Vin Gordon plays the trombone as is often referred to as “Don Drummond Junior.” Mr. Gordon played with the top historical bands The Soul Vendors, The Soul Brothers, and Tommy McCook and The Supersonics as well as The Skatalites. Mr. Gordon plays a King trombone with a 6 and one-half Vincent mouthpiece. He likes a silver trombone with a large silver bell (not brass). JJ Johnson also used to played a the same manufacturer’s product, a King trombone.
Under the supervision of Alpha Boy’s School band master Lennie Hibbert, Mr. Gordon played the “blow bass” tuba or the string bass. It was not until he left Alpha in 1964-5, that he took up the trombone, although he did sample the trombone the week before he left Alpha Boys School. The first time Mr. Gordon played the trombone, he had to adjust to the smaller mouthpiece of the trombone as the tuba mouthpiece is significantly larger. Fortunately the trombone was the same bass clef instrument like the “blow bass.” Mr. Gordon commented, “it’s very easy to leave from the blow bass to play the trombone. You get a rounder, better, sweeter sound because you read the music the same way. They are in the same clef, the bass clef. All I had to do was learn the positions and there I go!” Although Mr. Gordon described the transition as easy, he also states, “I had to practice hard! Very hard, hard, hard. I used to practice eight hours a day.” It was after this that Rolando Alphonso took Vin Gordon to Studio One. The nickname “Don Drummond Junior” was coined at Studio One.
From Bellevue Hospital, Don Drummond himself sent Mr. Gordon a message. A friend by the name of “Seedie” who worked at Randy’s Records on North Parade was a very good friend of Don Drummond. Seedie was very familiar with all of Don’s music and met up with Vin Gordon after Mr. Gordon left Alpha School. Seedie would travel with Mr. Gordon when he played in Franklin Town and surrounding areas. One day when Vin Gordon was dropping off some records at Randy’s, Seedie had a message to relay. Seedie had been on a recent visit to see Don Drummond at Bellevue Hospital on Windward Road and delivered the message from Don Drummond, “Tell him that he is good!” Gordon commented, “He (Seedie) could talk with Don Drummond very good, y’know.”
Vin Gordon recorded “Heavenless” at Studio One. Mr. Gordon describes the release, “I did ‘Heavenless’ as a little boy in Studio One and Coxsone Dodd say Don Drummond play it. He put it on his album. He told me that it’s a mistake he made.” The critical issue is that Don Drummond was committed to Bellevue Hospital a short time after the incident occurred on January 1, 1965. Heavenless has a Reggae beat and Reggae was first used in song titles in approximately February, 1968 (Daulke, “Regay To Reggay”, 1994). While at Studio One, Vin Gordon also composed and recorded the dancehall anthem “Real Rock.” “Real Rock” was first known as an instrumental. Gordon recorded this music at the age of 19 with Jackie Mittoo. Gordon wrote the melody and Jackie Mittoo wrote the remainder of the rhythm.
Mr. Gordon also recorded with Dave Madden, Glen DeCosta, on horn work for Bob Marley’s music. As a three-piece horn section, they recorded “Natty Dread,” “Rat Race,” “Natural Mystic,” “Guiltiness” and others. Vin Gordon was at Channel One when Sly Dunbar just started. Gordon recorded as a member of The Revolutionaries with hornsmen Tommy McCook and Herman Marquis. Gordon commented that Marquis’ alto sax helped to supply a unique “intonation” to the tracks produced.
Presently Vin Gordon is working on a new solo album. He is also composing “pain music” for ill people to medically treat their pain. There is also the 2012 album titled “In The Garden,” which is available for purchase from I-Tunes. Much of Mr. Gordon’s musical work is playing live. He often plays his signature songs, which are now considered hallmark Jamaican music. Mr. Gordon describes these live performances from his uniquely historical perspective: “As a featuring horns specialist, they put you there ‘an you playin’ the tunes when you was young. You play “Real Rock” ‘an dem song, but it’s not your songs. It’s not your album. At that time you was so young and you did it because you were in practice. You didn’t care about watching it. You didn’t know how great you was, so it didn’t matter. Now when you listen back, you say, ‘Oh my God, if I knew!’”
Below are a series of ”mutant singles” by Luciano. Mutant in the sense that they are all 7” releases not thought to be widely distributed (not on albums or major labels). In the late 80’s – early 90’s, Luciano recorded dubplates for neighborhood sounds until he and Ricky Trooper crossed paths. Trooper recognized Luciano’s singing ability and took him to the Aquarius recording studio in Half Way Tree Square.
Fatis Burrell of Exterminator Productions managed Luciano along with Sizzla and Turbulance at a time of dramatic growth of the Bobo Dread movement. Over time Luciano expanded his recording limitlessly, recording on singles, albums and under contract with International labels. Luciano clearly does not believe in overexposure. In the early 1980’s when Yellowman and singer Don Carlos released volumes of singles and albums, some felt that recording and releasing too much would be harmful to an artist. Overexposure appears to be a thing of the past as the baritone voice of Luciano has benefitted from recording widely, now with over 40 albums in his wake.
*Thanks to the Central Village Crew from Cleveland – Survivalist, Sparticus, Willpower, and Tan Tan.
