Dean Fraser
January 16, 2020
Wycliffe ‘Steely’ Johnson
January 16, 2020

Vin Gordon

Vin Gordon, also professionally known as “Don Drummond Junior” and “Trommy”, was born on August 4th, 1949 in a house at 5 Salt Lane in Western Kingston, Jamaica. He attended The Alpha Boys School in Kingston from the age of 6 to 15. He was brought into Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One recording facility in the fall of 1965 by Roland Alphonso when he was 16. He was soon recognized as a very gifted trombonist of rare technical ability especially for a musician at such a young age. The older, more seasoned musicians very quickly allowed him to take a solo at the end of the song, “Jailhouse” by The Wailers original vocal group in December of 1965. Thus, he became a part of the Studio One house recording session band, The Soul Brothers, soon to be renamed The Soul Vendors.
By then Rocksteady was in full swing, having been born out of the Ska era. Contrary to what has been repeatedly written, Rocksteady did not forget about the horns that had been so dominant in Ska. As the music slowed down, all the instruments and vocals found their space to breathe and project their own identity. The horns strategically blended in seamlessly with the entire musical composition by providing simplified yet more powerful statements of grace, often elevating an average riddim to higher emotional heights. Vin confidently sprinkled his spirited strokes of trombone phrases over a countless number of timeless songs that formed the bedrock of the foundation of Jamaican modern music.
Although clearly embodying his own unique style and tone, he received the professional nickname of “Don Drummond Junior” (aka Don D Junior) as his soulful technical skills elevated him into a small circle of trombone mastery previously only occupied by the Don senior himself. As Rocksteady transformed into early Reggae, so did The Soul Vendors give way to The Sound Dimension band. By this time, Vin had been the main trombonist for Studio One productions as well as a desired freelancer for many other established and upcoming independent producers of the time such as Lloyd Charmers, Loyd “The Matador” Daley, Derrick Harriott, Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, Prince Buster, Duke Reid and BB Seaton. Two enduring examples of these independent productions are Vin and alto saxman Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett’s haunting horn-line for “Satta Massagana” by The Abyssinians and the dynamically powerful horn-line of “The Drifter” by Dennis Walks created by Vin and Karl “Cannonball” Bryan (alto sax). Both songs were recorded on the same day, featuring the timeless bass-lines of The Heptones’ lead vocalist and bassist, Leroy Sibbles. Three of Vin’s Studio One instrumentals from this period which have been mistakenly credited to Don Drummond Sr. are “Real Rock”, “Heavenless” and “Valley Princess”. The first two of these songs are at the top of the list of the most re-used riddims in Jamaican history and are still being “re-versioned” to this day!
After leaving Coxsone’s sound stables around 1970, Vin continued to be “THE” trombonist to hire for an ever increasing amount of artists. For the next decade he continued to record for a whole heap of producers including (but not limited to): Clive Chin, Roy Cousins, Rupie Edwards, Roy Francis, Ossie Hibbert, Keith Hudson, Clive Hunt, Harry J, King Tubby, Hermann Chin Loy, Harry Mudie, “Niney” The Observer, Augustus Pablo, Phil Pratt, Alvin “GG” Ranglin, Winston Riley, Linval Thompson and Yabby You. In 1974, he was sought out by Bob Marley to participate in his solo attack on the global market with the Natty Dread album and then continuing with the Rastaman Vibration album in 1976. Vin also performed with the three original Wailers singers (Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer & Bob Marley) for their final public performance together opening for Stevie Wonder’s “Dream Concert” in Kingston on October 4th, 1975.
After surviving the assassination attempt on Bob “Tuff Gong”Marley and his band on December 3rd, 1976, Vin was asked by the now “Tuffer” Gong to put together the horn section that was to assist in transforming 1977’s Exodus album into the “Best Album Of The Century” (as awarded by the USA’s prestigious Time Magazine in 1999). Also recorded at these London sessions, were the songs that formed the outstanding and much beloved album Kaya (released in 1978). The two other hornsmen Vin brought in were David Madden (trumpet) and Glen DaCosta (tenor saxaphone). Both were veterans from the popular show band, Zap Pow. It was on the Kaya album that he performed the only duet ever recorded of Bob Marley singing with another instrument. Vin gracefully played a heartfelt trombone melody matching Marley’s subtly expressive scat-singing in the song “Running Away”. Of all instruments in existence, the trombone is the only one that is capable of getting the closest to articulating the human voice. Few trombonists (in any genre of music) have achieved the technical phrasing ability to accomplish that. Bob specifically chose Vin for this purpose as he knew that Trommy could “deliver the goods”!
Throughout this time (1974-79), Vin was also the primary trombonist for a large handful of session house bands that recorded the majority of music that would soon be known as the Roots Reggae era. Often the individual names of the players of instruments would not be listed on the back of an album. The only credit given would be to the name of the session band of each producer in charge of the recording session. Although he was an integral part of the resulting productions, when they did credit the individual musicians, Vin might be listed as Vin Gordon, Don D Junior or Trommy, leading one to think that those are the names of three different trombonists. Vin was an integral part of The Revolutionaries at the Hookim brothers’ Channel One recording studios, Bunny Lee’s The Aggrovators, Joe Gibbs’ The Professionals, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s The Upsetters at the Black Ark Studio, Jack Ruby’s The Black Disciples and Tappa Zukie’s The Intimidators. Just a few of the great 70’s vocal harmony groups, singers and DJs recorded during these sessions were The Abyssinians, Horace Andy, Big Youth, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Johnny Clarke, Culture, Dillinger, Errol Dunkley, The Gladiators, The Heptones, Justin Hinds & The Dominoes, Gregory Isaacs, Mikey Dread, Junior Murvin, Max Romeo, The Mighty Diamonds, Linval Thompson, Trinity, The Twinkle Brothers & The Wailing Souls.
