Saturday, September 05, 2015

TwoToneObit: Rico Rodriguez

Rico Rodriguez, who worked with The Specials and led Rico And The Rudies, has died.

Born in Cuba in 1934, raised in Jamaica and settling in Britain, Rodriguez had developed his style working with Oswald 'Count Ossie' Williams, taking part in jam sessions as part of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari in the 1950s, and living with the musicians in the hills. He would later cite this as his formative experience:

"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."
In the 1960s, Rico relocated to London and continued to play. There, he came to the attention of Chris Blackwell, landing a contract with Island in 1976. This allowed him his first trip back to Jamaica since leaving for Britain, and the resulting recordings sessions - released as Man From Wareika - set a template for the ska revival which combined the reggae-in-exile developments from the UK with the more traditional take from the Caribbean.

Having helped kick-start a ska comeback, it was appropriate that he would be in demand from the second revival wave acts - most notably joining The Specials on A Message To You, Rudy. He earned a namecheck in Reasons To Be Cheerful Part III; toured with The Police and seemed to be at last on the edge of a breakthrough.

Oddly, though, despite his success, Island lost interest and - besides a half-hearted attempt at recording a live cover of Guns Of Navarone with The Sprcials - the label first withdrew support, and then dropped him. He signed with Two Tone for the That Man Is Forward album, but, tiring of the music industry, in the early 80s, he retired back to the Wareika Hills.

His return to Europe, and European music, was down to the Swizz Heart Beat Band, who - unwilling to accept that such a brilliant musician was no longer working - sought him out, and persuaded him to pick up his career.

He was kept busy - between 1996 and 2012 he was a regular with Jools Holland's Rhythm And Blues Orchestra; he made his own records; and worked with second and third wave ska acts. He was made an MBE in 2007; in 2012, his contribution to Jamaican culture was recognised by a Silver Musgrave Medal.

Rico Rodriguez died on September 4th, in London. He was 80.