When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Let me begin by admitting that I am no more than a student of steelband and pan history. Most of what I know is from research; the rest comes from recollection (from being around my dad as a child), and personal experience from being a member of two steelbands (Merrytones in Trinidad, and Tripoli in the US). And, many of the pioneers like Clifford Alexis, Hugh Borde, and Othello Molineaux, share MANY stories with me. (I am TRULY blessed!)

As a student, I choose to approach the study, by looking at as much of the evidence as I can gather before coming to a conclusion. It is no secret that the history is distorted (a reference to which I have made on numerous occasions). As such, I see it important to separate what cannot be doubted, from what can. I think that any history that does not validate gathered information, is prone to “falsifications”. We are fortunate that my dad did much of the research for us, whether you have the historical knowledge to accept that or not.

So, I am familiar with the many versions; as examples: Tanty Wille’s yard in Gonzales (Claude); “River Vine Cavali” from East Dry River (Yip Young); “Mussel-Rat” from the “Lime Grove” in Gonzales (Simmonds). Interestingly, three credible academic researchers, Dr. J. D. Elder, Sylvia Gonzales, and Pete Simon, all posit that the steelbands originated in Newtown, with the New Town Tamboo Bamboo Band, which became Alexander’s Ragtime Band. (My dad, by the way, was a member of that band, so I guess that qualifies him as an early steelband pioneer, regardless of the argument as to where steelbands originated. Again, I have a UNIQUE vantage point; many who are older than me, were not in steelbands in the late 1930’s to the early 1940’s.)

Tokyo pioneer, Anthony Rouff, also gave credit to Alexander’s Ragtime Band, although he stated that Spree Simon was the first to play a recognizable tune, “May Had A Little Lamb”. On that note, in a 1974 booklet, Steelband – Winston “Spree” Simon’s Story, Spree was quoted as saying that he did not know who first said “let us beat pan in place of bamboo”. (Jones, 1974) Noted attorney and former legal adviser to the steelbands association, Lennox Pierre, and calypsonian Rafael “Roaring Lion” De Leon, also both recall from personal involvement and memory that Alexander’s Ragtime Band was the first steelband on the scene. In fact, I would like anyone to produce a steelband song earlier than Lion’s 1940 calypso on the event. Lion shared this in a conversation with my dad, and was supported in an interview my dad held with Emile “Zola” Williams. Pan pioneer brothers, Victor “Totee” Wilson and Frederick “Mando” Wilson, also agree with an Alexander’s Ragtime Band/Newtown origin. (I know some may be hearing some of these names for the first time. Who knows the badjohns “Straight to Heaven”, and “Straight to Hell”? What about “the Admiral, Joe Crick”? I have some “history”, I will share later.) Finally, “Alexander” himself, Carlton “Lord Humbugger” Forde

I would encourage other “students” to seek out the various versions by all means, however, to discredit the information that I am sharing with you, without validation, is not the approach a “student” of any history should adopt. (Just my advice.) Those who are true students of steelband and pan history, KNOW the value of my dad’s research, and the consequential value that it gives my contributions to the subject (on “pan history”).

As one of George “Sonny” Goddard’s heirs, I have been blessed with having a vantage point that only a selected few have in the international steelband and pan fraternity. When it comes to the history of the instrument, my dad was one of the most-credible and sought after authorities. In fact, he was able to capture interviews with many steelband pioneers and stalwarts, during his government-appointed position to record the history of the steelbands. Among those he interviewed (some in the presence of Sr. Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool), are those previously mentioned. So, like my dad, after looking at all the evidence, and listening to all the “eye witnesses”, I have no other logical option, than to believe that the first steelband came from Newtown –Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Most of those who say that is came from somewhere else, when one looks at “conflict of interest” issues, you would notice that most have a vested interest in making their claims, and some have been known to say one thing, and 10, 20, or 30 years later, change their “pan tune”. TRUTH does not waver, does not contradict itself, and is usually supported and corroborated by evidence, including evidence which is tangible (such as newspaper reports). Anyway, that is my sharing of my research; hope it is helpful to someone. Have a safe, blessed evening.

George D. Goddard/Ghost. Same philosophy; different attitude.

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Well, Ghost!!! Put the book together!!!

I bought your father's book and I read it from cover to cover.

I will buy yours and read it too!!!

The Roaring Lion Story of De Steelband and De Unknown Band...http://youtu.be/ZjS-I1W_5z4

Greetings I have been trying to get the Ghost to do just that. WRITE!!! Guidance Dr. Lance

Thanks Ghost, it is so important that this information is shared in a written form which will be there for discussion and reference for our future generations. Great job.

Tru Dat, facts that stand the test of time. I ordered my copy some time ago and await the republication release.

I really wasn't going to get involved in this "history" chupidness, especially since ah hear all kinda jokiness, from "Doctor Guidance" and others 'bout " pan start in Point", etc. First of all, I born and grow up in Woodford St, Newtown! I have worked with Eman Thorpe, Zigilee, Boots, Earl Rodney, Sterling Betancourt, played guitar on Kitch's The Road, and Love in the Cemetery, Roaring Lion was my first Landlord!.... and, of course my Uncle, Russell Henderson! (who has been awarded with MBE,here in UK, but Nothing in his own country, and HE , started the Notting Hill Carnival!)........I was liming with Russ, yesterday, and, was telling him about my experience on VJ day, 1945,( It  could not have been Carnival, as that was banned during the War years!)  when I first heard PAN!!! It was an experience I never forgot!! I told Russell I heard a band, who I thought was Invaders, going down Tragarete Rd, and I run out of mih house, down de road....I was SO EXCITED, to hear de riddum and de Sound!

