Early Wailers: Pre-Island Years

Thanks to the local public library, I am no longer the same person I once was after reading Roger Steffens‘ comprehensive and thoughtfully organized oral history of Bob Marley and, by extension, The Wailers, from their earliest days.  Halfway through the book I felt compelled to take notes about a number of the more obscure early Wailers tracks.

What got me off the couch was the reminder that Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins, and Danny Sims (i.e., the JAD production team, featured late last December) brought in top NYC session players to “sweeten” the tracks for American ears – including Bernard Purdie (subject of a recent King history piece).  However, when you check the credits on disc one (1968) of the three-disc JAD box set, it says musicians “probably include” Eric Gale, Bernard Purdie, et al.  If not Purdie on tracks 1 through 14, asks Zero to 180, then what other drummer?   Check out “Love” – a surprisingly tender ballad from the Wailer with the most militant reputation – and decide whether Bernard Purdie provides the drum part on this JAD production from 1968:

“Love”     The Wailers     1968

Speaking of Peter Tosh, Steffens notes that the original Studio One ska version of “Maga Dog” includes little-known female Wailer, Cherry Green:

“Maga Dog”     The Wailers (backed by The Skatalites)    1965

Cherry Green can also be heard on “Lonesome Feeling,” as well as “There She Goes” – The Wailers backed by The Mighty Vikingsa rare 45 from 1964.

(Photo courtesy of Discogs)

It Hurts to Be Alone” features vocalist, Junior Braithwaite, another early member.  Check out the opening guitar line and instrumental solo break – who else could it be?  Answer:  Ernest Ranglin.

“It Hurts To Be Alone”     The Wailers     1964

Bunny Wailer affirms that “It Hurts to Be Alone” — a “smash” when performed live in the early days – was a song directly inspired by Curtis Mayfield‘s “I’m So Proud,” as recorded by The Impressions:

“I’m So Proud”     The Impressions     1964

Beverley Kelso, another member from the earliest days [who can be heard on early hit, “Simmer Down“], tells The Jamaica Observer in 2012 that she provided harmony on the original recording of “It Hurts To Be Alone“.  This song, notes Steffens — “the group’s first ballad to make a big impression” (get it?) — was written by “the teenaged Junior Braithwaite and recorded on August 28, 1964, the day before he left the island for Chicago” to join his family in the States.

Kelso sang on Wailers recordings sessions throughout 1964 and into the beginning of 1965 — including “Habits” from the group’s sixth recording session in mid-July 1964:

“Habits”     The Wailers     1965

Dreamland” (Steffens points out) is not a Bunny Wailer original but rather an adaptation of a relatively obscure A-side – “My Dream Island” by El Tempos – that had been suggested to the group by Studio One owner, Coxson(e) Dodd:

As Discogs notes:

Originally (but never officially credited on Wailers-related records), it was an adaptation of a song “My Dream Island” by El Tempos on a Vee Jay Records 7-inch (VJ 580, 1963).  Composed by AlBunkJohnson, lead singer of El Tempos.

Constantine “Dream” (a.k.a., ”Vision”) Walker – Rita (Anderson) Marley’s cousin – filled in for Bob when he was in Delaware and can be heard on “Sunday Morning”; “Let Him Go”; “Rock Sweet Rock”; “Dancing Shoes”; “I Need You”; “I Stand Predominate” (←fast forward to 24:51); and “I’m the Toughest:

“I’m the Toughest”     The Wailers     1966

Wailers in the JA Pop Charts:  What Constitutes aHit

Steffens states (on pgs. 56-7) that in 1965, “the Wailers had the number one [“Simmer Down”], two [“It Hurts To Be Alone“], three [“Rude Boy“], five [“Jailhouse“], and seven [“Put It On“] songs in the Top Ten at once.”  Earlier in the book, Dodd helps give some context as to what constitutes a “hit”:  “When ‘Simmer Down’ come out, in those days, anything from five thousand was a hit.  I would say twenty thousand would be a strong hit.”  Steffens adds, “At the height of the success of ‘Simmer Down’ it kept four pressing plants going and sold a reported eighty thousand copies on an island with only about two million inhabitants.”