World Peace – John John – Lloyd James Junior – 7”
Hail Rastafari – Reggae central – 2006 – 7”
Good Times – Mac Dada – 7”
All Fruits Ripe – Junk Yard – Scarkmooch – 7”
World Leaders – Roots Rockers Music – 7”
Rock and Come In – Thompson Sound – Kevan Thompson – 7”
Fire and Ice – Main Frame Records – 7”
What Is Man – South Block – Michael Sterling – 7”
When Will Things Change (with Tony Rebel) – Big League – 7”
By Rich Lowe
It all comes down to the clash. There have been many clashes on Boxing Day in Jamaica at Reggae Sting and everyone has their opinion over the ultimate winner. Over the years, some of the clashes involved Kartel vs. Ninja (2003), Bounty vs. Beenie (1993), Ninja vs. Supercat (1991), Ninja vs. Shabba (1990), Bunny Wailer and the crowd (1987). Back in the eighties, further clashes involved Papa San, Stitchie, Admiral Bailey, Cobra, among others. These clashes are modern day folklore around who prevailed and are always controversial.
One favorite is Sting 2000 where Merciless was involved with what is known as “Four The Hard Way.” At that Sting, the relatively unknown Merciless took on Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, and Ninja Man and dispatched all three with a solid collection of fresh clash lyrics. Some were caught off guard and off balance as Merciless challenged all, dressed in full fatigues and menaced physically.
We had the opportunity to visit Merciless in 2001 at his yard in Kingston and discussed his Sting performance. A video of the interview was posted on YouTube. As a result, a Beenie supporter provided a string of intelligent observations of the clash, of the artists, and of Dancehall. The discussion follows:
merciless kill ninja in 2000 naa lie even tho ninja stil betta dan him its jus 1 a dose tings sumtime u hav da upper hand sumtimesu dont,, he kinda brush bounty aswell wudnt say kill him but he did hav da better of ninja an bounty, but defo did not kill beenie man becoz beenie was not in da clash to b killed an merciless an beenie did not go hed to hed for either to b killed, mercilles an beenie on da radio afta sting an merciless didnt say he killed beenie, do da research an chek da facts
True, Beenie came in late on the clash. Beenie also did not approach the situation to directly compete, based on his performance. Still, as you know, the general position is that Merciless was the overall winner. Merciless was physically menacing and had a lotta lyrics. In my opinion he caught the others by surprise - they did not expect it. In those days there was always a clash and in that period, always a winner.
your ryt i agree overall Merciless took sting dat year no doubt but beenie only sang 2 songs an if u chek bak it was like 1 of da biggest fawud frm da crowd an den merciless himself was sayin Laing NEW MONEY to kill dese 2 fools so dat alone shows relly an truly dat merciless himself didnt relly kill anybdy apart frm ninja coz he was askin laing for new money to clash an kill bounty an beenie but him an bounty sang mre songs at each other dan him an beenie.
You are right in what you say. You are applying a lot of background and "intention" with the Laing comment and how many tunes were sung, I don't know if the background you supply supports Beenie’s hesitance. Now, I am also a Beenie supporter (really I follow all of the participants), but I'm gonna be partial cuz I shot that Merciless video man!
Further, did you see 2011 Kiprich and Merciless? Whew! Merciless was caught flat-footed, had no response to the casket, and then was left alone on stage only to hear "boos" from the crowd. I will say that the prior Sting with Merciless was Merci's day in the sun. I'll also admit Merci copied Bounty's style. Still like Merciless though!
yh i hear wat ur sayin an u defo hav a point dere i must say merciless jus ad his day in 2000 on dat night dey cudnt relly defeat him but unfortunatly he cudnt sustain a long standing high level career like a beenie or a bounty or a kartel or a vado, dt is da key in da dancehall industry, to keep a long lasting career as long as possible its all about longevity or else its not worth it to be honest, i am a fan of dancehall in general i listen all artist as long as da songs are good, i dont like da Bias ting an sum fans are soooo BIAS its unbelievable SMH
Merciless does not really have the talent to maintain for the complete horse race. I also argue that Beenie has used up all his lyrics. Beenie has not produced much of anything quality or enjoyable in the last few years. He sure is prolific and puts out volume, but maybe he has used it all up. I never thought Vybz had much talent, except for controversy and image. In the image Department he is the boss. Dead bodies scattered around your houses sure does paint a picture. -
yes so true all these artist now a days seems to just let fame an wealth get the better of them and end up start doing ridiculous tings to fuck up their own career in the long run. just pathetic if you ask me..... all the music industry needs right now is love an unity an good music without any ridiculous controversy for a while t least a good 5 years of just pure good solid music and everybody living together as 1....... not saying there shouldn't be any competitive rivalry at times yes everything needs a bit of a competitive edge at times to keep it balanced but most of them just take it out of proportion on a ridiculous level,,,,, i don't even listen to them most of the time when they go over board tbh
Good assessment. Now, I just saw the video for the Sting 2012 with Kip Rich and Merciless and Ninja... and then Twin of twins and Kip Rich. The Twin of twin was laughable, (even though I enjoyed their original entry in the scene with the Sizzla interview with the white guy). Twins had no lyrics, would stop and then repeat cuz they screwed up the lyrics, and then Kip rich steam rolled them with lyrics, aggression, and then just walked off. He nailed it.
in 1984, Reggae Sting began at Cinema 2 and was the product of Supreme Promotions. The man behind Supreme is Isaiah Laing, who is a former police with 20 years in the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Laing has maintained his promotion of Sting in Jamaica to present day and in the mid 80’s was a producer of the Supreme record label. Supreme was the label that produced many Brigadier Jerry singles. At the time, Brigadier rarely recorded as the Dancehall lyrics for The Twelve Tribes of Israel member were considered precious and exclusive to the dance. The exception is when Brigadier Jerry did record, it was almost exclusively as a single on Supreme. Laing – often with Tommy Cowan’s assistance recorded other artistes like Frankie Paul, Gregory Isaacs, and Pinchers, but the recordings were selective and not in great quantity. One perspective is that Laing did not have to record. Recording was a choice, a show of strength, and related to the authority in his role as a police.