In 1977, Vin made an appearance in the great Jamaican film Rockers during Gregory Isaacs’ live performance of his hard-hitting song “Slave Master”. As part of the film’s soundtrack, not only did he perform on the theme song “Rockers” by Bunny Wailer but he also co-led the Rockers All-Star Band in a sublime steppin’ Roots Reggae version of Don Drummond’s classic Ska instrumental “Man In The Street”. This ensemble featured the mighty Kingston horn section comprised of the legendary Skatalites band-leader Tommy McCook (tenor Sax), Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall (tenor sax), Herman Marquis (alto sax), Bobby “Willow” Ellis (trumpet) and Vin. Towards the end of the song, he performed a profoundly moving solo in a way that no other musician could execute to do justice to the original Don. All these wonderful melodies and riddims sat upon, and were driven by, the energetic Rockers drumming style of the film’s lead actor, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace.
On April 28th, 1978, Vin Gordon & David Madden (along with Deadly Headley on alto sax & Cedric ‘im Brooks on tenor sax) comprised the horn section that formed an vital part of one of the fullest expressions of a live Reggae big band to date. At the “One Love Peace Concert”, they backed Bob Marley on stage as he miraculously joined the hands of the two opposing political leaders, Michael Manley & Edward Seaga. This act gave Jamaica hope that the massive violence of the Kingston inner city boroughs could be put to rest, if even only for a short time.
Roughly a year after the Peace Treaty crumbled, in 1979, Vin moved to England to pursue greater musical opportunities for his unique trombone abilities. His landing in London initiated the most musically advanced period of the group Aswad, raising the bar for what Reggae could and should do. His influential presence was bringing the hardest authentic Kingston horn vibration to a mostly British born Reggae band, increasing their validity in the eyes of many Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans alike. This is crucially embodied in their hit instrumental song, “Warrior Charge”. It has been stated in music history books that the British Reggae scene has yet to surpass the dynamic heights achieved by this Reggae composition. Yet another song which comes quite close is Vin’s horn arrangements for Aswad’s “Love Fire”, more popularly known by it’s dub version, “Dub Fire”. It is even more universally known as the riddim supporting one of Dennis Brown’s everlasting roots anthems, “Promised Land”.
Returning to Jamaica in 1987, Vin found a completely different musical recording situation wherein live musicians were rarely needed due to the emergence of the “digital age”. Through a variety of sparse session work and some live stage-show band gigs, survive he did! In 1997, he started touring the globe with Justin Hinds & The Dominoes soon balancing that out by rejoining The Wailers Band for several years. While on tour with The Wailers Band opening for the band Santana, the great world famous guitarist, Carlos Santana, tracked Vin down backstage and insistently told him that he truly has that deep spiritual “tone” putting him in the company of John Coltrane & Miles Davis. In 2004, Vin transitioned over to The Skatalites band. He had actually performed live with them at the age of 16 in the summer of 1965 after Don Drummond was no longer able to perform but before they had officially disbanded. He now rightfully took his place filling the trombone chair for which his honorary nickname demanded. Don D Junior was representing for the original Jamaican trombone genius Don Drummond as they toured the world in the new millennium. Anyone in the audience for those world tours would have witnessed that Vin is also a phenomenal dancer who could truly illustrate Jamaican music and culture through his unique moves & style!
His earlier (mostly) solo album projects include 1975’s Musical Bones, 1979’s Way Over Yonder, 1980’s Ska Fantastic by The Ska-Ville band featuring Mike Rose & Vin Gordon (Don Drummond Jr.), 1989’s The Melody Moods Of Vin Gordon Don Drummond Junior and 1997’s Unhinged by The Coyabalites. In 2008, Vin reformed the original Bob Marley & The Wailers international horn section to deliver the album Gorden In The Garden. Most recently, in the midst of several UK single releases, he brings us 2018’s Sounds Almighty (with British saxman Nat Birchall) and 2019’s African Shores. These two albums were recorded in a London studio filled with vintage recording equipment allowing them to authentically create the sounds of these wonderfully textured instrumental sets of original compositions. Alongside these albums, Vin is still periodically joining The Skatalites touring band as well as leading his own group, “Vin Gordon & The Real Rock Band” in London. He also performs on Julian Marley’s latest album As I Am which currently has been nominated for a 2020 Grammy award.
As the years have passed, we continue to increasingly realize Vin’s huge contributions to Reggae music as he leads the way in defining the role of the trombone in Jamaica’s world renowned music. Trombonists from all over the globe have been trying their best to emulate Trommy’s confident, soulful sound for decades, transforming Vin Gordon from being an obscure unsung hero to a massively respected elder statesman of one of the greatest musical art forms that the world has known!

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