Name That Tune

sammy-dead-comic

“Sammy plant piece a corn dung a gully, an ’ it bear till it kill poor ole Sammy. Sammy dead, Sammy dead, Sammy dead oh. Sammy dead, Sammy dead, Sammy dead oh.”
Eric Monty Morris sang the now-classic “Sammy Dead” at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York backed by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, thereby helping to introduce audiences outside of Jamaica to the sounds of ska. Morris attended with others like Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, Millie Small, and an entourage of dancers.

Eric Monty Morris is still quite a showman, and a few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in Chicago. Here is a photo of Mr. Morris that I took during that performance.

montyIn addition to “Sammy Dead,” Eric Monty Morris is known for his songs “Oil In My Lamp,” “Penny Reel,” “Into This Beautiful Garden,” “Live As A Man,” “What You Gonna Do,” and one of my personal favorites, “Solomon Gundy.”

Roy Black wrote the following article on Eric Monty Morris in the Jamaica Gleaner, May 19, 2013:

ERIC ‘MONTY’ Morris seems to be the forgotten ska superstar. This perhaps has a lot to do with his disappearance from the Jamaican music scene somewhat early, as he migrated to the United States.

In a relatively short period, between 1961-1969, Morris majestically crafted several outstanding hit recordings in the ska and rocksteady mould. Oil in My Lamp, Humpty Dumpty, Money Can’t Buy Life and Sammy Dead were early pieces that set the stage for what was to follow. Drawing on lyrics mainly taken from traditional
nursery rhymes and employing a slowed-down ska beat, Morris’ advent was truly significant. He was the first real ska superstar, preceding others like Delroy Wilson, Stranger (now Strangejah) Cole, Lord Creator and Jackie Opel.

Morris arrived on the scene at 15 years old in 1959, singing with Derrick Morgan on the Little Wonder Smith produced recordings Now We Know and Nights are Lonely. In an interview with Derrick Morgan, he told me “I used to live in a big yard named Orange Lane, off Orange Street. Monty lived there too. We became childhood playmates and began singing and knocking old cans and cars until one day when I went to record what would become my first release – Oh My Love is Gone – I took Monty with me. We recorded those two songs”.

Monty Morris was born in Kingston on July 20, 1944, and grew up at Orange Street and in Trench Town, attending Alvernia Primary School. His meeting and close association with Morgan, four years his senior, was extremely crucial to his future career. When their focus shifted to music seriously, entering a talent competition occurred to them. This led them to the very popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent competition, at the Palace, Ambassador and Majestic theatres in Kingson during the late 1950s.

THE LAUNCH
Morris didn’t win, but the exposure provided the springboard from which he launched his career and
precipitated his first set of hit recordings. His next move, to producer Prince Buster, was another important
step. Again taken there by Morgan, who was fulfilling a request by Buster for help in setting up his business, Morris seized the opportunity to record the 1961 nursery rhyme based song, Humpty Dumpty. Backed by the
Drumbago All Stars, the slowed down, ska-tempo song rode the higher echelons of the Jamaican charts for that year and set in motion a ska craze that took deep root in Jamaica’s music history.

His follow-up, Money Can’t Buy Life, with emphasis on the offbeat, was equally impressive and somewhat changed the whole nature of Jamaican music up to this point. Morris, an unsung hero of immense musical talent, wrote almost all the songs he recorded, adding his words to the nursery rhymes where required. Every song seemed to have a message, backed by a traditional nursery rhyme, but he somehow lacked the determination and dedication necessary to make it to the top in a competitive music arena.

Morris became the first forgotten ska superstar. His songs show a man in various moods. There is Monty the storyteller, expressed in Sammy Dead, Humpty Dumpty and Solomon a Gundy. There is Monty the lover, with songs like the Clancy Eccles produced Say What You’re Saying and Tears in Your Eyes, in which he declares:

It was the tears in your eyes
That made me realise
That a man like me should never
be in love with you

There is Monty the preacher, who warned about “ungodly people” in the recording of that same name, and reinforced it with a Duke Reid produced track:

What a man doeth this day
Stands in his way
What you sew, that’s what you
will reap
What you reap, that’s what you
will eat