During their early years, The Wailers were a pretty volatile live act, you might be surprised to know, as Bunny Wailer makes clear:

Our first appearance was at the Palace.  Wailers were hot.  When we hit the stage it was just fire … When we came on, half the people left their seats and were down almost to the edge of the stage, ’cause Wailers were like gymnastics.  Flickings and splits and snap falls.  All Wailers split.  We did stuff where Bob would take me and throw me in the air and we’d split.  Bob would kneel down, I would go over his back — splits.  Peter would come there and bounce us like rubber balls, just comin’ up and goin’ down like that.  I would run to him, he catches me, and as my belly cross his arm he just flicks and split.

Bunny says that at the last show before Bob left for Delaware, it was a first-ever concert in the National Stadium, and the moment that made the crowd lose control happened during one particular Bob ballad, “I’m Still Waiting:

We had a little plan for “I’m Still Waiting” where when Bob said ‘my feet’, his feet just feel from under him, and we caught him before him hit the ground and just bring him back on mic.

“I’m Still Waiting”     The Wailers & Soul Brothers Orchestra     1965

Steffens also notes that “Rasta Shook Them Up” — a Peter Tosh song recorded just a few days after Haile Selassie’s historic 1966 visit to Jamaica – is “the Wailers’ first record specifically mentioning Selassie” (and a 45 that does well at auction):

“Rasta Shook Them Up”     The Wailers     1966

Freedom Time” – 1966 song of liberation from Dodd, despite being recorded at Studio One with The Soul Brothers is the first Wail‘n’ Soul’m 45 b/w “Bend Down Low” (Bunny says it sold something like 50,000 copies):

Check out the loping rocksteady version of “Stepping Razor” from 1967 — augmented by heavy hand drums (note the flubbed chord by the band just seconds before fading):

More Nyabinghi hand drums on Tosh/Wailers “Burial (below) the flip side to “Pound Get a Blow,” almost certainly recorded during the time Bob was in Delaware (where part of his time was spent sweeping floors at the opulent Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington) –- great piano on this killer rocksteady Wail’n Soul’m 45 release from 1968:

Hotel Du Pont:  Where Jeff Nold once imbibed

Musical blooper:  bassist accidentally plays opening note too early (or does he?)

Wail’n Soul’m 45s (Thanks to Discogs)

Other Wailers Rarities

Jamaica 45 — 2003                                          Pre-release — 1969

Glad to be reminded that the ill-named Best of the Wailers album that was recorded at Leslie Kong’s studio (and released August, 1971) was intended as reggae’s first “concept” album — a “thematically structured collection of songs,” explain the liner notes to JAD’s 3-disc box set, “geared to the idea of giving themselves a pep talk:  we’re back in the business, we’re not afraid, and we’re moving forward to new heights, and the past be damned.”

  • A more appropriate album title, asserts Bunny Wailer, would’ve been “Cheer Up:

“Cheer Up”     The Wailers     1970

Carlton + Family Man = “Hippy Boys”:  Trivia

Bunny Lee produced the first recording session to feature Carlton and Family Man on a song (“Bangarang” by Stranger Cole & Lester Sterling) “that marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae” (see earlier sidebar re:  “first reggae song“):

“Bangarang”     Lester Sterling & Stranger Cole     1968

Two songs recorded for Catch a Fire that got reissued in recent years as bonus tracks:

Three recorded for the Burnin album similarly released as bonus tracks on reissues:

Netherlands 45 — 1973                                       Pre-release — 1971

‘Sangie’ Davis Gets a Co-Write

According to Roger Steffens:

Survival featured a song written by [Anthony] Sangie Davis called ‘Wake Up and Live‘ … Sangie was given credit on the original Survival cover for co-writing ‘Wake Up and Live.’  He received a small payment upon the album’s release in 1979, but nothing since.  His name has been removed from the credits on all subsequent pressings.”

“In late summer of 2006, Sangie and reggae great JosephCultureHill visited the Reggae Archives.  Davis, who had been a staff producer at [Bob Marley’s studio] Tuff Gong, revealed that he was the composer of the unreleased gems “Babylon Feel This One,” a dub-plate commissioned for the Twelve Tribes Sound System, and “She Used to Call Me Dada.”

