Bob:

 

Laurel Aitken has often been called the Godfather of Ska , and given his

history, it is not all surprising. After all, his “Boogie In My Bones’,

produced by a very young Chris Blackwell in 1959, was certainly one of

the early Jamaican recordings to gain not only a great deal of attention

in Jamaica but also in the UK. While never becoming a ‘pop’ hit in the

UK, it most certainly introduced Laurel to a whole generation of

Jamaican immigrants in Britain. As Mike Atherton points out in his

admirable liner notes to ‘Boogie In My Bones – All the major Hits From

1957-1960’ (Pressure Drop PDROP CD8), Laurel started out recording Mento

for Dada Tewari’s Caribbean Recording Company, his recordings coming out

on the Caribou label. Caribbeans other label, Downbeat licensed US R & B

recordings, mainly from Aladdin. His Mento songs, sometimes in a

religious vein such as ‘Nightfall in Zion’ (Roll Jordan Roll), ‘Sweet

Chariot’ and ‘Walls of Jericho’ or more secular such as ‘Mas Charlie’,

‘Calypso Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Rege Dege Ding’ earned him a considerable

degree of popularity, and his ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ / ‘Sweet Chariot’ became

his first UK release, on Emil Shalit’s Kalypso label.

 

However, by the end of 1957 our man was becoming a lot more interested

in Rhythm & Blues, and his recording of ‘Aitken’s Boogie’ on Caribou,

with its electric guitar and and saxophones indicated both the path that

Laurel was taking, but also the future direction of Jamaican music.

Mike, in his notes, makes the point that it was not just Rosco Gordon

who exerted a great influence on Jamaican music, but also Wilbert

Harrison. I had not known this, but now that I do, I also understand why

Chris Blackwell issued a Harrison cut (licensed from the USA) in the

first few months of starting Island in the UK. And talking of Blackwell

brings us back to ‘Boogie In My Bones’. I find it quite fascinating that

after his earliest recordings, made with Jamaican musicians, for ‘Boogie

In My Bones’ he was accompanied by an Australian group, The Caribs.

Denis Sindrey (guitar), Keith Stoddart (piano) and Lowell Morris(drums).

Augmented by Lloyd Brevett on bass and Laurel’s friend Carl McLaughlin

on tenor, this polyglot group made the record that introduced many many

people to Jamaican music. Denis Sindrey, as you will remember, is one of

the players who is all over that great ‘Legends of Ska’ movie, and deservedly so.

 

The record was a massive hit in Jamaica, and made number on one the

Jamaican charts in early 1960. It was released in UK on Starlite and

Kalypso, and by 1965 was re-issued on Island. I remember that when I

worked there in 1965 the record still sold a respectable amount every

week. Back then a hit song had a long life!

 

Rusty:

 

I think that’s what I personally love about Laurel Aitken, is all

the variety in his musical menu as he worked through so many stylistic

musical shifts. A little Mento, some rhumba, some boogie Blues

shuffles and onto Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae. I know he’s wasn’t the

greatest singer in a league with cats like Alton, Delroy, Ken Boothe,

etc… but he had such a charm and delivery that is irresistible. You

mentioned Dennis Sindrey and all those great early musicians and I

think it’s intriguing that Dennis and some of his other bandmates were

Australian. Just goes to show that the foundation of Jamaican music is

so deep and varied when it comes to the ancestral background of the

contributors. Most people that are fans of the music don’t realize

this.

 

Bob:

 

Indeed, it is very interesting. It rather reminds me of those white

musicians from Memphis and Muscle Shoals who were among the session

guys on those sixties soul records that have come to define black music.

Fans of all genres of music expect everything to occur in a linear fashion

that strengthens their preconceptions. How many blues fans know that

Robert Johnson played pop songs and waltzes in his shows? Or that Roy

Brown’s favorite singer was Bing Crosby. Or that one of Johnny Hodges

favorite sessions was the one he did with Lawrence Welk?

 

Rusty:

 

Right. Folks get very dogmatic in their opinions and perceptions

about music and musicians, etc…. and yes, I agree about how many

people would be surprised by singers and musician’s inspirations.

It’s always blown my mind how much Alton Ellis dug Andy Williams, not to

mention Sinatra and The Beatles besides James Brown, and Sam Cooke,

etc….

 

Bob:

 

Laurel of course sang pop songs, though I’m not sure if he did any waltzes.

Likewise I don’t know of his regard for Der Bingle – I do know he never

recorded with Mr Welk however! He did, as you so rightly say, cover an

awful lot of stylistic ground over the years. If you had to name your

favorite five recordings of his, what would they be?

