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Tribute to the Bass Players
From Gunga to Sheldon
Khalick J. Hewitt,

USA - 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 remember one 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

International Steelpan & Calypso Society

December 6, 2004


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