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Lord Tanamo and Mento

 

Page last revised: 12/25/13

 

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Background

Lord Tanamo (Joseph Gordon) is best known as a ska performer. He enjoyed hits as the lead vocalist for The Skatalites, such as "I'm In The Mood For Ska", in 1965. He continued to record at least through the late 1970s with singles and LPs for producers Coxsone Dodd, the Pottingers and Bunny Lee.

But Tanamo was an established mento star, who then moved to R&B before beginning his ska and reggae career.

This page concentrates on Tanamo and mento. As you will see, he never totally left mento behind. An with his most recent concert performances (as described at the bottom of this page) mento has book-ended this most distinguished career.

 
Lord Tanamo

(Photo: K. C. Armstrong, courtesy of Brian Keyo.)

Brian Keyo provides the following biographical information on Lord Tanamo:

He was born October 2, 1934 in Kingston. First recorded for Stanley Motta and also cut for Khouri at his first place, 129 King Street. Dada Tawari recorded him in 1950's and also released 78's by him. (That's Tanamo's spelling of Tawari, BTW) Was MC and first vocalist of The Skatalites when they started in May 1964.

In an interview in Toronto Now, Tanamo recalled the beginning of his musical career,

"When I was about four years old [c. 1933] a fella, Cecil Lawes, came into my yard with a rumba box, which is similar to a marimba. I liked the sound from the first time I heard it. That's where it all came from. Later, when I was a teenager, I began performing on the corner with Cecil and his rumba box. In the day I'd put on torn pants and a straw hat and sing calypso to hustle the tourists, and then at night I'd put on my suit and tie and sing ballads with a band. It was all just music to me."

Lord Tanamo's was woefully underrepresented on mento compilation CDs until 2009's "Soundman Shots" saw the belated but welcome release of six sides.

Advertisements for Live Appearances
 


 
From The Daily Gleaner, July 16, 1956,
Lord Tanamo headlines the variety show
that proceeds a movie double feature.
 


Courtesy of Richard Noblett of London,
from The Daily Gleaner, May 5, 1957,
Lord Tanamo headlining a variety show
featuring "6 Contesting Acts".
 


 



 

From The Daily Gleaner, June 29, 1958,
Lord Tanamo was working with Coxsone Dodd
well prior to his vocal duties with The Skatalites.

(Courtesy again of of Richard Noblett.)

 



From The Daily Gleaner, July 10, 1960, Lord Tanamo
along with Count Lasher, Winston (Lord?) Laro, Cobra Man, Drumbago and others, as some of the "over 20 rock and roll
artists" appearing in a stage show called "Cop Goes A Rocking".

(Courtesy again of of Richard Noblett.)
 



 



 

From The Daily Gleaner,
December 9, 1961,
this add shows Lord Tanamo
still performing "calypso"
at the end of 1961.

(Courtesy again of of Richard Noblett.)
 



Complete wit picture, from The Daily Gleaner, August 9, 1964, Lord Tanamo as a singer for
The Skatalites. Though the focus of this web site is mento rather than ska, its hard to resist
this add add (courtesy again of of Richard Noblett).


 

Golden Age Singles

 Tanamo recorded at least a dozen golden age mento sides on Caribou, Kalypso and MRS 78 RPM singles. It appears that he was strictly rural in style. Below are some examples. Regrettably, none of Tanamo's great rural mento singles have been included in any of the  compilations available for sale today or on any compilation albums released in the 1950s. One can only hope that the foundation chapter of this important artist will soon be documented.

   Both sides of an interesting Tanamo single, on a Kalypso 78 RPM single. On "Christmas Time", Tanamo is joined by Count Lasher on vocals, packing a lot of mento talent onto a 78 side. The flip is a cover of the frequently recorded Australian pop hit "Waltzing Matilda" .


 
  

 

Both sides of a great single by Lord Tanamo and His Calypso Band first on the original MRS 78 (courtesy of Richard Noblett of London) and then its reissue on a MRS 45 RPM single:

Wedding Bells          b/w:
Crinoline Incident.

 

 

Because they are out of print, and are favorites of mine, here are clips of these two songs. [Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

Crinoline Incident, features harmonica that drives the rhythm and provides a solo. When ever harmonica takes center stage in a mento song, it always seems to result in an very energetic and upbeat track. Crinoline Incident is no exception.

Wedding Bells is a strong track that has a more relaxed rhythm. A hypnotic track with excellent bamboo and banjo solos and a pre-reggae beat.


