THE TRADEWINDS FIFTIETH – by Dave Martins + video

Dave Martins and The Tradewinds  – May 15, 2016

THE TRADEWINDS FIFTIETH by Dave Martins- Credits Stabroek News,

Guyana 50th Anniversary Logo

Guyana 50th Anniversary Logo

Dave Martins 2010 CD

Here’s a coincidence: in 2016, as Guyana reaches 50 years as an independent country, the Tradewinds band is also 50 years old. The two things are not connected. It just happened to coincide that I was looking to start a band to play primarily Caribbean music, featuring my own songs, and that finally happened in 1966 in Toronto where I had been living for about 10 years.

In fact, I didn’t even realize the coincidence until about six months ago, looking at some plans for the Jubilee celebration, that it hit me.

Looking back to the beginnings of the band, with two Trinidad musicians, Glen Sorzano and Kelvin Ceballo, who had migrated to Canada about the same time as I, I had been playing music professionally, with my earlier band The Debonairs, doing a variety of music. 

Doing that however for some five years, performing in Canada and the US, I had gradually come to the realization that I wanted to shift to doing mainly Caribbean music using the songs I had begun writing, and I launched Tradewinds in mid-1966 at a Toronto nightclub called The Bermuda Tavern, where I had been playing previously with Debonairs.

The group was instantly popular with the growing number of Caribbean people migrating to Toronto, but I was very aware of the value of a hit recording for any emerging group, and so very early on I decided to record four of my songs to that end. Instead of just sending them to radio stations in the region, I decided to take the band to Trinidad for their 1967 Carnival, to give the songs a radio push Nobody had invited us. We had no bookings. The band was completely unknown outside Toronto. But we had many Trini friends from our Bermuda Tavern nights, and between Glen’s and Kelvin’s families we could get accommodation, so the two-week trip would only cost us the airfare plus some minor expenses, and I had that money saved.

Looking back, it was not a case, consciously, of any burning ambition to be “a star”; it was a strategic gamble. I had seen, from watching how the music industry operates, that getting a hit song on the radio was the quickest way to get a band known, and Trinidad was the biggest music event in the Caribbean; one of my songs was a jumpy Carnival tune called “Meet Me In Port-of-Spain” which we thought could catch on. It was a gamble – in fact going to Carnival with an unknown four-piece band, we were laughed at by some Trinidad musician friends in Toronto – but if it fizzled out that wouldn’t put me in debt, and we would be returning from the two weeks away and going back to making our good living playing six nights a week in Toronto. It was a risk worth taking.

We made the trip, Trini friends helped us get a few free gigs, and I was agog at the splash and power of Carnival; I had never seen anything close to that in my life. The key for Tradewinds though was that through Glen’s connections we were able to meet the late Sam Ghany, the then head of Radio Trinidad, who was very receptive to this new group, said he liked the songs, and would give them a push on the radio. Sam also put us on his weekly radio show, heard across the region, and we did some radio interviews, played our free gigs, and took in carnival. No prestige bookings resulted, and we went back to Toronto, I wouldn’t say disappointed, but certainly not having lit any fires in Trinidad; no promoters were, as the Trinis say, “running us down”. We went back to our Canadian base and back into the familiar Bermuda Tavern, and didn’t hear any rumblings from Trinidad.

And then, probably two months or so later, I picked up the phone one day in my home in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale, and the person on the other hand was a Trini music promoter of Telco Records. The man was practically incoherent, babbling away about the huge popularity of this Tradewinds song in Trinidad which he wanted to release. It turns out that after we had left the island, several radio stations had been hammering the song and it was making waves all over the region.

To cut a long story short, the gamble had paid off, although the song that hit was “Honeymooning Couple”, not the one we were pushing, and Tradewinds had become one of those overnight successes that happen in music purely from radio play. Within six months, we were back in Trinidad, headlining a show at that country’s independence – not for free, this time. We also made our first appearance of so many in Barbados, and I was fielding calls from other islands interested in booking the band. Approximately another six months later, after the 1968 Trinidad Carnival where we played several shows, we appeared for the first time in Guyana at the Astor Cinema, booked there by the late Cyril Shaw. It meant that both Tradewinds and independent Guyana were then two years old – rank beginners.

We’re playing at the Stadium here on Legends Night of the Jubilee, Saturday 21 May, and looking back one would have to ask, how come such a run; bands don’t often last for 50 years. I would have to say I’m not sure, but a part of it would be the songs that are basically about Caribbean life – as George Jardim put it, “Caribbean sociology” – that our fans relate to. One of the keys, I know for sure, is that in picking the guys for the band over the years my emphasis, musical talent included, was always on character first – dependable, disciplined and essentially good people – and the longevity proves that; Clive, the drummer, Trinidad, has been there for 45 years; Jeff, keyboard, Grenada, 37; Harry, percussion, Barbados, 42; and Richard, bass, Cayman, 32. That’s a real Caribbean family, something I’m especially proud of, and so as Guyana makes a fuss about her birthday, let me join that and also say, “Happy Birthday, Tradewinds.” It’s been one sweet ride.

Dave Martins & the Tradewinds – Honeymooning Couple

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  • Tulsie Das  On 05/28/2016 at 9:11 am

    Ha, yes sir how time flies, just like last month, the trade winds, their music will last a life time and beyond, never to repeat it self.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/28/2016 at 1:33 pm

    A happy jubilee to Dave Martins & The Tradewinds! Love your music!

  • detow  On 05/28/2016 at 2:30 pm

    Happy anniversary Tradewinds, I remember you from WE PLACE in Toronto in the 60s. Most enjoyable times.

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