Tag Archives: calypso

Veteran Trinidadian Bandleader ‘Pal’ Joey Lewis Dies

Joey Lewis
Joey Lewis
Joey Lewis, who, for 6 decades, led the longest -running, and last of Trinidad’s popular dance orchestras, died in the early hours of February 8, at 78. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, he effectively stopped playing with the band (originally called the Teenagers) in 2012, weakened by the effects of chemotherapy.

Born on October 26th, 1937, in Gonzales, east Port of Spain, into a family of musicians (his father played guitar, and his mom sang), he began in the bands of elder brothers, Randolph, and Sonny.

Able to play any instrument, he first took to the piano – his electric keyboard riffs on an instrumental version of 1974’s “You’ll Always Be A Friend” by British group, Hot Chocolate, stand out- but the guitar made him popular.

In 1955, the Teenagers became the Joey Lewis Orchestra; its sound distinctly Trinidadian/calypso, but with strong Latin and jazz influences and elements.
He and the orchestra added the nickname ‘Pal’, after (seeing) the 1957 American film, ‘Pal Joey’, starring Frank Sinatra and Rita Haywood.

His 1960 hit, “Joey’s Saga”, in support of the ‘Saga Ting’ dance craze, introduced his unique guitar-strumming style, and saw them as the 1st to play on local television (as resident for the ‘Dance Party’ series).

In the golden era of dance bands (late 1940s to late 1970s), the Pal Joey Lewis Orchestra, with loyal members(, including, for 52 years, until his death in 2009, saxman, George Boucaud), took its place at the top, alongside those led by ‘Sir’ Sel Duncan, Clarence Curvan, the Dutchy (deVlugt) Brothers, and Fitz Vaughn Bryan.

It produced music for and to accompany the costumed masquerade bands on carnival parade days, and worked and recorded with established calypsonians such as the Mighty Sparrow, the Mighty Terror, the Mighty Duke, and soca (or party calypso) pioneer, Lord(later Ras) Shorty, as well as Barbados-born Singing Francine.
And, at a time when radio restricted the airplay of calypsos after carnival (especially in Lent), Joey Lewis’ instrumental versions helped maintain the genre’s profile, and, in the dances, popularity.

He toured North America(, meeting Harry Belafonte and jazz legend, Dizzie Gillespie, in 1964, briefly setting up base in Canada, in the early 1970s), the Caribbean and Europe, won the ‘Brass-o-Rama’ contest(, in which bands rendered instrumental arrangements of calypsos) in the carnival of 1979, and, in 2002, as Trinidad andTobago celebrated 40 years of independence, received a national award (the Humming Bird Medal) for his ‘services in the field of music’.

In all, the Joey Lewis Orchestra issued 83 albums, 142 singles and 12 CDs, (some, early on, for the RCA label) of originals like “ Pint of Wine”, “Bound To Dance” and “Debbie”, and covers (Kris Kristofferson’s “Why My Lord” and the Cuban classic, “Peanut Vendor”, among them), vocalists engaged sparingly; and continued entertaining sold-out audiences and lovers of ballroom dancing across the country all year ‘round to the present.

Clarence Curvan met Joey Lewis in brother, Sonny’s, band, before both went off to form their own. The two teamed up, a few years later, to create JoVan records. Now based in, and working out of New York City, USA, he remembers Joey ” …recommending that promoters hire me, even before I had a record. That…says a lot about his character. We maintained our relationship to the end“.

Another long-standing musician, saxophonist, Roy Cape, leader, from the late 1970s, of the All Stars, that backed calypsonians in the tents, and fetes (parties) but records mostly soca tunes, started with Curvan, after failing a 1961 audition with Lewis. He described him as “…a Rock of Gibraltar…with a huge influence on local music“.

‘Pal’ Joey Lewis ( October 26, 1937- February 8, 2016) leaves to mourn his wife of 52 years, Julia, children, Gerry (part of the orchestra since the 1980s, eventually assuming leadership), Joanne, Charmaine, Debra (about whom “Debbie” was written), Benedict, Judy and Gail, 8 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren, and sister, Jean.

from Sean Edwards, Power102FM, Port of Spain, Trinidad


Renewed Folk Music from the Alan Lomax Archives

Jayme Stone – Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Borealis, 2015)

Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone is known for exploring various global musical traditions. On his latest album, Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, Stone got together with an impressive cast of musicians and vocalists from North America and other parts of the world to recreate field recordings made by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax throughout his travels.