“She Used to Call Me Dada”      Bob Marley & the Wailers

“Babylon Feel This One”     Bob Marley & the Wailers


Joe Higgs & the Wailers Legacy

Excerpt — Reggae Bloodlines: In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica (1977) by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon:

The unsung Joe Higgs is often ranked with Bob Marley as one of the greatest singers Jamaica has produced, and clearly is reggae’s major theoretician.  Describing himself usually as a protest singer, Higgs has an unadorned style not unlike that of the old Jamaican country singers.  His hits include “The World Is Upside Down” (1971), “Burning Fire” (1971), “Don’t Mind Me” (Higgs & Wilson – 1969), and “Wave of War” (1971).  In the early ’60s, Higgs teamed with his Trench Town neighbor Delroy Wilson to form a successful duo recording Jamaican “blues” for West Indian Records, an old-line label then owned by Edward Seaga, currently the leader of the opposition Jamaica Labor Party.  Seaga left the record business to go into politics (a completely logical shift) during the height of Higgs & Wilson‘s fame, and the pair went through several more producers before splitting in 1964.

It’s well known in Jamaica that Joe Higgs was the musical force behind the early Wailers, having organized the band, taught them timing, tactics, harmony, breathing, duende, and sound precision.  But Higgs has usually been and continues to be a shadow figure for the younger reggae stars.  His disdain of commerciality has kept him out of the spotlight and relegated him to a supporting role, where perhaps he does his best work.  Higgs toured America with the Wailers in 1974, replacing Bunny Livingston on hand drums and high harmony.


Roger Steffens Weighs In on the King Records Legacy!

Zero to 180 is delighted to report that Roger Steffens himself was kind enough to check out this history piece on the early Wailers recordings and respond to my query about Bernard Purdie and the King Records legacy:

“As far as Mr. Purdie’s contributions to the catalog, I don’t think there’s anything I could add to what is in Leroy Pierson and my Bob Marley and the Wailers:  The Definitive Discography.  (If you don’t have this book, it’s indispensable to your work, and still available on Amazon.)  I wouldn’t trust Danny [Sims]’s memory on any specific tracks, but Purdie himself has acknowledged being on several.  We acknowledge specifically “Nice Time”; “Soul Almighty” & “Bend Down Low,” and you can check the discog book for many others too.

In 1956, after my graduation from grade school in suburban NJ, my dad was transferred to Cincinnati.  We lived in North Norwood and I started high school at Purcell, working six afternoons a week delivering 356 copies of the Post and Times-Star.  I went back to Cincy many times in the ’60s and ’70s while reading poetry in the schools.  Saw REO Speedwagon in ’70 at the Ludlow Garage.  Have very fond memories of the city.

I have dinner every Tuesday night with a bunch of aging musos, and a frequent guest of late has been Seymour Stein.  He also moved from NY to Cincy in 1956, and we were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn, three months apart (he’s older).  Stein’s autobiography, Siren Song, is a great read, with much about his time as a youth mentored by the King Records head.”

‘Sticky’: “Guns Fever” Vocalist?

Thanks to Harry Hawks‘ biographical portrait of master percussionist (& sometime vocalist) UzziahStickyThompson for Reggae Collector’s Artists Hall of Fame, we learn that (1) ‘Sticky’ gets a shout-out in the intro to Baba Brooks’ “Girls Town Ska” from 1965 [Q: “Hey Sticks, where you going tonight?”  A: “I’m going down by Girls Town”] and (2) Thompson firmly asserts that it is he – not Baba Brooks – who voiced the ’65 ska classic “Guns Fever“!

“Guns Fever”     Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson (?) & Baba Brooks Band     1965

Hawks writes that “[Thompson] recalled, ‘I also did a song for Duke Reid named “Gun Fever”‘… which was credited to the Baba Brooks Band.”

Guns Fever 45“A classical, highly influential deejay who was great at his job before there was ever a job description,” continues Hawks, “he was rarely credited on his releases and the only way the listener knows it’s Cool Sticky is by recognising his exciting, highly individual delivery.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-cNote how often collectors are willing to pay three figures (and higher) for original vinyl.

“Sticky”: Mouth Percussionist

David Katz‘s biography of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, People Funny Boy, provides some very useful biographical details about master percussionist, UzziahStickyThompson:

“For the rest of [1967], Perry worked closely with a variety of artists for [Joe] Gibbs, including future percussionist, Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson, then a popular deejay known as Cool Sticky.  Born on August 1, 1936, in the rural district of Mannings Mountain, Thompson was the third of five children born to a poor contractor.  The family’s poverty meant that Thompson was unable to complete his education, and at age 15 he moved to Western Kingston in search of work.

