Rico – Man From Warika
The recent obituaries of Rico Rodrigues, that appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and on Radio 4’s ‘Last Word’ in the last couple of weeks indicate the level of respect and affection in which he was regarded by many in this, his adoptive country. In the UK he was primarily known for his work with The Specials and Jools Holland’s R ‘n’ B Orchestra, that he’d worked with just about everyone in Reggae is perhaps not so readily known. Fronting his own band he could deliver a range of scintillating live music from Ska to Roots, one of his many career highlights would have been providing support for Bob Marley’s legendary series of live dates at London’s Rainbow theatre in the 1970s.
Rico received his musical education, like many of his contemporaries, through Sister Ignatius at The Alpha Boys School in the 1950s. He, and the other alumni, would form the foundation on which Jamaican music would rest for many years to come. In the 1960’s Rico relocated to the UK where he became influential in the burgeoning UK Jazz and reggae scene. Though not always receiving the credit he deserved he, nonetheless, played on countless sessions, records and live shows, culminating with his own album ‘Man from Warika’ which Island Records released after recognising it as an instant classic. The album’s dub counterpart was recently released by Island as part of their Back in Black reissue programme. Warika hill overlooks the Jamaican capital, Kingston, and was the site of one of the earliest Rastafarian settlements. Rico and his musical brethren would sometimes retreat to Warika and join in the Nyahbingi drumming sessions that might sometimes last for days. It was a faith that would sustain throughout his life..
Jerry Dammer’s was a fan and when he needed a horn player for his new multi-racial Ska revival band, The Specials, Rico was the obvious choice. It was he, therefore, who contributed the unforgettable Trombone to their number 1 hit single ‘A Message To You Rudy’. After the Two-Tone revival had run its course Jools Holland offered Rico the opportunity to become a permanent fixture in his band and subsequently enjoyed a busy schedule of touring and TV appearances – often singing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ during the New Year’s Eve Hootenanny.
I was lucky enough to have seen and heard Rico play live on several occasions and to have met him once. Jools Holland was to provide the entertainment during in the lunch break during a cricket test match between England and the West Indies at Lords. It so happened that the band had seats just along from mine. Carefully choosing my moment I was able to have a brief chat with Rico who as friendly and modest as many others have previously noted and he was also kind enough to autograph my programme.
Though his passing is sad he had lived a long and productive life, earning the affection and admiration of his fans and fellow musicians along the way. He leaves a vast legacy of recording that will be played for many decades to come.