 

  From the collection of Richard Noblett of London, on Caribou, a very nice Lord Tanamo single:

Invitation To Jamaica   

b/w:

Pradeial T'ief

 


Backed by Charlie Binger's Six, the sound falls between urban and rural, featuring acoustic guitar and piano. Pradieal T'ief features a melody taken from Rukumbine, with lots of lead sax and electric guitar solos. It can be heard on the "Soundman Shots" CD.

  A MRS 45 RPM single by Lord Tanamo and His Calypsonians:

A very nice single with classic rural sounds. In "Old Harbour Visit", Tanamo describing his visit to country dance. In "Calypso Craze" celebrates the titular transatlantic phenomenon.

A very cool oddity: On The Albany Cigarette label, is "The Albany King Size Calypso, No. 1" by Lord Tanamo and His Calypsonians. This complimentary 45 RPM disc extolled this now a defunct UK cigarette with two sides of rural mento. The b-side was given to Count Owen, and can be seen here.

From the below two Daily Gleaner ads of April 12 and 13, 1961, it can be surmised that this track and its flipside were the first and second place winners of Albany's Calypso Contest.

In competition besides Tanamo and Owen, were the unfamiliar Chiquita & Her Calypsonians, King Dixon and His Merry Boys , as well as two great banjoists fronting their own combos -- Eddie Brown & His Calypso Band and Euton Gayle & The Sea Siders. That's quite a bill, but I found out about it more than 40 years too late!

  

Albany's parent company, Machado, also released a calypso single promoting their products, as seen here.


 

A Kalypso 45 RPM single re-release from  the collection of Allen Kaatz of the US:

"Fat or Slim" by Lord Tanamo
   
b/w:
"Racial Boy" by The Calypso Cowboy

 
"Fat or Slim" is the same song as "Fat Wife", as heard on The Jolly Boys' LP, "The Roots of Reggae". As Tanamo is given a writing credit on the label, this may be the original. Classic rural instrumentation is featured. The original 78 release can be seen to the right.

"Racial Boy" is a bit obscure, as it is sung by the mento voiced Calypso Cowboy and Winston Grey is given a writing credit. The result is a pleasing original rural mento song. Dan Neely supplies some interesting information on this track:

On "Racial Boy", Winston Grey (a.k.a. Calypso Cowboy) is very likely playing with Lord Tanamo's group. The A-side is Tanamo, and Tanamo's rumba box player, Count Razza, is named on the recording, as the singer asks, "Right yourself Razza?". Count Razza was also the rumba box player with The Hiltonaires.

See below for another Tanamo/Hiltonaires connection.

  Here something that struck me as very surprising: A Lord Tanamo 45 RPM single on RCA.

Invitation To Jamaica    b/w
Maintenance

Dan Neely explained that RCA has licensed some material from the Jamaican Caribou label.

"Call Calypso" by Lord Tanamo, released on the Caribou label, produced by Dada Tuari. (As all Caribou material was produced by Tuari, he may have been the owner of this label.)

The track is a spirited rural performance featuring saxophone and banjo.  In addition to Tanamo being credited as author (under his real name) and singer, unusually, the conga drum player is also credited: Jerome Walters.

As I mentioned elsewhere on this site, never a dance craze went uncommented on in mento. Here are two more examples, courtesy of Lord Tanamo. First, another 78 RPM single by Lord Tanamo (again featuring Jerome Walters on conga drum) released on the Caribou label, produced by Dada Tuari.

"Calypso Tango", whose unpictured b-side is "Give and Get". 

 

Also pictured, courtesy of Richard Noblett of London is the same single, re-released as a 45 on the RCA label with some minor renaming. To the right is one side on a pressing that co-credits "Caribbean Recording Co. Ltd" along with the RCA label.

 


 
  Second, again on Caribou and again crediting Jerome Walters is"

"Calypso Meringue"

   backed with

"Wicked Woman". 

Though not as strong as the two track described immediately below, the overall sound of the four above songs is similar. Both can be heard on the "Soundman Shots" CD.


 
"Jean and Dinah" b/w "Night Cricket", which was released on RCA in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The former is a cover of a big calypso song for Trinidad's Mighty Sparrow. These tracks are different in sound, as they are more urban sounding, with prominent electric guitar and saxophone and more of a Latin percussion sound. The overall sound is not unlike some of the tracks heard on the CD, Laurel Aitken... The Pioneer of Jamaican Music. These two tracks made it onto an RCA LP below.


