Nambo Robinson: A Giant who played with Grace

The reggae music fraternity just lost another true musical genius. While he was mostly thought of as a session musician, Nambo Robinson was often part of the horn section that was responsible for making many reggae songs into mega hits. He was a veteran trombonist, all-round musician, vocalist, percussionist and a true professional. He was the ultimate teacher and musicians’ and artists’ musician.
Nambo was born in 1949 in east Kingston, where he began his musical journey playing with the legendary Mystic Revelation of Rastafari band. In the late 1970s he played on several of Bob Marley’s hit albums, including Survival and Confrontation and Buffalo Soldier. He was a member of Jamaica’s top reggae band – Lloyd Parks and We the People for many years. His resume also includes stints with bands such as The Tony D’Acosta Affair, The Boris Gardener Happening and Light of Saba.
He later became a founding member (with his brother from another mother – Dean Fraser) of the 809 Band, which also included singer Desi “Desi Roots” Young and bassist Michael Fletcher. He also played and toured with Sly and Robbie’s Taxi Gang – playing on several of their mega hits with artists such as The Tamlins, Black Uhuru and the late Jimmy Riley.
In addition to Marley, throughout the years Nombo has recorded with most of the top recording artists in Jamaica. These include Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Beres Hammond, Shaggy, and Buju Banton. His international credits include live performances with Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and The Four Tops, and recording sessions with Lauryn Hill. Nambo was as comfortable on the stage playing Jazz and R & B, as he was playing reggae.
He recently launched a series of live stage shows that feature young Jamaica musicians.  The project was designed to showcase young talented musicians while celebrating the various genres of indigenous music such as Mento, Ska and Rocksteady.
Robinson released four solo albums/CDs, titled “Reggae in my Bone”, “Nambone Ska”,” Nambo Sing and Play” and “Raw Roots Rock Reggae”.
Ronald “Nambo” Robinson died peacefully in his sleep on the early morning of January 25, 2017. He was only 67 years young. He is survived by his wife Marcia and three children.

Gone Too Soon: Reggae Music Fraternity Losses in 2016

Jimmy Riley

jimmy-riley
Jimmy Riley

Veteran reggae singer/song writer Jimmy Riley left us on March 23, 2016. He died in New York while undergoing treatment for cancer. He was 68. Riley’s career which began when he was just a teenager in junior high school, spanned six decades. He began his recording career in the 1960s as a member of the Sensations – recording for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. Among the hits recorded by the Sensations were – Everyday Is Just a Holiday for Treasure Isle and Those Guys for producer Bunny Lee.
In 1967 he left the Sensations to join the Uniques – a group led by his friend and schoolmate Keith “Slim” Smith. That group recorded several original and American covers that became huge Rock Steady hits in Jamaica. Among them – Watch This Sound, Conversation and Gypsy Woman are Jamaican classics.
Riley’s solo career began around 1969-70. He had an extensive catalog of recording in the seventies, but his work with Sly and Robbie in the nineteen eighties propelled him to the top of the Jamaican and several internationals charts with his first Jamaican #1 hit – Love & Devotion.
Riley performed extensively internationally and was a part of the first Japan Splash – staged in that country in 1985. His last album – Contradiction – was released on VP’s VPAL label in 2013. The Kingston born singer was the father of current contemporary reggae chart topper – Tarrus Riley, with whom he recorded several songs.
Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell
prince-buster
Prince Buster

 
Prince Buster, the man known as “King of Jamaican Ska” died on September 9, 2016 in Florida. He had suffered a massive stroke some years earlier and had not been active on the music scene at the time of his death. Prince Buster was born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 24, 1938. His work as song-writer and produce during the Ska and Rock-Steady era has made him one of the giant figures of Jamaican music. This work has earned him an Order of Distinction (OD) honor from the Jamaican government. This honor is conferred upon citizens of Jamaica who have rendered outstanding and important service to Jamaica. His body of work as producer is said to have “influenced and shaped the course of Jamaican contemporary music and created a legacy of work that later reggae and Ska artists would draw upon”.
Prince Buster, like many Jamaican artist of the time, gained his earliest musical experience from the church. He began performing around Kingston at the “social clubs” as a teenager, and became part of a dance group that performed at the Glass Bucket Club, one of the premier music venues in Kingston at the time. He later joined the crew of “Tom the Great Sabastian”, one of the early sound systems that imported music from the United States – mostly New Orleans. Buster later went on to work with the music legend – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, the founder of the great Studio One.
His many jobs with Studio One enabled him to learn all the important aspects of both the music and the sound system business. He started his own sound system – named The Voice of the People, and became one of the main rivals of Clement Dodd’s “Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat”. In 1961 Prince Buster started his first record label in the heart of downtown Kingston. That same year he joined forces with drummer Arkland “Drumbago” Parks, guitarist Jah Jerry and Alpha Boys School graduate, Rico Rodriquez (whom he knew from his days at the Baby Grand Club) to release his first record – titled Little Honey backed by an instrumental called Luke Lane Shuffle. That was followed up with recording of the now famous – Oh Carolina by the Folks Brothers. This song is credited with the introduction of Nyabingi Rastafarian drumming and influences in main stream Jamaican music. The song was released on the Blue Beat label in England and went on to become one of the first influential Ska songs released outside Jamaica.
In the 1960s, Prince Buster went on to release several local hits with artists like Alton Ellis on this Wild Bells Label.
Among the Ska hits were Wash Wash –which charted in England and Madness which started a kind of Ska revolution around the world. At the end of the late 1960s, after meeting the world heavyweight champion – Muhammad Ali, Prince Buster decided to join the Nation of Islam. He did not walk away from the music business however, and continued to release several rock-steady hits. His song – Al Capone charted at number 18 in the United Kingdom in 1967.Over the years he has had a few cameo roles in movies including The Harder They Come – in which he played a club DJ.
Prince Buster continued to influence Ska revivals in the 1970s and 80s. It is said that the Ska revival of the late 1970s began with the British 2-Tone label’s introduction of his music to a new generation of listeners – some of who were not even born when he was popular in the UK. In 1979 the band Madness released their first single on 2-Tone, a tribute to Buster called “The Prince”. The B-side was a cover of the Prince Buster’s hit song “Madness” from which they took their name. Their second single, released on the Stiff label (“The Prince” was the only single released by Madness on the 2-Tone label), was a cover of Buster’s  “One Step Beyond”, which reached the UK Top 10.
On their self-titled debut album, The Specials covered “Too Hot” and borrowed elements from Campbell’s Judge Dread (in the song Stupid Marriage) and Al Capone (in the song Gangsters). The Specials also included a cover of Enjoy Yourself on their second album More Specials. The Beat covered Rough Rider and Whine & Grine on their album I Just Can’t Stop It. Campbell’s song Hard Man Fe Dead was covered by the U.S. Ska band The Toasters on their 1996 album 2 Tone Army
 

