Jive Talking and Toasting

"The Jives of Dr. Hepcat" by KVET-AM DJ Albert Lavada Durst, published in 1953.

“The Jives of Dr. Hepcat” by KVET-AM DJ Albert Lavada Durst, published in 1953.

I was reading Beth Lesser’s amazing Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, which is available for free download here, and I found a quotation from Clive Chin that set me off on a wild goose chase through the roots of toasting. I have long had a fascination with the connection between toasting and hip hop and have written about that in this blog before, and presented on it at conference after I had the pleasure of interviewing DJ Kool Herc last year, but I hadn’t thoroughly ventured back to jive–until Beth Lesser.

Clive Chin, writes Lesser, remembers toaster Count Matchuki carrying around a book. “There was one he said he bought out of Beverly’s [record shop] back in the ‘60s. The book was called Jives and it had sort of slangs, slurs in it and he was reading it, looking it over, and he found that it would be something that he could explore and study, so he took that book and it helped him.” Lesser writes that this book of jive may have been a boo, written in 1953, The Jives of Dr. Hepcat, which was published by Albert Lavada Durst, a DJ on KVET-AM in Austin, Texas. This version (read the entire copy here) featured definitions for words and phrases commonly used by jive talking DJs like “threads,” which are clothes; “pad,” for house or apartment; “flip your lid,” for losing one’s balance mentally; and “chill,” to hold up or stop. Durst wrote in the introduction to his book, which sold for 50 cents, “In spinning a platter of some very popular band leader, I would come on something like this: ‘Jackson, here’s that man again, cool, calm, and a solid wig, he is laying a frantic scream that will strictly pad your skull, fall in and dig the happenings.’ Which is to say, the orchestra leader is a real classy singer and has a voice that most people would like. For instance, there was a jam session of topnotch musicians and everything was jumping and you would like to explain it to a hepster. These are the terms to use. ‘Gator take a knock down to those blow tops, who are upping some real crazy riffs and dropping them on a mellow kick and chappie the way they pull their lay hips our ship that they are from the land of razz ma tazz.’

Cab Calloway's "Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive," 1944 version.

Cab Calloway’s “Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive,” 1944 version.

I decided to search further and found there was another popular book of jive written before Dr. Hepcat, although it is likely that Matchuki obtained Durst’s version given the era and the content. But Cab Calloway had his own publication of jive called “Cab Calloway’s Hepster Dictionary: Language of Jive” which was first published in 1939 and then revised to add more words in a 1944 printing. Calloway was the original emcee, the master of ceremonies, the hepcat, who understood jive and brought it to those who wanted to become part of this culture. As frequent band leader at the Cotton Club in front of Duke Ellington’s band during performances that were broadcast all over the continent, and as star in a number of feature films, Calloway brought the language of Harlem, jive, to audiences uneducated in the dialect of the black musicians. He established jive as a form of discourse.

Interior of Cab Calloway's "Hepsters Dictionary"

Interior of Cab Calloway’s “Hepsters Dictionary”

Some of the words in these dictionaries, and certainly the word “jive” itself, appear in the toasts of Count Matchuki, Lord Comic, and King Stitt. The style is similar as well, scatting over the music, punctuating the rhythm with verbal percussion, and boasting. Next week I will blog about the jive-talking American DJs like Vernon Winslow, Tommy Smalls, and Douglas Henderson, who influenced the Jamaican toasters since these similarities are fascinating as well.

