Bob Andy interview
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I couldn’t believe my luck, here I was in the same room as Bob Andy. It took me some time to recover from the shock. Then began the process of trying to find out how long Bob was going to be around for, and whether he was interested in doing an interview. The answer to the first question was that he was here for awhile; and the answer to the second was yes. Not long after it was time for me to depart… At which point Bob says he’s got to make a move as well. In one of the streets just off Ladbroke Grove I tell Bob I have to go this way. Bob says he’s got business in the other direction. I say goodbye to him and mention that I’ll be contacting him soon. “That’s fine,” he says, and turns to go on his way. As he does he’s greeted by a shout from across the road – “Do some music for me boss!” It comes from a black man who strolls across the road and slaps Bob on the back. Bob laughs and says sure. The old man and Bob have a good laugh. Then the old man walks on. So does Bob and so do I.
One week later, Colin and myself sit down to interview Bob Andy, one of reggae’s greatest talents, whose career covers every era of Jamaican music from Jamaican rhythm and blues to the dancehall style of today.
Who were your influences, Bob?
Lot of people, a lot of people.
I hear a lot of different people when I listen to you sing.
Yeah man, Harry Belafonte, Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls – from the popular era. From the rhythm and blues era, Nat King Cole. I grew up on Sinatra and those guys. Those guys were good singers. I don’t think there are many good singers today. Various techniques have developed, people use less effort in their – things. But real singing… I used to be inspired by the Platters, the Drifters. The Paragons were like a Jamaican Drifters.
You sound more soul influenced than R&B.
When I was listening as a child I was influenced by Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, but when I realised singing might be a way of life, it was easy to start rehearsing Drifters songs, Impressions songs, Temptations songs. When I took ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ by the Beatles to the Paragons to rehearse for a show, they laughed at me. So I wouldn’t put my influence down to any individual. I would say for whatever reason I was born with this musical talent, it was nurtured, fostered and inspired by the periods of my life. All the different eras have left their mark on me.
You have a very unique style, only recently have I heard someone who sings like you – Keith Douglas. Have you heard of him?
He records in this country, he’s the first artist who I would say modelled himself on your singing style. Ijahman Levi is another. I hear some Bob Andy in Ijahman Levi.
Ijahman came by me when we were teenagers. I was fostered out to a lady who was matron of a children’s home. She had a piano at her house. Ijahman, who was Trevor Sutherland then, used to come by. And I remember the first song he wrote was a song called ‘Joe Butterfly – I love to see you fly’… which was like the late ’50s. I used to play piano, and he used to sing ‘Joe Butterfly.’ Vic Taylor used to be around at that time too. I’ll say some of my influence is on Ijahman.
You can hear it.
I have not actually detected it still. I’m not too sure how I sound, you know.
You sound good!
Good is relative, what I mean is pattern, phrasing. I’m not sure. When I want to make a phrase I know how it feels, but I don’t know how it sounds. So when I listen to it afterwards I don’t necessarily think it sounds like so and so. To me it sounds good or not good enough, or bad. You’re thinking about style, I know.
It’s been suggested that you sound like a mixture of Delroy Wilson and Bunny Wailer.
I see what you mean. It’s not something I like to say, but I kinda think a part of my style is what Gregory Isaacs has. Don’t get me wrong, Gregory has his thing, style and tone. But I hear a similarity there. He did one of my songs early in his career, ‘Sun Shines For Me.’ Listening to that work and works after, I hear a link. It’s a compliment.
I would say it’s due to that you both sound so relaxed.
Which I kinda like for reggae music, that kinda style that Gregory has made popular. To me when I think of island music… Let’s say Marley, although coming from an island with island vocal influences, sounds very cosmopolitan. His music sounds like it could be from the Americas or Europe. Gregory and others you associate with sunshine and mountains. Marley I respect very highly because he realised very early that he could maintain his Jamaicaness in his music, and reach an international audience. In a strange way Marley’s songs are songs that I could sing very well. I could probably… this seems very presumptuous, but there are a lot of his songs that I could probably do more vocal justice to, cause he was a good writer.
A tribute album like Bunny Wailer did?
It might not come in an entire album, but every now and then I might include one. I actually have in mind – which is something I probably shouldn’t mention – there are a couple of Jamaican songs that I would love to do on an album in the future. Some songs of Marley, and a love song by Larry and Alvin, ‘I Admire You.’ You know that one? It’s really a very sincere melody. The message is portrayed as only a Jamaican male could portray it, from a Jamaican lover’s point of view. Clearly touches something deep in the soul. Where are we now, singing style? Yes, my influences are right up to about five years ago. I am not too much given to electronic music. Not very keen on some aspects of technology’s influence on the music. Listening to the radio in this country and in America, I hear a spate of pop songs with nothing more than synthesizers, and the songs are a commercial success. But I don’t hear a heck of a lot of effort in those songs.
That’s strange really because I remember what you were (saying) about the songs on the ‘Music Inside Me’ album to David Rodigan. And I was listening to the album recently and one of the main points about ‘Feeling Soul’, the recut from the ‘Songbook” album, was the synthesizer that gave the song a new Latin feel.
No I’m not degrading some aspects of the electronic sound. I’m not talking about instruments coming to compliment a sound. I am talking about a song that is only done with synthesizers.
Like electronic funk?
Yes, I’m sure it has its place too. What I’m saying is that I don’t ever see myself getting into that scene. I’m not influenced by it. Maybe I am not a man of that time.
Electronic music I don’t think of as far as reggae music is concerned. It doesn’t bring much to the music, because it’s very rhythmic in the first place.
If you look at a songs like ‘Love Come Down’, it’s totally electronic – Barry Biggs’ ‘Love Come Down.’ His latest effort ‘Love of You’, it’s just one guy doing all of that on a synthesizer. He gets a good sound. Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ is another. But I’m probably just a bit archaic, you know. Like I say, it has its place. But I don’t know how much influence I have absorbed from this era, musically. But vocally the present crop singers I’m not… A guy I like is Michael McDonald – he’s not a Jamaican. He’s a guy with the Doobie Brothers. He had a song out last year, a success in the States which didn’t go down very well here called ‘I Keep Forgetting.’ This guy Michael McDonald is a white guy, who really had a downhome black sound. If you remember songs like ‘Minute By Minute’ – well if you’re not familiar with the Doobie Brothers… he’s one of the guys I like very much. Today right now there are no new singers that I like. Phil Collins, a white guy… I like his mood and sound.
Any current reggae artists?
A Jamaican singer who I like very much, who is not very popular in this country, is Richard Ace. Probably never heard of him?
Yeah, the keyboard player. He’s had very few releases – ‘Love Is So Good When You’re Stealing It’ on Studio One.
Delroy Wilson used to be an excellent singer. He’s kept pace with his talent. A person who hasn’t influenced me, but who I think has made the most marvellous strides and progress vocally is Peter Tosh. He’s really developed as a singer. I saw him Christmas Night on this Youth Consciousness (Show). He’s come to terms with his vocals now. I’m sure all those people from Studio One have similar influences too. But I might have just covered a little more ground. Well, those brothers are really very strict brothers. They don’t talk to many people. They don’t expose themselves to change. I’m probably more gullible. Well, I don’t want to sound as if I’m open-minded and someone else might read into it as a negative. And I don’t really have anything negative to say against these people.
As you say, other artists do mention the same influences, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, etc. It’s interesting to see how you end up singing as you do.
I should say John Holt must have been an influence. We worked together for a number of years. There has to be rubbing off, you know.
Was the first record you made with Tyrone Evans?
Have you heard much of his work lately? He’s made some really good records.
Tyrone Evans, I’m a little bit disappointed in him… in that he’s never really ventured on a path. I think, I hope, he might have by this time, acquired a certain degree of confidence. I think that’s his problem more than anything else – confidence as a singer. The great thing is that he’s never satisfied with how he sounds. Like myself, he wants to improve on that. But I think the difference between him and myself is that he’s nice, because I remember in the Paragons one of the reasons the Paragons broke up… Apart from the fact that I was aware that I was doing most of the work, because I had to choose the songs and play the piano for all four of us when we were rehearsing, I would be working out the harmonies and making sure the group stays together, you know. I assumed an overwhelming amount of responsibility at a very young age.
