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Treasure Isle Presents: Ska - 40 Jamaican Rude-Boy Classics

CD1
Rough And Tough - Stranger Cole
Watermelon Man - The Baba Brooks Orchestra
Strongman Sampson - Eric Morris
River Bank (aka Bank To Bank) Part 1 - Baba Brooks
Uno Dos Tres - Stranger Cole & Ken Boothe
Solomon Gundie - Eric Morris
Eastern Standard Time - Don Drummond & Band
How Many Times - Owen & Leon Silveras
Musical Storeroom - Roland Alphonso & Frank Anderson
Penny Reel O - Eric Morris
Running Around - Owen & Leon Silveras
Carry Go Bring Come - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Silver Dollar - Tommy McCook & The Skatalites
The Fits Is On Me - Owen & Leon Silveras
Corner Stone - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Street Corner - Don Drummond & The Skatalites
Low Minded People - Joe White & Chuck Berry
Doctor Dekker - Baba Brooks & Don Drummond
Vacation - The Melodites
Latin Goes Ska - The Skatalites
CD2
Really Now - Gloria & Dreamletts
Run Joe - Stranger Cole
Occupation - The Skatalites
Telling Lies - The Techniques
Independence Ska - The Baba Brooks Band
Rub Up Push Up - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Guns Fever - The Baba Brooks Band
Yeah Yeah - The Riots
I Am In Love - The Techniques
Girls Town Ska - The Baba Brooks Band
Renegade - The Zodiacs
Nuclear Weapon - Roland Alphonso
University Goes Ska - Don Drummond
Don't Call Me Daddy - Derrick Morgan
Vitamin A - The Baba Brooks Band
Dance Crasher - Alton Ellis & Flames
Lucky Seven - Don Drummond
Teenage Ska - The Baba Brooks Band
Don't Trouble People - Alton Ellis & The Flames
True Confession - The Silvertones

'Guns Fever'. 'Street Corner'. 'Dance Crasher'. 'Don't Trouble People'. Read those titles: the original Ska really was Rough And Tough. The newly independent Jamaica was a country finding its feet, optimistic, brash, excited - and excitable. Nobody knew what the future held, but the young country had that frontier feeling; anything was possible, opportunity was there as never before, and in any scramble for position in a new society there are those moments when things turn wild. In Jamaica's case, the rudeboys came to the fore, lootin', shootin', ratchet-usin' and bum-showin', as the songs of the time had it. Whatever the reality of their antics - and definitely went beyond those definitions - the rudies were young, strong and hungry to make their mark by any means necessary.

The music of the era reflected their energy: it was fast, upbeat, rude, exciting... a little dangerous. It was Ska, the sound of independent Jamaica, rough, tough and optimistic, ready to take on all-comers. Its roots may have been laid in America, Africa and elsewhere in the Caribbean, but from them something entirely Jamaican had flourished, fertile, vigorous, powerful and lasting. Ska's heyday may have been between 1962 and 1966, but its influence has lasted to this day.

The most obvious starting point for Ska was American Rhythm & Blues. Jamaica boasted a unique entertainment medium: massively over-amplified DJs took huge speaker boxes around the island and blasted out Blues, R&B and Jazz. Throughout the 1950s, these DJs competed fiercely for the affections of the people. Among them were Tom the Great Sebastian, Sir Coxsone Downbeat and Duke Reid The Trojan, and competition was as hot as the climate. The owners of the sound systems would import records from America, scratch the titles off the labels, and wage war with their rivals, using these new sounds - as well as their fists - to establish their right to rule the area. The battle became so strong that the sound system proprietors would visit the States themselves in search of discs to mash up the dance. Jamaica's proximity to America made it possible - the Blues cruise was vital for any self-respecting sound man.

However, in the late 1950s, America's taste in music changes - but Jamaica's didn't. The sound men found themselves struggling to find the sort of grooves the audience wanted. These enterprising figures turned instead to local musicians, hiring jazz players and members of hotel bands to record exclusive songs to be played on their sounds. Towards the end of the decade, demand grew to the point where it became viable for the sound men to become independent record companies. One of them was Arthur 'Duke' Reid, with one label named, naturally, Duke Reid, and another, Dutchess (sic), named for his wife Lucille.

Initially, Reid's recordings were Blues tunes and ballads similar to the material he had obtained in the States, such as the Jiving Juniors' 'Lollipop Girl', but by 1960 Jamaica's sound was developing its own flavour, and emphasised the off beat on the guitar, a trick borrowed from the Jump Blues of T Bone Walker and Roy Brown. That year, 'Duke's Cookies', credited to Duke Reid & His Group, was a sign of things to come. By 1962, the choppy beat dominate, and was called Ska, supposedly an onomatopoeic name. As he had done in the '50s with his sound system, Reid was quick to establish his dominance, and, tired of paying other people for the right to record, he opened his own studio on Bond Street, Kingston. Taking the name of his liquor store as its title, Treasure Isle Studio and its attendant record label became fixtures on Kingston's music scene for more than a decade. The company was a major player in all-Jamaican musical developments into the 1970s.

