Tribute to Lord Tanamo

tanLord Tanamo and his rhumba box

The music world received the news that yet another Jamaica legend had recently passed away, and so Foundation Ska pays tribute to this musical master, Lord Tanamo, who died on April 12th at the age of 82 in Toronto, Canada. He was former member of the legendary Skatalites and the Jamaica Observer wrote of him:

The singer/percussionist, who was born Joseph Abraham Gordon, combined ska with mento and calypso on several of his songs including Japanese Invasion. He led the Skatalites on songs like Come Down and I’m In The Mood For Ska.

Musicologist Kingsley Goodison remembers Lord Tanamo as a very influential member of the Skatalites.

“In addition to having his own songs, he was a percussionist as well as a back-up vocalist. He acted as emcee for the band and introduced the songs before they were played,” Goodison told the Jamaica Observer.

Raised in Denham Town, West Kingston, Lord Tanamo was strongly influenced by the legendary Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener, who lived in Jamaica during the 1940s.

At the dawn of the 1970s, when calypso and mento waned among Jamaican artistes, he kept the beat alive with songs like Rainy Night In Georgia, originally done by Tony Joe White.

He migrated to Canada during the mid-1970s but continued to record singles and albums for producers in Jamaica, most notably Bunny Lee and Sonia Pottinger.

“He left and went to Canada with keyboardist Jackie Mittoo. They performed together and became a big hit there,” Goodison added.

In 2008, Lord Tanamo suffered a stroke that left him unable to talk.

tanamo 6 26 69 calypsoniansLord Tanamo and his Calypsonians, from the Daily Gleaner, June 26, 1969.

A 2002 article in NOW magazine out of Toronto includes words from Tanamo himself. The article states: The Kingston, Jamaica-born Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon, who has made Toronto his home for over 35 years, helped create the sound we now know as ska by combining elements of calypso gleaned from Lord Kitchener with the lilting mento rhythms of his childhood.

“When I was about four years old,” recalls Tanamo from his home at Dufferin and Eglinton, “a fella, Cecil Lawes, came into my yard with a rumba box, which is similar to a marimba. I liked the sound from the first time I heard it. That’s where it all came from.

“Later, when I was a teenager, I began performing on the corner with Cecil and his rumba box. In the day I’d put on torn pants and a straw hat and sing calypso to hustle the tourists, and then at night I’d put on my suit and tie and sing ballads with a band. It was all just music to me.”

It was a few years later, in the spring of 64, that Tanamo would make his most notable mark in ska history, following a fateful recording session with some of Jamaica’s top young studio talent.

“When we did recordings, the musicians were usually paid individually, but for some reason on this date Mr. Khoury made out only one cheque payable to me. So I said, “Gentlemen, since we have this bulk payment, why don’t we form a band?’

“When they asked me what we should call it, I thought, well, we’re playing this way-out music and the Americans were sending satellites into space after the Russian Sputnik. So I said, “Let’s call it the Skatallites,’ because ska was the thing everyone was doing.”

Along with naming the Skatalites, Tanamo is also credited with being among the first of many popular Jamaican artists to take up residence in Toronto, where he opened the Record Nook, the city’s first record shop selling the exciting new music coming out of the Caribbean.

“I think it was in 64 that the Eaton’s company sent for me, through the Jamaican Tourism Board, to come to play some shows in Canada with the rumba box. When I arrived in Toronto, I liked the multicultural atmosphere and I guess I fell in love.

“It happened at a show,” he remembers wistfully. “I saw a young girl crying at the front and I asked if my music was making her sad. She told me that it was actually making her happy. For some reason, I married her, and I’ve been trapped here ever since.”

tanamo star
tanamoarticle

This article in the Jamaica Star, June 5, 1964, noted 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.

tanamo 9 14 57From the Daily Gleaner, 9-14-1957

Lord Tanamo is photographed below during the Legends of Ska Concert back in 2002 in Toronto. Tanamo is on the far right next to Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Justin Hinds, and Stranger Cole.

