Reggae legend Desi Jones dazzles with Skool after success with Chalice

By Carmen Glover


Desi Jones smiles with satisfaction as he plays the drums with an expertise that has earned him industry respect and clout.

The rich, pulsating, vibes emitted by drums fascinated legendary musician Desi Jones from his early childhood years growing up on the beautiful island of Jamaica so his progression from student, to inspiration, to teacher, has been a natural development. Along the way, Jones has toured the globe, treating fans to his flawless command of the drums.

“They used to call me boom boom when I was a child,” Jones recalled, laughing as he described how he energetically demonstrated his interest in the instrument during his formative years. “At age 9, I started playing the drums at the Institute of Jamaica. I used to play the conga drums that you play with your hands but after playing for a while I played with sticks at age 10 or 11.”


Desi Jones

As he was approaching his teenaged years, Jones played with the Salvation Army and other groups, honing his skills. By the time he turned 13 he was playing with Time Dimension, a group that was composed of teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 16. All the time, Jones was perfecting his craft while waiting for his one big moment, which came as unexpectedly as spot shower on a steaming hot day.
“In 1976, I played Carifesta. When the drummer for the Sonny Bradshaw band crashed, Dean Frasier, who was 19 and played the saxophone for the band, told Sonny about me. They hired me and that was my first professional job,” he said. After gaining a wealth of experience, Jones left Sonny Bradshaw in 1980 to join forces with other musicians, forming the group Chalice. The experience, from his recollection, was pivotal in propelling him to new musical heights.

late sonny bradshaw
Late bandleader Sonny Bradshaw gave Desi Jones his first professional gig.

“The group lived on the North coast for three to six months and we practised and practised,” he said. The dedication and discipline paid off in ways that the group members could not have envisioned. Chalice released its first album “Blasted” in 1982 and it was a resounding success, boasting three hits, “Good to be there,” which dominated the charts and was on the lips of the young and old alike, “I Still Love You,” and “I’m Trying.”

The group rode the wave of success brought on by their phenomenal debut album and soon they were the band of choice to back international acts. “Whenever they brought overseas acts like the Manhattans to Jamaica, we opened for them,” Jones said.
Paul Kastick of Groove Galore Records who co-produced The Voice’s Tessaane Chin’s hit “Hideaway” and has been the longtime drummer for Maxi Priest recalled being so impressed by Jones’ stellar skills on “Blasted” that it had him mesmerized with the possibilities that Jones’ skills caused him to contemplate. “Desi Jones revolutionized the music,” he said of Jones’ drumming talents on “Good to be There.”

dean frasier
Exceptional saxophonist Dean Frasier, at age 19, brought Des Jones to the attention of bandleader Sonny Bradshaw, who hired Jones for his first professional appearance.

Jones credits Bradshaw, arranger and producer Peter Ashbourne who enjoyed a long career creating jingles for commercials and Cedrick Brooks of United Africa as his three main teachers regarding the nuances of playing in bands. On the other hand, he lauds Tony Smith of The Mighty Titans, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, star of the iconic movie “Rockers” and Calvin Mckenzie of Inner Circle as his influences with mastering the drums. Inner Circle is a reggae band that was formed in Jamaica in 1968 with lead singer Jacob Miller. The band broke up when Miller dies but re-formed in 1986 and had the monster hit “Bad Boys” the long-standing theme song for the television show “Cops.”

These days, Jones plays with Chalice “on and off” because the group has scaled back its touring schedule.

“I stopped playing with Chalice in 1988 and formed Skool, a backing band,” Jones explained, of his scaled back interactions with the famous group, which lost its lead singer, Kevin Roper, to cancer in January 2013. But even as his musical repertoire has evolved, Jones has clung to the belief that it is important for experienced talents to pave the way for a new generation in every way possible and provide a template for them.

Desi Jones with Chalice
Desi Jones (second from left), with Chalice, the group with which he had his first taste of success.

“What I try to do is hire a lot of young players for my shows that,’ he said. In an effort to give back to the upcoming musicians, Jones make an effort to share his talents in other venues as well. “At the Edna Manley School of Music I judge contests,” he said. Most significantly, Jones has been a barometer for his son, Joshua Jones, who also attended the Edna Manley School of Music and plays bass for reggae sensation Chronixx, with whom Joshua is currently on tour. Jones has also formed an alliance with Jazz extraordinaire Monty Alexander and base player Glenn Bunning as he expands his musical scope.

“I came back from tour last week in the Netherlands with Luciana and Mutabaruka,” he said, explaining that the tour, Reggae Sundance, featured Alexander and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, because of his preference to “back up the veterans.”
Jones reflected on the last 15 years when the “drum computer thing was the craze until after a while they realized that the live drum is the best thing so now we are getting back to the acoustic sound.”


As his musical journey has come full circle, Jones has seen the transformation across the entertainment landscape.

“When I was on tour recently all of the musicians were students or graduates of the Jamaica School of Music. Everything is live again and it’s only in some genres like hip hop that they use computerized drums,” he said. “Every other genre has gone back to the old style of music. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh music doesn’t get old because of that, the live, acoustic sound that you hear in the songs.”

While Jones feels good that music has come full circle with a greater reliance on live music, he is savvy enough to realize that he has to adapt to a new way of earning as a musician in the new age of free downloads that sabotage musicians’ desire to earn from their craft.

Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace drummer extraordinaire and star of the movie "Rockers."

Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace drumming phenomenon and star of the movie “Rockers,” is one of the entertainers who taught Desi Jones the finer points of mastering the drums.

“The main way to earn money nowadays is from real skills so your talent as a live player is crucial. When you make a record you don’t make money from it. Your record is just to promote you but the money is made from touring so your talent has to be there,” he said. As he examines the changing trends on the musical landscape, Jones offers a few words of advice to fledgling musicians:

“Prepare yourself for your big moment and know your instrument,” he said is the first lesson to learn. It is also important, he said to “play every show you get and do free shows to get exposure.”

Jones is comfortable with the trajectory of his career and splits his time between touring, producing and other projects. “It’s hard to quantify,” he said of the degree to which he does each, but he has worked in various genres including gospel. “I’ve produced quite a few CDs for Carlene Davis, Myrna Hague and others.” As Jones continues to do what he loves, his passion for the music is as unmistakable as his commitment to producing superior music that thrills, entertains and has the power to last a lifetime.–