News has come that on April 12, 2016, Lord Tanamo passed away at the age of
82 in Canada, where he had resided for more than 35
years. He has been ailing for some time before
that. Its a great loss to the world of reggae -- mento
and ska particularly.
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
(Photo: K. C. Armstrong, courtesy of
Brian Keyo has provided this great
picture of Lord Tanamo with rumba box, Count Lasher with a
guitar, and a third musician also with a guitar, as they were given honor of
welcoming Louis Armstrong to Jamaica on May 15, 1957. They greeted
him with a serenade of "Invitation To Jamaica" and "The Things Satchmo
Said", eliciting applauds from the jazz giant.
Brian also 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
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
From The Daily Gleaner, July 10, 1960,
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
From The Daily Gleaner,
December 9, 1961,
this add shows
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:
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.]
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
company, Machado, also released a calypso single promoting
their products, as seen here.
||A Kalypso 45 RPM single
the collection of Allen Kaatz of the US:
"Fat or Slim" by Lord Tanamo
"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.
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
explained that RCA has licensed some material from the Jamaican Caribou
||"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
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:
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
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"
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
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.]
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
Other unpictured golden age Tanamo sides
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.
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
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
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
Caribou, a label more associated with his mento output.
I Love You Truly b/w
If You Were Only Mine
Pottinger on the SEP label in 1963 is:
Back To Jamaica".
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
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
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.
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
Though the instrumentation is purely
reggae, there is more than a little mento in Tanamo's lyrics and vocal
|"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
The CD consists mostly of ska
remakes of Tanamo's ska hits
(including "Iron Bar", which originally was a
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:
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.