Morris also warned men against falling prey to the guiles of women. On the recording Temptation Monty claimed:

It’s a thing I don’t like
It’s a thing that always stirs strife
Nature provided everything
For man to live like a king
Don’t tempt me to do the things I
don’t want to do

Strongman Sampson was perhaps one of his best-known recordings during the ska era. In it, he depicted Sampson as being:

The strongest man in the days of olden
Until a woman take it from him.
Solomon was wise, (he claimed),
he had seven wives.
Be careful of her lies
She will also paint her eyes
Just to get you in misery

Morris had several other popular ska recordings during that era, which included Pack Up Your Troubles, In and out the Window, Eena Balena, For Your Love and Into This Beautiful Garden. In 1964 Morris was included in a contingent of singers, musicians and dancers sent to the New York World’s Fair to help promote and expose the new dance craze and music, ska, to the American public. The tour was built around Morris and his two big hits with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Sammy Dead and Oil in my Lamp. Morris’ contribution was enormous, as he spread ska’s popularity while establishing the foundation for the succeeding genres to build on.

TRANSITION TO ROCKSTEADY
As the 1960s wore on he recorded for a number of other producers, including Leslie Kong, Byron Lee, Duke Reid (who did the bulk of his works), and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry in 1969. A year earlier, Morris had adjusted his arrangements to suit the new rocksteady beat to record a popular and frequently covered song in Jamaica’s music history, Say What You’re Saying. However, Morris didn’t survive the transition to rocksteady and reggae, as he migrated in the early 1970s to the USA, returning occasionally in later years to perform on
oldies shows in Jamaica. One of these performances was at the Mas Camp Village, then on Oxford Road, New Kingston, on Saturday, June 11, 2005. He also performed at that venue on Saturday, April 24, 2004.

Eric Morris, the man who entertained thoughts of creating something different from the regular fast ska beat, the man who thought he could use simple nursery rhyme lyrics to disseminate his messages but was somewhat disinteresed in reaching the highest level, is still alive and lives abroad. He may be the forgotten ska superstar, but with his string of enduring hits, hopefully some day this anamoly will be addressed and Monty Morris will receive the true recognition he deserves.

Blossom and Louise Lamb

blossomThis photo of the lovely Blossom Lamb appeared in The Star newspaper on March 12, 1960. Blossom and her cousin, Louise Lamb, were popular jazz singers in Kingston during the mid-1950s and early 1960s. I featured the Lambs in my recent book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, and here is that excerpt on these women who contributed to early Jamaican music. I would like to give credit to Michael Garnice, author of mentomusic.com, for helping me source some of this info on the Lambs, and give a shout-out to his new book, The Ultimate Guide to Great Reggae: The Complete Story of Reggae Told Through Its Greatest Songs, Famous and Forgotten published by Equinox. Check it out–it is a big one!

Louise and Blossom Lamb

Born in Kingston, Louise Lamb was a mento vocalist who married Carlton Morales and together they had three children, two sons and a daughter. One of those sons went on to play guitar for Julian Lennon [John Lennon’s son] in the 1980s, and the other son performed bass guitar, touring with his band in the U.S. and Norway. Blossom Lamb, Louise’s cousin, was born in Greenwich Town in Kingston. She was a pretty girl and won many beauty competitions. Her mother died when Blossom was just 13 years old so she grew up with her grandmother. At age 21, Blossom had her first child and shortly thereafter another, although she wasn’t married at the time which was controversial for her family. She did marry Clive Evans and had three more children. In total, she had three daughters and two sons. Louise and Clive, known to his friends and family as Jimmy, were married for 40 years before he died of a heart attack in 2000.