How old were you then?
When were you born?
1944… And it was very heavy, because they reckoned – Tyrone more than anyone else reckoned – that if a group had a strong lead singer, the group would be a force to be reckoned with. So we brought John Holt in, who had a name already! He had won various talent contests. Then he came in; he was a very strong singer. The two other guys adored him, mostly Tyrone. Tyrone just fell sucker to the way John sings. Well now, he refused to sing any song! He said “I’m comfortable doing the harmonies” but I said “You know now, I wouldn’t like to spend the rest of my life Oh Ahhing!” And they weren’t very pleased when I tried to develop my talent. And we couldn’t deal with the John Holt situation – nothing but his arrogance.
Was he much older than you?
No, we were all about the same age. Tyrone was older than me, but we are about the same – um, atomic youth. We were all born when the scientists were busy splitting the atom. John Holt was a bit arrogant. We all got a bit fed up with John, his arrogance and his attitude, in that he’d think well, he didn’t need much rehearsal. I said I want to leave the group and they said no, we will get a new lead singer. So we called Vic Taylor.
How about Howard Barrett? Not much is known about him.
Howard Barrett – Kingston College, it’s a secondary school in Jamaica that I think owes its existence to Bustamante. I hope I am right. It was the first secondary shool in Jamaica to have broken the barriers of class education. All Jamaicn school’s use pseudonyms. KC Kingston College, JC – Jamaican College. JC was largely a school, where like Michael Manley and his father went to. Mostly populated by children of English workers, who were in Jamaica at the time. The school was very English country style. Jamaica was a strict colony. The administrators were English of course. That was basically a school for those kids. So kids were able to go to a school like JC were privileged. When KC opened, a child of anyone could go to it. Barrett is a student of KC. KC still boasts a very talented and consistently good school choir. And a couple of guys I grew up with it came from that choir. We sung with friends along the way, you know, before we found out respective vocations. The arts is something you keep chiselling away at and somewhere along the line something takes shape. Maybe those brothers didn’t chisel enough. Or chiselled away at something else. So anyway Vic Taylor came into the group for about three months. And the other two members of the group decided we really do prefer John’s style as the lead singer – quote. So I said OK, you’re free to have John back in the group. I am going to go. Which I was thinking on anyway.
How many records did you make with The Paragons?
They were ballads. They didn’t really embark on reggae or the music of the day. We were largely Drifters influenced to the extent where we recorded over ’Follow Me’ by The Drifters. I would say I did three 45s for the Paragons, two sided 45s. Then I went Coxsone, after we splitted. I remember the night we split. I made my decision where Evans and myself used to go to Church, Church Of England. That’s where we started singing as guys in the Church. I said “I think I want to try it alone.” He said – “you sure.” I said “Yeah”. So went our respective ways.”
‘Crime Don’t Pay’ was your first solo outing?
Well, that is that, I think it was due to Jamaican music of the day, the most popular ones were instrumentals. Vocal influences were American. And whilst we were singing with bands and doing the hit parade on various shows, when it came down to making your own song, the Jamaicaness just happened to come through. I really don’t know how to put it. Unless you decided to sing – like I say we did ‘Follow Me’ and we did it carbon copy of The Drifters, but when it came down to writing your own material it came out in the Jamaican flavour. They (The Paragons) went and did a whole string of hits. ‘On The Beach’, ‘Wear You To The Ball’. I think John Holt was largely responsible for that. The direction of The Paragons took after I had left. The parting was a good thing too, because they found an identity, and I found an identity. Though I think if we had managed to work together, there was no telling what could have happened, but it wasn’t to be. I would hasten to say that I was probably seeing much further, I was seeing the day when Jamaica would have artists as big as the Americans we idolised. I would say we will be able to make records and get famous like The Four Tops. They would say you’re crazy. “You know how big America is, you know how developed?” Soon, soon, And years after Tyrone would say you really knew. You really was seeing way out there.
