Skanking Models Part Deux

When I first started Foundation Ska over a year ago (my how time flies when you’re talking ska), I wrote about a magazine spread that appeared in the September, 1964 issue of Mademoiselle. Ronnie Nasralla himself told me about this photo shoot since he was directly involved (Ronnie & Jannette, the two dancers who showed the world how to do the ska at the World’s Fair in 1964, and Ronnie who was assigned by Edward Seaga to come up with a brochure of danceable steps for the ska).

At the time that I posted photos of this photo shoot, I only had access to page copies that I obtained from the Harold Washington Library in Chicago and they were less than desirable. First, the shelf copy had pages razored out, so only the first two pages of the shoot were left intact. Second, the microfiche copy was, well, a microfiche copy and the resolution was pretty awful. So, after about two years of searching, I have finally found and obtained an original copy for my collection, and here today I post these beautiful photos for you, to share it with the world in the spirit of Ronnie Nasralla and Eddie Seaga all those years ago.

But first, a little more info. After all, it’s a blog, not flickr.

The September, 1964 issue of Mademoiselle featured a six-page spread of models “doing the ska,” however in June, 1964 Mademoiselle made references to ska being the latest hottest dance craze, as seen below:

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

Ska was presented by Mademoiselle as hip, posh, “ye-ye,” whatever that is, and they carried this flavor over into the September, 1964 photo spread. The September photos were accompanied by some text that makes the dance, and hence the music, sound like the newest hippest thing. Here are a few excerpts from the text:

“What’s it like in the discotheques these nights? There’s a new dance, the Ska–like the Game, set to music.”

“The Ska-step, Riding the Horse.”

“Where the music goes round and round (on records), where the dance is the thing and the Ska’s the limit, what’s going on. Rowing the beat, one of the characteristic steps.”

“The step–pulling the rope–another subdivision of the Ska.”

“The basic ska and a far-from-basic dress.”

The article from Ronnie Nasralla and Eddie Seaga’s standpoint was a way to further promote Jamaican ska, and therefore Jamaican culture and tourism. The person standing behind the cameraman on all of these shots, teaching these models to skank, is none other than Ronnie Nasralla, he told me himself. Nasralla said they also performed with their troupe of Jamaican ska dancers, including Jannette Phillips when she wasn’t performing at the Peppermint Lounge, and Sheila Khouri Lee, before she became wife of Byron Lee, on American Bandstand and at hotels and clubs all up and down the east coast. Performing music for these stints was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. The dance, “the Ska,” was nothing like the “skank” during the 2Tone years when the pogo and other forms came into the mix, but it was a dance with “steps” designed to capitalize on the success of similar dances, like the frug, the twist, the watusi and others. You can read an extensive account of these days from Ronnie and Sheila Khouri Lee themselves in my new book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music which is now available here, www.createspace.com/5008053 (shameless plug).

Without further ado, here are the pages of that iconic spread:

mademoiselle1 mademoiselle2 mademoiselle3 mademoiselle4 mademoiselle5 mademoiselle6

The Great Wuga Wuga, Sir Lord Comic

sir lord comic (2)

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.  In Reggae: Deep Roots Music by Howard Johnson and Jim Pines, they explain how Sir Lord Comic got his start at the microphone. “It was Count Machuki from Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat who inspired him to become a deejay. He started following the selector Willy Penny closely and would occasionally play records when Willy Penny wanted to dance. The Christmas of 1959 Willy Penny had drunk too much and the boss of the sound, Mr. Dean asked Sir Lord Comic if he could manage it. He said yes and enthused he went to Spanish Town Road to borrow a mic from a man called Nat King Prof. Nat King Prof lent him a Grampian mic.”

Johnson and Pines say that Sir Lord Comic’s first song was a Len Hope tune called “Hop, Skip, and Jump.”  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.” 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.”

One article in the Daily Gleaner on May 1, 1964 advertised Sir Lord Comic’s performance at the Glass Bucket Club, an upscale establishment frequented by tourists, barristers, and the upper crust. It said that Sir Lord Comic would be presented “an authentic sound system taken from western Kingston where the Jamaica Ska was born. Sir Lord Comic will be at the controls with his authentic sound system calls.” 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 many others.

From the Daily Gleaner, May 1, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, May 1, 1964

 

Sir Lord Comic chimed in on ska in a Daily Gleaner article on May 3, 1964 after a group of musicians, including Prince Buster, had tried to launch the sound in the U.S. “Sir Lord Comic of 33 Alexander Road, Whitfield Town, Kingston 13 says: As a local Ska M.C. for 1964, in my opinion Wash Wash is an imitation Ska cooked up by Prince Buster and the Blue Beats. It is not really a Ska done by Jamaicans. It’s some kind of beat they are trying to catch and call it Ska, but where I am concerned about Ska, “Sammy Dead” is the new Ska beat sung by our top artist, Eric Morris, and backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and for a long time in record releases, “Sammy Dead” is expected to be the first million-disc of Jamaica.”

Check out some of Sir Lord Comic’s toasting and vocalizations:

Audio Clips




Video Clips:


Frankie Bonitto

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Could there be a cooler name than Frankie Bonitto? As I comb through archives of the Daily Gleaner from the 50s and 60s, this name keeps popping up like a bad episode of the Sopranos, so of course I had to find out, just who was this guy? Turns out, Frankie Bonitto was a classical pianist who performed in the big band era, had his own orchestra, and he performed with everyone like Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, and visiting American artists of high acclaim. He performed mostly live at all of the popular clubs in Kingston, and I was unable to find any recordings, so if anyone knows of any, please do post below.

