Skatalites Reorganized in 1975

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

Daily Gleaner, January 3, 1976.

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

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

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

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

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