When Coxsone took you into the studio to record ‘Crime Don’t Pay’…
We recorded all those songs, ballads with him too, that’s how I get to know him. ‘Crime Don’t Pay’ wasn’t released. So I said. “OK.” Would have to give to Dodd that he was a very smart guy. Dodd gave me a record, as he did with Bob Marley and all the artists, to listen to, and said “See what you do with this.” The record influenced me to write ‘Crime Don’t Pay’ it was a completely different thing. I have had my differences with Coxsone over the years but if one takes the time really check it, he’s done a tremendous amount for Jamaican music. And in many respects he’s a very wise person. He actually channelled my mind into, as he’s done with all the artists he seriously took to deal with, a sound he thought I might be able to identity with. So I was listening to that record for about six weeks – two months before I decided to that no I don’t want to sing this record as my first solo attempt. I want to write one. And it came out as ‘Crime Don’t Pay.’ I remember the song was ‘Walking Up A One Street’ I actually sung the melody to horn section of that.
So what was the first record that came out in Jamaica that was successful for you?
Then I recorded ‘I’ve Got To Go Back Home’ and at that time it was the sound system era. And there was a beach where Coxsone used to play every Sunday night. And middle class people were just starting to get in herb and things and drinking hot hops. It was a beach. I am sure that’s what influenced John Holt’s ‘On The Beach’…, hot hops and things. That was the feature of the that beach, herbs, fried fish, hot beer and plenty of Jamaican music. And I was listening to King Stitt who was then DJ for Coxsone Sound at the time, number one set, cause these guys had one, two, three, four sets. So I was sitting smoking a spliff. Suddenly I heard a familiar sound, it was the first time I was hearing myself as a solo artist on a big box. And it sound good, and I said that’s ‘I’ve Got To Go Back Home’ it was like… it wasn’t the herb even though I just started smoking herb, I wasn’t charged out of my mind… The guy played the tune seventeen times! And people are hands on shoulders marching like trains! I’ve never seen it done to any other record and I’m trying to find someone I know to say do you see what I see. It was never released as a single either! The first hit I had on a single was ‘Let Them Say’ which came after ‘I’ve Got To Go Back Home’.
How many sessions did you do with Coxsone?
The first session was ‘Crime Don’t Pay’. Then ‘Let Them Say’. I was on a bus one day when I wrote a song. I was singing the song. It sounded like Delroy Wilson would have done a good job with the song and I went to the studio. I had also another song in the interim for him ‘It’s Impossible’ and it was a song he could do very well. So I went and did the rhythm. And he wasn’t there, and I went to see if I could find him to put the voice on, to teach him the lyrics, he wasn’t there. So I recorded it myself and it turned out to be ‘Too Experience’. That was the third/fourth recording for Coxsone. He put ‘Too Experience’ on the other side of ‘Let Them Say’ it’s a funny thing, something you may not understand. I’ve not had 10 singles released in Jamaica. I can name them to you. Two came out on one. ‘Let Them Say’/’Too Experience’ ‘Feeling Soul’ was released on an album called ‘Reggae In The Grass’ with a song I did with Marcia Griffiths called ‘Always Together’. Coxsone never really promoted I as a single artist.
His effort came when you left and he released the ‘Songbook’ album?
He realised that I was serious and had gone. I heard afterwards that Horace Andy had become Andy because Coxsone wanted another Andy, but he’s not an Andy. I left Coxsone and went back there again to listen to a couple of rhythms. Just pure rhythm. Never heard any vocals or anything. And I wrote ‘Mark My Word’ for Marcia, ‘Melody Life’ ‘Desperate Lover’ and ‘Feeling Soul’. A set of rhythms, and I just went back there one day and sung them.
Is that very hard to write lyrics over a recorded rhythm?
A lot of credit must go to Jackie. I don’t think Jackie Mittoo is being acknowledged enough, for his role in the music, the development of Jamaican music.
Jackie is well respected in this country…
For people who know the music, but when it is catalogued or chronicled in all the various Reggae Bloodlines or Reggae this or that, there’s always a big picture of Marley of course, which the man had earned, but what I am saying is that if there hadn’t been a Jackie Mittoo there might not have been a popular idiom to Jamaican music. If one wants to relate the success of Jamaican music to Coxsone’s influence, Jackie Mittoo is really solely responsible for the structure and rhythmic pattern. The rhythms were so tough that a guy would probably come with a no song. Jackie was paid to do a certain amount of work and the musicians were there. If he was outside and hear a melody, he say “Let’s sing let me hear you sing.” And what Jackie would hear, he would make a chord structure for it. He would play, and then get the band together, and would record the song and say, “You will come tomorrow and voice” and the guy might be in the studio for four hours. A lot of those guys want to be singers, it happens to all of us, but once you see a mike you just freak. You forget what you’re all about. Coxsone would then have all these rhythms piled up and would say. “Ok, listen to this see what you can do.”