Louise and Blossom began performing either solo or together at locations around Kingston in the early 1940s. In 1944, Louise performed at the Ward Theatre with Miss Lou and others in the lineup. It was a show called “Hot Chocolate,” an all-star musical that she had performed in since 1940. In 1949 Louise performed at a club called the Wickie Wackie and was billed as “Louise Lamb, the Heptie-Hutie Song-bird. Hear her dramatize the dynamic and popular hit ‘Dont You Worry ‘Bout Dat Mule.’” It is unknown was a “Heptie-Hutie” is. Louise also performed with the Roy Coburn Orchestra, the Eric Deans Orchestra, and the Redver Cooke Orchestra. In 1953, Blossom Lamb,

who was described by the Jamaica Star as “a beautiful Indian girl with a sure manner at the microphone,” won the weekly amateur night contest at the Glass Bucket Club. That same year, Louise was described by the Jamaica Star as one of Jamaica’s leading female jazz singers. In 1956, the cousins performed together at the YWCA auditorium on North Street in Kingston, promoted by the Ivory Club, at a show called “Evening with the Lambs.” It was presented by the Jazz Committee and featured the Lambs along with Foggy Mullings on vocals and May Foster on piano. Blossom performed in 1957 for the Harold Forbes Show, backed up by Frankie Bonitto and the Rainbow Orchestra, and Louise recorded a number of mento songs for Stanley Motta in the late 1950s.

blossom2Blossom Lamb in the Bahamas

After meeting Martin Luther King Jr. on his visit to Jamaica in the 1960s when he stopped by Blossom’s craft stall at the souvenir market in Kingston, she struck up a conversation with him and invited him to their family home in Harbour View for fried fish and bammy. King asked her if she ever thought about hosting her own Mother of the Year award after he commented that she was a wonderful mother and should be a role model to other mothers. Encouraged, she began the contest in the early 1980s. She also owned her own store, Blossom’s Dollar Shop and Calypso Records stores.

 

 

 

Clancy Eccles Slashed in Face by Bottle

bottleI found this article in the Star Newspaper, September 29, 1961 that reveals an altercation occurred in a vehicle returning from a performance, resulting in Clancy Eccles being slashed in the face by a broken bottle. He received 32 stitches. Because the resolution is bad (I had to make a photocopy from a microfilm copy of the original), here is how it reads: “Mr. Clancey [sic.] Eccles, recording artiste of 155 Church Street, was treated at the Kingston Public Hospital recently for wounds to the face. He received 32 stitches. Mr. Eccles reported to the CID that late on the night of September 24, he was in a car with other artistes returning from the Monoca Club, Nine Miles, St. Thomas Road, when an altercation developed. He stated that during the fuss he was cut all over the face and head by another artiste with pieces of broken bottles. Owen Gray, a recording artiste of 2 Glen Road, is wanted for questioning by Constable Lloyd Falconer, of the CID Central STation, who is in charge of the investigation in connection with the matter.”

I was unable to find any further information on this incident, but thought it was rather interesting. If anyone has any information to add to the story, please post below.

Clancy Eccles at City Road, London on 17 December 1987

Clancy Eccles at City Road, London on 17 December 1987

clancy

Out of Many, One Music: Ska

I recently wrote the following article for the Vinyl Record Collectors Association’s Magazine and thought I would share it here. I want to thank Charlotte Smikle for asking me to write it, and Roberto Moore for content editing it for me. He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of Jamaican music history.

 

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The Days of the 8 Track

8 tracks april 3 1970

I’ve heard the younger generation talking about “mix tapes,” and I realized it is not the same mix tape as when I was a teenager. This mix tape is just a playlist. But then I started to see actual cassette tapes making a comeback and I grew nostalgic. Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records has been issuing cassette versions of some of his newest ska releases and so it got me thinking about these methods of music delivery from yesteryear. I remember well riding across country in our navy blue van in about 1986, interior walls carpeted, plush captain chairs, no air conditioning through the desert in Nevada, bus-style windows open, tin-metal drawstring blinds jangling at every sway of the chassis, listening to Bob Marley on 8-track. That’s right, 8-track. Either you know it or you don’t. So when I came across this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 3, 1970 for 8 track tapes from Dynamic Sounds, it had me thinking about this medium. Anyone remember the whir of the reels inside as they clicked from track to track? Did you have any reggae on 8 track? Think it will make a comeback too, like cassettes and even vinyl? Or is it gone for good reason?

 

Tribute to Deadly Headley

headley

The August 31st issue of the Jamaica Gleaner featured a wonderful article by music historian and journalist Roy Black on the legendary career of Deadly Headley Bennett who passed away on August 24, 2016. I post this article here, along with one from Howard Campbell at the Jamaica Observer, and will save my own writings on Bennett for my forthcoming book on Alpha Boys School. Let it be said though that we have lost another fine musician whose music will live long beyond his years. Thank you, Mr. Bennett, for your contributions to music all over the world.

