Important People and Songs

The song “Ghost Town” is known as the greatest moment in ska history.  This song was written and premiered shortly after the 1981 race riots of Brixton and Toxteth in the United Kingdom.  Also around the same time, Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, destroyed much of the British manufacturing industry.  “Ghost Town” was written with the intention to connect these two events while conveying the frustration of British youth, the bleakness of the nearly desolate city centers, and the death of live music, which was beginning to be replaced by radio broadcasts.  This song’s gut-wrenching lyrics portray a history of racism, economic injustice, and musical unity.

YouTube / tes74 – via Iframely

The original Skatalites
The original Skatalites.

One of the first well known ska bands was known as The Skatalites.  They were a group of instrumentalists from the Alpha Boys Catholic School in Kingston, Jamaica who wrote over 300 songs together during their time as a band, though they were only together for a little over a year.  They had a staggering musical impact on the ska genre and are even credited with defining the ska sound for future musical groups.  During their time as performers, they backed the majority of the ska singers around and were the go-to group for musical performances.  The group formed when Clement “Coxsone” Dodd needed an in house band for his recording studio and hired Tommy McCook, a local musician, to form a band. McCook auditioned other local musicians and settled on Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Lester Sterling, Donald Drummond, Jerry Haynes, Johnny Moore, Jackie Opel, Donna Schaffer, and Jackie Mittoo.  For the next fourteen months, they played backup for every major ska singer in Jamaica.  Although their career was taking off, Drummond got arrested, which halted their advancement and broke up the group.  McCook was upset by this speed bump in his rapidly growing career and quickly worked to form a band to play backup for singers in the rock steady industry.  Rock steady was the genre that formed when the fast, upbeat ska music was beginning to get tired, and musicians wanted to slow down ska but keep its essential qualities.  This next group formed by McCook lasted for even less time than the first, because of the short-lived nature of rock steady.  The Skatalites reformed during the rebirth of ska in the late 1970s and lives on even to today with members Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Doreen Shaffer, Lester Sterling, Karl Bryan, Vin Gordon, Devon James, Ken Stewert, and Kevin Bachelor.

An album cover from The Specials.
An album cover from The Specials.

During this ska revival, there were multiple people that wanted to unite the population through ska music.  The Specials, a band that emerged during the revival, and front man Jerry Dammers were one such group.  Dammers was the son of a white clergyman in England and wanted to unite the racially diverse country through his music.  Another musician determined to bridge racial divides was Chris Blackwell.  Blackwell was a Jewish Jamaican who was sent to an English boarding school during his teenage years.  After returning to Jamaica before the start of the ska revival, he took a job that allowed him to travel back and forth between Jamaica and London in order to get CD covers designed and printed.  Doing this brought ska back into the country and to record labels and helped the revival get off the ground.  Though he was a bit of an outsider in both lands, he was able to combine his cultures by bringing music of his homeland to the land that he grew up in.

Chris Blackwell being honored at the Grammys for his recording expertise.
Chris Blackwell being honored at the Grammys for his recording expertise.