Rico Rodriguez was born Emmanuel Rodriguez on October 17, 1934 in Cuba As a trombonist and composer he is among the founding figures of Jamaican popular music. He died on September 4, 2015 in London.
With roots in jazz as well as in the sound of African rooted burru drumming and so-called Rasta-chants Rico took part in developing Jamaican music from rhythm & blues to ska and reggae. Within this process he developed his own style, a combination of ska, reggae and jazz which reached an artistic peak with his album Man From Wareika in 1976. Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry once asked Rico: "How can you play like that ... To play like you I had to go to Africa to learn." (quoted by Hanafusa, 1998)
Rico performed worldwide and dedicated himself more and more to play with musicians from all over the world.
- 1 Childhood and youth: 1940 - 1954
- 2 First professional experience - musician in Jamaica : 1954 - 1961
- 3 Establishing in the British music scene: 1962 - 1969
- 4 Path to creative independence and first heigh: 1970 - 1977
- 5 International success with 2Tone and retreat: 1978-1985
- 6 Return to Europe, cooperation all over the world: since 1988
Childhood and youth: 1940 - 1954
Rico Rodriguez was a pupil at the now famous Alpha Boys Cottage School, an institution led by catholic nuns in Kingston mainly attracting children from unmarried women who could not give enough attention to their children. In this school, where musical and instrumental education was of great importance Rico Rodriguez learned to play trombone. According to the pedagogical concept of the school an older pupil tutored Rico's music lessons. It was Don Drummond who would eventually become Jamaica's most famous trombone player of the 20th century. From 1952 to 1954 Rico followed an aprenticeship as a mechanic.
First professional experience - musician in Jamaica : 1954 - 1961
From 1954 to 1957 Rico continued with his musical education at Stoney Hill Music School. In those years he names popular US-jazz trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding as his musical influences.
It was also the time of his first engagements as a studio musician: Rico participated in Coxsone Dodd's very first session in 1956, when they recorded with Clue J And The Blues Blasters several tracks among them the popular "Easy Snappin" by Theo Beckford.
As a member of Eric Deans Orchestra and winning prizes on Vere John's Opportunity Hour, Rico Rodriguez became well known in the local music scene. But he also has a living standard at the lowest level due to sufficient income. He joined a Rasta community in Wareika hills near Kingston lead by percussionist Count Ossie. On his meeting with Count Ossie's group he said years later: "They're more developed, mentally and musically, than the average musician. When you play with them you can really explore. Most of what I know I learned from playing with them." (Williams 1981)
Within the spirit of this movement Rico Rodriguez played his trombone for food. 1973 he told in an interview: "Because you were poor and had to eat, you stay down where the fishermen draw their nets, so you'd have food every day. Fishermen always give you fish, they like to hear you playing." (from an interview in 1973, quoted by Cane-Honeysett, 1995)
Between 1958 and 1961 Rico was more and more engaged. The development of the Jamaican music and entertainment scene was moving away from expensive dance orchestras to mobile discotheques (the well known sound system). While the sounds and their audiences preferred American R'n'B, the disc jockeys had more and more problems finding new material as rock'n'roll had assumed predominance in the US market. This lead them to start producing their own material, becoming more producer than DJ and, to search for musicians more often in the studio rather than choosing live musicians.
Rico Rodriguez was one of those musicians who played for various producers and their bands and soloists. He can be heard with the above mentioned Clue J, with Count Ossie's Group, with Smith All Stars, Drumbago And His All Stars and others. He worked with all important producers, namely Duke Reid, Vincent Chin, Lloyd Daley and Prince Buster. As for Dodd he participated also in first sessions by Reid ( Derrick Morgan's 'Lover Boy') and Chin, which confirmed his excellent reputation.
With Vincent Chin he's got his first opportunity to release a production as featured artist: "Rico Special" was released in 1961 as well in Jamaica as year later in England (on a young label called Island Records. With the release of "Rico Farewell" at the end of 1961 he said good-bye to Jamaica, disappointed by the exploitation of musicians and bad revenues, and emigrated to London.
