Songwriter, PanMan Winsford “Joker” Devine - the Man, the Songs, the Legend  - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive with contribution from G. Blake

He is one of the most prolific, well-known songwriters to have ever walked the planet. With over 600 (six hundred) songs under his belt and to his credit, his songs have shaped and influenced generations. And in no short order he is one of the greatest creators of songs that have defined and championed all aspects of Trinidad and Tobago life and culture. Music that has touched the soul, defined and crossed generations, are undeniably his.

From Sparrow’s ‘Rope,’ to Baron’s ‘Somebody,’ to Machel Montano’s  ‘Too Young To Soca’ to Mighty Trini’s ‘Sailing’ and so many more - these world-renowned artists have all profited significantly from the pen of Winsford “Joker” Devine. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, the former panist and eternal songwriting great pulls no punches as he lays out his career experiences, pains, disappointments and triumphs.
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He is undoubtedly the star maker. Eliminate his contributions to the likes of The Mighty Sparrow, Crazy, Machel Montano, King Austin, Singing Francine and Baron, among many, many others, and their careers would not be the same.

With songs like Progress, Rope, Say Say, Somebody, Sailing, Don’t Rock it So, The Jammer, Feeling It, and Curry Tabanca - mere slivers of his songwriting catalog - Dr. Winsford Devine is truly a legend in his own time.


WST - “How and when did you first become involved with, or introduced to, Pan?”

Winsford D. - “I began to actually play at about 9-10 years old.”

WST - “With which band did you play?”

Winsford D. - “I began playing with a tiny village band in the village where I was born, went to school, and partly grew up in - Quarry Road, Morne Diablo.”

Dr. Winsford Devine
Photo:  UWI Today

WST - “Did your parents have any problems with you playing pan?”

Winsford D. - “Actually I had no parental problems, since I came from a single-parent home. I grew up with my father and he found out too late when I was actually playing one Christmas time. I began playing on Tenor pan, or 1st pan as it was called back then.”

WST - “Did you have any formal training in music? There are several versions of how you came by your musical knowledge currently in circulation...”

Winsford D. - “I have had no real formal musical training, even to this day, other than that which I taught myself, or bits and pieces I picked up along the way from others (long story)...”

WST - “Were you a panman then a composer, vice versa, or did both occur at the same time?”

Winsford D. - “Actually I began composing about the same age that I began to play pan, if I remember correctly - hardly remember now, it was so long ago.”

WST - “How did the late Dr. Pat Bishop impact on you musically?”

Winsford D. - “After I composed ‘Fire and Steel’ the late Arnim Smith who was president of Pan Trinbago, at the time sent me to visit her to get a few pointers; that is when I first met her, (part of the long story I spoke about.”

WST - “Who is the late Clive Bradley, as far as you’re concerned?”

Winsford D. - “I consider him to be one of the greatest Panorama arrangers (if not the greatest). He came into my life one day when I met him on Nelson Street, [and he asked] if I knew about getting royalties for the songs I wrote (and he explained) and told me to go to Theodore Guerra. The rest is history. I eventually joined the ‘P.R.S.’ [Performing Right Society] which has been turned into what is known as ‘C.O.T.T.’ [Copyright Music Organisation of Trinidad & Tobago] today...”

WST - “Recently we saw where you wrote that you had played pan with Kim Loy Wong in a New York band. What was the name of that band? What year was that?”

Winsford D. - “I cannot remember what was the name of the band, but it was around 1973-74.”

WST - “How involved were you in New York pan?”

Winsford D. - “I played with Kim Loy’s band - made a tour with the band to Wisconsin - hung around a few other bands but never played. And that is it. Later on I had a stroke and my ability to play was severely limited.”

WST - “Of all the songs that you have written, which song(s) is your favorite?”

Winsford D. - “It always seems to surprise people when I say (despite ‘Progress’ being the most iconic) - my all-time favorite is ‘Somebody,’ closely followed by ‘Doh Rock It So’ and ‘In Time To Come.’”

WST - “You wrote, and actually vocalized - the well-known - “Love Up.” How did this come about - did you write it with that intention? And have you sung any others?”

Winsford D. - “A good, good friend of mine pestered me for years to write something vocalized by me for him to record. I simply gave in and wrote ‘Love Up’ and ‘Happy Birthday.’ Later on I used my own money and did 5 songs:  ‘Dragon,’ ‘Ibaratiele,’  ‘Pushers,’ Dance All Night’’ and ‘Leggo Tempo’ - and that is my complete recording “Portfolio.”

  Songs written by Dr. Winsford Devine

WST - “What is your favorite song - that you did not write?”

Winsford D. - “David Rudder’s “Mad Man’s Chant.”

