Winsford Devine: ‘I can’t stop writing’

Winsford Devine has written over 500 calypsoes, many of them classics. He hasn’t always been given his dues, but that won’t stop the music...

Winford Devine. Photograph by David Wears

I come from South Trinidad, a village called Morne Diablo. I used to play pan, and one day Mervyn “Bolong” Ross, a fella from town, heard me playing and brought me up to town, on Nelson Street, to play with the Blue Diamond Steelband.

I used to always try my hand at writing, and when Ross heard some of my songs, he said they were good. He took me to Syl Taylor, the manager of the Original Young Brigade’s [calypso] tent. He used to manage a club on Charlotte Street too. I had a tape with some songs and he loved them and bought the whole tape.

The Mighty Blakie and Sparrow took a lot of those songs. Blakie was the first person to sing one of my songs in a professional way. That was How to Make a Road March Recipe.

In 1971 Sparrow sang Queen of the Bands and the next year he recorded Rope. I wrote another song called the Drunkard Calypso, but I never took credit for it. Sparrow called it Drunk and Disorderly. Up to this day we have contention over that. Another song I wrote for him was Bajan, which he called Doh Back Back. He won the Road March with those two songs, but he never accepted that I wrote them.

I wrote for Sparrow for 17 years and he won the Calypso Monarch crown four times. He turned me on to Baron when he came to sing with the tent and I wrote many songs for him, like Feeling It and Somebody.

I got introduced to Machel Montano and wrote about 15 songs for him, including Too Young to Soca, which won him the Junior Calypso Monarch, and Take Me Back Africa. I also wrote for Singing Francine, Poser, KV Charles of Atlantik, Anselm Douglas and the Mighty Trini.

Outside of Trinidad I wrote for Mighty Dow from St Maarten, Rita Forrester and Invader from Barbados, and a fella called Cockroach—that was the weirdest calypso name I hear in my life.

My real talent is lyrics. I could do that quick, quick. I used to play the guitar and from the time I pick that up, melodies and words came to me. These days I kinda retired, I only write lyrics, not melodies.

I started writing when I was small with my brothers. Morne Diablo was a very cultural place. We had a pan side and a music band, which was unusual for a small village back then. We used to have concerts and take part in Best Village. My father was a parang man and he used to play cuatro. He gave me my first cuatro lesson.

I used to go to a lot of musicians too, for them to mentor me. Joey Lewis, Ronnie McIntosh’s father, Art De Coteau, Pat Bishop and Merle Albino De Coteau used to give me pointers on music. Sparrow used to tell me stories about his younger days and inspired me about what makes a good calypso.

Of all the calypsoes I wrote, I like Baron’s Somebody, because of the melody and lyrics. Twenty-eight steelbands play that in the Savannah, and it eventually won the Panorama. It had good lyrics and melody.

My last real hit was Crazy’s Cock Can’t Stand Up [in 2007]. Crazy have a weird sense of humour. I put Crazy in five [Calypso Monarch] finals, but he never won anything.

I not happy really. I don’t know, maybe Merchant and myself were very unfortunate to write for some people who were very selfish. We always had to be scrambling, we never got our money’s worth. Now, thanks to the Copyright Association of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT), we getting royalties. The most royalties I get was TT$30,000, mainly from Cock Can’t Stand Up.

I don’t like the music playing today: the soca too noisy, the music watered down. Time changes and so do men, so it makes no sense for me to criticise them. I admire Machel and them though, ‘cause they have gotten the music out there for people to listen to. Calypso went out there and came back home, thanks to Harry Belafonte. I remember in 1973 I went to a club in Manhattan and the jukebox was only filled with Sparrow songs.

I can’t stop writing. Fellas from all parts of the world e-mail me to write for them. Any part of the world you are, just e-mail me, tell me what you want and I will write it for you.