Emmanuel "Rico" Rodriguez (17 October 1934 - 04 September 2015) gets a mention in Ian Dury's song Reasons To be Cheerful. Like a million others I agree with Dury that "listening to Rico" is one of the great pleasures in life. The distinctive emotive sounds Rico could make on his trombone were unique. Rico was a versatile musician with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He could make music that sounded sad and even haunting but it was more than that - he was an artist with a gift and his ability was something special. Rico was taught trombone by Don Drummond and made classic records with other ska legends such as Prince Buster and then later moved to Britain and worked with The Specials. I love the way he plays on "Do Nothing" and "Message To You Rudy". And he contributed an amazing solo on the extended version of Ghost Town which is regarded by many as the best reggae single to get to number one in the British charts. In more recent times he was a member of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and consequently got to tour all over the UK. No one can say his talent went unnoticed - many stars like Paul Weller wanted him on their albums, Trojan records brought a 2 CD box set of his earliest recordings, he was also awarded both an MBE in 2007 and a Jamaican Silver Award in 2012.
In March 2010 I went to Brighton to see Jerry Dammers & His Spatial Arkestra featuring Rico. It was a good turn out. The audience were very mixed, different ages and backgrounds etc which was good. There were a lot of breath taking moments. There was a wild re-working of the Bat Man theme with crazy sax solos. They did a new versions of Ghost Town which was great. Rico was on fine form and got a hero's welcome. After the show the musicians came and played outside and met the crowd and I took this photo:
I remember on the train on the way home how the Sun Ra tunes and chants had really stuck in my head. The musicians were all dressed in Egyptian clothes and the idea was they were like travelers going back and forth in time. At one stage in the evening Jerry tried to get everyone in the audience to gargle - it was nuts but somehow it all just about worked. I was impressed and everything felt very positive – it was a really good night. However, my favourite Rico memory was a concert that happened 6 months earlier in Soho where Rico was joined onstage by Dick Cuthell.
I've always been a huge fan of The Specials in their 2-tone days. In my opinion Rico and Dick Cuthell (who played flugel horn, cornet, and trumpet) turned several good Specials songs into truly great ones. For some reason Dick Cuthell retired from the music scene in the 1990s and wasn't heard of for quite some time. But in 2003 Jerry Dammers got Rico, Dick Cuthell, bassist Horace Panter, and singer/guitarist Lynval Golding together to work on a brand new track called "First Victims of War." Dammers believed he could get all The Specials back together and come back with a new material that would carry on where Ghost Town left off but sadly things didn't go to plan and nothing got released. However, the night Dick and Rico played Gaz's Rockin' Blues was just magic. When I got to the venue in Wardour Street Rico was there and he greeted me with a big smile, shook my hand and thanked me for coming.
Gaz Mayall introduced Rico to the crowd who were all incredibly young and explained Rico had played on some groundbreaking albums. Before he came on stage there were lots of great records playing, mostly old ska classics. But Gaz said that the last track we heard was brand new. He explained that Jerry Dammers had asked him to play a new track because he wanted to see how the club reacted. The new track which was a collaboration between Jerry, Dick and Rico was really good and certainly the most radio friendly thing Jerry had been involved with for a couple of decades. It went down really well and the crowd were all dancing away. Then, when Rico & the band started playing and it was fantastic.
I have no idea what albums there were playing tracks from but it was an absolutely brilliant set. Dick and Rico worked so well together. The music they played was so exciting and fresh and infectious. It was just really, really good.
Another reason the night was so great was their sax player Michael "Bammie" Rose who was equally ten out of ten. I bumped into Rico for a third time in October 2013. I was at Charing Cross station and we came face to face at the barrier. I said hello and told him he was my favourite musician. He put his trombone down, shook my hand and then talked to me as though we were old friends. "I'm off to see Jools" he explained. I asked if Roland Gift would be singing with them and Rico said they were going to be working with one of The Spice Girls and laughed as he said it will be interesting to see how it goes. And then I asked about Jerry's orchestra and he said "next time Jerry does something I'll be there." Just then another guy walked up and asked if he could shake Rico's hand too. He said Rico was his favourite musician too and asked if I could take a photo of them as "it's not ever day you meet a legend." Rico was amused by the attention and wished us both well before boarding his train.
In July 2014 Rico, Jerry and Specials singer Nev Staple performed at The Barbican together. Regrettably I didn't go as it clashed with something. I'd heard it was a great night but that Rico was beginning to look a bit frail. Although Rico continued collaborating and performing and taking part in events like The International Ska Festival it became clear his health was deteriorating. After hearing news of his death Specials bassist Horace Panter tweeted: "Such an outpouring of love and respect on Twitter tonight for Rico Rodriguez RIP! A lovely man with a huge talent!" I completely agree with that. Some people say you die three times. The first time is when your heart stops beating. The second time is when they put you in the ground. And the last time is when everyone stops talking and thinking about you. Rico Rodriguez is too good to be forgotten!