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The Skatalites are a ska band from Jamaica. They played initially between 1963 and 1965, and recorded many of their best known songs in the period, including "Guns of Navarone". They also played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artists who recorded during that period. They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.
Before the Skatalites: 1954-1964
The founders of the Skatalites were Tommy McCook (died 1998), Rolando Alphonso (died 1998), Lloyd Brevett (died 2012), Lloyd Knibb (died 2011), Lester Sterling, Don Drummond (died 1969), Jah Jerry Haynes (died 2007), Jackie Mittoo (died 1990), Johnny Moore (died 2008) and Jackie Opel (died 1970). These ten musicians started to play together from 1955, when Kingston's recording studios started to develop. Tommy McCook was the first member of the band to record, though not for commercial release: he played with Don Hitchman's Group in 1953. Archie Lindo asked Hitchman to play few tunes for his pioneer radio station, "ZQI", on their new equipment. Soon after that, sound system pioneer Stanley Motta began to operate his studio, where he recorded calypso and mento that were released on 78's. Rolando Alphonso was one of the first to record with him, probably in 1954.
Though McCook was the first in the band to record, he did not participate in the recording sessions with the other nine musicians. He left Jamaica in 1954 for a jazz gig at the Zanzibar Club in Nassau, Bahamas. He returned to Jamaica in June 1962, and began playing regular jazz sessions around Kingston.
Coxsone Dodd searched for jazz players around Kingston and was impressed by McCook's playing. Tommy McCook heard some ska, but initially resisted Coxsone Dodd's offers to record and to lead a studio group, because he was a committed jazzman. In 1962 Dodd released I Cover The Waterfront (Port-O-Jam) with Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond, who did the solo and brass sections. In 1963 he released Jazz Jamaica From the Workshop (Port-O-Jam/Studio One), on which McCook played for the first time since returning to Jamaica. Don Drummond has two tunes on Jazz Jamaica and McCook has one, "The Answer".
Early years: 1964-1965
In spring 1964, The Skatalites recorded their first LP Ska Authentic at Studio One in Kingston and toured Jamaica as the creators of ska. Their producers were Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Vincent "King" Edwards, Justin "Phillip" Yap, Leslie Kong, Lindon Pottinger, Sonia Pottinger and Vincent "Randy" Chin. The Skatalites led sessions with top artists and worked with young talents such as Delroy Wilson, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Lee Perry, etc.
They played their first show on 27 June at the Hi-Hat club, on Water Lane in Rae Town, which was owned and operated by Orville "Billy" Farnum. Coxsone Dodd helped initially: "At the formation of the band, I supplied the PA system, microphones and what ever it is. Also the guitar amplifier and other amplifier. I helped with transportation and I supplied storage for equipment and instruments. I was a part of promoting the first gigs and other gigs to get it off the ground, because I figured more or less, if I am recording the Skatalites, its good to get them popular out in the streets, yunno?"
In fall 1964, Don Drummond's composition, "Man in the Street", entered the Top 10 in the UK. Trombonist Drummond had at least 200 tunes to his name by 1965. On 1 January 1965, Drummond was jailed for the murder of his girlfriend, Anita "Marguerita" Mahfood. He was later convicted and remanded to the Bellevue Asylum.
In August 1965, The Skatalites played their last show. They broke up into two supergroups, Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. In early 1967, Drummond's ska adaptation of the theme to the film The Guns of Navarone entered the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. Don Drummond died on 6 May 1969, in the Bellevue Asylum.
In June 1983, The Skatalites reformed and played Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay in July after festival director Ronnie Burke persuaded them to appear at the fifth anniversary of the festival, despite Moore and McCook having not spoken since the band split. Their show was very successful and the band played more concerts in Jamaica while taking offers to tour abroad. Their rehearsal sessions resulted in a clutch of new songs which were recorded in Music Mountain Studio but only released in 2007 on Motion Records (as 'Rolling Steady: The 1983 Music Mountain Sessions'). The album included their tribute to Don Drummond, 'Big Trombone', with Lord Tanamo on vocals. In April 1984, The Skatalites recorded a second reunion album, The Return of The Big Guns, released on Mango Records in the U.K. On 7 July 1984, The Skatalites played to thousands at Selhurst Park during the London Sunsplash. The Skatalites played seven tunes and also backed Prince Buster on three before closing with a reprise of their theme song, "Freedom Sounds".
