Ralph MacDonald - Speaks on the Brilliance of the Iconic Leader & Innovator Rudolph Charles
The late great Rudolph Charles
Global - In this part of the When Steel Talks exclusive interview with the late Grammy award winning producer and song writer, Ralph MacDonald, speaks on the brilliance of the legendary leader of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Rudolph Charles.
The great Dennis “Tash” Ash on double seconds, with Ralph MacDonald (at right) on congas in Desperadoes Steel Orchestra’s engine room
MacDonald also benefited from and respectfully maximized on his close friendship with another musical genius during his lifetime – the late Rudolph ‘The Hammer’ Charles, legendary leader of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. When the percussionist was ‘on the Hill’ he would admire Charles as he went about intricately eliciting that unique sound that was Desperadoes. He remembers ‘The Hammer’ fine-tuning, going for the "partial" (the harmonics to other nearby notes) - the third, fifth, seventh, eleventh and more, after the respective tuners (at the time Bertie Marshall, Lincoln Noel, Wallace Austin) had each taken care of their voicings.
Ralph MacDonald, David Rudder, Robert Greenidge
Charles personally built the steelpan instruments that are to this day heard on Ralph MacDonald recordings. When he was alive, MacDonald always had Charles come up to his studio one day before the recording and tune those steelpan instruments (that would be played by Greenidge). Still in admiration of the Desperadoes legend, MacDonald expounds on the man who was indisputably a genius despite lacking any formal music training, citing one occasion when Charles was at the studio as customary to tune the steelpan instruments and put them in the key of the other musicians’ instruments.
Ralph MacDonald proudly points to his beloved Desperadoes
As Charles listened to the tracks, and started to tune the steelpans, he asked by what the other instruments had been tuned. MacDonald said his electric strobe, to which Charles replied “your strobe is off.” “Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, Eric Gale, all these musicians on the record, all played to the strobe - all with good pitch!” exclaimed MacDonald. They had already laid tracks down, and nobody had picked up any discrepancy. Giving Charles the benefit of the doubt, (and with more than just a little incredulity visible on the part of the other musicians), Ralph MacDonald called in to have the strobe checked out, only to have Charles’ statement confirmed: “Yeah, your strobe is off, Ralph.” Solely by ear, Rudolph Charles had been correct, and was unerringly accurate – unlike the strobe.
Ralph MacDonald with his dudup
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