The Times - London (C)
Jerome Hines — dubbed Jah Jerry by his Rastafarian brethren — helped to create the syncopated rhythms that became the defining sound of Jamaican music. Known in the early 1960s as ska, by the end of the decade the sound had developed into reggae, and was destined to become a near-ubiquitous presence in popular music around the world.
The Skatalites were the most important instrumental group in the music’s development and Hines’s choppy, rhythmic chords that combined elements of jazz and calypso with “mento”, a traditional Jamaican form, was central to their sound.
He grew up in Jones Town, a Kingston ghetto and, although his blind father owned a guitar, he was a late starter, not taking up the instrument until he was in his 20s. During the late 1940s both father and son took lessons from Ernest Ranglin, a pivotal figure in the history of Jamaican music who is still working today. He remained under Ranglin’s tutelage for several years but in time was expert enough to play with him as an equal.
In the mid1950s he signed on with a popular local jazz combo led by the saxophonist Val Bennett, performing imported styles for tourists at upmar-ket hotels. With independence on the horizon, however, a new sound was emerging on the streets of Kingston that would come to define Jamaican cultural identity. By the late 1950s he had teamed up with the drummer Ark-land “Drumbago” Parks, making his first recording, Count Boysie the Monarch. Then in 1959, on Ranglin’s recommendation, he was employed to play on Prince Buster’s first recording, Little Honey. According to Jamaican musical folklore, at the session Buster asked his guitarist to “change gear”, resulting in the creation of the trade-mark rhythmic strum that the world would soon come to know as ska.
In 1964 he joined the saxophonist Roland Alphonso and trumpet player Johnny Moore in the Skatalites. Further musicians were recruited swiftly and for a while the band became the hottest act in Jamaica, both as a live act and in the studio where they backed almost every important Jamaican singer of the day.
However, the Skatalites broke up within 18 months when their trombonist Don Drummond was jailed for murdering his girlfriend. Hines retreated back to session work. The Skatalites reformed in 1983. They toured America and recorded the aptly titled 1984 album, The Return of the Big Guns.
Hines left the group in 1985 and retired to Jones Town, where he lived quietly, as respect for the Skatalites’ work grew to almost reverential proportions after a comprehensive reissue programme.
Jah Jerry (Jerome Hines), musician, was born on August 11, 1921. He died on August 13, 2007, aged 86.