Between 1985 and 1988, the core members of the Skatalites emigrated and united in the northeast of the United States. They played their first US concert at The Village Gate and began to play spotted dates in Northeast US.
In April 1989, The Skatalites supported Bunny Wailer's Liberation Tour featuring 7 original members: Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Brevett, and Lloyd Knibb with special guests Dion Knibb on vocals, Devon James on guitar, and Ken Stewart on keyboards. In January 1990, The Skatalites did their first headline tour of the US with the same lineup except Jackie Mittoo and Lester Sterling. On 16 December 1990, Jackie Mittoo died in Toronto, Canada from cancer. Between 1991 and 1993, The Skatalites continued touring the US and in 1992 did their first tour of Europe.
In 1993, Skavoovee was released in the US on Shanachie Records and in Japan as McCooke's Book. The Skavoovee tour featuring The Skatalites, Special Beat, The Selecter, and The Toasters tours the US.The Skatalites were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Reggae Album twice: In January 1996, for their 1995 Shanachie release, Hi-Bop Ska and in January 1997, for their 1996 Shanachie release, Greetings From Skamania.
In 1997, The Skatalites released Ball of Fire on Island Records with special guest Ernest Ranglin on guitar. On 5 May 1998, Tommy McCook died near his home in Lithonia, Georgia. On 17 November 1998, Rolando Alphonso died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
Band without McCook and Alphonso: 1999-present
On 27 March 1999, Cedric Brooks (tenor sax) joined The Skatalites and in May 2000, The Skatalites record a new album, "Bashaka", at The Hit Factory in Miami, featuring 15 original tracks and special guest Ken Boothe on a vocal track. On 26 and 27 December 2001, The Skatalites recorded new album in Paris at Davout Studios for Melodie Records and released as From Paris with Love on 15 April 2002. In February 2002, The Skatalites began a nine month World Tour, visiting USA, Europe, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Russia and Japan.
In April 2003, The Skatalites returned to the studio with Toots Hibbert to record a contribution to his new album, True Love. They recorded "Never Grow Old" with Terry Hall and U-Roy. The album subsequently won a Grammy in 2004. In March 2004, The Skatalites announced the beginning of their 40th Anniversary tour including Colombia, Greece and Singapore, in addition to the usual global stops. Vin Gordon and Karl Bryan joined the band.
In 2005, original member Lloyd Brevet left the band, toured briefly leading his own band, and then retired to Jamaica. In April of that year, the Skatalites started a new world tour with their new bass player Val Douglas, whose A-Team band was the primary backing band for Reggae Sunsplash Tours through the 1980s and 1990s. In October 2005, The Skatalites released The Skatalites in Orbit, Vol.1 recorded live in Buenos Aires, recorded during concerts on 23 and 24 September 2005.
In March 2006, The Skatalites played at La Bal De La Rose for Caroline, Princess of Hanover, along with Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Alpha Blondy. This show started the 2006 Global Orbit Tour reaching Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. In April 2006, Skatalites recorded 11 new tunes and one cover in Byron Bay, Australia at the 301 Studios. The new release "On The Right Track" is forthcoming.
In May 2007, On The Right Track was released worldwide by AIM International, Australia. In September 2007, The Skatalites contributed the track "Be My Guest", with Ben Harper on vocals, for the Fats Domino tribute CD Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino featuring numerous artists. This CD raised funds for all the musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.
On 12 May 2011, founding member and drummer Lloyd Knibb died of liver cancer at age 80.
On 8 February 2012 the band announced a new single and album due out in 2012 as well as a new US tour starting in Texas and heading to New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Oregan, California, Washington and then Canada. These dates follow 4 dates they announced in January for the North East. The new album will be titled "All Roads" and will feature the last recordings of founding member Lloyd Knibb.