"In 1962, after I'd left Buster, I made "Forward March!" which was the
start of it. Buster said there was an instrumental break on the record that
had been stolen from him." His response was to release "Black Head Chinaman,"
aimed directly at Morgan and Kong. The problem lasted for two years until
"the government finally asked us to stop, because it was causing too much
While the feud continued, it fueled record sales for both artists. Not
that Morgan needed the boost. Even as new acts like the Wailers and
the Maytals, or solo artists such as Alton Ellis
Morris came along, he remained the king.
"There were a lot of hits," he said. "There was a time when I had seven
of the top 10, number one to number seven. They used to call me ?The Hitmaker
and the Hitbreaker.' Every producer used to come looking for me. And every
Saturday whoever had hits in the charts used to go to a club called the
Silver Slipper and sing. They'd pay two pounds a song. I ended up getting
14 pounds one week, and the other artists didn't like that. But it was me.
I'd sing, and people loved it, and my records sold."
By now, sound systems had become big business (Dodd alone owned four),
and that meant more and more records were needed. In turn, that required
musicians. The main studios had their own bands to back singers and also
release instrumental tracks - another of ska's backbones.
According to Barrow, Morgan was so successful "because he sang soulfully,
he had that sound, but he sang Jamaican songs, things that could only have
been written in Jamaica." |
The ska sound swept through Jamaica the way beat music would take over
England a few years later, and the number of recording acts proliferated
to meet the demand. It offered a start to a numbers of artists whose careers
still continue. The Maytals, led by Toots Hibbert,
scored a string
of hit singles. Ken Boothe.
It was also the beginning for a young Robert Nesta Marley who was
part of a vocal trio called the Wailers. Marley had received his first push
from Kong, but once he began working with Neville ?Bunny' Livingstone
and Peter Tosh
as the Wailers, recording for Clement Dodd at Studio
One, the magic began. "Simmer Down" was one of the major hits of 1973; rumor
has it that the record sold 70,000 copies in just a few weeks.
In 1962, tenor sax player Tommy McCook was asked to join the Studio One
band, but "back then I was a John Coltrane disciple, I was into the
jazz scene. I wasn't familiar with ska. I didn't start recording it until
a year later, after listening to the music with Don Drummond. Then I thought
I had the feel of it, so I decided to start recording. My jazz group had
broken up and I'd joined Aubrey Adams's
band, playing at the Courtleigh
Manor hotel. We all played in big bands, we all came from a jazz influence.
The ska that was being played changed when I joined the Studio One group.
Before that it was a boogie kind of ska. After I joined it was a jazz-ska
thing. I think "Exodus" was my first instrumental there, and then I started
writing for Coxsone. People kept asking me who were the people on the records
- they recognized my sound from the discs. So I'd tell them who was in the
Studio One group, and when I went to the next session I told [the musicians]
to form a group, because people were asking about them, and people would
pay to say them. Jah Jerry said they'd form a group if I'd lead it. I said
I couldn't, because I was still under contract to Adams. And they still
said they'd only form it if I'd lead it. Eventually my contract with Aubrey
was up, and I didn't sign back with him."
And so the most influential instrumental ska band, and certainly the most
famous, began - the Skatalites.|
"I formed the group in June of 64, and we did pretty good," McCook continued.
"We were going all over Jamaica. We did 14 months on the road before we
disband in 65."
Apart from live shows, they recorded a number of hits, like "Guns of Navarone."
With reputations as skilled soloists, the Skatalites were the main band'
in a young industry. Most were graduates of the famous Alpha Boys' School,
a Catholic institution which seemed to churn out musical talent - Roland
Alphonso, Jackie Mittoo, and Lester Sterling, any number
of instrumentalists who'd become famous in Jamaican music. And there was
also Don Drummond, perhaps the most gifted of them all, who'd meet a tragic
end in an insane asylum after murdering his common-law wife.
By 1964, ska had become the pre-eminent music in Jamaica, its identity
closely entwined with the country. So closely tied, in fact, that for the
World's Fair that year in New York, the Jamaican government sent over Jimmy
Cliff (as well as bandleader Byron Lee,
Prince buster, and Carole
Crawford, the reigning Miss World) in an attempt to export ska to the
U.S.. There were performances, and classes were offered in dancing the
ska' and the shuffle.' As history shows, it didn't work.
Ska might not have caught on in America, but in England it was a different
story. But Britain, particularly England, had a growing Jamaican population.
World War II had left the country decimated, both physically and psychologically.
The servicemen who returned came back to a place that needed rebuilding,
both in physical plant and infrastructure, to really make it a land fit
for heroes. The only way was to import labor, so in 1948 the doors were
opened to citizens of the Empire. The money promised was far more than they
could have earned in the colonies (although no mention was made of the higher
cost of living, or the lack of availability of so many things in a country
still living in austerity), that people arrived from all over.
Unsurprisingly, each nationality gravitated to its own, both socially and
in living areas. They needed each other in this foreign place, especially
when the immigrants discovered the promise of riches was no more than words
and they found themselves doing jobs the natives didn't want.
Around people from home, though, things were easier. For the Jamaicans,
that meant importing ideas from the island, one of which was the sound system.
By 1956, the first one was operating in England, and soon blues dances,'
as they were known, were a weekend feature of Jamaican communities through
out the country. Once ska hit at home, it made its way across the Atlantic,
where it proved popular with the expatriates. In 1962, three labels were
releasing Jamaican music in the U.K. - Melodisc, which created the Blue
Beat label for ska, with Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken as their main artists;
Island, Chris Blackwell's creation; and R&B. As more and more Jamaicans
moved to Britain, it became a more lucrative market for artists than Jamaica
itself. "You might sell five thousand records in Jamaica, but you'd sell a lot
more over there," Morgan observed.
Aitken, a Panamanian, was one of the first ska musicians to make his home
in England, where his records always sold well, sometimes staggeringly so
- "Mary Lee," an early single, shipped 80,000 copies in England alone. He
also made frequent live appearances in the country. It took a couple of years, but ska, or blue beat as it was also known,
did manage to break though briefly into the British pop mainstream.
"My Boy Lollipop," by Millie Small was a cover of an old Barbie
Gaye R&B tune. The record became a true international sensation, climbing
to #2 in both the U.K. and U.S., which was enough to make part of a generation
of Britons aware of the underground movement happening around them. The
Mods listened hard. For them the music of choice was soul, but there was
also a definite attraction to ska, with its irresistible beat, and also
to the sharp looks of the rude boys, the most fashionable Jamaican youth.
Shaved heads, good clothes, pork pie hats - the rude boys had style, and
the mods - some of whom became skinheads a few years later - copied much
of it. There was an affinity of sorts between the two groups that transcended
race. Both were working class, and had a taste for the good life and strong
dancing music. The rude boy phenomenon had begun in Jamaica and was soon
exported to Jamaicans overseas.
At home they were youth who'd flocked to
Kingston after independence, only to find no opportunity in the city. With
no work, and no money, they found themselves existing in the ghettoes of
Trenchtown and riverton City, making money any way they could, often turning
to crime (as in the film The Harder They Come), forming gangs, making
their way in the underworld and even into some of the armed political groups
which were gaining in influence. They were cool, and bad,' as they said.
Rude boys lived on society's fringes, outsiders, and expressed themselves
through their dress and their dance. Ska, with its quick beat, demanded
a lot of energy from its dancers. But rude boys didn't like to move that
fast. "They used to dance half-speed to certain ska records," explained
Barrow, "and the music changed to accommodate that." |
Which was the birth of rocksteady.
Go To: HISTORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC Part 4