Earl Rodney, A Friend and Countryman

Knolly Moses

We’ve lost another pan icon. The Point Fortin musician who mashed up town with his energetic music for Solo Harmonites has gone to the ancestors. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Rodney, much like his contemporary Clive Bradley, arranged for both steel and traditional orchestras. He played and arranged with the Dutchy Brothers, and when Vincent Yip Young convinced him to join Harmonites he won them Panorama titles in 1968 1971 and 1972.

He arguably deserves credit for Jericho, the Panorama 1974 winner. Nearly 90% of the arrangement is Rodney’s although Rupert Mark did the initial work. It’s notable that all his Panorama winners were  Kitchener’s compositions.

Rodney began playing pan when he was only four years old, and by seven he was playing on the road. Later, he became an excellent bass player, and a crack Double Seconds soloist, as his YouTube videos attest. He briefly played with the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. He also worked with the Troubadors, the band that accompanied Sparrow, and arranged some of the calypsonian’s music. In 1973, he produced a stellar album, Friends and Countrymen, a commendable work of Calypso and jazz fusion.

Pan Talk spoke to Rodney last February in his backyard in Point. He was his usual cynical self, talking about current pan music. We asked him to retell his story about Percy Clarke giving him his first pan and how he had to hide to play it. That led to the neighbors thinking it was Clarke playing the pan. We asked him to explain his expressed notion that notes were eliminated from the pan and thus diminished its musical range. His ideas about that were complex and innovative, but beyond our pay grade to explain.

As we have experienced over the years, when you talk to Rodney long enough the name Alan Gervais comes up. We could tell Rodney still grieved for him in the way he talked about Gervais, as if the brilliant pan tuner was still around. Rodney and Gervais had co-founded Tropical Harmony when they were both young men. Gervais, who later tuned for Cavaliers and Tripoli, died in 1977. Rodney told us in February that he still missed him. He also still played pans Gervais made for him decades ago.

Most importantly, he didn’t forget to laugh and give a few jokes. He said he enjoyed sitting in his backyard and enjoying the breeze and the birds. He and his wife Ann were very hospitable and we enjoyed their freshly made fruit juices. Rodney even played for us in his home studio that he built himself despite the arthritis bothering him.

He was concerned that his health was deteriorating, and we promised to keep in touch. Just two weeks ago we talked to his close associate Makesi Joseph about visiting Trinidad to begin interviewing Earl for a biography. But the health issues got in the way.

“Earl was good with God,” says Makesi. “He lived his life spending time with his friends and spreading the gospel.” The only regret Makesi has is that they were not able to complete a gospel CD they were working on. He said only three of the four pieces were finished. Makesi promises to release the three tunes. He also promised to have Rodney’s service live streamed so his friends and fans around the world can join.