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Lord Invader & The Saga of “Rum and Coca-Cola”

Calypso singer Lord Invader
Lord Invader

So first of all, I haven’t given up my quest to discover the oldest recording of “Zombie Jamboree” aka “Jumbie Jamboree.” I’ve written to some musical experts online to see if I can track down further info, but the only one who was nice enough to write back…Henry Rollins. I wrote to him because–I don’t know if you’ve listened to his show on KCRW or not–but his memory for songs, the details about them, and where he heard or found them…is daunting. I figured if he had run into an earlier version of the song, he’d remember it. But no luck there.

The impetus for this post comes from the Lord Invader song coming up on my massive Spotify listening playlist. I thought, hey, I should make a post about Lord Invader, the musician everyone thinks you’re talking about when you bring up Lord Intruder. (There are a lot of Lords involved in calypso music, apparently.) So here’s the song.

In looking into the song, though, we run into the same sort of mayhem that came from “Zombie Jamboree.” The first actual recording I can find from Discogs–from Lord Invader–comes from 1956. And surely now you’re thinking, “Wait, Widge, didn’t the Andrews Sisters record that and release it in 1944?” And I say: you are very astute, imaginary reader who speaks in my head, because here’s that:

But yes, Lord Invader came before the Andrews Sisters. But did someone come before Lord Invader? Oh yes. In 1906, Lionel Belasco composed the song “L’Année Passée.” And here’s that.

So what is the point of all of this, other than an excuse to trot out some pretty cool music? Well, Lord Invader aka Rupert Grant, wrote new words for Belasco’s tune and that became “Rum and Coca-Cola.” Then Morey Amsterdam was hanging out in Trinidad for a month during 1943 during a USO tour and, though he claimed not to have heard the song that whole time, copyrighted a revised version with some alterations to the lyrics…and that’s what the Andrews Sisters recorded. According to Wikipedia (which is always right) some radio stations objected to the mention of alcohol and some objected to Coca-Cola being a product name. Not sure what anybody made of the debauchery and prostitution in the lyrics, but whatever.

Also according to Wikipedia–and I’m not sure exactly what the order of events was–Lord Invader sued Amsterdam and Belasco sued (either Lord Invader or Amsterdam? or both? not sure). I think everybody wound up getting paid or something, because the case ended in 1948.

Of course, because nothing can ever be completely straightforward, it turns out the song predates Belasco as well…he based his version on a traditional song called “King Ja Ja.” And here’s that:

And as I was working on this whole thing, I learned that August 16th is National Rum Day. Totally unplanned, folks. But I definitely need a drink now.