WST - “Is there such a thing as a “Pan song” - from your perspective? And if so, what are some of the qualities of a good “Pan tune”?”

Winsford D. - “Yes. As with all instruments - piano, guitar, flute, etc., etc., - there are certain types of music that seem to sit with them better than others, at least to some listeners.”

WST - “Were some of your compositions specifically geared towards steelband?”

Winsford D. - “I have always been a tenor pan player, and if that is so -  that may well account for it.”

WST - “As a master composer yourself, what is your advice to young and/or up-and-coming musicians/composers?”

Winsford D. - “First (if you intend to compose songs), learn to play an instrument that you can accompany yourself on like a guitar, keyboards. Then do a lot of reading to increase and extend your lyrical skills. Then practice, practice, practice.”

WST - “And any advice geared to “Pan” composers, specifically?”

Winsford D. - “Learn to play pan.”

WST - “Years ago, Ella Andall, in a visit to When Steel Talks’ facilities, listed an impressive list of legendary Calypsonians who she said were Grenadian by birth. Do you, by chance, also fall into that category?”

Winsford D. - “No-no-no.”

WST - “Is there anything you would like to share about your fellow musician, the late Dennis Franklyn Williams aka “Merchant”?”

Winsford D. - “I consider “Merchant” to be one of the greatest ‘tunesmiths’ I ever knew.”

WST - “You composed songs for Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) for 17 years; describe that period of your career? The songs you wrote for Sparrow - was it a collaborative effort in any way?”

Winsford D. - “Yes, I worked with the Mighty Sparrow for seventeen (17) long years (and while the songs I did, some were conceptualized by him - most of the actual ‘writing’ was done by me). I wrote ninety-one (91) songs for him that he sang and recorded; contributed to four of his ‘calypso monarch titles’ (the actual list [is] too long to be documented here in this ‘document’). There are four songs that we co-wrote on the list. And last but not least, allow me to say, and I quote - “WHILE I HAVE GREAT, GREAT RESPECT FOR SPARROW AS A CALYPSONIAN/ARTIST - AS A PERSON, I HAVE LITTLE OR NEXT TO NONE AT ALL.”  He is not a man to his words’ - However I consider that to be live lived and water under the bridge.”

WST - “How did you get the name “Joker”?”

Winsford D. - “It was given to me by a good friend of mine as a ‘calypso sobriquet’ and it stuck.”

WST - “After leaving Sparrow, you became a free agent - in terms of writing for anyone...”

Winsford D. - “I had no contractual obligation with Sparrow so even when I was writing for him I wrote for others (because I was free to do so) - but not [for] many people.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite artist/vocalist you’ve worked with, written for?”

Winsford D. - “There were several. At one time or another [Singing] Francine, Baron, Machel Montano, Trini. And off and on I wrote for people like Poser, Scrunter and a couple music bands like Shandileer and Sunberg.”

WST - “The late Clive Bradley expressed the importance of the ‘key’ in his musical arrangements and songwriting, because of the way the harmonics came off certain instruments. Does the ‘key’ play a role in your musical approach?”

Winsford D. - “It does. I have had several lengthy chats with people like Ed Watson, Joey Lewis, and they all told me that when dealing with an average-size, medium-built male person, the best key for vocals is E-flat or B-flat. And in my own experiences I have found this to be somewhat true, except for a few rare occasions.”

WST - “Which comes first for you: lyrics, music, or are they simultaneous?”

Winsford D. - “When I could have played a guitar, I wrote lyrics and melody the same time.”

WST - “Were you a panman then a composer, vice versa, or did both occur at the same time?”

Winsford D. - “Both started almost at the same time.”

WST - “The classic “Progress” is considered by many, to be one of the greatest calypsos ever written. What was your inspiration for composing that song?”

Winsford D. - “The destruction of the San Fernando Hill was the main inspiration, among other things...”

WST - “You are also a pan arranger. Which band(s) did you arrange for?”

Winsford D. - Blue Diamonds, Ambassadors, Joylanders, and a W.A.S.A. band from Tobago.”

WST - “It has been said that your composition “Rope” played by Blue Diamonds is really the first Panorama “own tune.” Can you expand on this?”

Winsford D. - “When one really thinks about it, if one considers me to be a ‘panman,’ then ‘Queen Of The Bands’ sung by the Mighty Sparrow and composed by me (1970-71), arranged by Ray Holman, that won Panorama and tied with Solo Harmonites is really the first ‘own tune’ in Panorama.  The next year though, I wrote ‘Rope’ and ‘Melody-72’.  Both were played in Panorama. Again, Hatters played Melody-72 and won the South Panorama. In 1972 Ray Holman wrote and arranged ‘Pan On The Move’ and he is credited as the person that composed the first ‘own tune.’ For this I blame the Mighty Sparrow - not Ray. Hence my lack of respect for him (Sparrow), but all of that is, as I said, ‘water under the bridge.’”