When you sing the song, do you have to go through any studio gadgets to change the key?
Once I hear the rhythm being played no matter what key, its melodic structure is its essense – Oh I see where you’re coming from… I am able to fit into most keys.
When you spoke to David Rodigan on “Roots Rockers” you discussed reggae and its international appeal. How great an influence do you now think reggae music has? (Bob then recalls a recent concert in London of Latin music he went to see, where the band played a tribute to Bob Marley in recognition of the importance of Jamaican music. Bob in turn then tells us of the influence of Latin music on reggae music.)
Jamaicans are lucky people you know, we have a very rich passage, passage of time between the second World War and up to when Cuba became a rebel country. I grew up on a combination of Dominican Republic music, which was merengue; Brazilian or Latin samba; and we were getting Cuban/Puerto Rican. Today when you turn on your radio, you get more Spanish. We only have two radio stations; late at night you can pick up a Miami radio station or over in Washington… if you have a good radio. But normally what you get is endless Spanish.
How about the Far East sound, any thoughts on that?
Well, Geoffrey Chung went to school in China! – Hong Kong. His influence on Pablo could have… I don’t know…
The Far East sound has also been described as the Middle Eastern sound as well – Arabic…
It’s African, isn’t it?
Like with Michael Rose’s and Don Carlos’ vocal style.
It’s a vocal play against a minor chord. What might sound Middle Eastern could have been meant to be African. But let me go back to key… When I hear a song, when I hear a rhythm done in a certain key. I am able to find a comfortable range. I am able to come up with a melodic structure than fit within a comfortable range.
It surprised me that Coxsone gave you rhythms in the same way as what he’s doing now. I thought that those records were recorded after you had written the song, and were arranged around the song. The first song you recorded after you left, for Rupie Edwards – ‘The Way I Feel’…
It was ‘Feeling Soul,’ ‘Desperate Lover’ and ‘Unchained.’
They were the three that you had to sing over a rhythm?
Yes, but the rest were just made from scratch. I tell you, when I heard the rhythm for ‘Feeling Soul,’ ’cause I still have never heard the original vocal for ‘Feeling Soul’… if there was one… what had inspired my ‘Feeling Soul’ was Carlton and The Shoes. They had done a song called ‘Feeling’…
Not ‘Sweet Feeling’?
It came out after ‘Love Me Forever.’
Is it on their album for Studio One?
That’s the one. That might have inspired me to write the ‘Feeling Soul’ melody. I love his work very much, Carlton Manning.
He is another great artist who can’t seem to break through – it doesn’t make any sense.
It don’t make no ****ing sense. I don’t understand how… This is why I’m against Coxsone. Coxsone has discouraged by his actions the better artists. You have not heard the better set of guys. There is a brother named Barry who plays a guitar and sings. He’s a bird. There is a guy who Leroy of the Heptones recorded a couple of songs with – Rocky…
Yeah. There is Macko, a whole set of guys from Trenchtown. And Coxsone just took these guys’ music and just sat on them. Andy and Joey, that guy is probably in the madhouse now. There is no way myself or Marley or any of us could measure up to the kind of natural air and talent and ability that those guys have.
What happened to the Jamaican copyright control set-up?
