Pick It Up, B-Boys! The Toasting/Hip-Hop Connection.

My good friend Michael Turner recently found and posted the above rare clip of King Stitt toasting on his Roots Knotty Roots page and I wanted to pass it along and write about it here. This particular clip interested me because I have been researching the link between toasting and early hip hop and wanted to take a few minutes to elaborate and solicit your thoughts.

As Buster Brakus notes in this clip, the backing band is Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. He notices Carl Brady on percussion who is a life-time member of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and possibly Marvin Brooks on tambourine. Brakus says that Clancy Eccles told him that Eccles and King Stitt performed a lot with Byron’s band.

What interests me most is toasting as an art form. Count Machuki first began toasting for Tom the Great Sebastian and then came to work for Coxsone since he was skilled at attracting a crowd and keeping the crowd. Machuki says that he was so desired by the crowds that they were disappointed at the recorded version of the live performance, solidifying the concept that ska is very much a live experience. In The Rough Guide to Reggae, authors Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton quote Count Machuki. “There would be times when the records playing would, in my estimation, sound weak, so I’d put in some peps: chick-a-took, chick-a-took, chick-a-took. That created a sensation! So there were times when people went to the record shop and bought those records, took them home, and then brought them back, and say, ‘I want to hear the sound I hear at the dancehall last night!’ They didn’t realize that was Machuki’s injection in the dancehall!”

“Toasting was developed by the sound-system operators,” writes Mohair Slim. “To emphasis the music’s rhythm, the DJs chanted staccato noises over the top of the instrumental tracks that were the staple of the early dancehall. A common technique was the rapid-fire repetition of words, like “ska-ska-ska” or “get-up-get-up-get-up” also employed were locomotive-noises (“ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch”), hiccups (“he-da, he-da, he-da”) and grunts. Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd and Byron Lee all utilised toasting to accentuate the fervour of their records.” The clip above is evidence of Byron Lee using this art form. Classic Skatalites tunes like Rocket Ship and

Legendary historian and artist Clinton Hutton says the toasting had a deeper impact on the power of the sound system. “The mike gave the voice reach and agency. The deejay could talk to the fans in the dancehall as well as to the persons outside of the dancehall. He could advertise the next dance and venue that the sound system would be playing at. He could praise the sound system owner/operator and help to brand his name and enterprise in the minds of the people. The disc jockey could dedicate a song or songs to a specific person or group of persons. He could announce the names of persons going off to England or coming from prison. Yes, he could really ‘wake the town and tell the people,’ to use a line from Daddy U-Roy. He could cover the weaknesses in a selection with live jive, with toasting, with scatting, with bawl out.”

I would argue that toasting is the grandfather of hip hop. It is evident that those who either participated in or witnessed the activity of toasting in the 1950s and 1960s Kingston, at the sound system dances brought this cultural phenomenon to the shores of the United States where it then evolved into hip hop traditions. In the 1970s, hip hop began when a disc jockey by the stage name DJ Kool Herc began hosting block parties in the South Bronx. He, like the Jamaican predecessors, toasted over the music to encourage the attention of the participants. Hip hop toasting then evolved into adding musical flourishes to the music, utilizing two turntables to create percussive effects like scratching and looping, and it then evolved into rapping completely as a vocal, rather than a few words over the existing soundtrack, and vocal percussive effects, beatboxing. Hip hop culture spread to communities throughout New York and then the world in the 1980s. 

Scholar Joseph Heathcott notes the origins of hip hop culture in Jamaica. “Taking shape on the playgrounds and street corners of the South Bronx, hip-hop was from the first moment a popular cultural practice that stretched across borderlands, linking the local to the transnational. Not coincidentally, hop-hop erupted in the one American urban neighborhood with the highest concentration of Jamaican labor migrant families: the South Bronx. . . . Islanders imported with them to the South Bronx highly developed musical and electric performance cultures centered around the mobile sound system. If ska had filed to gain a purchase on the American music scene, and if reggae was only beginning to establish its credentials, it was the sound system and dance hall culture that ultimately made sense on transplanted soil. Where Jamaican genres of music only penetrated American markets obliquely, Jamaican performance practices provide enteral to the creation of hip-hop.”

Is it possible that DJ Kool Herc knew of these Jamaican toasting methods? Most definitely. DJ Kool Herc, whose real name is Clive Campbell, was born in 1955 in Kingston, Jamaica where he lived until he was 12 years old, during the height of the sound system era. He came to the Bronx in 1967. His first gig was DJing his sister’s birthday party and he did as he learned, filling the break sections of the song with toasting to keep the audiences going. This is not to say that DJ Kool Herc was merely imitating the originals, and indeed he was innovative by incorporating the turntables themselves in future gigs to create additional techniques that became separate from the ska genre and a part of the hip-hop genre, but credit is due the first toasters—Count Machuki, King Stitt, and Sir Lord Comic.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this connection. Please share your knowledge of vintage toasting and the hip hop link with me as I continue to research this fascinating musical evolution.

