The Skatalites 60th Anniversary Tour

Not many groups get to celebrate 60 years of making music. It takes extraordinary musicians dedicated to a sound and a vision. More than a band, The Skatalites are an institution, an aggregation of top-notch musicians who didn’t merely define the sound of Jamaica but were that sound in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Skatalites are frequently credited as the originators of ska, the musical mélange of calypso, Caribbean Mento, R & B, and rock ‘n roll, that predated reggae and rocksteady. The various members came up through Jamaica’s hotel bar scene of the 1950s, banding together as both an original group and as the often uncredited back-up for artists/producers such as Prince Buster and Duke Reid.

The Skatalites were born in June 1964, although there are a variety of stories as to how it happened. The name came from Cuban-born tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook. McCook, as well as trumpeter Johnnie “Dizzie” Moore, alto sax player Lester Sterling, and trombonist Don Drummond were all “alumni” of the Alpha Cottage School for Boys, an educational institution for troubled and troublesome boys in Kingston, Jamaica. The school, run by the Catholic diocese, was renowned for its music program, and it turned hundreds of wayward boys into performers. These four ended up playing the Jamaican hotel circuit, then the only serious place to make music on the Island, before forming the Skatalites with guitar player Jerome “Jah Jerry” Hines, bassist Lloyd Brevett, pianist Donat Roy “Jackie” Mittoo, drummer Lloyd Knibbs, and alto sax player Roland Alphonso.

The group brought in vocalists and calypso star Joseph “Lord Tanamo” Gordon and debuted June 27, 1964, at the Hi-Hat Club in Rae Town. Soon, they had a residency at the Bournemouth Beach Club three nights a week and a Sunday residency at the Orange Bowl. While they disbanded in 1965, individual members continued playing in various groups as the music evolved from ska to rocksteady to reggae.

In the late ‘70s, a resurgence of interest began in the UK. It became known as the “Two-Tone era” and British bands like The Specials, The English Beat, and Bad Manners fused rock music with ska and reggae. Bands began to emerge all over the globe, playing different flavors of ska and reggae fused with whatever else they wanted to throw in.

IN 1983, The Skatalites reunited to play Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay and then at the Crystal Place in London for the UK version of Sunsplash. The members began emigrating to the United States and in 1986, the first US shows began at the Village Gate in New York City. The band supported Bunny Wailer on the Liberation tour in 1989 and followed it up with their first-ever headline tour of the US. Their 30th anniversary recording earned a Grammy nomination. The Skatalites have not stopped touring the world and their infectious brand of real, authentic, Jamaican ska excites audiences of all ages across the globe.

Come hear Island music by a group that was in at the creation.