Rudolph Edwards: Journey with Desperados
Winston "Spree" Simon
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Interview Recorded: July 03, 2005
Posted: July 19, 2005
Winston 'Spree' Simon and I
In my youthful days, Winston 'Spree' Simon and I were neighbours and we used to 'lime' together. There is still much controversy over who invented the pan, but as far as I am concerned, I would say it was Winston 'Spree' Simon; he put notes on pan. Over a period of time others kept putting notes on the pan, but I think the man who put the most notes on pan was Elliott 'Ellie' Mannette; he helped us a lot too. Long ago instead of sinking pan in, you used to sink it out and mark off the notes on it. Back then, we didn't have any tuned bass pans like what we have now, so we used to use the biscuit drums as the bass and we also had the bass kettle as well.
In the early days I really didn't have a problem with my parents when I wanted to play pan. It's been nine years now since my mother passed away, which was in 1996. Back then parents didn't want their children talking to panmen. If you had a daughter, she was not allowed to talk to a panman, but that did not stop the girls from coming to be around us when we were playing pan. Back then it was pan around your neck, not like how they have them on wheels now, and we used to come out at night to make our rounds playing pan. We didn't have radio long ago, all we had was the streetlights, so you beat your pan and you enjoy yourself. Apart from us, there were other bands from Clifton Hill like 'Casablanca', 'Crusaders' and 'Tokyo' that used to come out and make the rounds too and sometimes we used to be all down in Gonzales playing pan. We used to play pan up and down the road and sometimes we would reach all the way downtown. When we were beating pan back then in the night, the crowd that used to come out was big and they used to jump up and enjoy themselves. After we made our rounds, we would stop and buy something to eat in the shop and then go back to the shed. In those days we didn't have a pan yard like what we have now. We used to cut bamboo and coconut branches to make our own pan tent.
When we used to go out on the road to play, you couldn't make any stops; we had to keep moving because it was against the law back then. Back then it was difficult to play pan at night on the road because the police used to come after us and as soon as we see them coming we had to drop our pans and run. We were so sensitive back then, that even when we were playing our pans, we used to listen to the sound of the engine in the vehicle that was coming up and we would know if it was the police. It wasn't just us alone who knew the sound of the engine; everybody had known. As soon as you hear 'Black Maria' we would drop our pans and everybody would start to run. The 'Black Maria' was the old time police vehicle for transporting detainees. The police didn't want to hear anything about pan long ago.
In those days, when it was pan around the neck, we used to buy our straps downtown in a store called Boohadoosingh; they used to sell all the things you needed for playing mas'. They had things like water bottles, all the things for War Mas' and all the things that soldiers used to wear like army belts, water bags and so on. We played all kinds of War Mas' and we used to buy all our stuff at that store. Wilfred Harrison was about the best captain with 'Desperados', where mas' was concerned; we played all kinds of Historical Mas'. No steelband ever played Historical Mas' the way we did, because that was Wilfred Harrison's line. Back then we played a mas' in town and the name of the band was 'Primitive Man: An Extract from the Animal Kingdom'. That mas' was from the Stone Age period. The band was really nice and the headpieces and the characters that were representing different animals were very big. Those were the days with George Bailey; we had lined up with him and we used to play plenty big mas' like 'Realms of the Incast' and so on.
The change with pan started from up here in Laventille. As time passed, pan evolved and everybody got to like it because of what people like you all and many others who contributed to the change started to do. People no longer stopped their sons from playing pan and everybody started to tune pan. Rudolph Charles was no pan tuner but he learned to tune pan and became the number one bass tuner... everybody just kept improving it. Elliott 'Ellie' Mannette is a man who helped us too; he is in America now.
The last time we saw him was when we played in Kennedy Centre in Washington; he and all the big time musicians were there. When we played in Kennedy Hall with Pat Bishop... the first tune we played was 'Bordrin'. There was a part in that tune called 'Stranger in Paradise', but we played the whole classic. All the big musicians were playing with music sheets and they kept looking in a strange way at the sheets when we were playing the pan. When we had finished playing, they came around the pans and they were looking at the bass and all inside the pans to see if anything was made up, but all they saw was scale. When we play in those halls, our steelband music gives you more drama than those orchestras. You do not get the same thing from the orchestras as you get when you hear that bass from the steelband start to roll out.
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