Laing is what some call a “Bad Man Police.” A Bad Man Police is a police officer that does not always hesitate to secure proper paperwork or backup to pursue an alleged criminal. Historical police fitting this role include Laing, Keith Gardener (“Trinity”), Tony Hewitt, Reneto Adams, and Cornwall Ford (known as “Bigga Ford”). Bigga Ford is a very large and fat man, but is surprisingly agile. A good friend once told me how he saw Bigga Ford chase a youth down the street who had fired a gun. Ford was running right in step with the youth and swiftly jumped down into a gully after the youth. Soon after two shots were heard in the distance. A few minutes after, a silhouette of the hulking Ford dragging the dead body back up the gully was seen by the growing crowd of people.
These police are celebrities. These police expose themselves to extreme violence and frequently gunshot. Laing himself has been physically shot three times (The Jamaica Observer, 13, November, 2013). When groups successfully attack and destroy police stations, securing paperwork is not always a consideration. The Bad Man Police has a list of people he has killed over the years. A lesser or aspiring police is often deceased. Conversely, any innocent lives lost are a struggle for the surviving family.
Laing has maintained the Sting concerts on the day following Christmas - Boxing Day. Christmas concerts have a long history in Jamaica dating back well over 100 years. The history is described by Neely (2008, p. 210), “…Christmas morning concerts began shortly thereafter in the late nineteenth century. The most important of these were organized by [Astley] Clerk…”. Neely continues, “…Clerk figured prominently in the festival movement. In addition to Christmas morning concerts, Clerk was named the Second Vice President of the Poetry League at its formation in 1924 and took an active role in its annual competitions” (Neely, 2008, p. 212).
There is a grand variation between Merciless’ lyrical talents, YouTube comments in patois, Bad Man Police, and 100 year-old history. These remote connections, strung tightly together, make Jamaica’s music and culture so interesting. This December (2013) marks the 29th year of Reggae Sting and people are already talking.
Neely, Daniel Tannehill. (2008). “Mento: Jamaica's Original Music”: Development
Tourism and the National Frame. (Doctoral Dissertation). New York University.
Staff Writer, (2013, November 03). DP: 'Super Cop' Laing's blazing gunfights. Jamaica
Observer. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Super-Cop--
Bling Dog -
Lady Saw - Very beautiful.
Nice crowd - very responsive. Lady Saw supplied a very sexual interlude during her performance. Lady saw's sexual prowess was challenged by a male patron - Saw was victorious in her tactful response to the man's "challenge."
Bling Dog in action.
Producer Bulby from Fat Eyes accompanied Lady Saw and Bling Dog for this particular tour.
“Mento Music: Jamaica, Belafonte, and the Golden Age”
For decades the Jamaica Cultural Development Council (JCDC) has held a Festival Song Competition in celebration of Jamaica’s Independence. The JCDC has also featured contests for Jamaican Mento Bands. Authentic Jamaican music was promoted early on, by plan, to help to build Jamaica. In his doctoral dissertation on Mento music, Neely describes "A Better Village Plan" developed by the Pioneer Clubs which produced "Jamaica Welfare’s Song Sheet #5" (2008, p. 205). These song sheets helped to spread a musical message throughout Jamaica and helped to influence Jamaican music to present date.
The documentation and communication in the form of sheet music, provided songs to the citizenry of Jamaica like “Linstead Market,” “Mango Walk” and “Emanuel Road.” The sheet music was reminiscent of the "tracts" sold on the street over two decades prior by a famous Kingston street duo known as "Slim and Sam." These tracts were the written music to be played by families and friends, often in the form of parlour music. The "Jamaica Welfare’s Song Sheet #5" even included songs written by Slim and Sam and were the songs that were to be the training tools for Mento bands in competition. According to Witmer (1987), the sale of tracts by Slim and Sam were quite significant, “… with Slim and Sam and early twentieth century itinerant songmen, we are dealing with a genuinely indigenous Jamaican urban popular music expression.” These songs were uniquely Jamaican, unlike a prior attempt described by Neely (2008, p. 201) by Jamaica Welfare in the 1930s to relate much more English and American songs like "My Bonnie."
As Mento bands refined their own tunes, they integrated the sheet music into their final product for presentation at community gatherings, in hotels, and in the 1950’s onto vinyl. Many of these songs have been played and played by The Skatalites in more "modern day" recordings.
Jamaican Mento music entered the scene after Trinidadian Calypso music’s popularity in the 1920’s and 30’s. One of the earlier Jamaican Calypsonians is Lord Fly. Garnice (2013) references a 1948 Jamaica Gleaner article that documents Lord Fly as active in the 1920's where he worked with George Moxey at The Silver Slipper Club in Kingston, Jamaica. Fly sang and played the saxophone and was one of the very first artists to record for Stanley Motta. As a featured artist, Fly commonly recorded and performed with The Dan Williams Orchestra up to the approximate year 1952. [This is where the genius of the website “Mentomusic.com” comes into play. In his careful documentation, Garnice (2013) communicated with the grandson of John Dan Williams who revealed that Dan Williams is the grandfather of singer Grace Jones]
In the 1950’s Lord Flea continued Mento’s momentum as a guest on national television in the U.S. The show was NBC's “Perry Como Show,” which aired on Saturday night February 9th, 1957. Flea was billed as "Lord Flea's Calypso Combo." Just a month later, Como was singing the “Banana Boat Song” on that same show. Lord Flea was hugely popular in the Golden Age of Mento in the mid 1950s. In 1956, Billboard magazine described Flea's talent: "Flea has a dynamic drive with the attention-getting sides. These can stir attention at all levels. But these two sides, performed by one of the most authentic and commercial groups around, could put many to shame" (1957, p. 58). This article hailed the success of the Capitol Records single "Shame Shame Señora" which had as a b-side, "The Naughty Little Flea." Dennis Howard (2011) describes the introduction of jukeboxes into Jamaica after 1955, "jukeboxes were scattered in bars all over Kingston." As a result, Jamaicans were exposed to the talents of their own with a new vehicle.
As Lord Flea was creating his own place in music, Harry Belafonte was next in line to push both Jamaican folk music and Calypso to a larger audience. Belafonte was born in New York in 1927 and when his parents separated, he moved to Kingston, Jamaica to live with his maternal grandmother. His mother Melvine Love had Harry return to New York in 1939.
With the first gold record in history in 1956 for the album "Calypso," Harry Belafonte soon became known as "The King of Calypso." The title of "king" for Belafonte was considered an insult to many Trinidadians and to Calypsonians like Lord Melody and Lord Kitchener who had earned their titles through organized competitions during Carnival in Trinidad. Supporters crowded into tents to watch the talents of their favorite Calypsonian who both wrote and sang their own music and displayed their talents by creating lyrics on the spot during competitions.
Belafonte scored hits on the Billboard charts and became hugely popular singing the songs of these Calypsonians. An example is "Boo Boo," which reached number 11 on The Billboard charts. This song was penned by Lord Melody and was crafted through years of trial and error in live performances. Belafonte was not the only one to sing “Boo Boo,” the song had been sung by many artists over the years, including The Monarchs. Belafonte’s charisma, talent, and timing is displayed on a 1957 episode of NBC’s Nat King Cole Television Show where Belafonte and Cole sang “Boo Boo” as a duet. The performance was candid and full of infectious energy.
Eventually the paths of Lord Melody and Harry Belafonte had to cross. In a 1986 interview from the film “Calypso Dreams,” Melody describes his first meeting with Belafonte: “I met him on the street and I said to him, I say, ‘Hi Belafonte.’ And he stood up. First time that man ever see me. He say, ‘Who are you?’ I say, ‘Melody.’ He said, ‘The Lord Melody?’ I said ‘Yes.’ He said ‘Come with me.’ And from that time to about you know, six years ago, we was totally married!” (2003).
Lord Burgess (Irving Louis Burgie) was a writer for Belafonte. Burgess wrote Belafonte's signature tune, "Jamaica Farewell." Burgess also wrote the version of "The Banana Boat Song" (reworked from the original Mento folk version) that Belafonte popularized. This version of "The Banana Boat Song" reached number five on the U.S. Billboard Magazine charts in 1955. Ironically, Burgess himself was born in New York in the United States. Burgess is an important connection to Belafonte with the written Jamaican folk music lyric.
Burgess grew up in a Jamaican section of New York and he studied at Julliard. Lord Burgess was a singer himself and appears on many recordings. There is an excellent album on Stinson Records (SLP 42) entitled "Calypso Serenaders" which showcases Jamaican, Haitian, and other folk music of the Caribbean. One tune on this album is "Rum and Cocoanut Water," which features the pennywhistle of Herbert Levy. The entire song is laced with the pennywhistle. Lord Burgess also utilized Levy on his album "The Father of Modern Calypso" and Belafonte was joined by Levy on his November, 1960 CBS Television performance "Belafonte: New York 19."
With the influences of Burgess, Lord Melody, Levy, his own Jamaican bloodline, good looks and luck, Harry Belafonte's contribution to Jamaican Folk music mushroomed in the 1950's. Lord Fly had set the track and Lord Flea established a youthful backdrop to Belafonte's sophisticated presentation of Jamaican Folk music.
The conflict over the use and authorship of the Calypso and Mento folk music continued to follow Belafonte. In a 1986 interview in the film “Calypso Dreams” (2003), Belafonte provided an explanation:
When this “King of Calypso” stuff came out, the Trinidadians went crazy. Boy, they went nuts! “Ya call yourself “The King of Calypso” and you never come here and you never go up into competition. You never do jump up. You never go into the tent. You never do nothin’ and you tief (sic) the music and you call yourself King? How can you do that?” And I said “You’re absolutely right! I’ve never been in the tent. I’ve never competed. I never thought I could. I never wanted to. Those who possess the Calypsonian art are men of remarkable gifts and there is a speciality to it that I’m not privileged to embrace. The fact that I’ve been called The King of Calypso was not my manufacturing. Deal with those who market and sell you goods that you buy every day. What I did was to use the environment of Caribbean lore to put us on the map at another level that I thought was instructive and creative for us. And in that service if I’ve offended you, then I beg your forgiveness.”
Dunn, G., Horne, M., Schwartz, M., Thiermann, E. (Producers), Dunn, Geoffrey, Horne,
Michael. (Directors). (2003). Calypso Dreams [Motion Picture]. USA: Pulse
Garnice, Michael, (2013). Lord Fly. Retrieved March, 15, 3013 from
Howard, Dennis, (2013). Punching For Recognition: The Jukebox as a Key Instrument
in the Development of Popular Jamaican Music. Retrieved March, 15, 3013 from
Neely, Daniel Tannehill. (2008). “Mento: Jamaica's Original Music”: Development
Tourism and the National Frame. (Doctoral Dissertation). New York University.
Nielsen Business Media, Inc (23 February 1957). "Billboard". Retrieved 15
Witmer, Robert. (Spring-Summer, 1987). "Local and Foreign": The Popular Music
Culture of Kingston, Jamaica, before Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae. Latin American
Music Review/Revista de Musica, Latinoamericana, 8(No. 1), 1-25.
