glass Bucket in 1956, that great American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan came to perform in mid July. Don Drummond played trombone as part of Vaughan’s musical backup and Vaughn was so impressed with his playing that she said he likely ranked in the top five trombonists in the world. Other acts included Xavier Cugat and Abby Lane. In the 40s and 50s the people who went the Glass Bucket wore gowns and tuxedos, or suits at least. There were formal shows on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and galas of all sorts.

It was also here that Margarita, who was advertised in Glass Bucket advertisements as “Jamaica’s No. 1 Torrid Rhumba Dancer,” performed her sultry dance. Another advertisement on July 9, 1955 for her performance at the Glass Bucket stated, “Sparkling Native Flooor Show featuring Desir & Rahma in their sensational dance on broken glass, and Marguerita, ‘exotic dancer.'” Margarita’s father, Jad Eid Mahfood, did not approve of her dancing at the Glass Bucket, or anywhere, but she snuck out to do it anyway. When Anita won a competition at the Glass Bucket, her father was there to see it, unbeknownst to her. Her father’s discovery never stopped her though. The Glass Bucket also served as the live broadcast venue of the Teenage Dance Party (TDP) hosted by Sonny Bradshaw which was broadcast on JBC Radio in its early days. Later, Winston Blake played the venue with Merritone Disco, and his moves made him the first King of the TDP.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires first performed here in 1960. Lee recounted these days for an article in the Daily Gleaner. “When you go to the Glass Bucket you had to have a reputation.  We used to play as an opening act,” for such entertainers as Perez Prado from Cuba and Sammy Davis Junior. Soon they graduated to holding main spots of their own. Lee said the Glass Bucket’s real party days were Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with lunch being served and activities such as rehearsals being conducted during the week. On party nights, when the music was provided by a band before clubs utilized sound systems, the music started at 9 p.m. and by 1 a.m. things were winding down. “By 8 p.m. people started to come in. They expected that you would start at 9 p.m., or they would clap you,” Lee said. Lee remembers that it was also a very peaceful time. “You used to park your car, don’t roll up your windows when you come back everything was inside. Sometimes even the key was in it,” he said. Lee brought ska to the Glass Bucket from what he had seen at Chocomo Lawn, sent there by Edward Seaga to popularize the sound. “Glass Bucket mash up the night. Glass Bucket was for the rich and famous and then for the people. Ska played that role,” said Lee.

Today, the site of the Glass Bucket, which changed names to VIP during the later 1960s, is a shopping plaza.

 

Ska, Ska, Ska! Jamaica Ska!

world fair

Here they are! The Jamaican delegates to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, ready to head to Palisadoes Airport on April 16, 1964. From left to right in the front we have Jimmy Cliff, Eric “Monty” Morris, and Alphonso Castro. Standing from left to right is Prince Buster, Linda Jack, Roy Willis, Sonia Blake, Byron Lee, Janet Phillips, Carol Crawford, Ronnie Nasrala, Beverley Neath, and Ken Khouri.

The photo was taken at Issa’s, a high-end department store similar to Macy’s. The Issa family were a big business family in Jamaica with branches in not only retail, but real estate, hotel, and tourism industries. The Issa’s originally came to Jamaica in 1893 from Bethlehem, Palestine. The first two Issa’s to come to Jamaica were Elias Issa and his son Abraham Issa in 1893. The father and son team first visited the World Fair in Chicago, the Columbian Exposition, before coming to Jamaica on a ship named the Arabian Prince. They were a wealthy family from the start with the equivalent of $5 million dollars today in their pockets when they began on the island. They established the House of Issa in 1894, a company that specialized in dry goods and industrial goods, which later went on to purchase the famous Myrtle Bank Hotel in 1944, the site of many jazz and ska concerts. The family company then built Ocho Rios’ first modern hotel, Tower Isle, another site of many ska-era concerts. This hotel is now the Couples hotel, opened in 1978. They also opened Negril Beach Village, later known as Hedonism II. It is easy to see why the connection between the Issa family, involved in tourism, and Eddie Seaga, Minister of Culture, was important to spreading the word of ska.