 

Rusty:

 

Wow! That’s a hard question to answer. I really love the first

few years of his recording career the most, but here goes. “Baba Kill

Me A Goat” is pure Mento flavored musical bliss. Of course how could

I not list “Boogie In My Bones” with it’s infectious boogie blues

shuffling by Mr. Sindrey and cohorts? I guess my other three favorites

would be the sweet and romantic Doo Wop vibes of “Heavenly Angel”, the

slightly drunken and lopsided rhumba “Judgement Day” and the straight

up Calypso/Mento of “Tribute To Collie Smith” whom I believe was a

famous cricket player. If I could add a sixth fave, I’ve always loved

Laurel’s lovingly faithful cover of Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender”.

 

Bob:

 

Collie Smith indeed was a cricketer – he was killed in a car accident

in the UK in September, 1959, at the age of 26 or so. Over 60,000

mourners showed up at his funeral in Kingston.

I too love ‘Hey Bartender’ and included it as the opening track on ‘The

Trojan Story’, that 3 LP compilation of Jamaican music I put together

back in 1971. In fact, I never heard Floyd Dixon’s recording until

several years later. That was what I loved about Laurel, the respect and

love he showed to R & B. When I saw him at the Wembley Reggae Festival

in 1970 or 1971 (wish my memory was better!) he brought the house down

with a laconic but relentless version of the Chris Kenner / Fats Domino

tune ‘Sick And Tired’. The place went wild!

 

He hung in there as the scene changed over the years, adapting his style

to current trends, but his ‘Laurel-ness’ was always apparent. Whatever

he did, he made it his own, which is, I guess, the definition of a true

stylist.

 

He left us a great body of work.

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A Conversation between Rusty Zinn and Bob Bell:

 

Graeme Goodall

 

Bob Bell:

 

I guess it is inevitable that more than fifty after the first ska recordings were made we should find ourselves lamenting the passing of yet another iconic figure of the Jamaican music industry, but the inevitability doesn’t soften the blow. Graeme Goodall died in his Atlanta, GA home on December 4th, 2014, of natural causes.

 

Rusty:

 

2014 was a big year for numerous loss of JA music legends and losing Goody was no exception. I wished I could’ve had the opportunity to have met him or to at least talk to him on the phone. His contribution to the music is immeasurable.

 

Bob:

 

 

Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1932, Graeme worked for several radio stations as an audio engineer before arriving the UK in the mid 50’s where he trained at the International Broadcasting Company, which was the UK’s biggest indie recording studio.

He was shortly offered a three year contract to join the design and installation team that led to the building of Jamaica’s first commercial FM station, Radio Jamaica Rediffusion. And that job led, in very short order, to his helping to build the first recording studion on the island, in the rear of a store owned by Ken Khouri. it was there, with Graeme engineering, that the first recordings were made in Jamaica.

 

Rusty:

 

A true pioneer he was. He was there even before the creation of Ska. What an exciting time that must’ve been for him.

 

Bob:

 

Hear! Hear! Graeme went on to engineer sessions for Chris Blackwell, (Laurel Aitken’s ‘Boogie In My Bones’) and then with Leslie Kong, became Blackwell’s partner in the fledgling Island Records.

 

Rusty:

 

Goody was involved in recording many crucial classics. By the way, “Boogie In My Bones” featured some of Goody’s Australian mates with Dennis Sindrey, etc…. it’s funny to know that some white boys from Australia were a crucial part of the development of Jamaican music.

 

Bob:

 

That’s so interesting, isn’t it? It’s a kind of a forerunner to what happened at Stax a few years later, when those pioneering soul records by Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding had a bunch of white boys in the band that defined the idiom. I met Graeme when I joined Island records in 1965, working at the company’s Kilburn office in Cambridge Road in London. Graeme was a very cheerful guy, full of energy and good humor, and we became quite friendly. I remember I had a big blue parka, with wolf fur around the hood. It was a government surplus coat, and Graeme was quite covetous of it. Indeed, when he and his wife Fay took a skiing trip to Switzerland that winter, he borrowed it. It was early in the next year that he left Island and started Doctor Bird Records, which Island distributed. His first release was ‘Every Night’ by Joe White (DB 1001) and the record became a very big hit in the West Indian market. The label had a very striking design and was the first that I can remember that used yellow and green – those distinctive Jamaican colors. Apart from the colors, the design itself was striking – tasteful and very eye catching.

 

Rusty:

 

Doctor Bird sure released some wicked material during it’s heyday and “Every Night” is an all time classic. It features some gorgeous guitar by the great guitarist/arranger Lyn Taitt from Trinidad who should definitely be paid tribute to in one of our future blogs.

