When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

The following is a message from Mike who has an awesome Steelband and Calypso collection.

...thanks for the msg and a great subject!

I suppose it depends on whether you mean what song was first recorded or what was first published on record? Also, do you mean steel drum/pan or just steel percussion accompaniment?

As far as what I personally own, the earliest would be Sagomes SG.102 - Casablanca Steel Orchestra - "Last Train To San Fernando" which was recorded in 1950 but I'm not sure if it was published prior to 1952, which would mean that the TASPO 78s on the Vogue label were released first.

I think I found the forum that you're refering to. I had heard of the DISC 78s but haven't listened them to know for sure if its indeed a steelpan recording or just simple steel percussion. The Library of Congress has a reel-to-reel tape from Trinidad, recorded in early 1950 that has several Casablanca songs on it. Among them are the B sides of those two DISC 78s (Melody/Bandy Legs) and Sagomes martix numbers 1A (In Ah Calabash) and 2A (Last Train To San Fernando). Dating all of these songs to at least early 1950. The DISC 78s have matrix numbers that are almost 100 higher than the Felix & His Internationals DISC 78s of 1947/48 and I have only heard hear-say that they were copyright 1948. So I can't confirm if they are the earliest steelpan recordings or not.

As for the Decca 78s recorded in Trinidad in 1939 and 1940, there are a few sides that definitely contain steel percussion but I have not heard one that resembles any sort of steelpan sound. 'Clear The Way When The Bamboo Plays' by The Caresser and 'The Bamboo Band' by Black Prince (1939) both have what sounds like spoons tapping glass bottles... and 'Fire Brigade' by Atilla (1940) is a Kalinda that sounds like it has some sort of steel drum but still in single-tone or maybe two-tone?

I have an old Wilmoth Houdini and Felix's Krazy Kats kalinda from the '30s that I'm going to dig up but I'm pretty sure we'll hear bamboo sticks not steel percussion.

Hope this helps...

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Many consider "Run You Run Hitler" by the "Sa Gomes Rhythm Boys With Cambulay" (Decca 17438), recorded in 1940, to be the first proto-steelband recording. It's more of an iron band. There are other Decca sides between 1937–1940 with metallic accompaniment.

The first full-fledged steelband recordings I'm aware of are the DISC 78s of Casablanca from 1947. John Schmidt has a copy of this album, and wrote an article about it here: http://www.ecaroh.com/profiles/1947casablanca.htm.

The first LPs recorded in Trinidad were produced by an offshoot of the legendary NY jazz label, Dial, in 1953. They recorded calypsonians, Orisha music, string bands, and steelbands at the Christopher Brothers studio on 7 Nelson Street in POS. I have one of the LPs, "Carnival in Trinidad" (Dial 404), which includes several steelband tracks by Johannesburg Fascinators and Funland.

Fine collection indeed! Thanks for sharing, Mike.

( though I must admit that the music makes me feel my age, since I remember some of these tunes from the early fifties).

Very insightfull Thank you WST.

Valuable information, Mike, Zeke and Pan Times. For now, 1947 seems to be the earliest documented date of a steelpan recording.

Glenroy, we like many other living souls, are fortunate to have experienced these early pan tunes on the Grundig radio or the neighbors RCA Gramophone (His Masters Voice)..........and now recall the memories. Such a pity that many of us did not see the value in saving these early 78 recordings!!


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