Tanamo ska concert

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

From the Daily Gleaner, June 26, 1969: Calypso Group in Montreal–MONTREAL, June 16. Terres-des-Homes (or Man and his World) 1969 got off to a roaring start with a huge fireworks display on Thursday June 12th. Total attendance for the first three days was 297,000 visitors. Feature attraction at the Jamaica Pavilion this year is the Jamaican Group of Lord Tanamo and his Calypsonians. This group is already an early favourite and has drawn special attention with its unique Jamaican musical instrument— a rhumba box and a bamboo saxophone, with a fork and grater occasionally thrown in. When asked about the durability of his saxophone, Wilbert Stephenson replied that he keeps it in a cool place to avoid possible splitting of the bamboo due to heat and as an added precaution he brought an extra one with him. The group will play daily at the Pavilion until the Fair closes in September. Personnel of the group is as follows: Lord Tanamo (Joseph Gordon), guitar; Carlton Lewis, maracas and bongo drum; Cecil Laws (rhumba box); Cecil Largie (congo drum); Wilbert Stephenson (bamboo saxophone).

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Mike Garnice has substantial information on Lord Tanamo and his mento career which can be found HERE

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

Iron Bar

Come Down

Dash of the Sunshine

Watch him perform in 2003 at the Glastonbury Festival with Lester Sterling, 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 as a tribute for Don Drummond, Big Trombone

tanamo skatalites ad 6 21 64From the Daily Gleaner, June 21, 1964.

Prince and Jamaica and Ska

prince notes

You might think that the only Prince popular in Jamaica is Prince Buster or maybe Prince Count Miller or Prince Jazzbo. However, THE Prince, the artist-once-again-no-longer-formerly-known-as Prince, the recently deceased Prince, was also popular in Jamaica, as he was all over the world. Countless Jamaican artists have included Prince songs in their live concerts, and the Jamaican press has followed Prince’s career throughout the decades, including his induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his Grammy Awards, his perfume for women, and other events and news.

Kingston movie houses screened Prince’s movie “Purple Rain” when it first came out and then periodically over the years that followed.

prince dec 20 1984

One of many advertisements for the screening of Purple Rain, from the Jamaica Gleaner, Dec. 17, 1984.

Jamaican musicians were inspired by Prince’s genius, and in an article in today’s Jamaica Observer, “Wayne Armond, the former front man and guitarist for the ‘70s reggae band Chalice, said he was rendered speechless when his wife informed him of the 57-year-old musician’s passing. ‘I dropped my wife off at work and was making my way back home when she called and told me Prince had died… I was heartbroken. Honest to God, that is the only way I can describe how I feel about his passing. You would not understand, but Prince is my favourite artiste,’ he told Splash. For Armond, Prince’s music represented a new, fresh sound for the time. But being a fellow guitarist meant that these two had much more in common. ‘A lot of people don’t recognise what a monster guitar player Prince really is. The popularity of his songs and performances really overshadows his tremendous skills on the guitar. I have watched clip after clip of him playing and it is just amazing to behold. I remember watching him guest at an event with a number of other great musicians and when they played My Guitar Gently Weeps. The only way I can describe his guitar solo for that performance is… sheer artistry.’ Prince penned classics including Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, 1999 and Nothing Compares To You. Music aside, the late artiste also captured Armond with his determination and the forthright nature he displayed from the very start of his career. ‘I remember hearing him as a 19-year-old, he took his early music to a record company. When the music execs said, ‘We like it but we will find someone to produce’ Prince just asked back for his demo tapes and left. I respected him from that day in the same way I respect Muhammed Ali for his humanitarian work. It the same way I feel about what happened when he was having troubles with his record company and he just changed his name to The Artist formerly known as Prince in order to release his new music… Just great,’ said Armond. He believes like the music of the greats Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Prince’s legacy will never die. ‘Every Jamaican musician should look into this man’s music. His work should be studied by students at the Edna Manley College for his compositions, lyrical content and musicianship.’”

Of course, there is a reggae version of many of Prince’s songs, including the album, “Purple Reggae,” which features a number of Prince tunes covered by various artists like Ali Campbell of UB40 and Sinead O’Connor.

prince

From the Jamaica Gleaner, Nov. 18, 2014.

But I think my favorite connection between Prince and Jamaica comes in this little editorial that was submitted to the Jamaica Gleaner on July 9, 1987 that complained about the lyrics of Prince’s music and the popularity of North American music.

prince july 9 1987

Ska has a long tradition of covering other songs, and so here is a collection of Prince songs in the ska and reggae genre. And could it be more appropriate that the links are purple?!

