THE Skatalites were formed by Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd in 1964, under the leadership of Tommy McCook, primarily, as his backing band at Studio One.
This arguably, was an amalgamation of Jamaica’s most accomplished session musicians, who had individually, and in various combinations, had been behind the catalogue of Dodd, Duke Reid and Prince Buster since the mid 50s.
It was made up of nine, now very famous, national cultural icons, including McCook as leader, along with the incomparable Don Drummond, that brilliant keyboardist and arranger Jackie Mittoo, ‘Dizzy’ Johnny Moore, ‘Jah Jerry’ Haynes, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Lester Sterling and lead singer Doreen Schaeffer. Over a period of approximately 18 months, they backed the live appearances of many artistes promoted by ‘Coxson’ and other promoters. Four years after the group split up in 1965, Don Drummond met his untimely death. Between then and 1983, the other members performed mainly in two succeeding groups; the Soul Vendors and the SuperSonics. In 1983, at the urging of Synergy Productions and the prospect of the Skatalites performing live at Reggae Sunsplash that year, the group reunited.
It wasn’t, however, until 1987 that the Skatalites were first formally incorporated in Jamaica by ‘Dizzy’ Johnny Moore and Jackie Mittoo. In 1990, the group lost its second member, when the genius Jackie Mittoo passed on. In 1996, a US-based registration was done with the associated trade mark being owned by Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb and Lester Sterling. Within this period, the Skatalites recorded three albums for Shanacie Records. Calamity struck again in 1998, when both Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso died. In September 1999, another trade mark registration was done in US, in the name of Skatalites Inc., listed as a Jamaican corporation, which seem to represent only the US-based quorum of members that were still alive. In October of 2000, Ken Stewart, who had previously been employed by Tommy McCook to replace Jackie Mittoo as keyboardist after he died, became the manager of the band. By 2004, it seems that there was discord within the group because when Lloyd Brevett gave the forms for registration of the trade mark to Lloyd Knibb and Lester Sterling, while they were travelling on a tour bus in Switzerland, the latter two immediately tore up the forms. Brevett was not invited to join the group’s tour later that year. Since then, a persistent attempt to disenfranchise him has been set in motion by certain parties associated with the group.
Double tragedy struck when ‘Jah Jerry’ Haynes died in 2007 and ‘Dizzy’ Johnny Moore passed on in 2008, leaving Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Lester Sterling and original vocalist Doreen Schaeffer, as the only living members of the original Skatalites. In 2011, this trade mark was re-applied for with Lloyd Knibb as an individual correspondent, but the questions remain, whether this was granted before or after his passing, in that same year, and what about the interest of the estates of all of the other deceased members, including Lloyd Brevett, who just recently passed on as well. The veil also needs to be removed from who has been receiving digital royalties from SoundExchange, on behalf of the Skatalites; how and to whom it was distributed. Lastly, one significant piece of musical history, seldom referred to, is the seminal fact that the Wailers’ early formative career and catalogue under Studio One, was jointly done with the Skatalites.