1930 - 1976 Trinidad

Pan Player  Pan Tuner  Band Leader  Pioneer
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According to the dates shown in this article taken from the CLICO Calender (below), “Spree” appears to have invented the pan in 1942. We know that the pan was around in 1937-1938 as Oval Boys, Stanley Hunte and Ellie Mannette's band that changed its name to Invaders at the close of the war in 1945, was started at about that [earlier] time.

So either this reference is in error, or “Spree” did not invent the Pan.

[CLICO's reference is understood to have been taken from an authoritative source that presents the dates shown. This source and matter are being investigated for these pages.]

As some references are being consulted; it is clear that although not contrasted in the same terms as the argument above; it is becoming apparent that the issue is not whether the 'pan' or steel drum was discovered or invented by "Spree", which clearly is not the case; but whether the melodic steel drum instrument was pioneered by "Spree", which at this time is still not disproved.

It is the presence of these early bands that clouds the issue; and our [my] understanding of what it was that these early bands were playing, together with a proper interpretation of the local use of the word 'Steel Pan', that helps to dispel that argument above.

It is well documented that in the late 1930's the flavor of the music, out of the tamboo bamboo stable, was rhythmic. There was a tonal variance due to the size of the bamboo's; and when a collection of biscuit tins, 'dustbins' or caustic soda drums with simply dented tops (or bottoms) are played; you also have a band of tonal variance. Lots of percussive complexity, lots of rhythm, lots of excitement, lots of noise.

It's a band, a new flavor of band, the embryonic steelband, but not melodic.

By current accounts, "Spree's" invention or discovery, of how to craft musical notes into the capping material of a metal barrel; would then fall and fit into the war years, and emerge with his band, melodic, for that momentous first post-war carnival in 1946, where his instrument was first(?)-(?) documented.

But recall; this only demonstrates that "Spree" was in the right place at the right time. There is still lingering doubt as to whether he was the right person or the only one.

  JGdeB  15th December 1997; Revised 4th December 1998

CLICO’s 1996 calendar reference to pioneer Winston “Spree” Simon; and other notes.

  Paraphrased from a section appearing in Dr Felix I R Blake's 1995 book THE TRINIDAD and TOBAGO STEEL PAN - History and Evolution; CLICO’s extract expounds Blake's historical thesis on "Sprees" contribution to the development of 'pan'. This text is inserted below the CLICO picture; which incidentally, is a rendering of the same photographic image that Blake uses in his chapter.

  [ It is hoped that a full transcript, and other material, will appear later with these pages; for which Dr Blake's permission is presently being sought. ]

  It was the twelve-year-old Winston “Spree” Simon, whose experiments with a discarded industrial drum, eventually gave the world the only acoustic instrument created in the twentieth century - the Steel Pan.
  Hailing from John John, a depressed working-class area of Port of Spain, Trinidad; Spree led Tropical Harmony and Fascinators steelbands Playing his 14-note "ping-pong" on Carnival Day 1946.
  Spree brought the potential of pan to the world's attention.

Winston Spree Simon
In 1992 the Steel Pan was declared the National Musical Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

© Irenee Shaw: Figurative Painter. A young artist and citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
Irenee did graduate and post graduate studies in Art in the USA and has Exhibited in the USA, T&T, Barbados and Santo Domingo

© CLICO Calendar 1996 : February collection 1996; Pioneers of the Caribbean


...For the duration of World War Two (1939-1945) which followed, Carnival and other group activities were suspended by the colonial authorities. This gave the youths more time for experimentation which proceeded apace with a rash of innovations coming one after the other. It was during this time that John John introduced the Dudup, also a (4-note) pan called the grumbler or baylay. "Spree" Simon had graduated to a 9-note melody pan or ping pong.

In the early 1940's, Carnival and Discovery Day parades were allowed. Although closely proscribed, these parades, accompanied as they were by tamboo bamboo, homemade drums and other ad hoc instruments of musical invention, facilitated the rapid spread of ideas, innovations and developments in this new pan music; as well as attracting many new disciples. And so it was that the John John band became the "mother band" to many others in the area, among them Picton Road Cassanova Boys led by Carlton Kettle alias "Cashmere", Crusaders Steelband led by John Slater; Tropical Harmony and Fascinators Steelband both led by "Spree" Simon. And pan fever spread even further with bands springing up all over Port-of-Spain.

