The Skatalites

Heritage Of Ska

The Skatalites



The Skatalites began performing in Jamaica in May 1964. The group was so hot that their first rehearsal became a show. So many people had lined up outside the venue, they decided to just charge admission and let everybody in! They were the top musicians on the island at the time, having come together after playing in different bands and on various recording sessions. These records were made to be played at the many competing sound systems around the island. The band became legendary, backing all the developing artists of the day, such as Toots and The Maytals, Prince Buster and “The Wailing Wailers” featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.



These groups were all recording on the new beat called ska, which had an infectious rhythm that was catching on like wildfire. Eventually, the beat slowed down into rocksteady, and then reggae. This wildfire spread unstoppably around the world, developing into a huge musical tree with many stylistic branches, including lovers rock, dub, dancehall/ ragga, ska-punk,, and others. Hugely popular groups, like The Police, The Clash, The Specials, The English Beat, Sublime and No Doubt, all have their roots firmly planted in the music of The Skatalites.

Since reforming after an almost 20 year hiatus in 1983, and beginning regular touring as a unit in 1989, they have not stopped thrilling audiences in every corner of the globe. Even after 48 years, and various lineup changes as members leave one stage for another, the band continues to perform and record new music in the inimitable Jamaican style, like only they can. The road has been long and hard, and sadly, seen most of the original members pass on. Often asked “when will you stop?” and “how do you keep doing it after all these years?”, the answer is simple: never – It’s the love of the music and the way our fans respond that keep us going Forward!



Featuring original alto sax man Lester “Ska” Sterling and vocalist Doreen Shaffer, along with the current lineup of outstanding musicians they have chosen to accompany them, the band proudly presents live the music of Jamaican Ska.

Forever indebted to the inspiration and talent of Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett,Don Drummond, Jerome “jah jerry” Haynes, Lloyd Knibb, Tommy McCook, Donat “Jackie” Mittoo, John “Dizzy Johnny”Moore, and Lester Sterling, collectively known as The Skatalites.

Music Review:  ‘’The Skatalites’’ On The Right Track

A Catholic school for wayward boys run by the Sisters of Mercy would not be the first place coming to most people’s minds as the birthplace of Reggae and Ska music. But in one of those mysterious quirks of fate that the Universe delights in if it hadn’t been for Sister Ignatius and the Alpha Boys School in Jamaica who knows if that whole music scene would have developed as quickly as it did.

Formed back in the 1800′s the Alpha Boys School instituted a music program as early as the 1890′s. This wasn’t just some half-baked music program either; the Big Bands that played the island dance halls in the 1940′s and 50′s would attend senior concerts in an attempt to sign students to play for them. They would make arrangements with the nuns for them to perform in gigs at bars and dancehalls giving them valuable professional experience.

The sisters knew that there was a good living to be made by being a musician in those days, as the three biggest bands of Jamaica would come to the school and recruit boys for a career with them. The Military Band, The Regimental Band, and the Constabulary Band were frequent visitors to the school and competed with the dance bands for boys by being able to offer them permanent employment.

Tommy McCook, one of the original members of the The Skatalites was in the band at Alpha school from 1938 to 1942 and a full dozen graduates of the school are either currently still members or passed through the ranks of the band. To this day the Skatalites and other prominent Jamaican musicians take part in a benefit concert for the Alpha school as a mark of their appreciation for its contribution to developing the country’s second most popular export –music. (You can figure out the most popular on your own)



The Skatalites were officially formed in 1964, although they had been playing together in various formations for a while before that, and immediately became the house band for Studio One and backed up the biggest names in Reggae. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and The Maytals, Delroy Wilson, and The Wailers themselves all benefited from having them play behind them at the start of their careers.

The Skatalites themselves weren’t as fortunate with their career as a group as those they backed in the studio. Just as things were starting to take off for them, their major creative force, Don Drummond, succumbed to mental illness and was confined to a sanatorium for killing his wife in 1965. He committed suicide a year later.


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