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Steelpan At San Diego Zoo
Gregg Paxton grew up on the beach and plays pan for a living. His repertoire includes Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, and a long list of calypso standards and Panorama tunes. He worships at the altar of Len "Boogsie" Sharpe. But Paxton has never set foot on the soil of Trinidad and Tobago.
We found him jamming with his band "Three Hour Tour", (inspired by Gilligan's Island) at the San Diego Zoo on a bright summer afternoon. The melody that rolled ever so smoothly off his shiny tenor pan was merely wallpaper, providing background music for the main attraction, a group of lucky kids dancing off in a hula-hoop contest.
Paxton said he was cold calling agents in the Los Angeles area, and suddenly decided to call an agent from his hometown of San Diego. He got lucky when the agent asked if he could play 72 shows. He was excited to be playing the gig since his band was just one year old, and he actually switched from playing drum sets to steel drums only two years ago. "I've been writing music for a long time," he told wedepeople. "I fell in love with the sound of the instrument. I wanted to play something more melodic, and I felt with my percussion background I could easily play a melody on the pan."
His first exposure to steelpan came 15 years ago, while pursuing a music degree at Long Beach State University. He said has been playing drums with Caribbean groups since then, and has been widely exposed to music from up and down the islands of the West Indies. "I also fell in love with that kind of music, calypso and reggae" he said. "Bob Marley is the King, may he rest in peace. I consider him the Beatles of reggae. He was a songwriter first, really. And there's a guy named Len Boogsie Sharpe, B-o-o-g-s-i-e, I think is how you spell his name" Paxton continued. "He is the Mozart of Caribbean music. Genius, I think. (I discovered him when) other players say you gotta check him out. There are a lot of good steel drummers out in L-A."
Paxton said Boogsie's pan arrangements are among his favorites, although he has never been to Triinidad's Panorama, a fact that haunts the back of his mind and brings on a bit of unwarranted guilt, more so as he realizes he is being interviewed by a real live Trini. "I always say maybe I shouldn't play the instrument until I go down there and see what its really like," he says.
Three Hour Tour just released a new album. You can find details on Paxton's website at threehourtourmusic.com.