Friday, June 13, 2008

Tommy McCook - Something Old Is New Again

In the great tradition of ska and reggae, musicians often play parts from old songs they like. Dancehall reggae is infamous for versioning a bass line or rhythm and then recycling to create something new. For example the bass lines of the fabulous Heptones were certainly the most used bass lines in reggae.

A certain pop chanteuse known for affinity to ska did the same in one her biggest hits. You'll quickly notice the sample of the horn line taken from an old Jamaican calypso instrumental "Reggae Merengue" by Tommy McCook & the Supersonics.

Download and take a listen to the song below. Hear anything familiar?

Tommy McCook & The Supersonics - Reggae Merengue

The death of McCook in 1998 passed by completely unnoticed by the mainstream press. Like his fellow Skatalites, Roland Alphonso and Jackie Mittoo, McCook never received the respect from the general media that his contribution to Jamaican music richly deserved. McCook was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved to Jamaica in 1933. He took up the tenor saxophone at the age of eleven, when he was a pupil at the famed Alpha School, and eventually joined Eric Dean’s Orchestra.

In 1954 he left for an engagement in Nassau, Bahamas, after which he ended up in Miami, Florida, and it was here that McCook first heard John Coltrane, and fell in love with jazz. McCook returned to Jamaica in early 1962, where he was approached by a few local producers to do some recordings. Eventually he consented to record a jazz session for Clement "Coxson" Dodd, which was issued on album as Jazz Jamaica. His first ska recording was an adaptation of Ernest Gold’s "Exodus", recorded in November 1963 with musicians who would soon make up the Skatalites.

During the sixties and seventies McCook recorded with virtually every prominent reggae artist of the era, working particularly with producer King Tubby and his house band The Aggrovators as well as being featured prominently in the recordings of Yabby You and the Prophets (most notably on version sides and in extended disco mixes), all while still performing and recording with the variety of line ups under the Skatalites name.

Here is a video of Tommy in his own words. May he rest in peace.

No comments: