by Howard Campbell
[Kingston, Jamaica] – Filberto “Fil” Callender, an unheralded musician who played on some of reggae’s biggest hit songs, died here May 27 at age 75. Robbie Lyn, his colleague of over 50 years, confirmed his death.
Callender was born in Panama but migrated to Jamaica with his family during the 1950s. In the 1960s, he was resident drummer at Studio One in Kingston where he played on songs like the seminal Satta Masa Gana by The Abyssinians, considered reggae’s anthem.
He also played on Nanny Goat, a 1968 song by Larry and Alvin some musicologists regard as the first reggae song. But in a December, 2014 interview with the French website, unitedreggae.com, Callender dismissed that notion.
“I played on some songs that they consider as reggae. My opinion is those songs weren’t reggae, like Nanny Goat. I’m straying a little, but the drums that I play on Nanny Goat, it wasn’t reggae, it was rocksteady,” he said.
Winston Francis’ Mr. Fix It, Cuss Cuss by Lloyd Robinson, the instrumental Hot Milk by Jackie Mittoo and Cornel Campbell’s Queen of The Minstrel are some of the other classic songs featuring Callender’s patterns.
Callender switched to guitar in the early 1970s when he co-founded The In Crowd. A band that included his younger brother Tony Lewis on bass and Lyn playing keyboards. He wrote, and played guitar, on some of their most popular hits. Hits including His Majesty is Coming and We Play Reggae Music.
During the 1980s, Fil Callender retired from secular music and became a Christian. He was awarded the Order of Distinction, Jamaica’s sixth-highest honor, in 2013.