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One of the most prolific session players of Jamaica's pre-ska era, trombonist Rico Rodriguez later emerged as a catalyst behind the U.K.'s Two-Tone movement of the late '70s, recording both as a solo artist and as a member of the legendary Specials. Born October 17, 1934, his musical pursuits began while attending Kingston's Alpha Cottage School, an institution for wayward boys, where he studied trombone under the legendary Don Drummond. In the years to follow, Rodriguez emerged as one of Jamaica's most highly regarded session musicians, often working under the direction of the renowned producer Duke Reid. In 1961, in the months prior to the explosion of the ska phenomenon, he relocated to the U.K., where he recorded a number of sides for the fledgling Island label and gigged extensively on the jazz and R&B circuits, playing with Georgie Fame's Blue Flames and others. He also remained a top-notch session man, appearing on Sugar & Dandy's 1967 classic "A Message to You Rudy," among others.
Despite maintaining a permanent residence in Britain, Rodriguez held fast to his strong Rastafarian beliefs, and Island frequently paid for him to return to Kingston to record with the city's most prominent session players; while his forte remained jazz, he adapted brilliantly to any environment, and applied his improvisational skills to productions from notables including Sly & Robbie. In 1977, Rodriguez also cut a solo LP, Man from Wareika, credited to simply "Rico"; it was followed a year later by Midnight in Ethiopia. In 1979, he appeared on the Specials' cover of "A Message to You Rudy," and soon joined the band as a full-time member; for the group's Two-Tone label, Rodriguez also helmed his own outfit, Rico & the Rudies, to yield the albums Blow Your Horn and Brixton Cat. Again as Rico, he also cut another pair of solo LPs, 1981's That Man Is Forward and its 1982 follow-up, Jama. Session work was then primary focus for over a decade, but in the mid-'90s, Rodriguez returned with a number of solo projects, among them 1995's Roots to the Bone and 1997's Tribute to Don Drummond. ~ Jason Ankeny