The Skatalites brought the sound of Jamaica to the world. From the early 60s up until the mid-60s this outfit – with legendary instrumentalists such as Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Jackie Mittoo and Ernest Ranglin – defined ska and the new and exciting sound of young Jamaica.
The Skatalites played on thousands of recordings during their relatively short-lived period. They recorded as a group, as individual musicians and as backing band for a variety of singers, including The Wailers, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis and a truckload of others.
Many of their own recordings have been well-compiled over the years, but they have recently been highlighted once again with three new compilations – one coming from UK’s Soul Jazz and two coming from Studio One Records and Yep Roc Records in the U.S.
These albums – Foundation Ska, Don Cosmic and Independence Ska and The Far East Sound – Original Ska Sounds From The Skatalites 1963-65 – collect mostly instrumentals released as a collective or as individual performers.
These three albums bring together aspects of jazz, latin, R&B and to some extent nyabinghi. It’s intense with a heavy dose of energy and complexity. Check classic such as Guns of Navarone, El Pussy Cat Ska and Simmer Down with The Wailers.
This is a history lesson and showcases The Skatalites unrivaled position in the history of reggae music.
There are plenty of talents in Jamaican reggae that have never really been recognized beyond reggae collectors and aficionados. One of the great singers that is too underappreciated is the soulful and plaintive Freddie McKay, who started his recording career for Prince Buster in the 60s.
He later moved on to work with a plethora of Jamaican producers, including Clement Dodd, who recorded his debut album Picture on the Wall, which has now been reissued by Studio One Records and Yep Roc Records.
Clement Dodd caught interest in Freddie McKay during a recording session with the Soul Defenders, an outfit that had Freddie McKay as one of their lead vocalists (Culture’s Joseph Hill was another of their lead singers). And many of the songs featured on the majestic Picture on the Wall were part of Soul Defenders’ stage show. The versions on the album have, however, new arrangements with horns and different backing vocals.
The original album is a sheer masterpiece. And this new version is even better since it adds another 12 (!) tracks, including rarities, instrumentals and extended versions. The real beauties – apart from original album cuts like So Long Forever and Can’t Go On – are the ridiculously rare single Drunken Sailor and the extended version of Love is a Treasure. This album is worth getting just because of those two cuts.
Freddie McKay has never got the recognition he deserves. He is for sure one of Jamaica’s finest singers of all time. Listen to this set and you’ll understand why.