Roots | Rico Rodriguez

Irie Magazine | Roots - Rico Rodriguez MBE

Image Credit: © Adrian Boot

Rico Rodriguez MBE

The Chronicles of Reggae

Emmanuel ‘Rico’ Rodriguez MBE (October 17, 1934 – September 4, 2015), also known as simply Rico, Reco or El Reco, was a Cuban-born Jamaican ska and reggae trombonist. He recorded with many producers, including Karl Pitterson, Prince Buster, and Lloyd ‘Matador’ Daley. He was known as one of the first and most distinguished ska artists, and from the early 1960s performed and recorded in Britain, with the Specials, Jools Holland, Paul Young, and others.


Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved with his family to Jamaica at an early age. He grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and was taught to play the trombone by his slightly older schoolmate Don Drummond at the Alpha Boys School. In the 1950s, Rodriguez became a Rastafarian and was closely associated musically to the rasta drummer Count Ossie. In 1961, Rodriguez moved to the UK and started to play in reggae bands. In 1976 he recorded the album ‘Man from Wareika’ under a contract with Island Records. In the late 1970s, with the arrival of the 2 Tone genre, he played with ska revival bands such as the Specials including their single ‘A Message to You, Rudy’.

Rodriguez formed the group Rico and the Rudies and recorded the albums ‘Blow Your Horn’ and ‘Brixton Cat’. In 1995 Island Records released the album ‘Roots to the Bone’, an updated version of Rodriguez’s earlier work Man from Wareika. From 1996, among other engagements, he played with Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and also performed at various ska festivals throughout Europe with his own band. He retired from performing with Jools Holland in 2012.

He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace on 12 July 2007, for services to music. In October 2012 he was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica in recognition of his contribution to Jamaican music.

The Originals

Our friends at PALM Pictures recently launched the first in a new series called ‘The Originals’ which was set out several years back to interview the Jamaican pioneers who brought ska, reggae and sound system culture to the UK. The first 4-part interview features the legendary Rico Rodriguez and covers his early life in Jamaica and his coming over to Britain.


They came from Jamaica to London with ambition, determination, and not a little bit of style, wit and humour. All things they needed to survive and prosper in a country that was too often cold, indifferent, and even openly hostile.

For these men the early days of West Indian immigration to Britain are remembered as both the best and worst of times. They arrived—some on banana boats— all with more hope than money, and gradually transformed a gray post-war city both for their own community and a growing number of British followers. Big personalities with colourful monikers like Duke, Count and Lucky, ‘The Originals’ introduced the British to ska, reggae and sound system culture, and in doing so forever changed the musical landscape of the country. Respect is their due.

Best known in the UK for his work with the Specials and Jools Holland, the trombonist Rico Rodriguez talks with Chris Salewicz about his life and times.

Rick Rodriguez – Jamaica Part 1: On the waterfront to the Alpha Boys School

In part one of this four part interview, Rico recalls diving for coins in Kingston Harbour and his time at the legendary Alpha Boys School.

Rick Rodriguez – Jamaica Part 2: Rastafari, the Wareika Hills and Don Drummond

In part 2 of this 4 part interview, Rico recalls a formative period spent with Cout Ossie in the Wareika Hills near Kingston.

Rick Rodriguez – London Part 1: The Roaring Twenties and an Island Recording

In part 3 of the 4 part interview, Rico reflects on the challenges faced by himself and other Jamaican immigrants. He remembers too some of the important places and personalities from his early days in London.

Rick Rodriguez – London Part 2: On the Road with Bob Marley and the Specials

In part 4 of the 4 part interview, Rico recalls touring with Jerry Dammers and the Specials and his time with Bob Marley.