Guitarist Jerome Hines (aka "Jah Jerry") was a seminal figure in the evolution of Jamaican ska: as a member of the legendary Skatalites and as a much in-demand session player, his signature syncopated approach was instrumental in forging the elemental fusion of calypso, mento, and jazz that reinvented the music of the Caribbean, paving the way for the emergence of rocksteady and ultimately reggae. Born and raised in the Kingston ghetto dubbed Jones Town, Hines did not begin playing guitar until age 22, learning the rudiments of the instrument from his blind father. He later studied under the pioneering Jamaican musician Ernest Ranglin, who recommended Hines for his first professional gigs and subsequently joined him in then-unknown singer Prince Buster's All Stars. Hines made his recorded debut with the Drumbago All Stars, cutting the instrumental "Count Boysie Special" for the Count Boysie sound system. As Prince Buster shifted his focus to production, Hines emerged as a prolific session contributor, most notably performing on singer Derrick Morgan's landmark singles "They Got to Go" and "Shake a Leg," both considered key building blocks in the development of the ska sound. He was also summoned for sessions helmed by production icons like Duke Reid, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, Lyndon Pottinger, and J.J. Johnson. His choppy, rhythmic strumming, with the beat of his thumb emphasizing the second and fourth beats of every measure, is unmistakable. "That style of guitar, Prince Buster say, was the way gears change on a car, and I play the guitar like a man driving an automatic car," Hines later said. "All the other guitarists never play it like me."
Hines joined alto saxophonist Roland Alphonso and trumpeter Johnny "Dizzy" Moore in the nascent Skatalites in the spring of 1964. Subsequently abetted by Jamaican legends like keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, trombonist Don Drummond, and tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, the group made its live debut in June at Rae Town's Hi Hat Club, quickly landing a residency at Kingston's Bournemouth Beach Club. The Skatalites were also the house band at Dodd's celebrated Studio One, playing on untold numbers of sessions in the months to follow. Their unmistakable sound, in many respects a deeply idiosyncratic and localized interpretation of the American R&B aesthetic, is perhaps best represented on classic instrumentals including "The Guns of Navarone," "Confucius," and "Eastern Standard Time." The Skatalites' influence is as vast as their original existence is brief. While his bandmates performed a New Year's Eve 1964 gig at the club La Parisienne, the troubled Drummond fatally stabbed his common-law wife Marguerita, their sometimes vocalist. After his arrest Drummond was detained in Bellevue Sanitarium. The remaining Skatalites struggled on without him for a few more months before splitting in mid-1965. Hines spent more than a decade effectively retired from music. In 1981, trombonist Rico Rodriguez lured him back into action for the LP That Man Is Forward, and two years later he joined a resurrected Skatalites lineup during their performance at Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash festival. The rapturous reception afforded the reunion led to a 1984 comeback LP, Return of the Big Guns, as well as a U.S. tour. Hines nevertheless begged out of subsequent Skatalites projects, and spent the remaining years of his life at home in Jones Town. He died August 13, 2007, at age 80.