The connection of the Issa family to ska was more than just the support of the World’s Fair crowd and Seaga’s endeavor. The Issa’s were also involved in the juke box industry, owning and operating the machines in rum bars all over the island. An article in the Daily Gleaner in 1958 says that a juke box owned by E.A. Issa in Montego Bay was damaged when a man punched it after it jammed and his record wouldn’t play. Juke boxes were critical for entertainment, for bringing money into drinking establishments, since virtually no one, except for the wealthy, owned their own phonograph. Vincent Chin, better known as Randy’s, got his start this way, through Issa’s. He worked for Issa’s, as many did during those days, including Ken Khouri of Federal Records, and he drove around from rum bar to rum bar, taking out old records and installing the new ones. After the old ones were of no use to Issa’s any more, he bought them from Mr. Issa at a cheap rate, set up shop, and then sold the American R&B tunes to the public who had slowly started to acquire their own phonographs from places like Times Store, or Issa’s.

Issa, Seaga, Khouri–say what you will about the monied families in Jamaica during the early years, but love them or hate them, without their support of the creativity coming from downtown, ska may not be where it is today, nor the music that followed. What are your thoughts?

 

9 Rusden Road

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This is 9 Rusden Road, the house where Don Drummond lived with and murdered Anita Mahfood, Margarita in the Rockfort neighborhood at the foot of the Wareika Hills. I took this photo last February and it was my second time visiting the home which a lovely woman named Carmen still lives in. These are her grandchildren sitting on the front steps, the same steps that Margarita climbed early in the morning on January 2, 1965. Don Drummond had fallen asleep earlier in the night and missed his gig with the Skatalites at the La Parisienne Club in Harbour View, a club near the Palisadoes Airport in east Kingston. He never made it to that performance. It was not the first time he missed a gig. He frequently missed performances or was late for a gig. Tommy McCook has said that he went to pick up Don at 8 p.m., prior to the gig, and found him asleep so he left without him and returned after their first set during intermission to try again. Still, Don was asleep, a side effect of the medicine he took, said McCook.

I want to take a moment to logically think about an argument that has been made over the years blaming Margarita for giving him his medication late, causing him to fall asleep, and then slipping out to dance against his wishes. How would we know that Margarita did that? She was dead so she couldn’t tell. Could Don have claimed that Margarita gave him his medication late? Not likely as Don was despondent and what talking he did do at the Rockfort Police Station was a lie since he claimed that Margarita stabbed herself and that was proven untrue. It simply defies logic to argue that Margarita administered Don’s medication that night, but it does put the blame on her so it is interesting that those in disbelief over the incident would want to shift the blame.

Margarita’s best friend, Faye Chin, remembers the murder which was easily overheard by the other tenants of the house. That’s right, there were other tenants in this small home. It was split into four rooms with Don and Anita occupying one. It was furnished with two single beds and a desk that contained Don’s compositions on paper. Faye says, “Now this place was like a house and you rent a room and another person rent a room and another person rent a room. So this woman that her room was behind their room, she said she heard when Anita came in and she laid down on her bed, she heard a scream and said, ‘Oh God, Don what are you doing?’ She’s screaming, ‘Don, what are you doing?’ And he stabbed her so badly. There was no blood. The knife stabbed her in the chest. I got a call early in the morning and I phoned Conchita, her sister, I tell her, ‘Okay, I’m coming to pick you up,’ and I drove over to Conchita’s house, pick her up and we went down to identify the body. She had on her jeans (sobbing) and she had on a shirt with a stain in the front at her waist and she was just laying on her bed on her back (sobbing uncontrollably).”

