More than a band, the Skatalites were an institution, an aggregation of top-notch musicians who didn't merely define the sound of Jamaica, they were the sound of Jamaica across the '50s and '60s. Although the group existed in its original incarnation for less than 18 months, members brought their signature styles to hundreds upon hundreds of the island's releases. The Skatalites officially lined up as trumpeter Johnnie "Dizzie" Moore, Cuban-born tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, alto saxophonists Lester Sterling, trombonist Don Drummond, guitarist Jerome "Jah Jerry" Hinds, bassist Lloyd Brevett, teenaged pianist Donat Roy "Jackie" Mittoo, drummer Lloyd Knibbs, and Cuban born Roland Alphonso. Moore, McCook, Sterling, and Drummond were all alumni of the Alpha Boys School.
The Skatalites came to fruition in June 1964, according to the members' own reckoning, although they have given conflicting stories about just how it happened. Ranglin credits Moore, Knibbs credits himself, but there's no doubt who came up with the name -- that honor goes to McCook.the instrumentals were the group's glory. Songs like "Guns of Navarone," "Phoenix City," "Addis Ababa," "Silver Dollar," "Corner Stone," and "Blackberry Brandy," to name just a small handful of their most seminal cuts, not only defined the island's sound, but created a whole new genre of music -- ska.
The group have ofttimes been quoted as saying their invention of ska was never intentional, but merely the byproduct of their flawed attempts at American R&B. But this self-deprecating explanation neglects the jazz and big band swing sound that was also crucial to ska in its original form. And anyone good enough to play in those styles would have little problem mastering R&B. What the Skatalites actually did was drag these older styles into the contemporary scene, merge it with modern R&B, and propel it into the mainstream via a faster syncopated island beat. And with it, the group's musical legacy spread around the world and across generations.