Rico Rodriguez is the most interesting person of Jerry Dammers
One of Rico Rodriguez’s defining musical moments is his trombone riff in The Specials’ track, A Message To You Rudy, which he recorded with Jerry Dammer in 1979. Rico’s life and career spans Cuba, Jamaica and London. He was taught by Don Drummond who is widely regarded as the world’s greatest drummer in Kingston, Jamaica at the Alpha Boys School.
He went on to move to England and make his mark performing with The Specials and signing to Island Records. Now into his 80s, Rodriguez continues to perform with Jools Holland in his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.
Update 4 September 2015: Saddened to learn that Rico Rodriguez has passed away. I visited Rico Rodriguez at his home for this shoot some years ago flanked by Jerry Dammers from The Specials, who arranged it on the same day. It all happened quickly and I literally had no time to prepare so it was rather a blur. It wasn’t till I saw the footage that I realised my fortune in this intimate situation. Rico in his living room, in his favourite chair, holding his trumpet. Jerry standing over my shoulder feeding me questions about the Rico’s enormous and fascinating history. RIP Rico.
SH : Can you introduce yourself?
RR: I’m Rico Rodriguez I play the trombone.
What bands have you played with?
The Specials, Bad Manners, Madness… Lots of different groups
And how did you come to learn the trombone?
In school they didn’t have much brass, they had more percussion so I started learning percussion. But then when one of the better older players left school he gave me his trombone.
Where did you learn?
The Alpha boys School. Don Drummond was my teacher along with Carlos Malcolm Rupee Rupert. And me and Don Drummond were close because he lived three streets away from me in Allman Road in Kingston. And sometimes when I didn’t have a trombone I used to borrow his trombone. And sometimes he didn’t want to lend it to me, because he thought I wouldn’t look after it [laughs]. And I used to say, ‘no man, let me have a go at it.’ So he used to lend it to me and I used to play with different people in Jamaica with his trombone.
And for people who don’t know, what is the Alpha boys school famous for in terms of music?
Well people in music usually have a lot of trades that they learned at Alpha. Trades like carpenter, shoe maker, tailer, lots of other trades and some of the boys were very educated and went as far as senior six. And when they reached a certain standard in school they sent them to colleges around the island. I spent a long time learning to play the trumpet and the French Horn and all those kind of different instruments and then there was percussion before that. So I didn’t get to the trombone till a long time after. And then when I left Alpha I couldn’t play nothing else apart from classical you know. But then I came across Rastafari drummers and I practiced for years and years with the drummers. No guitar, no bass, just drums. And I think that’s where I got a lot of my development; from the drums only. Because you can freestyle for so long with the drummers.
If you weren’t a musician what do you think you would be?
I would have liked to be an organiser of the Jamaican people. I’d be doing that. Because my heart is really with my Jamaica. But I couldn’t do that for them because I’m doing music and it’s difficult to do two things one time.
Who’s the most interesting person you know?
There was this guy in Jamaica, we liked each other a lot from the start. When we met I took him to Wareika Hills. A place where most people don’t go, you know. But, he was really comfortable up there and he really appreciated me a lot as well. His name’s Linton Kwesi Johnson. Years later I was walking in Brixton and he saw me and asked if I recalled him. I didn’t know him anymore you see. And he was recording a new album with Dennis Bovell called Forces of Victory . And he introduced me to Dennis Bovell and we did this recording. So that’s how I got to know Linton Kwesi Johnson and he would always introduce me on his shows when he performed. He’s a poet and he does poetry in a Reggae style.