Johnny Moore: Co-founder of The Skatalites

It is no exaggeration to say that the Jamaican band the Skatalites changed the course of popular music. Though they were only together for 15 months in the mid-Sixties, they helped originate the style of music known as ska. Forty-five years on, with its infectious syncopation, it still inspires the likes of Lily Allen, Ava Leigh and Amy Winehouse.

Their trumpeter and founder member Johnny "Dizzy" Moore, who has died of cancer, played on records like the joyous "Guns Of Navarone", their 1967 British Top 40 hit, and appeared on a myriad of other ska, rocksteady and reggae releases. But he liked to downplay their importance. "I wouldn't say that the Skatalites invented ska. The Skatalites made an enormous contribution to its development. Ska appeared with Cluett Johnson and the Blues Blasters," he said in 2004, praising the shuffle-boogie group who recorded for the producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd in the late Fifties.

The Skatalites replaced the Blues Blasters as Dodd's house band at Studio One but they graduated to issuing singles under their own name. Their enduring repertoire also inspired two ska revivals: the 2-Tone era of the late Seventies and early Eighties, with the Specials, who covered "Guns Of Navarone" on their chart-topping The Special AKA Live! EP in 1980, Madness, The Selecter and The Beat; and the ska-core movement of the Nineties with American groups such as No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Born in Kingston in 1938, Moore grew up in a home with a piano but was not allowed near it – or any other instrument – because his parents associated music with a dissolute lifestyle. "I used to use the leaf of the pumpkin and make, like, flutes, papaya stalks, combs, sardine cans with elastics, anything that would make a sound," he recalled. "One day, one of my friends was rattling away on the drums and I asked him where he learned that. He told me: 'At Alpha!' I said: 'Well, that's where I have to go then!"

Run by the formidable Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, the Alpha Cottage School only took in wayward boys. So Moore began making a nuisance of himself, conning his parents into thinking that Alpha was the only option. "It was all planned by me to get into Alpha – and like I say: 'No regrets!'" he relished telling interviewers. "After that, it was just me and music, so I can't complain."

Moore's hunch that going to Alpha would be the perfect way to fulfil his aspirations proved correct. The trombonist Don Drummond and saxophonists Tommy McCook (tenor) and Lester Sterling (alto) all studied at the school in the Forties and Fifties. Under the tutelage of the nuns and the bandmaster Ruben Delgado, and with Sterling's help, Moore picked up the trumpet. He took in everything from classical theory and composition to mento (a style of Jamaican folk music), calypso, cha-cha-cha, big band jazz, rhythm 'n' blues – all genres that influenced ska – and never looked back, even if his stint with the Jamaican Military Band, straight after Alpha, ended ingloriously after three years. "I got kicked out because of not being amenable to military discipline, though a good musician. That's what they said," he admitted.

In 1958, Moore joined Eric Dean's dance band, but was fired when he began growing his dreadlocks because of his Rastafarian beliefs. Moore then attempted to convince Dodd that Jamaicans should create their own music rather than slavishly copy the Americans, especially with the country being granted independence in 1962. "Well, they laughed at me. Figured I was a nut, you know. That's where this 'Dizzy' t'ing came from," he told Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton in Reggae – The Rough Guide. Moore's fondness for the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie might also have played a part in his nickname.

By 1963, Dodd and others were coming round to Moore's way of thinking. In June 1964, the drummer Lloyd Knibb, bassist Lloyd Brevett, keyboard player Jackie Mittoo and Moore, who had been members of the Sheiks and the Cavaliers, joined forces with the guitarist Jerome "Jah Jerry" Hines, the tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso, plus Drummond, Sterling and McCook. McCook came up with the group's name after rejecting Knibb's suggestion, the Satellites. "No, we play ska – The Skatalites," he said.

Over the next 15 months, the Skatalites played all over Jamaica and recorded hundreds of tracks, most notably for Dodd. They backed Lord Creator, Lord Tanamo, Alton Ellis, the Maytals, Jackie Opel, Lee Perry, Doreen Schaefer, Delroy Wilson and the early incarnation of the Wailers featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Neville Livingston aka Bunny Wailer.

However their own instrumentals – "Confucius", "Chinatown", "Eastern Standard Time", "Man In The Street", "Yogi Man" – and their liberal adaptations of movie and TV themes or the hits of the day – Cleopatra, Dr Kildare, From Russia With Love, "Third Man Theme", The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better" – have proved the most influential of their extensive catalogue.

As Moore explained, "most of the arrangements were more or less spontaneous. Like a melody would be submitted and everyone got to have their own line. Because no one dictated anything to anyone. You've got to stand on your own two feet, be spontaneous. But because of the love of the music and affection for each other, it was easy. We could feel one another."

This golden period didn't last. In January 1965, Drummond was imprisoned for the murder of his girlfriend. The Skatalites soldiered on for six months but eventually splintered into Tommy McCook and the Supersonics, and Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors, who Moore joined. He also recorded a solo album with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare before moving to the US in the Seventies.

The Skatalites reunited for the Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1983, and appeared at the London Sunsplash the following year, playing their own set and backing Prince Buster. Moore left in 2002, preferring to perform with the Jamaica All Stars, and he admitted that relations with the remaining Skatalites were not always easy.

His fondest memories remained those of the Alpha School. "We played for the princess who is now Queen Elizabeth II. And she came over and shook my hand. I still remember that moment," he said. "I put music in general before anything else. That's my favourite subject. It's my woman, my companion and my soother when I have problems. Music is my life."

Pierre Perrone

John Arlington Moore, trumpeter, composer and arranger: born Kingston, Jamaica 5 October 1938; (four children); died Kingston 16 August 2008.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital