Drumbago

drumbago

Every good musician has a nickname. Well, maybe not every musician, but many of them. And Jamaican culture is certainly known for dishing out some pretty fantastic nicknames, like Bunny and Wingy and Chicken. And I always love Jamaican musician nicknames, like Trommie for the trombonist, Drummie for the drummer, Saxa for saxophonist in the case of the Beat, and other classics—Tan Tan, Ribs, Cannonball, Sparrow, Clue J, Scully, Junior, Stranger, and one I wrote about last week—White Rum. Of course all of the royal monikers like Sir and Duke and Prince and Lord were ways to take back colonial power. Heck, Jamaica itself has a nickname—Jamrock. When I was on the Kingston waterfront one day and saw a huge black bird, I asked my taxi driver what the name of the specie was and he said, “We call them Old Man Joe.” Same thing happened when I saw a fish—“black fish.” Nicknames are so much a part of Jamaican culture, in many cases they take over the birth name.

So it got me thinking, there was a man I always heard of by his nickname and rarely his real name, and I wanted to find out a bit more about him. It’s easy to figure out which instrument he plays, with a name like Drumbago, and it turns out he had quite an important career, helping to shape the ska rhythm.

Drumbago’s real name is Arkland Parkes, although the only two articles that the Daily Gleaner ran on him, when he died, name him as Auckland Parkes. That’s probably not accurate, and perhaps comes from a mix up with Auckland Park, which is a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Either that, or Auckland is just a typo, which is also likely.

Prince Buster asserts that it was he who created the ska style and claims to have asked Drumbago to play a march, a style of song that Prince Buster favored even as a young child, the same march-style of music that was played during carnival and in processions, heavy with drums. Prince Buster says he asked Drumbago to stress the offbeat and asked guitarist Jah Jerry to perform a guitar strum and Dennis Campbell to perform saxophone syncopation to accent the rhythm, thus creating the ska sound. As we know, there are many versions of the birth of ska, but there is no question that Drumbago was there at the beginning. In fact, he performed on what is widely accepted as the first recorded ska song, “Easy Snapping.”

From the Daily Gleaner, January 14, 1967.

From the Daily Gleaner, January 14, 1967.

Drumbago performed drums for a number of musicians in the studios during the early days, including Justin Hinds & the Dominoes, Don Drummond, Jah Jerry, Rico Rodriguez, Deadley Headley Bennett, Baba Brooks, Clancy Eccles, Derrick Morgan, Karl Bryan, Eric Monty Morris, Roy Panton, Roland Alphonso, Stranger Cole, and with the Skatalites. Drumbago even performed with the Gaylettes fronting on vocals—Judy Mowatt, Beryl Lawson, and Merle Clemonson before Mowatt went on to perform with the I-Threes.

From the Daily Gleaner, an advertisement for Festival, August 3, 1968.

From the Daily Gleaner, an advertisement for Festival, August 3, 1968.

He had his own groups, or whatever producers wanted to call the lineup on the record label, including D Bird and The Drumbago Band, Drumbago and His Harmonizers, Drumbago’s All Stars, Drumbago and Jazz Beat, Drumbago and Prince Buster All Stars, Drumbago and The Blenders, Drumbago and Soul Rhythms, Drumbago and The Dynamites, Drumbago’s Orchestra, Magic Notes and Drumbago, Monarchs and Drumbago All Stars, The Drumbago Ska Band, Raymond Harper with the Drumbago Band, and he also did producing for musicians as well.

From the Daily Gleaner, July 13, 1966.

From the Daily Gleaner, July 13, 1966.

The following are the two articles that the Daily Gleaner ran when Drumbago died—one announcing his death and recapping his life, and the other on his burial. Take note of some of the mourners at his funeral which includes many musicians.

Mr. Auckland Parkes, musician, dies

From the Daily Gleaner, January 23, 1969

Mr. Auckland Alvin (Drumbago) Parkes, leader of the Drumbago Orchestra, died on Sunday [January 19, 1969] in the Maxfield Medical Centre Hospital, after a short illness. He was living at 8 Crescent Road, Kingston 13. He was regarded as one of the best drummers in Jamaica and in addition played the flute. Mr. Parkes was also a pioneer in local recording when he began making recorded music back in 1959.

He started his musical career at the age of 15 playing the drums in his brother’s  (Mr. Luther Parkes) orchestra. After leaving his brother’s band he appeared in night clubs and on stages throughout the Island with other top orchestras which included Eric Deans orchestra, Val Bennett and his All-Stars and Frankie Bonitto Combo.

Weekend shows

Sometime in the late 40’s he formed his own orchestra and had regular weekend shows at the then Silver Slipper Club, Cross Roads, where his versatility on the drums earned him the name “Drumbago.”

He then took on a contract at the Baby Grand Club, Cross Roads, and played there on weekends for seven years before leaving and entering the recording field.

He also did a two-year stint in the United States and for a period he was top drummer in orchestras on tourist cruise ships. On his return to Jamaica he continued his performances to many capacity audiences at theatres and night clubs.

After giving up the Baby Grand engagement he continued with the orchestra but concentrated more on records and playing at street dances at all the independence festivals.

Recordings

Some of his earlier recordings were “Second Fiddle,” “Chariot Rock,” “Betrayers Downfall,” “Easy Snapping,” “Humpty Dumpty” sung by Eric Morris; and was featured musician for Prince Buster’s All-Stars.