WST - “Which is more challenging for you - songwriting or steelband arranging?”

Winsford D. - “Although I believe I have the skills to be a good pan arranger (some believe I do not) I don’t like it.  It takes away too much of my carnival enjoyment time and my patience is not that of a steel pan arranger.  The bands I arranged for had to beg me to do it.”

WST - “How has the music of pan changed, from your perspective, over the years?”

Winsford D. - “In my honest opinion the soca or sokah idiom, has done nothing to improve our musical art forms. It has only trivialized it so now every Tom, Dick and Harry believes they can put a few meaningless words together and make a million dollars (it has not happened yet so far). All that has happened is that the global music industry latched on to the ‘RHYTHM’ and is using it in their songs, while our songs cannot see the light of day. Yet the younger artistes will not like or agree with my comments though.”

WST - “Who is your favorite Pan arranger?”

Winsford D. - Clive Bradley, followed closely by [Leon] “Smooth” Edwards. And more recently Duvone Stewart.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite Pan arrangement?”

Winsford D. - “As to ‘prevailing’ Panorama pieces I rate 3 above the rest and I list them here in no particular order of merit:  ‘Pan By Storm’ (Fonclaire), ‘Woman On The Bass’ (All Stars), ‘Rebecca’ (Desperadoes)”.

WST - “Did you really use a tenor to write some of your songs?”

Winsford D. - “Yes, but not the actual instrument. I use my mouth as a tenor pan. As a young boy growing up, myself and my pan-loving friends used to often join together and play ‘mouth pan.’ I remember a certain guy (cannot recall his name now) used to play the most amazing ‘trapset’ sound with his mouth. I even wrote a song for Machel Montano called ‘Mouth Pan.’ I think the practice had died a natural death - someone should bring back the idea.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite instrument?”

Winsford D. - “Yes, two: (1) the ‘Voice’ and (2) ‘Pan’.”

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Winsford D. - “I cannot point at none, really, since surprisingly none of my parents or elders, in my family (that I know of) are ‘specifically’ musically inclined...”

WST - “This new generation of performers - Voice, Blaxx, Kes (vocalist Kees Dieffenthaller) - do they move you?”

Winsford D. - “No not really. While I love and respect them all and their various skills and abilities, I cannot say they leave me in awe, like some of the old masters used to do - the Sparrows, the Dukes, the Stalins. But then it is a different Era and Time; it cannot be compared.”

WST - “In your opinion, today - what is the greatest challenge facing the Calypso/Soca artist - and the art form itself?”

Winsford D. - “Viability and Global or International transformation by way of Promotion.”

WST - “What are you most proud of in your musical journey?”

Winsford D. - “My honorary doctor of letters U.W.I., honorary Associate Fellowship’ U.T.T. and National H.M.B. Awards.”

WST - “What has been the greatest disappointment in your career?”

Winsford D. - “My stint working for The Mighty Sparrow, full stop.”

WST - “What advice would you give your younger self if you could go back in time?”

Winsford D. - “Do not be such a naïve ‘male donkey’ with your talent again.”

WST - “How is modern soca affecting Panorama?”

Winsford D. - “It is not hurting it. It’s more like it is not helping it.  In my opinion Panorama needs more like a type of a re-formatting.  Especially now since there is the idea of making it ‘international’ (they have already tried holding one such event which Trinidad All Stars won, playing ‘Curry Tabanca,’ my composition. I have suggested that since they intend to go that way - open up the song choices to ‘Any Song’ - an idea that seems to have invoked the displeasure of many pan people at the moment - who have called me all kind of names, like ‘jack ass,’ silly, and stupid. But sooner or later I predict they may have to go that way because the event is becoming too same-old-same-old boring. “IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN...””

WST - “You said -- “Panorama music must go international by using any song as a Panorama piece.... How can we expect the world to embrace us if we are not prepared to embrace the world?” In light of the almost total usage and embracing of current popular Trinidad & Tobago music for 2018 - do you feel that the steelband community has finally arrived at this way of thinking?”

Winsford D. - “Ask that question in the opposite sense and you may find an answer. How can you expect people to play our music in Panorama if we do not embrace theirs in the same event?”

WST - “Any advice for the new Pan Trinbago administration?”

Winsford D. - “Yes, bring some international ‘‘Pan’’ People on board.”

WST - “Is there anything else you would like to bring to attention?”

Winsford D. - “I LOVE PAN.  LONG LIVE PAN’’

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