(Exerpt from an upcoming feature on Lord Sassafrass)
R. Lowe February, 2013
It was 1986 at 2:00 in the morning, the night was especially hot and without a moon. Sassafrass was driving a motorcycle through the outskirts of Western Kingston with Ginger Tea, his hype man riding pillion. A hype man is a person who cheers on a performer at a dance which encourages the crowd to join in. This was not Sassa’s area, he was moving through a neighboring area, hoping to pass without drawing attention. In the darkness, Sassa steered left around a corner and Ginger Tea was steady leaning and looking right, at some activity on the corner. This caused the motorcycle to lose balance and wobble. Hitting the brakes, the bike came to a halt. Immediately, two men approached the bike. As they approached, the shorter, stockier man turned his head and exclaimed, “Hey Sassafrass! Ya gone foreign and mi nah hear ya voice again! Come chat pon the sound fe me.” The short man motioned over to the corner where Ginger Tea had been looking and Sassa could hear the music coming from beyond the zinc fence. Although Sassa was feeling kind of “boomy” (apprehensive/jumpy), there was pressure to comply given that he was not in his own area, but was being shown some decency.
Once inside the yard, there was a crowd of people moving in the darkness. A small set of lights were strung in the corner and on either side, Sassa and Ginger Tea could see a sound system with individual groups of men. This yard had two neighborhood sounds competing and Sassa immediately recognized the dj working the mic on one of the sounds, it was Gregory Peck. Sassa comments on many of the dance goers, “Them nuh really know Peck. So I stand up beside him to support him.” As Sassa settles into position, Gregory Peck turns to him and in his clear voice over the speaker boxes he shouts out pure attack lyrics against Sassa, trying to kill him! This was Peck defending his area as he was the local favorite. Quite likely that Peck wanted bragging rights of killing a hot dj who was scoring on the charts. Peck had not yet recorded much and had not yet made impact on the music scene, but he was ready for a fight. Peck then proceeds to run through a few riddims aggressing toward Sassa in relation to his recent time spent in New York, him being fat, and any other crafty insult he could manufacture. Sassafrass was almost knocked over, “I come there to support this guy and he try to kill mi man! Being a dj, ya have to be great to go into another dj area.”
Once Peck had his time on the mic, the crowd recognized that Lord Sassafrass needs to make his response and they beat the fence. At this point Sassa’s hype man Ginger Tea grabs hold of the mic and shouts to the crowd, “We nuh mix wid dutty bungle! All weh we deal with a nice n deacent peeeple. Hear dis, a strickly one, one. One me dealwid tonite people. Ecko Mnott one, Gentrees one, Sassa one! Come dung now Horseman.” Standing next to Ginger Tea, Lord Sassafrass takes hold of the mic and djs his song “Pocomania Jump,” “Poco jump, poco jump, make we do the poco jump…grow a Marveley inna one tenement. Month end come an me couldn’t pay mi rent…” Sassafrass commented, “The place tun over.” Sassafrass was able to depart that night with his pride, but was still struck at how Gregory Peck attacked him without provocation. Sassa recalls, “The little bwoi a try.” The next day, he reasoned with Echo Minott about the incident. Echo said, “Yeh a kill im wa kill u, a bus im waa bus, weh u tink? Yu was like dat bak in a de days. Yu want piece a everybody. Yu wrenk and feisty.” Ironic that it was Gregory Peck that followed Sassa’s Poco lyrics lead and later recorded one of his most recognizable songs “Poco Man Jam.”
On South Camp Road in Kingston, there is a saying - "Labour for learning before you grow old. For learning is better than silver or gold." These words have been repeated for generations by the nuns and Alpha Band Directors of Alpha Boys School. This learning involves musical instruction and many students have converted their musical education into gold - some more successfully than others.
Beginning in 1892, Alpha Boys School's musical education has produced highly skilled musicians. Musicians like Joe Harriott (saxophone), Winston "Sparrow" Martin (Drums, keyboards, trumpet), Johnnie "Dizzy" Moore (trumpet), Cedric "Im" Brooks (Saxophone, flute), and Bobby Ellis (trumpet) all had their skills tapped by the bandleaders and producers of Jamaica in the 1950s and 60s. Today's youth at Alpha are ready to test their skills. Today's generation of Alpha is Sykie Campbell who at age 14, recorded with Coxsone Dodd on the Studio One album "Come Dance With Me." Sykie plays drums, percussion and xylophone and during the day walks the same dirt path to the playing field that 16 year old Don Drummond walked when he attended Alpha in the 1940s. Before her death in 2003, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies worked with Sykie Campbell. Sykie recalls his time with her: "I've been at Alpha a long time. She'd always say, ‘Lickle man, one day you're gonna be that person that's going to be tall and be a big man.' She was that type of person that show love every time she see you."
The abilities of the youth at Alpha have not gone unnoticed over the years. Like a professional football coach recruits, the bandleaders and producers of Jamaica have recruited at Alpha for musicians. Sonny Bradshaw recruited Joe Harriott and Wilton Gaynair. Actually it was Alpha
School's Sister Ignatius that suggested Alpha student Joe Harriott to band leader Sonny Bradshaw. Coxsone Dodd recruited Cedric Brooks, Bobby Ellis, Vin Gordon, and Headley Bennett. In a 1991 interview, Coxsone Dodd commented about his first recordings in the late 1950s and his searches for talent, "Rhythm and Blues became obsolete because of Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll didn't [go] over in Jamaica too strong, so we decided to start doing our own stuff. First of all we're lookin' for a good voice, delivery, and willingness to learn." Band leader Eric Dean recruited Rico Rodriguez, Tommy McCook, and the great Don Drummond from Alpha School. In a 2002 interview, Sister Ignatius commented on the excitement that Don Drummond created: "Even though he was still in school, he was almost the number one trombonist in the island. When the band went out on Alpha engagements, a lot of musicians would go and listen to him. Band leaders used to come ‘round and listen."
