Scoring his first hit, ‘Jean And Dinah’, aged 20, Sparrow’s style drew on influences from US street harmony quartets to crooners like Nat King Cole, jazz greats – Ella, Sinatra – and the early calypso generation including Lord Melody and Lord Kitchener.
By the late ‘50s and in his early 20s, he was already an influential figure, encouraging Trinidad’s people to pay taxes with Carnival hit ‘P.A.Y.E.’ and highlighting cruelty to animals on ‘Russian Satellite’. This new collection hones in on Sparrow’s most creative years as he effortlessly surfed musical styles from calypso party jams to hard-hitting boogaloo and soul.
He had become a confident political commentator, tackling subjects as varied as domestic economic hardship (‘Ah Diggin’ Horrors’), slavery (‘The Slave’) and the Cuban missile crisis (‘Kennedy And Kruschev’). Other tracks serve as a vital reference point for today’s music. On ‘Picong Duel’, we hear Sparrow and fellow calypso legend, Lord Melody, trade insults, a direct forerunner to later mic battles in hip hop culture. Elsewhere, Sparrow just plain rocks the party (‘Calypso Boogaloo’, ‘Jook For Jook’) and turns in the odd choice cover – we feature here his lilting version of Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ with Byron Lee.
The album also documents Sparrow’s fearsome live reputation with two firing tracks from a late ‘60s gig at the Barbados Hilton and excerpts from a ‘70s concert in Brooklyn featuring Sparrow’s dynamite backing band, The Troubadours, at the peak of their game. This is a long overdue retrospective placing Sparrow in his rightful position as a true Caribbean great, a cultural and social icon on a par with Fela Kuti in Nigeria or Miriam Makeba in South Africa. As journalist Ric Hernandez wrote in 1967, “It’s all there with Sparrow – wit, wisdom and an earthy irreverence for the established order. He sings life as he sees it, as one long boisterous contact sport.” ~ Strut Records