Rude boys

Real Rude Boys


Rude boys—to those who didn’t live among them, myself included, it’s easy to think of these gangsters as the stylized suave icons we see in illustrations with sunglasses and suits. Or we might think they were like Johnny Too Bad, looting and shooting, but still the stuff of legend, the stuff of myth, the Rhygings or Ivanhoes. Rude boys were real, and many of them were real bad, not as in bad/cool but as in bad/murderers. Rude boys were known align themselves with a sound system operator and defend his turf from opposing rude boys, which is how they came to be associated with the music. Plus, they became part of the music itself by becoming the topic of numerous songs, which I will address in a moment before I share an article about a real rude boy crime.


But first, Historian Garth White wrote in 1967 that a rude boy is a “person, native, who is totally disenchanted with the ruling system; who generally is descended from the ‘African’ elements in the lower class and who is now armed with ratchets (German made knives), other cutting instruments and with increasing frequency nowadays with guns and explosives.” White noted that rude boys had similar characteristics, such as similar shoes, hats, music, and stripped motorbikes which served to bind the rude boys together in a community. Rude boys committed minor crimes, such as jumping on the back of a streetcar for a free ride, but other times they were much more violent and committed severe crimes such as murder of fellow rude boys or innocent schoolgirls. Well-known rude boy gangs were the Charles Street Spanglers, Phoenix, Skull, and Vikings.


Now, to the music—perhaps the most well-known rude boy songs were made between Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster who shared a rivalry, a musical stick fight. Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough” addresses rude boys directly with a judge speaking at the beginning of the song to the gangsters brought in for using ratchets and throwing bombs. Their reply to the judge that “rudies don’t fear” inspired the marginalized youth in Jamaica who turned to crime, and egged on Prince Buster who responded with his Judge Dread songs. Judge Dread was a character in Prince Buster’s songs who sentenced the rude boys, regardless of their pleas for mercy and even crying, to such unreasonable sentences as 400 years behind bars.


While Morgan and Prince Buster had their share of back-and-forth songs referencing rude boys and Judge Dread, there were plenty of rude boy songs that either supported the rude boy culture, or denounced it. They reflected the violence of the times, asking the youth to simmer down and put away their ratchets, or they glorified gangsters and stylized criminals with songs like Prince Buster’s “Al Capone and “007 (Shanty Town),” “Rude Boy Train,” and “Rudy Got Soul” by Desmond Dekker, but there were many more that warned of the rude boy lifestyle. “Cry Tough” and “Dance Crasher” by Alton Ellis, “No Good Rudie” by Justin Hinds, “Cool Off Rudies” by Derrick Morgan, “Don’t Be a Rude Boy” by the Rulers, and dozens of others.


Without further ado, I would like to share an article from the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1968, that tells of a real rude boy crime—a murder, which began at a sound system dance. Alton Ellis’s “Dance Crasher” apparently fell on deaf ears when it came to these two brothers, Eddie and George Fraser and their rude boy friends.


Inquiry begins into shooting of coconut vendor


A preliminary inquiry began in the No. 3 Sutton Street on Tuesday before Mrs. Myrtle Mason, Resident Magistrate, into the fatal shooting of a coconut vendor, Artell Brown, 29, of a Stephen Street address, in August of this year.


Before the Court were, Eddie Fraser, Aston Young, George Fraser, John Graham and Harvey Reid, charged with murder and robbery with aggravation.


Joscelyn Coot of Tivoli Gardens gave evidence that he went to a dance on King Street on Friday, August 23, where he saw Aston Young and the two Frasers–Eddie Fraser had a gun in his hand and George Fraser said that no one could harm them. Eddie and George Fraser, and Aston Young left the dance and the witness said he left with them too.


Coot said that they went down to King Street and on to Heywood Street where Eddie Fraser said that he wanted a coconut and bought it while he, witness, and Aston Young stood at the corner. The man asked for his money and witness said that the man moved towards Eddie Fraser and he was shot by Fraser.


Cross-examined by Mr. Maurice Tenn, counsel for Eddie Fraser, witness said that he too was arrested and taken to the Denham Town police station, but was released.



