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Artist Hall of Fame

Roland AlphonsoText by Harry Hawks

A key player with The Skatalites whose beautiful saxophone can be heard on countless recordings… his work as a musical arranger and builder of the ‘Sound Of Young Jamaica’ is every bit as important but is often overlooked.
Date Added: Apr 19, 2012, Date Updated: Dec 6, 2016 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Jan 12, 1931 - Nov 20, 1998
Place of Birth: Habana
Cuba
Related Artist(s):
Skatalites
Soul Brothers
Soul Vendors
Jackie Mittoo
It is usually the sound system operators who are given the credit for creating ska but had it not been for the genius of Jamaica's jazz and big band musicians, including tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso, then the dreams of the sound men would have remained just that... dreams. It was the musicians' ability to make a reality of the sound system operators' musical fantasies that gave birth to a new, and completely original, Jamaican music.

Roland or Rolando Alphonso, whose calling card proudly stated 'Chief Musician', was born 12th January 1931 in Havana, Cuba. His Jamaican mother returned home in 1933 and Roland started to learn to play the saxophone at Stony Hill Industrial School in the north Kingston suburbs. He left school in 1948 and joined the Eric Deans Orchestra and also played with a number of different bands for the tourists in Jamaica's hotels.

In the late fifties Kingston's sound men began to make their first forays into rhythm & blues/shuffle style recordings and, over the next three years, Roland played with, amongst others, Cluett Johnson's Clue J And His Blues Blasters(Clue J & Blues Blasters), The Alley Cats, The City Slickers and Aubrey Adams & The Dew Droppers. He featured alongside Cecil Lloyd, Lloyd Mason, Don Drummond and Lowell Morris on an early CS Dodd album project, the jazz based 'I Cover The Water Front', released on the Port-O-Jam label in 1962. After spending some time in Nassau, Bahamas in 1963 he returned to Jamaica to become a leading member of the Studio One Orchestra in Coxsone's newly opened Jamaica Recording Studio on Brentford Road. Later that same year The Skatalites were officially formed at a meeting in the Odeon Theatre, Kingston and shortly afterwards played their first official engagement at the Hi Hat Club in Rae Town.

A key player in Studio One's development the early long playing release 'Sir Coxson Selects While Roland Alphonso Plays Ska... Strictly For You' shows a proud Coxsone with a protective arm around Roland's shoulder and Roland is described as "Mr Versatile. He plays Bass, Tenor, Baritone Sax and Flute... he is also light arranger". The Skatalites provided the musical backbone for Coxsone's many ska recordings before band broke up in the summer of 1965. The following year, as the music shifted towards rock steady, Jackie Mittoo and Roland Alphonso remained with Coxsone at Studio One to form the nucleus of Brentford Road's new house band The Soul Brothers.

"Duke Reid started with Tommy(Tommy McCook) and Roland was with Coxsone. Roland was Coxsone's fancy and Tommy was Duke Reid's fancy." Lloyd Brevett

Roland also worked for a number of other producers, most notably on a seriously under rated selection of rock steady b-sides for Leslie Kong's Beverley's(Beverleys) Records, which feature some of his most moving solos. Credited to Roland Alphonso & The Beverley's All Stars these haunting records included the ethereal 'Dreamland', which was relegated to the b-side to The Maytal's '54-46 Was My Number', and the transcendental 'Stream Of Life' which was originally released on the b-side of 'Struggle' another Maytals classic. In 1969 his stirring version of Slim Smith's 'Everybody Needs Love' for Bunny Striker Lee, entitled 'One Thousand Tons Of Megaton' "Here comes Roly Soul with one thousand tons of megaton...", was a huge hit in Jamaica and the UK.

"When it came out it was a runaway hit and Roland couldn't believe that the record had his name on it... himself as a solo artist. Me and him do quite a lot of songs..." Bunny Striker Lee

In 1972 Roland suffered a stroke but rapidly recovered and soon returned to performing and recording. He released two classic albums for Studio One and these two near faultless long players feature one of Jamaica's finest saxophonists relaxing musically over some of reggae music's strongest ever rhythm tracks: 'King Of Sax' was originally released on Winro without a sleeve but re-released in the early nineties as 'King Sax' with a sleeve and slightly altered track listing and the equally consistent 'Best Of(Best Of Roland Alphonso)' included the anthemic 'Jah Shakey'. Roland's playing for Studio One can also be enjoyed on a selection of superb seven inch singles such as 'Something Special', 'Psycho Rhythmic', 'Shelly Belly' and 'Feeling Nice' which was credited to Rolando-Coral. His work for other producers was always of note and the spellbinding 'Ethiopian War' for Tesfa MacDonald (also released on Sonia Pottinger's High Note label) was another classic Roland Alphonso release.

