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Joey Lewis, A Musical Trail-Blazer

by Les Slater



Global - The term “icon” is tossed around much too loosely in our culture. Happily, it was not wasted on Joey Lewis, a giant of a musical presence not only in his native Trinidad and Tobago, but throughout the Eastern Caribbean, ever since he became a bandleader while still in his teens in the mid 1950s. After ailing for some time, the giant would walk no more as of the early morning of Monday, February 8, 2016. One might note somewhat of a sense of cosmic correctness, perhaps, in his adieu, at age 78, coming shortly before the J’Ouvert celebration that ushered in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, Carnival having been one of the Lewis orchestra’s annual music-making arenas, before he withdrew from Carnival involvement some years ago.

Pal Joey Lewis
Joey Lewis

Never one to merely follow the pack, Joey demonstrated, soon after setting out to carve his own niche, how much was he given to innovation. Along the way he would introduce features that markedly enhanced Trinidad and Tobago’s musical tapestry, among them, an affecting new guitar strum, prominent utilization of the guitar as a solo instrument and his particular affinity for and facility with the Latin genre. He also constantly showed off his compositional skills, a number of his popular hits over the years being originals.

Those hits included “Joey Saga,” “Peanut Vendor,” “Count Five,” “Vuela Vuela La Paloma,” “Blowing In the Wind,” “Jerry’s Dance,“ “Debbie,” “Pint O’ Wine”…

It was no small feat to sustain his band for the unparalleled number of years that he did, through transitions in music fare such as the combo phase of the 1960s, the displacement of much live music by DJs and the arrival of new-style soca that was the preference of younger audiences. But Joey endured, sustained by his enterprise and driven by an undying belief that there always would exist an audience segment eager for the unique music product that was his signature. There was no doubt, too, that a mutual sense of loyalty between Joey and his band members played large in the group’s durability. He was of course proven right in his conviction that his band offered what certain folk would have a continuing desire to sample.

The Humming Bird Gold Medal that he received from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for his contribution was but a small token of the high regard in which he is held.

The Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute, of which I am chairman, honored him in New York in 1995, my colleagues and I recognizing even then, that he had already assumed the proportions of a legend in his field. We join with all others who celebrate our rich cultural heritage in mourning the loss of one whose footprints were massive and whose life’s work is to be treasured for posterity.

Les Slater

Les Slater
Les Slater

Les Slater is a respected journalist & columnist... former Highlanders arranger... chairman, T&T Folk Arts Institute...

click for more on Les Slater; contact him at


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