Sheila Rickards–The I’m Gonna Live Girl!

sheila rickards

The following is a excerpt from my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music on the vocalist Sheila Rickards:

The Daily Gleaner on March 31, 1963 stated that she was born a “preemie” weighing only three pounds at birth. She was born just seven months into her mother’s pregnancy in 1942. Sheila got her start at age 14 when she appeared on the Lannaman’s Children’s Hour, a talent show broadcast on RJR. She then got the chance to compete at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour in 1956 where her talent for singing jazz was recognized. She was hired to perform with the Baba Motta at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and the Glass Bucket for long runs, as well as on the North Coast and for Sonny Bradshaw. “From Colony Cottage Hotels on and then Nassau. There, it was the Goombay Club for nearly a year of making warm friends with every not she sang. Spots at the Junkanoo Club there too, singing onetime with Billy Cooke and his Combo who did a spread in Nassau at the time. And at the Nassau Beach Lodge. She says, ‘I had one of the swingingest times of my life!” states the Gleaner article which goes on to list another number of performance venues that booked Rickards. She was billed as the “I’m gonna live girl” after one of her performances at the Ward Theatre Pantomime where she sang a song with these words.

Sheila Rickards’ father, Ferdinand Arthur Rickards, was a contractor for the Sugar Manufacturers Association. He grew up in St. Catherine and was a performer—a singer, actor, and comedian. He helped foster his daughter’s love for music by purchasing records for the family phonograph. There were over 200 records in their Greenwich Town home, which was quite a substantial amount in the 1960s for a family to own. Her father said, “Sheila was born to be a singer, she’s been singing since she was four years old, started music when she was seven, very musical like her mother and sisters.” Her sister, Thelma, sang on the radio, on ZQI.

Sheila Rickards, from the Daily Gleaner, 1963.

Sheila Rickards, from the Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963.

Sheila Rickards performed opened for Sammy Davis Jr., when he came to Jamaica and she became well acquainted with him and his wife. In fact, she even babysat their eight-year-old child for a couple of days. Sheila traveled to the United States to try to further establish her career. That same Gleaner article states, “And now Sheila is in America and the house, they [her parents] say, is too quiet without her. She stays in America with the family of Mrs. Benskin who visited Jamaica last year and was so impressed with Sheila’s talent that she insisted that she come to the USA and train. She will, go to a school to do dramatics and to develop her singing and acting. Singing and acting she wants to make her ‘career!’ And she will also study dress-designing which she says she will make her ‘profession.’” Dan Monceaux, director and camera operator for a documentary on Sheila Rickards which never came to fruition says, “Many people knew of her, but not of her whereabouts. Evidently she emigrated to the USA, and married, likely changing her name in the process. I believe she had ambitions to make it in the USA, but these dreams were never realised.”

Sheila Rickards with Roy Morrison (piano), Al Fletcher (bass), Barrington Saddler (sax), Lloyd Fletcher (drums), Larry McDonald (bongo), and Lennie Hibbert (vibraphone), 1963

Sheila Rickards with Roy Morrison (piano), Al Fletcher (bass), Barrington Saddler (sax), Lloyd Fletcher (drums), Larry McDonald (bongo), and Lennie Hibbert (vibraphone), 1963

The film was constructed around a song that Rickards recorded for Bunny Lee called “Jamaican Fruit,” a haunting song whose lyrics talk of the slave trade and is a fairly obvious reference to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Monceaux says, “The song ‘Jamaican Fruit’ has very strong lyrics for its time, and our research revealed that it was actually a cover (with lyrical variation) of a song by American soul singer Zulema Cousseau (her artist name was simply ‘Zulema’).” Zulema’s version was called “American Fruit.” Rickard’s version states, “We came from a distant land / our lives already planned / we came in ships from across the sea / and never again our home we’d see / and now we’ve become Jamaican fruit of African roots.” It talks of how their children’s last names were erased, they were commodities, and it encourages an uprising that is not present in Zulema’s version. “The time has come for us to join hands / let’s not be punished by the rules of this land / now that we’re aware of what we must do / let us no longer be fooled, no longer be fooled / let us all be black, let us all be black / and Jamaican fruit of African root / I wanna be black, let me be black, black is beautiful.” Rickard’s original version was only released unofficially in Canada, according to Monceaux, but his co-producer, Chris Flanagan, negotiated rights to re-release the song. Her whereabouts are still unknown.