The music selection includes:

“Lazy John,” a version of an original folk song written by Alan Lomax. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Before This Time another Year,” a Georgia Sea Island song. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, guitar; Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore and Jayme Stone on vocals.

“Shenandoah,” a sea-shanty. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Goodbye, Old Paint,” a folk song. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, mandolin; Margaret Glaspy on vocals, guitar; Moira Smiley on accordion, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Sheep, Sheep Don’tcha Know the Road,” a work song. Lineup: Moira Smiley, Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals, handclaps.

“I Want to Hear Somebody Pray,” a song from the Caribbean island of Carriacou. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, vocals, Mollie O’Brien on vocals, John Magnie on vocals, Martin Gilmore on vocals, Greg Garrison on bass, Alwyn Robinson on drums, Jayme Stone on prepared banjo (Stone used a piece of foam next to the bridge, evoking a West-African ngoni), vocals.

“T-I-M-O-T-H-Y,” a love song from Saint Eustatius, an island in the Dutch Antilles. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, fiddle; Moira Smiley on vocals, accordion; Margaret Glaspy on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Hog Went through the Fence, Yoke And All,” a fiddle tune from Kentucky. Lineup: Brittany Haas on fiddle, Eli West on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“What Is the Soul Of Man?” a southern song. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Bruce Molsky on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Now Your Man Done Gone,” a prison song by Willie Turner, an inmate at Camp Livingston in Alabama. Lineup: Bruce Molsky on vocals, Margaret Glaspy on vocals.
“The Devil’s Nine Questions,” a Virginia ballad collected by Texas Gladden. Lineup: Moira Smiley, Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals, body percussion.

“Bury Boula for Me,” a calypso song. Lineup: Drew Gonsalves on vocals, cuatro, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo

“Susan Anna Gal,” an Appalachian song from North Carolina. Lineup: Eli West on vocals, bouzouki, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Maids When you’re Young,” a Scottish traveler song. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Eli West on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Prayer Wheel,” a fishermen song from Virginia. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on guitar, vocals, Moira Smiley, Mollie O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals.

“Old Christmas,” a fiddle tune from Kentucky. Lineup: Bruce Molsky on fiddle, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Whoa, Back, Buck,” a Lead Belly ox-driving song. Lineup: Eli West on vocals, guitar, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.

“Lambs on The Green Hills,” a song collected from the English poet Robert Graves. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Julian Lage on guitar.

The CD version includes a 54-page booklet with song notes by Stone, an introduction by music scholar Stephen Wade, and a photo essay by longtime Nonesuch photographer Michael Wilson.

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project contains fascinating recreations of timeless folk songs and melodies.

Buy Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project in North America

Buy Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project in Europe


The Calypso Queen

Calypso Rose

McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis might never be immortalized in the global annals of female activism, but the feisty woman claiming that formal and somewhat long-winded moniker has certainly made an indelible mark on the history of Caribbean music. Back in 1978, Calypso Rose, as she is widely known, shattered the glass ceiling in Trinidad & Tobago when paradoxically becoming the first of her gender to win the coveted ‘Calypso King’ crown. Organizers of the annual championship were obliged to change the title to ‘Calypso Monarch’, and Rose went on to win the prestigious event for five consecutive years. In recent years, the Tobago-born singer has gone international with her trademark husky vocals, incisive wit and raunchy calypso and up-tempo soca songs.

Now 70 years of age, Calypso Rose revisited her trail-blazing days after being voted the No. 1 calypsonian of Trinidad & Tobago earlier this year. Speaking from New York City, where she has resided for the past three decades, this voluble, irrepressible woman, said: “The calypso scene has changed immensely over the years. It was mostly men back in the early days like Kitchener [Lord Kitchener], The Lion [Roaring Lion], The Sparrow [Mighty Sparrow], Atilla The Hun and Lord Irie. When I came into the arena in 1955, Lady Irie, the wife of Lord Irie, was the only female and she was a senior citizen at that time.”