Another single on RCA from the same LP:

"Japanese Invasion", backed with the unseen
"Bed Bug"



Because these tracks are favorites of mine and are out of print or were so when I posted the clip, here are clips for two Lord Tanamo songs: [Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]
 
"Little Fist" (a song I previously described as being called "Nothing In The World") is one of the 6 included on the 2009 "Soundman Shots" CD. The song surges crazily, featuring banjo that chimes like steel drum and aggressive saxophone soloing. While many mento tracks sound like reggae, this track and (even more so, the unpictured) "Sweet Jamaica" are unusual because they instead preface the intensity of ska. Considering Tanamo's later role with The Skatalites, perhaps this is no coincidence. The image, left, comes from "Soundman Shots" CD.

Other unpictured golden age Tanamo sides include:

"Animal Instinct" featuring the same musicians, arrangement and energy as the two favorites above. It too can be heard on the "Soundman Shots" CD.

"Senorita", about traveling to Mexico may be the b-side of this single. The same band plays a somewhat more relaxed tempo. (This track may actually be called "Mexican Love Call", released on Caribou.) Like "Sweet Jamaica", it awaits CD release.

Mento LP

Released on RCA in Jamaica (and perhaps elsewhere), was the Lord Tanamo LP "Come Come Come To Jamaica". Olivier Albot was able to place it as a 1964 release. Although I have not heard this LP, the description of the single "Jean and Dinah" b/w "Night Cricket" described above may give us an idea of what the rest of the LP sounds like, as these tracks are included on this LP.

    1. Come Come To Jamaica
2. Murder In The Place
3. Slide Mongoose
4. Solas Market
5. Give Me Back Me Shilling
6. Brown Skin Gal
1. Linstead Market
2. Night Cricket
3. Jean & Dinah
4. Bed Bug
5. Japanese Invasion
6. Wheel And Turn Me

1960s

While other mento artists moved to the hotel LP circuit in the 1960s, Tanamo took a more diverse route. He provided uncredited lead vocals for The Hiltonaires' LP, "Meet Me In Jamaica with Sunshine". He recorded a single of R&B in 1961, "Sweet Dreaming" backed with "Blues Have Got Me Down". Its most commonly found as a 45 on Kalypso, but was also released as a 78 on the Tanamo label -- the sole release on this imprint -- that shows the original title of  "Blues Have Got Me Down" to have been "All Alone". This follows the R&B explosion in Jamaica the early 1960s, when mento was largely displaced by R&B by the Jamaican record buyer. (It should be pointed out that Lord Lebby showed that R&B singles and hotel LPs were not mutually exclusive.) 

   

The sleeve from the below specimen shows the record to have been sold by Universal Record Mart of Mandeville, Jamaica. 

   

Tanamo followed this single with a string of additional sides on SEP and a move into ska. This was a natural move for him, since ska took from mento and R&B (as well as jazz). And whereas some mento had a very reggae-like rhythm, some Lord Tanamo mento tracks were more like ska. In the same interview, Tanamo remembered an early Skatalites session,

"When we did recordings, the musicians were usually paid individually, but for some reason on this date Mr. Khoury made out only one cheque payable to me. So I said, 'Gentlemen, since we have this bulk payment, why don't we form a band?' When they asked me what we should call it, I thought, well, we're playing this way-out music and the Americans were sending satellites into space after the Russian Sputnik. So I said, 'Let's call it the Skatalites,' because ska was the thing everyone was doing."

One of Tanamo's ska tracks was a 1964 cover of a Chin's hit with the modified title, "Night Food Ska", produced by Duke Reid on his Treasure Isle label.

  Here's a surprising Tanamo single: a Tanamo ska 45 RPM from 1965 released on Caribou, a label more associated with his mento output.

I Love You Truly      b/w
If You Were Only Mine

 

  Produced by Lindvall Pottinger on the SEP label in 1963 is:

"Daddy"    backed with
"Take Me Back To Jamaica".

"Daddy" is the same song as The Hiltonaires' "Chinese Baby" but as polished, horn-filled mento is heard. No sign of a ska beat.

Tanamo released an LP called "Festival Jump Up" on the Gaydisc label that Olivier Albot places as being from 1965 or 1966.

             

This LP served as departure from Tanamo's rural mento roots. Some songs were performed in an urban mento style ("Festival Jump Up", "Band Passing", "Naughty Little Flea", "Woman Smarter Than Man" and  "Television"). Other songs were R&B ("Mother's Love", "Take Me Back To Jamaica", "Land of The Sea and Sun" and "You Belong To My Heart"). Others still were ska covers of old mento favorites ("Maryann", "Iron Bar" and  "Daddy" (a.k.a. "Chinese Baby")).

