MUSIC: The Tradewinds Saga – By Dave Martins + Music video ‘Honeymooning Couple’

By Dave Martins –  November 15, 2020 – Stabroek News

Following a recent gyaff with my long-time Guyanese musician friend George Jardim, who was asking me about the emergence of the Tradewinds band, I wrote a few lines which I later saw as well-suited to this SO IT GO column. Here is what I wrote George:

Okay, Jardim. Soon after migrating to Toronto in 1955, and seeing all the entertainment spots operating there, six nights a week, I had my mind set on that market and a year or so after I landed I started a four-piece combo, The Latins, doing the usual Guyana mix of Latin, MOR pop, and kaiso.       

Seeing the wider Toronto market for American hit parade material, I changed the band to The Debonairs, doing a range of music, mostly MOR pop and some Caribbean stuff, particularly the ballads. We performed in tuxedoes, if you please and we played midtown at a place called THE BRASS RAIL – strictly pop, except when we played. The impetus there was the fact that Toronto, as a major immigrant centre, had scores of bars and entertainment places, many of them hiring bands, six nights a week, like the Brass Rail.

Then later, the same family owned another bar downtown, the Bermuda Tavern, and when I decided I wanted to concentrate more on Caribbean music (lots of Caribbean immigrants) and I had become hooked on Trinidad kaiso, I broke up Debonairs and formed Tradewinds in 1966.  Also, a big factor in my switch was the emergence then of combos, like the Merrymen in the Caribbean, doing very well with Caribbean recordings right alongside the big brass brands there – I saw Toronto as a similar market for that mix, with all its immigrant West Indians.

Tradewinds subsequently recorded 4 songs and went with them to the 1967 Trinidad carnival – totally on spec, no bookings.  But one of the band members was a Trini guitar man, Glen Sorzano, I stayed with him in Port-of-Spain, and he knew Sam Ghany, the head of Radio Trinidad. I took our recordings to Sam, who liked the songs and put them on a Sunday radio show he did, Caribbean Serenade, which covered the whole Caribbean.  We played a few nights in Port-of-Spain… free, one appearance being at Choy Aming’s Penthouse nightclub in the city, but nobody there knew us, and we went back to Toronto (Tradewinds air fare) having enjoyed Carnival.  Four weeks later, out of the blue, one of our songs, Honeymooning Couple, which had aired on Sam Ghany’s show, was a hit all over the region; that song launched us.  Ask a Trini about Debonairs, who is duh?  But they know Tradewinds – the power of pop radio. A lot of this was blind luck. I took the gamble, put up the travel money and expenses for the Carnival trip, and that became a ritual.

Every year from 1966 to 1976, we went to Trinidad carnival, stayed with relatives or friends, played a few Carnival shows, including the big carnival Jaycees show in the  Savannah; we were now a well-known band, went on after Carnival to do a weekend in Guyana, usually Pegasus, Woodbine, New Amsterdam, Suddie, etc., then travelled to Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Maarten, etc., and back to Toronto for a welcome-back Saturday night in one of the hotels – huge crowd. That was the rise of Tradewinds.  We would do an album every year, in advance of Carnival, and when the band became known we would do a second tour like that around Trinidad Independence time with the other Caribbean stops and the big dance back in Toronto at the end.  The Carnival idea was really a bit of a gamble, but we had enough money to pay our way to Trinidad, and we were coming back to guaranteed money every week in our nightspot, We Place in Toronto.

However, once Honeymooning Couple hit, we were getting calls from other Caribbean spots like St. Maarten, US Virgins, etc.  all from that hit, and I was able to keep writing songs every year, doing an album, touring the Caribbean twice a year, building the thing we started in 1966.  It had become routine. Looking back on it, the pieces of that puzzle came together for me gradually over, I would say, two years, starting with the idea to write kaisos for Trini carnival, pay the band’s airfare and play our tails off, plus we had that big night back in Toronto every year, with a hotel dance, either Royal York downtown, or one in Scarborough, where we cleaned up, so what sounds like a big financial gamble was actually a pretty solid venture.  Mind you, the whole thing could have flopped; Caribbean people in North America knew us, but we were totally unknown in the Caribbean market. Honeymooning Couple changed that; the power of radio. Now it’s radio and TV and internet… bigger guns.

That’s the emergence of the Tradewinds band in a nutshell. Later, of course, the ride continued when Tradewinds’ recordings became popular in the Cayman Islands, due to their Radio Cayman airplays. I was persuaded to relocate us there in 1979, thereby consolidating the band in the Caribbean where it belonged, and subsequently marrying a Caymanian, Angela Ebanks. From that union, came three children – Annika, Janine, and the lone male, Bryan. I would return to Guyana in 2008 to live permanently after Angela and I separated, and where I would later marry Annette. Ultimately, the songs made it all happen, starting with Honeymooning Couple in 1966.

Quite a journey that was for a country boy from Hague, West Dem. Standing on the stage of the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York, I recall looking up at the crowd in the upper tiers of the theatre and reflecting how lucky I was to be performing there… a simple West Dem bhai! Who knew?

Dave Martins & The Tradewinds – Honeymooning Couple 

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