Tag Archives: Ska

Rocksteady With Alton & Hortense Ellis

Alton Ellis, the Godfather of Rocksteady music, was born in 1938 in Trenchtown, Kingston, Jamaica. Along with his younger sister Hortense, who was born in 1941, the two created singles and duets for Clement and Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One in Kingston during the early days of ska and rocksteady.

The pair also recorded for Studio One’s chief competition at the time which was the Treasure Isle label owned by none other than Duke Reid. This switching between label by the Ellis siblings gave them the opportunity to record for some of the biggest names in Reggae music – people like Bunny Lee, King Jammy, Prince Buster, Eddy Perkins and Sugar Minott. And we are rewarded today with an outstanding collection of the best from the Ellis siblings.

Unfortunately, Alton passed away in 2008 and was preceded in death by Hortense (died 2000). However, some of their recordings have survived over the years. In fact, Hortense recorded so little that any song by her could be considered rare. This album contains the rarest of their singles, but oddly, only one duet appears on the album. Included in this gem of a collection are the best soul covers by Alton and Hortense. These are two of the best voices you will ever hear. Highly recommended for anybody who likes soul, reggae or the rocksteady beat.

Little Millie Small

Mille, a/k/a Millie Small, born in Clarendon, Jamaica, is the 1960s ska, bluebeat, and rocksteady singer who is most famous for her 1964 smash hit “My Boy Lollipop.” Her fourth recording, “My Boy Lollipop,” was cut in London by a group of session musicians that included guitarist Ernest Ranglin (and, according to some accounts, Rod Stewart on harmonica) and featuring her childlike, extremely high-pitched vocals, was the first (and indeed, one of the few) international ska hits. It remains one of the biggest-selling reggae or ska discs of all time with more than seven million sales.

Sometimes called “Little Millie Small”, she began her career as a teenager in the early 1960s as a partner with Roy Panton (“Roy and Millie”). Millie is probably the original Rude Girl, and she recorded for Coxsone Dodd’s legendary and influential Studio One Record Label in Jamaica. “My Boy Lollipop” is a song written in the mid-1950s and is most usually credited to the doo-wop group The Cadillacs’s Robert Spence.

The Blue Beat Girl

Photo Series: The Skatalites

The Skatalites are a ska band from Jamaica. They played initially between 1963 and 1965, and recorded many of their best known songs in the period, including Guns of Navarone. They also played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artists who recorded during that period. They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.

These images were captured at a Skatalites performance given on Sunday, September 29th, 2013 in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Guthrie Green. It was a great show by a great band.

Doreen Shaffer, Vocals “The Queen of Ska”

Lester Sterling, Alto Saxophone

Kevin Batchelor, Trumpet

Andrae Murchison, Trombone

Cameron Greenlee, Keyboards

Azemobo “Zem” Audu, Tenor Saxophone

Natty Frenchy, Guitar

Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson, Drums

Val Douglas, Bass Guitar

All Images Copyright 2013 Eric Hatheway All Right Reserved

 

One Step Beyond ….

This is a classic music video from Madness, the English ska band from Camden Town, London. They started in 1976 as part of the late 1970s and early 1980s 2Tone ska revival. Madness continues to perform with a line-up of their seven most popular members.

This video is a great instructional aid for learning how to dance to a ska or rocksteady beat. “One Step Beyond” stayed on the British charts for 37 weeks with a high ranking of number 2 in 1980.

Music is life – live a fun one!

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 3)

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 3)

Part 3 of 3

Soon after the mass defection Roddy Radiation left to pursue his more rock ‘n’ roll-oriented muse with The Tearjerker. The remaining Specials and some newly hired hands reverted to The Special A.K.A. name for legal reasons, backed singer Rhoda Dakar of the disbanded all-female Bodysnatchers (another case of too-much-too-soon) and recorded “The Boiler” – “designed,” Dammers noted, “so that you only need to hear it once.” The also accompanied Rico on a single.

But these were holding actions – and The Special A.K.A. then virtually disappeared for two years. Where was Dammers, 2 Tone’s auteur? Running up an enormous debt to Chrysalis while recording the wryly titled “In The Studio” album. About every eight months a single would dribble out. “War Crimes (The Crime Remains the Same)” dealt with Israeli army massacres of Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps. Not too surprisingly, it was the first Specials record to miss the charts completely. Dammers was unfazed; “I’m more proud of ‘War Crimes’ than almost anything else I’ve done,” he declared.

ska band 4

But that was before “Nelson Mandela.” The Special A.K.A.’s last British Top 10 single didn’t stint on its anti-apartheid message and still sold over 150,000 copies in the U.K. Artistically, it was also a triumph, recorded in four days a group rather than the protracted piecework that characterized the rest of “In The Studio.” The band never played live.

