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The History of Steelband in Trinidad and Tobago

A bit of Despers History from Roy Corrigan Staff Feature
Interview Recorded: November 30, 2005
Posted: December 04, 2005

During the Wake at Desperadoes Pan Yard for Clive Bradley, we sat with Roy Corrigan aka 'Babylon' who shared with us a bit of the history of Desperadoes. Here is a transcript of what he said.

Roy Corrigan aka 'Babylon'
Roy Corrigan aka 'Babylon'
I became a Desperado from birth, because I was born and also grew up here in Laventille. I am one of the founders of this great orchestra and most of the guys met me in the band. The only one who is senior to me is Rudolph Edwards, better known as 'Crabby'. I was a little over nine years old when I started with Desperadoes back in 1946. From that time to now I am still with Desperadoes.

This band has a great history behind it. Back then in the 40's and 50's Desperadoes was not recognized much in pan. We were more like a repetitious band, militant kind of people. We had a little offspring side like the 'Spike Jones' which Rudolph Charles and they started in the 50's. That was a Christmas Band.

There was a period when they had a split between up the road and down the road, or with Serenaders. After the Carnival in 1959, we played 'Noah's Ark' and that was the same year we clashed with San Juan All Stars. After that same Carnival we got a guy by the name of Carl Greenidge, which is Robert Greenidge's uncle, to work with us. It was from that time we started to play good music because Carl was more advanced than a lot of us in the band.

In 1960, Serenaders and Desperadoes didn't get back together, so we got Carl Greenidge to arrange for Desparodoes and Silvan Morris from up the road had backed Serenaders. The first year with Carl, which was 1960, the Mas' was 'Frozen North' and we played Eskimo. Back then we didn't have many panmen and it was still 'Pan around the Neck'. We had fifteen pan men with no release and you had to carry that pan around your neck both Monday and Tuesday on the road. The two tunes we played on the road were 'Gaza Strip' and 'Ice in Your Ice' by Melody. We were placed as the second best beating pan on the road Monday and Tuesday.

Around 1961 or so, we played 'Glorification of Spades'. We won the Steelband Jamboree in the Savannah with two tunes 'May May' and 'Tattletale' because back then you had to play two tunes. When it was time for Tropli to play, they played 'May May' and the crowd went up (the crowd was very pleased). At that point, Carl Greenidge pulled all of us together and said that we wouldn't play 'May May'. Back then we used to have a lot of tunes to choose from, and the tunes were not as long as ten minutes. Also it wasn't any highly arranged music like you have today. We ended up playing 'Tackletail and Maria' by Blakie and we won the Steelband Jamboree with those two tunes. We also won Best Dressed and Queen of the band.

Later on something went wrong, (which I do not recall what it was) but it was from that point onward we got Beverly Griffith. When we got Beverly, we also got Cobeau Jack, and the band got better. It wasn't until about 1960 when we really formed a stage pan side. After Carnival that was it, except when we had our little assembling and make the rounds on the streets and go Gonzales. Later on we got more serious into having a stage side and it was from there that Desperadoes started growing. We went from strength to strength because we started getting real good, younger players. In those days I was very young too.

Things changed in 1963, and we went into Panorama. Our first Panorama tune was 'The Road is to Walk on Carnival Day' and we came third with that tune. Then in 1964, we came with 'Mama This is Mas'. That year we had about three or four 'Mama This is Mas' so Highlanders and Pan Am North Stars had played 'Mama This is Mas'. That year, we won People's Choice and Pan Am won the Competition with 'Mama This is Mas'.

During the time when Desperadoes was climbing the ladder we had no sponsorship. It wasn't until 1965 we got Coca Cola to sponsor us. The year 1965 was a bad year for us because back then we had built Coca Cola floats as part of our presentation and when we went on stage to perform with the tune 'Hold onto Your Man' the float burst through the stage and they disqualified us. We figured that the only thing that could give Laventille a face lift was music ... pan, so we were always determined and prepared to make a lot of sacrifices because we wanted to reach the top. The people in the band were like one family because our mothers knew each other. Even though all the people in the band were from different parentage, we were treated like one family and they gave us a lot of encouragement. We had a lot of love for what we were doing and when anything has a lot of love in it the outcome could be successful.

After the Carnival Regime in 1965 we entered 'The Prime Minister Best Village Trophy' and we won the competition with the tune 'Sound of Music'. The following year which was 1966, we were more determined than ever and we did the most tunes that Desperadoes ever did in one year. We had about nine tunes. The tunes were done by Beverly Griffith. Some of the tunes were Melda, Zardas, My Fair Lady, Hazel Wise, Maria, Going Home Tonight, Licks in 66' and a few others. Back then we made a clean sweep because we won the Panorama, Best Beating Pan on the Road Monday and we also won the 'Bomb' competition with 'Zardas'. Bands went looking for tone because they wanted to know how Despers pan was sounding so sweet and who tuned them. Rudolph was the type of guy who always wanted the best of everything. He always wanted the best tuner, the best drummer and the best arranger.

I can remember when we got involved in the classical music and Rudolph Charles went to the Police Band to try and get an arranger. Back then there was a guy who is deceased now by the name of Amery Gill, who was in the Police Band and he was also the drummer for Desperadoes. He died in the States. Amery took Rudolph down to the Police Band and said to Rudolph, "That one is good, and that other one too, but there is a guy better than all who I am telling you about, but the reason I haven't refer him to you is because they say he is mad." Rudolph said to Gill, "Well it is music that has him mad and I want the mad man" (which happened to be Mr. Raymond Shore who did 'The Governor's Ball' when we won the championship in Queens Hall).

In the earlier days they used to say steelbands could not have played certain classics because they were limited in notes and in their scales. That is why Rudolph invented so many pans and went to nine bass, twelve bass, Quadrophonic and the six pans. The idea was to get a complete range as a keyboard.

After 1966, Beverly Griffith migrated because an opportunity presented itself and he had to go. He didn't want to leave because he loved the band and the guys, so Rudolph Charles told him it was his future and that he should go and see about it and we will find somebody else. He cried when he was leaving. After he left, we got a colleague of Beverly Griffith, Scipio Sergeant from the Clarence Curvan Band. We did 'The Governor's Ball'. We won People's Choice. We got a standing ovation in the Savannah, but they said that 'Guinness Cavaliers' won the Panorama. Well, we met Guinness again in the Festival at the Queens Hall, and the adjudicator said if ever a calypso was played with soul it was 'Governor's Ball', so we won two of the awards. We won Tune of Choice and Best Calypso. A little band from Sangre Grande, Cordettes won the Best Test Piece which was 'Merry Wives of Windsor'.

Rudolph Charles leadership was a great inspiration to the guys. We had loved him and each other because all of us grew together. In the early days before we had Carl Greenidge, all of us used to look up to Rudolph Charles as being the leader. He used to say he didn't want any early position because he had to at least develop and gain some experience. Rudolph Charles was a genius and a true leader. He was a great loss to the band, but we knew we had a lot of guys in the band such as Robbie Greenidge, Denzil Botas and many good musicians who knew the scale patterns such as myself. We had a professional band and everybody in the band were good instrumentalists.

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