Saxophonist Felix Headley ‘Deadly Headley’ Bennett’s mid-song solos were largely responsible for the success of several hit recordings, particularly during the ska era of the 1960s. He passed away at his home, 6B Lincoln Road, Franklyn Town, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. He was 85 years old.

There have been so many great solos by Bennett that it becomes difficult to single out one for special commendation, but perhaps his solo in Delroy Wilson’s Dancing Mood would take the cake. Bennett’s involvement with the song was crucial, as I believe the recording became the single most important one that heralded the start of the rocksteady era.

Bennett, a dancer himself, seems fascinated by dancing as he also got himself involved with Dancing Shoes, sung by The Wailers (Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Constantine Walker) about that same time. It was a masterful introductory solo, followed by a mid-song solo that resulted in many vocalists and bands of the day requesting Bennett’s inclusion in their recordings. As it turned out, Dancing Shoes became one of the most beautifully executed songs by The Wailers.

MUSICAL WAR

Bennett’s solos again decorated another exclusive recording by that same Wailers combinations, titled What Am I To Do, shortly after. Bennett’s saxophone solo can again be heard on Jimmy Cliff’s Hurricane Hattie after an introductory guitar rang out to the tune of a vintage classic called Forty Miles of Bad Road.

But perhaps unknown to many is that it was Bennett’s instrumental solo in Derrick Morgan’s Independence song Forward March that started the musical war between Morgan and Prince Buster. Buster claimed that he had created the solo, which he had earlier used, and Morgan stole his ‘belongings’.

Housewives Choice by Derrick and Patsy in 1963 is another of the public’s favourite in which Bennett’s saxophone can he heard.

INSTRUMENTAL HITS

Among Bennett’s instrumental hits is Full Up, the origins of which was dramatically related to me in an interview I did with Bennett more than 10 years ago: Studio One boss Clement Dodd had introduced a rhythm to Bennett for him to work on, but it seemed bare – no vocals, no horns. When Bennett enquired of Dodd about the song, Dodd’s response was “just full it up, man”. Full Up, originally created by Leroy Sibbles and featuring Bennett on saxophone, became a big hit for The Sound Dimension Band.

Green Moon, a beautiful mid-tempo, kette drum-dominated instrumental, is shrouded in controversy insofar as the performer is concerned, but Bennett vehemently asserted that he blew the saxophone in the recording.

There were others, including his well-executed albums Poolside Reggae and Victory, which showcase a variety of ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub selections.

Bennett, who earned the moniker ‘Deadly Headley’ after one of his bewildering performances elicited the comment ‘boy, what a deadly sound’, remains one of the most unsung heroes of Jamaican music.

 

Jamaica Observer: Howard Campbell

Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett, a prolific saxophonist who played on Bob Marley’s first song, died on Sunday at age 85.

His daughter, Carol Bennett, said he passed away at home in Rollington Town, East Kingston. He had suffered from hypertension for years and was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Born in Central Kingston, Bennett learned music at the Alpha Boys School. Leaving after 12 years at age 16, he played in several bands and was an established session musician by the early 1960s.

He was a member of producer Leslie Kong’s house band in February 1962 when a 16-year-old singer named Robert Nesta Marley approached Kong to record songs for his Beverley’s Records.

Kong produced Marley’s first song, Judge Not, with Bennett on sax.

Bennett played on other Kong classics, including Derrick Morgan’s Forward March and Hurricane Hattie done by Jimmy Cliff, another teen singer destined for greatness.

Throughout the 1960s, he played on some of the biggest songs from the ska and rocksteady eras, including Delroy Wilson’s

Dancing Mood which featured his signature solo.

Other noted songs Bennett played on are I Want To Go Back Home (Bob Andy); Dancing Shoes — The Wailers; I’m The Toughest — Peter Tosh; Love I Can Feel — John Holt; I Shall Be Released — The Heptones; and Full Up — Soul Defenders.

He lived in Canada for several years before returning to Jamaica in the mid-1970s. His career got a second wind during the early 1980s when he recorded and toured with the Roots Radics Band.

It was during that period that he got the nickname ‘Deadly Headley’. In 2005, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to Jamaican music.

Headley Bennett is survived by a brother, two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

— Howard Campbell

A Ska Mystery

Buster

Can you help solve this ska mystery?

I attended Reggae Fest Chicago last weekend, which was extraordinary, by the way, and had a chat with fellow ska fan Jim Cascino, co-host of the Windy City Sound System podcast on Mix Cloud. He asked me if I knew if Prince Buster had been to Chicago in 1964 or prior, and I admitted that I had no idea and I was curious why he asked. He explained that he thought that Prince Buster may have worn a Chicago Bears cap in that now-famous “This Is Ska” film from 1964 at the Sombrero Club narrated and emceed by Tony Verity. I was familiar with the film, of course, but had never noticed Prince Buster’s cap! Jim’s brother Kevin produced a photo on his phone, a still from this film, and there it was! Or so it appears. Could it be the Chicago Bears? Or perhaps, as Jim noted, it is the Cincinnati Reds logo from the mid-1960s? Jim has supplied me with the photo and the logos below so that you all can sleuth an answer for us!

Thoughts?

Bears_Logo

Chicago Bears Logo

Reds_LogoCincinnati Reds Logo

In the meantime, check out Jim Cascino’s show HERE.

And if you missed my Radio M two-hour show with Tony Sarabia on WBEZ to promote Reggae Fest Chicago artists Toots & the Maytals, Keith & Tex, Charley Organaire, Derrick Morgan, Hepcat, and the Prizefighters, listen HERE (thanks to Jim Cascino for recording this for me).

Ska in Jamaica Advertisements

Again I’m busy writing my biography on Byron Lee so don’t have a lot of time to blog this week, but still wanted to share some interesting advertisements I came across in a few copies of Life magazine in the late 1960s that mention ska. As you may well know, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Ministry of Development and Welfare promoted ska in 1964 at the World’s Fair, but these are a few of their advertisements that demonstrate that mission beyond that initial push.

Life magazine may 20 1966From Life Magazine, May 20, 1966

Life magazine may 5 1967From Life Magazine, May 5, 1967

Life magazine dec 22 1967From Life Magazine, December 22, 1967

Count Prince Miller

count 1

Part actor, part vocalist, part, well, dare I say funny guy? Count Prince Miller is an entertainer extraordinaire and a true Jamaican legend. Born Clarence Linberg Miller in 1935, Count Prince Miller performed on numerous stages in Kingston beginning in the 1950s. He typically performed as part of a larger stage show, appearing with other acts, including Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and Jimmy James & the Vagabonds.

I happened to find an article on Count Prince Miller in the Star Newspaper,in the National Library archives in Kingston last winter and thought I’d share it here. I’ve typed the text below in case your eyes, like mine, are not as good as they used to be! The article is written by Mickey O’Bryan on June 29, 1962.

count articleThe article reads:

The demand for music of other nationalities is so popular in Jamaica that our musicians and artistes give little or no thought to the excellent idea of creating and maintaining styles of their own.

Most of them who have tried to accomplish this quality of self-confidence are discouraged by either non-appreciative audiences or economical reasons, which are so commonly known.

Here is a young hero, one who has fought the battle of discouragement, one who has persisted long and hard years of studies: a singer who approached the musical profession with a desired goal and worked honestly and sincerely. He is no other person that Count Prince Miller.

Count Prince Miller, christened Clarence Miller, was born in Port Maria 25 years ago, as a lad attending the elementary school in his hometown, his first desire was to be minister of religion. Seeing the ambition of this lad, his mother encouraged him to take part in all the activities of the local church of God where he was noted for his emotional approach to singing.

After reaching the age of ten, his mother thought it best to take Baby Count to Kingston where he could get an early start on his desired profession.

But the Count changed his mind the moment he landed at his new home at the western side of this city.

In Kingston he was sent to Stewart’s School in the Greenwich Town area. At that school Clarence did well with his lessons but rock ‘n’ roll was getting popular in Jamaica and was also infiltrating into the young man’s blood.