Don Drummond Royalties

Royalties from Coxsone to Yap

This is a document showing royalties that Coxsone paid to Justin Yap for use of the Top Deck songs Justin recorded that Coxsone then used on the Studio One album, The Best of Don Drummond. These songs were “Confucius,” “The Reburial,” and “Ringo” which appeared on this album, also Yap also recorded others with Drummond like “Chinatown,” “Smiling,” and “Marcus Junior” but Coxsone didn’t place these on this album. So this statement is for three of the songs that Top Deck recorded, a measly $157 for seven months of sales. It is surprising the royalties were paid at all, frankly. But Drummond was dead by this time, having just died that May 1969, so he certainly didn’t see a dime and even if he were alive, he still wouldn’t have seen a dime. Other songs on the album that were not recorded by Studio One and were instead recorded by Duke Reid for Treasure Isle, according to the album notes, are “Eastern Standard Time,” “Occupation,” “Don D Lion,” “Cool Smoke,” “Aliphang” (should be Alipang), “Corner Stone,” and “Burning Torch.” Wonder if royalties were paid to Reid?!

don d album

This album also credits the artist who performed with Don Drummond on these tunes, or certainly some of them: Roland Alphonso, Johnny Moore, Tommy McCook, Bobby Gaynair, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Brother Jerry (Jah Jerry Haynes), Jackie Mittoo, Gladstone Anderson, and Charlie Organaire. If you are near Chicago and attend any of the Jamaica Oldies events hosted by Chuck Wren you will see Charlie Organaire take the stage with his harmonica for a few tunes, and let me tell you, he is amazing. Charlie lives in Chicago. Lester still performs frequently with the Skatalites, but unfortunately, all other musicians listed here have returned to the universe to commune.

Back to the topic of royalties. Musicians during the days of ska never received royalties. They didn’t know about royalties. They knew their instrument, not the business, in many instances. The way it worked in the studio was artists either punched in and out on a time clock, or others were paid by the record side, about two pounds a tune if they were lucky. And today, the royalties are owned by the producers and their estates, so those whose talent and imagination created the song, like Don Drummond and Roland Alphonso and even Bob Marley in his earliest years, either don’t see a dime or receive a small slice of the pie from reworked agreements. For example, on one of Bob Marley’s first songs, a ska song called “Simmer Down,” only Bob Marley’s estate and Coxsone Dodd’s estate, since he recorded the song for Studio One in 1964, receive royalties, and they fought in court in the 1990s for monies from the song. None of the artists who perform the actual music on this song that sold 80,000 copies just in the months following its release, not Roland Alphonso on saxophone, nor Lloyd Knibb on drums, nor Lloyd Brevett on bass, nor Don Drummond on trombone, nor Tommy McCook on saxophone, nor any of the others, not even the Wailers who sing backup, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, Junior Braithwaite, and Beverley Kelso, get one red cent from Simmer Down. Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, said she had never received money from any of Marley’s early work with Coxsone. This is but one song of hundreds, thousands, earning hundreds, thousands for their producers’ estates. Producers defend their exploitation by saying that it was the system of the day, akin to today’s “free culture” of ripping tracks from a torrent or megaupload music site.

 

 

 

9 Rusden Road

rusden

This is 9 Rusden Road, the house where Don Drummond lived with and murdered Anita Mahfood, Margarita in the Rockfort neighborhood at the foot of the Wareika Hills. I took this photo last February and it was my second time visiting the home which a lovely woman named Carmen still lives in. These are her grandchildren sitting on the front steps, the same steps that Margarita climbed early in the morning on January 2, 1965. Don Drummond had fallen asleep earlier in the night and missed his gig with the Skatalites at the La Parisienne Club in Harbour View, a club near the Palisadoes Airport in east Kingston. He never made it to that performance. It was not the first time he missed a gig. He frequently missed performances or was late for a gig. Tommy McCook has said that he went to pick up Don at 8 p.m., prior to the gig, and found him asleep so he left without him and returned after their first set during intermission to try again. Still, Don was asleep, a side effect of the medicine he took, said McCook.

I want to take a moment to logically think about an argument that has been made over the years blaming Margarita for giving him his medication late, causing him to fall asleep, and then slipping out to dance against his wishes. How would we know that Margarita did that? She was dead so she couldn’t tell. Could Don have claimed that Margarita gave him his medication late? Not likely as Don was despondent and what talking he did do at the Rockfort Police Station was a lie since he claimed that Margarita stabbed herself and that was proven untrue. It simply defies logic to argue that Margarita administered Don’s medication that night, but it does put the blame on her so it is interesting that those in disbelief over the incident would want to shift the blame.

