Trojan
 

From the Duke Reid Group to the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, from ghetto studios to the stage of 'Top Of The Pops', from the heat of Kingston to the less inspiring climate of suburban London, it's been a long musical and geographical journey for Emmanuel 'Rico' Rodriguez. During his 40 plus year musical odyssey, one thing has remained constant: Rico's trombone sound - rugged, eloquent, uncompromising and rarely more than two steps from the blues. This album, released to commemorate his 70th birthday, is a celebration of the music that this most respected of trombonists has made over the years.

Rico was born in Kingston on October 17th 1934 and was educated at the famed Alpha Boys School, a remarkable institution in which Catholic nuns took in wayward youths and transformed them into accomplished musicians.

Though he wanted to learn the saxophone, he ended up mastering the trombone. In the 1950s, after leaving school, he began playing on stage, entering and often winning amateur talent contests. During this time, he also embraced the Rastafarian faith, a religion that was still to gain widespread acceptance throughout the island.

He was in his mid-twenties before he made his recording debut, simply because there was no recording industry to speak of in Jamaica until about 1958; when he did, it was a memorable first session, as he played on Theophilus Beckford's classic New Orleans-derived shuffle 'Easy Snapping', recorded for sound system owner and up-and-coming producer, Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd.

Joining Dodd's session band, Clue J & The Blues Masters, alongside bassist Cluett Johnson, drummer Arkland 'Drumbago' Parks, saxman Roland Alphnso and pianist Theophilus Beckford, Rico added trombone to many pre-Ska sides by early Jamaican stars like the Jiving Juniors and Cornell Campbell, as well as to fiery instrumentals such as 'Silky'.

He was obviously in demand, as by the early sixties he was stepping into the studio for other producers, such as Prince Buster, Lloyd 'Matador' Daley and Dodd's great rival, Duke Reid - which is where we find him at the beginning of this selection.

The driving R&B shuffles that he laid down with Duke Reid's Group, such as our rolling opener 'Magic', reflected the American discs by Joe Houston, Harold Land, Willis Jackson and many more hornmen who were popular at sound system dances of the era. However, 'Duck Soup', one of two completely different Ska instrumentals named after the 1933 Marx Brothers film (Baba Brooks made the other one four years later) is one of the earliest Jamaican recordings to have a Rastafarian flavour, thanks to the burru drumming. The same theme is reflected in the title 'Blues From The Hills', probably a reference to the Wareika Hills that were home to many Rastas.

In 1962, Rico emigrated to England, where he lost little time in hooking up with a record shop owner called Sonny Roberts. Jamaican-born Roberts was in the process of setting up Planetone, Britain's first West Indian-owned record label. At Planetone's rudimentary studio at 108, Cambridge Road, London NW6, our man cut a series of earthy instrumentals as well as backing other UK-based West Indian acts, such as the Marvels. Indeed, his appropriately titled 'London Here I Come' was the labels first official release (the B-side 'Midnight In Ethiopia' was a further avowal of his Rastafarian faith). We've also included perhaps Rico's rarest, and certainly one of his best Planetone sides, 'Hitch & Scramble'. Its recording quality means that it's hard to tell whether the leader is Rico playing in a high register, or a trumpet with a mute - but despite the home-made production values, the energy of this music still rocks out. His best kown waxing for the label is 'Youths Boogie', which we've omitted because it's a harmonica-led piece most of the way, with the leader's trombone stepping in only for the last couple of choruses.

In the mid-sixties, Rico was in demand for session work, playing with British R&B man Georgie Fame, UK-based American soul singer J.J. Jackson and the mighty Prince Buster amongst others. In 1967, he made a series of exemplary Rocksteady singles for South London producer, Sir Clancy Collins, on which he was reunited with trumpeter Satch Dixon who had also played on some of the Prince Buster tracks. After cutting 'Orange Street', named after the Tin Pan Alley of Kingston, for the obscure Charles Reid, he moved on to work with another South London producer, Joe Mansano. Mansano, proprietor of Brixton's Joe's Record Shack, would later have his own Joe and Arrow labels, but Rico's sides were leased to Trojan's Blue Cat subsidiary in 1968.

'The Bullet' in particular, with its rasping and aggressive tune over a heavy beat somewhere between Rocksteady and Reggae, found favour amongst the emerging Skinhead movement. He followed it with 'Return Of The Bullet', as you would, and the earthy backyard sound of 'Friendly Persuasion'.

For the next couple of years, Rico must have been hyperactive. He cut numerous singles and several LPs as leader, and probably even more as a sideman. His first port of call in 1969 was Philligree Productions, run by Australian sound engineer Graeme Goodall. Goodall had been instrumental in the early development of the Jamaican recording industry, having helped Ken Khouri open his Federal studio in Kingston where he subsequently engineered countless sessions. We've included five of 'Mr. goody's' productions, the best known being 'The Lion speaks' which found its way into thousands of skinheads' homes as the flip-side of Andy Capp's 'Pop A Top'. Far less well known are 'Psychedelic Island' and 'Nyah Serenade', both recently discovered amongst the Philligree master tapes; these full length versions have never been issued before.