It is easy to understand therefore, why claims proliferate as to who is the true "father of the pan". By the early 1940's, developments in the pan were taking place all over the country. Since rivalries were very keen among the youths, real progress began to be made. The steel pan was on the move - but still virtually unknown to all but its staunchest disciples and practitioners. It was Winston "Spree" Simon who changed that: he made the population at large sit up and take notice of the steel pan's potential as a musical instrument when, on that Carnival Day in 1946, he played, among other things, Schubert's Ave Maria and God Save The King on his 14-note ping pong.

To the large audience enjoying the Carnival Parade at Broadway in Port-of-Spain, an audience which included the Governor, Sir Bede Clifford and his wife, Lady Clifford, Miss Audrey Jeffers, the Honourable Norman ang and Lord Kitchener, the steel pan had arrived!

In this way, "Spree" Simon took up the baton as it were, and began the long, hard run to the fulfilment of the steel pan's ultimate destiny. His work with the steel pan also revealed in clear perspective, the earlier innovative work of Neville Jules. He would later pass the baton on to Ellie Mannette who in turn would pass it on to Tony Williams and so through the hands of Rudolph Charles, Bertie Marshall and Denzil "Dimes" Fernandez, all the great innovators who followed; all men of legend in their own time.

© 1995 Dr Felix Blake: Pg 61; THE TRINIDAD and TOBAGO STEEL PAN. History and Evolution
[Blake: Presented without permission; permission being sought.]

Dr Blake in the section THE INNOVATORS continues his history on "Spree" Simon under the sub-heading


Winston "Spree" Simon
Tuner, Arranger, Leader and Pioneer.

  Winston "Spree" Simon was the first leader of Destination Tokyo. He played and developed the ping-pong (today’s tenor pan) which carried eight notes at that time. The year was 1943. "Spree" would beat hymns, calypsoes as well as classical tunes on his ping-pong. Pan was fast developing. By 1946, "Spree’s" ping-pong had evolved to fourteen notes. The top of the pan was still convex and it was beaten with plain sticks, that is to say without the benefit of rubber that later gave the ping-pong a cushioned, mellow tone. Nor, points out musicologist Newman Alexander, was the pan tuned chromatically, that is to say by successive half-steps. This development too, was still in the future.(1)

  "Spree" had the honour of playing for an audience in Broadway which included the then governor of Trinidad and Tobago Sir Bede and Lady Clifford, the Honourable Norman Tang, Miss Audrey Jeffers, Lord Kitchener and a host of other VIPs. On his pan, "Spree" played I Am A Warrior, Kitchener's Tied Tongue Mopey, Schubert’s Ave Maria and concluded with God Save The King to the cheers and acclamation of the entire audience. Thus did the name of Winston "Spree" Simon become one to conjure with in pan circles.

  During his later years he made many visits abroad as a goodwill ambassador of pan, taking this unique music to various parts of the world. In 1957 he visited Liverpool and also toured Nigeria and Ghana where he not only introduced the pan but familiarised the people there with the techniques of playing as well as tuning the instruments.

  Lord Kitchener was the first calypsonian to eulogise "Spree" Simon in song.

Steelband man well you beating pan
But my friends you must understand
Has it ever dawned on you who invented the pan
I ask you to join me in offering tribute to this man

(The Chorus)
Oh gorm! Everybody want to know
how steelband start
You like to know; you like to know
When you get to know; well, it going to break your heart
I tell you now it’s founded by one Winston Spree
This is how he started his first melody

A blessed day 1939
The genius say he recall to mind
Held on to an old oil drum, beating it with scorn
Just a form of skylarking and there it was! The steelband was born


He went along beating blow by blow
He thought it sound like a piano
This really inspired him to a great extent
So he continued pounding until he found this new instrument


Now the world rating us highly
We strike gold just because of Spree
But what are we doing now to conserve his name
We should reimburse him and have him placed in the Hall of Fame


© The Lord Kitchener ‘Spree’ Simon

  In 1970 "Spree" Simon’s health began to decline; he suffered a stroke which took his life in 1976.

