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Rudolph Charles - Twenty-Five Years Later, Steelband Leader Still Exceptional

Thirty-One Years Later  (2016)

A WST Rewind
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Global - In a little more than one month - March 29th, to be exact - it will be twenty-five years since the death of one of the most influential figures in the history of the steelpan movement. Rudolph Valentino Charles was one of the finest leaders, innovators and visionaries ever produced by the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  His ideas, concepts and products still reverberate in steelpan music communities globally today, both in terms of his inventions and the people he influences and motivates.  Moreover, his thought process and vision went way past the steelpan art form.

The life and deeds of Rudolph Charles have taken on legendary and mythical proportions to those who did not know him.  Indeed, he will be forever immortalized through the David Rudder smash soca hit and tribute, “The Hammer.”  But for those who new him personally and the community that he served, he remains as real and relevant as he was twenty-five years ago.

In an era that produced special men whose courage, leadership skills, intellectual and creative genius (the likes of whom have rarely been seen since)  - Rudolph Charles of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra was indeed part of this select and very rare breed.  He was noted for several inventions and innovations including the nine-bass, quadraphonic pan, triple tenor, rocket bass, and the chroming of steelpan instruments as well as the use of aluminum canopies.

Anthony Williams of North Stars Steel Orchestra, Bertie Marshall of Highlanders Steel Orchestra, Neville Jules of Trinidad All Stars, Ellie Mannette of Invaders, Rudolph Charles and a few others - are part of the elite few who facilitated, inspired and demanded greatness from those who would become the future great ones.

As an organizer, motivator and director, Charles had few equals. His relentless pursuit of excellence earned him the highest accolades from the likes of the Prime Minster of Trinidad and Tobago - the Honorable Eric Williams, the great Neville Jules and legendary arranger and master musician Clive Bradley, among many others.

Glenda Gamory (president Pantonic Steel Orchestra), Emmanuel “Jack” Riley (tuner, panist extraordinaire), Robert Greenidge (soloist, arranger), Ralph MacDonald (percussionist) Destra Garcia (writer, artist) the late Scipio 'Sarge' Sargeant (arranger, artist), Dalton Narine (producer, writer of The Doc, The Hammer and the Shoe Box) and countless others - have all spoken to When Steel Talks over the years about the profound influence Rudolph Charles had on their lives and their own significant contributions to the steelpan movement.

It is always possible to expand upon that which exists.  But to be an original, to be the first, and to dare go where no one has gone before, and with success - is unique.  Twenty-five years later Rudolph Charles is still that - unique.   Mythical - larger than life.

From the Rudolph Charles' memoriam:
Rudolph Valentino Charles was born in Laventille. He was the forth of nine children born to Georgiana Charles and Sidney Charles. He attend Rosary Boys' R.C. and later Tranquility Boys' Government School.

His early years were always spent among people to whom he endeared himself by his leadership and guidance among his peers. His dedication to his community and his selfless devotion proved fruitful in all his endeavors. The many trophies attest to this. His most prized trophy, his wife Carol, was chosen from among the belles of Laventille.

He led his community and band with a togetherness that could only have been achieved by love and total commitment to the cause.

An untimely death, we mourn, and pray God that the seed planted will bear fruit...

The Hammer
by David Rudder

Somewhere up in Laventille
Many years ago
A man had a hammer
Used to follow him to and fro
He used to use it to pound a pan
Or sometimes a stupid man
All in the savannah
Never miss Panorama
One day the old hammer just disappear
Some say that it vanish into thin air

Where de man wid de hammer gone
Tell me, tell me where he gone
Anybody know where de hammer gone
Tell me, tell where he gone
Can you tell we what going on
Tell me, tell where he gone
Ah want to know where de hammer gone
Tell me, tell where he gone

Why you up and leave, trail
Why you make me grieve, trail
Hammer tell me flat, trail
Why you do we dat, trail
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more,
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more.

From April of ’85
Hammer went to sleep
After years of making noise,
Not even a peep
He used to move wid de dragon man
All through this soca land
Always on the scene
They used to control the barber-green
But the dragon doh walk the trail no more
Who holding the hammer I want to know.

Where de man wid de hammer gone
Tell me, tell where he gone
Look Thunderbolt Williams, what going on
Tell me, tell where he gone
This thing like a police boot on meh corn,
Tell me, tell where he gone
And now ah hear it by Y'De Lima on pawn
Tell me, tell where he gone

Look children
Search under yuh bed, trail
All above yuh head, trail
Look behind the door, trail,
What yuh waiting for, trail
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more,
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more.

On a silver chariot
Riding to the sun
Leaving fire in its wake
Spirits on the run
As we gather round that day
Ah hear sister Sheila say
How last night she see a sign
She see the hammer and it doing fine
Same time thunder roll she bawl out “You see!”
He done start to tune a pan already

Where de man wid de hammer gone
Tell me, tell where he gone
Sister Sheila darling, what going on
Tell me, tell where he gone
This hammer giving we a heavy horn,
Tell me, tell where he gone
This thing like a police boot on meh corn,
Tell me, tell where he gone

Children
Search all through the town, trail
Turn it upside down, trail
Check on top de hill, trail,
On dat window sill, trail
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more,
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more.
 

I want to hear the hammer ringing out
From every panyard
From Europe to Africa
Just like here in Trinidad
This hammer must never die
Let me tell you why
Anytime the music dead
Is then life go buss we hed
So the children start singing the refrain
Begging me to ask the question again

Where the man wid de hammer gone
tell me, tell me where he gone
Search up in Whitehall
Ransack de town hall
And if we eh find it deh
Mus be Millette who take it away
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more,
Well the dragon doh walk the trail no more.


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