In the 1962 independence celebrations he was the drummer in Derrick Morgan’s hit tune “Forward March,” and his band figured at the street dances.

He continued making records up to the time of his death and in the latter part of 1968 he recorded tunes such as “Mary Poppins,” “Dulcimina,” and his latest hit which was released a few weeks ago is the current No. 1 tune “Everything- Crash.” He also has a lot of tunes which are complete but not yet released on the recording market.

Survivors are his brothers Luther, and Pastor Arnold Parkes, sister, Olive (Mrs. McCatty), nieces, Mrs. Vera Hanson, Dahlia and Marjorie, adopted daughter, Jennifer, nephews, Ernie, Michael and John, and other relatives. Funeral services for Mr. Parkes will be held on Sunday at Sam Isaacs Funeral Parlour, 44 Hanover Street, at 3 p.m. Interment will be at the May Pen Cemetery.

Mr. Auckland Parkes Buried

from the Daily Gleaner, January 28, 1969

Funeral services for Mr. Auckland (Drumbago) Parkes, leader of the Drumbago Orchestra, who died recently in the Maxfield Medical Centre Hospital after a short illness, were held at Sam Isaacs Funeral Parlour, Hanover Street, on Sunday afternoon. Interment followed in the May Pen Cemetery. The services were conducted by the Rev. S. E. Johnson of the New Testament Church of God, who eulogized Mr. Parkes as a good family man and a person who was loved by all who knew him.

Mr. Parkes, who died at 50, was regarded as one of the best drummers In Jamaica and in addition played the flute. He was also a pioneer in local recording when he began making recorded music back In 1959.

Pallbearers were: Mr. Luther Parkes and Pastor Arnold Parkes (brothers), Mr. Ernest Hanson, Mr. Bill Campbell, Mr. Richard Williams and Mr. Boysie Stewart.

Family mourners were- Mr. John Hanson and C. Hanson (grandnephews). Misses Dahlia Hanson and Majorie Hanson (grandnieces), Olive Parkes (sister). Mr. Albert Parkes, (son) and Master Richard Parkes (grandson).

Among the many other mourners were: Mr. Cleveland Webber, Mr. Stanley Notice, Mr. C. Campbell, Mr. Percival Dillon, Mr. Alvin Wilson, Mr. A. O’Brian, Mr. Claude Gobonrne, Mr. Alphonso Dockett. Miss Shirley Thompson, Miss Monica Paige, Messrs Arthur Lee, Clifton Thompson, Clancy Eccles, C. O Brian, Percy Myers, Val Bennett and Mr. Clifton Bailey. _Mr. Hedley  Walker, Mrs. I. Miller. Mr. Eric Phillips Mr. Mapletoft Poulle, Mr. Alfred O’Brian, Mr. J. Coleman, Mr. P. Cole, Mr. R. Patterson, Mr. J. Thompson, Mr. Cecil Savery Mr. D. Saunders, Mr. V. Anderson, Mr. A. J. Stephenson, Mr. George Tucker, Mr. L. Malabre, Miss P. Anderson, Miss I. Stuart, Mrs. I. Francis, Mr. Ernest McGann and Mr. V. Wallace.

8 comments

  1. Drumbago (but I saw the nick written also “Drummago” – “mago” meaning a magician so to underline he was a master of the drums) is, in my opinion, the one who invented the ska drum. Knibb came after (while the true ska rhythm was being created,Knibb was actually away from Jamaica playing on cruise ships) and developed the pattern in his unique style that partecipated in making the Skatalites famous (but as usual for ska musicians, the late Winston Grennan would not agree on this point!). Anyway, about Mr. Parkes Prince Buster said that he was often the true arranger of his songs (a role also covered alternately and also jointly by Oswald “Baba” Brooks) and he was used to check the right harmony by his flute having sorta of a perfect (absolute) pitch. His actual contribution in the development of Ska is still underrated.

  2. It’s funny, but he looks almost just as I’d imagined him. I admit to being surprised by his young age at death. I thought with certainty he was over 60, since he’d always been lumped in with the “older musicians” at the time, like Val Bennett. Still, 50 in 1969 meant he was a full generation older than the Skatalites. That thumping sound we associate with many Treasure Isle & Buster ska records was him, of course, and while he wasn’t as innovative as Knibb, his sound was distinctive and the music scene was the richer for his presence. Nice research Heather.

  3. After reading this fine piece on Drumbago, I called pianist Herman Sang to hear his thoughts on the great Jamaican drummer.

    “He was there playing for Coxson before Knibb,” said Sang. “He played the Jamaican R&B and Jazz. As the Ska was developing, I remember that his left hand was slower than his right, so Coxson ended up switching to Lloyd Knibb. But he went on to play on many great Buster tunes.”

  4. Thanks to the always accurate Brian Keyo: after 25 years of ska music I always have something to learn from those who know more than me on the subject. I do apologize. Now I’ll try to remember why I was so sure of my (mis)information…
    P.s.: I can’t name a tune credited to the Skatalites with Drumbago who was mainly present as a drummer in the Baba Brooks’ recording band and in Buster’s Allstars and went on to play flute (and sometimes singing) during the rocksteady and start of the reggae era.

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