RIP Style Scott, Roots Radics Drummer

David Katz remembers the famed Jamaican percussionist.

The despicable murder of drummer Lincoln “Style Rotterdam” Scott has robbed Jamaican music of another of its key players. As a founding member of the Roots Radics, Scott played an important role in the evolution of reggae by shifting it towards the dancehall style in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Radics became the most popular backing band of the day, with Style’s tasteful drumming its main propulsive engine, leading to an incredible volley of hits with both upcoming talent and established veterans alike.

Through his groundbreaking tours with Prince Far I and Israel Vibration, and via his longstanding collaboration with Adrian Sherwood in Dub Syndicate, Scott helped reggae to obtain a higher profile overseas. That someone with such a high standing in the Jamaican music fraternity should be killed at his home in the countryside is a shocking indictment of the endemic violence that continues to plague the island, bringing a terrible end to a gifted musician that did much to bolster reggae’s status.

Scott was born in 1956 in Chapleton, a market town in the interior of Clarendon parish, but was raised mostly by his grandparents in the northern coastal parish of St. Ann. His grandfather, a former member of the RAF, was an accomplished steel guitar player, and he taught young Lincoln the rudiments of that instrument, but drums always held the greatest appeal; Scott was soon fashioning his own homemade kit by stretching denim fabric over clay pots.

Bunny Wailer - Rock and Groove

Towards the end of his teenage years, Scott left his grandparents’ home to live with his father in Montego Bay and while working as a hotel waiter in the bourgeoning tourist town, he made friends with some of the resident drummers, including Wade Hampton (known as “Monkey Man”), who gave Scott some important tutoring during his work breaks. Joining the Jamaica Defence Force around 1975 brought Scott to Kingston as a soldier; since he was also a member of the Jamaica Military Band, Scott perfected precision timing on his instrument, while greater exposure to American rhythm and blues and the reggae of the local sound systems all worked to broaden his musical palate.

As a drummer, Scott was rock-solid, yet he did more than simply maintain a four-four beat.

During his days as a soldier, whenever Scott was off duty, he made a beeline for one of Kingston’s many recording studios, spending most of his time between Channel One and Studio One, observing the runnings at both and trying his best to get a chance behind the drum kits. Upon leaving the Army, he became a regular fixture on the Kingston music scene, trying to find a way to become established; hanging out at Idler’s Rest, the area outside Randy’s studio that was a congregating spot for musicians, Scott eventually became friends with Gregory Isaacs, who installed a drum set in his African Museum record shop specifically for Scott to practice on.

As a drummer, Scott was rock-solid, yet he did more than simply maintain a four-four beat: his forte came with an understated style that emphasized off-beat rim shots and rolling toms, and he would later make good use of syndrums too, typically employing them as a percussive augmentation. His talent was obvious from a young age, and it is easy to see why Isaacs would put his faith in the lad.

Gregory Isaacs - Night Nurse

The African Museum link bore decisive fruit in 1978, when Scott became the official drummer of the Roots Radics, formed by bassist Errol “Flabba Holt” Carter and guitarist Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont, as an off-shoot of the Morwells band. The Roots Radics have a complicated history, in that Flabba and Bingy Bunny had been recording together at Randy’s for a number of years before conceiving of their own outfit; as the concept gelled, they used various players, including keyboardist Errol “Tarzan” Nelson and drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis. Once Style Scott became part of the crew, the Radics line-up solidified; guitarist Noel “Sowell” Bailey and keyboardist Wycliffe “Steelie” Johnson joined, and lead guitarist Dwight Pinkney adding a rock-styled edge. They made an immediate impact backing Barrington Levy’s seminal recordings for Henry “Junjo” Lawes, and scored hits for the producer with Michael Prophet, John Holt, and the Wailing Souls.

As the resident band at Channel One, they naturally featured on the hit productions of the Hoo-Kim brothers. Soon, they were being harnessed by the leading producers of the day, including Linval Thompson, who had them back the Viceroys and Freddy McGregor, and they also played on everything subsequently released by Mikey Dread and Sugar Minott in Jamaica. They totally transformed Gregory Isaacs’ sound too, leading to his most dramatic overseas successes, including the smash hit “Night Nurse,” and helped Bunny Wailer make the transformation to the new dancehall style, as heard on Rock N Groove.

African Head Charge - Stebeni's Theme

At the same time, Scott cultivated links in London that diversified his output, rendering him more experimental than many of his peers. Reaching Britain as early as 1978 as a touring member of Prince Far I’s band, The Arabs, Scott quickly befriended Adrian Sherwood, who was then running the Hit Run and Carib Gems labels, distributing Jamaican music across the country in a dilapidated van. Scott remained in London when Far I’s tour was over and gave Sherwood a hand with the distribution; he also began drumming for his Creation Rebel project, playing on Close Encounters of the Third World and Rebel Vibrations, as well as African Headcharge’s first two albums, My Life in a Hole in the Ground and Environmental Studies (released in the early 1980s on Sherwood’s On-U Sound label). Scott and Sherwood began their collaborative Dub Syndicate project in 1982, which remained active long after the digitisation of dancehall rendered the Roots Radics sound passé in Jamaica; the project allowed Scott to work with old cohorts such as Bim Sherman and Lee “Scratch” Perry, while he continued to back Israel Vibration with the core of the Radics.

During the late 1990s, Scott began issuing Dub Syndicate product on a new label called Lion and Roots; singles by Luciano and Capleton surfaced in 2001, but the label’s output fizzled a few years later. At the time of writing, who was behind Scott’s death, and the motive for his killing, remain unknown; local police continue to investigate.

By David Katz on October 14, 2014

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