“As the ska era approached, Thompson was one of the many box lifters assisting Coxsone Dodd with the running of his sound, and his friendship with Lee Perry dates back to this period.  Gradually, King Stitt began passing the mike to Thompson at dances because of his ability to make certain sounds with his mouth, and when Coxsone heard these sounds, he recorded Thompson’s vocal oddities on the Skatalites’ hit ‘Guns of Navarone.’  The success of the song saw Duke Reid using Thompson for the exciting introduction of the Skatalites’ ‘Ball of Fire,’ and the lasting success of this rival hit saw Thompson toasting regularly on the Treasure Isle sound system”:

“Ball of Fire”     The Skatalites      1965

Katz also reveals the source behind Thompson’s distinctive stage name:

“It was while toasting on Duke Reid’s sound that his capacity to excite a packed audience led to his peculiar nickname:  ‘When I started to play Duke Reid’s sound, it always stuck up-stick up, so they just put the name on me, Sticky.’  In the late rocksteady period, Sticky provided Scratch and Joe Gibbs with a dynamic toasting style on songs such as ‘Train to Soulsville,’ an outlandish take on The Ethiopians’ ‘Train to Skaville’ given a James Brown workout.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-bUzziah himself would like to make an important clarification via Reggae Collector‘s website:

“You have a Sticky named Count Sticky … I know him!  He always worked on the North Coast.  He played the congas, but he is a calypso man!  He used to live in Pink Lane … and I’d go and check him and he’d say, ‘Hi Sticky’ and I’d say, ‘Hi Sticky!’  The two of us used to live nice, but we do a different work … totally!”

Skatalites 45

Won’t Someone Play This Record?

One of the original “fully fledged” 1960s mod ska participants, Arthur Kay, played on a number of reggae hits for the Trojan label at London’s Chalk Farm Recording Studios, founded by his manager, Vic Keary, and Bluebeat label head, Emil Shallet, in 1968.  Chalk Farm would gain renown for being “the only UK studio that could properly replicate the Jamaican ska/rocksteady [and early reggae] sound” — Bob & Marcia’s classic take on “Young, Gifted & Black,” for example, was laid down there, along with recordings by Junior Byles, Dillinger, Desmond Dekker, The Cimarons, and many others.

Ska Wars 45Kay was invited in 1978 to record his song “Ska Wars” so as to test out Europa Sound‘s new recording facilities in Kent.  Although virtually ignored by radio and mainstream media, the indie single’s 10,000 pressings would sell out quickly and thus, as Arthur Kay points out on his website, help galvanize a homegrown UK ska scene.  Kay would put together a backing band – The Originals – who would bring to life his second single “Play My Record,” a wry though rather pointed comment about “the way radio play-lists were (and still are) rigged by a few wealthy record labels”:

“Play My Record”     Arthur Kay & the Originals     1980

45Cat, puzzlingly, identifies the song as the B-side to “Sooty Is a Rudie” – despite the top billing accorded “Play My Record” on the 45’s own picture sleeve.

Arthur Kay 45Arthur Kay & the Originals has issued a compilation – Ska Wars 1979-1999, Featuring Judge Dread – whose reissue, Kay’s website announces, has sold out!

“I Command Thee”:  Honorable Mentions

♦   “Don’t Play This Record”     Morris Mills     1950

♦   “Please Play Our Song (Mr. Record Man)”     The Fontane Sisters     1953

♦   “Mr. D.J. (Please Play a Song for Me)”     Somethin’ Smith & the Redheads     1959

♦   “D.J. Play a Sad Song”     Jack Campbell     1965

♦   “Play That Lonely Record”     Gene Thomas     196?

♦   “Play Me a Happy Song (Mr. D.J.)”     Russ Allison     1967

♦   “Mr. D.J. Play Me a Sad Song”     Barry Mason     1969

♦   “Play the Saddest Song on the Jukebox”     Carmol Taylor     1976

♦   “Won’t Somebody Play My Record”     The Egton Runners     1979

1960s Ska in the US Market

Thousands of thanks to 45Cat chatboard contributor, OldOak, who freely offered up this bit of research related to the topic of U.S. Reggae 45s — I have simply added links to audio recordings on YouTube and/or filmed performances of the artist and song in action:

“Ska was one of the dance crazes of the summer of 1964, inspiring a fair number of records in the US — all 45 releases below are from ’64:

Jamaica Joe 45Pussycats Ska 45Coffee St. Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  “Come On and Ska” written by “Tommy” Dowd, former Manhattan Project participant who would later become audio engineer extraordinaire for the Atlantic label.]