 

Bob:

 

On his frequent visits to Cambridge Road, Graeme would often regale us with tales of his engineering sessions in JA, of how he kept a long iron pipe under the mixing console with which he could ‘keep order’ if necessity demanded. He’d tell of the massive amounts of ganja that would be consumed at those sessions – that was the first time I had heard pot so described. Tales of Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Laurel Aitken – he engineered all of those pioneers at differing times during their formative years.

 

Rusty:

 

Yeah, he spoke about that in the excellent interview that Reggae Vibes Productions NL conducted with him. It seemed like the producers didn’t really stand for ganja smoking inside the studio at that time. I seem to recall Goody saying for the most part they had to smoke out in the yard. It wasn’t long after that though that the “studio kinda cloudy” syndrome became acceptable in JA studios. Ha! Ha!

 

Bob:

 

That’s right – things did indeed change. But you are right about his rule of no smoking in the studio. After he started Dr Bird, he soon started the Pyramid label, which released Leslie Kong’s product, and he bought out Rio Records from Don Rickard. When I went back to Island in 1968, his operation was in top gear, and very soon he was topping the UK pop charts with Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’. And of course we mustn’t forget that he also made the pop charts in the UK with Desmond’s ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ in 1967. So not only did Graeme pioneer early ska through his engineering talents and his association with Chris Blackwell at Island, he went on to really popularize Jamaican music by hitting the UK Pop Charts with Rock Steady ‘007’ (number 14, 1967), and then Reggae with ‘Israelites’  (number 1, 1968), ‘It Mek’ (number 7, 1969). So he really did a huge amount for Jamaican culture.

 

I really enjoyed seeing him in the “Legends of Ska’ movie. Of course, that footage was probably shot some time ago, but he looked great and was as always, both informative and entertaining. After the screening when we were talking with Brad Klein, the movies producer, I asked him to remember me to Graeme the next time he talked to him, as I hadn’t had any communication with him since a brief email correspondence about six or seven years ago. Brad emailed me in mid November that Goody said ‘Hi’. Two weeks later he died.

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A Conversation Between Rusty & Bob Bell: Owen Gray

December 7, 2014

Bob:   I have to go on record as saying that the movie ‘Legends of Ska’ we saw in San Francisco last week was the best treatment of Ska I have ever seen.   Rusty:   Let me just go a step further and say without any apologies that it may be the best JA […]

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A Conversation Between Rusty & Bob Bell: John Holt

October 21, 2014

Bob:  So John Holt has left us. How sad …. he was only 69, not that old at all. I know we had arranged to talk about Owen Gray for this particular post, but fortunately dear old Owen is still with us. Of course, he has no idea that we were going to talk about […]

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A Conversation Between Rusty & Bob Bell: American & Jamaican Music Icons

September 18, 2014

Bob:   Two very influential people died last week, as I am sure you have probably read. One was Bob Crewe and the other was Cosimo Matassa, and both had influences on Jamaican music, although Cosimo’s was by far the greater. Crewe started out as a singer in the early fifties, partnered with Texan pianist […]

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A Conversation Between Rusty & Bob Bell: Bitty McLean

August 21, 2014

Rusty: As you know Angela and I saw Bitty McLean with Sly & Robbie a few weeks ago. What a breath of fresh air Bitty is! No stereotypical Reggae dogma or clichés in his presentation, songs, stage presence, or dress. Just great singing and timeless sounding sweet Reggae, Rock Steady & Ska. Very clean cut […]

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A Conversation Between Rusty & His Manager Bob “Rob” Bell

August 8, 2014

    Bob: My son Andrew called last night and during our conversation I mentioned we had gone to see Jimmie Vaughan in Santa Cruz, and what a great show it was. He said he had seen a rock steady show in Misquamicut, RI the other day at The Windjammer – a great beach club […]

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Cafe Randevu Tonight!

September 7, 2012

Tonight we will be perfroming at the Cafe Randevu in the Oakland Art Murmur Series  which occurs every first Friday of the month! Like Reggae with a whole lotta soul? Come and join us in a journey into the soul of Lovers Rock Steady! Show starts @ 8:30 P.M. and goes til 11:30 or midnight depending […]

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Shows This Weekend!

July 27, 2012

We have some nice shows commng up this weekend! Friday night at The Makeout Room in San Francisco (see link below) starting at 8:00 P.M. We will be doing a 40 minute set followed by a 40 minute set by The Titan Up’s! An evening of sweet Rock Steady, Ska, soulful Reggae & Lovers Rock! […]

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The influence of Soul music on Jamaica!

May 15, 2012

The importance and influence that U.S. Soul music had on Jamaican music genres such as Rock Steady and it’s baby, Reggae, could never be underestimated. So many recorded performances in Jamaica from 1966 and onwards were often covers of classsic hits from the stables of Motown, Stax, etc….. in fact the legendary Studio One in […]

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