1960s, the Combo Era

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The young men of that era, instead of taking up guns and involving themselves in criminal activity, formed music bands known as combos.

On almost every street corner throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago could be found these combos which were comprised mainly of guitars and keyboards.
One of the best was the Casanovas Combo whose leader and keyboardist, Monty Williams, was the son of the great bandleader, John Buddy Williams.

Among the other famous names were the Silver Strings Combo, The Esquires Now (with Clive Bradley on keyboard), The Comets (Kalyan), Bert Bailey and the Jets, The Rockerfellers Combo (Boothman), Solid 7 (from La Brea – RAF Robertson on keyboard), Ancil Wyatt, His Guitar and Combo, Johnny Lee and the Hurricanes and the Group Solo, led by the master keyboardist, Robert Bailey, son of the late Olympic athlete, Mc Donald Bailey.
One of the first combos in Trinidad and Tobago was the Jarvo Brothers whose biggest hit, Teo, is still played on the local radio stations more than sixty years after it was first recorded.

The borough of Arima, where I was born, gave the nation Bertie Fermin and the Chimes Combo as well as the Deltones Combo. There was hardly any room that could be found in venues like the Chinese Association in St. Ann’s, the Perseverance Club in Maraval and the Chun Shan Asociation on Charlotte Street when these combos played, each trying to outdo the other in musical mastery.

Excitement, however, tended to reach fever-pitch when fans would gather in their thousands at fetes to witness the clashes between the two men who were arguably the best keyboardists that the country ever produced, Robert Bailey of the Group Solo and Monty Williams of the Casanovas Combo.

At the time, the fetes that became popular among the younger crowds were house parties known as “Dutch” parties where everyone would be expected to walk with a bottle of some type of beverage in order to gain entrance.

A bottle of Whiteways Cydrax was the choice of many since it was one of the cheapest drinks available to the youngsters whose access to funds was always limited. Apart from being among the cheapest of the drinks available on the market, because of the dark-brown colour of the bottle, it also provided some of the smart-minded party goers with the opportunity to fill the bottle with water to gain entry without it costing them a cent.
I hold very pleasant memories of dancing many a night away at one of these Dutch parties to the sounds of the various combos.

But although the music of that era was dominated by the combos, those days also produced legendary orchestra leaders whose music tended to attract a more mature audience. These musical wizards whose music still appeals to all who hear it today, gave Trinidad and Tobago the “Big Band” sound. Leading the way were band leaders like Sel Duncan, Fitz Vaughn Bryan, Mano Marcellin, Clarence Curvan, Joey Lewis, Ron Berridge and the Dutchy Brothers.

While Trinidad and Tobago was swarming with combos on almost every street corner in the 1960s, it was not the only place where these combos could be found. Guyana gave the world a band called Ralph Blakeney and the Rhythmaires whose rendition of the Mohammed Rafi classic, Suhani Raat, was a hit at every party. The Barbadians were also not to be outdone and they produced a band that gave fete lovers many great hits to which they could dance at their leisure.

That band was called the Tropical Islanders and one of their biggest hits was named Julianne which was a modernised version of the Giuseppi Verdi classic, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. Attending a fete in those days also presented a different type of experience. There were no disc jockeys with sophisticated computer-generated equipment as exists today.

The music was provided by a DJ who walked with a record player which he had to load one record at a time which meant there was always a delay of several seconds between the end of one tune and the start of another. This made for some exciting competition among the men attending the party as they would all line up with their eyes on a particular young lady with whom they wished to dance and, as they heard the sound of the needle dropping on the record, they would all rush across to ask her to dance and it would be tough luck for you if you did not get to her first.

One of my most pleasant experiences in those days was attending a ball at the Arima Tennis Club organised by a popular Youth Club at the time called A TEENS, which was run by Ursula Bleasdell, “Aunty Babsie” as she was popularly known and who did such great work over the years helping the young people of Arima to develop into fine citizens of whom the Borough and the entire nation could be proud. Everyone who attended the ball was handed a card on which was printed all of the music that would be played that evening in the order in which it would be played. Below each tune was a space on which a name could be written.

What you were required to do was to approach a lady of your choosing and request that she reserve a particular song to dance with you. If she agreed, you would write her name on your card and she would write your name on hers. When the time came for the particular tune to be played, you would seek her out knowing that no one else could beat you to it since you had made your reservation early.

It was a most unique and classy system. That era is one which will forever remain in my memory as one of the best in my entire lifetime. What glorious days!

Neil Giuseppe