“Here are a few more non-Jamaicans joining in on the very brief ska craze in the US. I add them only because I think we’re getting near to exhausting the ’64 US ska records.

  • Toni Fisher = “The Train Of Love/ The Springtime Of Life” (Signet 664)
  • Jimmy Griffin = “Try/ You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Reprise 0304)
  • Cambridge Strings = “Charmaine” (London 9683)
  • The Rhythm Kings = “Latin Ska” (Tollie 9014)
  • Frederick Fennell and His Symphonic Winds = “76 Trombones Ska” (Mercury)
  • Toni Wine = “A Boy Like You/ Funny Little Heart” (Colpix 742)
  • Lester Lanin = “West Indies Ska” (Philips 40217)
  • Baja Marimba Band = “Baja Ska/ Samba De Orfeu” (Almo 211)
  • Jerry Kennedy = “Blue Beat” (Smash 1907)
  • Woody Herman Orchestra = “C’mon And Ska” (Philips 40213)

76 Trombones Ska 45Baja Ska 45Blue Beat - Jerry Kennedy 45Toni Fisher 45

“Apparently, at this time, in addition to Prince Buster and Byron Lee & The Ska Kings, Atlantic signed the Blues Busters (who had already released a single on Capitol in 1962), Stranger and Patsy, The Charmers, and The Maytals.  Ahmet Ertegun went to Jamaica and made some recordings, intending to release a dozen or more singles (see Billboard, May 23, 1964).  I think they ended up releasing only one album with these artists, “Jamaica Ska” (SD 8098), and three singles, plus a couple by Millie Small.  Too bad.  Also, I’m pretty sure it’s The Maytals you hear near the end of “Oil In My Lamp” by The Ska Kings.

“As far as US releases of Jamaican artists go, up through 1965 there was only:

My Boy Lollipop - Millie SmallBlues Busters 45Lucky Old Sun 45Watermelon Man Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  Guitar army commando, Billy Mure, is the arranger on the last 45 listed, as well as composer of “Ska Dee Wah”]

“It turns out there were more ska records released in the US than I ever suspected.  Why then no Maytals or Jimmy Cliff?  Monty Morris [of the Ska Kings] got two!  I guess the whole thing just didn’t last long enough.  It really rode the popularity of only one record, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop.”   The Ska Kings got to #98 in Billboard with “Jamaica Ska,” Millie’s next record didn’t break into the Top 40, and it was over.  But it’s amazing how many records were made and released within a few weeks of Millie’s brief success.  This also coincided with the top Jamaican artists performing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.  Official embassies of dancers were also sent by the Jamaican government to New Jersey and Philadelphia to teach and promote the new dance.  Prince Buster tells what this meant for Jamaica in “Everybody Ska” (Amy 906).

“Here are a few from 1967:

Prince Buster RCA LPBlues Busters UA 45

Old Oak adds:
“‘Ten Commandments’ was actually a hit, reaching Billboard #81 (Pop), #17 (R&B).  RCA and King competed with two versions of the follow-up answer song (same lyrics, different singers), but neither charted.  As with all novelty songs, you might enjoy it the first time, but you never want to hear it again.”

UPDATE (March 3, 2020)

Zero to 180 just discovered a Columbia ska 45 that “bubbled under” Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, peaking at the #134 spot on July 25, 1964 — “Shrimp Boats (Jamaican Ska)” by Jerry Jackson:

Netherlands 45 — 1964 (reissued in 1973)

45 also released in Jamaica, Costa Rica & Austria


King Records Goes Ska

Previous Zero to 180 posts have highlighted the strong cultural connections between Kingston Jamaica and Cincinnati, Ohio, as evidenced by (a) the radical rocksteady funk of Prince Buster‘s 1966 tip of the hat to “The Cincinnati Kid” himself, James Brown, as well as (b) the Jamaican LP from eight years prior – The Wrigglers Sing Calypso at the Arawak Hotel – in which the band (led by Ernest Ranglin) covers groundbreaking King Records composition, “Bloodshot Eyes,” a Top 10 hit for both Hank Penny (C&W chart) and Wynonie Harris (R&B chart) in the early 1950s and thus an “early landmark in racial integration” (Wiki).

