Tag: ska

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.

Giants Behind the Music: Prince Buster

Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamante Campbell) 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
Prince Buster presently reside in South Florida.

Giants Behind the Music: Chris Blackwell

Chris Blackwell (born Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell) was born in Westminster, London. His father –Joseph Blackwell was an Englishman who came to Jamaica as a major in the Jamaican Regiment of the British army. His mother – Blanche Lindo was a Jamaican Jew of Costa Rican descent. Chris came from a family of wealth – his father was related to the founders of Crosse & Blackwell, a British food processing and canning company. His mother belonged to one of Jamaica’s famous sugar plantation lines who were the original owners of Appleton Rum and one of the “21 families that is said to have controlled” the island in the 20th century.
Chris spent his childhood in Jamaica and was sent to Britain to continue his education at Harrow School. At the end of high school he opted to return to Jamaica instead of attending college. He became an aid to the Governor and later decided to step out on his own.  At first he entered the real estate business, and later distribution and management of jukeboxes. This later project brought him in direct contact with both ordinary Jamaicans and the music business. It is rumored that Chris’s introduction to “deep roots music” was quite accidental.  Author Brent Hageman (2005) noted that Chris was “sailing off the Hellshire Beach in 1958 when his boat ran aground on a coral reef.
The twenty one-year-old swam to the coast and attempted to find help along the shore in searing temperatures.  Collapsing on the beach, Blackwell was said to have been rescued by Rasta fishermen who tended his wounds and restored him back to health with traditional Ital food. Hageman noted that this experience gave Blackwell a spiritual introduction to Rastafarianism and was a key to his connection to the culture and its music.”
In 1958, at the young are of 22, Blackwell formed Island Records with an initial inheritance of $10,000.  His initial business partner was Jamaican radio personality – Graeme Goodall.  Their first release was an instrumental/vocal album by a Bermudian artist name Lance Hayward. A year later Chris started recording Jamaican popular music with artist like Laurel Aitkens – producing the island’s first locally produced hit – “Boogie in my Bones”, baked with “Little Sheila”
In 1962 Chris produced 26 singles and two albums. At the end of that year he returned to England in search of better production facilities and a larger market. Among the master tapes that Chris recorded that year and took to England was one by a fifteen-year-old Jamaican female singer name Millie Small. In 1964 he brought her over to England to record a Ska version of Barbie Gaye 1956 hit – “My Boy Lollypop”. The rest is history as that song went straight to number one as the very first Jamaican-linked song to make it to the top of the British charts. This marked the beginning of Island Records as the first great independent label.
Chris later joined forces with Stanley Borden of RKO Entertainment – producing some of the greatest artists of our time – artists that has impacted our lives and the music world in ways that can hardly be measured. Among them – Bob Marley, Grace Jones, U2, Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Sly & Robbie, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Cliff, Ike & Tina Turner, Third World, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Melissa Etheridge and African superstars Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, King Sunny Ade and Angelique Kidjo.
Blackwell sold his stake in Island in 1989 and eventually resigning from the company in 1997.  He went on to form Palm Pictures, a media entertainment company with music, film and DVD releases. In the late 1990s, Blackwell merged Palm Pictures with Rykodisc to form RykoPalm, a new operation. That same year he purchased Netherlands-based conglomerate PolyGram. He stayed on for a few years to supervise the companies that operated under the Island label.
Simultaneously, in the early ’90s, Blackwell created Island Outpost a South Beach based hotels and resorts company that purchased and managed hotels such as the Marlin Hotel in South Beach, Miami and Jamaica’s Strawberry Hill (1992), followed closely by Bahamian Pink Sands and Compass Point and The Caves, Jake’s and Golden Eye, in Oracabessa, Jamaica. Chris currently lives in Jamaica and has made the island his base of operation for several companies. These include multiple hotel properties – Golden Eye, Strawberry Hill in St Andrew, and the Caves in Negril, Jamaica. In recent years he has had some difficulty staying away from his family’s legacy and in 2009 he introduced his own brand of fine rum “Blackwell Black Gold” to the international market.
In April 2009, the UK magazine Music Week named Blackwell the most influential figure in the last 50 years of the British music industry. When he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, they described him as the “single person most responsible for turning the world on to reggae music”.  Although others like Johnny Nash and Paul Simon have certainly played a part in introducing reggae music to the US, Chris certainly stands out as the individual who took reggae around the world.  Today at the ripe “young” age of late seventies – when most people who have made such significant contributions to our lives are ready to retire, he spends most of his time with his favorite philanthropic organizations.  Among them – the Island ACTS, the Oracabessa Foundation, the Mary Vinson Blackwell Foundation (established in honor of his late wife to whom he was married from 1998 till 2009), and the Jamaican Conservation Trust.