There are few hornsmen in Jamaican music who get such respect as trombone player extrordinarie, Rico Rodriguez. Essentially a jazz musician like many from his generation of 1950's players, he took those influences, particularly from his teacher and first inspiration, the late great Don Drummond, and added his vibe to what was soon to be called ska as one of many session-men on the Kingston scene, thus contributing to the future development of the music. He cut a landmark album for Island Records in the mid seventies, 'Man From Wareika', and got a whole new young audience as a member of The Specials during the '2 Tone' nu-ska boom in the late seventies/early eighties. For the past sixteen years Rico has been member of Jools Holland's Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, but also plays out with his own band. He was recently awarded an MBE for his outstanding contributions to the music in Britain. My thanks to Rico, Clive Chin, Donovan Phillips, Carlton Hines, Tim P, and Steve Barrow.
Q: First, you have Cuban roots on your father's side I think, did you spend any time there at all during your childhood, or you basically grew up in Jamaica?
A: In Jamaica, man.
Q: You have a lot of relatives over there still?
A: Well, I had my mother, but my mother died a long time ago, yunno. And me sister did deh inna America so me no have no family in Jamaica too tough.
Q: And the Cuban connection?
A: No, no. I used to see my father when I was a little boy, yunno, but when I grow up it was with my mother. Him no there, no.
Q: Where in Kingston did you grow up?
A: Me grow inna the West Kingston, western Kingston.
Q: What part?
A: Matthews Lane side.
Q: Where exactly is that, close to Jones Town?
A: No, that is west, West Kingston. West Kingston by the waterfall (the fountain at William Grant Park, a reference/meeting spot at the time). Yeah.
Q: So when did you actually go up to the hills, Wareika Hills?
A: When I was in a... when I was in the teens.
Q: How come you ended up there?
A: Well my friend used to play trombone, my very good friend, my tutor, Don Drummond. And he used to go up there, so I used to follow him up there, y'know.
Q: When was this, like mid fifties or something?
A: Late fifties.
Q: Late fifties, OK.
A: Yeah, yeah. That's how I follow him up and I jus' start stayin' up in Wareika Hills with him an' studied music with him, yunno. We listened to the music of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, Count Ossie. That was my regular movement every day, to Wareika Hills, playing with the musicians up there.
Rico with Prince Buster (early 1960s)
Q: When did you meet Drummond?
A: Don was in school, he was my teacher in school, and we lived about three streets away, together, yunno. Like he live on one street and I live about two streets away from him, so... He always ask me why I go home every night, yunno, why don't I come an' stay with him in Wareika Hill an' play some music, so that's how I met him, started stayin' out with him.
Q: So you met him at school.
A: I met him... we were friends from Alpha (Boys School), because he was famous and he was always working, yunno. And I want to find him, so findin' him up in Wareika Hill I decide to stay up there with him. Both of us come from Allman Town, livin' with our mothers, and I discover in the daytime I don't see him, so I ask him where him is, so him seh him always go up to Wareika Hills.
Q: How do you remember him now, as far as character, personality, etc?
A: He was a very quiet, a very quiet man, yunno, quiet man an' really into studying music and writing. But he was a very... quiet, quiet person, him never used to play football or anyt'ing like that. Me used to play football, maybe he look at football as too rough a game he don't play, y'know.
Q: He didn't have a family up there to take care of?
A: Who, Don? No, no. Don had his mother. But he was one of the best players in the country, so everybody was interested in him very much. Sometimes he plays with different bands, but when I catch him up in Wareika Hills he was just a regular man stayin' in Wareika Hills, playing music.
Q: How come you ended up in Alpha Boys School, why your mother sent you there?
A: Well, maybe I was giving her a hard time really to get into school, so eventually she send me there. Kingston is a rough place, yunno.
Q: It is.
A: So really, my mother didn't feel good that I was in Kingston, y'know, so it would be better if I would be there, at Alpha.
Q: What was your impression of Alpha?
A: Eh? It was a bit rough, yunno. Many fights. You fight, you'd have a lot of fights, people don't like you so you fight all the time.
Q: OK, so you were a bad boy in...
A: Well, yes, yes. You'd have to fight.
Q: But in those days it was either fists or a knife, not guns, thankfully.
A: Yeah, well, we no have guns yet, jus' fistfight them, yunno. Yeah.
Alpha Boys School, Kingston JA
Q: Right. So Alpha in general was a pretty strict place. You had Iggy there, Sister Iggy.
A: Yeah. Because Alpha was a place like, in the morning you get up an' you'd get a lot of drillin', yunno, in the mornings. Then you'd do music in the morning, and then they have breakfast time. But Alpha was always a place where you'd have to get up early in the morning and excercise. A kinda drillin' like, in the early mornin' until breakfast time, as well as music.
Q: So you had to learn a trade there, that was part of the schedule.
