Music News & Reviews

The Skatalites bring their sound to Grass Valley

The ​Skatalites from Jamaica were pioneers in ska, which included elements of R&B, jazz, calypso and Cuban music.
The ​Skatalites from Jamaica were pioneers in ska, which included elements of R&B, jazz, calypso and Cuban music. Courtesy of Center for the Arts

The undisputed kings of ska are ready to deliver their delicious brew of music – rock steady, ska, dance hall and lots of other flavors.

The Skatalites essentially have been ready since the band formed in Jamaica in 1964 to deliver musical performances and musical influences on generations of other artists.

Its short-but-successful existence in the mid-’60s fueled reunions, a reformation in 1983 and regular tours since 1989. At its peak, the band included Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso (both on tenor saxophone), Don Drummond (trombone), Lloyd Knibb (drums) and Jackie Mittoo (piano). Despite a changing lineup of musicians, the band’s vision has carried on, and it still is evolving and releasing new records.

Ken Steward, the band’s keyboardist, took time out of his sleep schedule during the band’s “Summer Tour 2015” in Europe and gave The Bee a look into the band’s bright future. The Skatalites will take to the stage Aug. 12 at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.

Q: How long has the current incarnation been together and will the U.S. be seeing the same lineup?

A: This lineup has been the same since early 2013. The Skatalites have constantly evolved since the first reunion in 1983. We obviously do not have all original members (some are dead), but the newer members have always been handpicked by the originals still in the band. I have been in the band playing keyboards for 27 years now. Founding members vocalist Doreen Shaffer and saxophonist Lester Sterling are still with us, thankfully.

Q: How much of the Skatalites’ catalog is played from different albums each night?

A: Lately we have been adding different tunes to our sets and have been picking mostly from the classic originals. Many of those can be heard on “Ball of Fire” or “Foundation Ska.” We also play a few tunes from our last CD, “Walk With Me,” and a few rock-steady and reggae classics as well. Obviously, we play mostly the biggest Skatalites hits, so it is hard to keep all in the repertoire. … It changes every night.

Q: Your latest release, “Walk With Me,” was released in 2012. Any new records coming within the next year or two?

A: We have almost completed a new CD to be released by the end of this year. We are working on many projects that will have forthcoming release dates very soon. On Aug. 5th a track (was) released in Japan by Dance Earth Party, a Japanese pop dance band who asked us to do the backing music for this great song called “Every Child Has a Beautiful Name.” Stay tuned for official announcements about these upcoming releases. We have quite a few coming.

Q: Are the venues you’re playing abroad (aside from festivals) the same size as here?

A: We have always played venues as small as 100 (capacity) and festivals as large as half a million. Audience number varies with trends from territory to territory from year to year, but we have stood the test of time. Oddly enough, the United States is one of our least-touched territories for various reasons. We spend most of our time abroad but still do 30-50 shows in the U.S. a year. Of course, we love playing in the United States, which (has been) our home base for 30 years now and even more for some members. I am particularly looking forward to the Grass Valley show because it just so happens that my mom lives in Orangevale.

The Skatalites

What: An old-school ska show with special guest Monkey

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 12

Where: Center For The Arts, 314 West Main St., Grass Valley

Cost: $20 members and $24 nonmembers

Information: (530) 274-8384,