© 1995 Dr Felix Blake: Pg 163 - 164; THE TRINIDAD and TOBAGO STEEL PAN. History and Evolution
[Blake: Presented without permission; permission being sought.]

Bringing his thesis to the fore, Dr Blake outlines the genesis of the steel drums at the hands of a youthful "Spree" Simon; in the first part of:


[Last verse of: Lord Kitchener’s Spree Simon song]

Beginning the "Spree" Simon legend

Winston "Spree" Simon was the youngest boy in a family of six children - four boys and two girls. Born in 1930, he grew up in the poor district of Rose Hill in the East Dry River section of Port-of-Spain. But although his older brothers went out to work from a very tender age, the family’s fortunes continued to sink. Eventually, the family moved to John John, where, in Spree’s words

“...the depressed, frustrated, under-privileged and poor people sweat out their drab and dull existence...”

He learned at first hand

“... the toil without reward, the persecution, humiliation and dishonour that was the price for anyone connected with the steelband, more so for the early pioneers”.

Stories still make the round about the attitude of the police in those days. These upholders of the law would first beat, then arrest, then jail and ask questions last. Very often, those they arrested

“...suffered silently and innocently in jail...”.

Whatever the young "Spree" Simon’s earliest perceptions of his new neighbourhood, destiny had decreed that John John, one of the lowliest places on earth, would be the cradle of the most momentous occurrence in 20th century musical history. "Spree" Simon himself, would become one of the prime beneficiaries of this Afro-New World music, thanks to the momentum set up by the great Orisha drummer and slap-bass virtuoso, Andrew Beddoe; and he would see it arrive at its watershed as the soon-to-be-glorious musical invention, the steel pan.

Once installed with his family in John John, "Spree" Simon immediately became involved in the steel pan movement. Following on the footsteps of an older brother who was a member of the John John band, he became the band’s "third best kettle drummer", absorbing as by osmosis, the talents of such early giants as Andrew Beddoe, in "Spree" Simon’s own words

“One of the all-time greats in the art of folk drumming in the country and our best biscuit drum player, which we call the slap-bass (there were others); Ralph Charles, also called "Fairy", Harold Vespree called "Bongo Toughy" who organised and led the carnival bands of the district and Neville Chamberlain who was said to be the first person to introduce the bugle in a steelband. In the kettle drum section you had Jonah, formerly of St Paul Street, Kenneth La Croix called "Tra-ba-ha", Reece Baptiste alias "Red Grog", Rupert Hoyte alias "Go Between", "Popeye" "Reno", "End of Beef" and a host of others. These were my teachers and good teachers they were, because they were the best I could afford.”

The "kettle drum" that "Spree" Simon referred to, would have started out its charmed second life as nothing more than "garbage" from the minor manufacturing sector that had sprung up in the area of St Joseph Road, Nelson Street, Duncan Street, George Street and Sea Lots where many of the men of John John found employment. Besides an abattoir, there was a biscuit factory, a soap factory, a tannery, candle factory and numerous other small industries. There was also nearby, the railway repair yard. The area became a source of drums, tins and other discarded objects which the youths found appropriate for their sessions -

“...these sessions being what the average Trinidadian knows as liming, picong, and fatigue. Sometimes there was the accompanying hand-clapping and foot-stamping, or just knocking in rhythm on anything that would produce a sound, metal, wood or even old tins”.

It was not long before "Spree" Simon’s attention was caught by the different sounds the different tins produced when struck with different objects. This was the moment when the idea came to him that set him on the road to experimentation. Thereafter, he knew the satisfaction of

“...creating something out of nothing, of finding joy and excitement in this creation in spite of the hardships and dangers”.

From "Spree" Simon’s own account, his first pan was a simple one-note kettle drum.