But then I learned of an even more direct connection between these two unlikely cities:  Prince Buster‘s 1967 single on King Records:

“Ten Commandments (from Woman to Man)”    Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans

In 1967, Prince Buster was touring the UK (where “Al Capone” was a Top 20 hit), as well as the US to promote his RCA Victor LP Sings His Hit Song Ten CommandmentsHow fascinating then to discover that the “Cincinnati Kid” singer himself would end up seeing one of his productions being released on James Brown‘s label, ultimately.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Princess-Buster-King-45-aa.jpg

Issued as a split single, with “Papa Jack” by Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires on the reverse:

“Papa Jack”     Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires

These two songs, of course, were not recorded in Cincinnati’s King studios but leased from at least one other label.  This 45, as far as I can tell, was King‘s sole venture into Jamaican pop music.  However, this one-off release obscures a much deeper narrative taking place behind the scenes, as Lloyd Bradley reveals in Bass Culture:  When Reggae Was King, his indispensible history of Jamaican popular music:

In America, almost perversely, the best chance ska had to succeed was scuppered by the Jamaican government.  In the mid-1960s, probably around the same time that “Ten Commandments” was an American hit, King Records, a label that had been very successful with R&B and soul, wanted the American rights to Buster’s whole catalogue.  Syd Nathan, the company’s no-nonsense owner, was making moves to acquire it on the recommendation of soul legend James Brown, far and away King’s star act, who been turned on to Buster during a visit to Jamaica.  As King had good relations with both black and mainstream radio stations, they were the most likely candidates to make it happen, and there’s a good chance that the sheer effervescence of Buster’s music would have opened door.  However, King and United Artists (who were handling things for the Jamaican Social Development Commission) couldn’t agree on the publishing.  Buster, by then an outspoken minister for Islam and a perpetual thorn in the authorities’ side, remains convinced this was no accident.

Record World‘s Feb. 18, 1967 issue lists the Philips “import” 45 of “Ten Commandments” — a “Regional Breakout” hit in New York City, Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland (et al.), according to Philips’ full-page promotional ad in Billboard‘s Jan. 28, 1967 edition — at the #50 position on their 100 Top Pops chart, up four spots from the previous week.  Page three of that same edition includes a news item – “Royal Ruckus” – about the brewing donnybrook over “the two versions of ‘The Ten Commandments From Woman to Man‘ on RCA Victor and King [Records].”

Royal Ruckus
Record World — Feb. 18, 1967

Some sort of set-to seemed to be forming at the end of last week in regards to the two versions of ‘The Ten Commandments From Woman to Man‘ on RCA Victor and King.  

Both are by songstresses [sic] calling themselves Princess Buster, and although the official comment from RCA was “no comment,” it was rumored around that RCA was going to try to enjoin the King version.

Actually the RCA tune, according to the label copy, is sung by Prince and Princess Buster.  The King version is by Princess Buster and her Jamaicans.  

Both disks are answer records to the Philips disk of “The Ten Commandments” by Prince Buster — the same Prince on RCA’s slice, according to an RCA source.

RCA Promo ad in Cash Box – Feb. 1967 (courtesy of 45Cat)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Prince-Buster-RCA-US-promo-ad-1967.jpg

Truth & Accuracy Dept.

Funny how one additional letter added to a song’s title can so profoundly impact the meaning of the song itself.  Imagine Spain‘s citizenry in 1968, for instance, trying to make sense of Prince Buster’s 7-inch release “Madness” with its flip “Cincinnati Kids!

Cincinnnati Kids [sic] - Prince Buster 45

“Flaming Rock Steady”: It’s a Scorcher

In 1966 legendary session guitarist, Ernest Ranglin, released a fun and breezy set of instrumentals in Jamaica on the Federal label entitled, A Mod A Mod Ranglin.