In many respects that’s probably what is responsible for the gap in my (career)… ’cause I thought something would have come of that. Let’s just say it was a dream that didn’t come true: realising certain rights in Jamaica for Jamaican artists. I personally went to Michael Manley and discussed with the then Minister of Culture, many times, the business of copyright. The Minister of Trade and Industry – we had endless meetings with manufacturers and the Minister of Industry. The Jamaican Industrial Development Commission, we had endless meetings. The necessity and urgency for a copyright act in Jamaica is without question. All the pussyfooting they have been doing over the years! A good ten years after we have been consciously realising how rapidly the music is growing and how much international protection we need, and that if we do not have an ethnic or national copyright act we will not have direct access to international bodies and organisations. All it takes is for them to pass a legislative act that is relative to the Jamaican situation and can relate to the international situation. I mean Trinidad has it, Barbados has it. And we have endless good lawyers in Jamaica – draftsmen who have been drafting these things for years. It has been tabled in the House of Representatives – has been read, but no act has been passed. So I say well, the Gun Court Act was passed in 24 hours –
Why has it fallen down? Is it because of certain controlling interests who would rather leave things as is? Like with the version being so ingrained in reggae now…
Well, you have just touched it. You have just touched part of the deep problem. If we had a copyright act, version would not have been let loose. When the copyright act failed, the producers realised that here was a way not to pay. This was a way to get singers and songwriters out of the field, so that they could have a feast, ’cause they could get records sold in large quantities just the same and only pay the singers a session fee. Though it has been very negative in aspects, it is also very interesting that deejays, toasters have progressed to the point where they are becoming individual acts. And they have been able to command high returns.
But they are now suffering from the same problems in that deejays’ lyrics are being ripped off by other producers and deejays.
Well, it’s a vicious circle. It is part of the growing pains of a growing nation. We are just 21 years old.
It’s wrong, though, that so many artists including yourself are not gaining from the growing audience for reggae music. The royalties from an album like ‘Songbook’ – it must be one of Coxsone’s best sellers.
I have had various legal bodies, the last one who made a very gallant attempt, just call me and say honestly it’s pointless trying to get anything out of Coxsone’s legally. Coxsone, the way he’s set up, he will just have to call you out of the kindness of his heart. But as far as legally, there is nothing you can do. I feel victimised, because ‘Songbook’ has been one of the biggest, consistent, longest-selling works ever out of the country of Jamaica. And for me to be alive, and to have suffered my fair share of economic hardships… and I actually have a work earning substantial returns in a world where people are sending spaceships to different planets, as developed as that. Yet there isn’t a way I can legally claim my… it could be disheartening if I allowed it to take hold of me.
Is the struggle still going on for copyright control?
Well you know, I have just divorced myself completely from the situation. I don’t even read about it when I see any mention of it in the press, or (watch it) on TV. It won’t help me anymore anyway, because I have already established relationships with various bodies internationally.
How about Soundtracs, because that seemed to come up at the same time as your involvement with the copyright control battle. What happened there? Like there was so much excitement when that label started up in this country.
Yeah, the guy who came up with that brilliant co-ordination was himself not a music man, but a person who was involved with the arts and public relations and advertising. His main thing was that – as is a problem with a lot of producers and managers – they crave the popularity of the artists. So there is always this vicious competition. So the fact (was) that the guy loved to be in the limelight, and he was not a music man at the core, but just wanted to make a quick turnover.
Who was he?
The guy has absconded from Jamaica and is living a quiet life, making a decent living in some other part of the world, so let him remain nameless. I could call his name but it would make no difference. It was a brilliant effort; if it had worked it would have been great. It’s just one thing that could have worked but it never did, because of the people involved.
The label issued some great albums by people like The Abyssinians, Max Romeo, Pablo Moses, Marcia Griffiths and yourself. How many albums were recorded altogether, because there were albums mentioned at the time of the Skatalites, the Ethiopians?
If there was one, there were a dozen at least. Feasibility studies were done, it’s complicated for me to even dig up right now. It was total chaos.
How did you end up working with Sonia Pottinger?
Nicely put, you know of the relationship between Marcia and myself. She was working with Pottinger. At the time, I was delving into the business of drama. And I was a bit frustrated, and she call me. Sent the message by Marcia and say, “You’re an artist who is a very good artist. Why don’t we pool our efforts and see what can happen.” We did that, and the result was ‘Lots of Love and I’. I was disappointed that it didn’t get much… The Jamaican music public didn’t really have any time for me at that time, because Marley was swinging, Tosh was, Culture was. I mean who is this guy Bob Andy anyway? That’s how I felt. I was being cheated. I found it quite odd after Bob’s demise that people… They used to check me but even more since Bob went on: “It’s your time now – it’s your time.” I mean people actually manhandled me on the street. I have evidence of this. I mean I was in New York City and guys like came up and said, “You make record.” And I said, “No, I make records and you don’t buy them. And you don’t hear them. So what’s the point, you know?”