Today's Band Director (since 1989) is Winston "Sparrow" Martin - an Alpha graduate himself. Mr. Martin continues the Alpha tradition by not only giving back in his role as band Director, but by assisting past Alpha Boys professionally. Mr. Martin comments, "I have a group of past Alpha boys who play at different functions, they do recordings, they travel abroad and go to places like France, Germany, Italy, to perform Jamaican music. I think it's a good thing to expose them and show them that the world is large and there are so many things you can do that will enhance you to be a better person."
Youthman Sykie Campbell represents the future of Alpha - talented, capable, and driven. Sykie Campbell recalls his parting with Sister Ignatius: "I can remember when I went to the chapel. Before she died, she said: ‘Lickle man, you have grown into a big man' and I laughed with her. I remember those words clearly." Decades before, it was Sister Ignatius that introduced Joe Harriott to band leader Sonny Bradshaw. It may be that Sykie Campbell will receive his recommendation from Band Director Sparrow Martin. From here it is "upward and onward!"
Educating the young men at Alpha Boys School is no easy task, but the outcome is youth with skills to survive wherever they may go in life. Where music is concerned, discipline teaches Alpha students how to play an instrument, to read music, to compose music, and to arrange music. Education is the key. When a musician is taught to read and write music, the possibilities are limitless. These great heights are expressed through accomplished musicians like Tommy McCook, Joe Harriott, and Don Drummond who are respected around the world for their musical genius.
The impact of Alpha is seen in the 1930's London, England music performances by Bertie King on clarinet and saxophone. King worked with the Leslie Hutchinson Band in London - playing, writing, and arranging musical numbers. King made his return to Jamaica in the late 1950s and formed the 14 piece Bertie King's Royal Jamaicans, playing as JBC Radio's studio band. Like Stanley Motta and Ken Khouri before him, King arranged for Jamaican music to be pressed onto 78 speed records in England by Decca Records. Early 1950's Jamaican Mento music was recorded by Alpha graduate Babe O'Brien when he worked with George Moxey's band on tunes which were recorded at Stanley Motta's Studio. Babe O'Brien also played with Moxey at The Silver Slipper Night Club in Kingston. Alto saxophone player Joe Harriott attended Alpha as a youth and traveled to England in 1951. Three years after his arrival, Harriott recorded his first full length album as the Joe Harriott Quartet entitled "Cool Jazz with Joe." On trumpet, Oscar Clarke first attended Alpha in 1914-15 and as an adult toured the U.S. with Jazz legend Louis Armstrong's orchestra. Being that Clarke played the trumpet like Armstrong, it is likely that he was part of a large orchestra that utilized multiple instruments. It is unclear as to if Clarke worked with Armstrong before or after the memorable visit of Louis Armstrong to Kingston in May of 1957. Armstrong greeted thousands of Kingstonians that year when he played and sang at a free outdoor show. Alpha School overflows with graduates - many of which are not commonly known. These graduates often worked as freelance musicians, but Alpha has also produced great singers - Alpha formed a Boys Choir in 1917. Owen Gray attended Alpha School as a youth continuing his singing as a tenor at church. Desmond Dekker attended Alpha after his mother passed away and his father desired a proper education for his son. Soon after graduation, Desmond was auditioning at Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. Other students include Winston Francis, Tony Gregory, Johnny Osbourne, and even Yellowman.
One of the most influential graduates of Alpha is Thomas Mathew McCook. McCook became interested in the saxophone after he saw his brother Frank playing. In response, his mother who worked at The Bournemouth Club enrolled him at Alpha in1939 (The Bournemouth Club was one of the first small clubs in Kingston and was originally called "The Bournemouth Bath"). It was not until 1940 that McCook began playing tenor saxophone under the instruction of Alpha School's bandleader George Neilson. McCook left Alpha in 1953 when he accepted an offer by Eric Dean to play at The Bournemouth Club. The same Tommy McCook went on to form The Skatalites band which played a critical role in the development of the uniquely Jamaican music: Ska. It took a full year of work by Coxsone Dodd to encourage Tommy to play for Studio One as The Skatalites. Tommy was first approached by Coxsone in 1962, but turned Dodd down. In 1963 he accepted the offer and assisted in the formation of The Skatalites. At that time mentor Sister Ignatius was looking on with a smile: "I heard them on the radio station and we also heard them practicing because sometimes they would come up here [Alpha School] and practice. Sometimes they would practice down by the sea - Bournemouth, and we would take the children down there for a sea bath." For the past 45 years Ska has been copied and duplicated throughout the world and is still building steam. It was no coincidence that when Ska was hitting big in England in 1981, Alpha graduate Rico Rodriguez was supplying the much needed Jamaican flavor with his trombone work on the Clash's #1 song "Ghost Town." The origins remain uniquely Jamaican with the Alpha Boys School signature stamp.
Rich Lowe, 2007
In 2004, singer Fanton Mojah burst onto the scene with a poor people's tune called "People Hungry." This song supported the ghetto youth who were under stress and pain over the most basic need - food. "People Hungry" made the connection with people all over the world and Fanton Mojah has continued his defense of the poor and needy. Being relatively new on the scene, Fanton Mojah's full impact is still in development. We do know that this artiste has already had significant impact, but his future path can be related through his music origins, his family life, and his musical philosophy.