Reid's Ska quickly developed a distinctive style. It was, as his singer Stranger Cole declared, 'Rough And Tough'. But Reid was a fan of Jazz and the smoother end of R&B, and ensured that melody played a major part in his work. While he was using the same guns-for-hire- musicians as his rival Jamaican producers, he was careful to ensure that his music had that particular Treasure Isle flavour; it was good-time, it was fiery (his regular use of trumpeter Baba Brooks as band leader saw to that) but it had that jazzy undertone. 'Watermelon Man', Brooks' version of the Herbie Hancock classic, 'Dr Dekker', 'River Bank', 'Vitamin A'... these tunes kept the dances rocking in Jamaica's muggy night air, and burdened the Blues dances in British basements with perspiration. The people liked them because they rocked you, but you could remember them too.

The Skatalites, Don Drummond, Roland Alphonso took their turns in gaining the credits on Reid's records.  Reid also found a selection of singers capable of getting their point across in times where you had to be loud to be heard. Eric 'Monty' Morris, a singer who renowned for his Ska on both sides of the Atlantic, cut most of his best tunes under Reid's supervision: 'Strongman Samson', 'Solomon Gundy' and the sly 'Penny Reel O' may have been little more than old folk ditties (aka 'ring songs', because kids chanted them while skipping in circles) but Morris made them matter. Another singer, Stranger Cole would have a lasting impact on Jamaican music, recording fine sides for Reid over the course of six years. Brothers Owen and Leon Silveras cut killer 45s for Reid and could be described as Ska's Sam & Dave, except they were a success before the celebrated Soul duo. Joe White, on of Reggae's perennial unsung heroes, was another Reid protégé, making his first big impact on the Reggae-buying public with Ska hits for Treasure Isle. And the producer could hardly resist recording one of Jamaica's most distinctive stars of the '60s, Derrick Morgan, both solo and in duets. Among the latter was the sweetheart song 'I Wish I Were An Apple', credited to Derrick & Naomi. Reid knew that Jamaican's revelled in sentimental songs because he did too: during the '50s, his sound system's theme song was Tab Smith's gushing and emotive instrumental, 'My Mother's Eyes'.

Another of Treasure Isle's favourite Ska acts was Justin Hinds & The Dominoes, whose totally Jamaican songs somehow found favour with British Mods. Hinds, from Jamaica's tourist-trap north coast, cut all his greatest records for Reid. A further brilliant signing (not that anyone bothered with a recording contract then) was Alton Ellis, who went on to become one of Jamaica's most enduring musical heroes. Ellis, a soulful, passionate man with a strong sense of justice, sang about rude boys. But unlike other Ska stars, he didn't do it for the publicity and he didn't praise these gun-toting, ratchet-wielding bad boys. instead he rebuked them or tried to put them on the right road: 'Dance Crasher' told off those who caused chaos at raves; 'Don't Trouble People' was self-explanatory, and these weren't Ellis's only songs on this theme. his moral stance became too much for the rudies, who took it personally and paid the brave Ellis a call warning him off.

Reid too had no fear of the rudies: having spent a decade as a Kingston cop, he was rough and tough enough to fight his street corner. He had a burly physical presence, he had his gun, and he also had a certain personable charm used before he ever resorted to either. A big, bluff man, he was the major figure in Bond Street, with his off licence and studio. If you had a problem with him, you had a problem with the community.

The Duke continued to score heavily with his records into the mid-'60s, but in 1966 the beat began to slow as Jamaica's dancers sought respite from the frantic pace of Ska. Reid was not fazed; he was already working with some of the artists who would ensure his key position during the next stage of Jamaican music, Alton Ellis and the Techniques among them. You can hear the subtleties of Rock steady emerging in the final track on this collection, the Silvertones' version of the Brook Benton hit, 'My True Confession', cut in 1966: the rhythm may have been Ska, but it was now a subtler, softer musical experience with more room for harmonies.

Jamaican Ska died out in 1967, although Britain's emergent Skinhead movement held on to the sound through releases on Trojan - a label named after Reid's sound system and initially devoted to releasing his work in the UK. But while the Duke and the rest of Jamaica moved on to Rock Steady, which we celebrate in the next collection in this series, 'Treasure Isle Presents Rock Steady', Ska remained on the back burner waiting to ignite the 2Tone movement and spark further revivals worldwide. Duke Reid died in 1975, aged 60, but his pioneering achievements resonate to this day, and the sound the rudies danced to lives on.

Ian McCann - Ian McCann is the editor of Record Collector magazine
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