New York, USA - He is one of the esteemed champion arrangers of the Golden Era of pan. His name, like the other great ones, carries much respect and recognition. And like his fellow famed steelband music panorama arrangers - one name will suffice as an identification marker for life. Earl Rodney will always be known as the champion arranger for and associated with, the great Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago in their glory years. The three-time panorama winner sits down with When Steel Talks for an exclusive interview.
Earl Rodney, who is originally from central Point Fortin, Trinidad joined Solo Harmonites in 1967 where he met Harmonites Steel Orchestra co-founder Hue Loy. Rodney explains that there were many talented people in Harmonites when he arrived. In fact, he says, he has never seen so many talented people in one setting. And in addition, he was accepted very well by the community.
Earl Rodney had a very early beginning with pan (as early as age seven). Although his musical talent with the steelpan instrument was recognized at an early age, like so many other steelpan people - Rodney also had to hide his pan from his mother. In addition to his steelband arranging accolades Earl Rodney is a noted bass player in the Caribbean. His résumé includes musical iconic groups like the Dutchy Brothers and the Mighty Sparrow’s Troubadours.
The Wrecker - Lord Kitchener
Play Mas - Kitchener
St. Thomas Gal - Kitchener
- Dutchy Brothers - bass player
Solo Harmonites was a band both very hungry for success and talented, according to Rodney. On his success with Harmonites Steel Orchestra, Rodney has high praise for Winston Fleming, then-leader of Harmonites. Earl Rodney calls Fleming a “dynamic leader,” one who asked questions and listened to the opinions of others. Earl Rodney also credits legendary tuner Allan Gervais, (considered to be one of the best ever) as one of the biggest factors to Solo Harmonites’ success.
On pan in New York, Rodney feels that there has not been much progress over the years; moreover he does not feel like those in leadership positions seem to want to take the art form to higher places “down the parkway seems to be good enough [for them],” mused Rodney. “There has to be more.”
The arranger also says that while he is credited for three championships he actually won four: 1968, 1971, 1972 - and 1974. The one in question is 1974, the year of the song ‘Jericho.’ Rodney says ninety percent of what you hear in ‘Jericho’ is his work.
Among his deepest disappointments in the pan “evolution” was in fact what could be termed its devolvement or regression - which he says occurred when notes were eliminated from the steelpan, thereby diminishing the then-extant musical range, already established decades ago. In terms of what was most pleasing about the instrument, Rodney spoke about the vastly-improved tonal quality over the years.
Rodney also feels that pan is still relatively unknown worldwide, and that Pan Trinbago is not doing enough for the instrument. Touching on the late master arranger Clive Bradley, Rodney laments, “he was brilliant guy, he was ‘naked talent;’ I miss him; he was my partner.”
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