I can still remember the thrill of first hearing the opening bars of The Specials’ A Message to You Rudy. The brass, the bass, the attitude. It was music rediscovered. And at the heart of that sound was the trombonist Rico Rodriguez.His death this week marks not only the loss of an outstanding musical talent, and one of my musical heroes, but also a break in a musical thread that winds itself through several generations and genres.
Born in Havana, Rico moved as a child to Jamaica, and then, in the 1960s came to Britain. In Jamaica, he had attended the same Kingston school as another wonderful trombonist Don Drummond, a pioneer of ska, and a founder of the Skatalites. It was Drummond who taught Rico how to play the trombone. Rico himself helped nourish ska, working with the likes of Prince Buster, Clue J and the Blues Blasters and Laurel Aitken. In the 60s and 70s he played with a host of reggae greats from Toots and the Maytals to Linton Kwesi Johnson. And then, of course, came his special work with The Specials.
So, here’s a tribute to you Rico. And to fifty years of music to turn heads and move feet.