Gone Too Soon: Reggae Music Fraternity Losses in 2016 Part II

Vandelin “Vonnie” Mcgowan (Arscott), PhD, OD

vonnie-mcgowan
Vonnie McGowan

 
Vonnie McGown, died in Miramar, Florida on August 18, 2016. Vonnie’s contribution to promoting Jamaican culture and advancing Jamaican causes in the USA, as well as her selfless work on behalf the less fortunate in Jamaica is now legendary. She is credited as one of the first US-based individuals to sponsor Jamaican artists for single performances or nationwide tours in the United States. She also worked as a representative and/or manager for several acts, including Sanchez and Dennis Brown. She was a pioneer in promotion of Jamaican acts in the United States and in Jamaica. Her US shows included the Reggae Sunsplash US tour, and the only all-female reggae tour of the US – featuring Marcia Griffith and Judy Mowatt
Vonnie was promoter of the very popular Nostalgia in Gold series in south Florida – which put many Jamaican reggae acts on the same stage with the likes of the late Ben E. King, Freddie Jackson and Jerry Butler.  Her list of awards includes a Caribbean American Media Association (CAMA) for pioneering Caribbean radio in the US and an International Reggae Music Award (IRMA) for her outstanding contribution to the development of reggae music. In 2011 her body of work and many years of dedication to Jamaica, Jamaicans and Jamaican causes earned her the Order of Distinction – a national honor awarded by the Jamaican Government to its citizens who have performed a lifetime of outstanding service.
Among the US radio stations where Vonnie left her footprint was WHBI –FM, NY; WAXY-FM, NY and WOL-AM, Washington, DC.
  Bobby Ellis – Trumpeter
bobby-ellis
Bobby Ellis

 
In Jamaica Bobby Ellis was mostly known as that session musician whose contribution to reggae music development cannot easily be measured. He is regarded as one of the most influential trumpeter who played on a number of landmark Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae hits. For this writer, he was simply the father figure who took me to see my first international soccer game. Ellis was 84 when he died on October 19, 2016.
Ellis was born in Kingston and attended the famous “Music Factory” – Alpha Boys School for wayward boys in that city. His contemporaries at Alpha included legends Don Drummond (Trombone), Tommy McCook (Multi-Instrument) and Headley Bennett (Saxophone). He played on early Jamaican Jump Blues hits by Roy Wilson and Joe Higgs and on recordings by the Blues Busters and later, on hits for Bob Andy – including the “anthem” – I Have To Go Back Home. He was a key player in the Black Disciples that played for Burning Spear.
Ellis was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2014 – a national honor awarded by the Jamaican Government to its citizens who have performed a lifetime of outstanding service. His exceptional service was in the area of music and culture.

In the News

New Music
Eddie Murphy dropped new reggae single titled “Oh Jah Jah” in January. The track is on VPAL music and is distributed by VP Records. Murphy wrote and co-produced the record with Ralph Hawkins and Trenten Gumbs.
Mystic Revealers are back together after Fifteen year to release their new album titled “Crucial Cuts”. The album is available on VP Records new Dub Rockers label. The album reunites the quartet of Billy “Mystic” Wilmot (vocal, guitar), Leroy “Lion” Edwards (bass), Nicholas “Drummie” Henry (drums) and Steve Davis (guitar and vocalist). Popular artists Sizzla, Anthony B and Chronixx contributed to the album.
Gone Too Soon
T Boots Harris, a friend, journalist and entertainment consultant, music industry insider and radio host died of a heart attack in August 2014 at the young age of 69. Harris was a big part of the Jamaican entertainment industry and “advisor” to many young reggae artists for more that forty years.
Hopeton LewisMontego Bay born reggae star turned Gospel singer left us in September 2014. Lewis became a household name in Jamaican music in 1966 when he joined Trinidadian – Lyn Tait’s band to recorded one of the country’s first reggae hits title “Take It Easy”. He followed up with several huge hits – the biggest – his 1970 festival song titled “Boom Shaka Lacka”. He released his first Gospel album in 2000.
Uziah Thompson – known to most reggae musicians, promoters and media as “Sticky”, one of reggae industry’s most accomplished percussionists died in August 2014. Sticky gave more that 50 of his 78 years to the reggae music industry. The long list of artists, whose music he “decorated” included The Wailers, The Mighty Diamonds, Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe and Gregory Isaacs.
John Holt – a true legend in Jamaican culture died at the age of 67 in October 2014. The former lead singer of the Paragons and later an extended solo career was a key building block of both the Studio One and Trojan labels. John Holt
The singer/song writer was responsible for one of Jamaica’s earliest international hits – The Tide is High – covered by international star Blondie. Throughout his career Holt released 54 albums, including the classic collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra in 2001. His body of work earned him the national honor of Order of Distinction (Commander Class) by the Jamaican Government in 2004.