Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rico Rodriguez

I'm not sure where to start with Rico and I doubt one post alone will do him any justice. If you have not heard of him by name then chances are you will know him by the sound of his trombone. Its been said that the trombone solo he played on the Specials’ last single “Ghost Town” may be the best horn solo in pop history. I'm not one to disagree with that sentiment. It moves me every time I hear it.

While Rico is best known for his studio and live performances with The Specials, he had a successful career as a solo artist and session man long before 2-Tone came along and he continues to perform to this day. As Jamaican music has changed from ska to rock steady to reggae, Rico has been there each step along the way. He really began to make his mark when he joined one of the most talented reggae bands in the UK: The Undivided, who performed as a backing band for Jamaican reggae artists touring the UK in the early 1970's.

When Island Records re-entered the reggae market Rico came onto the list of session musicians for the label. His first recording sessions took place in 1975 and were released on Toots’ Reggae Got Soul. During this time Rico met a man named Dick Cuthell, with whom he has been linked musically. Cuthell, an engineer at Island, recorded a demo for Rico which opened the way for Rico’s first trip to Jamaica in 15 years and the recording of "Man From Wareika" in 1977 with some of the best Jamaican studio musicians of the time.

With a critically acclaimed solo album Rico was engaged as a support act for Bob Marley & The Wailers on his 1978 tour in Europe. Rico had a chance to play in front of audiences and to build his reputation towards the European public. Island prepared a new album for Rico, but tried to direct him towards a more easy listening style. Meanwhile Rico had received a phone call by a certain Jerry Dammers, who looked for Rico to play on a remake of "Rudi A Message To You". The song was already recorded in two version by Rico, one for Dandy (Livingston) in 1967 and one credited to Rico himself from 1969.

After the success of the Special’s music Rico (and Dick Cuthell) became associated members of the group, participating in their touring and recording activities. Rico played on the groundbreaking albums Specials and More Specials, he contributed to The Selecter's debut. Despite the exposure he'd been given by working with The Specials, Island surprisingly did not renew his contract when it expired in January 1980, leaving him free to record for 2 Tone. They did make a half-hearted attempt to get The Specials to back Rico on a live take of "Guns Of Navarone" to be released on Island, but nothing came of it and so that it was.

In 1980 Rico was going to release his first single "Sea Cruise" on the 2 Tone label. He toured with The Specials but left for Jamaica accompanied by Dick Cuthell where he was in the studio to record for his next LP That Man Is Forward. Later in 1980 Rico toured with his own band and later joined the Police in their concert for "So Lonely".

Ian Dury made him public to his audience while singing "... listening to Rico..." in his hit "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt.III)". All these activities made him a central part of the 2 Tone story: he represented the Jamaican roots within The Specials' and the other group's music and made his instrument and his style attractive to the pop music market. Many engagements followed by artists such as Paul Young, Joan Armatrading, John Martyn and the big names in reggae: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mikey Dread, Burning Spear, The Congos

Below is a download of the very hard to find dub version of Rico's seminal reggae album "Man From Wareika" which Horace Panter of The Specials described as "...quite possibly the best instrumental reggae album ever."

Rico Rodriguez - Warrika Dub

I often wondered why the man wasn't getting the credit he was due and recently learned a 25 minute documentary about him was produced by a Spanish filmmaker named Jep Jorba in 2006. You can view the trailer for the film here. If you have seen the film please let me know.

1 comment: said...

Hi Marco,
I'm Jep Jorba, the film maker of the documentary. If you want a copy of it, just send me and email at