A: Well, I was learnin' printin' and bookbinding, and sometimes they used to have an agricultural section. So we used to do... for the eight hours a day, we used to go an' do a bit of gardenin' in the morning, or school in the morning, and music in the afternoon. So you only get half-day of each, the t'ing you're doing, yunno. It wasn't a whole day education or nutten, jus' half-day.
Q: What was the cause that you chose the 'blowing in the wind' instrument, it was only because of Don's influence?
A: Well, Drummond was me friend, like. Me always strive fe get inna the band, yunno, but it never happen so easy to... it took a long time. But when them tek me in the band, I never even get to play a trombone, they used to give me cornette to play, and euphonium. Miscellaneous instruments I used to play.
Q: What type of music did you listen to in those days?
A: We used to listen a lot of Cuban, Cuban music used to come on the Jamaican radio all the time, it was Cuban music and...
Q: Things like merengue.
A: Yes, and American music as well. What we used to play in school was directly classical, European classical music. So that's all we used to do, we study scales an' hearing and classical music. That's all.
Q: How do you look back on those days at Alpha now, are you thankful for the opportunity you got and the education itself, or there's not too fond memories of being there, as the institution it was?
A: Yeah, well, I'm very thankful for what I got from Alpha. There were times when I really wasn't happy in Alpha, but...
Q: Because of...?
A: Well, different t'ings, yunno, punishments and whatever, because maybe I used to go out a street every day, and I used to go by the seaside every day and go swim, an' sometime when I come back in me head wet so they thought I was there, so...
A: Yeah, yeah - discipline, strong. The kinda discipline with dem people fe learn music really good, yunno. So I'm happy for that trainin' I got in Alpha, studyin' for life in other words.
Q: I learned somewhere that when you used to practice with Don, if you hit the wrong note or whatever, didn't stay focused enough, he would sometimes slap you in the face.
A: He was very... the way I woulda call it, Don Drummond is a perfectionist, yeah?
A: And I was so young at that time I wasn't even sure if I even could get 7th position on my trombone, y'know. So I woulda say he was a stric', stric' teacher, a strict teacher. Because, he have to teach me, and if I don't show enough results to the bandleader, the bandmaster, the bandmaster would go at him, so I have to be forward with what he's showing me. So when the bandmaster aks me I'm on my feet and tell him the right t'ing, yunno.
Q: But Don never got into teaching at Alpha, wasn't a 'teacher' as such, he was just a student there as well, wasn't he?
A: No, him was a student as the rest of us, but he was very bright. He used to play... he also play the euphonium very good. As I say, he was one of the best players in school.
Q: I think he used to play with a few of the big jazz orchestras of the time, like the Eric Deans Orchestra.
A: Yeah man, when in school he used to go out an' play with the Eric Deans Orchestra, as well as Reuben Alexander. Reuben Alexander used to play with the Deans band too. And Blu Buccannon, they used to play with the Eric Deans while they were still in school, yunno. So they used to go an' play and come back to school. So when they leave school they were with the Deans band.
Q: But did you ever play with any of the big bands at that time?
A: Yeah man, I play with the big jazz band of Jamaica, I was playin' in that band alongside Drummond and Rupert Anderson and Carlos Malcolm.
(left to right) Rico Rodriguez, Don Drummond, Carlos Malcolm & Rupert Anderson
Q: What was the name of the band again?
A: The Jamaica Jazz Orchestra. Yeah. They give me a fourth part to play, fourth trombone.
Q: Did you do that a lot?
A: Yes, whenever they want fe do that show they always go to the Carib Theater, or the Ward Theater. I did a few shows with them like that then. And University College of the West Indies, Mona (Heights), yeah, we had sessions up there.
Q: How do you look back on the days you spent with him now? Do you think Jamaica has kept his memory alive really well?
A: Yeah man, Drummond is a big name, even after his death he's really recognised very well. How you say, from all over the world he's very respected, and in Jamaica very much. You talk about trombone and Don Drummond, y'know wha' I mean. He is a famous trombone player.
Q: Regarding your style of playing, how much did Don influence you, or you pretty much inspired each other after a while?
A: Well, I think I was his closest friend, he plays in bands with a lot of other musicians but I live in the same city like him, Kingston. Myself an' Drummond were very good friends, we are very good friends.
Q: But in playing trombone, do you think you have a lot of his tone and approach in your playing?
A: Yes, I think I have the tone, I think I have his tone, yeah? I think I have a little of his style, but I don't think I am a hundred per cent Don Drummond, y'know.
Q: Did you further your studies in music later on?
A: Well, from I leave Alpha, life wasn't easy any more, OK? There wasn't much work for musicians, so I had a vacuum in the music time, I didn't get to play for years and years. But wherever there was a trombone, wherever I go and there was a trombone, I used to have a little blow on the instrument. But I'm always among musicians.
Q: You spent a lot of time after Alpha up at Wareika Hills?
A: Yes, up at Wareika Hills, and there was instruments around, so I always play. So I always kept busy. Not really earning money out of it, but just practising, y'know, I do a lot of that.
Article: Peter I|
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