Well in his teens, Clarence decided to try one of Vere Johns’ auditions. He didn’t make the grade but was encouraged by Vere Johns to keep trying. After several weeks studying the lyrics of the current rock ‘n’ roll songs, Clarence decided to form his own group.

In his search, he found vocalists Bobby Weston, Herman Weston, Winston Service, and Howard Butler pianist. He named this group the ‘Downbeats.’ The group was dissolved when the Westons started attending high school and Howard Butler started making appearances on the Northcoast.

Again alone, Count started making his name as a lone-man singer.

‘I can’t bother to imitate the American artists. To do that I would have to sound exactly like the person I am imitating, and that is very hard.’ Those words came from Count when he was asked why he is not a copy cat.

But Count’s own imaginative creation took him to the Edison Club in Toronto, Canada.

In Bermuda, Count Prince Miller’s appearances were so successful at the Eara Club that he was handed a five-week TV contract. Count Prince Miller also made smashing appearances at the Slipper Club in Nassau and the Town Hall in Grand Cayman.

Count Prince Miller is one of our symbols of gaiety. His showmanship has so far been the spark that ignites our social moods.

 

count prince miller photocount caption

From the Star Newspaper, May 25, 1962.

 

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In 1969, Count Prince Miller was emcee of the Caribbean Music Festival at Wembley Stadium. Here is the page from the program with a short feature on Miller:

archivewembley181

The following is an article that appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner on January 25, 2007:

COUNT PRINCE Miller won the coveted Best Male Actor Award at the 2006 Black Film Makers’ International Awards Ceremony, held recently at the Curzon Theatre
in Piccadilly, London West End, England. He was the lead male actor in the film Winnie and the Duppy Bat, which was written and directed by Annette Laufer. Born Clarence Linberg Miller in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica, Count Prince Miller is a veteran performer involved in the international entertainment industry for over 50 years. He has previously appeared in several film and television productions, including;
■ The James Bond Original Dr No-1962
■ Kid Creole’s Something Wrong in Paradise – 1984
■ For Queen and Country with Denzel Washington – 1989
■ The Popular B B C situation comedy The Desmonds – 1989-1994

Miller is perhaps best known for his hit recording for the Trojan label, Mule Train Parts One & Two, which was recorded in 1971. In the early 1980s, he re-recorded Mule Train with Sly and Robbie, adding to his popularity as a performer. Mr. Miller resides in the United Kingdom.

 

As the article above states, Count Prince Miller had a small role in Dr. No, but if you’ve seen it, it’s a memorable one! He is the crazy dancer in the calypso club scene in which Byron Lee & the Dragonaires play.

Here is a still I tried to get from the clip, as well as a link to the clip itself. Count Prince Miller appears at 32 seconds into the clip, and again at 1:19.

no

Link to Dr. No calypso scene

 

count sept 2014 Count Prince Miller, Jamaica Gleaner, September 20, 2014

See Count Prince Miller perform the beginning of his classic song Mule Train live in 1970 HERE.

Hear the entire song here: Mule Train

Bewildered

The Monkey

When We Were Children

Rupert the Bear

count bw

The Sombrero Club

sombrero2

I haven’t posted in the past week or so because I have been entrenched in writing my biography of Byron Lee, literally spending hours everyday at my keyboard surrounded by notebooks and newspapers. I decided to refresh my spirit with what was likely about my 52nd time viewing the “This is Ska” documentary from 1964, hosted by Tony Verity and found on YouTube (clip seen above), and I realized I had recently come across an article on the site of this historically crucial film–The Sombrero Club. So here, from the Jamaica Gleaner on November 20, 2005, is the text from that article entitled, “The nightclubs of yesteryear: Sombrero: rustic, intimate,” written by the prolific journalist Mel Cooke.

Just below the famous ‘Four Roads’ intersection of Molynes and Waltham Park Roads in St. Andrew, a long grey wall marks the first right turn. There was a time when 1 Pitter Avenue was not so drab and businesslike, when the sights and sounds of merriment carried all the way to one of the capital city’s major intersections, long before the commerce of construction replaced the commerce of merriment. And although it carried a Mexican name, the senors and senoritas who stepped inside the Sombrero nightclub did it in true Jamaican style.

