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SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2015
Today marks the 30th anniversary of
the death of Laventille legend Rudolph
Charles, the Desperadoes leader who left an
indelible mark on the steelband as well as
the hill s innovative music and its overall
To paraphrase calypsonian David Rudder in
a different way, the dragon still walks the trail.
This, despite his untimely demise at a relatively
young age in 1985. At 47, he left the nation
an immeasurable legacy that perhaps guar-
antees historical reference for the ages. Well
into the far reaches of space, unfathomable
as that may seem. But that s who he was. The
unwitting progenitor of beast mode, where
good and bad coexist at opposite ends of the
continuum of steelband lore. The Hammer
he was. Also answered to Trail and Charlo.
One and the same icon of the realm behind
the Bridge, where the instrument was birthed.
Of course, Pan, the bold-faced outside child
of percussion, fully recognised and relished
the innate skills of this tuner of substance.
And what made the man---who dressed like
a guerrilla warlord---was his swagger, sense of
style and a remaking of excitement from a
high ceiling that had an imposing view of
Port-of-Spain, as far as the eye and ear could
comprehend, well past the Panorama stage.
You could tell.
Years now Despers has been neck-locked
in a struggle of its soul.
"He took us to ten Panorama titles," says
his wife, Carol, from Los Angeles. "He was
a phenomenal person, and as a leader and
panman, there s none, none to meet his climax.
We should mark the memory of what he did
for pan and move on."
For Rudolph to move on, it would take the
death of his father Sydney, an officer in the
Prison Service, who succumbed to diabetes
in 1953 at 44 while rearing nine of 11 children,
two of whom died young. By all accounts, he
excelled at cricket and in the classroom. He
proved to be a good singer, too, says elder
brother Gerald, who taught himself on his
mother s upright bass. Rudolph also served
as an altar boy at Our Lady of Laventille,
where the family worshipped. But he had his
stubborn ways. If he didn t have money for
school he d stand his ground. Ma Georgie, as
matriarch Georgiana was known, would have
none of it. Luckily, neighbours pitched in with
a shilling or so.
Meanwhile, as Sydney lay dying, he gathered
the family. Lennox, the intellectual who retired
as a director of Montreal s Jewish General
Hospital, remembers the chill of deflation and
fear in the room. "He asked my mother what
she was going to do, and Ma said, God will
provide. It was a teary moment."
Rudolph was 15, a Tranquillity student on
the ascent. In a few years he would find his
"The creativity of the family comes from
Ma Georgie," says musician Aldwin Albino.
"We used to go to someone s house and cut
loose. Gerald was popular, playing with my
group and top bands."
Rudolph found a job at the General Post
Office and a penchant for classical music.
Bach and Beethoven were instrumental in his
foray at tuning a tenor on the sly. In time, he
became one of the leaders of a small band,
Spike Jones, the new kids on Despers block.
Their popularity chafed at the elders nerves.
Join, or else, they threatened.
"Rudolph turned around the band musically,"
Gerald recalls. "He was trained to take lead-
In 1959, after the steelband clash with San
Juan All Stars, Rudolph met Brenda Wallace
as he was pushing pans up Laventille Road.
At 16, she oozed with virginal purity. Next
day, they connected at a standpipe, fell in love
and brought Cheryl Wallace into his world in
1960. The following year he led the band---
as in the military, the first man on a climbing
A Desperadoes soldier, William Thomas,
alias Thunderbolt, and Brenda threw in their
lot in the tuning process. She burning the
drums over a bonfire and he sinking the face
to groove the notes. Over the years, Rudolph
sought assistance from respected tuners toward
fashioning his goal of a unique Desperadoes
sound. Which he would achieve within a
decade by virtue of his inventions: the nine
bass, 12 bass, rocket pan, quadraphonics, Yin
Yang, harmony pans and a marked improve-
ment on the fourths and fifths tenor.
"At Carnival time, he looked like the devil
self," Brenda recalls.
30 years after his death...
Rudolph Charles lives
Continued on Page A28
A Desperadoes player works the 12-bass at
Panorama. The instrument is a 1975 Rudolph
Charles invention, whose tone was fashioned
after his brother Gerald's upright string bass.
PHOTO: JEFFREY CHOCK VIA DIGITAL PAN ARCHIVE
Rudolph Charles and prime minister Dr Eric Williams chat at the Desperadoes panyard in
Laventille. Both died on March 29, separated by four years. Today marks the 30th anniversary
of the death of the legendary Desperadoes leader, innovative tuner and community activist.
PHOTO COURTESY GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICES VIA THE DIGITAL PAN ARCHIVE
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