Ah summer. Beer, Cricket, and The Don
Don Drummond that is.
Picked up some new records at the weekend, and it is so hot that reggae can be the only serious consideration right now. Ska more precisely was the order of the day with a Don Drummond record I found getting some serious thrashing from me. In the summer I could (do) listen to this kind of thing all day long. If you don’t know much about this brilliant, but somewhat tragic figure in Jamaica’s long musical history, some youtube and linkery follow below.
Stolen from All About Jazz
“He was a musical prophet created by the people, not one imposing himself on them in pursuit of stardom, but having it thrust upon him. Drummond observed their tribulations and aspirations then reshaped them into a blues allegory reflected through his compositions and plaintive trombone tone.”
With this quote from musicologist Herbie Miller, we make an attempt to rise up the musical legacy of Jamaican trombonist Don Drummond.
Don Drummond, aka Don Cosmic, was born in 1943, Kingston, Jamaica. To state anything more than that, would be a travesty. Apart from the fact that like all legends, nothing seems to known about his early days, men like Don D are just here for a short while, then gone…
Don Drummond was a part-time music teacher at Alpha School, a rather strict Catholic school for boys who were nearly all from poor, underprivileged backgrounds. Alpha veered towards the European musical tradition of marching and classical music. Don D graduated from being one of the schools top seniors, to its supreme tutor.
In 1940’s Jamaica, big band swing and jazz ruled, and the starting place for musicians was the Eric Dean Orchestra. Drummond joined them in 1955 having been voted Best Trombonist in 1954, and then formed The Don Drummond Four. He was also cutting specials for sound systems before being spotted by Clement ‘Coxone’ Dodd, performing at the Majestic Theatre.
Drummond had just completed one of his many short visits to one of the local mental hospitals, and didn’t even own a trombone, but Coxone was impressed enough to take Drummond on him as a solo artist and session player. In the meantime, the specials Drummond had previously cut were starting to be released commercially in Jamaica and England to critical acclaim. Drummond started his recording career sometime around 1956, with his first record being “On the Beach” with Owen Grey on vocals.
In 1962, Chris Blackwell started releasing recordings in England, and many of Drummond’s compositions first saw the light of day on the Island and Black Swan labels. In 1964, under Coxsone’s supervision, keyboardist and musical director Jackie Mittoo began to assemble the best musicians in Jamaica to create a sound that would dominate the music scene for years to come. The seeds for the Skatalites were sown while Mittoo played in the Sheiks, alongside Johnny Moore (trumpet) and Lloyd Knibbs on drums. Drummond was the man Mittoo turned to, and he quickly became the most prolific composer and musician in the band. The Skalites would go on to be a who’s who of Jamaican musicians including the great Rico Rodriguez.
Again we quote Herbie Miller,to hopefully better grasp Drummond’s personality. “Marcus Garvey’s philosophy and the Rastafari community fortified Drummond’s political ideal. Consequently, Black Nationalism was ideologically as important to him as the music he played.” Drummond’s prestige among other musicians carried with it the hopes and dreams of all of Jamaica’s shantytown musicians. This was an incredible stress on a man whose life hovered between eccentricity and manic depression. His delicate mental condition was not helped by the amount of ganja he consumed, and the pressures of fame without gain simply helped to push Drummond completely over the edge.
The crunch came one early morning in January 1965, after his live-in lover returned home to the apartment they shared together in East Kingston. There was a grisly murder scene and 23 year old Anita Mahfood, (known as Margarita) and Jamaica’s leading exotic dancer, was found dead.
Drummond was duly convicted and remanded to the Belle Vue Asylum where he died in 1969, listed officially as a suicide, but the story doesn’t end there. For even in death, Drummond’s tortured soul could find no rest, and soon after his demise conspiracy theories took hold.
Many people in Jamaica thought Drummond’s death was far more sinister in origin, and definitely not suicide. The theory is that Drummond was beaten to death by guards, with the governments blessing, and the fledgling democracy had indeed repressed the West Kingston musical scene for years, along with its Rasta brethren. The truth probably is a lot simpler, and is probably a combination of all the theories with some simple truths. Drummond was a sick man, and the pressures of stardom are not easily handled, especially if you live life right on the edge. The history of music is littered with casualties, and with genius often comes tragedy, and the great Don Cosmic is another star who shines bright in heaven.
Drummond recorded over 300 songs before he died at the age of just 27.