An early link with music for Fanton Mojah occurred when he was growing up in St. Elizabeth and visited Apple Valley Park for a dance. Apple Valley Park is in Maggoty, St Elizabeth and is surrounded by Jamaica's longest river - The Black River. At this dance, Professor Nuts and Papa San performed and left a lasting impression. Fanton commented in an interview: "The first artistes mi really hide and go watch - Professor Nuts and Papa San. I usual thief outa my house as a lickle youth go watch dem. I wonder if one day I go come to be like these persons wey mi like. Cyaan forget one of mi favorite songs dem time. Ya have the one wey (General) Trees say: ‘Minivan people control Jamaica, one driver a dozen conductor!'" Fanton further describes how he expanded his time in the street, by staying with his grandparents: "We lef gone a grandma and grandpa. We come to love the street. We love to know what going on in the street. With grandma and grandpa, those are the time we really get to go out and look to see wha a gwaan. Whether a dance or a party. Around Daddy, we can't lef the yard! Daddy have ya under strict rule." At present, Fanton's father is preparing land in St Elizabeth for proper farming. Fanton comments, "We try to put in an acre of banana now in St Elizabeth, mi an mi old man. My old man down dere cutting down the place now to start all of this farming. My old man is a man weh grow up inna de bush and we come see him as a powerful man."
Fanton originally left the country for Kingston when an uncle made an offer for Fanton to do some work and earn some money. Upon moving to Kingston, Jamaica Fanton worked in a furniture refinishing shop where he sanded down furniture in preparation for stain and varnish. Fanton was always searching for contacts in the music business, so in his spare time he would pursue musical contacts. It was Papa Jaro's Dub Store that became a central focus. Fanton comments, "Kilamanjaro studio de near. Mi is a man who leave the business and waan know aritistes, so always pon de lookout. Lunchtime me stop sand down furniture and go look pon artists. Ya might see Leroy Smart pop on more time, Hammermouth, Ninja Man an' Garnet Silk." During this period, Fanton began singing under the name "The Mad Killer." He never recorded any formal releases under this name, but he did cut sound system dubplates. Under a later nickname of "Phantom," Fanton Mojah did begin recording songs in the studio. Close friend and singer Zareb (formerly known as "Singer Flasher") recalls Fanton's early visits to The Dub Store, "[Fanton Mojah] is a man love come a the studio. So the link made an' it real from that time."
Fanton Mojah is a music lover and can track the history of artistes and sound systems. In a recent conversation, Fanton was able to site chapter and verse on the sound history and differences between Exodus Nuclear sound and Exodus 4x4 sound. Exodus Nuclear is run by Gary Exodus and his father Romie. This sound has been in operation in different forms for a number of decades. With a similar name, Exodus 4x4 is a completely separate sound run by Father Duss. Some of this knowledge comes from years of working with Kilamanjaro Sound. From the connection made at The Dub Store, Fanton would also move with "Jaro" sound and work with Jaro by setting up speaker boxes and running wires. A good portion of this day-to-day work was built on a passion for reggae music. Fanton comments that, "Music make the people dem feel free and secure their mind." The message in the music can also be controversial. There is strong disagreement on the issue of the production and sale of guns. Fanton was firm in his distain for the large companies that produce so many guns, like Smith & Wesson. Fanton commented, "Babylon need fe implement a ting would cut out war, violence, and crime by stop building guns, bombs, [that] make destruction. If I did have the power to lock down Smith and Wesson factory, I would lock it!" In the video of the Mojah tune "Corruption," a police is shown mashing up a vendor's fruit stand. We discussed how lyrics can be sensitive and if Fanton is cautious on how he addresses issues, "Mi a bun dem. A corruption a crack up pon dem. Ya can't stop the people dem food a sell on the roadside to help dem kids. If you don't sell it on the roadside, you build a nice place an' give them. Set up somewhere properly. Something convenient wey them can sell an' the youth can eat. Babylon system never really take time and set thing for the youth. Them start bun fire an' say mi really start get inna trouble for these things, but it natural. It cannot hidden under the plastic under the cellar."
When listening to music by Fanton Mojah, you may hear him singing in his raspy voice, he may dj, and at times he may stop singing abruptly and talk for a section of a recorded song. In whatever form, Fanton has established a style that is based on a love of music and a distinct social consciousness. The direction from the start, was connected with that early anthem "People Hungry" and Fanton Mojah has continued moving forward with that essence of ghetto music.
Ricky Villa, original owner of La Benz Sound System.
LaBenz Sound, Selector, Jigsy
I first met Jigsy in the mid 1990s when he was working as selector and mic man for Labenz Sound. The sound had just arrived in Cleveland, Ohio as an attempt to cool out from activities in Jamaica. Ricky Villa (Father LaBenz) had decided to make the move from the "LaBenz Corner" in Jamaica to Cleveland, bringing with him his right hand - Jigsy. When Ricky Villa was moving, you could count on seeing Jigsy.
Well before he joined LaBenz, the very first sound that Jigsy worked with was Sharp Point. He then moved to a little community sound called Love Stone. His biggest break was when he left to go to a sound called Lionhouse. The next step brought him to LaBenz sound which was headed up by Sir Ricky Villa.
As many Clevelanders know, Ricky Villa died tragically around the year 2000. The death of Father LaBenz created a challenge for future for LaBenz Sound. Jigsy commented on the passing of Ricky Villa, "Taking up music and jus' put on the turntable, just see Ricky Villa doing it. Couldn't move with that. Even now I play certain type of music an' it touch my mind and feelings, even my heart. One time my friend say, ‘What happen to you?' an I just say, ‘Cho! You wouldn't even understand.' It reflect remembering my friend standing up beside me playing music and mi a talk. Dem tings is a reflection sameway." In 2002 Jigsy left Cleveland for Jamaica.