A domestic servant, Nonna Smith, said that she was going to buy cigarettes when she heard an explosion. She went to where she thought the sound came from and saw a crowd there. Someone whom she knew as Artell was lying on the ground, she said. Smith said she saw two men running up Rose Lane, but could not recognize any of them. Smith said she later attended an identification parade and picked out Harvey Reid as one of the men who she saw walking along Heywood Street.


Carlton McBridge told the court that he was the man who operated the sound system at the dance at 145 King Street on August 23. He saw Eddie Fraser and George Fraser there that night. Eddie Fraser had a gun in his hand in front of a girl. Fraser spoke to her and she ran. Both Frasers then went outside. Witness said, when cross-examined by Mr. Tenn, that he did not see Coot there that night. Re-examined by Mrs. Shirley Playfair Clerk of the Courts he said that if Coot was there he would most naturally have seen him.


Dr. Noel March, pathologist who performed the post mortem examination deposed as to the injuries he found on the deceased.


Iona Eldermire, office maid of 26 Stephen Street, Kingston, told the court that it was she who identified the dead body of Artell Brown.

Julius Vassell, a coconut vendor, told the court that both he and Artell were buying coconuts when a man came up to Artell and told him to give him what he had. He heard a voice saying to “bum the man” and Artell was shot. Vassell identified Eddie Fraser as the man who shot Artell.



Continuing, Vassell said that Artell fell to the ground after being shot and both he and Artell were robbed. Cross-examined, Vassell said that no one ordered nor drank a coconut.


Raymond Boucher deposed that George Fraser, whom he knew as Danny, slept at his house three nights. On a Friday morning Danny got up and sat at the doorway with a gun. He pulled “a thing” from the gun and put four “little things” in it. Danny then left the house.


The next day, Boucher said, Danny called him and told him that he knew about the shooting; that it was not he who had done it but Eddie. Harold Williams also gave a deposition. The hearing will continue December 30.


Counsel who appeared at the inquiry were Mr. Tenn, who appeared for Eddie Fraser, Mr. Anthony Spaulding for Aston Young, Miss Gloria Thompson for George Fraser, Mr. W. K. Chin See for John Graham, and Mr. Ian Ramsay, Q.C., for Harvey Reid.


Incidentally, the counsel for Aston Young, Mr. Anthony Spaulding, is the very same defense attorney, along with P.J. Patterson, who represented Don Drummond in July, 1966 in his murder trial. And Pathologist Noel March who is cited above is the very same Noel March that the defense, Anthony Spaulding and P.J. Patterson, used in Don Drummond’s murder trial to present testimony on the examination of Anita Mahfood’s wounds.


Eddie Fraser was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to death, hanged on January 19, 1971. George Fraser, his younger brother, was sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Mr. Justice Parnell, the judge in No. 1 Home Circuit Court, made comments in sentencing George Fraser might remind one of Judge Dread issuing his sentences of 400 years to Lord Grab and Flee, although it is a bit more based in reality rather than fantasy.


“What we are lacking in Jamaica today is strong discipline. I may be old fashioned but that is what I have been brought up on but the young boys and girls of today decide to take charge of the country and do it their way. They get their guns and knives and walk about and terrorize people, shooting and killing, and when they come before the court and are convicted, their youth is urged as strong ground for dealing leniently with them. As far as this case is concerned, I can see no ground why I should not pass a salutary sentence on you. This man’s life was snuffed out in a jiffy while you and the other man were pursuing your wrong,” said Judge Parnell in the Daily Gleaner, June 4, 1969.

7 thoughts on “Real Rude Boys”

  1. In my opinion, I think it was much more easier and more political! I’ll try to explain what I meant. In 1961/’62 the rich capitalism Jamaicans promised the poor ones that they’ll be live much more better if Jamaica got Independence from the ‘british crown’. The cildren of these poor families were at that time aged 12/13 years. But after Independence they saw that the poor gets poorer and their parents resigned on the fate. But now in 1965/66 the children were at the age of 16/17 and the youths got angry!


