The Skatalites form the backbone of Jamaican popular music. They strongly influenced a coming generation of musicians by creating original rhythms of a very high standard, and giving the island, and the world, its own identifiable sound. The engine of the band, which formed in 1964, was Lloyd Knibb on drums and Lloyd Brevett, the subject of this article, on upright bass. Steeped in mento, jazz and R&B, they put all of this into their own melting pot and out came the shuffling sound of ska which gave a start to the Jamaican record industry; a productivity which hadn't been the same before and wouldn't be the same thereafter. By the 1970s it was widely looked upon as the third largest in the world, and the Skatalites was the foundation of it all. Lloyd Brevett was born into a musical family. His father played bass in jazz groups when Lloyd was a youth, but became himself a master of the instrument and began his career playing in various jazz outfits in Kingston. Over the past few years several of the later Skatalites recordings led by Lloyd, such as the 'African Roots' album, originally a mid seventies LP on Tropical Soundtracs, has turned up on British releases, even a dub project mixed by the late and great King Tubby. Brevett is no longer a permanent member of the group, and some of the reasons why is discussed in this interview. My thanks to Lloyd, Ken Stewart, Carlton Hines, Tim P, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.


Q: If we go back to where it began for you, you grew up in Kingston?

A: Yeah, I'm born in Kingston.

Q: What part?

A: I birth in Jones Town, at the time it was called Jones Town. It don't really adjoin to Trench Town, it was off Trench Town... Yes! Trench Town is adjoinin' to Jones Town, right.

Q: I think you have mentioned somewhere that your father played jazz in a big band at some point?

A: My daddy is about the first man that start to play bass, upright bass, in Jamaica. He played jazz, and at that time... Yeah, he play jazz, a little jazz, but at that time you have different, different little band, y'know. They play the jazz songs.

Q: And mento?

A: Yeah, yeah, mento and rumba, those type a music, calypso, and they played a few jazz tunes.

Q: So your father was the one who taught you the bass?

A: Yeah. And he taught me to make bass too!

Q: (Chuckles) Oh, so you practically built your first bass?

A: (Chuckles) Yeah, an' my daddy build his bass, make his bass, the one he played with.

Q: What was appealing about the bass then?

A: Well, at the time when I was learnin' to play bass, I never really much attracted to bass, I was attracted to drums. Yeah, I did like drums. When I start to play bass I was at some place that they called Coney Island, there my dad used to play. And when I learn to play the bass, my dad always take me there and let me hold the bass, I never get the time fe play the drums. And Lloyd Knibbs at that time, he was learnin' to play the drum, and the man that used to play the drum he always guide me to play the drum too. He used to make my dad learn the drum also.

Lloyd Brevett         

Skatalites
Q: So that's where the first encounter with Knibbs was. I thought you met at Alpha (Boys School) for some reason.

A: No, Lloyd Knibbs wasn't at Alpha Boys School. Lloyd Knibbs was in his boy days at some Catholic people, they have a church round deh. That's how I know him.

Q: So none of you went to Alpha.

A: No, I don't go Alpha, I didn't go to Alpha. My dad taught me to play bass.

Q: Did you get to play with the Eric Deans Orchestra in the mid fifties as well?

A: I played all the jazz groups dem in Jamaica, Eric Deans, and man come there without bass. An Australian group (possibly the Caribs) come there without bass. There was a few jazz band but they couldn't get a bass man to fit in with them. 'Cause they call up some guy but they couldn't get him to fit in, they wouldn't consider that guy, and I heard about it while I was with Lord Fly's band. I heard about that they needed a bass player, and I go up there, the Glass Bucket Club in Half Way Tree, that's where them come fe play. They couldn't get a bass player, so I passed through. And someone there knew me, they call me to him, a guy name Sonny Bradshaw.

Q: Right, he had an orchestra at the time.

A: Yeah, and they called me and I fit that test. They play a tune, a jazz tune, and right there so I fit in with that band and I stay a couple of years with them. Then I start to do studio work, with Tommy McCook and some other guys, Don Drummonds, and there we start the Skatalites. Lloyd Knibbs wasn't - when we start the Skatalites, Lloyd Knibbs wasn't there, he was on a ship, y'know. So we start with some other guy on drums that I couldn't even remember now...

Q: Drumbago (Arkland Parks)?

A: No, not Drumbago, Drumbago wouldn't fit in too much. He never really round there among us. But then the Skatalites start in '62.

Q: How did the formation of the group come about in the first place?