Initially you recorded ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Ghetto Stays in the Mind’ –
‘Ghetto Stays in the Mind’ was never played on Jamaican radio.
Was it banned?
The only song they played was ‘You Lied.’ They play it a couple of times.
Out of interest, who played the muted horn on ‘You Lied’?
David Madden. That’s a guy who I will always have on my session. He’s a very willing contributor to the cause.
How about ‘War in the City’?
‘War in the City’ was actually done by me and a bredren of mine called Alphonso Small. He’s a cousin of Dennis Brown. They killed him in New York. They shot him and killed in New York. He was one of those persons you just couldn’t envision, couldn’t imagine, him being in a coffin. He was a brother who was ready to live. They just shot the life out of him, man. Al was the guy who had the idea for “War in the City,” but that’s all he had. I finished the lyrics, we both financed it. That never even play for a month in Jamaica.
Was it banned?
No, it wasn’t banned. Jamaica is a crucial place. It’s a focal point. I am going to have to say I agree that Jamaican music is not getting the kind of percentage of airplay it should get in Jamaica. But I’m not sure whether the lack of a desired percentage is better. So it can force the musicians to actually grow – since it does not exist the guys will say, “Hey, I will find a market somewhere else, it’s no big deal.” In many ways Jamaica has a lot of negative aspects, but there are certain standards that will never fall. No matter what you hear, no matter how shitty this music gets, the average Jamaican has a very sophisticated taste for music.
I think that’s reflected in what’s been released in the last twenty-odd years.
But I for one don’t think enough effort is being made. For one reason, it’s easy for a man to use a twenty-year-old dub and sing ten, twelve songs over it. I think that has been responsible for the lack of development of individual craftsmanship or musicianship, because the challenge just isn’t there.
Do you think being so close to America could be having a bad effect musically? Like the Jamaican Top Ten has nine American pop records in it.
If the charts truly reflect the support of the buying public, then what I’m saying is there is an ethnic crowd in Britain, there’s an ethnic crowd in America, there’s an ethnic crowd in Jamaica – that will go to shebeens, blues dance, certain clubs, and listen to a certain aspect of Jamaican music. But Jamaica is very middle class in its aspirations. The people all have videos. The people all have stereos or quadrophonic sets. When a guy wants to hear a nicely balanced song on his… he’s not thinking about a big speaker in a dancehall that will buzz you when you rock to a certain 3/4 rhythm. He’s interested in his collection of records or tapes and his sound coming through his B&O or his Sony or whatever. The family might have the child that wants to buy the dub sound. But they want to hear some electric piano, a certain type of guitar, a certain kind of vocalising. So he buys Christopher Cross, ’cause it sounds good on a set. Though there is hard times in Jamaica, Jamaica is plugged into the developed world – more so America.
(…Bob then mentions his film Children of Babylon.)
Did that get shown in Jamaica?
Oh yes, that has had consistent showing in Jamaica and consistently good patronage.
Who made it?
It was a wholly Jamaican film. Jamaican finance and everything.
I know it’s been shown in Canada.
The guy went to school in Canada. It did very well.
Do you know if the film will ever be shown here?
I guess if I manage to solicit some kind of recognition they will see fit to put the film out here, you know how these people are. But let’s get back to the point. Up to the time of rock steady, the state of Jamaican music was very sophisticated jazz-influenced instrumentals. Since the advent of rock steady and reggae, all that has fallen by the way. Musicians, i.e. instrumentalists, have not been given… they have been bombarded with vocalists and deejays. There has not been a band with a challenge… if a band even comes along, they sound something like Third World. And they are very developed acts, very sophisticated, and it’s vocals again.
I don’t think there will ever be another band like the Skatalites.
Jamaica don’t need another Skatalites. Jamaica just need to have a band that can play good music. Zap Pow tried. A good thing, but ended up trying to compete… They tried some good instrumentals but the instrumentals weren’t reggae, so to speak. They were kind of soul instrumentals.
