[Today: Jackie Mittoo writes the songs that make Rasta sing…]
A keyboard prodigy who learned to play at age four, Jackie Mittoo was playing professionally by age 14, a founding member of The Skatelites at age 16, and the musical arranger and producer for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd‘s legendary Studio One by the time he turned 18 – a position he held from 1965 until 1968. In addition to supervising sessions, Mittoo also played behind a number of reggae heavyweights, including Bob Marley & The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, and The Heptones.
But the music that Mittoo recorded for Studio One under his own name is outstanding in its own right. His mostly-instrumental albums live on the fringe of reggae, in the neighborhood of the funk of Booker T & The MGs or the jazz organ of Jimmy Smith. Mittoo’s music arrived just in time for reggae’s dancehall and toasting revolutions, and many of his songs from the 1960’s were versioned into hits of the 1970’s (such as Frankie Paul’s ‘Pass The Tusheng Peng’ and The Wailers’ ‘Duppy Conqueror’). But due to the arcane Jamaican copyright laws of the day, he didn’t receive a dime for the many thousands of records that his rhythms helped sell.
And what a wealth of rhythms to choose from. The Keyboard King At Studio One compiles Mittoo’s best material from his time with the label, and even though many of these tracks pre-date more conventional reggae, funky workouts like ‘Oboe’ and ‘Get Up And Get It’ are relentlessly catchy and utterly timeless. His cover of Seals & Crofts’ ‘Summer Breeze’ shows that he could recycle as well as be recycled, and ‘Killer Diller’ and ‘Hot Tamale’ set moods as cool as their titles promise. None of this music is structurally complex, but it is sure to please any diehard reggae or funk fan.
Jackie Mittoo succumbed to cancer at age 42 in 1990. For those in the know, his music lives on…
Listen: Get Up And Get It
Listen: Summer Breeze