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

Sheila Rickards, Daily Gleaner, March 31, 1963

Listen to a sample of Sheila Rickards’ “Jamaican Fruit of African Roots” from Shella Records HERE

Sheila Rickards & Mapletoft Poule Orchestra’s “Say and Do” HERE

More info on Shella Records, the documentary, and quest to find Sheila Rickards HERE




Last Train to Expo ’67

From a brochure for the festival.

From a brochure for the festival.

I have written before about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires made an appearance to debut the ska, along with numerous other Jamaican musicians, vocalists, dancers, and delegates, but did you know there was another World’s Fair where Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed? Expo ’67 in Montreal was an incredibly popular and well-attended World’s Fair, so successful that organizers extended the length of the fair beyond the October 27th end by two days, on October 29th. It was such an important event for Montreal that they even named a baseball team after the festival–the Montreal Expos. The fair kicked off on April 28th, 1967 and a number of notable musicians performed at Expo 67 including The Supremes during a live broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show, Petula Clark, Thelonious Monk, The Tokens, Jefferson Airplane, Tiny Tim, and even the Grateful Dead. Numerous dignitaries from around the world attended, including Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace, Charles de Gaule, and perhaps most interesting for those fans of Jamaican music–Harry Belafonte and Haile Selassie.

But fans of Jamaican music know best of Expo 67 from the Melodians’s tune, Last Train to Expo 67, recorded for Duke Reid in 1967. It might be hard to take a train from Jamaica to Montreal, but trains were popular objects in Jamaican music (and all music, really) as symbols of transition, movement, and escape. Perhaps some collectors even know of the Diamonds’ Expo ’67 (Silhouette) recorded on the JDI label, for Copley Johnson. of the same name.

Expo 67 was an important event for Jamaica. The Daily Gleaner on June 2, 1967 reported that the Jamaica Military Band traveled to the fair in August of that year to perform at “Jamaica Day,” August 3rd. The newspaper stated, “‘Jamaica Day’ has been so named by Expo ’67 Authorities as a tribute to Jamaica’s participation in Expo ’67 and the authorities hope that Jamaicans will try and attend on that day. The Jamaica Military Band returns to Canada for the period August 23 to 30 to appear in the Calypso ’67 Carnival in Gait and later in Toronto. This tour is being arranged by the Jamaica Tourist Board and the band is part of the Jamaican participation.”

expo 67 b

Edward Seaga, who was at that time Minister of Finance and Planning, also attended Expo 67 on Jamaica Day and he also met with dignitaries on economic and trade matters. Prime Minister Hugh Shearer also attended. In December, 1967, Shearer received a gold medal of commemoration from Expo 67 officials for their participation in the fair which exceeded attendance expectations.

Tony Cohen, also known as “Caps,” said in a Jamaica Gleaner article in 1995 that Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed during Jamaica Day. Cohen was a percussionist and sometimes vocalist for the band. He stated, “I recall with pride our performance on Jamaica Day at the Montreal Expo in 1967. Thirty five thousand persons were in attendance. That was my first concert outside of Jamaica. It was magnificent, awesome.” The band performed on Thursday, August 3, 1967 at a reception for Shearer at the fair, which was followed by a performance of the National Dance Theatre Company.

Acting Prime Minister, Donald Sangster, smiles as he receives the official flag of Expo '67 from Mr G. Ross Herington, of Canada (second from left), at a presentation ceremony in the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday May 10, 1966. From the Daily Gleaner.

Acting Prime Minister, Donald Sangster, smiles as he receives the official flag of Expo ’67 from Mr G. Ross Herington, of Canada (second from left), at a presentation ceremony in the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday May 10, 1966. From the Daily Gleaner.


