Tommy McCook - Super Star Disco Rockers

The Night Rose of Sherron
African Jumpers
Rasta A The Master
Lamb's Bread Herb
Herb & Honey
Macka Dub Rock
Tommy's Rocking Vibration
Disco Rockers
Roots Of Africa
The Bionic Horn

This album was included with Bunny Lee & The Aggrovators - Super Dub Disco Style (PSCD97) as a bonus CD

When Tommy McCook was recruited by Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd of Studio One to lead his crack group of ska session players, the band was originally going to be known as The Satellites. Tommy, a product of the famous Alpha Boys School, thought they should change it to The Skatalites. In an interview with Howard Johnson in 1981, he described his formative years and how The Skatalites came to be:

"At Alpha Boys School (we played) mostly march music, classics, the symphonic side of music. And while I was still at school I had an offer to play with a dance band, starting at the Bournemouth (Club) with Eric Deans. I left around '54 to go to Nassau in the Bahamas to join a Jamaican band there - we played dance music, big band, swing music. When I came back in '62 Don Drummond was the man on the scene. He had this hit tune 'Schooling The Duke' out at the time. Well I listened to the music, but I was playing jazz at the time. We had this little jazz club and while I was there Coxsone came to me and asked me to do some recording - the ska recording. Well I didn't move right away but he approached me again in '63 and I decided I would try, you know, so I got involved with the ska. Well while we were recording together with The Skatalites in '63 they weren't together as a band, they were just a recording outfit. Then people kept asking who played these various tunes, you know. Then Coxsone asked me to feature a tune for him - 'Exodus', that was my first (solo) hit during the ska time. Well after that I did some other tunes like 'Road Block', which was my composition, and 'Freedom Sound'."

Bunny Lee, producer of this current reissue, remembers him well:

"Tommy McCook was me good friend, a really nice guy. Tommy was part Cuban, you know, him and Roland Alphonso from the Skatalites too. I think that influence his music. When Tommy led The Skatalites, Coxsone paid them all weekly, and they used to say Coxsone was everybody's mother, cos when a man want him money him say 'Boy me a go look for me mother!'"

When The Skatalites splintered after Don Drummond's arrest for murder, McCook led The Supersonics for Duke Reid in the rocksteady and early reggae years, before becoming the pre-eminent horns arranger of the roots era. Having already fallen under the spell of John Coltrane's free jazz, Tommy had found a deeper meditational mood in the percussive rhythms of Count Ossie's Rastafarian drummers, and he brought this spiritual dimension into the militant rockers sound of the late 1970s.

Bunny Lee: "Tommy and Count Ossie was very good friends, so Tommy spent a lot of time up in the hills where they did their drumming. I think that is where he used to work out him experiments, just playing saxophone along with Rastaman drummers."

Tommy McCook: "Well the Rastas at that time had to hide to play because the police would come to mash them up. At times they chopped up the drums and beat up some of the players, so the Rastas had o go further back in the hills, so it would be harder for the police to get at them."

McCook recorded extensively for Bunny Lee, and 'Super Star Disco Rockers' is a strong showcase for his meditational style of laying. The track 'Lamb's Bread Herb', a re-worked version of Yabby You's 'Death Trap' with an overdubbed 'steppers' drum pattern, is a mystical highlight:

Bunny Lee: When Tommy join up with Bobby Ellis on trumpet, that is when he develop what we call his 'far east' sound. And especially when he play flute like on 'Death Trap' it give that 'far east' sound. Or sometimes Tommy play clarinet for a different flavour. But mostly he played the tenor sax with that deeper, lower tone, like on 'Tommy's Rocking Vibration' - hear that big horn there!"

Other tracks include two cuts of Frankie Jones tunes, ('African Jumpers' and 'Night Rose Of Sherron', both popular cuts with Fatman's sound system) and instrumental versions of Johnny Clarke and Cornell Campbell songs. Several tunes feature the higher alto sax of Lennox Brown alongside Tommy's tenor, and two tracks actually feature Lennox Brown alone.

Bunny Lee: "Lennox Brown was a good hornsman too. Him used to play long time in that group named The Vikings. I used to use him on alto sax, cos I love that finer sound, the sweeter sound of alto. On 'The Bionic Horn' and 'Rasta A The Master' that is just two horns, Lennox Brown and Bobby Ellis, not Tommy. Then sometimes I have the three of them: Lennox, Tommy and Bobby Ellis, cos it give you that special blend."

'Super Star Disco Rockers', originally released on Dynamic Sounds' Weed Beat label, was overdubbed and mixed at King Tubby's Studio, where Bunny would line up the horns players in a spirit of healthy competition.

Bunny Lee: "I always liked the saxophone players. And sometimes I did have all of them in the studio on the same session. Cos when you have a hit riddim every man want to go on it to further his career. And so each man try to outdo the other one - it was a bit like the deejays where they have a competition, and if one man flop then you send in the next one. It create a vibe, man, and all the guys them have them sound. The only one Tommy was afraid of was Ossie Scot, cos he was a brilliant jazz man. When we overdub them after the main session we use King Tubby's little voicing room. And with three man in there it become like a sweat box! So we put in a little air conditioning unit inside, and when you start record you just lock it off to stop the noise."

Tommy McCook's later years saw his career come full circle, as he led a reformed Skatalites on tours around the world, garnering Grammy nominations and rapturous acclaim before his death in 1998 at the age of 71. In an interview with Brian Keyo towards the end of his life, he crystalised the combination of rhythmic power and spiritual purpose that so characterises his timeless sound:

"Our music is complex, artistic communication that should be danced to and listened to simultaneously. We explore the human imagination and delve into emotions."


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