A: Well, at Studio, y'know, Studio One. We was workin' together and so the group formed. Tommy McCook was the leader. There was Roland Alphonso, Don Drummonds, so we was very good in the studio making the tune dem. Ca' the people around Jamaica want to know the band that really make these tunes, we decide to form up the group, I and Tommy, Lloyd Knibbs was there, we name the group the Skatalites - Tommy McCook really name the band, 'The Skatalites'.

Q: It was Tommy?

A: Yeah. It was a ska this and the sound seh 'ska', and Tommy McCook come up with the name, 'Skatalites'. We move on from there. The band jus' stay together for a year (actually circa two years as a recording outfit). Johnny Moore, me and Tommy quarrel, so the band break up. We let the band break up. The man from Studio One decide to form a group, he take some of us and decide to form a group with Johnny Moore, me myself, Roland Alphonso. We do a session, and in that session we come up with 'rock steady'. Yeah, that session change it, the change cut dung the ska to rock steady.

Q: And the same studio.

A: Studio One. Downbeat, Coxson. And this guy, he write up a tune name 'Rock Steady' (chuckles)... what's his name...?

Q: Alton Ellis?

A: Alton Ellis, right you are. Yeah. I stay with that band we formed name Soul Vendors, that band there.


The Skatalites: (left to right) Johnny Moore, Lloyd Knibbs, Lester Sterling,
Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, Tony DaCosta,
Jackie Mittoo & Harold McKenzie
Q: But there was a band before that called the Soul Brothers, with Bobby Ellis and a few others. I think they came from the remnants of the Skatalites.

A: Yeah. That is when we're going to England. I was with the Soul Brothers, spend a couple of weeks, and then break up again. Then Coxson form it back and name it Soul Vendors. We go to England, when we were in England some dispute come up again, Soul Vendors mash up again, right. The same man dem, yunno, same man dem, Skatalite band dem (chuckles).

Q: So you were a member of the Vendors, I thought that was Brian Atchinson on bass and Joe Isaacs on drums, only.

A: Yeah, it was when Lloyd Knibbs wasn't around, the first Skatalites break up and Lloyd Knibbs went to Montego Bay.

Q: During the short time the group was together in its initial years, it must've been an overload of work and consequently a very tight schedule and a lot of pressure, with so few really qualified musicians around you were all in demand constantly, and you recorded for not only Studio One but also Top Deck, Randy's, King Edwards, and so on, if not in the studio working then you probably played in clubs. Is this exaggerated or how could you manage to squeeze in so much work?

A: Well, we always hit the ball, yunno. Night and day we is at studio, and the studio sometime...

Q: You lived in the studio, huh?

A: (Laughs) Yeah! You could've thought it was that! Yeah man, the Skatalites, the sound, to record the sound, man, the band have a good vibes. Since Tommy come in to the United States, get a lickle group together, him name it Skatalites but it couldn't be. Only in Jamaica with me and Lloyd Knibbs could he get the right riddim. So then we form back the Skatalites.

Q: But before that though, about Don Drummond's work with the band, several of the Skatalites tunes was Drummond's compositions, perhaps more than known.

A: Well, a lot of the tunes, Don Drummond write them, lot's of the tune dem. They credit some of our tunes to him, but a lot of the tune was his tune dem.


Don Drummond
Q: How do you remember him now?

A: How I remember him? Well, I know the man so I must remember him. I remember a lot of Don.

Q: How was he, artistically and personally speaking?

A: Well, he was a quiet brother. When he come to studio he just go by himself and go write a tune or practice until the band ready. He was a man who stay by himself, personally. He was often not - when the band formed he just play at a club that pay three times a week, for not every night him play with we. But Don Drummond is a man that stay by himself more time. And it so happen that I was off the road for a few months, 'bout three months, and they couldn't get no bass player to fit in during them three months, couldn't get no bass player to fit in to fill my space. And they try all by Dodd's, but by that time there was some trouble with Don Drummond, him jus' sayin' that him stop playing. How him going to get (inaudible) when he die then now... Him tell them seh him stop play, and tell his girl - she, Margarita, his girl, he told her she must not go to the show. According to what I hear, when he drop asleep she went away to the show - ca' he stop play. And she went away to the show, he woke up before she came back. When she came back he stab her, she die from that.

Q: Would you say he was that difficult as many have him?

A: No. You mean like erratic and all that?

Q: Yeah.

A: No man, him quiet. For him grow like that, him was just a quiet brother. Don Drummond wasn't a Rasta at all. I am the Rastaman that in the band those day. No other Rastaman was in the band.

Q: Still Drummond wrote those Rasta-inspired tunes like 'Addis Ababa' and so on.

A: Yeah, yeah.

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