Russell then enlightened me, and told me it could have been Alexanders Ragtime Band, who were based on the corner of Woodford and Tragarete, and then he went in his bedroom and brought out a clipping from "The P-O-S Gazette", dated August 18th 1948, where, at Mucurapo Stadium, his band was voted" Best Quartette" by judges Wynton Kelly and Ray Nathan, and, in the "ping pong" competition, Aldric Springer,( Deceased in Holland a few years ago?) came first, with Ellie Mannette 3rd......In those days,  he said, the ping pong only had a "few notes"

So Ghost, I backin' yuh again! but, ease we up with "My Dad, My Dad, My Dad", nah! :-)))


Greetings Brother Brian: Boy some ah we hard head fuh so ,oui. Ah said that  I had definitive proof that the steel drums were produced in Point but although Mister Reefer and Valley insist that pan started in Point, I don't have concrete proof of such. There is only subjective reasoning for such. Since then I have read on this post so many different versions of its origin that this version is seriously/ or may  not be  accurate and I, too, like Pantum's write up. Forgive me but this is what education is about --  it is to lead one out of ignorance.  Ah still like Claude's idea about putting the stories in a book form.  Guidance and blessings Dr. Lance

Dr. Lance, I think that your confusion stems from the fact that before oil barrels (they were not called steel drums), the instruments (dust bin covers, buscuit drums, etc.) were considered steel (i.e. made of metal) drums (i.e. method of playing). Again, tamboo bamboo was also considered "drums" (Tambour: drum. French.) The bands were known as "steel bands", before they moved on to the use of oil barrels. The reality is, that "steel drum" and "pan" are synonymous. Some think that we use "steel drums" to make "pans". (Othello Molineaux is a helpful source to understand the "drum" reference.)

So, a "steel drum" is NOT the oil container, rather, the finished end-product: a musical instrument. As for steel drum production in Point; I, again, ask for the evidence, that "steel drums" (the instrument), was being manufactured in Point. Secondly, I really was not aware that we were manufacturing steel products in Trinidad and Tobago during the arrival of the steelbands. Were we producing steel products then, and if so, besides "steel drums" what other steel products were being manufactured? What was the name of the steel-making plant that was putting out finished "steel drums" (i.e. the instrument, not the container). And, are we saying that we were manufacturing oil barrels/drums in Trinidad? Or were the oil barrels made outside of the country, and imported? In any case, unless we distinguish "steel drum" (the instrument) from "steel drum" (the container), we only add to an already compromised "history".

BTW -Dr. Lance; the "stories" were already put into "book form". The thing is, you are correct, "hard head" people, ignore prior research, and as such, have no foundation on which to build their study. Redundant efforts are only a futile waste of time and effort. I say, build off of the credible research that already exists. That is the scholarly approach, and it does not require a college degree. (My dad did it, with only a post-primary "education"!)

Ghost. Same philosophy; different attitude.

And some ah we jus' plain dotish, an' tutulbay....all ah we talking 'bout de origin of PAN, an' you talkin' 'bout wey dey firse produce a DRUM, and, now yuh want to use yuh Semen-Ticks, or tricks, (semantics) to wriggle out de way! Go an pick yuh nits somewhere else, nuh! Only Joking, Dre sooner-rind........And anudder ting, PLEASE doh try to guide and bless me brother Lance.....have a nice day! ;-)

Greetings Once more I am not talking about the instrument. But the barrel from which the instrument was made. The steel drum factory was near the Shell jetty In Point. It started its operatin in 1920. In 1939 the 24 inch gauge  bitumen drums began They wre producing 300 per day; they also produced th 21 and 18 gauge drums, too. In 1954,They were producing over 1 million . India and Australia began to manufacture drums and the production dropped to 500,000. Mr. Belleville was also another supervisor. See Shell  Trinidad Topics Vo II  No. 90).l

With due respect Dr Lance, This is where you had us confused in another post when you said,Quote "Gittens said it correctly! While I have mentioned that Pan was created in Point Fortin, and although Mister Reefer and Valley confirmed this, I still do not believe that we have the definitive proof of its origin. However, the making of the steel drum is definitely from Point and this could be found in Who Dey? Who Dey? Manicou Dey ( Seunarine:2013)" Unquote.. You make us feel that you were talking bout the Pan was tune/make at the Factory, Please be a little more clearer on your Comments, My respect to you Dr. Lance

Bede, that is EXACTLY the confusion that I seek to clarify. So, I guess, in Trinidad and Tobago, we hold claim to two kinds of "steel drums". The ones made by big business for containing oil and chemicals, and the one made by the masses, first with biscuit drums, garbage cans and covers, etc., for use as a percussive instrument. We should not muddle the two; one had ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the other! So, we need to decide which "history" we are highlighting: the History of the steel containers, or the history of our "National Instrument". I, too, was under the impression, that it is being suggested that Point Fortin was the first to make "steel drums", i.e. the musical instrument. I am relieved that Dr. Lance (whom I respect highly) clarified this misunderstanding. So, again, the questions remain: According to the MOST CREDIBLE sources, when and where did steelbands first appear on the local scene? And where is the proof to back up your claims? Consider: Why were bamboo instruments, also referred to as "drums" (tamboo or tambour)? Hotep (Peace). Ghost.


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