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Daily Gleaner writer Bob Babcock in his “Around and About” column on March 26, 1967 wrote, “Our good old friend Frankie Bonitto is still holding his own at Kingston’s favourite Flamingo Hotel. I can recall when Frankie and I took a show to Guantanamo Bay alone, with Lord Power, Irene the Sex Queen and a dance troupe. From the reaction of the residents of Guantanamo, Frankie was the Number One.”

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

In 1998, Frankie Bonitto performed at a tribute held in his honor at the Kingston Hilton called “Ecstasy with Frankie Bonitto: A time to remember.” The tribute concert featured musical performances from jazz singer, Myrna Hague and legendary band leader (and her husband) Sonny’ Bradshaw, along with Boris Gardiner, Ernie Smith, and Ernest Ranglin. The Daily Gleaner article on the tribute stated, “Frankie Bonitto himself will also perform. This gentleman’s music has earned the respect of his peers and also a wider, younger generation of artistes for his unstinted dedication to excellence in a career that spans over 40 years. According to information reaching The Gleaner, Mr. Bonitto has played in most music hall and nightclubs in the island, including, the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper and Bournemouth clubs, among others. Like his peers in the early ’50s and ’60s he came under the influence of Vere Johns Opportunity Hour live shows at the Carib, Tropical, Palace, Gaiety and Ambassador cinemas. Over the years, Mr. Bonitto developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for top local and foreign stars, including ‘Nat’ Cole, Gladys Knight and Harry Belafonte.”

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

The Gleaner, on Saturday, November 4, 2000, ran an article with the headline, “Frankie Bonitto, musical giant, is dead.” It stated, “ONE OF Jamaica’s musical giants, pianist, Frankie Bonitto, died yesterday at the Kingston Public Hospital. The late musician succumbed to injuries sustained in a car accident on Mountain-View Avenue at about 7 p.m. on Thursday. He was resident pianist at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. The accident occurred on the way to work. He had been playing at that hotel for over two years. Frankie Bonitto was a product of the 1950s when Jamaica’s best musical talents mushroomed. He began playing the piano at a very early age and later received professional tutoring. In the 1950s and 60s he played in the Big Band along with Roy Coburn, Eric Deans , and Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Billy Cook, Carl Masters, Raymond Harper and Donald Jarret. In the 1960’s he was a regular feature, of the music halls around Kingston, including the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper, The Colony and Bournemouth clubs. In December of 1998, a musical tribute was held at the Hilton Kingston hotel in his honour. Quite a gregarious character, over the years he developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for international stars such as Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Matthis and Harry Belafonte. He was one of the most revered pianists in Jamaica. Bonitto who lived in East Kingston and was a pivotal figure in that community, was married to Yvonne. His maxim in life was, ‘if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.’ He leaves behind four children.”

Hopeton Lewis Dies, Leaves Legacy

It is with sadness that we report the death of Hopeton Lewis, legendary Jamaican vocalist. He died on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 in his home in Brooklyn. Hopeton was a musical pioneer who ushered in the era of rocksteady with his iconic song, “Take It Easy.” So we devote today’s Foundation Ska blog post to the early days of Mr. Lewis’s career and share a few words about how he shaped Jamaican music.

“Take It Easy” is credited with being the first to employ the rocksteady rhythm, a slower version of the ska beat. The song featured Lynn Taitt on guitar and his band, the Jets on backup. Taitt went on to develop the rocksteady beat in his own repertoire thereafter. The lyrics of this song are a nod to the slower feel of the music. As rocksteady developed, horns began to disappear, although they still feature prominently in Hopeton’s classic hit. “Take It Easy” sold over 10,000 copies and was an instant hit on the charts and stayed there for many weeks.

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

In a December 15, 2002 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, the birth of rocksteady is charted with the recording of “Take It Easy.” The article states, “Someone suggested that the band slow it down. ‘And that’s when I could sing within the context of the rhythm. And then I hear Gladdy Anderson who was on piano say, “this one rocksteady, you know. This one a rocksteady.” And that’s when it came into being basically,’ Hopeton Lewis said.”

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Hopeton Lewis was known as the originator of the rocksteady beat, as evidenced by this advertisement in the April 28, 1967 Daily Gleaner. He made his initial appearance in the live music arena, or one of them at least, in December 1966 when he performed as Mr. Hopeton “Sounds and Pressure” Lewis.

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Hopeton Lewis began his career with a group called The Regals and throughout his career he recorded for Studio One, Duke Reid, and Byron Lee’s Dynamic label. He also sang as a vocalist for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires for four years in the 1970s. His hit “Cool Collie,” another slow rocksteady-style tune, was another ground breaker as it used herb as the subject of the song which was especially dangerous in these times. In 1970 he won the Festival Song Competition, Eddie Seaga’s creation, with the song “Boom Shaka Laka.” It was issued on Duke Reid’s eponymous label and referenced “the Lord” as he thanked him for many things including the “birds’ sweet songs,” and it was perhaps a glimpse into Hopeton’s future career as a gospel singer. He founded his own gospel label, Bay City Music, and led his own ministry, Songs 4Life Ministry. Hopeton Lewis will be greatly missed and we thank him for his crucial contribution to Jamaican music.