The Skatalites bring a bit of Jamaica to The Blue Note in Napa California April 28 2023



On Friday, April 28, 2023, I made the quick trek over to Napa California and The Blue Note Napa. The Blue Note is an intimate club that features gourmet farm to table cuisine and world class live music.  Downtown Napa was hoppin’ and in the center of it all, the Skatalites were preparing for their second show of the night. I missed the first show due to work commitments so I was glad they had a later show the same night.

The Skatalites are a band that have been around a LONG time. First starting in 1964 in Kingstown Jamaica, they are pioneers of Jamaican Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. They have worked with well known acts such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Toots and The Maytals. They have gone on to inspire bands such as The Specials, The Police, Hepcat and No Doubt as well as influencing all the 2-Tone and Third wave ska bands we all know and love. To say this band has a history, is an understatement to say the least.

As the Skatalites hit the stage, I could tell something, or rather someone, was missing. Doreen Shaffer wasn’t there and I later learned that due to her not getting around to well because of knee issues, she has bowed out of touring. However, even without the matriarch, the rest of the band put on a stellar show. Starting with a countdown from 10 to 1 the audience counted with them and when we hit 1, everyone yelled “Freedom!” and they went right into “Freedom Sounds”.  One thing that always stands out, that horn section, the horns are a predominant sound through out all their music and tonight, the horn section was on point.

 While most of their set was instrumental, we did get three songs with Larry McDonald moving from congas to vocals for “Iron Bar,” “I’m In the Mood For Ska,” and “I Wish You Love”. After that we got two songs from Sparrow Thompson “Nobody Can Be You” and the “Skamedly”. The entire set though, had people dancing in the isles and in their seats. There is something about that music that makes people move.  

 Before we knew it, we were counting down from 10 again to bring in the reprise of “Freedom Sounds” to end the show. After I packed up my gear, I went over to the stage to talk to Val Douglas about Doreen Shaffer not being there and ended up helping him down the steps of the stage. He had played the entire show with a pinched nerve in his neck and could hardly move. When he was playing on stage, no one was the wiser to the situation. We ended up having a great conversation for a few minutes and with a fist bump, I was off for the night. I always find it amazing how when the moment hits, nothing matters but the music. I do hope it eases up for him and he can enjoy the rest of the tour.


The Skatalites are:

Doreen Shaffer – vocals

Val Douglas – bass

Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson – drums

Ken Stewart – keyboards

Aurelien Metsch aka Natty Frenchy – guitar

Anant Pradhan – saxophone

Vin “Don Drummond Junior” Gordon – trombone

James Smith – trumpet

Larry McDonald – percussion and vocals




1). Freedom Sounds

2). Musical Stone

3). Addis Ababa

4). Garden of Love

5). Christine Keiler

6). Iron Bar (Larry McDonald Vocals)

7). I’m In the Mood for Ska (Larry McDonald Vocals)

8). I Wish You Love (Larry McDonald Vocals)

9). Nobody Can Be You (Sparrow Thompson Vocals)

10). Skamedly: Show Me How (To Milk a Cow) / The Wings of a Dove / Oil in My Lamp / Amen (Sparrow Thompson Vocals)

11). Rock Fort Rock

12). Conga, Bass and Drum Jam

13). Real Rock

14). Skalloween

15). Latin Goes Ska

16). Guns of Navarone

17). Phoenix City

18). Freedom Sounds (reprise)





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