Even though Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed, and even though there were songs commemorating the fair, the focus was not on music this time around, as it was during the World’s Fair in 1964 in New York. This time, the focus was on cocktails. That’s right, cocktails. Jeffrey Stanton on the westland.net website describes the Jamaica Pavilion as the following:

“The Jamaican pavilion was a replica of a 19th century two-story country shop. It was constructed of thick, sand-colored plaster walls with shuttered upper windows and a cedar shingle roof. The entrance was through a small courtyard attached to the main pavilion. Panels and displays in the open entranceway told the proud story of the island’s industrial, social and cultural progress. The visitor passed through carved wooden doors into a smaller foyer displaying artistic works, and into the large bar, a cool, high ceilinged oasis. Barrels of rum, coffee and ginger lined the upper balcony and baskets and cylindrical wicker fish traps hung from the heavy beams. Cases along the walls displayed a wide variety of Jamaican products. Bartenders served the tastiest, most thirst quenching rum punch at Expo. Jamaican hostesses dressed in vibrant pink and orange, offered a choice of a Soon Come Sling, Half Moon Haze, or Look Behind Ambush rum punch to visitors seated at corner tables.”

expo 67 pavillion 2 expo 67 pavillion

Above is a photo of the Jamaican pavilion in recent years, as well as one from 1967 during the fair.

Below are a few of the cocktails available at Expo 67 at the Jamaica Pavilion which were described in a brochure.

expo drinks   expo drinks2

See a promotional video for Expo ’67 HERE.

Listen to the Melodians’ song HERE.

Listen to the Diamonds’ song HERE.


From the Daily Gleaner, January 25, 1967

From the Daily Gleaner, January 25, 1967

Bumps Jackson

bumps jackson

I’m trying to locate Keith “Bumps” Jackson and hoping today’s post will help someone to point me in the right direction. He was a bassist who performed with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires before relocating to the U.S. to found his own group, Bumps Jackson & the Caps. Below is an article that ran in the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1969.
Bumps Jackson . . . Arranger, composer, guitarist and band leader

“Music is a mind-soother; it’s one of the ways In -which an individual can express himself” says ‘Bumps’ Jackson, tenor guitarist and leader of the Caribbean No. 1 band, BYRON LEE AND THE DRAGONAIRES. Born in Kingston on December 1, 1946. Keith Jackson later nick-named “Bumps’ attended Central Branch Primary and Excelsior School. He was graduated in 1965. From an early age Bumps had a flare for music and during his spare time especially during summer holidays, be com posed songs. It was in 1964 that he was first exposed to a musical instrument — practicing the bass-guitar with the Tytans band. After several months of thorough rehearsals, Bumps gained confidence and when the band’s bass-guitarist left he took over the role. He was associated with Tie and the Tytans for a year, after which he joined the Virtues.

Until late 1965, Bumps had only short engagements with most of the Island’s leading bands. He felt that those he had been around with did not really have anything to suit him. He tried free-lancing and in this way became associated with Byron Lee in Christmas of 1965. Bumps Jackson recalls that one night he was listening to the Dragonaires at the Club Sombrero, when Byron Lee approached him and asked: “How come a good bass player like you is not working?” Bumps said he told Byron that he was not interested in being confined to one band.

Byron Lee had to travel quite often to the United States and Canada on band business so he arranged with Bumps to take his place whenever he was not available. Bumps then became associated with the Dragonaires. After four months he was introduced to the six-string tenor guitar and took the bandstand as a second guitarist when Byron was able to play the bass. During that time Bumps created a name for himself and to many music fans he was regarded as one of Jamaica’s leading bass and tenor-guitarist. In the Dragonaires Ken Lazarus was the No. 1 tenor guitarist and leader in the latter part of last year. Lazarus left the group and Bumps took over as deputy band leader.

