Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Brief But Important Lesson on The Skatalites AKA Kings of Ska Music

Before sell out records became a blog, I spent a lot of time writing about the history of music. One of the bands that has been a part of my collection since I first discovered alternative music was this mighty band, Skatalites. Every time they have come around, I have missed them, and I was even made fun of and called gay for liking the genre. Well, that's too bad for all those idiots that didn't like this brand of music, because they are the ones that are missing out. This is one of the best examples of the genre and the band has been around for what seems like forever. They do not play third wave, they play the traditional ska set from the 1960s and it's a jazz fusion in many ways.

I wrote this original condensed history a few years ago. However, I found that it fits in this website a lot better than it did on my other website, so I wanted to move it, and make sure it got a little bit more of the sell out records treatment. So here it is, a condensed history of the band that is definitely worth listening to at any given moment in your life! The Skatalites!

skatalites jamaica
One of the biggest names in ska music came from Jamaica. The Skatalites started playing in 1963 and played for a couple of years and recorded some classic material. They are one of the more prolific ska bands of the era. During their first years they recorded some great songs, and played on records by Jamaica’s biggest artists from the 60’s. The were quiet for quite some time, and then reformed in 1983 during the rise of second wave, two tone music, and have been performing together ever since.

Before The Skatalites Were Formed

The founders of this influential band were Trevor Simmons, Tommy McCook, Rolando Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Jah Jerry Haynes, Jackie Mittoo, Johnny Moore, and Jackie Opel. Those ten key members started playing music together in 1955 and moved on to record on many records as hired studio men. The early history of these musicians involved a lot of studio recordings, in the developing Kingston, recording studios. Seven of the original ten members have passed away, but their musical legacy lives on forever.

The First Wave and Break Up of The Skatalites

The year was 1964 and The Skatalites finally sat down together and recorded their first LP, it as entitled “Ska Authentic” and it was recorded in the famed Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica. After the recording was released, the band toured all over Jamaica with the banner of being the creators of ska. Produced by some of the biggest names of the time, the band led sessions with some of the best young talents of the time including Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Lee Perry and others.

It was in the fall of the same year that one of the founding members gained major notoriety as his composition, “Man In The Street” gained major attention in the UK. One year later he would have 200 some odd tunes to his name, but that same year he was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, and was eventually placed in Bellevue Asylum. (not to be confused with Arkham Asylum) Drummond died on May 6, 1969 in the Asylum.
skatalites blogspot

In the summer of 1965 The Skatalites ended their run as the makers of ska, broke up and splintered into two variants, each one playing similar styles but not under the same name.

The two groups formed with the break up of the first edition of The Skatalites were Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. Despite Drummond’s exile, in 1967 his ska adaptation of the them for “The Guns of Navarone” hit the UK top 10, he would die incarcerated two years later.

The Comeback

In the summer of 1983 at the famed Reggae Sunsplash Festival in Montego Bay The Skatalites brought their creative ska form and played in front of a large and receptive crowd. During the rehearsal sessions of the band, the group wrote a slew of new songs, and were recorded in Music Mountain Studio. The recordings would not see the light of day until 2007. The record included a tribute to Don Drummond with Lord Tanamo on vocals entitled, “Big Trombone”.

1984 would usher in a new flock of ska fans around the world, as UK ska was getting really big, and the band would release their second comeback (reunion if you must) record entitled, “The Return of the Big Guns” on Mango Records. The band would continue to generate a great amount of buzz throughout the UK and even played to thousands at several festivals.

With a newfound success and enthusiasm, the members of the band moved their crew for around three years to the United States. They played throughout the Northeast United States and heralded a new batch of fans, all excited by the popularity of ska music that was hitting mainstream in around the world.

In 1989 the band supported Bunny Wailer’s Liberation Tour and continued to play music through the mid 90’s. The band toured extensively throughout the U.S for several years and took their brand of traditional Jamaican flavor to Europe in 1992.

In 1993 the band released “Skavoovee” and continued to generate a large buzz and following and that led to many opportunities to tour with bands like The Selecter, The Toasters, and get a Grammy Nomination for Best Reggae Album twice (1996, and 1997).

The late 90’s found the band releasing “Ball of Fire” on Island Records (a major record label) and many of the founding members began to fall ill, and pass away at various stages.

The Turn of the Millennium

The Skatalites recorded new music in March 1999, then more music was released in 2001, 2003, and released a live record that was performed live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

mp3 downloadWith several line up changes, the band when through a flurry of tours throughout the world visiting the United States, Europe, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Russia, and Japan for 9 months straight. They would tour throughout the world many times, record, and continue to play traditional ska throughout the 2000’s.

Never resting, The Skatalites went back to the studio and recorded a new world release record entitled “On The Right Track” and were even featured on a Fats Domino tribute cd. The cd raised funds for musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.


Still alive, and garnering a lot of attention from fans around the world, the band continues to record, tour, and treat ska music with a level of respect and professionalism that no other wave of ska music that has come in and out of fashion has been able to duplicate.

The current members of the band include, Lloyd Knibb, Doreen Shaffer, Lester Sterling, Rohan Gordon, Kevin Batchelor, Cedric “IM” Brooks, Val Douglas, Trevor Simmons aka Big Red aka The Scarlet Goblin, Andrae Murchison, and Cameron Greenlee.

Notable discs, recommendations, and random tomfoolery after the fact.

At this point, if you’re still reading my history lesson in ska music, it should be noted that there are a TON of records from The Skatalites. For new fans, old fans, and those looking to fill the void in their life with some quality music, consider these records:

Guns of Navarone: The Best of the Skatalites

Foundation Ska (2 Disc Set)

The Skatalites In Orbit Volume 1 (Japanese Import) Live

Obviously, there are a ton of other records to consider, but the preceding will hold you over for a long time.

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