Doreen, the first and most logical question is to ask you how you hooked up with The Skatalites all these years ago.
Doreen Shaffer: "Well, you could say I was at the right place at the right time. I went to Studio 1 to do an audition and there I met these musicians. They were not known as The Skatalites yet because they were just studio musicians at that time."
How is it to be the only women in a band like that?
Doreen Shaffer: "Oh, it's great, fantastic really. The respect is there and over the years we've gotten along fine. Things I didn't know of, I was taught. Life is a learning school and I'm still learning every day. I'm happy I can do it with these musicians because they are wonderful people."
How did you start singing? Was that, like for a lot of Jamaican artists, in church?
Doreen Shaffer: "No, I started in school. I was never what you would call a shy person (laughs). When they had concerts they were always searching for someone to take the lead and usually I was the only one brave enough to step forward and say: "I'll do it!" Over the years I've enjoyed it. I had some good friends back then who encouraged me to continue. When I decided to pursue a career in music, I headed over to Studio 1 to do an audition. I wanted to try to compose my own songs and at that time I was a big fan of Dinah Washington, who had a big hit with 'What A Difference A Day Makes', so I decided to write my own version of that song and that became my very first song 'Adorable You'. Coxsone was very pleased with the result and he introduced me to Lloyd Knibb (Skatalites drummer, red.). He was the first Skatalite I met. Eventually I then met Jackie Opel and we became a team. And now, so many years later we're still here doing our thing. It's nice to know that we are still going strong and getting the appreciation of the people."
Where do you think the secret of ska music lies?
Doreen Shaffer: "I think it contributes to a feeling of general happiness. The musicians in The Skatalites really give it their all. Each year our audiences become younger and younger."
One does not really have to search hard for a Skatalites concert; sooner or later you guys pass by anyway. You really tour a lot; doesn't that ever get tiresome?
Doreen Shaffer: "Between the love we get from the people and the love we have for the music, it can never get tiring. We really love touring."
I want to thank you for this short interview.
Doreen Shaffer: "Anytime! I'm glad to be here and it warms my heart when I see my band, The Skatalites, play and people get up and cheer. I thank God for that."
Lester, welcome in Belgium. For the, I don't know how-manieth time, I should say, because you guys are touring almost continuously.
Lester Sterling: "Well you know, you just take things as they come and I don't really feel old yet so..."
When you've been playing in a band for as long as you guys have, what keeps on pushing you? What is the motivation?
Lester Sterling: "I always studied music, so I always want to be involved with music, be it in the studio or on the road. I play different instruments like the saxophone, the flute and the piano, and there's always one that needs some practice."
Talking about your instrument there; you learned to play at the now legendary Alpha Boys School for Music.
Lester Sterling: "Yeah, I went there at a very young age to get into the music business. I started out by learning to play the trumpet and from there I learned the theory of music and progressed to other instruments."
Could we say the sax is your favourite, or is it just the instrument you play on stage?
Lester Sterling: "No, the sax is my favourite. The trumpet was my first though. I used to play the trumpet in different other bands too, but for the last 20 years I stuck with the sax."
The start of The Skatalites was when you played as session musicians or a backing band for people like Sir Coxsone and Duke Reid. Of these sessions way back when, which have stuck in your mind?
Lester Sterling: "Well, Bob Marley of course, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & The Maytals. There were so many you know."
How did you guys get paid in those days? Was that per track or per session?
Lester Sterling: "No, it depended on how many sides of an album or a single you played, so it was per side."
What would you say was the main difference in playing for Coxsone or for Duke Reid? Was there even a difference?
Lester Sterling: "Well the main difference was moneywise (laughs). Duke Reid used to pay more. Beverly's too, so it was more satisfying to work for them than for Coxsone."
Many of these traditional ska tunes are instrumentals. How did these tracks get their titles? Let's take 'Guns Of Navarone' as an example. I know that to be a movie.
Lester Sterling: "Well that track was actually used in the movie (in an arrangement for classical instruments red.)"
Ok, were a lot of these tracks related to movies then?
Lester Sterling: "Some of them, but others not. For example we had a tune called 'Bridge View', that just reflects to an area (in Kingston, red.) where a lot of the youths used to hang out. Then there was 'Lee Harvey Oswald', which was taken from the guy who assassinated Kennedy in 1963."
So, the news and current events of the day was also a source of inspiration?
Lester Sterling: "Yeah, you'd read about certain things and you'd name tracks after that. In the case of Kennedy there are numerous tracks; there's the one I just mentioned, but another one was called 'President Kennedy' and another one still called 'Jack Ruby'. People used to like these titles and it helped to make the tunes sell."
From all these tunes in over more than 40 years of Skatalites music, are there any tunes you hold particularly dear?
Lester Sterling: "(thinks) All of these tunes are good you know. I particularly like the ganja tunes like 'Eastern Standard Time' and 'Occupation' and so on and the tunes Ronald Alphonso did; songs like 'Tear Up' and 'Bridge View'. I like all those songs and I like the people who wrote and played them!"
We already agreed we weren't going to call you old, but you are of an older generation. Is there anything you do to pass on your talent and skills to the next generation?
Lester Sterling: "(sighs) Well, I passed it on to one or two guys. I taught them, but most other young people aren't really interested any more to learn how to play an instrument."
Alright, I want to thank you for this interview and let's pray we'll be able to enjoy The Skatalites for a number of years to come.
Lester Sterling: "Yes, and thank you very much. I'll be back here in Belgium; I always enjoy my time here!"