I was combing through some copies of Star Newspapers that I had made a few years back at the library in Kingston, and lo and behold, I found an advertisement from December 28, 1964 for the Skatalites’ show that ended in tragedy–Don Drummond murdering his girlfriend, the Rhumba Queen, Margarita (Anita Mahfood).
On the same page appears an advertisement for a show the night before, New Year’s Eve:
Just to be clear, the dancer in this advertisement above is not Margarita–it is Princess Zandra, who was also a popular rhumba and floor show entertainer. Rhumba dancers were a draw for many live bands during this time, so Zandra was a popular performer, as was Margarita, Madame Wasp, and others.
Here is a close up of the two Skatalites logos on this advertisements, which I think are super cool:
You can see the names of the members (though a few are spelled incorrectly) clockwise from left, Lloyd Brevett, Dizzy Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Roland Alphonso, Lord Tanamo, Lester Sterling, Harold McKenzie, Lloyd Knibb, and Don Drummond.
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.
Lord 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.”
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.
From 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.
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.
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).
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!
I had the pleasure of attending the annual Chicago Architecture Foundation’s open house on October 17th and visited a number of fascinating sites, but none as incredible as the site of the former Sunset Cafe. According to the WBEZ website (that’s Chicago’s National Public Radio station), “The Sunset Cafe, also known as The Grand Terrace Cafe, was a jazz club in Chicago, Illinois operating during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It was one of the most important jazz clubs in America, especially during the period between 1917 and 1928 when Chicago became a creative capital of jazz innovation and again during the emergence of bebop in the early 1940s. From its inception, the club was a rarity as a haven from segregation, since the Sunset Cafe was an integrated or “Black and Tan” club where Afro- and Euro- Americans, along with other ethnicities, could mingle freely without much fear of reprisal. Owned by Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, the venue played host to such performers as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Johnny Dodds, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and, above all, Earl “Fatha” Hines and his orchestra’s members: Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan.”
As I stepped up into the area that is now the manager’s office at the Ace Hardware that inhabits the building, I realized that this was the stage, the exact same stage where Satchmo had performed, along with these other jazz heroes and heroines. Chills. Here are a few photos that show what it looks like today. The original artwork that appeared on the back of the stage wall is still there, although it has been covered in places with fixtures, like a vent and cabinetry.
There was also a large sign in the front of the store that they had removed from storage for the open house, a sign that advertised the brunch at the Grand Terrace, which was the second incarnation of the Sunset Cafe. My jaw dropped when I saw the musical performer advertised as Sun Ra. I asked the docents on duty at the site, but they had no idea who Sun Ra even was! Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount (he wasn’t known as Sun Ra until 1952), settled on Chicago’s South Side in 1946. He performed at “Chicago clubs such as Kirk’s Grand Terrace, the Vincennes Lounge, Parkway Ballroom and Budland,” according to the University of Chicago.
Anyway, back to Satchmo. Having just combed through Star Newspaper archives all summer long, and having written about Girl Satchmo (Kentris Fagan) for Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, I thought about Louis Armstrong in Jamaica. I knew he had performed on the stages in Kingston and throughout Jamaica, just as he had on this stage in Chicago, although in Chicago his manager owned this stage so Satchmo was more of a regular here instead of a visiting musician. I went back through some of my records and found that Satchmo indeed did visit Jamaica, a number of times, and because Satchmo was born in New Orleans, and Jamaicans were able to receive radio transmissions from New Orleans radio stations on a clear night, and because jazz was prevalent throughout Jamaican clubs, Satchmo was very popular in Jamaica. His films, like High Society, were screened at theaters like the Rialto.
When Satchmo first visited Jamaica in 1957, it was big news. The Daily Gleaner ran stories on his every move–when he came into Palisadoes Airport, where he would appear, etc. He stated in the article below, “I have met several Jamaican musicians in the United States and it’s a pleasure to be here.” One of the greeters at the airport was none other than Ken Khouri of Federal Records.
Satchmo and his wife Lucille were greeted by the mayors of Kingston and Montego Bay, gossip columnist Kitty Kingston revealed that he was serenaded at the airport by a calypso band and hounded by fans for autographs at the Myrtle Bank Hotel where he stayed, and after his last performance during his 1957 visit, the ambassadors to the American consulate on the island, gave him a private party at their Barbican Heights home.
That calypso band who regaled Satchmo with Caribbean tunes? None other than Lord Tanamo and Count Lasher!
Satchmo returned to Jamaica in 1960 to perform again, and he always remained popular.
When Louis Armstrong died, it was front page news in Jamaica.
It was in 1962 in London that Louis Armstrong met Girl Satchmo, Kentris Fagan, but it wasn’t the first time. A caption in the Star Newspaper on June 28m, 1962 beneath a photo of the two together states, “Satchmo and his girl imitator: In London last month for a Daily Mirror party, world-famous entertainer Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong meets for the second time the only known female imitator of his unique style of singing. Jamaican-born Kentris (Girl Satchmo) Fagan is all smiles as they pose for the camerman. First meeting was in Jamaica in 1957 when Kentris was emerging from Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns “Opportunity Hour” and “Opportunity Knocks” shows. She has been very successful in England and on the Continent and her records have been smash hits. Kentris expects to be in Jamaica for the Independence Celebrations.”
You can read all about Girl Satchmo in my book. She was quite a phenomenon and after her career imitating Satchmo, she used her vocal abilities to record a number of gospel records. Here’s a small excerpt:
In the late 1960s, Girl Satchmo then turned to a different label for her recordings and she partnered with Tommy McCook and the Supersonics for producer Duke Reid on Treasure Isle in Jamaica, and Fab and Trojan in the U.K. The songs, “I’m Coming Home” and “Take You For a Ride,” still featured her gravely growl that punctuated her natural singing style. But Girl Satchmo was more than a novelty act—she had real talent, real business acumen, and a real conversion. In 1971 she founded her own record label, Kangaroo, and released her own single, “Crazy But Good” as Girl Satchmo and Reggae Kings. She produced the song as well. The same year she put out the song “I Found Out Pt. 1” with the B side, “I Found Out Pt. 2” as Girl Satchmo which she also produced. Girl Satchmo toured Germany and had immigrated to England by the end of the 1960s. She had been traveling there since the mid-1960s when Vere Johns paid her way to England since she was very close with Johns and his wife. She once wrote them a letter saying, “Thanks to you and Mrs. Johns for all I am today. You brought me up and made me an artiste.” Girl Satchmo traveled back and forth between England and Jamaica to perform. She performed in London at the St. Pancras Town Hall and numerous nightclubs, but she returned to Jamaica in the early 1970s as noted in a Daily Gleaner article on August 1, 1971 with the headline “Girl Satchmo for Independence jump up.”