Rudolph Edwards: Journey with Desperados
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Interview Recorded: July 03, 2005
Posted: July 19, 2005
Mr. Rudolph Edwards has offered, in this piece, his history and the history of his involvement in the internationally acclaimed steelband movement, Desperados. Mr. Edwards is one of the founding fathers of the Desperadoes pan organization and has enjoyed many victories with this pan-side. Along with his outstanding awards and achievements, it has been said that Mr. Edwards is the oldest and longest playing panman around. Surely, his contributions in terms of his commitment to the Desperados pan movement as well as the pan movement in general must be recognized. Mr. Edwards now shares with us his journey with the Desperados pan movement and some of his life lessons acquired along the way.
My earliest memories
My earliest memories of steelband go way back to the 1940s. I was never involved with tuning pan, but I have been playing pan from since I was about seventeen or eighteen years old and I never stopped. I have also been honoured many times for my service. Although I am still in the band I do not actually play pan; I play rhythm mainly because of my age. I was seventy-six years old on 14th April this year; I was born on the 14th April 1929. I played in all the festivals and Panorama that we (Desperados) won, and I do not feel that anybody in Trinidad and Tobago can beat my record for being the oldest and longest playing panman... and still playing. I do not know of anyone who has my kind of service in a steelband without a break and never leaving the band for any reason. When I hear people talking about pan I just listen to them because I do not like to do much talking myself; I avoid much talk about pan whenever I go into town.
The band really started from way back with a guy they used to call 'Beh'. He was the first captain we had, but he died a long time now. After him, we had Wilfred Harrison, Donald Steadman and then we had Rudolph Charles who was the main man responsible for the upkeep of the band. The band's first name was 'Young Destroyers' before we came to 'Desperados'; 'Young Destroyers' and other steelbands were formed after the war. When the band first got its' name (Desperados), it was from the movie Desperados with Glen Ford. I remember Wilfred Harrison taking us to the Royal Cinema to see it but that cinema is not there anymore. Bands like 'Desperados', 'Renegades', 'Casablanca', 'Destination Tokyo' and 'Invaders' were named after pictures that were shown at the Royal Cinema.
After the band got its name 'Desperados' we got a sponsor. Our first sponsor was Coca Cola and then we got W.I.T.C.O. as our second sponsor. W.I.T.C.O. started sponsoring us from way back; they have been with us for a very long time, and today they are still our sponsors. We are probably the longest sponsored steelband by any one company; we never moved from W.I.T.C.O.
We have won most of the festivals and Panorama competitions. We achieved a hat-trick of victories in the pan festivals in 1986, 1988 and 1992 with Pat Bishop. When the late Rudolph Charles was captain he was not an easy fella. Rudolph found that the money wasn't satisfactory for all that he and the steelband men had to put out, so we stopped competing in festivals. During that time, we were only competing in the Panorama competitions and we were winning, but 'All Stars' and all those other bands were still competing in the festivals. They were also saying that we were not taking part in the festivals because we were afraid to compete against them. That is when we decided to go back into the competition with Pat Bishop to show them how wrong they were. We won a hat-trick and then stayed away for nineteen years.
We became more recognized after that victory and our tours became more frequent. We traveled to Carnegie Hall about three or four times, Philadelphia, the Apollo, Kennedy Center, New York a few times, Brooklyn and many other places. I didn't go with the band to quite a few places including Nigeria and Zambia... I remember A.N.R. Robinson going with them to Nigeria. There are many other places like England and so on where the band toured that I haven't mentioned. Back then when the band went to New York, the 'Daily News' in New York had sponsored the trip. Our steelband did a lot of things and I do not feel that there is any other steelband that moved around like we did. We even played in Barbados with the internationally renowned tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. He brought his entire big orchestra from England with him and before the actual show, we wanted to show his conductor how good we could play so we gave him one of Pat Bishop's big classic pieces 'Orpheus and the Underworld' to use as a test. We didn't play the whole thing for him; we only played what is called the 'can can' part... the conductor didn't believe we could have done it. When it was time to perform, we played the whole thing, which was the same tune that they made us use for practice with Pavarotti. We 'broke down' (got a thunderous applause) Carnegie Hall with our performance.
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