They made one very good record, “Riverstone.”
They are a good band, I’m disappointed that the band didn’t… I want to bring you back to an area I didn’t point out to you somewhere along the line. I went to Federal and made ‘Games People Play. The flipside is ‘Sunshine For Me’ (‘Salary is Thin’). And after working with Coxsone for many years, this was the first I was ever really paid – like five, six, seven hundred pounds – to do any kind of work. The most I ever realised out of Coxsone at any one time was probably ten, fifteen or twenty dollars, and I am serious! I was able to get my first royalty statements from Federal and buy myself a Mustang – a second-hand Mustang. And I had money like to live for awhile. And I was accounted to. I went back to Federal Records in 1974 with Lloyd Charmers and did ‘Fire Burning.’
Was that recorded within the Splash operation, ’cause Lloyd was involved with that?
No, that was about the same time but I’m not talking about the Splash thing. I’m talking about Wild Flower.
‘Fire Burning’ was released in this country under your real name, Keith Anderson.
The work you did with Harry J, the records with Marcia like ‘Pied Piper’ and ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ – you were surprised by the success of these tunes?
Oh yeah, it didn’t make sense, it just didn’t make sense.
Did you hear the string version of ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ in Jamaica?
Yes, eventually I did.
The strings weren’t added in Jamaica?
Oh no, they were done here by a guy called Johnny Arthey.
Perhaps being in Jamaica, you didn’t know what Trojan Records were doing – which was putting every bit of their effort into promoting that sound. Like you and Marcia’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ was one of the very few class records that came along that were given that sound. Another one, let’s say, would be Nicky Thomas’ ‘Love of the Common People.’ There were very few songs that were given that treatment, that Radio One in this country played, that were good reggae records. Most of them were slush. If you heard them I’m sure you wouldn’t like them. It was pure rubbish. But that was what they were pushing. And ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ got swept along with that. They played it, but not for the lyrics; it was the sound. (Bob, in his interview with David Rodigan, didn’t understand the reason for a very militant song like ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ having success in the UK). It was a very strange time for reggae music in this country. Trojan was schizophrenic. One label was releasing ‘Pied Piper’ and another label was releasing roots music that wasn’t getting promoted at all. It was just released, often with the minimum of information, and that was it. They were available for perhaps one or two months. If you didn’t get a copy within that time, you would never get a copy, no matter how popular the tune.
They were releasing 50 records a week?
About 20 a week, and Island Records just let them get on with it, claiming credit for the successes… So how did the latest album ‘Friends’ come about? It’s been a long wait, what took you back into the studio?
It was a very strange thing. I’d spent the last three summers in the States, and last year I was spending some time in Michigan, and I went to a campus town in Michigan. There was a show – Black Uhuru was there. I was there with my friends who have a record shop in Kalamazoo. They invited me to come. It’s a very small town and we drove from there to another small town, to watch Sly & Robbie with Uhuru. We met some guys in an American rock group, and at the end of the set one of the guys said to me, “Keith, I thank you very much for coming to the show with us. I can safely say tonight that I have seen the greatest drummer and greatest bassist on the planet. After this records just won’t be enough.” So with that, I took him around to the tour bus and introduced him to the guys. He was… he never said one word. When he got back to the car, he said, “I didn’t know what to say, all these guys are my heroes!” So anyway while we were there, I don’t know if they were joking – they (Sly & Robbie) said they “would love to work in the studio with this man.” I said I would be back in Jamaica at the end of the year, and we can do some work together. And that was said just off the top of my head, you know. And it worked out that way. In some ways I wished the session was a better one, ’cause it could have been much better. But I am more than satisfied with the work. A lot of the stuff I wasn’t satisfied with, (but) I’ve used them as guides, and gone on to get what I really wanted. So for me, the album was an achievement in that it has restored my confidence. It has also added another dimension of confidence, mainly because to be out of the business literally for five years, and to be able to come back in and to be able to achieve a professional and satisfying result is a good thing.
(Originally published in the Reggae fanzine Small Axe #16. In 2018 it re-appeared in the Small Axe bookzine #16)