Words by Jesse Serwer
Lloyd Knibb might not be a household name but, if you’ve ever heard a ska song, you know his work. As the drummer for the Skatalites, Knibb, who died yesterday after a battle with liver cancer at age 80, pioneered the ska beat. If the birth of Jamaican popular music can be tracked back to a single moment, it’s probably Knibb’s hitting the kick and the snare on the two and the four for the first time. The sound Knibb, Tommy McCook and company developed in two short years between 1963 and 1965 has since provided the foundational basis for countless bands in England and the U.S., home to ska’s respective second and third waves, and ska-punk fusion bands from the The Specials and Madness to the Police, No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. In this in-depth 1998 interview with DJ Carter Van Pelt, Squibb recalls the influence of Jamaican percussion legend Count Ossie on the style, and laying down the ska beat for the first time during a studio session with Coxsone Dodd.
One of the last surviving original members of the Skatalites, Knibb had performed with the current incarnation of the band as recently as last month, in Peru. During his later years, he lived in Hull, Massachusetts, but he had returned to his native Jamaica just hours before he died to be with friends and family.
The Skatalites reformed for the first time at 1983’s Reggae Sunsplash concert in Jamaica. Here’s a clip of them performing “Freedom Sound” at that show
The group appeared again at Sunsplash the following year, performing with Prince Buster. Here they are backing him up on “Al Capone”: