and Ripple from Green Island:
The Musical Legacy of Don Drummond
Part II of II.
Paintings by Clinton Hutton
For Part I>
McCook and The Skatalites announce:
"Nuclear Weapon" on the dance
Don Drummond has waged the
battle for the "inner space"
Don Drummond looked out into the dancing audience from his perch
on the stage. He felt the vibrations slam
back towards him. His trombone blared
line after line. This was Freedom! This
was Energy! The earlier roots of Jamaican
music (stemming from Mento) had now morphed
into amplified, electric ska - onomatopoeia
for the beat surrendered. BA-Ba-Da-Ba-DA-Ba-DA-da!!!
- Ska! Ska! Ska! Ska! He stood and swayed,
and rocked and played, alongside the rest
of the Skatalites (who had been formed
as the backing super group of Kingston.)
as the crowds erupted. With the opening
of local recording resources in 1959,
Kingston had become the Nashville (maybe
Memphis, or Motown Detroit) of the Caribbean.
Like their American counterparts Booker
T and the MGs, The Funk Brothers, The
Wrecking Crew, and the gang at Muscle
Shoals, the Skatalites (even before they
were named) backed anyone and everyone
in town. Like the MGs (and the Meters),
their own group instrumental performances
and singles raised the standard for everyone
else. The "Countdown" to Jamaican
Independence Day came straight from Don
Drummond and his mates as the UK flag
went down and Jamaica went up and up.
Along with live gigs, it was the time
of the great sound system battles on the
island that created an insatiable competitive
and commercial demand for new seven-inch
record releases. These portable discos
each took their shot at ruling the market.
Their own rulers had names (who became
producers) like King Tubby, Duke Reid,
and Sir Coxsone. Dances and modern, danceable,
pop became central to the youth culture
of Jamaica. When a steady feed of obscure
American rhythm and blues records hadn't
been enough to satisfy these souls, island
men began to compose. So it was that Don
Drummond and his cohorts shaped ska.
Ska drew from all forms of artistic and commercial inspiration
and exploitation. Ska referenced American
rhythm and blues covers, movie theme tributes,
dance craze reworks, and even cultural
novelties. More and more material was
always needed. Of course, it wasn't all
serious. The music could be Dada, or even
goofy fun. It even took Beatles melodies
and blasted off into ska-space. Mouth
clicks and pops in ska would grow up someday
to be the human beat box. The musicians
working in the genre (with its’
strong horns and accent on the off beats)
had to have a tested ability to create
art in many different moods within the
same basic (limiting) framework. Theirs
was the soundtrack to dance lives of joy,
sweat, release, contact, love, loss, food,
drink and even death. In the end, the
overriding motto was always, "You
gotta dance to it." This young, liberating
music would eventually energize its’
own darker side as sound system rivalries
begat violence and rude boys. As the wave
of energy crashed over and over again,
Don Drummond would look out at the audience
and ride it towards something more. He
would establish himself as prolific within
the genre both vertically and horizontally.
Here at the apex of an artistic and commercial
moment, he would help to draw the line
that would continue to connect ancient
drums and plantation wails to Love and
Bennett and Marley and beyond. It is here
that he would help influence and perpetuate
Jamaican music's ongoing evolution from
a form of tales to a form of message.
In the land of wood and water, it was the hills. Don Drummond,
a singularly gifted talent, a technically
schooled craftsman, angry young man, jazzer,
mental patient, tone explorer, dance man,
and composer, drifted into the hills of
Wareika. The pure music of the Rasta had
called. He had listened and embraced it.
In these hills and other gathering spots,
what some had regarded as a cult had actually
developed into a religion. Rastafarianism
had become for many a true inner and outer
root philosophy that stemmed from the
oldest known Christianity (the Ethiopian
Orthodox Church) and the descent of Solomon
and Sheba. Sacred ganja was in abundance,
but the greatest sacrament was the reasoning
of the worth and self determination of
one's own soul and mind. Here, a musician
prolific on vinyl and on the bandstand,
still only making just enough scraps of
money to get by, would gladly sacrifice
a gig's pay or a day's work to be of higher
spirit. In the hills, frustrated and perplexed
with his denial from the larger worldwide
aesthetic center, Don Drummond clung to
a new chart.
Musicians like Ras Michael and Count Ossie had taken the African
buru drum and through nyabinghi called
"down with the black and white oppressors!"
Food, thoughts, and fires were shared
in circles. Jah was the omnipotent center
of the music of these grounations. Under
a standard of green, gold, and red they
had turned away from America. They now
faced towards Ethiopia specifically. They
followed with zeal, the chosen Lion of
Judah, Haile Selassie I. Jah led them
further (like the prophet Garvey had said)
towards all of Africa. Drummond's embrace
of Rasta ways completed the long cycle
of his young life. He steered his music
towards the tough and political ("Occupation",
"Around the World.") Don Drummond
dared even his least interested dancing
fans to look eastward past the legacy
of self hatred, to dream beyond the physical
and psychological bonds of imposed slavery,
and to reclaim the dark and beautiful
history of great kingdoms ("Addis
"Eastern Standard Time".) The
ingredients of minor over major tonal
juxtaposition, Rasta heritage, and content
of memory and message formed the seed
that would birth rock steady and reggae.
This trademark style, eerily flickering
around the black keys of the piano, would
be seized and furthered by "Augustus
Pablo, Bob Marley, Hugh Mundell, and hundreds
of vocal groups from Burning Spear to
Israel Vibration." In the hills,
Don Drummond realized that he and other
musicians had to be brave enough to face
their own problems and destiny in their
own way. Rasta credo and Drummond's prolific
output formed a potent brew that would
lend vitality to those who didn't make
the trip. The soundtrack of the struggle
would be forever preserved and renewed.
