Lloyd Brevett, who has died aged 80 following a long illness, was bassist with the Skatalites, the originators of the ska form. As an architect of ska in the early 1960s Brevett helped create a genre that celebrated Jamaica’s independence, and the innovation has since spawned waves of emulation around the world. Brevett was also an important session musician during the subsequent rock steady and reggae eras, and a featured player on Jamaica’s upscale hotel circuit.
Brevett was born in the west Kingston ghetto of Jones Town and raised on West Street in the heart of downtown Kingston. He was taught to play the upright bass by his father, a player of some renown on the local jazz scene, who fashioned his own instruments and formed the Count Brevett Band in 1950. Shortly after, Lloyd joined Eric Deans’ Orchestra, one of the island’s most prominent jazz groups, and backed the local Calypsonian, Lord Fly, later playing with Roy Coburn and Joe Bundy’s groups.
Soon Brevett was playing with a loose conglomeration of musicians on the Kingston Pier, near the informal gambling area known as Coney Island, with the nucleus of the future Skatalites, including the drummer Lloyd Knibb, guitarist Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haines, trumpeter “Dizzy” Johnny Moore and saxophonists Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook and Lester Sterling. Later, with the trombonist Don Drummond, they began to fashion a distinctive hybrid of jazz, Latin and Caribbean sounds in the late-night jams held at Count Ossie’s Rastafarian encampment in the east Kingston hills.
The legendary sound system operator Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd discovered the group and began using them as session musicians in the late 1950s. They soon backed every artist of note for him, and played on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ earliest recordings. They also moonlighted for producers such as Prince Buster, Justin Yap and Vincent Chin.
Early recordings credited to Lloyd Brevett and His Group include the 1964 instrumentals “One More Time” and “Wayward Ska”, produced by Lindon Pottinger, and “Trip To Mars”, produced by Duke Reid. Brevett was also a member of the Caribs, a group of white Australians who performed at the Glass Bucket and the Myrtlebank Hotel, who played on some of Chris Blackwell’s earliest productions.
Brevett and his peers developed ska in the run-up to Jamaican independence in August 1962. After, they worked to make ska more distinctly Jamaican while the nation strived to express cultural self-sufficiency. As the form became more popular, sparking overseas interest, Clement Dodd decided to form a group to represent the emerging style, and the Skatalites were christened in June 1964, only to split 14 months later following Drummond’s confinement in a mental hospital for the killing of his girlfriend.
Brevett then joined the Soul Brothers, the in-house band at Dodd’s Studio One, led by Roland Alphonso, which became the Soul Vendors in 1967. The following year they backed Ken Boothe on a UK tour, but disbanded through mismanagement, leading Brevett to freelance. He recorded for the leading producers of the early reggae period, notably on some of Lee Perry’s earliest productions, but soon retreated to the hotel scene, undertaking masonry work when musical engagements were slim.
In 1975 Brevett’s collaboration with Rastafarian drummers from the Sons of Negus led to a ground-breaking album, African Roots, recorded with most of the Skatalites and guitarist Ernest Ranglin at Lee Perry’s Black Ark and Herman Chin-Loy’s Aquarius studio. A fallow period followed until the Skatalites reformed in 1983 to perform at Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay, following the worldwide interest in ska sparked by the Two Tone movement in Britain. New recordings were made at Kingston’s Music Mountain studio but remained unreleased for several decades. In 1984, the reformed group travelled to London to back Prince Buster at Selhurst Park and cut a new studio album for Island Records, Return of the Big Guns.
By then, the Skatalites had shifted base to the US, with Brevett and his wife Ruth settling in Newark, New Jersey. The Skatalites’ 1986 residency at New York’s Village Gate led to a series of international tours and acclaimed new album releases: the 1994 set Hi-Bop Ska and 1996 set Greetings From Skamania both received Grammy Award nominations.
In recent years Brevett was absent from the Skatalites’ live shows due to his worsening health. In February he was too ill to collect a Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association. His son Okeene collected the award in his place but was murdered the same day by unknown assailants, who shot him in Seaview Gardens, one of western Kingston’s most notorious ghettos. Brevett suffered a stroke and a number of seizures, the terrible circumstances of his son’s murder gravely affecting his condition. He is survived by his wife Ruth and several children.
Lloyd Brevett, bass player: born Kingston, Jamaica 1 August 1931; married Ruth (several children); died Kingston 3 May 2012.