Establishing in the British music scene: 1962 - 1969
As his name was already well known within the Jamaican community in London - his records reached the music market created by migrants from the West Indies - he was quickly integrated into the London club scene where he played for several months with Georgie Fame's Blue Flames, recorded for Emil Shallitt and Siggy Jackson (Melodisc/Blue Beat). Fantastic solos resulted from productions of that time with Laurel Aitken (listen to "Daniel Saw The Stone") or Prince Buster ("Barrister Pardon").
There was a story around that Rico Rodriguez, who came as a rasta with long hair to London, inspired the Beatles to let their hair grow. Clement Dodd said in an interview that The Beatles used to hang around at so called "West Indian" parties where Rico played and this provoked storms of enthusiasm.
At the end of the decade several LPs were released with his name as featured artist on Trojan Records and on Pama. But music alone did not yield enough for a living - even in England. Casual labour and jobs on the production line were part of his life.
Path to creative independence and first heigh: 1970 - 1977
After Jamaican music had undergone metamorphosis via rock steady to reggae at the end of the 1960s Rico joined a band,The Undivided of whom he later said were among the most talented reggae musicians in England. His breakthrough finally came, when he was engaged in 1975 by Island Records as studio musician to contribute trombone solos to records by rock and reggae stars, among them Jim Capaldi, Toots And The Maytals and Burning Spear. Soon after he had his own contract with the company to record his own work: Island Records made it happen that he travelled, accompanied by sound engineer and trumpeter Dick Cuthell, to Jamaica. It was his first visit on the island since his departure in late 1961.
In 1976 Man From Wareika was released, an album that remains a landmark recording in Jamaican instrumental music. He created a new relationship between reggae and jazz with the result that the work was released by famous jazz label Blue Note in the US.
After the release Rico toured in support of Bob Marley all over Europe. For the first time he was a full time musician!
International success with 2Tone and retreat: 1978-1985
In 1979 Rico Rodriguez was famous - even with a very young audience. He was invited by The Specials to take part in a re-recording of a piece originally recorded by Dandy Livingston in 1968, with a horn solo by Rico. The song was entitled "Rudy, A Message To You". What followed was never anticipated. The Specials and their label 2 Tone Records pushed their way into the pop world for three years and established Ska, Reggae and later also African sounds within the sound of British and European pop music.
Together with his friend Dick Cuthell, the former engineer and now flugelhorn, cornet and trumpet player, he formed the horn section of the band and they toured extensively with the band. Rico used his reputation to record two albums, That Man Is Forward and Jama Rico in Kingston and London. Many pop and reggae artists asked him for contributions, among them Linton Kwesi Johnson, Paul Young, Joan Armatrading und Ian Dury.
The 2Tone bands had the best command to combine Jamaican Ska music with the energy of punk. Rico Rodriguez added authenticity and soul. His contributions to the records of those days made his music immortal. His solos, e.g. on "Ghost Town", are icons of popular music of the 20th century.
In 1982 Rico retreated to Jamaica.
Return to Europe, cooperation all over the world: since 1988
Between 1982 and 1988 Rico was missed by many friends of his music. Finally in July 1987 a group of Swiss musicians met Rico in Jamaica and the next year they invited him to support their reggae project, the Heart Beat Band, to come to Europe and to record with them and producer Fizzé. Reggae and ska had become part of the international music scene; everywhere bands appeared referring to or playing in Jamaican musical traditions. In order to augment their music, they searched for experienced and authentic instrumentalists. Rico agreed to the Heart Beat Band's request. He spent some time in Switzerland and went on to London where he continued to play as a much sought after studio musician as well as being a member of several band projects.
His work with Jazz Jamaica, a group led by bassist Gary Crosby and with Jools Holland gave him regular occupation and provided the opportunity to realise his own solo projects as well as playing with his own band.
He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace on 12 July 2007 "for services to music" (see: The Queens list for 2007, p. 83).
Rico lived in London where he died after a short illness in 2015.