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Ali Campbell of UB40, “Purple Rain”

Potato 5, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

 

Walt Jabsco and Mircosoft

emoji

An article in Newsweek by Joe Veix on March 30th revealed the meaning of the strange floating businessman emoji and it turns out that this little-used character actually has its roots in ska! Turns out that the emoji has evolved from a version that Microsoft typography employee Vincent Connare created the character for a font in the early 1990s called Webdings, a relative of Wingdings–both fonts that utilized little pictures instead of letters and numbers.

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Veix writes, “Webdings included 230 images, culled from when Microsoft’s ‘team of iconographers traveled the world asking site designers and users which symbols, icons and pictograms they thought would be most appropriate for a font of this kind.’ This included useful things like a disembodied eye . . . ” and it also included the levitating business man icon, which looked like this:emoji3Connare says that his character invention was inspired by, you guessed it, Walt Jabsco. “After deciding to incorporate Webdings in the browser, the Internet Explorer team and Connare’s manager, Simon Daniels, drew up a list of symbols to design, mostly stuff that might look good on a website in 1997. Connare went down the list, selecting the ones he was interested in. One option immediately stood out. ‘I had a Specials Japanese import LP, and I saw one of the keywords was “jump” so thought it would be good to make a jumping, pogoing man, he said. ‘The style of the 2 Tone guy was black on white, and it was graphic, so it was easy to make something like it into a font,'” wrote Veix.

 

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This character, Walt Jabsco, is the creation of Jerry Dammers and was inspired by Peter Tosh on the cover of the Wailing Wailers album, and as my good friend and member of the killer Minneapolis ska band The Prizefighters Aaron Porter points out, the Wailing Wailers cover was inspired by a photo of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions! So Walt Jabsco, and thus the levitating businessman emoji, is actually inspired by Fred Cash!

TheWailers-TheWailingWailersimpressions

I have written before on the ska connection between The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield HERE so have a read, but in the meantime, here’s some more that I’ve written on Walt Jabsco and The Specials in this excerpt from my book, Ska: An Oral History:

“[Jerry] Dammers, an illustrator from his days at art school, designed a logo to go along with their new look [in order to better market the band, as suggested by their manager, Bernie Rhodes]. He drew dapper man in a suit and pork-pie hat, very similar to the rude boy look of the 1960s Jamaica, known as Walt Jabsco, a moniker he assigned from one of his own used bowling shirts. The illustration was based upon a photo of Peter Tosh that is the cover of the Wailing Wailers album. Walt Jabsco became the mascot for English ska.”

The levitating business man is also “pogoing,” according to the emoji originator. Pogoing also has an origin related to ska! Oh ska, is there anything you can’t inspire and create?!

This is an excerpt from my book, Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, in yet another shameless plug!

“The skank during the British era was similar in many ways to its Jamaican predecessor, but it was also different because it combined elements of other musical genres and the frustrations of the dancers. Instead of merely swinging the arms back and forth, crossing them at times as they did in the 1960s in Jamaica, the British form of the skank incorporated balled-up fists, perhaps in response to the anger of post-punk times. The British skank also incorporated more verical bounce, probably integrated the pogo, the punk dance that may have been invented by Sid Vicious himself, whereas the Jamaican version often left the feet completely stationary.”

To read the Newsweek article in its entirety, click HERE.

Pata Pata Patsy

patsy

So thrilled to see that Pasty Todd will be performing with Stranger Cole, her longtime vocal partner after Derrick Morgan, in Minneapolis May 13-15th accompanied by Phil Chen, Dennis Sindrey, and the Prizefighters! I will be there for sure! More information on this show is located here. So today let’s celebrate that talented woman who was one of the few, along with Millie Small, Yvonne Harrison, Hortense Ellis, and a small handful of others, to break the gender barrier in the 1960s. I found the lovely photo above of Millicent “Patsy” Todd in a 1969 issue of Swing Magazine in the National Library of Jamaica archives in Kingston this past February. And the following is the chapter of my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, which I have written on Patsy, which you can purchase here:

Pata Pata Patsy:  Millicent Todd

Millicent Todd was just a teenage girl when ska hit the town. She was born on September 23, 1944, grew up in Fletcher’s Land in West Kingston and was Prince Buster’s next door neighbor. She attended All Saints School and left at age 14. Although she wasn’t raised in a particularly musical home, and the Catholic Church she attended didn’t have much to offer in the way of music since the program was still presented in Latin in those days, she did listen to the music coming from America. “I’m somebody who liked to listen to the radio, and I really got interested in this group, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. I used to hear them singing and I used to sing after them,” she says.

