Arts, Culture & Media

Stop your messin' around: What Rico Rodriguez meant to ska

Rico Rodriguez_CROP.jpg

Rico Rodriguez.

Credit:

Brigitte Engl/Getty

If one song served to unite two waves of ska music, it is "A Message To You, Rudy."

And there was one constant from its 1967 origins to its revival as part of British 2-Tone punk-ska movement: its trombonist, Rico Rodriguez.

The Specials’ Horace Panter remembered Rodriguez, who died Friday at age 80, as "a humble man" and "a tremendous musician.” Elvis Costello singled out Rodriguez's trombone work with The Specials on ''Rudy" as a relevatory moment. For me, his "Rudy,'' along with Don Drummond's "Eastern Standard Time" and Willie Colón's solos for The Fania All-Stars, made my high-school instrument, the trombone, actually sound kind of cool. 

Here it is.

Rodriguez, born in Kingston to a Cuban father and a Jamaican mother, was one of a group of talented musicians, such as fellow trombonist Drummond and trumpeter Tommy McCook, to come out of a Jamaican boys school and form the backbone of Jamaican recording as it moved into ska and rock steady in the 1960s. Moving to London in the 1960s, he balanced auto work with his musicianship for many years.

From 1986 on, he played with Jools Holland's Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. "He bridged the gap between early Jamaican music and modern British ska pop music,'' wrote Holland, who had been with the band Squeeze. "I toured the world with him and spent as much time enjoying his company as his music. He had a great knowledge on many subjects from the Old Testament to horseracing; his personality and sound were as one and both adorable."

Rodriguez was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for services to music in 2007.

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Here's our sampler of great ska tunes: