The Tradewinds Caribbean blend

Sometimes in the middle writing column A, I will suddenly be caught by a thought for column B (it happens the same way in writing songs) so that although I admit some weeks it’s a close call, in fact one never runs out of topics.  Recently, for example, in responding to a column that made reference an episode with Tradewinds at Kwakani, the veteran journalist Hubert Campbell (from Guyana Graphic days here) suggested that the diverse make-up of the band over the years was an unusual thing and that I should address that issue for the pan-Caribbean condition it is. While that notion may have been somewhere vaguely at the back of my mind, Hubert’s comment brought it at once into focus in the sense that the band is really its own Caribbean mosaic.  Looking at those early Caribbean groups, the Dragonaires were almost all Jamaicans; Troubadours and Merrymen from Barbados, almost all Bajans;  Kalyan all Trinis; Swinging Stars all Dominican; G. I. Brass, all St Kitts; TruTones all St Lucian. By comparison, from 1967, the Tradewinds, at various times, has included Clive Rosteing (Trinidad), Terry Dyal (Trinidad), Jeff Japal (Grenada); Harry Cupid (Barbados); Louis Flores(Trinidad); Jim Garraway (Dominica); Reggie Paul (Guyana);  Brian Anderson (St Vincent); Maurice Pierre (St Lucia); Geoffrey King (Guyana); Richard Terry (Cayman); and Burmon Scott (Cayman).  Tradewinds is truly a Caribbean creation – with songs about Trinidad, St Vincent, Barbados, Dominica, Bequia, St Lucia, Cayman and of course Guyana.

While it is true that I always concentrated on the particular focus of original Caribbean music for the group, I saw the importance of giving each musician the freedom, as occasions came along, to play what he felt, to bring his own flavour or interpretation to the recordings and to continue to do in live shows what had originated in sessions in various studios. In the overall, also, each of these artistes had musical strengths of their own – Clive Rosteing’s calypso vocals and strong drumming; Terry Dyal’s rock steady rhythm guitar and later bass work; Jeff’s natural musical taste on keyboards, and Joe Brown’s reputation among Caribbean musicians for his innovative bass work on the early Tradewinds albums.  Richard Terry came along with his foundation bass approach, after we had experimented with other bassists, and brought a steadiness to the band that I recognized immediately, as I also quickly noted the flamboyance and ‘friends-with-everybody’ nature of Harry Cupid when he came to play percussion with us.  So on the purely musical side, there was a range of input in the years between 1966 and 1986 (when Tradewinds’ recording was at its peak) coming from these diverse musicians, but it is also worth noting that, apart from the shift in 1976 when I added keyboards, the basic thrust of the band remained the same, and a big part of that was the attitude of the players to stay with our formula; almost always, everybody was on board with what we were doing.  (The one exception was our original bass man, Joe Brown (Trinidad), a gifted musician, who, after about 10 years or so with us, left to branch out into recording and performing his own music.)

While Hubert’s comment really had to do with the purely musical presence of the group, it is also true that there was inevitably a personal influence on character or attitude, each from one, and each to one.  The late Glen Sorzano (Trinidad), our original guitarist (I remember the endless hours we spent in my basement apartment in Toronto, just the two of us, learning the chord patterns of the early 25 or so songs I had written, including ‘Honeymooning Couple’).  Glen was a man of exuberance and laughter, and while I learned many traditional Trinidadian calypsos from him, I quickly saw the ‘joy for life’ side of him as a trait with great value for someone like me with my shyness. Glen could brighten up a cave. The late Kelvin Ceballo (Trinidad), our original drummer, motivated me to be calm, no matter what.  From his police background, he had a philosophy that no matter how rough it seemed, things would always work out; in the most tense situations, sometimes with drunk persons, or grim officials in airports, Kelvin would stand there, small smile on his face, nodding his head, and calm everybody down.  He would show people, me included, how foolish we could become over trivia.  Clive Rosteing, Tradewinds current drummer, and most likely our last, has been an anchor from day one, not in the sense of being blind (he would differ with me on things) but in the sense of not wavering on the base value – friendship – as the most important ingredient in the mix, so that after the difference, minor or major, no damage has been done to the fundamental bond.

I’ve added in these personal comments about this musical group to make the wider point that even when substantial musical talent, and combinations of it, are in play, a group’s continued success will also very much depend on how well the non-musical elements combine or fit together.  Indeed, if you push me to name the reasons for Tradewinds’ longevity, my answer would be two things: One is the gift of song-writing that God gave me. Yes, I nurtured and polished it and manoeuvered it, but it was a gift. The second thing I would say is that for the core band that we became in the 1970s in Toronto, we were something very akin to brothers. The lesson I see in that latter point is that the ‘brothers’ I refer to were from eight different countries, eight different cultures, but look at us, straddling the Caribbean, and look at what we became. I have seen groups with massive musical talent fall apart and die and almost always it’s because the brotherhood isn’t there; even when huge money and fame is involved, that’s the case.

And by the way, Hubert – thanks for the nudge.

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