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Lino Hughes: 50 years on the music scene

Founder of the Creole Stars and presently of Lino and the Hardways


In his own words (Oct 2005)

I was born on Sept 23rd 1948.
Being born on St. Martin in 1948, I was musically able to understand that to be a mature musician , I had to learn the songs of the 40’s, 8 years before I was born, and the songs of my time.
Here I am today, still understanding the songs of young people; rap, reggaeton etc.
I would advise all musicians to get to know music of 10 years ago, of today and to prepare for future changes and prepare to be part of it. I was able to do this at the tender age of 7. I was able to sit in musically, at the first major hotel on St. Maarten, which is Little Bay Beach Hotel. I played the steelpan, with the Prickly Boys Steelband. I played a 4-notes pan, then the tenor pan.
A Mr. Brown, from St. Kitts, introduced the first Steelband on St. Martin in the mid 40’s.He moved to France to introduce the Steelband there and there he changed his name to Cyril Delanoix.
It is believed that he is still alive in 2005.

I was so impressive that my photo was on the first St. Maarten telephone directory in 1955 or soon thereafter.
I realized at that time, that tourism would be St. Maarten’s major source of income and was worthwhile cherishing it.
The best limbo dancer of Trinidad was brought to St. Maarten to perform at the hotel.
The combination of this young pan player and the limbo dancer was a great attraction for the tourists, who came primarily from America and from Panama.
For some time, the movie star Rod Cameron used to visit the hotel every 3 or 6 months to see the attraction.

One night, the limbo dancer was sick so he could not dance. The hotel had a full house.
The guests wanted to see the young pan player and the limbo dancer. The management was in panic. They didn’t know what to do. How do they tell the guests that the show could not go on.
I, even as a young boy, always believe that everything is possible. I decided I would do the limbo show. Being young and flexible, I could easily get under the sticks. Luckily, the limbo dancer would leave his equipment in a corner of the room. I took them to the show area and the room went silent. Management and staff wondered what was I going to do. I asked the band for the musical key that they usually gave to the limbo dancer and they gave it.
There was this particular song that he used to perform to.
I shouted; ”Ah bet nobody can limbo like me”. The musicians replied: “Limbo … limbo like me”. The music started and the show was on the road. I made it possible for the tourists to be entertained and after the show the management had the courage to tell the guests that I had substituted for the limbo dancer, who was sick. Everyone was happy and I performed until the limbo dancer got better.
I also danced and played for then princess Beatrix. I danced the ‘chaliston’. I was so impressive that one night she asked 3 musicians and me to come to her Bungalow #49, to finish entertaining her.
We had an influx of tourists from Panama, that came every weekend and I played for them on the beach during the day.

In 1959, I was involved in playing music for the political campaign of Dr. Petit.
In 1960, the Steelband went to Guadeloupe by boat and I had the privilege to be invited along with top ranking officials to have lunch on the celebration of the arrival of President Charles de Gaulle. This was the first time a president of France visited Guadeloupe in the French Antilles.
In 1965, most of the band members went for military service in the French Army and I formed my own steelband ‘The Invaders’. I took them to Guadeloupe for a few months. When we returned from Guadeloupe, I felt the people wanted a change. The monies of the Steelband and of new members, such as Albert Conner, Augusto Arrindell, Firmin Ratchel, Oger Tondue, and myself was put together and bought the first set of instruments. The instruments were bought from La Bonanza in Curacao, through Hector Peters, who was in charge of ordering. Hector became the impresario of the new group; The Creole Stars.
There were additional musicians, namely; Pepin Ratchel, Sylvere Mingo, Frederic ‘Chubby’ Javois, James Chance, Sympathy and Vital Carty.

My first instrument with the Creole Stars was the trumpet. I took lessons with Mr. Larmonie in Philipsburg and Bobby Vlaun was my teacher. James Chance was the other trumpeter of the Creole Stars. The Creole Stars could not afford to buy a keyboard for Albert Connor, so he was forced to continue on the steelpan. Connor felt this was ‘old-fashioned’ to the new instruments and he decided to leave the Creole Stars.

