“Pal”Joey Lewis , a Trinidadian musical icon

The first Trinidad music band that I loved as a boy was the Joey Lewis Orchestra.

Though an outstanding composer , arranger and keyboard player, what really made me a Joey Lewis fan back then was his mastery of the electric guitar

joey

Joey Lewis and his Gibson guitar

 

Where Joey really excelled though , was in his ability to adapt Latin sounds and meld them with the indigenous calypso sounds of Trinidad and Tobago into a sweet musical dish.

Joey Lewis and His Orchestra were the unquestioned kings of Trinidad’s Latin sound in the era of the big dance bands. Here from his album “Stormy Weather” is band leader, guitarist and keyboard player Joey Lewis, and orchestra with “El Toro”

 

Many may not realize it , but Joey Lewis is probably the most important and impactful musical contributor to the culture and music of Trinidad and Tobago in the latter half of the twentieth century .
His use and mastery of the electric guitar was a significant and defining change in the sound of Trinidad’s music , and his style was quickly adopted by his contemporaries in Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean ,to produce the guitar rich sound of music bands of that era , and to define how the guitar is used in Trinidad’s music, even to this day.

His skills with the guitar and it’s prominence in his music  was responsible for the creating the interest in that instrument back then, and soon all dance bands of that era followed and started featuring the guitar.

This also led to the introduction of the three guitar combo which became popular ( Ansel Wyatt, for example).

Joey Lewis was the first arranger / composer / bandleader to consistently compose instrumental music hits that dominated the local charts, and over the years he became a prolific composer.

He was  a versatile musician who also mastered the keyboards, but boy did he rock that Hollow Body Gibson guitar back then .

 

This fine Joey Lewis composition “Action Man ” is a great example of his Latin influenced style

 

Though not the original arrangement , this Joey Lewis composition , “Joey Saga ” from the late fifties, was probably Joey’s first big hit , and the tune I heard playing from a jukebox as a boy that created an instant affection for the band.

The “saga ting ” was also a popular Trinidad dance , back then , as I remember.

I remember as a boy being sent on an errand to downtown Princes Town, and hearing Joey’s Saga for the first time, as his guitar blasted on a juke box across the street from the store, and I remember running across the street to the Bar , to hear the music.
I had never heard a band with such a sound , particularly the guitar , and I immediately became a Joey Lewis fan.
That was about 1960.

Later , Joey started to feature keyboards which he also mastered , and an emphasis on a Latin calypso style that the fans ate up.

The Joey Lewis “Pal Joey” Orchestra was a dominant player on the Caribbean music scene for decades , and remained one of the longest performing bands in the entire region.

Here is the Joey Lewis Orchestra and a version ( not the original) of his early hit “Joey’s Saga”.

My first taste of Joey Lewis was his breakout hit “Joey Saga” (not the original arrangement , though )

 

 Joey Lewis will always be remembered as one of Trinidad’s most talented and innovative musicians to come out of Trinidad during the last century.

His contributions to our musical culture are immeasurable.

As to his impact on our culture, Stalin said it best in his calypso “Black man like to party “, when he mentioned that when they were young, he and his wife would be anywhere Joey was playing.

This was true for many young party people of that era.

Though Joey also mastered the keyboards , personally I prefer to remember him as one of our finest guitarists , and to this day I still distinctly hear his guitar styling , with his signature strumming in many of the calypso hits of the late fifties , sixties and seventies.

 Joey Lewis’ interpretation of the tune “Peanut Vendor” proved a more than adequate vehicle to demonstrate his mastery of the electric guitar.

 

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the thoughts and emotions of fellow bandleader and friend , Mr. Clarence Curvan , to whom I spoke  shortly after his passing.
After expressing his emotions about his friends passing , and his condolences to the relatives and friends of the legendary bandleader, Mr. Curvan gave some insight into the depth of their relationship ; the love , respect and admiration he had for the man and the musician , and his appreciation for “Pal Joey’s” immense contributions to our music and culture.
As youths , Joey and Clarence were band mates in Joey’s elder brother’s band , the Sonny Lewis Orchestra , a popular 1950s era band.
Joey and Clarence were also members of the Cyril Diaz band , and were among the musicians that created Trinidad’s calypso sound of the 1950’s and 60s , and established the foundation for modern calypso music.
As a matter of fact , Clarence agrees that Joey’s guitar revolutionized the sound of Trinidad’s calypso music , and Joey’s guitar styling with his distinctive strumming was soon copied my musicians throughout the Eastern Caribbean.
When the Mighty Sparrow came on the scene , in the period between 1957 and 1962, The Cyril Diaz band,including Joey and Clarence along with noted Trinidad musicians like Bert Innis and Errol Ince were the support musicians, and their music propelled calypso music unto the international scene.
Classic calypso fans may remember Sparrow’s shout out to Joey in some of his songs , with shouts of “Oh guitar, Joey”, as Joey soloed on guitar during some of Sparrow’s early hits.
Sadly , Mr. Curvan told me that the only members of that great music band left are Errol Ince , Patrick Diaz , and himself.

“Pal” Joey Lewis will always be remembered as an icon of Trinidad’s music and culture.

 

The “Pal” Joey Lewis Orchestra – Pint o’ Wine

 

‘Pal’ Joey Lewis ( October 26, 1937- February 8, 2016 )

May he be Resting in Peace in musicians’ paradise.

2 thoughts on ““Pal”Joey Lewis , a Trinidadian musical icon

  1. I grew up on Joey Lewis’s as a young man in Siparia. Like Stalin whenever Joey played in Siparia or in the surrounding ares my friends and I will try our best to attend..To us that was the best band in the World…even though he is gone his music will live on forever..Thank you PAL JOEY LEWIS for the beautiful music you gave us…Gone but not forgotten…Rest in Perfect Peace Mr Joey Lewis..

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  2. “Joey”,was one off those GREAT bands of my youth,I always wondered why he wasn’t appreciated more than he was,but I have come to realize that he didn’t play music for accolades,he played for the pure love of music….God bless him,may his music live on infinitely…

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