You can read all about the murder from the recollections of many fellow family, friends, and musicians, as well as the trial that ensued in my book Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist (click the “skabooks” link above for more info). I would love to hear your thoughts on this event that literally changed the course of music in Jamaica forever, for it was after this event that the Skatalites broke up without their master composer and it was after this event that the heat wave that summer ushered in slower rocksteady and subsequent reggae. How important do you think Don Drummond was to ska?

 

Maypen Cemetery

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This is the sepulchre of the great Lloyd Brevett, bass player for the Skatalites. He was always one of my favorites with his little jump to the rhythm as he played, his dreads long and thin like him, like his bass. What a master. His resting place here is located at Maypen Cemetery off of Spanish Town Road and I was able to visit it last February, escorted by the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Cornwell. Why I had to be escorted is no surprise, if anyone knows this location. Maypen Cemetery is located in West Kingston near the yards of warring factions of the garrisons, the Jamaican term for housing project which then spread to include neighborhoods. Aligned with their political parties, the PNP and JLP, the gangs and their dons rule the nearby garrisons which include Tivoli Gardens (scene of the 2010 raid involving Dudus Coke–see this wonderful article for more info: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz), Olympic Gardens, Denham Town, Tower Hill, Trench Town, Cockburn Pen, Brownsland, and more. Dons rule their garrisons and dictate elections and their micro-economies through the sale of drugs and weapons.

When I visited, Mr. Cornwell was certain to taut the benefits of former prime minister Edward Seaga for his people. He asked me if I had met him and said he was a “very good man.” Cornwell wore a green shirt, an affiliation with the JLP. It was evident which gang ruled the area. Cornwell told me that we could not go into an area of the cemetery I wished to visit, the area where Don Drummond is buried, although it is unknown exactly where because he was buried in an unmarked grave in a section reserved for paupers, criminals, and lunatics. The number of his grave is known, but the numbering system is long abandoned and without record, I am told. Why can’t I visit the area I wish to see? Not only is it covered in bush, graves and tombs destroyed exposing human remains, as I witnessed, but it is also ruled by the gangs. When a “flare up” occurs in a nearby garrison, members of the gangs flood out from the cemetery to clash with their opposition. They are lying in wait. They rule the cemetery like their garrisons so that even the superintendent of the cemetery is not safe to visit, to maintain.

Ska greats are interred here–Lloyd Brevett, Don Drummond, others perhaps–among the violence of the gangs, among the rotting bodies that are dumped here after a “flare up,” among the areas no longer touched for fear that those buried during outbreaks of cholera and typhoid will release their toxins like zombies. Instead of monuments to honor the legacy of these heroes, this is what remains. I say, let’s honor them by celebrating their life, their music, their genius by continuing to carry the torch of their creation. Roll on!

Mama Drummond

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This is the birth record for Doris Maud Munroe, Don Drummond’s mother. She was born on January 7, 1913 in Flower Hill, a tiny village in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Today this town only has a population of 2,000 so it is likely that it was much smaller a century ago. It is likely that Munroe was the surname given to the family by their slave masters. The surname Munroe is of Scottish origin so it is likely that the Munroe family was once owned by Scottish landowners. As indicated on this records, Doris’s mother, Hannah Lee Munroe, was a laborer. The person who signs the birth record is Leonard Munroe, but it is not known if he was a husband, father, or brother. What is evident is that the record is signed with an “X the mark of” which means that Leonard was not literate, not uncommon in rural Jamaica in these early days. It was signed in the presence of Iphigenia McKenzie, the registrar of births and deaths for the St. Peters district. Don’s father, Uriah Adolphus Drummond, was born in Westmoreland in a village called Broughton on May 4, 1908. Uriah’s mother, Rhoda, was a labourer. No more is known of Uriah. By the time Doris was to give birth to Don Drummond at age 19, she had moved to Kingston, perhaps to provide for a more modern birth for her son at Victoria Jubilee Hospital and perhaps to seek more job opportunities to provide for her son.