With almost six decades of musical history and pedigree behind him, Roy Cape, at 72, is about to venture into a new threshold of his life. The venerable and wizened musician will launch his first publication titled Roy Cape: A Life on The Calypso and Soca Bandstand on Friday, at Carib Woodbrook Playboyz panyard, Tragarete Road, Newtown. In this two-parter, Cape speaks with Peter Ray Blood about some of his musical adventures and milestones.
The leader/musical director of the Kaiso All Stars, Roy Cape has done it all in music: an accomplished saxophonist; arranger; composer and recording artiste, and he's also the 2004 recipient of a Humming Bird (Gold) national award, "for loyal and devoted service to the nation" and, in 2011, an honorary doctorate from UWI was conferred on him.
Co-author of the book is Canadian professor Jocelyne Guilbault, a native of Montreal and an ethnomusicologist at Berkley College, California. She has been coming to Trinidad for decades and made a lot of friends in Trinidad, including Cape. "I met Jocelyne through Junior Telfer," recalled Cape. "After three years of observing me, she approached me to do a book. I told her I never had that ambition but know that I have a story to tell. This book took four years to complete. We worked on it in Toronto, Grenada, Carrie's on the Bay in Manzanilla and at my home in Oropune.
"It was important to do some of the work in Grenada and other locations as at my home there can be a lot of distractions. You need peace when it comes to writing, in order to properly concentrate. Because we didn't have preparatory notes to begin, I had to dig deep into my experiences and memory with all of the bands I've played with through the years, data that is buried deep inside my mind. I was successful in being able to speak about all the bands I've been ever involved with, starting with Sel Wheeler, my first mentor."
Cape is from very humble beginnings, growing up with Wheeler and many of his earliest music peers at Belmont Orphanage.He said, "In 1961, I went on my first Caribbean tour, playing with Wheeler. We went to Grenada and Antigua. The two calypsonians on the Antigua leg were Bro Superior and the late Lord Brynner. That band also had musicians like Noble Williams and Clary Wears. Every island we went to turned out to be a disastrous experience."We were very young, all 19 or 20 years old, and very inexperienced. We stayed at a hotel in Antigua named Happy Acre Hotel and when the promoters couldn't pay our bill they threw the band out. Me, being the most fragile in the group, Superior and Brynner took me into their room. When it was time for the escape we did so through the windows, using bed sheets to scale the wall.
"Our Antiguan adventure continued when we met strong man Bill Abbott, whose stage name was, 'Samson of the West Indies'. He later became a member of parliament in the Vere Bird administration. Abbott had a club in downtown Antigua and gave us the garret to reside in. Wears then met a girl whose father had a bakery as well as a lime tree in his yard so for the next few weeks we lived on a diet of bread and lime juice. On Carnival day, as we headed to Abbott's club, the band attracted a very large following. A woman met me, took pity on me and took me into her home.
"The band eventually left Antigua without Wheeler and I as he was holding my passport. We ended up in Martinique without a cent in our pocket, but got a ride to town. We were rescued by some Trinis who recognised our passports and Bee Wee ticket folders. They took care of us. The next morning these guys gave us some money and took us to the airport for us to go to St Lucia where we reconnected with the band. There we survived on plenty breadfruit roasted in the ground. After our best show in St Lucia we still ended up dead broke as the female promoter ran away with all the money collected. We then ended up in Barbados and performed at the Barbados Yacht Club.
"The band left Barbados leaving Wheeler, Wears and me. Some business people named Redman & Johnson gave us a colonial house to live in and a job at their establishment named Cloud Nine. Since we were pioneering our careers we remained in Barbados for a while. We met some sisters, the Johnsons, became friendly and they invited the band to their home and we played for them. Beside the music I was pretty good at barbering so I did some of that, even cutting the sisters' father's hair. Mr Johnson gave me a house on the beach to stay in. After months abroad, my mother wrote and told me that it was time to return to Trinidad."