Roland Alphonso was awarded the Order of Distinction in 1977 in recognition of his pivotal role in the building of a body of popular and massively influential music. He toured regularly with the reformed Skatalites from 1984 onwards and his brief, but memorable, appearance at one of Alton Ellis' now legendary Rock Steady Easter Sunday Galas at London's Hammersmith Palais in 1994 was a genuinely moving experience. Roland Alphonso suffered a burst blood vessel during a show in California on 2nd November 1998 and died on 20th November in Los Angeles after suffering a second burst blood vessel and spending four days in a coma.

He impressed his gentle personality on everything he ever recorded, his stature is beyond question, and everyone who knows and loves reggae music will be familiar with the sound of Roland Alphonso. However, his name is not over familiar outside of the cognoscenti and his role as one of Jamaican music's founding fathers has yet to be sufficiently celebrated.
Apr 19, 2012 (Dec 6, 2016 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Hit titles
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¥600 (US$5.43)
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¥850 (US$7.69)
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¥850 (US$7.69)
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¥850 (US$7.69)
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Roland Alphonso - Sock It To Me
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Recent arrival(s)
Roland Alphonso - 1000 Tons Of Megaton
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Best selling CD(s)
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¥2380 (US$21.52)
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Roland Alphonso - ABC Rocksteady
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   Rare and seriously sought after instrumental album of Gay Feet rocksteady hits from 1968. Eleven elegant instrumental tracks, and one female vocal, showcasing the tenor sax artistry of master musician Roland Alphonso, ably assisted by Aubrey Adams on organ and the inestimable Lynn Taitt on guitar, interpreting a selection of Mrs Pottinger’s most memorable hits of the era.
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Best selling 10/12"(s)
Kim Masters; Roland Alphonso; Now Mix - If I Follow My Heart; If I Follow My Heart; If I Follow My Heart
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Best selling 7"(s)
Roland Alphonso - From Russia With Love
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   The both-sided killer Ska instrumental masterpiece - all Ska collectors have been searching for! The Skatalites playing the theme of James Bond’s “From Russia With Love” is a true Ska instrumental masterpiece, which needs no introduction. Like the original release, it’s gorgeously backed with “Cleopatra” on the B-side. Taken straight from the original master-tape, this is a dream come true single!
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Roland Alphonso - Ska Culation
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   The Skatalites’ killer shot interpretation of the world’s famous electric guitar inst, and the fully carnival-mode Ska played by a luxurious bunch of musicians. Originally played by the American electric guitar band, this is the proof of how Jamaicans won’t miss no trends. Guaranteed killer up-tempo Ska! Identical to the originals on flip by Jack Sparrow later known as Leonard Dillon of the Ethiopians, this praiseworthy piece features the Wailers on the backing vocal.
¥1580 (US$14.29)
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Roland Alphonso - Sai Pan
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   This deep Ska instrumental 'Sai Pan' features a beautiful solo by Roland Alphonso. The most sought after record of Merritone Ska and a crucial for all Ska lovers. On the flipside, the record features a mid-tempo Rude Boy Ska anthem 'Born To Rule' by Black Brothers, the song was taken straight from the original master tape for this reissue. Another hard to find record released in 1966.
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Roland Alphonso, Soul Brothers - Sca-Balena
7" Roland Alphonso, Soul Brothers - Sca-Balena / Tommy McCook (Miss Credit) - Two For One (Miss Credit) Studio One/Dub Store Records JPN
   Both sides are extremely rare unreleased takes of ska instrumentals by Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook and the Soul Brothers. Sca-Balena is a famous cover in which you can enjoy the brilliance of Roland Alphonso, and a completely new latin take of “Two For One” originally played by Tommy McCook. It is really hard to expect what will come out of the warehouse of well-established label like Studio One, although Sir Coxsone knew exactly where everything was being placed. We’re sorry that the “Bridge View” is a misprint instead of “Two For One” Both have been recorded from the original master-tapes.
¥1580 (US$14.29)
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Roland Alphonso - Stranger For Durango
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   'Stranger For Durango is a bright instrumental performed by Roland Alphonso. Ska/Rocksteady lover's delight! The song also features remarkable solo on keyboard. The musician remakes Simon & Garfunkle's 'Sound of Silence' in a graceful Rocksteady style. Those recordings were originally released in 1966 and reissued from the original master tape.
¥1380 (US$12.48)
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