Some time passed and about three years ago, I started to hear about this selector in Kingston by the name of "Jigsy." Friends told me that this was Labenz's Jigsy, but I responded confidently in telling them that this was not the same Jigsy... but it was! Cleveland has a thriving Jamaican community and reggae music activities are plentiful, but we really have (arguably) not had any local/regional artistes buss big... until Jigsy. Jigsy has had a top ten tune with "Jigsy Dance," the dance itself is quite popular, Jigsy is the lead selector with Danga Zone's Jamaican Sound, as the selector for Danga Zone Jigsy has appeared at Fully Loaded, Elephant's Birthday Bash, Reggae Sum Fest (along with many others), he has led weekly dances with "Bembe Thursdays," produced new artistes music releases.
I spoke with Jigsy about his move to Jamaica in 2002 and asked what his first move was. "I was single playing LaBenz. I never had no help. Mi just try to take mi career to the next level by playing the music an' match up with the rest of the selector in Jamaica. Ca' you know down there live fire with sound system and selector. You haffe really good to stand out. It cost mi a whole heap of night's rest. Mi nuh get to sleep. We party every night - 24 hours. We have events every night from Sunday to Sunday. Mi no have no time for anybody. No time."
A key move was the connection with Danga Zone Sound and Jigsy provided some background on that first association. "It take a while, it was like a journey. Mi link up with them about 2003, going into 2004. Then comes a little change back in my life ca' I lose my best friend an' it take a whole heap from me fe get back pon track. Go through mi journey sameway and things don't really happen overnight. It's like this, I'm here in Kingston and those dudes are in Montego Bay. It's like three and one-half hours away from where I live. Them (Danga Zone) just create a sound. These friendly clash goin' on in MoBay. They want them sound to the next level. They want somebody who can deal with the sound the way they want. Them guy's talkin' to artristes. The artistes - which is my friend, New Kidz and Ninja Kid was there when all the men talkin' and say they want a selector. So mi flash right in them mind. They call me an' mi say, ‘Mi really don't want to play nobody's sound mi waan do mi own thing.' Mi take the bus from Kingston (to Montego Bay - home of Danga Zone Sound), big it up with the people. The first time them see me workin' sound inna MoBay, they say, ‘This really a different type of youth.' From there we jus' take it to a next level an' just bring it come a town where all the competition at. As a sound system ya have to have competition. We just match up with all the Kingston bad sound and be outstanding. From there Danga Zone jus' took off."
by Rich Lowe
Jamaican singer Elijah Prophet has built a solid foundation of reggae music singles over the past eight years. Now this Rastafarian youth who grew up with Garnet Silk, is ready to release his second album entitled "Soldier with a Cause." Elijah's first album was "King of Kings" and was released out of Germany on the Pow Pow Record label. This latest album offers a mix of reality lyrics and excellent musicianship as all tracks are performed by the six-piece roots band called The Uprising Band. In a recent interview, Elijah Prophet shared some of his experiences in recording his latest album with Tru Musik Records, "As soon as I came back from a European tour in 2007, the manager and the bass player from The Uprising Band came for me. They ask me if I'm interested an' I say sure! We start workin' from then. Soldier with a Cause album is different from the past album. All the riddims are not done by computer. I have the time to sing the songs. Things I don't like, I can take out of the song and redo the song again. I have the ability to do anything in the studio." The first single to be released is "Rainy Night In Summer." Although it sounds as though it may be a love song, it is a reality tune that describes two lovers hearing gunshots at night. These gunshots are from a neighbor's house and that neighbor has been killed by the police. The rain continues to fall as the two lovers pause to wonder who has died this night, so close to where they rest. To add to the moodiness of this track, this single also employs the atmospheric tenor saxophone of Dean Fraser. Elijah comments about the reality behind "Rainy Night," "It definitely portrays what happen in the garrison area, which we call ‘the ghetto.' Police tend to abuse a lot of innocent youth in the ghetto - not that every youth in the ghetto is innocent still. For instance, one man shoot after police, police will kill everyone in this side." The image of the neighbor lying in bed with his woman, hearing the gunshots, relates to a pattern of conflicting images in Elijah Prophet's music where he sings of "Johnny." We asked Elijah, "Who is Johnny?" "Johnny could be anybody. There's a Johnny who was a friend of mine who died violently. He wasn't a badman, just a hardworking guy who have a license gun and they kill him for the gun. All other "Johnny's" to me are anybody who try to do something different from the others. Johnny is someone who find himself in a sticky position at the moment." A prior single "Peace Party" also tells the story of the death of an innocent youth. "'Peace Party' was something I saw with my two eyes. These guys have wars for months, years. They say, ‘Let's sign some peace treaty.' The moment they sign the peace treaty, that's when everybody start to die. These guys say, ‘OK, now we can catch Mr. Johnny anywhere we want him because he think everything is OK.' That's how it go on and on and on." The Uprising Band has been together for five years. They work out of Rockfort, near Mountain View, by Kingston Harbour. Although this is a six-piece band, there are 30 or more people who comprise the Uprising "camp." In addition to the release of Elijah Prophet's "Rebel with a Cause," The Uprising Band has completed successful tours with singer Gyptian in Barbados and South America. The Uprising Band has additional albums coming out by Len Hammond, Easy Wayne, and a Dennis Brown tribute album by Fred Locks. Elijah says, "The Uprising Band is musically crazy. They have such genius. Everybody play their part, that's the nicest thing about The Uprising Crew." The Uprising engineer, "Volume C" provided his view on working with Elijah Prophet, "Elijah Prophet have a vibe - it natural. It's very easy for me to work with him ca' he's very experienced and he get a lot of exposure worldwide. There's a great energy, a nice spiritual energy." In closing, Elijah reflects (in present tense) on advice given to him by Garnet Silk: "Garnet is always a straight forward person. I love a person who don't play when it come to his work. Garnet always say, ‘Listen Elijah, no matter what - you have to do what Jah send you here to do.' An' I believe that 100% - rasta must be a rebel with a cause."