The Skatalites

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.

Left to right Lloyd Brevett, C.S.Dodd, Roland Alphonso and Johnny Moore on Trumpet

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 records, Black Swan, and Ska Beat.

Sound Systems were playing the new Ska music at some of the London clubs. In particular, 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...

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, the recording 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  played fine trombone with the Jools Holland Rhythm 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 TV 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 member, Lester Sterling - AltoSax (above).

ska2soul