Don Drummond recorded hundreds of songs
in only a few years. His work was released
on many different labels and shepparded
by ground breaking producers, like Sir
Coxsone, who always knew when to step
back and "let the musicians get on
with it." He showed incredible artistic
ambition for a man only beginning his
twenties. All the while, Don Drummond
maintained a remarkably steady hand at
the creative wheel despite an unstable
mental condition and erratic home life.
Perhaps his misplaced hate consumed him.
The system of post-colonial Jamaican apartheid
surely helped neither in treating his
ailments or encouraging understanding.
The music business of the 1960's Caribbean
and the competition that it fostered was
itself wicked. Don Drummond never received
much financial reward as penny sheets
morphed into spinning wax.
In spite of the obstacles that he faced, Don Drummond's greatest
creative legacy lies in the fact that
he chose to continue as an artist with
a message. His direct contact with those
who would become the leading lights of
reggae music (Coxsone, Marley, Tosh, Wailer)
charted a course of "no look back."
Island visitors and exporters could now
take away records that Jamaicans had authored
as "letters for the world."
Modern music with deep and ancient roots
could rock it and comment. Listeners could
scream "Oh, yeah!" but also
ask "What is that?" or (as another
conscious kin - Marvin Gaye - would ask
America in the 1970's) "What's Going
On?" Jamaica was portrayed as complex
and complicated in its now independent
modernity due to the incredible wellspring
of talent that Don Drummond helped lead
and influence. Artists all around were
encouraged by concrete example to feel
more, to seek more, and to know more.
Today, through influence and parallel consciousness, this circle
of artists is ever expanding. It includes
the 1970's afrobeat of Fela Kuti kicking
against relentless government oppression
in Nigeria, and laughing at death. It
harbors the 1980's Ethiopian jazz and
vocals of Mahmoud Ahmed refusing to suffocate
under the Stalinist Derg regime. In the
1990's and 2000's it has seen the appropriately
named Alpha Blondy bringing reggae directly
to political Pan-African struggles. Reggae,
says Blondy is " the voice of angels
that must carry the listener on clouds
all the way to heaven."
* * * * *
Don Drummond stood with his trombone and blew the truth. In jazz, ska, and
beyond, he struggled and experimented
with craft, form, material, and tone so
that Jamaican music, first and foremost,
could flourish. In his career, we can
see exactly how an important art form
got from point A to point B. Don Drummond
showed how modernity could not only combine
with, but also embrace, roots. His downfall
and sad ending also reveal poignant things
about the toll of commerce and competition
on the creative mind. His illness (and
violent outburst) is a stark reminder
of the mysteries of the human brain.
In 2006, there is not much said about Don Drummond. There is no
definitive biography or documentary film.
Jamaica, perhaps out of perceived criminal
shame, promotes no Drummond memorial or
resource center. His efforts did so much
for people with their creative, inquisitive,
uplift. As Amiri Baraka once said “When
the musician is committed…ethics
and aesthetics are one.”
Some last thoughts on Don Drummond come from the cinema. Ska was
heavily influenced by movies, from James
Bond, to Italian Westerns, to classic
romance. In the 1997 film “TwentyFourSeven”
(about a man who sacrifices all so that
wayward kids can have a boxing club) the
narrator could easily have been speaking
about Don Drummond and his music.
The lads and the people in this town have been living in the same
day their whole lives. Not one of them
is singularly strong enough to break away
and be more than this. That’s why
nothing ever changes.
Don Drummond, The Skatalites, and The Wailers together worked very
hard for change in Jamaica and the world.
As Don Drummond felt the heat of the 1964
sessions that produced “Simmer Down”
and more, he moved forward, so that all
could move forward. May the black shine
of space and the possible forever reflect
in these records.
_ . _
For Part I>
Get some ska. Listen to the Roots Rock
that stems from Don Drummond. Investigate
these excellent sources of musical knowledge.
All helped greatly with this appreciation.
Special Thanks and All Respect to Herbie
Miller of The New School.
- Barrow, Steve and Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide. London:
Rough Guides Ltd, 1997.
- Bradley, Lloyd. This Is Reggae Music: The Story of Jamaica’s
Music. New York: Grove Press, 2001.
- Foster, Chuck. Roots Rock Reggae: An Oral History of Reggae Music
from Ska to Dancehall. New York: Billboard
- Fraim, John. Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane.
West Liberty, Ohio: Great House Company,
- Meadows, Shane and Fraser, Paul. 24/7. UK: Independent Film, 1997.
- Miller, Herbie. Class notes Reggae / SHAP 3005. New School: Fall
2005. Class available Summer 2006.
- Potash, Chris. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska
to Dub. New York: Schirmer Books, 1997.
- Salewicz, Chris and Boot, Adrian. Reggae Explosion: The Story of
Jamaican Music. New York: Harry N. Abrams,
- Sherlock, Philip and Bennett, Hazel. The Story of the Jamaican
People. Kingston: Ian Randle Press, 1998.
- Simon, Sylvan. Personal interview. 10 Jan. 2006.
- Skatalites and Friends. Phoenix City: A History of the World’s
Greatest Ska Band. Trojan Records, 06076-80453-2,
- Steffens, Roger and Pierson, Leroy Jodie. Bob Marley and The Wailers:
The Definitive Discography.
- Cambridge, MA: Rounder Books, 2005.
- StudioWon.com. http://www.studiowon.com/studiowon/don_drummond.htm.
Reggae website, 2005.
- Tenaille, Frank. Music Is the Weapon of the Future. Chicago: Lawrence
Hill Books, 2002.