Still not yet 21, Cape wet his feet, musically and otherwise, by frequenting the city clubs. He said, "I used to frequent the nightclubs then–places like Miramar, Casbah, Pepperpot, Reno, Waldorf and Club 48 on Park Street. In those days each of these nightclubs employed a six-piece orchestra, as well as a six-piece steel orchestra. They would also feature limbo, bottle-dancing and belly dancing.
"The young musicians would go to the nightclubs to hear the better, older musicians, sitting virtually at their feet as they regaled us with stories of their experiences. The nightclubs were like universities for young and upcoming musicians. We all went through this."I was taught a song named Kisses by Joey Lewis. My friend John Alexander found me a space at Miramar on his programme to play Kisses. Sel Duncan was very famous for playing that particular song. Being young, at the age of 20, when I played Kisses, beautiful young women just flocked around. As all young males I ended up having a girlfriend from the club. Of course I couldn't tell my mother this."
In October 1961, the great Frankie Francis invited Cape to join his band. "I told Frankie I couldn't just walk out on the guys I had been playing with since my days at the orphanage," said Cape.
"Frankie said, 'I will take everybody, all of you'. Some of the guys then who ended up being extremely famous and popular in music were Ron Berridge, Clarence Wears, Michael 'Toby' Tobas and Art de Coteau."In 1962, Frankie took us into the Original Young Brigade (OYB) headed then by the Mighty Sparrow and Lord Melody. For me, at that point I was just 22 and it was fascinating to me to be playing on the same stage with giants like Sparrow, Melody, Christo, Zebra and Brigo. After that Carnival I was having problems with Frankie's standard of music that existed then. He played alto sax and was famous for that. When I joined he put me on alto sax and he went on tenor sax, but I couldn't fill his shoes. I then went to Clarence Curvan's band room on St Vincent Street, heard the band and when I saw the young ages of the guys and the method being used by Beverly Griffith, the band's arranger, I decided that was for me.
"Frankie was in charge of Telco Recordings, located in Champs Fleurs. One Saturday night, we were recording in Frankie's studio and Clarence had a gig in Chaguanas. While in the studio physically my mind was in the fete in Central and I began making mistakes. After the session Frankie told me, 'young boy, before we fall out, take this sax and be on your way'. I immediately went to the fete in Chaguanas with lots of drinks and pretty young girls. I had a happy time with Clarence Curvan and learnt lot, as well as a lot that has benefitted me up to this day from Beverly Griffith."
Cape stayed with Curvan's band until the end of 1964, but Berridge, Tobas and he had a dream that one day they would have their our own band. Cape recalled, "By that time, Ron was doing all the music for Bertram Inniss, a stalwart arranger in those days, working Sparrow. Ron used to score Bert's music because Bert's eyesight was failing. Leslie Samaroo, whose brother had owned Strand Cinema, got his brother to close down the cinema for carnival and they opened the first Calypso Revue there in 1964. For the 1965 Carnival, Samaroo contracted Ron's band to play. That year, Ron recorded Sniper's immortal Portrait of Trinidad. That tent was real hot that year as we had calypsonians like Bomber and Terror.
"After Carnival we went to Barbados with Guyanese impressario Clifton Fraser. But, nobody knew of our band so that tour was disastrous. Before going to Barbados we did some recordings. Mr Samaroo was pressing RCA records in Trinidad. By the time we returned from Barbados the recordings had been released. The Dutchy Brothers were also popular at that time. We approached them to do a 'non stop', a format in parties in which two bands played non stop continuously. They decided to help us. There was more love in those days between musicians. There was a dance in Naparima Club in San fernando. All the promoters from south were in attendance and their pronouncement was that Ron's band would be a great band."
�2 CONTINUES TOMORROW
�2 Roy Cape: A Life on The Calypso and Soca Bandstand will be launched on Friday, September 26, along with Cape CD�Roy Cape: A Calypso and Soca Anthology–at Carib Woodbrook Playboyz panyard, Tragarete Road, Newtown, at 6 pm. Published by Duke University Press, the book will have its international release on October 3.