King Radio’s Ode to Bachelorhood

In 1937, a team from RCA set up a studio in St. James Theatre in Port of Spain to record some of the calypsonians who did not go to New York that year to cut records for Decca with Gerald Clark’s Caribbean Serenaders. More than a hundred songs were recorded on PRESTO discs “back home” in the 1937 (and possibly early 1938) sessions, and about 48 double-siders were released on the Bluebird label. A compilation of the issued and unissued titles can be found here. Of these, only a few have been reissued at some point, on albums such as Calypso (RCA Camden CAL 360), Don’t Stop the Carnival (Flapper 7825), and Calypso Breakaway (Rounder Records 1054). Now, thanks to some pretty unsung benefactors over at archive.org, another handful of these most elusive recordings from the Golden Age can be enjoyed. And they are well worth listening to.

One of the stay-at-homes was the uncrowned swing king of calypso, King Radio. In “This Is the Life” (RCA Bluebird B-4572-B), he is singing an ode to his bachelor life with a gusto that almost blows the microphone membranes when the band joins him in the choruses. It is three minutes and 20 seconds of pure joyfulness, with Radio scatting away between verses while the musicians take their solo rounds. King Radio, Bert McLean, and the Jazz Hounds seem set on giving the “New Yorkers” a tough match with their home-brewed calypso swing. Both music- and lyrics-wise one can note a strong sense of freedom, as if they wanted to show that they could just as well stay at home and enjoy the same modern conveniences as in America, play their music just as well, even record it right there in Port of Spain. With freeness fo’ so, what more could one ask from life? “This is life!” Indeed. “I’m a master of making records!” Radio confidently asserts at the end of the last verse.

King Radio (presumably) in the back, in a white suit. Being legally blind, he often wore shades.

Some other points of interest: If you listen closely before the band kicks off, you can hear Radio mumble something about “seven” and “jazz song”, like an instruction to the band. Maybe he informed them that there would be seven rounds/verses, which, indeed, there is. Also notable is the product placement of RCA in the fourth verse, and the sexual innuendo in the sixth, were Radio claims his telephone number is “double six nine”—reminiscent of Sparrow’s much later “Meh Number Is 69”. According to the ledgers at RCA Victor, some of the 1937 recordings were “confiscated by British” (under whose colonial jurisdiction Trinidad was at the time), possibly on charges of indecency. But this one managed to slip under the radar, apparently.

Hopefully, many more of these unique recordings will be dug up from state library vaults, and elsewhere, in the coming years.


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