Her mother, Miss Kitty, realizing Millicent’s talent, helped to get her daughter’s start. Miss Kitty approached Derrick Morgan on Orange Street and told him of her daughter’s talent although today Patsy says she has only heard the story from Morgan and didn’t know the details. “Derrick told me the story because I didn’t know anything about it. He said he saw this woman and she told him she had a daughter that could sing. And I saw this guy came to my gate, knock on my gate. I’m looking at him and he’s saying he’s Derrick Morgan, and I say to myself, ‘So?’ And he said, ‘I heard you can sing,’ and I’m looking at him wondering what he’s talking about. And he said, ‘Could you sing something for me?’ and I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I just want to hear something.’ And I did. But as far as I’m concerned, I didn’t know who this guy was, what he wanted. Somebody just come appear to you, telling you he hear you can sing and if you would do a song with him. And at first I was kind of, something ain’t right here. But then he told me a story about another artist that the song was about, and this guy, I hated him, still do. And when he said that, I was ready to sing that song. And I did. And we have this producer, Duke Reid, God rest his soul, a nice man, and he start shooting up the place. My God! I was so scared! I ran! And they said, ‘No! That’s a good thing! When he hears something that he likes that’s going to make a hit, this is what he does!’ So that experience was great for me and after that it was history. The song was ‘Love Not To Brag,’” says Patsy. The man who inspired the song was Eric “Monty” Morris who grew up with Morgan and was known to be boastful. He and Morgan were vocal competitors. Millicent recalls the scene after the take, “We have this producer, Duke Reid, God rest his soul, a nice man, and he start shooting up the place. My God! I was so scared! I ran! And they said, ‘No! That’s a good thing! When he hears something that he likes that’s going to make a hit, this is what he does!’ So that experience was great for me and after that it was history.”

patsy1Derrick and Patsy in their early years.

            Millicent was young and the music industry could be an unkind environment, especially with so much skilled talent, professional musicians in the studio and producers wanting to get one take down on acetate for play at the sound system days later. “It was hard. Very hard,” says Millicent. “I was 15, 16 years old. And it was hard because you didn’t have a say. I didn’t get the chance to go to rehearsal and things like that. I would go to the studio and my partner would tell me, ‘This is so-and-so and so-and-so,’ and I would write it down, and I would sing from the paper, that was it. I don’t remember what it was, what I did or how much record I did. I didn’t have a say, to say to the musicians, ‘Would you play this,’ or “Would you play that.’ They would kill me. You just take what they give you and that’s it. The musicians that we had were great musicians. I think they could play with anyone in this entire world. They knew music, they knew what they were doing. They were absolutely fantastic. But they were very egotistical. You know, it was either just them or nothing. The problem when you have a band that every musician in that band could be the leader, it’s very hard. That’s how great they were,” Patsy says.

patsy2Millicent Todd

            She was young, innocent, naïve, but her talent transcended. Graeme Goodall recalls her work in the studio. “I loved her dearly. She was a very nice person, very pleasant to work with, very polite. She was not so much a leader, but she was very very good and she, like most of the vocalists of the day, understood that this was her big break,” Goodall says. Derrick & Patsy continued to record hit after hit as a duo, including “Feel So Fine,” “Are You Going to Marry Me,” “Crying in the Chapel,” and countless others. Perhaps the most well-known song the duo recorded was “Housewife’s Choice” in 1962 for producer Leslie Kong. This song was originally named “You Don’t Know How Much I Love You,” but Marie Garth, legendary radio host, had so many housewives call in to the station to request the tune that she renamed it and future pressings reflected this name change. The song also became popular in the United Kingdom as West Indian immigrants played the tune which was released on the Island Records label. Derrick & Patsy were a hit. They were the perfect boy-girl duo singing sweet songs of love and romance. They were so big that when popular American artists came to perform in Kingston, so too did Derrick & Patsy as part of the Jamaican spectacular. They performed at shows with Ray Charles, Ben E. King, and Sammy Davis Junior. Derrick would record with a number of female vocalists in duets including Gloria Franklin (who also performed as Gloria & the Dreamlets), Naomi Phillips (who also recorded with Doreen Shaffer), Hortense Ellis, Paulette Morgan (Derrick’s sister), Yvonne Harrison (also called Yvonne Adams), and Jennifer & the Mohawks (Jennifer Jones).

patsy3Derrick Morgan performs in Chicago in 2013. Photo by Heather Augustyn.