While Dammers termed “In The Studio” a “Great Mistake,” non-Special 2 Tone releases helped neither the labels finances nor reputation. The watery funk of The Apollinaires and The Higsons came closer to background music than Dammers’ own self-proclaimed “Muzak.” The jazzy Friday Club was more distinctive but hardly seemed worthy of the once-mighty 2 Tone logo. The Swinging Cats’ one loopy 2 Tone single, on the other hand, might have been too distinctive for mass consumption.

ska band 5

In any event, the last charting 2 Tone single not by The Specials had been The Bodysnatchers’ charming “Easy Life” back in 1980. Five years later, 2 Tone’s existence was as shadowy as that of The Special A.K.A. The label’s last release (barring reissues) came from J.B.’s Allstars – with poetic justice, a group led by Dammers’ loyal subordinate, drummer John Bradbury.

With seven years 2 Tone released 29 singles and eight albums. A Chrysalis imprint rather than an autonomous record company, 2 Tone was always a bit of a conceptual art project – which is perhaps why its legacy continues to inspire. Dammers subsequently espoused his philosophy – “You might as well write about something that’s important rather than something that’s not important” – with a benefit single for Ethiopian famine victims and an anti-apartheid rap track. But 2 Tone practiced is at least as vital as what it preached.

ska band 6

“There’s more to music than commerciality,” Dammers said. Then again he also commented, “To me, 2 Tone was just a record label, no more or less.” You be the judge.

Ska Art 2

Note: This story about the 2 Tone music movement was reproduced from the Liner Notes (written by Scott Isler) that was included in the 2 disc compilation released in 1993 by Chrysalis Records, The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past. In our opinion, this is the best written history of the 2 Tone scene in existence.  

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 2)

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 2)

Part 2 of 3

And so was the Special A.K.A. Personnel stabilized with the addition of drummer John Bradbury, who’d co-written and played on “The Selecter.” The single became an underground hit; the band’s high octane live sets attracted numerous record company executives, not to mention Mick Jagger. Despite the growing industry buzz, Dammers had no intention of selling out. In spring, 1979 Chrysalis Records won The Special A.K.A. by agreeing to 2 Tone’s existence. Chrysalis would market 2 Tone, whose directors were all the members and managers of The Special A.K.A. and The Selecter – which Davies hastily formed when he realized 2 Tone was about to put his career in high gear.

Terry Hall

After Chrysalis took over distribution, “Gangsters” zoomed into the British Top 10. And at first it seemed as if 2 Tone could do no wrong. The second 2 Tone release was the recording debut of Madness, a London band that shared The Special A.K.A.’s taste for ska; “The Prince” went Top 20 in Britain, and Madness became superstars in that country after signing to Stiff Records. The third 2 Tone single introduced The Selecter proper, with the charismatic Pauline Black on vocals. “On My Radio” disguised its contempt for that medium with a delightful melody and arrangement; its reward – ironically – was to go Top 10.

The hits kept on coming as Dammers and Co. released their second 45, “A Message To You Rudy.” the band’s billing on this record marked two changes: the addition of original ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez, and a slight name shift to a more mouth-friendly “The Specials.” A month later 2 Tone premiered yet another remarkable band, The Beat (known in the U.S. as The English Beat, and begetting General Public and Fine Young Cannibals). Their debut single was a catchy ska reworking of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown.”

itsmadness

By February, 1980 there were seven 2 Tone singles, all of which had sold at least a quarter-million copies each, and all but two hitting the British Top 10. The Specials themselves reached the Number One spot with a live EP featuring the caustic “Too Much Too Young.” The 2 Tone label was successful on a level most people would die for.

Unfortunately, that was the effect success was having on The Specials. The band in general, and Dammers in particular, were running themselves ragged between tours and recording. Barely 12 months after 2 Tone’s launch, Dammers was longing for “the old days – a year ago” and declaring, “2 Tone has become a monster.” The Selecter agreed; Neol Davies disparaged 2 Tone as “just a successful pop label” as his band pulled out. Dammers was left promising that in the future “I don’t think all of our records will be hits.”

ska band 2

Meanwhile, The Specials themselves – now up to nine with trumpeter Dick Cuthell as a touring member – were at each others’ throats. An especially grueling U.S. tour had turned performing live, once the band’s raison d’etre, into a chore. Dammers’ musical taste was veering away from punk and ska rhythms, and toward what he called “Muzak or imitation music.” To their horror, The Specials saw their live sets turning into excuses for audience punch-ups.

In short, everything seemed to be suffering except The Specials music. The Top 5 “Rat Race” found Dammers ceding composing duties to Roddy Radiation. The following “Stereotype” did almost as well with an A-side concerning, Dammers said, “the extreme pressure on young people to abuse drugs, in this case alcohol.” (The band’s U.S. tour inspired the AA-side, “International Jet Set.”)

ska band 3

The original group’s last hurrah was the million-selling “Ghost Town,” released with eerie timing as England’s urban slums exploded into race riots. A few months later The Specials exploded when Hall, Staples and Golding left to start The Fun Boy Three. Dammers felt betrayed, but acknowledged that his songwriting royalties might have caused some jealousy. His high-handed leadership was probably just as responsible; “Ghost Town” was completely written out before recording.

