Theophilus Beckford

Theophilus Beckford (1935 – 19 February 2001) was a Jamaican pianist and one of the pioneers of Jamaican popular music during the transition from rhythm 'n' blues to Jamaican ska.

Biography

Beckford was born in 1935 in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, the second of three sons. He learned to play piano at the Boys' Town home for indigent boys in west Kingston, initially inspired by Rosco Gordon and Fats Domino, and on leaving bought a piano and began working with producer Stanley Motta, backing local calypsonians. His piano playing helped to define the sound and feel of ska music, as distinct from Jamaican rhythm & blues in the late 1950s. He had a huge hit in 1959 with "Easy Snappin", recorded in 1956 and played at dances by producer Coxsone Dodd before he released it three years later on his Worldisc label. The single was a number one in Jamaica and stayed on the chart for eighteen months, also selling well in the United Kingdom, and the emphasis on the off-beat was widely imitated. The song is considered a forerunner of ska. Although Beckford was credited as the writer, he received no royalties from the song. A second hit followed with "Jack & Jill Shuffle", and a few more singles were recorded for Dodd before Beckford formed his own King Pioneer label in the early 1960s.

The bulk of Beckford's recorded work is as a session musician with bands such as Clue J & His Blues Blasters, and he recorded extensively for both Dodd and Duke Reid in this capacity, as well as for Prince Buster, Leslie Kong, and Clancy Eccles.

In 1975, he played piano on Junior Byles' classic song "Fade Away", and in 1978 he appeared as himself in the film Rockers.

In 1991, Beckford performed as part of the Studio One The Beat Goes On: 35 years in the Business shows at the National Arena in Kingston.

In 1992, "Easy Snappin'" was used in a television commercial for jeans, but again, Beckford received no royalties. Although he performed on hundreds of popular records, the lack of financial reward received by Beckford was a constant complaint, as he said in 2000: "Today as I listen to music on radio and sound system and recognise that I created some of these tunes. I feel strongly that I am not given full recognition for my work".

Beckford died on 19 February 2001 as a result of injuries sustained from a machete wound to the head after an argument with a neighbour in the Washington Gardens area of Kingston. He left nine children.

Discography

  • Trench Town Ska (1999) Jamaican Gold
  • Trojan Battlefield: King Pioneer Ska Productions (2004) Trojan

-- Courtesy (Wikipedia) --

Theophilus Beckford

Theophilus Beckford shows off one of his old pianos.

Many people credited the pianist and vocalist Theophilus Beckford, who has died aged 65, as the originator of ska. He was stabbed to death in Kingston, Jamaica, following an altercation with an unidentified man.

Born in Trench Town, west Kingston, Beckford's access to the family piano enabled him to develop his talent. He cited the Memphis jump-blues piano playing of Rosco Gordon as particularly influential on his style, with Fats Domino another major inspiration; he was also fond of singers Lloyd Price and Patti Page.

In the mid-1950s, he was the featured pianist backing calypso artists such as Count Lasher and Lord Flea, whose songs, aimed primarily at tourists, were cut for Jewish-Jamaican entrepreneur Stanley Motta, proprietor of a downtown photographic supply shop. The dominant music in Jamaica then was American rhythm and blues, and most local artists copied the sounds of New Orleans.

In late 1956, Beckford started to develop a style that drew from r&b, but had a markedly different rhythmic structure; instead of the fore-beat emphasis of boogie woogie, he used piano chords to emphasise the after-beat, the second and fourth beats of every measure rather than the first and third.

The first song to surface with this rhythm was Beckford's Easy Snapping, backed by session band Clue J and the Blues Blasters for sound system operator Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, founder of the Studio One labels. Dodd initially retained Easy Snapping on acetate as a dub-plate for his Downbeat sound system, and it was highly popular among the dancing public.

Beckford cut further vocal tunes for Dodd, including Jack And Jill Shuffle and That's Me, and became one of his most valued session keyboardists in the ska years, though he also played for rival producers. He voiced Seven Long Years (1962) for King Edwards, Burnette (1963) for Duke Reid, and featured on some of Justin Hinds and the Dominoes' biggest hits. For Prince Buster, he voiced a handful of forlorn love songs in 1964-5.

Seeking greater creative and financial autonomy, Beckford formed the King Pioneer label by 1963 as a vehicle for his own mento and folk-based material. Although his adaptation of the folksong Boller Man A Come was popular, most King Pioneer material failed to become hits.

From the late 1960s, Beckford was one of the featured pianists in Beverley's All Stars, the house band of producer Leslie Kong. In the early reggae period, he backed Eric "Monty" Morris, Toots and the Maytals, and Desmond Dekker. Later, he worked for Lee "Scratch" Perry and Bunny Lee, backing many artists and tutoring younger talent.

Once the digital revolution curtailed the use of live musicians in Jamaica from 1985, Beckford was less active in the studio, though he continued to perform live.

Theophilus Beckford, born 1935; died February 19 2001.

-- Courtesy (David Katz, TheGuardian.com) --