The Skatalites completely transformed Jamaican popular music and without them Jamaican music today would undoubtedly be very different
The group consisted of some of the hottest musicians to ever come out of Jamaica, many of whom had learnt their craft at the legendary Alpha School For Boys, a Kingston school run by Catholic nuns that was seen as a last resort for those viewed as delinquent trouble-makers. The core members were Don Drummond (trombone), Roland Alphonso (tenor sax), Tommy McCook (tenor sax), Johnny ?Dizzy? Moore (trumpet), Lester Sterling (alto saxophone), Jackie Mittoo (piano / keyboards), Jerome ?Jah Jerry? Hines (guitar), Lloyd Knibbs (drums) and Lloyd Brevett (bass). All members had been instrumental in creating a new kind of Jamaican popular music which became known as Ska, a fusion of US R+B, Jazz, Doo ? Wop, Mento, Calypso and African rhythms. Ska was the first truly authentic Jamaican music and by the early 1960's all the vocalists on the island wanted to record their songs to this infectious new beat, the optimism of the music coinciding with the excitement surrounding Jamaica's independence in 1962
The musicians playing on these tracks saw an opportunity to play this new music live and in early 1964 they banded together to form a Jamaican supergroup, The Skatalites, a play on words incorporating the new style of music sweeping the nation and the Soviet space satellite that had recently been launched.
In a remarkably short period, just a little over a year they were responsible for hundreds of excellent 45s. Their repetoire was drawn from a wide variety of sources including film themes, Latin music, Jazz and traditional Jamaican music. They toured the island playing to packed dances wherever they went and their songs quickly ruled the airwaves and dances
They recorded countless hits for Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd at Studio One (Man On The Street, Guns of Navarone, Beardsman Ska, Addis Ababa, Dick Tracy, Cleopatra, Fidel Castro, President Kennedy and many more) along with hundreds of records for other top producers and labels of the time, either under the band name or using the name of the musician who had arranged the session - Duke Reid?s Treasure Isle label, Justin and Philip Yap?s Top Deck label, Prince Buster, Vincent 'King' Edwards, Leslie Kong, Lindon Pottinger and Vincent Chin?s ?Randy?s? all released great Skatalites records. They also led sessions and backed pretty much all the top artists of the day ? The Wailers, The Maytals, Jackie Opel, Doreen Schaeffer, Stranger Cole, Lord Creator, Delroy Wilson, Desmond Dekker, Lee Perry and many many more
How such a prolific and adored group dissolved in just a little over a year after forming has always been a matter of debate but it seems a mix of personal and financial problems along with rivalries between certain members of the group precipitated their downfall. One thing for certain is that when their most prolific writer and composer and the closest they had to a leader, the fearsomely talented but mentally unstable Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, the dancer Margarita Mahfood, and was subsequently sent to Belle Vue Mental Hospital in the summer of 1965 the Skatalites as a group were effectively over
The break-up resulted in the formation of two new supergroups ? Jackie Mittoo and Rolando Alphonso remained with Coxsone Dodd at Studio One to form the Soul Vendors and Tommy McCook went to work with Duke Reid at Treasure Isle and formed the Supersonics. The tragic Don Drummond died in Belle Vue in 1969
Whilst most members went on to become extremely influential individuals in the future developments of Jamaican music they still occasionally get together to record and perform as the Skatalites and there have been numerous reunions over the years ? they will always be much loved by anybody with even a passing interest in reggae music