A series of events commemorating the late Lloyd Brevett, upright bassist and cofounder of seminal Jamaican ska group The Skatalites, were held in Jamaica on Sunday June 3. A church service at Kingston's Mona Chapel was followed by a public procession from Studio One, the recording studio/record label founded by the late producer Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd for whom The Skatalites recorded some of their biggest hits, to the May Pen Cemetery where Brevett was laid to rest.
The May 3 passing of Brevett, 80, who succumbed to complications from a stroke and a series of seizures, brought renewed attention to The Skatalites' pioneering efforts in defining ska, the island's first signature rhythm, and their subsequent struggles to claim revenue commensurate with that legacy. "Millions have been made based on The Skatalites creativity," said Michael "Ibo" Cooper, Chairman of the Jamaica Recording Industry Association (JaRIA).
According to Maxine Stowe, Secretary of The Original Skatalites, a company formed in 2011 by Brevett and his wife Ruth with reggae luminary Bunny Wailer as Managing Director, Brevett ceased playing with the Skatalites and receiving royalties from their record sales in 2004, following his receipt of a letter from the band's manager Ken Stewart stating he was no longer part of the group. "Brevett was disenfranchised because he wanted to standardize and protect The Skatalites' legacy but couldn't raise funds for legal services; for eight years he hasn't had rights to his earnings," Stowe said in an interview with Billboard.biz. The Jamaica born Stowe is a former Columbia Records A&R; she signed several Jamaican acts to the label in the mid-90s including Diana King whose 1995 single "Shy Guy" peaked at no. 13 on the Hot 100.
Ken Stewart initially joined The Skatalites as a replacement for their original keyboardist Jackie Mittoo who died in 1990. Stewart became The Skatalites' manager in 2000; he refutes Stowe's assertions. "Mr. Brevett actively chose to leave because he had health problems and there were differences as to who we should do business with," Stewart told Billboard.biz. Regarding the royalties owed to Brevett, Stewart noted: "The band doesn't collect royalties on a group basis, that is individual band members' business and there are age old issues about publishing and other legalities that have not been properly pursued due to lack of cohesion among the Skatalites' family members."
With the death of drummer Lloyd Knibb in May 2011, The Skatalites' current lineup features the lone surviving original member, saxophonist Lester Sterling; singer Doreen Shaffer, who has intermittently recorded with the group since the mid '60s, has been a part of the touring unit since the mid-80s.
The Skatalites' 1995 album Hi-Bop Ska (Shanachie) reached no. 14 on the World Albums chart; 1998's Ball of Fire (Island Jamaica Jazz) peaked at no. 13 on the Top Reggae Albums chart. Their first new album in five years and final recording featuring Knibb, Walk With Me, was released on May 14, exclusively in the UK on Wrasse Records, to coincide with the band's three-week UK tour, which commenced on May 15; worldwide digital and physical release dates are pending, says Stewart.
Together for just 18 months between 1963-1965, ska's foremost collective consisted of saxophonists Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook, trumpeter Johnny "Dizzy" Moore, trombonist Don Drummond, guitarist Jerome "Jah Jerry" Haynes, alongside Mittoo, Sterling, Knibb and Brevett. Their jaunty rhythms uniquely incorporated jazz, mento (Jamaican folk music, akin to Trinidadian calypso) and Cuban music strains within an inverted R&B shuffle, emphasizing the offbeat. The resultant skat sound of the guitar was, reportedly, morphed into the word ska, which became their music's identifying label.
The Skatalites provided the rollicking beat on the 1964 breakthrough hit by The Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) "Simmer Down", produced by Dodd at Studio One, where both groups rose to prominence. There The Skatalites backed the era's top vocalists and recorded numerous instrumentals, including ska adaptations of movie themes ("Guns of Navarone") and re-titled Beatles' covers ("Independence Anniversary Ska")
"Tourists visit Jamaica because of reggae; at reggae's heart are the creators of ska and Lloyd Brevett's bass is ska's foundation. We should not focus on his burial but instead celebrate all that he has done," Bunny Wailer told Billboard.biz
Brevett was a recipient of numerous awards including Jamaica's fifth highest honor, the Order of Distinction, in October 2001. On February 26, 2012, just hours after accepting an award on his father's behalf from JaRIA, Brevett's son Okine, 32, was fatally shot near the family's home in the politically volatile West Kingston enclave Seaview Gardens. Okine worked for the area's Member of Parliament; Stowe labels his ambush "a political hit". Brevett and his wife immediately fled the community. Doctors surmise Okine's murder and Brevett's sudden displacement from his home accelerated the deterioration of his health.
With Bunny Wailer's financial assistance lawyers are working on managing Brevett's legacy and claiming outstanding revenue. Although grieving Ruth Brevett nonetheless maintains clarity about her responsibilities. "My job is to make sure Lloyd Brevett has the last words regarding who he is; those words are his group the Skatalites."
Brevett is also survived by five siblings, nine children, nineteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.