In other words, this LP contains every type of music Tanamo has recorded, except the rural mento that Lord Tanamo played at the beginning of his career

Another Lord Tanamo single that I've heard, but do not have a scan of is "Daddy" backed with "Take Me Back To Jamaica", released on Sonia Pottinger's label, SEP, in the early 1960s. "Daddy" is The Hiltonaires song, "Chinese Baby", not a shocker considering the connections between Tanamo and this rural mento band. "Take Me Back To Jamaica" is a different song from others with the same title. Both tracks are urban with horns as the lead instrument.

1970s

From here, Tanamo would have hits in ska ("I'm In The Mood For Ska") and reggae ("Rainy Night In Georgia"), and his mento past would be largely forgotten, with only a kalypsonian's name as a clue. However, as the below scans  (courtesy of my friends from France, Olivier Albot and Laurent Pfeiffer) of the Bunny Lee produced 1978 LP, "Calypso Reggae" clearly show, even when Tanamo was recording reggae with  heavyweights like Sly & Robbie and Augustus Pablo, he never turned his back on his mento roots.

In 1978 Tanamo recorded a Bunny Lee produced single  called "A Dash of the Sunshine". It was included in the 2004 compilation, the "Trojan Sunshine Reggae Box Set".

The same year it was re-cut as "My Sweet Jamaica", again produced by Bunny Lee. It's included on the "Trojan Jamaica Box Set". This is a different song from the similarly named "Sweet Jamaica", described above.

Though the instrumentation is purely reggae, there is more than a little mento in Tanamo's lyrics and vocal delivery.

 

  Here is the single of "A Dash of Sunshine".

The b-side is a reggae cover of the Count Lasher/Chin's song "China Man From Montego Bay", also know as "Don't Fool Round Me Gal". Stanley Beckford also covered this song as "'Leave My Kisiloo".

2000s

 
 
"Best Place in the World" is a CD on the Grover label on which Tanamo is backed by German ska revivalists, Doctor Ring-Ding & The The Senior Allstars.

The CD consists mostly of ska remakes of Tanamo's ska hits (including "Iron Bar", which originally was a mento song).

The surprise on this ska-redux CD is the inclusion of a slick mento rendition of "Mussu", the old Jamaican folk / mento song that was recorded twice by Chin's Calypso Sextet, as heard on their CD 1 and CD 4 releases.

In July 2002 in Toronto Canada, a two night Legends of Ska concert was held. Reuniting were Skatalites Lloyd Knibbs, Rico Rodriguez, Lloyd Brevett, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore and Lynn Taitt, along with Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Owen Gray, Lord Creator, Justin Hinds, Derrick Harriott, Winston Samuels, Roy Wilson, Derrick Morgan, Patsy Todd, Doreen Shaffer Stranger Cole, and Lord Tanamo.

On both nights, Lord Tanamo performed a short mento set between the main sets. This was the idea of show promoter Brad Klein, and, says Klein, "Tanamo enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to demonstrate his rumba box plucking skills". Show attendee Roger Yax of Austin, Texas provides the following information, while his brother Porter Yax provided the great photo:

Along with Lord Tanamo, seated on his rhumba box, are Phil Chen (banjo),  golden age and middle period artist Dennis Sindrey (guitar) and Larry McDonald (bongo and percussion).

They played a 20+ minute set both nights consisting of "The Jackass Song", "Shake Senora", "Answer Me", "Penny Reel" and "Linstead Market".

Additionally, Roger reports, Tanamo sang a ska set with the 13 piece reformed Skatalites, performing  "Come Down" (aka: "Be or Not To Be"), "Big Trombone" and  "I'm In The Mood For Ska". The concerts were filmed and may one day be released, creating the prospect of a Jamaican "The Buena Vista Social Club".  At the end of 2009, courtesy of of Peter Gittins of Reggae Films UK  (www.reggaefilms.co.uk), I was able to add clip of Tanamo's performance, prefaced with reminiscences and clips of mento bands. It is in the MOV file format and can be downloaded from the link below:

Mento (9.1 MB)

 

The poster says it all, as Lord Tanamo is set to perform in California, Saturday,
June 25, 2005.


This was to be his first performance on the west coast of the US. Unfortunately, visa issues prevented this from happening.

Also see...

 

 

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