Ronnie Butler loved music from his early childhood. He started out playing the maracas at the age of sixteen with a neighbor from Trinidad by the name of Alexander who played the Hawaiian guitar and Nattie, one of the premier conga drummers in The Bahamas. His job as a construction worker did not get in the way of him taking his first job playing music at the Carlton House Hotel on East Street. This all started though with them getting together in the evenings after work and just practising. Two months or so later, Alexander secured the job for them.
From nine to five o'clock during the day, Ronnie would work on construction sites, and then play music from seven to ten in the evening. This job, however, lasted only about two months. Following that, they were hired by the Buena Vista and remained there for four months after which he went on to work with Eric Gibson of "King Eric & His Knights" in 1958.
Ronnie further developed his musical talents while working with King Eric and according to King, he became one of his most outstanding sidemen, “always on time, always properly dressed, just a good man to work with”. They would work in clubs like "The Skylark Club", Captain Kidd", and "The Bar Mar".
In 1962, it seemed inevitable that Ronnie was destined to lead his own band, and so he formed "Ronnie & The Ramblers", consisting of Charlie Dean - drums, Sidney Darling - bass, and Carl "Flash" Rodgers - guitar. They became a household name for some seventeen years thereafter. Their first job was at "The Big Bamboo" club, and subsequently they performed at the British Colonial, and at "Rum Keg" at the Nassau Beach Hotel.
Carl "Flash" Rodgers
(legendary guitarist that helped in defining Ronnie's sound)
During this period, Ronnie recalls the existence of about 39 clubs in Nassau alone, with nine on Bay Street, and the remainder scattered in the "Over The Hill' areas. Historically, hotels closed their dining rooms around eleven o'clock which left a void for entertainment for their guests. Tourists would find themselves "over the hill", all the way to Fox Hill in the southeast?, in search of live entertainment. Clubs like the Zanzibar, Conch Shell, and Cat 'n' Fiddle, and the Banana Boat were only a few of the clubs that kept the city awake at night.
The bands were very busy developing their craft. Ezra & The Polka Dots, Sonny Johnson & The Sunglows, Tony Seymour, Smoky 007, are but a few entertainers who made nightlife vibrant in the city of Nassau. Additionally, Ronnie recalls that hotels were beginning to employ bands to entertain their guests on their properties.
Ronnie would take some time off and spend about one year in Washington D.C. where he performed at Alfio's. This also was an important time in history, as civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot while he was in Washington. Ronnie witnessed first hand the looting and rioting as a result. Additionally, Ronnie recalls the attitude towards blacks all over the South during his travel. The amazing thing to him was the change of attitudes displayed by whites once they found out he was from The Bahamas.
Ronnie returned home in 1971 to begin a stint at the "Out Island Bar" in the Nassau Beach Hotel. It was during this time that he recorded his some of his greatest Bahamian hits, classics like "Burma Road", "Bahama Rock", and "Crow Calypso". In the latter part of 1973, Ronnie recalls beginning a ten-year run at "Ronnie's Rebel Room" at the Anchorage Hotel. Locals and tourists alike flocked to the club to be entertained by Ronnie and his Ramblers. These years would strongly impact the music of The Bahamas forever.
The rhythms that Ronnie developed during these years were based on Latin rhythms that he'd heard on the radio during that time. The fusing of those rhythms and the goombay rhythms has become a style that has further defined the Bahamian sound. The stress points in goombay music were played predominantly on the strong beats, much like the walking bass line in jazz. Ronnie then adopted the salsa and samba style of bass which emphasized the weak beats and fused it with the goombay rhythms, in turn creating a new style of playing Bahamian music.
Composer Eddie Minnis (one of my featured artist) during this time formed an alliance with Ronnie & The Ramblers and recorded most of his songs about island life. The Ronnie Butler sound mixed with the humor and story telling songs composed by Minnis were a great and successful combination.
Another contributing factor in Ronnie's sound was the introduction of electric instruments. The bands before played acoustically. The softer more mellow sound was very different from the sound created by the use of the electric bass, electric guitar, and the introduction of microphones for vocalists. The volume of the music drastically increased and was quite attractive to the younger generation of Bahamians.
Following his years at the "Rebel Room", Ronnie & The Ramblers would disband. His new group Ronnie Butler & Fire came about in the late eighties and would perform at the "Tradewinds Lounge" on Paradise Island for eight years before the industry took a downward turn in 1990.
For three years following that, Ronnie had difficulty finding work in Nassau. These were challenging times. Ever since that time, the industry has continued to deteriorate, according to Ronnie. The blame for the downward spiral, according to Ronnie, must be equally shared between the artists themselves, and management of hotels and entertainment venues. When the disco era rolled in, if musicians were more disciplined and responsible, management would have had no reason to displace them with the DJ's that accompanied the disco craze. The related problems like tardiness, drinking on the job, and other irresponsible behaviors are said to have greatly diminished the appeal for management to deal with live entertainment all over the Bahamas.
Looking back at Ronnie's career, although filled with many challenges, his contribution has left an indelible mark on the Bahamian music industry. To date, has recorded fifteen albums and shows no sign of slowing down. Millions all over the world have enjoyed his music over the years. Audiences in Boston, Toronto, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium would all agree that Ronnie is indeed one of our finest entertainers of all time.
Even today, Ronnie continues to re-invent himself. His alliance with producer/musician/composer Fred Ferguson re-introduced Ronnie to the new generation of Bahamians. Songs like that sung with Sweet Emily, "Look What You Do", and "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number" with Count Bernadino brought to the fore once again the talent of this Bahamian giant.
Ronnie Butler has been given many awards for his contribution ti the growth and development of his community. The Cacique Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, and “Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE) are but a few of the many awards bestowed upon Ronnie. When asked about them, he simply replies, “these are the people awards, if it weren’t for the everyday people who supported over the years, there’s be no Ronnie”.
After all these years, Ronnie continues to mesmerize his fans and keep Bahamian music alive. Ronnie Butler, a true national treasure.