  2. For some more background on the link between crime and music in Jamaican music I would recommend a podcast in two parts broadcast by the BBC World Service. It takes the film The Harder They Come as a starting point for the discussion. The podcasts can be found in the list on this link
    Scroll down to find the two parts. If you can’t see them the 2 links are;
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  3. Hi Heather et al,

    Just thought that I’d make a few comments on the “rude boy” issue. Let me hasten to say that I can’t approach this matter with the insight or complexities of a trained sociologist, psychologist or criminologist – I’m just reflecting from the point-of-view of one who grew up in the 60s and 70s in Jones Topwn and downtown Kingston, which were areas that typified the whole “rude boy” culture of the time.

    In my opinion, so-called “rude boys” and the whole “rudie” culture spoke to different levels of calling and behaviour – in essence, there were different types of rude boys. One group of these were no more than criminals – those guys who decided to survive by unlawful activity such as larceny and robbery of all types. These guys were often violent, especially if resisted or cornered, and would not hesitate to assault and/or kill with there knives, machetes and guns. In the rude boy culture in general, knives were the weapons of choice, with the “rachet” knife being the most favoured. The latter were “okapi” knives (from the trademark logo of an okapi on the blade) made in Germany. They are still sold today and can be seen on amazon or ebay. The knives have a fold-out blade and have a metal retention back (called a “spring” in Jamaica) that prevents the blade from closing accidentally when open. A ring (looks almost like a keyring) in the “spring” is pulled to allow the blade to close. The rachet knife itself could be the subject of a whole post! Anyway, other knives were also popular including switchbldes, stilettos (called slim jims), open (barber) razors and icepicks.

    Guns were relatively scarce in the criminal world until the politically fuelled violent years of the 70s, and only a few REAL criminals had guns – predominantly pistols, 22s and 38s. Homemade one-shot pistols and shotguns were around as well (and are still common today).

    These true criminals aside, the rude boy culture was mainly one of turf protection (with a little extortion of local business people on the side). These men aggregated in gangs to protect their areas (akin to the hoods in modern America)
    from “outsiders”. These gangs were so numerous that they can’t be all named, but popular ones in the ares where I lived were the Spanglers, Skull, Zulu and Dirty Dozen. Remnants of some of them are still alive today, as the territorial protection continues and is alive and well. The Spanglers morphed into “Telaviv” and the Skull into “Southside”.

    There was overlap in some instances between “criminal” rude boys and “turf-related” protection-type rude boys, but one must also remember that some men labelled as “rude boys” were no more than “strong-arm” men who were not outlaws as such, but did no more that protected their associated sound systems and dances.

    One had to be tough to survive in the “inner city” in Jamaica (this has still not changed!) and without resident strong arm men to “protect” people and enterprises, they would become sitting ducks, seeing as the police either didn’t have the manpower or interest to police these areas.

    This is why some “rude boys” came to be seen by some as heroes, but as antiheroes by others.

    One love!


  4. nice one, Carlos!

    agree definitely with the different definitions, sometimes blurred, of rudies, and it often depended on the circumstances. there is one thing, although it might be viewed by some as a technicality since “Spanglers” has come to mean for many a catch-all name for the sheer number of old timey PNP-aligned gangs from all over Kingston over the ages (i.e. Pigeon, Wild Bunch, Hot Steppers, Buckers, Garrison Gang, Tel Aviv, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.).

    but certainly Spanglers has had the most longevity, since gangs like Pigeon, Garrison, and Wild Bunch are long defunct.

    it was The Max gang of that broke down into Tel Aviv and the other elements who sided with the JLP Skulls of South Side – that was the fallout from the so-called “Bell Foot Pants War” of 1969, when elements of the “soul bwoy” and Rasta members of Max clashed after an insult about a gang member as he was going to a dance dressed in bell-bottom pants.

    you can read about it here:

    wonder if Buckles Henry was an offspring or relative of Claudius Henry, the seditionary “Repairer Of The Breach” who was jailed in 1960 for planning to overthrow the JLP government?


    as far as promises of “rich capitalists”, i think that might be bit of a stretch – certainly Independence carried a good bit of optimism, but JA was now without the purse strings of the British. there was *hope* that things would get better, and that continuing investment by foreign companies would help improve the lot of the average Jamaican.