The original 12-song LP has since been reissued on CD with six additional tracks – including this one, “Flaming Rock Steady:~

“Flaming Rock Steady”     Ernest Ranglin     1966

Seven years later, Ernest Ranglin would be awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.~

A Mod A Mod Ranglin - back cover


Ernest Ranglin & the Birth of Ska:

Interview with Peter Simon — from Reggae International (1983)

I was the first person who did ska.  I did it at JBC [Jamaica Broadcasting Co.] studio, and I did for Coxsone [Studio One].  The group was comprised of Roland Alphonso [saxophone], Cluett Johnson on bass, Rico Rodriguez on trombone, Theophilius “Easy Snappin’” Beckford [piano], and some others. Sometimes we were called Clue J and the Blues Blasters and we did about six recordings of instrumentals and those were some of the first ska records.

I always wanted to be versatile, so sometimes I was doing jazz and sometimes I was doing band or dance music.  As a small boy my first influence was Charlie Christian, and this I heard Django Reinhardt years after that.  But the first person who really inspired me was a Jamaican guy named Cecil Houdini.  After I studied from tutor books, I finally end up with him.  To me he was the greatest guitar player who ever lived in this country.  Gradually, I got to play a lot of bebop music and got to listen to a little Fats Domino, Otis Redding, Louis Jordan, those were my favorites, yunno?

Eventually we had the ska era, the rock steady era, I was the musical director at Treasure Isle studio, which was owned by Duke Reid.  I did the first lead guitar on the first reggae record, although we called it raggay then because that was what the rhythm sounded like.  I worked for producers like Lee Perry and Clancy Eccles, and I was the musical director for most of them.  I wrote parts and arranged songs and put the music together.  I arranged Bob Marley‘s first hit, which was called ‘It Hurts To Be Alone.’

Ska’s Birth:  Another View

Excerpt from Reggae Explosion:  The Story of Jamaican Music (2001)

Chris Salewicz & Adrian Boot

One Sunday morning in 1959 bass-player Cluett ‘Clue J’ Johnson and [Ernest] Ranglin were requested by Coxsone Dodd – in a surprisingly formal manner – to meet him at the liquor store he ran in Love Lane. “I need something to get away from this blues,” he told the two master musicians, bemoaning the manner in which Jamaican music was imitating contemporary American black music.

In the store’s backyard they sat down and worked out the recipe for a new sound; they sought a formula for music that was distinctly Jamaican whilst retaining its roots in the R’n’B and popular jazz that beamed down into Jamaica from radio stations in the southern American states. Ska, the music that resulted from that Sunday morning session, was a shuffle boogie rhythm of the type popularised by artists like Louis Jordan and Erskine Hawkins; the unexpected emphasis on the off-beat only emphasised its addictive flavour. An apocryphal explanation explanation of the galloping sound of ska was that this was a replication of the way music on those southern radio stations would fade in and out. Ernest Ranglin, however, has a simpler explanation. “We just wanted it to sound like the theme music from one of those westerns that were on TV all the time in the late 1950s.” The term ‘ska’ was an abbreviation of ‘skavoovee’, a popular catchphrase of the time, a term of approval, for the use of which Clue-J was famous. (Coxsone, for his part addressed almost every man he encountered as ‘Jackson’, for which verbal eccentricity he was at least equally renowned.)


Ernest Ranglin & the Cincinnati–Kingston Connection

Wikipedia’s bio of Hank Penny spotlights his hit song “Bloodshot Eyes” and shows a curious chain of connections that illustrate the direct cultural impact of the sounds coming out of Cincinnati’s King Records studio on people in far-flung places that yet were within reach of radio during its peak period of influence – places such as Kingston, Jamaica and legendary session guitarist, Ernest Ranglin:

Penny’s “Bloodshot Eyes” was also recorded in 1951 by rock and roll singer, Wynonie Harris, who turned it into a major rock hit (King 4461).  Harris was a big influence on Elvis Presley, who did go to see him play and met him in his formative years and recorded Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight” after hearing Wynonie Harris’ hit version.  Appreciated by white country music fans and black rock and roll followers alike, “Bloodshot Eyes” became an early landmark in racial integration.  It was much appreciated in the Caribbean, where Wynonie Harris had a large following.  Along with other Wynonie Harris records, it was being played on Jamaican dancehalls as early as 1951.  In 1958 Jamaican mento group, Denzil Laing and the Wrigglers recorded a fine version of it for their Arawak Hotel album featuring jazz guitar great, Ernest Ranglin.

Arawak Hotel LP