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Mighty Sheller looks back at calypso days

Mighty Sheller looks back at calypso days

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Sixty seven-year-old Jeffers Alexis is aging gracefully.

The humble Fair Hall resident is enjoying his retirement, from both his job as a telex operator and printer in the United States and as one of the most prolific calypsonians this country has ever produced.{{more}}

Alexis, whose stage name “The Mighty Sheller”, lays claim to the record of having won the national calypso crown a record seven times, including three straight wins between 1965 and 1967, and four straight from 1970 to 1973.

His successes on the stage and his over 100 songs last week earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award in Calypso, bestowed on him by the Minister of Culture René Baptiste at the Ministry’s launch of a calypso handbook.

Jeffers’ journey began during his early days growing up at Murray’s Village in Kingstown.

“I used to go to the Richmond Hill Government School, which is now the Thomas Saunders Secondary School, and he (Thomas Saunders) is the man who introduced me to music when I was going there.”

“We used to go to two Sunday schools every Sunday, and that is where I used to do all my singing.”

Jeffers recounted that he was so good at being a bard that during Nine Mornings he always got a solo performance performing ‘We Three Kings’ when he and other youngsters went around earning their Christmas money.

Jeffers claims to have developed an interest in calypso by listening to Radio Trinidad and Radio Guardian, since there were no radio stations in St. Vincent at the time.

Jeffers remembers listening to the greats of the time, including the Mighty Sparrow, Kitchener, Lord Melody and others, hoping to be able to emulate his heroes one day.

“I fell in love with the art form because Calypso was king at that time.”

Encouraged to try his voice in the local calypso arena, the 21-year-old, who worked as a gas station attendant, chose the moniker Mighty Sheller, after the name of the gas company for which he worked.

“I entered the competition in 1962. My first song was ‘Kennedy vs. Kruchev (during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which involved the United States, Cuba and Russia). I didn’t place. I went back in ’63, I didn’t place again.”

The following year, Sheller still did not take the crown. But the tides turned in 1965 when he claimed his first title with ‘Woman Good, Woman Bad’.

He repeated the feat in 1966 and again in ‘67. In 1968 he was in Trinidad singing in the Mighty Sparrow’s band, and in 1969, a trip to Trinidad with his close friend Fuzzy Knights caused him to miss out on the preliminaries, but he was able to make a special appearance at the Finals.

Between 1970 and 1973, Sheller the calypsonian regained and retained the crown with songs like ‘Why the hell they didn’t hang he’, ‘Licks like fire’, ‘Big jobs’ and ‘National Provident Fund’.

Later that year Sheller migrated to the United States, leaving it all behind.

He spent 24 years there keeping a low profile, concentrating on working and taking care of his family.

After retiring in 1996, Sheller returned home.

He competed a number of times since then, but decided to call it quits once and for all in 2001.

Looking back, the seven-time champion admitted to missing the competition, although he is quite content with the part he played.

He remembers competing against and performing with the greats of his time, some of whom have passed on.

“Lord Priest was a very funny guy. There was Mighty Leader, Lord Hawk, Sun Blaze and my very good friend Mighty Zorro.”

His most memorable moment was his last win in 1973, when most people expected his rival Mighty Leader to wrest the crown from his head. He surprised the audience at the Finals with a new song (National Provident Fund).

“The night when they call me on stage to defend and I went up, when I started to sing and I finish the first verse and the chorus, ah mash up the place, they couldn’t believe… there was no doubt that I win for the fourth time.”

Now a spectator, Sheller still enjoys the art form.

He likes a number of the calypsonians and soca/ragga soca artistes that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has produced over the years and believes that there is still better to be done.

Sheller indicated that he is looking forward to Vincy Mas 2009, which he thinks overall is better than what our neighbour to the south has to offer, and even made recommendations of some adjustments he would like to see for our festival.

“The performances are good, but there is too much presentation, which could be distracting.”

“The stage is too far from the audience, which affects the crowd response and interaction.”

“The art form is still in good shape, but there needs to be more symposiums and the youngsters in the schools should be trained to write their own songs.”

The Mighty Sheller bowed out at the top of the game, with a record of seven titles in ten years, which he admits can be broken, but does not expect it to happen anytime soon. In the mean time, he is satisfied with being a spectator these days, and occasionally does calypso judging in other countries in the region and here at home.

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