Note: This story about the 2 Tone music movement was reproduced from the Liner Notes (written by Scott Isler) that was included in the 2 disc compilation released in 1993 by Chrysalis Records, The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past. In our opinion, this is the best written history of the 2 Tone scene in existence. 

skaposter

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 1)

The 2 Tone Story: A Checkered Past (Part 1)

Part 1 of 3

The Selecter’s Pauline Black perhaps put it best: “2 Tone was basically about black and white people playing together.” Label chief and Specials keyboard player Jerry Dammers could almost equally be succinct: “I just wanted 2 Tone to be like a little club. And if you liked the music you became part of it.”

Very few record companies can challenge flesh-and-blood pop stars as myths in their own right. Those that do inevitably embody a specific cultural moment: Sun’s rockabilly in the 50s, Motown’s glossy soul and Stax’s funkier version in the 60s, Stiff’s new-wave bravado in the 70s. the British 2 Tone label also deserves legendary status, even if its fame never quite made it across the Atlantic.

Roddy Radiation

Like its fabled predecessors, 2 Tone became synonymous with a particular style – in this case ska, the energetic precursor to reggae. That this late 50s/early 60s Jamaican music flourished in the late 70s England is a tribute to the United Kingdom’s melting pot. A post-war labor shortage and unrestricted entry among Commonwealth countries encouraged West Indian immigration to Great Britain through the 1950s. By 1962, when legislation put the lid on, England had experienced its first race riots; there was no stopping the more peaceful dispersion of the new Briton’s musical tastes.

Lynval Golding

Jerry Dammers himself was an immigrant, albeit from India; his clergyman father relocated the family to England when Jerry was two years old. He grew up in Coventry, attended Lanchester Polytechnic as an art student, and immersed himself in the local music scene. In 1977, the British punk-rock movement was breeding bands like lice (many of them comparable artistic merit as well). Dammers, guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter were in The Automatics. “We started playing punk-rock and heavy reggae,” Panter recalled two years later.

Mixing the two disparate styles isn’t as odd as it might seem. Reggae’s cultural outlaws were heroes to the disaffected British youth who rallied to punk’s tocsin. The highly visible Clash, for example, saw no dichotomy in interspersing reggae tunes among revved-up guitar thrashers.

Neville Staples & Pauline Black

Alas, the blend didn’t work for The Automatics, according to Panter. Backing up chronologically, the band chose ska instead; “it’s easier to play,” Dammers commented.

A year after forming, they had added guitarist Roddy Radiation and singers Terry Hall and Neville Staples; they had also changed their name to The Special A.K.A., to avoid confusion with another Automatics who had landed a record deal. Their biggest break to date came when The Clash tapped them as opening act on a British tour. Clash manager Bernard Rhodes proffered his services to the fledgling band, but the strong-willed Dammers was not a compatible match.

Jerry Dammers & Neville Staples

The 2 Tone Story begins in early 1979, when Dammers – taking Motown and Stax as role models – decided The Special A.K.A. should record on its own label. The band borrowed enough money for one track, “Gangsters”: “I never understood the lyrics although I wrote them,” Dammers admitted, “but I knew it was about sharks and wide boys that try and make money by pretending to run the music business.” (The screeching brakes sound effect was “sampled” from from Prince Buster’s “Al Capone”).

They had no money left to record a flipside, so Golding contacted guitarist friend Neol Davies, who had taped a moody instrumental at home a year earlier. Overdubbing ska rhythm guitar turned it into “The Selecter.” Dammers put his art background to use designing the 2 Tone logo. With 5,000 copies pressed and independent distribution lined up, 2 Tone was on its way.

2 Tone The Specials

A year after forming, they had added guitarist Roddy Radiation and singers Terry Hall and Neville Staples; they had also changed their name to The Special A.K.A., to avoid confusion with another Automatics who had landed a record deal. Their biggest break to date came when The Clash tapped them as opening act on a British tour. Clash manager Bernard Rhodes proffered his services to the fledgling band, but the strong-willed Dammers was not a compatible match.

They had no money left to record a flipside, so Golding contacted guitarist friend Neol Davies, who had taped a moody instrumental at home a year earlier. Overdubbing ska rhythm guitar turned it into “The Selecter.” Dammers put his art background to use designing the 2 Tone logo. With 5,000 copies pressed and independent distribution lined up, 2 Tone was on its way.

ska band 1

Note: This story about the 2 Tone music movement was reproduced from the Liner Notes (written by Scott Isler) that was included in the 2 disc compilation released in 1993 by Chrysalis Records, The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past. In our opinion, this is the best written history of the 2 Tone scene in existence. 

Ska Art 6