The Skatalites

The Skatalites

The Skatalites at Njoki Summer Festival
Ajdovščina, Slovenia, 2007
Background information
Origin Jamaica
Genres Ska, rocksteady, reggae, ska jazz
Years active 1964–1965
Labels Studio One
Treasure Isle
King Edwards
Top Deck Records
Shanachie Records
Island Records
Associated acts Supersonics, Soul Brothers, Soul Vendors, Sound Dimension, Brentford Road All Stars
Members See "Personnel"

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.[1] They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.


Before the Skatalites: 1954-64

The founders of the Skatalites were Tommy McCook (died 1998), Rolando Alphonso (died 1998), Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett (died 2012), Lloyd Knibb (died 2011), Don Drummond (died 1969), Jah Jerry Haynes (died 2007), Jackie Mittoo (died 1990), Johnny Moore (died 2008) and Jackie Opel (died 1970). These ten musicians started to play together from 1955, when Kingston's recording studios started to develop. Tommy McCook was the first member of the band to record, though not for commercial release: he played with Don Hitchman's Group in 1953. Archie Lindo asked Hitchman to play a few tunes for his pioneer radio station, "ZQI", on their new equipment. Soon after that, sound system pioneer Stanley Motta began to operate his studio, where he recorded calypso and mento that were released on 78's. Rolando Alphonso was one of the first to record with him, probably in 1954.

Though McCook was the first in the band to record, he did not participate in the recording sessions with the other nine musicians. He left Jamaica in 1954 for a jazz gig at the Zanzibar Club in Nassau, Bahamas. He returned to Jamaica in June 1962, and began playing regular jazz sessions around Kingston.

Record producer Coxsone Dodd searched for jazz players around Kingston and was impressed by McCook's playing. Tommy McCook heard some ska, but initially resisted Dodd's offers to record and to lead a studio group, because he was a committed jazzman. In 1962 Dodd released I Cover The Waterfront (Port-O-Jam) with Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond, who did the solo and brass sections. In 1963 he released Jazz Jamaica From the Workshop (Port-O-Jam/Studio One), on which McCook played for the first time since returning to Jamaica. Don Drummond has two tunes on Jazz Jamaica and McCook has one, "The Answer".

Early years: 1964-65

In spring 1964, The Skatalites recorded their first LP Ska Authentic at Studio One in Kingston and toured Jamaica as the creators of ska. Their producers were Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Vincent "King" Edwards, Justin "Phillip" Yap, Leslie Kong, Lindon Pottinger, Sonia Pottinger and Vincent "Randy" Chin. The Skatalites led sessions with top artists and worked with young talents such as Delroy Wilson, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Lee Perry, etc.

They played their first show on 27 June at the Hi-Hat club, on Water Lane in Rae Town, which was owned and operated by Orville "Billy" Farnum. Coxsone Dodd helped initially: "At the formation of the band, I supplied the PA system, microphones and what ever it is. Also the guitar amplifier and other amplifier. I helped with transportation and I supplied storage for equipment and instruments. I was a part of promoting the first gigs and other gigs to get it off the ground, because I figured more or less, if I am recording the Skatalites, its good to get them popular out in the streets, yunno?"[2]

In fall 1964, Don Drummond's composition "Man in the Street" entered the Top 10 in the UK. Trombonist Drummond had at least 200 tunes to his name by 1965. On 1 January 1965, Drummond was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Anita "Marguerita" Mahfood. He was later convicted and remanded to the Bellevue Asylum.

In August 1965, The Skatalites played their last show. They broke up into two supergroups, Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. In early 1967, Drummond's ska adaptation of the theme to the film The Guns of Navarone entered the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart.[3] Don Drummond died on 6 May 1969, in the Bellevue Asylum.

Early reunions: 1974-88

The Skatalites first reunion happened in the studio, during 1974 sessions for bass player Lloyd Brevett's solo album. After laying down hand percussion tracks at Lee Perry's studio, Brevett was joined by McCook, Alphonso, Sterling, Knibb and Mittoo. Ernest Ranglin played guitar, with Oswald Brooks on trumpet.[4] The album was eventually released as African Roots, a collection of mostly Brevett compositions, and has been variously released both as a Lloyd Brevett and as a Skatalies album, with most editions crediting "Lloyd Brevett and The Skatalites".

