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This months update we spotlight the Ska instrumental group the Skatalites, who recorded some very memorable and remarkable Ska tunes in the mid sixties. The line up of the original members were :-

Roland Alphonso tenor sax, Lester 'Ska' Sterling alto sax, Tommy McCook tenor sax and flute, (the leader of the group) Don Drummond on trombone,  Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore on trumpet, Lloyd Knibb on drums, Lloyd Brevett on bass and on piano and organ Jackie Mittoo, Jah Jerry Haines on guitar. At times, other musicians played on the studio sessions, Ernest Ranglin on guitar, keyboards Lloyd Richards, Aubrey Adams. Trumpet Baba Brooks and Raymond Harper. Dennis "ska" Campbell played tenor sax on many sessions and added to the pace and flavor on many tracks.  Skatalites also featured vocalists on some recordings and when they played live. This included Tony DaCosta, Doreen Schaffer and Lord Tanamo. Jackie Opel also performed very well on stage and made some fine recordings with them. They started recording in June 1964 and only recorded for about fourteen months until the late summer of 1965. They were primarily a session band working in the studio during the day. They recorded for both Clement Dodd and Duke Ried, who both had sound systems; Sir Coxsone's Downbeat and Duke Reid the Trojan. Ska was played at all the dance halls and house parties. The Skatalites played at clubs such as the Hi-Hat and the Bournemouth Club in Kingston, Jamaica.

At the same time the West Indian community in England were playing Ska records which were either imported from Jamaica or purchased from local record shops, issued on UK. labels, such as Blue Beat, Melodisc, Island recordslogo
Black Swan, and Ska Beat. Sound Systems were playing the new Ska music at some of the London clubs. In particular, the Four Acres in Dalston the Roaring Twenties in Carnaby Street, the Flamingo Club, Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Wardour Street and the Scene Club in Ham Yard. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames was one of the first bands to play Blue Beat and Ska live at the Flamingo Club. At the Cue Club in Paddington Count Suckle would play a mix of R&B Soul and Ska. The Ramjam Club in Brixton also had live bands. Out in the suburbs the Bromley Court Hotel, in Bromley, Kent, was one of many to play this music on mid week sessions as were the all nighter clubs, the Penthouse club (later called  Peyton Place) in Bromley and the El Partido club in Lewisham, which had a very strong following from the local West Indian community, and attracted interest from the white youngsters hearing the beat music, blast from large speakers attached to powerful sound systems, usually home made. Ska was mixed with Blue Beat and Tamla Motown dance music, also Rhythm and Blues had turned  into Soul, in the midnight hour, the young teenagers danced the night away...

the skatalites

It is remarkable that during such a short period the Skatalites recorded so many tunes, when you consider that during the evenings most of the musicians played with other bands. When the band split in 1965 they became the Soul Brothers under the leadership of Roland Alphonso, later changing the name to the  Soul Vendors, which also included Jackie Mittoo on organ. Tommy Mc Cook formed the Supersonics and joined Duke Reid at Treasure Isle.

Don Drummond made some very fine recordings including Man in the Street, Don Cosmic, Coolie Boy, Dragon Weapon and University Goes Ska. Roland Alphonso made many records under his own name such as Phoenix City, El Pussy Cat and James Bond. The sax player Tommy McCook also made many records under his own name including Yard Broom, Out of Space and Thunderball.

Rico Rodriquez played trombone on very early sessions with the Skatalites, before leaving JA for England, he went on to play for other record producers including Duke Reid, Vincent Chin and Prince Buster. He came to London in the late sixties and recorded for local producers in Brixton, recordings were issued on the Blue Cat label. At the start of the Reggae explosion he released several albums. He can be found on the CD Rico and the Rudies, Blow Your Horn & Brixton Cat Trojan 361. In 2007 he was awarded the MBE for services to music. Rico used to play fine trombone with the Jools Holland  jools hollandRhythm and Blues Orchestra for several years .(he died on 4th September 2015) The orchestra can be seen at times on the Jools Holland television music show on  BBC or see them on tour, they are a brilliant live act and perform some great Ska tunes "I'm in a dancing mood...

Finally, The Skatalites are still playing today, based in New York, with only one original members, Lester Sterling - AltoSax.

Lloyd Brevett Obit 01/08/1931- 03/05/2012 , Lloyd Knibb Obit 08/03/1931 - 12/05/2011

Skatalites and others can be heard on the Limited Edition 2 CD set Skamania/Skavooves Skatalites on Shanachie records 266.

Check out the following list of Skatalite tunes, most recordings are available on CD's  
Lee Harvey Oswald
Addis Ababa
Two for One
Bridge View
Third Man Ska
Ska in Vienna Woods
Ball of Fire
Ska La Parisenne
Christine Kieler
Nimble Foot Ska
Dr Kildare
Beardman Ska
Lucky Seven
Dick Tracy
I Should Have Known Better
Killer Diller
Guns of Navarone
Lawless Street
Ska-Boo-Da Bo


The Skatalites at the Jazz Cafe, Camden Town London, 25 August 1999
Skatalites at the Jazz Café Camden Town London, 12 & 13 August 1997
Skatalites & Friends at Randy's CD
Lloyd Brevett and The Skatalites African Roots CD
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