Bumps’ greatest moment came in January of this year when he was appointed leader and his first assignment was a Sunday night at the Club Maracas, Ocho Rios. “It was a fantastic experience for me and one I’ll never forget” he recalls. “I kept calm and observant and the other boys gave me confidence as the night went by,” he told me. Bumps says: “Most people feel that being a band leader is an easy job, but it is certainly one of the most difficult.” One has to develop a good working relationship with the members and Bumps says this the Dragonaires have achieved. As a member of the band, Bumps has travelled to New York. Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut and Lake George in the United States and to Toronto and Montreal in Canada. The band’s recent tour to Belize, British Honduras came in for high praises and was described as one of the best tours. Bumps is the band’s arranger and composer and his work includes Keith Lyn’s latest hit “Having a hard time.” He has been featured also in several recordings with the bass guitarist from Ska to Rock Steady and Reggae. “The Dragonaires are sounding magnificent,” says the leader, “and all I am interested is to keep it on a standard second to none in Jamaica and to maintain our place at the top in the Caribbean.” —J.S

A Horse Named Ska

Ska Romps Nursery from the Daily Gleaner, December 28, 1965.

Ska Romps Nursery from the Daily Gleaner, December 28, 1965.

This horse has a name, Ska, so take that America (the band, not the country)! I came across this article that was written during the summer of 1964, when ska was all over the Daily Gleaner after finally being accepted by the colonial newspaper. Apparently, ska was such a rage that owner Jacques Deschamps named his horse after the genre! It got me thinking about Jamaican music and the horses. I’ve previously written about Jamaican music and boxing, which you can read about here, and there is definitely affair between the Jamaican culture and boxing, but there is also one between the Jamaican culture and horse racing.
Perhaps the most well-known song about a race horse is that classic, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” by the Pioneers. Before this song was made, the Pioneers recorded their song “Longshot (Buss Me Bet)” which was written by Lee “Scratch” Perry, according to Dave Thompson in his book, Reggae & Caribbean Music, and was produced by Joe Gibbs. This racehorse, Long Shot, had a long career, yet never won. “He gallop, he gallop, he gallop, but he couldn’t buss [bust] the tape.”
Their more popular sequel, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” was about that same horse and begins with the same horse track trumpet call. According to Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen, it was producer Leslie Kong (Beverley’s) who first heard about the death of Long Shot and so he had the Pioneers write and record a song about it and it was not only an immediate hit, but it has been covered many times over, namely by The Specials, as a staple of Jamaican music. The song references Caymanas Park which is the popular horse track in Kingston. The lyrics tell of the death of Long Shot, and the details of his death are told here, in this article I found in the Daily Gleaner on April 1, 1969, along with a photo of Long Shot! There he is folks, before he kick de bucket! And here’s Rameses who also met his demise that same week. The article states this horse was voted the “Horse of 1968.” Naturally, he became the subject of the Pioneers “Poor Rameses,” which has a similar sound to their previous horse homages. A post mortem conducted on Rameses revealed that he died of a heart attack. There is a trophy called the Rameses Trophy which is named in his honor and is still awarded today at Caymanas Park.

longshot april 1 1969

From the Daily Gleaner, April 1, 1969.

Yet another Jamaican music and horse race connection comes with Vincent Edwards, better known as King Edwards, who ran a sound system with his bother George called The Giant. It was one of the big three sound systems along with Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat and Duke Reid’s The Trojan. But did you know that King Edwards was also involved in horse racing? Today, King Edwards is the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers Association (JRTA). In an interview with Michael Turner and Brad Klein in February 2013, King Edwards told him of his work with horses. “I’m a politician. And a race horse trainer. I’m training horses now. For forty nine years. Even when I was a member of Parliament I was a trainer,” Edwards said. You can read the entire interview here, and I would recommend you do—it’s fantastic!


There have been plenty of songs referencing horses and horse racing over the years, including “Race Horse Touter” by Leon Wint which was later covered by Ranking Roger, and “Horse Race” by Derrick Morgan and Neville Brown. There were horse songs full of innuendo like “Small Horse Woman,” “Horse Tonic,” “Ride a Cock Horse,” and “Ride a Wild Horse.” There were horse songs full of metaphor like “Death Rides a Horse,” “Selassie Rides a White Horse,” and “Can’t Flog a Dead Horse.” Then of course, there was the record label called Horse, a sublabel of Trojan Records, appropriately!

Share your Jamaican music and horse connections in the comment section below!