Also in 1969, Mr. Rodriguez cut his first LP for Trojan Records, who assigned him to staff producer, Robert 'Dandy' Thompson - a case of prolific sessioneer meeting prolific producer. With the Rudies providing the clean, well-organised rhythms that were always the hallmark of the Dandy style, our man cut the Blow Your Horn album, most of which we've included here (Dandy couldn't resist bursting into song on a couple of tracks, so those aren't included on this set). the highlights include 'Caribbean Serenade', with duetting trombone and trumpet imparting a carnival feel and the chugging, skinhead-friendly 'Proud One'. Also from Rico's short-lived sojourn with Dandy comes 'Blues', originally the B-side of Tony Tribe's hit 'Red Red Wine'. and a rework of a tune that Rico cut in a Ska style for Randy's in 1962.

Disc two kicks off with more Joe Mansano productions, which, alongside tracks featuring DJ, Dice The Boss and a few earlier recordings, such as 'The Bullet', made up Rico's second Trojan LP of 1969, 'Brixton Cat', a set originally released simply crediting Joe's All Stars. Tracks like the reverberating 'Rico's Torpedo', the slithering 'Poison Snake', the exuberantly tropical 'Funky Reggae' and the rework of the Blues Busters' Ska-era hit 'Behold' are from these sessions.

That year, 1969, saw the sad death of Jamaica's other great trombonist of the decade, Don Drummond. So, as if he wasn't busy enough already, Rico teamed up with visiting producer, Bunny Lee to cut the Rico In reggae Land LP, subtitled 'Paying Tribute To Don Drummond'. This was evidently a carefully planned release, for Bunny Lee had recorded the rhythm tracks in Jamaica and brought them to London for Rico to add his trombone leads. We've included the LP in its entirety here; it's not a complete set f covers of Drummond tunes, though 'Green Island' and the Ska adaptation of Stan Kenton's theme tune 'Peanut Vendor', were part of the Don's repertoire with the Skatalites. the other tracks include some oldies such as Acker Bilk's 1962 international chart-topper 'stranger On The Shore' and Stevie Wonder's 1966 hit, 'Place In The Sun', plus a clutch of originals.

As the 1970s dawned, Rico teamed up with producers Shrowder, Bryan and Sinclair, then billing themselves as Bush Productions. Backed by the Des All Stars, he recorded some right corkers such as the R&B based 'Rock Back', the more militant 'Going West' with its stabbing unison horns, a Rocksteady revamp of Justin Hinds' 'Once A Man' and the retro Ska of 'One Eyed Giant'. 'Waterloo Rock', a Big Shot single cut for part-time producer Lloyd Campbell, who apparently worked at an afro wig shop during the week, brings this feast of music from Reggae's premier trombone man to a close.

It certainly didn't bring Rico's career to a close. In the three decades since then, he has toured as a member of Undivided and Jazz Jamaica, released acclaimed albums like Man From Wareika and Jama Rico. He also became an unofficial member of the Specials/the Special AKA, with whom he cut a series of UK chart hits from 1979 to 1984, while also playing on at least on other Top Ten hit from this time (some readers may remember him smiling shyly on the stage of 'Top Of The Pops' after blowing the solo on Paul Young's 'Love Of The Common People').

His credits as a sideman are both numerous and varied: try Jim Capaldi, Toots & The Maytals, John Martyn, Burning Spear and Kirsty McColl for starters. After a spell back in Jamaica staying with his Rasta brethren, he's back and has been for some years an integral part of Jools Holland's famed and excellent Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

So hail Rico on the occasion of his 70th birthday. There's life in the old 'bone yet.

MIKE ATHERTON

Magic - Duke Reid's All Stars
Blues From The Hills - Duke Reid's All Stars
Duck Soup - Drumbago's Orchestra
London Here I Come - Rico's Combo
Hitch And Scramble - Rico's Combo
Orange Street - Rico & The Rudies
The Bullet - Rico & The Rhythm Aces
Return Of The Bullet - Rico & The Rhythm Aces
Friendly Persuasion - Rico & The Rhythm Aces
Psychedelic Island - Rico & The Rudies
Nyah Serenade (Brixton Serenade) - Rico & The Rudies
Rico Special - Rico & The Rudies
Peace - Rico & The Rudies
The Lion Speaks - Rico & The Rudies
Blues - Rico & The Rudies
Jumping The Gun - Rico & The Rudies
Lazy Boy - Rico & The Rudies
Quando Quando - Rico & The Rudies
Reco's Message - Rico & The Rudies
Niyah Man - Rico & The Rudies
Caribbean Serenade - Rico & The Rudies
Session Begin - Rico & The Rudies
Biafra - Rico & The Rudies
The Proud One - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Hey Jude - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Reco's Torpedo - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Poison Snake - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Funky Reggae, Part 1 - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Behold - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Honky - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Hot Line - Rico & Joe's All Stars
Tribute To Don Drummond (Peanut Vendor) - Rico
Anancy Rumba - Rico
Rainbow Into The Rio Mino (aka Green Island) - Rico
Sweet Chariot - Rico
Tom Jones - Rico
Scar Face - Rico
Trombone Man - Rico
Japanese Invasion - Rico
Top Of The Class - Rico
Black Milk - Rico
Stranger On The Shore - Rico
Place In The Sun - Rico
Blue Mountain - Rico & The Rudies
Going West - Rico & Des All Stars
Rock Back - Rico & Des All Stars
One Eyed Giant - Rico & Des All Stars
(Let's) Work Together - Rico & Des All Stars
Once A Man - Rico & Des All Stars
Hammer Rock (Hammer Reggae) - Rico & Des All Stars
Walk With Des (Further Look) - Rico & Des All Stars
Waterloo Rock - Rico

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