    but Jamaica’s problems, even back then with the imbalance between “haves” and “have nots”, were not something someone could smooth over with a promise…. especially concerning such an apolitical event like Independence. the British were giving JA independence because it became too expensive to keep as a colony – so this was the new government’s thing, and not one of business tycoons to make promises.

    the lack of jobs and the extreme overcrowding of Kingston, to say nothing of the lack of the most basic utilities, made for pretty wretched living conditions for poor people – more of the same old thing. and while New Kingston and the suburbs north of Barbican Rd. and around Constant Spring flourished, there were still a large group of the very poor in the old parts of Kingston who were unskilled and under-educated… and there was no effort to do anything to help them aside from MP’s using gifts and muscle as a way to coerce them as a voting bloc (initially using the employ of delinquent “rude bwoys”, as it happened).

    Micheal Manley went further after his election in 1972, with promises of the right to free schooling and health care – which although implemented came at considerable cost to the government

    there was definitely a deep resentment of upper middle class and rich folks, even when i was a kid growing up in the 70’s in north St. Andrew. even uptown, people of all walks of life buck up against each other at the store, various places in public…. unavoidable to see very poor people “out a road” back then, nowhere to go, ragged clothes even at places like Manor Park or just driving along Barbican Rd… little distance between rich and poor physically, worlds apart otherwise.

    you could write a book about the “rude bwoys” and the gangs and what they all turned into… ’66 construction of Tivoli/Industrial Terr./ Wharves was a massive turning point in political history itself, as were the ’67, ’69 parliament and ’72 PM elections.


  5. Hail up Blakbeltjonez! Thanks for the comment and info!
    You’ve brought back some serious childhood memories for me.

    Buckles was my folk (anti)hero, and though I was north of East Queen Street, and folks from “my side” of that divide weren’t always welcome to the south of it where Buckles ruled Rosemary Lane, Hanover Street and the like, his fighting abilities and general leadership skills and aggression made him one to reckon with.

    I remember his vividly, especially his “brown” complexion which made him stand out amongst his more heavily pigmented brethren! I saw his prowess in a couple of fights he had against other gangs, and his skill with his rachet and his feet (he kicked quite dexterously) were legendary.

    I just learned Leniments (as we called him) real name, thanks to you and the Gleaner story. He was always a slick dresser, and as a tailor, that is understandable. I remember being told that his weapon of choice was a straight barber razor.

    I also remember the prowess of these guys on their bicycles – the predominant mode of transportation at the time. As you said, the motorbikes came on later, including the revered S-90 and the CB-200 which were celebrated in songs.

    Let’s keep the history and culture going. Believe me – they are dying with our generation and those before. Where are our books? Where are our movies and documentaries – made and related by those who actually lived and experienced the time? It always saddens me to see and hear the documentaries about “me and us” that were made in other countries, sometimes by foreigners and others who don’t really understand the true psychology and nuances of the culture at the time.

    One love!


  6. yes, Doc! you are so right.

    so much seems to have gotten lost through the sands of time – and now it seems like a lifetime ago, because it kind of is now!

    on the PAMA forum someone came across the old Ernie Smith Red Stripe commercial that came out in ’72…. a little digging and i found a show reel with some of the Red Stripe commercials i remembered and plenty more.. (i don’t remember the “Life Is Just For Living” but i remember some other ones). these are in glorious color – which did not exist on likkle one channel JBC-TV until the 80’s.

    now, see if this vid doesn’t set your mind back a year or three…


    1. Hey BBJ (hope my abbreviation doesn’t offend!),

      Thanks for the Red Stripe compilation! Doesn’t it bring back memories – unfortunately for me, I remember every one of the ads – which means that I’m old!

      Ernie’s Life is Just for Living was a huge hit in Jamaica, and got some international acclaim as it won an international pop song competition if memory serves me well. The number of ads really brought home how important Red Stripe beer has been to the Jamaican culture, and how the ads have tied into our popular music!

      There was a time in Jamaica that when one asked for a beer, it was synonymous with Red Stripe! In the Paragons’ song “On the beach” when John Holt sings “one more box of hops says the man to the bartender”, the bartender didn’t have to wonder if he was asking for other than Red Stripe!

      One love!


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