In 1979, The Skatalites again joined in the studio, this time to record an album for Chris Blackwell. The album, tentatively entitled The Big Guns, was not released at the time, due to a disagreement between McCook and Blackwell, and remains unreleased.[4]

In June 1983, The Skatalites reformed and played the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay in July after festival director Ronnie Burke persuaded them to appear at the fifth anniversary of the festival, despite Moore and McCook having not spoken since the band split.[5][6] Their show was very successful[7] and the band played more concerts in Jamaica, while taking offers to tour abroad. The line-up at this time reflected the original line-up of the band, with the exception of Drummond, joined by guests Cedric Brooks, Arnold Breckenridge, and Bubbles Cameron.[8] Recordings from 27 June and 17 July 1983 were released on the live album Stretching Out, although the band later claimed on their website that they received no payment for this recording and discouraged fans from buying it.

Their rehearsal sessions resulted in a clutch of new songs, led this time by Jackie Mittoo, which were recorded in Music Mountain Studio but only released in 2007 on Motion Records (as Rolling Steady: The 1983 Music Mountain Sessions). The album included their tribute to Don Drummond, "Big Trombone", with Lord Tanamo on vocals. In April 1984, The Skatalites recorded The Return of The Big Guns, released on Mango Records in the U.K., based on charts written by Drummond and arranged by McCook. On 7 July 1984, The Skatalites played to thousands at Selhurst Park during the London Sunsplash. The Skatalites played seven tunes and also backed Prince Buster on three before closing with a reprise of their theme song, "Freedom Sounds". This concert resulted in the live recording Live At Sunsplash.

Between 1985 and 1988, the core members of the Skatalites emigrated and united in the northeast of the United States. They played their first US concert at The Village Gate and began to play spotted dates in Northeast US.


The Skatalites were featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album, and showcased many notable musicians including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani / No Doubt, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, The Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, and Ken Boothe.[9]

In 2004, original member Lloyd Brevett left the band. It was reported that he was removed from the band after conflicts with newer members.[10] He toured briefly leading his own band, and then retired to Jamaica. In April that year, the Skatalites started a new world tour with their new bass player Val Douglas, whose A-Team band was the primary backing band for Reggae Sunsplash Tours through the 1980s and 1990s. In October 2005, The Skatalites released The Skatalites in Orbit, Vol.1 recorded live in Buenos Aires, recorded during concerts on 23 and 24 September 2005. In March 2006, The Skatalites played at La Bal De La Rose for Caroline, Princess of Hanover, along with Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Alpha Blondy. This show started the 2006 Global Orbit Tour reaching Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. In April 2006, Skatalites recorded 11 new tunes and one cover in Byron Bay, Australia, at the 301 Studios, released the following year as the album On The Right Track by AIM International, Australia. In September 2007, The Skatalites contributed the track "Be My Guest", with Ben Harper on vocals, to the Fats Domino tribute CD Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino featuring numerous artists. This CD raised funds for all the musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.

On 12 May 2011, founding member and drummer Lloyd Knibb died of liver cancer at the age of 80. Bass player and fellow founding member Lloyd Brevett died after suffering a stroke on 3 May 2012, aged 80.[11]

On 8 February 2012, the band announced a new single and album due out in 2012 as well as a new US tour starting in Texas and heading to New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, California, Washington, and then Canada. These dates follow four dates they announced in January for the North East. The new album will be titled All Roads and will feature the last recordings of founding member Lloyd Knibb.

On August 26, 2016 the band released the Album Platinum Ska and toured through the USA, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, France Italy and the UK.


Current members

Former members

Additional personnel

Though not official band members, these musicians worked with the Skatalites extensively during the 1964-65 period in the recording studio, or in the case of the vocalists, at live shows.[12] Lord Tanamo, Baba Brooks, and Ernest Ranglin have all worked with the reunited Skatalites at different times, both live and in the studio.


Studio albums

Live albums

Collaboration albums

Anthologies and reissues



  1. Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 350. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  2. History, The Skatalites website.
  3. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 505. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  4. 1 2 African Roots 1997 Moon Ska records edition liner notes
  5. Campbell, Charles (2012) "The Skatalites musical journey", Jamaica Observer, 20 May 2012, retrieved 2012-06-01
  6. Johnson, Richard (2012) "When the Skatalites reunited for Sunsplash", Jamaica Observer, 15 June 2012, retrieved 2012-06-17
  7. Lloyd Knibb biography, Skatalites officialwebsite.
  8. Liner notes, "Stretching Out", ROIR records.
  9. 1 2 “True Love - Linear CD Notes." Toots and the Maytals. Web. <>. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  10. "Ska music pioneer Lloyd Brevett dies in Jamaica at 80", CBC News, 4 May 2012.
  11. "Skatalites Bassist Lloyd Brevett Dead at 80", Billboard.
  12. Keyo (1997). Foundation Ska (CD liner). Skatalites. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Heartbeat. Heartbeat CD HB 185/186.
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