            When Derrick Morgan left to go to England to try his hand at success overseas, Patsy was approached by another singer with the offer to perform duets. She recalls, “Stranger [Cole] came to talk to me. He said that Duke Reid sent him and he said he wanted to do some record and the only way that Duke Reid would record him if I sang with him. And it kind of hit me off guard because Derrick was in England, and I said to him, ‘I don’t know about that, I have to think about it,’ and then I saw this guy really needed to do this. He believed he could make himself better and do something that he love and getting paid for it, you know, a charge was in him. And I said okay, I tell him yes. And that’s how Stranger Cole and I came about.” One of their biggest hits was the song, “When I Call Your Name,” which they recorded for Duke Reid. Other classics include, “Down the Train Line,” “Yeah Yeah Baby,” “Give Me the Right,” “ Love Divine,” and plenty more. The tunes were also classic boy-girl duets, inviting and harmonious. Most were recorded in 1964 for Sonia Pottinger and Duke Reid. Stranger remembers his days with Patsy. “Mr. Reid was the one who asked me to sing with her. He told me to go to her and asked me to sing with her. So ‘When I Call Your Name’ we recorded and we do many many more songs together. She was not shy, she was much braver than I. She make hit record before I do, with Derrick Morgan, so she was a more limelighted artist than I was. I think that was a blessing for me to have a lady with more hit songs before me. I am very lucky to sing with her, and I think she is very lucky to sing with me,” says Stranger.

            Patsy wasn’t just a duo artist. She was also an artist in her own right—Queen Patsy. At a time when women weren’t doing much solo work at all, Patsy paved the way for strong female vocalists. One of these tunes, “A Man is a Two Face,” is not a ska or rocksteady song, but true to the American R&B tradition with soulful vocals, music by Lynn Taitt & the Jets. The lyrics offer advice from a mother to a daughter that she shares with other women about how a man will smile and sweet talk but leave you singing the blues in the night. It was not the submissive songs of innocent love she sang with Stranger and Derrick. It was a song of empowerment and knowledge and sisterhood. It was Patsy’s take on “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” both in sound and in spirit. She was physically without a man by her side as in her duos, and she, as a solo artist, was all woman. Her voice transforms in this song from her duos. She is no longer the little teenager—she is informed, guiding, warning. The flip side of this recording on Sonia Pottinger’s Gay Feet label is “It’s So Hard Without You” where Patsy sings that there is nothing she can do without her man, so what do we make of this paradox? Certainly these songs reflect the emotions women feel in relationships—the phases and complexities.

patsy5Stranger Cole performs in Chicago in 2012. Photo by Heather Augustyn.

            Two of the other solo songs that Patsy recorded for Producer Sonia Pottinger were “Fire in Your Wire” and “Pata Pata Rock Steady” which were unique in their content. “Fire in Your Wire” is a soca tune originally written by Calypso Rose of Tobago, another pioneering woman, whose lyrics are the typical sexual innuendo of calypso and soca, but certainly not typical of those sung by a female up to this point. “Pata Pata Rock Steady” was also a song written by a female artist in 1957 by Dorothy Masuka for singer Miriam Makeba, both South African artists. “Fire in Your Wire” and “Pata Pata Rock Steady” were songs that showed Patsy’s take-charge side and celebrated the creativity of other women. Of “Fire in Your Wire,” Patsy says, “I wanted to prove a point that I could do other styles. I would take chances to see what I could do. I never had a say in any of the songs I sang with the duets, so this was an opportunity to try different things.”  “Pata Pata” was not the only Miriam Makeba song Patsy covered. She also recorded “The Retreat Song,” also titled Jikele Maweni, which had a distinct African feel, especially since it was sung in the Xhosa (KOH-suh) language whose lyrics tell of a vicious stick fight. Not the typical teenage love song.

Patsy traveled overseas to share her talent, to the U.S. with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and to Belize. She sang on over 100 recordings. But she left it all behind in 1969, as the music left ska and rocksteady behind. She simply grew tired of the industry and moved to New York to start a new life. Since the Legends of Ska Concert, organized by Brad Klein in Toronto in 2002, Patsy has occasionally returned to the stage to perform, alongside her duo partners, Stranger and Derrick Morgan, as well as on her own.