Despite calypso being a male domain, Calypso Rose, a Baptist minister’s daughter, says she was received “very highly” by audiences in general, but not by church groups, who frowned upon her performing in that milieu. “They called me to meeting after meeting,” she recalls. “They wanted to know how come a young girl like me could be in the calypso tents, singing calypso between all the men. In 1963 I said: ‘Look, I will not be like the five foolish virgins that buried their talent in the soil’. I said: ‘The Lord has given me the ability to write calypso lyrics and create the melody and make the people happy and I will continue doing that until the day I die’, and I got up and I walked out of the room.” Whether by divine intervention or not, it’s a fact that Hurricane Flora devastated the islands of Tobago and Grenada soon after. “I wrote a calypso about the hurricane to sing in the tent in 1964. After every verse I sang ‘Abide With Me’.” After rendering a verse of said hymn down the line from Queens, Rose suggests that may have given her some purchase with the church elders.

As an idiom, calypso currently lives in the shadows but that wasn’t always the case. In 1969 Calypso Rose was on an equal footing with Bob Marley. The Caribbean artists performed together at a New Year’s Eve concert held in the ballroom of the Grand Concourse in New York’s Bronx. “The people went crazy,” Rose recalls. During its heyday in the late ‘50s, Harry Belafonte took calypso to the top of the pop charts with ‘The Banana Boat Song’ (aka ‘Day O’). Calypso Rose, who has written over 800 songs, herself had a major hit in the Caribbean with her signature number ‘Fire in Meh Wire’, which was subsequently recorded in nine different languages, and Bonnie Raitt did a cover version of her ‘Wah She Go Do’. “I was in San Francisco one year performing and she came on stage and sung it with me,” she says. Rose has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in show business. In 1978 she did a gig with the late Michael Jackson. In Europe she says she has performed to audiences of up to 10,000. Back home, where she’s regarded as a living legend, Rose is a fixture during the annual carnival season in Trinidad & Tobago, playing for many thousands of revellers.

Calypso Rose

Rooted in social and political commentary, calypso is a music form that puts more emphasis on lyrics than almost any other idiom, and is invariably peppered with patois. Rose has written her share of risqué numbers over the years, but only one overtly political song, ‘The Boat Is Rocking’, which she penned leading up to a crucial local election. One of the songs she’s most proud of, ‘No, Madame’, she wrote when Trinidad & Tobago domestics were working for a paltry $25 a month. “Soon after that song was released, the government voted that no domestic should work for less than $1200 a month.” Rose says that you could sing just about anything in the calypso tents, but the more controversial songs wouldn’t be played on the radio.

She points out that calypso has changed considerably in style over the years and that these days soca, a faster, more dance-orientated variant which places less emphasis on the lyrics, holds sway. “It’s gone from the minor calypso to the four-verse calypso, from the four-line calypso to the eight-line calypso. With the four-verse calypso you’re getting more rhythm. The structure of the bass has been changed and the drumming has been changed too. It’s vastly different now, and I think that is the reason why the Mighty Sparrow and myself are still on the road working because we do soca, although we also do the old-style calypso.”

It was calypso that enabled a 13-year-old McArtha Lewis to overcome a debilitating stammer. “I’ve come a very long way,” she reflects. “I couldn’t speak without stuttering badly back then.” Calypso Rose will forever be proud of the fact that she opened the doors to let other females enter the long-time male preserve of calypso. As she observes: “There are a lot of female calypsonians around these days, not only in Trinidad & Tobago but the whole of the Caribbean and even beyond.”

• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine, for which the author is World/Folk correspondent.


Legendary Diva of Caribbean Music Calypso Rose to Perform in New York

Calypso Rose

The World Music Institute will present the legendary diva of Caribbean music Calypso Rose on Friday, January 15, 2010 at 8:00 PM at Peter Norton Symphony Space. Calypso Rose, a living legend in the calypso world, has brought her vibrant and irresistible music from her native Tobago to audiences on every continent, becoming one of the premier and most honored ambassadors of Caribbean music.

In a genre traditionally dominated by males, she is the only woman to have captured the Calypso Monarch and Road March titles. In addition to winning the Calypso Queen contest five years in a row, she has written numerous political and women’s rights anthems and the calypso classic Fire In Me Wire. A documentary film, Rose, Calypso Diva, directed by Pascale Obolo will be released in 2010.

