The People That Time Forgot: Jake McLaughlin

In this photo taken a few years before he died, Jake McLaughlin plays an old lap steel guitar, while posing with a drawing he made of country music star Hank Snow. 

There is a very close legacy link between country music and the Cayman Islands. Before 1976, there were no radio stations in Cayman. Music was broadcast in homes on record players, old-fashioned Victrolas or on jukeboxes in bars and clubs. The few tourists back then found it peculiar hearing fiddle, steel guitar and a banjo on a tropical island rather than the customary calypso, reggae and ska. 

Before the rise of tourism and banking, the main source of making a living in the Cayman Islands for most men was turtling, farming or working as mariners on huge ships that sailed the globe. Oil tankers, container vessels and even military craft preferred Caymanian seafarers. Often, the men would be away from home and family for months (sometimes years) at a time; it was a lonely occupation. 

To pass time, the sailors would listen to the powerful U.S. radio stations broadcasting country music, such as WSM in Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry. The tear-jerking songs fused with loneliness and a vast boundless ocean could weaken the hearts of the manliest of men. When they made port in some distant land, the sailors would purchase vinyl recordings of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow or Kitty Wells. Their record collections would eventually end up on Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac at the bottom end of a needle in some Wurlitzer jukebox. 

Bracker Jake McLaughlin, known as Uncle Jake to those who knew him, spent many years at sea and later worked with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. He was such a country music fan that he not only purchased the albums, he also drew pictures of his favorite singers and sang their songs while playing his lap steel guitar. He passed away in 2011. 

This image is from the book ‘The People Time Forgot’ by G. Nowak. The book is available at the National Museum and all proceeds go toward museum projects and programs. 

Jake McLaughlin - Photo: George Nowak
Jake McLaughlin – Photo: George Nowak