One night, while playing at the A.C. Wathey Square, in Philipsburg, Boyston Sorton said he was selling his Keyboard. Boyston was the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. I asked the band to buy the keyboard and to give me a chance to switch from the trumpet to the keyboard. The band could not come up with the money Boyston requested so the deal was put on hold. In the meantime, Mario Brown, got a keyboard from his father and being my good friend he snuck it out of the house and lent it to me for almost 2 months, until his dad realized it was not in the house. I believe Mario realized I was gifted so he said: “Go! Crack the Egg!” In the meantime the band could buy the keyboard from Boyston. I became the keyboardist.
One Night Benedict Henry, the bassist of the Rolling Stones, told Firmin Ratchel that his bass was not set properly. I told Benedict to show Firmin how to do it. We were setting the bass however it felt good. Benedict told him that the first string is set to middle G, the second string to D, the thirst string to A and the fourth string to E. From that Gusto got his guitar settings too.

We realized that the Rolling Stones had better charisma for American music. I decided not to compete with them, but to go with more Caribbean music. That way each band had it’s own strength.
People even talked about going to the ‘soul side’ of the island (Dutch Side) and the ‘party side’ of the island (French Side).Creole Stars decided that even if they were not as good as the Rolling Stones when it comes to soul music, we should still widen our repertoire and play soul music. We took on Bertie Ollivacci as ourr soul singer and Chubbie would sing the ‘funky stuff’.
People started to take more notice of the band.

Codville Webster, then manager of Risdon’s, came up with the brilliant idea to have to both bands play at the Lighthouse Theatre in Philipsburg. Both bands would play only soul music.
Although the shows were advertised as ‘contests’, the musicians knew that it was a business venture. It was a way to get fans from both sides of the islands to be entertained by both bands.
At one point it got so heated between the fans that it was decided to stop the shows.
The bands then played alternate weekends at the Union Hall, in Colebay and after an unfortunate accident there, those dances were stopped too. The bands then looked for other locations to play at.

The Creole Stars contracted to play at Little Bay Hotel from 1968 to 1970. At Little Bay, I met Jan Matser who had a great technique for playing the organ. He played from 6PM to 9 PM and the Creole Stars played from 9PM to1AM.
I realized that Jan had a technique that all keyboardist need, but nobody wanted to stoop and ask.
I did the stooping. I sat with Jan and showed him my great admiration for how he played. After sometime I asked him to teach me. That evening when I asked him to teach me, He smiled. Jan taught me that the keyboard consists of 13 notes; do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do and 5 flats (or sharps).
All the other keys are just extensions by a higher or lower octave. From that experience, any keyboardist must know how to play with this. 13 notes, without using a higher or lower octave. After learning that secret, I passed it on to Connor. I do not remember if I told Boyston or not, but I’m sure Boyston knows it.

In 1978, Creole Stars went to Guadeloupe to record. We had some successful fetes but didn’t get to record. There could have been lack of confidence in what St. Martin had to offer, on the part of the studio (Henri Debs). I accepted that someone must be able to prove himself, by action not word.
My aim was to prove that St. Martin has something good in music. I wanted to selet the best of the French and Dutch side musicians. I am still confident that we have the best musicians in the Caribbean, because we can play a wider variety of music. We have to, to survive musically on St. Martin. If you chose one particular type of music, you will find yourself pushed in a corner.
Until you’re called upon to play that kind of music. If the demand for that kind of music is not large enough, you won’t survive. You can suffer bad consequences by choosing to play one type of music. It’s a good thing that I can shift around.

I remember when ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ and ‘Saturday Night Fever’ were released. I decided to create a beat that would fit soul music into Calypso, Soca or Cadence.
I went to the Mullet Bay Convention Center with Firmin, my bassist. We started working on ideas on how to put the pieces together. I started with one of my songs; 360 degrees, and realized it was possible. On a trip to Guadeloupe for their 1978 carnival, with Creole Stars, I made a proposal to the owner of Plantation Night Club, Jacques Diluce.
I threw my cards on the table and told him what I wanted to do. I had to mention that it would be musicians from St. Martin and Guadeloupe. The proposed group would be called “The Best” and Jacques fell for the idea. He took my contact information and by the end of 1978, he called me and told me to be in Guadeloupe by Jan 1979.
Jacques Diluce had associated himself with Georges Plonquite. Jacques was the impresario and financer. Georges was co-financer and singer. The band was called Georges Plonquite Orchertra.