“In the early 1940’s between the months of May or June, I cannot remember exactly which month, it happened one evening when the John John band was parading the streets of the village in full force. I lent my kettle drum which had a special sound because it was made of light, soft metal, to a strong friend of mine called Wilson Bartholomew, alias "Shaker" or "Thick lips", so that I could get a "jump up" and rest from drumming. Upon my return I found that the face of the pan was beaten in very badly and the particular tone or sound that I had was gone. I also (noticed) the concave appearance. I then started pounding the inside surface of the drum to restore it to its original shape. I was using a stone. While pounding on different points with varying strengths, I was surprised and shocked. I was able to get varying sounds or pitches. I then tried a piece of wood. The sounds or pitches were a little mellower. I was fascinated. I was able to get distinctly separate musical notes. Thereupon, I was able to knock four notes out. I turned my knowledge over to the other members of the (John John) band and pan was born!”

To find yourself carried away by the ecstasy of a Panorama night, or incredibly uplifted by the brilliance of massed pans in concert, is to understand why there are older heads who say ... that “while pan lives, the spirit of the Orisha that was generated by Andrew Beddoe also lives on.”

Here is an interesting story by Paul Keens Douglas, actor and cabaretist entitled

The day the steelband was born

Once long ago and not so long ago the story I telling is true
A man take a pan with a hammer in he hand
to show he invented something new
with an ordinary drum in which the oil used to come
it didn’t make no particular sound
one note maybe two - you could beat it till you blue
that was all it could do for you
then this man get this ‘plan’ with the hammer in his hand
and he say how he understand - if the drum making one
and the drum making two
then the drum could well make quite a few
so this man take the pan
with the hammer in he hand
and he stoop down dey on the ground
and he heat it and he beat it
and he freight it and he mark it
and the pan start to make a new sound
what a doh ray me
and a me ray doh
that was all he could make it play
but it sound so sweet that he take it in the street
was the first time they hear pan play
and all where he go man the crowd gather round
and they jumped to the note that he found
and none will forget how they danced and they fete
on the day the steel band was born.

© 1995 Dr Felix Blake: Pg 58 - 61; THE TRINIDAD and TOBAGO STEEL PAN. History and Evolution
[Blake: Presented without permission; permission being sought.]

[Some dates indicated still appear to be inconsistant. This is being investigated. This reference and others; are a matter of research for these pages]

(1) This entire paragraph is somewhat misleading in structure as some of the implicit information may be misconstrued. There is also now slightly better dating for the formation date of Destination Tokyo - 1947/8 (Visit Carib Tokyo). Because of this and other data, the paragraph should perhaps read:

  Winston "Spree" Simon was the first leader of Destination Tokyo in 1948. While with the John John band, he had developed the first 4 note pan, this was in the early 1940’s. At a time that is still unclear, "Spree" became leader of two other bands, Tropical Harmony and Fascinators. He played and developed the ping-pong (today’s tenor pan) which carried eight notes at that time. The year was 1943. "Spree" would beat hymns, calypsoes as well as classical tunes on his ping-pong. Pan was fast developing. The top of the pan was still convex and it was beaten with plain sticks, that is to say without the benefit of rubber that later gave the ping-pong a cushioned, mellow tone. Nor, points out musicologist Newman Alexander, was the pan tuned chromatically, that is to say by successive half-steps. This development too, was still in the future.(*) By 1946, "Spree’s" ping-pong had evolved to fourteen notes.
  ( It is beginning to emerge, but not yet proven, that this 14 note pan may in fact have been concave; its predecessors convex. This change in style occurring due to cross fertilisation of ideas during the latter ‘war years’ ‘fast’ developmental stage of the steel drum. )

(*) The 8 notes of the non-chromatic octave doh, ray, me etc. can handle many a simple Western or European tune. This non-chromatic scale was probably extended up into the second octave for the 14 note pan; or even down into the 3rd. Lieutenant Nathaniel Joseph Griffith’s chromatic requirements for TASPO steelband in 1951, was realised by official tuners Ellie Mannette, Sterling Betancourte, Andrew "Pan" de la Bastide, and Philmore "Boots" Davidson as Dr Blake (later) points out; with fellow bandsman Winston "Spree" Simon party in the sidelines.

  © 1997: - 19971215 - 1m20071228 - 2m20140615
Historic Update: 04 January 1999; Last Update: 01 July 2014 13:00:00 TT
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