Margarita’s best friend, Faye Chin, remembers the murder which was easily overheard by the other tenants of the house. That’s right, there were other tenants in this small home. It was split into four rooms with Don and Anita occupying one. It was furnished with two single beds and a desk that contained Don’s compositions on paper. Faye says, “Now this place was like a house and you rent a room and another person rent a room and another person rent a room. So this woman that her room was behind their room, she said she heard when Anita came in and she laid down on her bed, she heard a scream and said, ‘Oh God, Don what are you doing?’ She’s screaming, ‘Don, what are you doing?’ And he stabbed her so badly. There was no blood. The knife stabbed her in the chest. I got a call early in the morning and I phoned Conchita, her sister, I tell her, ‘Okay, I’m coming to pick you up,’ and I drove over to Conchita’s house, pick her up and we went down to identify the body. She had on her jeans (sobbing) and she had on a shirt with a stain in the front at her waist and she was just laying on her bed on her back (sobbing uncontrollably).”

You can read all about the murder from the recollections of many fellow family, friends, and musicians, as well as the trial that ensued in my book Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist (click the “skabooks” link above for more info). I would love to hear your thoughts on this event that literally changed the course of music in Jamaica forever, for it was after this event that the Skatalites broke up without their master composer and it was after this event that the heat wave that summer ushered in slower rocksteady and subsequent reggae. How important do you think Don Drummond was to ska?

 

Maypen Cemetery

Jamaica 2013 1547

This is the sepulchre of the great Lloyd Brevett, bass player for the Skatalites. He was always one of my favorites with his little jump to the rhythm as he played, his dreads long and thin like him, like his bass. What a master. His resting place here is located at Maypen Cemetery off of Spanish Town Road and I was able to visit it last February, escorted by the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Cornwell. Why I had to be escorted is no surprise, if anyone knows this location. Maypen Cemetery is located in West Kingston near the yards of warring factions of the garrisons, the Jamaican term for housing project which then spread to include neighborhoods. Aligned with their political parties, the PNP and JLP, the gangs and their dons rule the nearby garrisons which include Tivoli Gardens (scene of the 2010 raid involving Dudus Coke–see this wonderful article for more info: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz), Olympic Gardens, Denham Town, Tower Hill, Trench Town, Cockburn Pen, Brownsland, and more. Dons rule their garrisons and dictate elections and their micro-economies through the sale of drugs and weapons.

When I visited, Mr. Cornwell was certain to taut the benefits of former prime minister Edward Seaga for his people. He asked me if I had met him and said he was a “very good man.” Cornwell wore a green shirt, an affiliation with the JLP. It was evident which gang ruled the area. Cornwell told me that we could not go into an area of the cemetery I wished to visit, the area where Don Drummond is buried, although it is unknown exactly where because he was buried in an unmarked grave in a section reserved for paupers, criminals, and lunatics. The number of his grave is known, but the numbering system is long abandoned and without record, I am told. Why can’t I visit the area I wish to see? Not only is it covered in bush, graves and tombs destroyed exposing human remains, as I witnessed, but it is also ruled by the gangs. When a “flare up” occurs in a nearby garrison, members of the gangs flood out from the cemetery to clash with their opposition. They are lying in wait. They rule the cemetery like their garrisons so that even the superintendent of the cemetery is not safe to visit, to maintain.

Ska greats are interred here–Lloyd Brevett, Don Drummond, others perhaps–among the violence of the gangs, among the rotting bodies that are dumped here after a “flare up,” among the areas no longer touched for fear that those buried during outbreaks of cholera and typhoid will release their toxins like zombies. Instead of monuments to honor the legacy of these heroes, this is what remains. I say, let’s honor them by celebrating their life, their music, their genius by continuing to carry the torch of their creation. Roll on!

Tonight! Marguerita and Don Drummond

june15 1955 don and margarita

There has been much speculation about how and when Anita Mahfood, stage name Margarita or as it is spelled here, Marguerita, and Don Drummond met each other. Some say it was in the Wareika Hills, but there is evidence they met long before that. Here in this June 15, 1955 advertisement in the Daily Gleaner, we see that Don Drummond and Margarita appeared together on the same bill and it is the earliest proof of their performing together. They performed in the same evening of entertainment which was the order of the day–entertainment after movies, between movies, on the outdoor or indoor stages, featured a variety of acts–dancing, comedy, pantomime, and yes, music.

In 1955, those musicians on the bill weren’t playing ska. Performances like these in the early and mid 1950s, even the late 1950s, were largely jazz or American R&B, or calypso. Janet Enright performs here with Don Drummond and the two were good friends from the get-go. Janet was a female jazz guitarist and Don Drummond took good care of her, like a little sister. And we also see Roland Alphonso on the bill too, another skilled jazz instrumentalist who would go on to perform in the studio and stage with Don for the next decade and in the Skatalites.

This advertisement and the placement of Don and Anita in the same place does not suggest at all that the two started a relationship as early as 1955–not at all. Anita would have been only 16 at this point, in fact she had just turned 16 the day before this ad appears. Four years later she would marry boxer Rudolph Bent and have her first child, although not in that order. Still she would continue to perform on bills like this, on the stages of the movie theaters, in virtually every club in Kingston, commiserating with her fellow performers, like Don Drummond and years later, when they grew close in the Wareika Hills, a relationship was kindled–to a devastating end.

Read the details of their lives and relationship in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, skabook.com.