My job was to select the musicians I felt were best qualified.
From St. Martin I selected Augustin ‘Gusto’ Arrindell on Trombone, Thomas ‘Tom’ Gittens on Trombone, Rosan Maccou on steelpan and Tony Maccou on drums. I had never heard Tony play drums before, but I was told he was good enough. In Guadeloupe I had the power to dictate what I wanted, musically. I decided to get a second keyboardist. That sounded crazy to them, but they accepted it. It was difficult to find a willing keyboardist in Guadeloupe, because nobody believed that band would be any good. Georges Plonquite had to buyout a keyboardist from a band that was not making it. Believe me, this 17-year-old player could teach me a few things. That was ok with me. I had the musical structure that Jan Matser had taught me and I had the experience. The young man taught me to improvise. He was very advanced. Tom Gittens was the Trombonist for a group called ‘Experience 7’ which later became ‘Zouk Machine’. When Tom heard that I was going to be in Guadeloupe, he said wherever I am playing he wanted to play. Tom had a contract with Experience 7 to fullfil. He was not available when GP Orchestra was rehearsing.

Because I know the ability of our musicians and the Guadeloupeans in the horn section, I reserved a remarkable track for Tom, so he could fit in. After rehearsing with the band at about 9PM, I would rehearse with Tom till 3AM and fit him in, so he could be in the band.
Those Guadeloupean musicians were so good, that when they heard the first note, they already hand the second and third voicing. I know I had to reserve the second voicing for Tom, so I had to push the saxophonist to the third voicing. He would frown, but he had to do it.
Having trombones do the first and second voicing and the saxophone do the third voicing, created a very solid and rich blend.
When Tom came in and the saxophonist heard it, he realized how good it sounded and he was very happy with it.
In 1979, I taught Henry Debs how to use the Leslie speaker. He had one, abandoned in the studio.
I also used the bass pattern and beat I had created with Firmin and that impressed Henry Debs, the studio owner. Debs agreed 100% with it, because it was easier for him to decipher the difference between the bass and the kick drum. This pattern is what has become today’s ZOUK MUSIC.

Let me explain what I am saying. In the Haitian & Guadeloupean Cadence music of those days, the bass and kick drum played a straight drive. In my pattern, the bass played a pattern of notes.
If Kassav is willing to have an open debate on this, I am willing. I say this because in 1979, there was no zouk music. I introduced that pattern in my song, 360 degrees, and I even included a bit off Jazz in that song. In 1980, Kassav released their first album, ‘Oh Mediana’ on which they didn’t have a zouk pattern. In an interview, they claimed they were creating a new music called “Melengue”. If you listen to ‘Oh Mediana’, you would hear the tambora playing merengue.

In 1981, When Lino and the Hardway was recording their first album, Kassav released a 45 RPM entitled ‘Chire’ where they used my pattern. That was highly appreciated.in Guadeloupe.
In 1985, Kassav used the pattern in all their music, but didn’t call it Zouk yet. They still had ‘melengue’ in their minds. This was discussed in Guadeloupe, between the Kassav impresario, my friend Leo Freedom and myself at the home of the impresario, who congratulated me for bringing such a great idea to the music world of Guadeloupe, especially. The reason for that meeting was to ask them to make a recording with Kassav, because they were doing things that I wanted to do. Recording was not possible, because at that time the Kassav members were on vacation and away from Guadeloupe. The impresario told me that they went to Africa for a concert and although it was not well promoted, they filled a stadium of 40.000 people. After recording ‘Zoukla’, they decided to call the music ZOUK.

In a later album, ‘Pega Pega’, I introduced the possibility to play Cadence with a faster rhythm.
Franky Vincent and Henry Debs were glad for that. The only other band back then to do that, was ‘Les Aiglons’.

Lino and the Hardway is still working and putting music together for recording in the not too distant future.

After 50 years on the music scene, Lino looks ready to go for another 50.
Thank you Lino for the first 50 and God bless you as you move on to the second 50

On May 20th 2006, Conscious Lyrics Foundation, headed by Mr Alex “Sujah” Reiph and the Imabali Foundation, headed by Ms. Clara Reyes paid tribute to Lino, on the 25th anniversary of his patriotic song; St. Martin Is My Home”.
Many claim that this song should be the St. Martin Anthem.
Personally, I see it as our “Unifying Song”. It is a BOLD statement!

It is making a claim, making a commitment and
accepting the responsibility of building this island.
As the song says, we are One Island – One People – One Destiny.
No anthem can say it BOLDER than that.

Lino talks about the idea behind the song