“When you stay out at Four Roads you can look down and see Sombrero and hear the music. If you climb up on the wall you look down into Sombrero,” said bass player Jackie Jackson, who was once a member of Tommy McCook and the Supersonics and now plays with Toots and the Maytals. Looking over was one thing;
jumping into the fun without paying was quite another matter. “Nobody naa beat the gate,” Jackson said, remembering an entrance fee of 50 shillings. “It was a mature audience.”

It was also an audience that demanded a certain quality of entertainment and, in the height of the band era the cream of the cream played there. “It was one of the premier dance halls for bands, live music,” says Jasper Adams, a regular at The Sombrero. “If you capture the image of the dance hall in London at the time, you get an idea of what it was like.”

The Sombrero was owned by the Young brothers, one of them. Owen, is now reportedly in the USA.

sombrero

Putting a “1966 onwards” stamp on the heyday of The Sombrero, Adams named Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, as well as Kes Chin and the Souvenirs, among the many bands that played there. But there was one that owned the joint on a Friday night: Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Caribbean Rhythms, with Winston ‘The Whip’ Williams as the MC. He remembers Derrick Harriott, as part o f the Jiving Juniors, singing there.

Winston Blake of Merritone also notes the presence of The Mighty Vikings, with Sonny and Victor Wong on lead vocals, and a very powerful Tomorrow’s Children, who “were a great show band. They played a lot of Chicago.”

“The Sombrero came up when the Bournmouthe (in East Kingston) sort of got down. It was the new uptown place,” Adams said. “The lively era was when you had to park on Moresham Avenue.”

“Normally the place would ripen from Monday to Sunday, but Friday night was dance night,” Adam s said. On Sundays there was jazz. put on by Ken Peart, with people like Billy Cooke on trumpet,  Thaddy Mowatt on bass and Aubrey Adams on piano.

With a raised bandstand over the dance floor, performers got a bird’s eye view of the audience they were playing to. Whether jazz or dance (or in the later days of the club, the sound system of Merritone Music), the decor of Sombrero was standard and, for the time, very different. “It no run down or mash up,” Jackie Jackson emphasised, terming it as what would now be boo, and there were four covered edges around the dance floor. “It was square, like a carton box,” Jackson said. And along with the rusticity was a certain feature that made it even more notable. “The club dark!” Jackson said, laughing. “That was what the club was famous for. It just dark and nice.”

As Winston Blake of Merritone puts it, The Sombrero was “extremely intimate”. He ”also recalls an outstanding feature of the decor which was really natural. There was an almond tree at the right of the entrance, which was on Molynes Road. “Merritone took the last lap,” Blake said of The Sombrero. “We used to play there midweek and weekends. It was the place to go on a Saturday night. It was a dress-up place, suits. Those days when you went to a night-club you wore a jacket. We are talking about the late 1960s, about 1965 to 1972.”

He said Merritone actually played there till the days of the Sombrero as a nightclub came to an end. “For us, Sombrero was a lot of daylight sessions, 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. At some of these sessions breakfast was served,” he said. “We called it the mid-week and breakfast club,” he said, chuckling.

There was a particular item that Sombrero was renowned for, which was not necessarily breakfast fare. Their chicken was fried, fabulous and famous. Jackie Jackson equates the clientele in the club to the other great place for bands at the time, the Glass Bucket in Half-Way Tree, “At the same time the Glass Bucket used to bring out the upscale people, Sombrero used to bring out the little bit down,” he said.

And, eventually, it was bringing out fewer and fewer of them. “It just did its time. We notice it start getting less and less, till we just stop going there,” Jackson said. ‘That is Jamaica. Everything is just for a while.”

Even after it closed as a nightclub, The Sombrero continued as a lounge until, Adams said, Keith Young Chin took over and started making paper cups there. And they were not cups that the happy people were drinking out of, at least, not at 1 Pitter Avenue. Today, motorists whiz past without even a glance at where The Sombrero once welcomed the party people, but somehow even if history does not exactly repeat itself it comes close. Hot Mondays, what dance hall has now evolved into, is held relatively close by.