And he is back, and ready to cast his spell for Carnival 2016 with “What you come here for”, a song that is vintage Shadow, full of melody, and a booming bass line, but with the energy of 2001 mega hit “Stranger” which won him the International Soca Monarch and Road March crowns.
Winston Bailey, who is Shadow, chatted with Sunday Newsday about his new single and his more than five-decade long career at his Mt Hope home. Bailey, 74, was witty and affable, speaking in folksy metaphors and frequently breaking into song and playing his guitar.
In his living room are awards on display, representing a lifetime of accolades. He notes he does not remember all of the awards and he has to catalogue them.
He’s proud of his latest award, the 2014 Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame, which recognises excellence in the performing arts, education, science and sports in the region for his “vast contribution and dedication to performing arts” over his “long and distinguished career”.
Now, first things first his sobriquet is “Shadow” and not “Mighty Shadow”, Bailey explained, saying there never was a “Mighty” though it has been used by others and is on the National Carnival Commission web page and other sites.
He chose the name “Shadow” during an encounter he had years ago in Tobago when he was a young calypsonian. Bailey was born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain but grew up in Les Coteaux, Tobago with his grandparents. He recalled that on the road from Castara to Charlotteville he saw some workmen “digging the road”. One of the workmen was down in a hole and the other men were calling him “Shadow”.
“I felt like they was calling me,” he said.
He told his friend, also a calypsonian, that he found his calypso name and both even quarrelled about who would use it. Years later when he told his mother about the incident she laughed and told him that the original “Shadow” was his cousin.
“He was carrying the name for me,” Bailey laughed.
In the November/December 1995 issue of Caribbean Beat magazine the headline was “Shadow: The Uncrowned King” referring to the fact that, despite his great appeal to calypso fans, he has not been very popular with calypso judges. He bucked the trend when in 1974 with the song “Bass Man”, in which he sings about forgetting calypso to go “plant peas in Tobago” but a “bass man from hell” named Farrell kept playing notes in his head. Shadow finally won the Calypso Monarch in 2000 with the songs “What’s Wrong With Me” and “Scratch Meh Back” and took the Road March for a second time the following year with the upbeat “Stranger” in which he instructs a visiting Australian on how to enjoy Carnival.
When Bailey played his latest song “What you come here for?” for a friend, he told him that it was reminiscent of “Stranger”. Bailey noted that while the two songs were different, the energy and mood were similar. He had the song on a CD and played it in his black SUV.
The chorus is as follows: I come to dance I come to prance I come to fete Until I wet I come around To have some fun I come around To carry on He explained that the song is about Carnival and how during the year “nothing happening” but when the season comes around you have people doing things. He recalled that he wrote the song last year and he liked it so he went into the studio and added the horns and the bass line “to get it lively”.
Questioned whether he hoped that “What you come here for?” would be a hit like “Stranger” Bailey said he goes where the music takes him.
“If they want it in a party I go down there,” he explained.
“What you come here for?” has been playing on local radio stations but Bailey noted that it is a “different time” in music. He explained that before there were less radio stations and hits would be “jamming all the time”. He said currently there are many more people dealing with music and many more stations but you were getting less play. “But that funny you know.
When you had about three radio stations and the place warm, warm, warm with music around the corner,” he said. “Long time they glad for a song. Now they have too many to play.” Asked whether it was a case of quantity over quality Bailey said, “people say that” though everybody is trying to do their best. He noted, however, that we do not have the “great, fantastic music” like before.
Nowadays songs are recorded differently, he observed, and there is a lot of sampling, including of his own songs. He noted that the 2014 song “Play More Local” by Mr Famous which includes the line “Bring back Shadow” uses Bailey’s rhythms. Bailey said artistes should sit down with a guitar and come up with music rather than sampling.
“This sample thing is something else,” he said.
He noted that people would use his rhythms and mix it with theirs but they do not want to give “Jack his jacket” or his “sneakers”. Bailey noted that he stays home and does music and showed one of the guitars he plays. He recalled that when he was younger he would make a guitar out of a box.
“I love the music and I have to get it out,” he stressed, and then broke into his 1989 hit “Feeling the Feeling”.
Asked about the radio local content debate, Bailey said he was in favour of mandating 50 or 60 percent of radio airtime to local music.
“This is our country, our music.
(But we) get a little piece only around Carnival time. I think about that,” he added. “People all over the world playing their music.
(But local artistes) begging for a play.” He said that kaiso music has always been sweet and noted that in the time of Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow he “found himself in there”. He recalled that it was not hard to do as he just had to “feel my feelings”.
Among the many calypsonians to grace the stage and play on the radio, Bailey has always been unique with his dark clothes, deep voice and lyrics that range from the offbeat to the deeply philosophical.
Bailey recalled one vagrant who called him a “mystical man” and then proceeded to recite his calypsoes on two occasions.
Asked what songs his fans usually request, Bailey said he likes to please the crowd and would sing songs depending on the type of show. He likes people to dance and so he puts “juice into it”.
Bailey is known for his signature dance move where he stands straight and jumps up and down.
He explained that the dance, called the “Shadow”, originated when he performed the “Bass Man” live and was meant to demonstrate him “prancing” to the notes of the bass man.
“So I start to do a prancing. I stand up on one spot. And I start to do a jump. And when I start to do the jump...I catch my head doing that and the whole crowd gone that way,” he said.
Bailey considers “Bass Man” to be his “baddest” song. He noted that early in his career people tried to block him out of calypso but he would still find his way in but, he said, they had to “move to let the man pass”.
“If I go looking for a mango and they block me I go for an orange,” he philosophises.
On the changing of calypso and the rise of soca, Bailey said songs used to be sweet, like the compositions of Spoiler (Theophilus Philip) which you “could run and feel”, or humorous, like those penned by Rio (Daniel Brown), Funny (Donrick Williamson) and Brigo (Samuel Abraham). “But now everybody feel you put an engine on the thing and go off with a speed. When you finish you tired like a wounded soldier,” he quipped.
He said he would listen to some of the music and was not feeling the fast paced songs.
“I wish you finish quick,” he laughed. On the accolades he has received, which includes the Humming Bird Medal (Silver) in 2003, Bailey said with so many bad things that happened to him he feels happy and proud about the awards. He stressed, however, that the music is paramount.
“My chief thing is to stick with the music,” he added.
Asked about the term “uncrowned king” Bailey said the music is not about winning and he has gone so far and ahead of the game he is not worried about the crown.
All through the Caribbean and anywhere there is calypso, he said, people “go off on me” and like his beats and melodies. He has felt like the greatest and loves the great reaction he gets from fans young and old.
“People carrying around a crown for me. Every time they see me they treat me like a king,” he said.