This program is made possible in part with public support provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by American Express.

Peter Norton Symphony Space, Broadway at 95th Street, NYC
$25; students with college ID $18 Box office (212) 864-5400
Info/tickets: (212) 545-7536 http://www.worldmusicinstitute.org


The Rough Guide To Calypso Gold Now Available

The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold

San Francisco (California), USA – The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold (RGNET1213CD) is now available. The anthology of the best Calypso from Trinidad from rare early recordings up to the zenith of the 1950s calypso craze. From the 1920s legendary string orchestras through the forties with the emergence of King Radio, to the worldwide recognition of Calypso in the fifties with Lord Pretender, and the legends Lord Kitchener and The Mighty Bomber, The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold delivers a taste of real Calypso.

Amongst the legendary line-up this compilation features Sam Manning, one of the earliest Calypsonians to achieve international acclaim. His recording career was launched in 1924 with the release of ‘Amba Cay La’. The melody of the song comes from an ancient stick song from the ‘Canboulay Era’ (1870—1890). ‘Rum & Coca Cola’ is probably the most loved and widely recorded calypso, and has been covered by numerous artists worldwide, including Barry White and Julio Iglesias, just to mention a few. Performing the track here is the uncontested ‘Calypso Queen of the World’ Calypso Rose.

Lion was always impeccably dressed and known for his lion-headed cane. He sung and composed of all the major types of calypso. Lion also wrote ‘Nora’, sung by Relator. This calypso, recorded in the UK and dealing with homesickness, is reputed to have been the most famous calypso of 1950s, its popularity stretching from the Caribbean all the way to West Africa. Lion and Atilla, worked occasionally alongside Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee whilst residing in New York. Atilla, Tiger, and Beginner also recorded under the title of The Kiskedee Trio. Atilla is also featured on this CD on ‘La Reine Maribone’ (‘Queen Wasp/Bee’), recorded in 1936, and Tiger with ‘The Gold In Africa’, also from 1936. This song dealt with Benito Mussolini’s Italian army invasion of Ethiopia the year before Emperor Haile Selassie was forced into exile in the UK. Tiger suggested that Mussolini was after the Emperor’s wife. Tiger’s 1979 album Knockdown Calypsos was nominated for a Grammy award.

Caresser’s recording career was launched with the immensely successful and popular ‘Edward The VIII’, based on King Edward’s abdication of the throne for his true love, Mrs Simpson. Legendary King Radio is known far and wide for his ‘bouncy’ tunes. ‘Man Smart Woman Smarter’ still remains popular among listeners and recording artists, among whom The Carpenters recorded a version in the 1970s. ‘Mathilda’ is his most popular kaiso of all time, released in 1938.

Lord Pretender was a master of improvisation and, if given a topic, he could immediately provide and sing choruses and several verses without preparation. Considered the ‘last of the golden age singers’, Pretender is represented on this CD with ‘Human Race’. Lord Kitchener’s other nicknames were no less than ‘The Boss’, ‘Genius’, and ‘Master’. In 1947 he sang his popular ‘Green Fig’ for US President Harry Truman. ‘Ah Bernice’ aka ‘Kitch, Come Go To Bed’, created such an impression on Princess Margaret that it is rumored that she went out and bought a hundred copies of the lyrics.

A pioneer in disseminating calypso outside Trinidad, Lionel Belasco’s first records were made in 1914. He subsequently made numerous other recordings in the US and in Britain. Belasco and his band recorded at least 278 songs under his own name between 1914 and 1945. Belasco is part of this CD with ‘Blow Wind Blow’. Houdini heralds in what is considered the second phase of recorded calypso, and is featured with three songs: ‘Caroline’, ‘Uncle Jo’ Gimme Mo’’ and ‘Blow Wind Blow’ He provided the vocals on the latter with Belasco’s Orchestra.

Also featured in this compilation are Duke of Iron, Sir Lancelot, The Mighty Bomber and Cyril Monrose with his Monrose’s String Orchestra.

The CD contains a data track that includes music and travel from the Rough Guide books.

Buy the CD: