Steelpan genius: Anthony Williams …the making of a master

TT – Neville Jules was the organiser supreme of Trinidad All Stars; he was the captain who members listened to, not because he was a “badjohn” (“but I could take care of myself”) but because he exuded authority and respect from All Stars panmen.

Ellie Mannette with Invaders placed the band on the steelband map. He pounded the pans inside to create the modern instrument. Ellie migrated and trained generations of panmen in America.

Anthony “Tony” “Muff-Man” “Skip” Williams–Sun Valley, North Stars and Pan Am Jet North Stars (PAJNS)–is the scientist supreme of tuning and creating pans. He was master arranger, composer, innovator, leader, and a man ascribed the title by many I spoke with as “genius of the steelband.”

For the generations whom we have robbed of the knowledge of Williams, let’s set down a few markers which tell the story of the man who developed, arguably, the greatest steelband yet to interpret the calypso, European classics, jazz, among other forms of music.

First, the most colourful and interesting of his sobriquets: Muff-Man. He had a full head of hair with the muff projecting to the front. Often he wore a felt hat stylishly fitted over the muff. “It was considered a vagabond style in them days, and my own was big,” he said chuckling to himself. “Now I am hearing about Rasta style”; he again seeming to delight in a bit of self-accredited delinquency.

In his time from the late 1940s through the 1950s into the 1960s as leader, arranger, composer, tuner and innovator, Muff-Man converted North Stars (it was first Northern Stars) into the celebrated Pan Am Jet North Stars, initiating steelband sponsorship.

Under his leadership, Pan Am Jet North Stars won the precursor competition to Panorama in 1963 (The Best Road March Steelband Competition) playing Sparrow’s “Dan is the Man in the Van”. In the following year (1964) PAJNS won the first Panorama competition which was organised by the newly formed Steelband Pan Association of George Goddard, with Kitchener’s “Mama This is Mas”. In the year after, the band placed second to Guinness Cavaliers.

Williams and the band felt they were robbed and that was their last appearance in that competition.

In the 1962 Music Festival at Queen’s Hall, Williams arranged, and with his band played the “Voices of Spring”, still considered one of the greatest of renditions of European classics by a steel band.

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