to the Bass Players
From Gunga to Sheldon
by Khalick J. Hewitt,
As tribute is paid
to the bass players I want to mention some of the popular bass
players of old that I remembered. Most steelbands had one or two
popular bass players. Some steelbands, as Trinidad All Stars,
had more than three. All Stars had Spongy, Shoreland, Rupert
Alexander (Horse) and Guns. Desperadoes had Gunga Din (We attended
Rose Hill School together). City Symphony had Spongy (He played for
both All Stars and Symphony) and City Syncopators had Russell
Carter, Chubby and Ancil (We attended Rosary Boys’ School together)
(He now plays for Desperadoes). My favorite bass player was
Rupert Alexander. Rupert’s distinctive style was short sticks and
dancing while playing. He would also touch the note after he
hit it. It was a pleasure to see him execute his style. I
Carnival Tuesday I pushed his four bass drums all day. Rain fell
that day and it did not matter. His then girlfriend Wendy, who later
became his wife, competed with me for the pleasure of pulling his
bass. Guns and Shoreland were great too, especially Shoreland. He
was dynamic and was a favorite of most pan supporters.
Unfortunately, he died when he was hit with a steel chair in a
fight. Gunga Din first played in City Syncopators Steelband. When a
group of the young panists broke away and formed Joyland Synco he
left with them. When Joyland broke up he moved to Desperadoes with
the Tash brothers Herbert and Tash. Gunga had style too but I
believed because Desperadoes was not yet the popular Steelband that
they are today he did not get the fame he deserved. At that time
Desperadoes was known more for its Mas and not its pan supremacy.
Spongy was glamorous. He played and talked at the same time. He was
a great talker. But, Rupert was classy. The women loved him. And
they would surround his bass all day. Rupert was also a great
tailor. He had a large clientele and sewed for the All Stars
panists. Rupert came to Brooklyn and joined Pan Rebels Steelband.
But, he changed pans and played the double seconds. His daughter
Lisa also became a member of Pan Rebels. She played the bass. Rupert
died a few years ago and is surely missed in the steelband movement.
The bass player was
a key part of the steelband. The then All Stars Captain, Neville
Jules, was known to compose parts for the bass to play. So All Stars
bass players played solos while they played unlike other bass
players. As a result, their bass players out shined the other bass
players. The first bass player of importance that I knew was
Philmore ‘Boots’ Davidson from Syncopators. He lived not too far from me.
Boots was over six foot tall and very slim. He played the piano and
was the first panist to tune a six bass. Before, steelbands used
four bass. Boots was also among the lucky panists chosen for the
London Music Festival under Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra
(TASPO) in the 50s. He left for England in the 60s and died there.
Of all the panists, the bass player was the one keeping the African
tradition of the drum. It was his timing that the other instruments
followed. Usually, the bass player was tall and that gave him an
advantage. He was able to reach all the notes with ease sometime
stretching all the way back to reach one of the basses.
It is great that
you are paying tribute to bass players of old. Maybe someday when we
have our Steelband Hall of Fame all the panists will be mentioned so
that their memory will live on forever.
See you at the
rendezvous of victory,
Khalick J. Hewitt,
President & Founder
Steelpan & Calypso Society
December 6, 2004
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