The Blazing Fire

Ska combines the catchy backbeat of New Orleans- style R & B, and mento. Many early Ska songs were covers of popular American songs. Typically Ska drums stress beats 2 & 4 over a “walking” quarter-note bass, with the guitar or piano striking the offbeats in a syncopated mento style. Ska’s tempo was especially appealing to the restless Jamaican youth, and was always the music of the poor.
Some reggae historians identify the R & B song that fathered the Ska beat as “No More Doggin'” (1952) by Roscoe Gordon, a Memphis piano player. The “one and two and three and four” beat had been around since the 1940s, and was used by Rhythm & Blues artists like Louis Jordan & Big Joe Turner. Theophilus Beckford is considered by many to have recorded the first Ska tune, “Easy Snapping”, in 1959. The recording was produced by Lloyd “Matador” Daley, and arranged by Ernest Ranglin.

Cluet Johnson AKA “Clue J” was important to the development of Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s desire in the late 1950s to establish a distinctive Jamaican musical sound. Clue J’s distinctive stage greeting – skavoovie, lead some to define this as the root of the term Ska.

The first Ska song to hit outside of Jamaica was Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” (1964 Island). Sir Lord Comic’s “The Great Wuga Wuga” (1967 WIRL(JA)), a musical advertisement for his sound system, was one of the last great Ska tunes.

The Skatalites, who truly defined the various Ska-era styles, were ubiquitous in the mid-60s, but only held together for about 14 months (1964-65). The original Skatalites were jazzmen in the 1940s & 1950s, bringing the influence of big-band, bebop & the Blue Note sound to the new Jamaican dance sound. Reforming in the 1980s they continue to excite audiences worldwide even though some of the original members have recently passed on.

Since the 1960s Ska has been adapted and revived in many forms, and continues to be popular around the world.

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