Ken Bob interview
Probably the first time anything was written at length of the man known as Ken Bob, was in the long defunct – and much missed – Canadian Reggae Quarterly magazine. He is yet another one of all those mysterious Jamaican names who haven’t been exploited, but more the contrary, one who hasn’t released enough of his music. This is truly a big shame, for here is one of the great soulful talents in reggae music; anyone who has heard his ‘In Danger’ track can attest to that.
“SPANISH TOWN ROCK”
A Spanish Town resident from early years, Ken was a member of vocal trio The Eternals, mainly known through lead singer Cornell Campbell’s fabulous voice and songs. After the group broke up he went solo, cutting several fine sides for various producers apart from a few self-productions. Regardless how few they are, Ken Bob’s songs and voice are of a very high quality, which makes it even more puzzling why the man hasn’t gotten the breakthrough he deserves. But it’s a familiar story in Jamaican music; so much talent, so little space for all those voices, instrumentalists and ‘real’ producers to receive the recognition they’re due. My thanks to Ken, Elliott (Trade Roots), Carlton Hines, and Donovan Phillips.
You grew up in Spanish Town, a rough place from pretty early on, wasn’t it?
Yeah man, Spanish Town, St Ann’s Road yunno. Well, right now violence is all over the world, so we haffe take it from there… Up to last night, right now I’m in San Diego, and up to last night I went to this gig an’ I was backstage an’ I show some people deh… in every end of the world you have violence, you no see it, you have positive and you have negative. But sometime is like all brain a burst. And Jamaica, most of the time it get more violent when the people dem fightin’ for power, like in the political time. And then after the political t’ing it’s like everyt’ing just come back to normal, at certain time. Depends on different state an’ dem place deh an’ what the people feel is important in life, is different for everyone. Dem people deh, dem no care who you vote for, whatever, but a yard (Jamaica) it’s coming like seh, y’know, you have a impress ‘pon the people dem, that’s why more time dem a vote for ca’ dem figure seh ‘Is our man dat’, yunno. So originally, it still is today, you no see it, a nice grow-up place, a nice place to live. Just wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast an’ have a morning walk. And of course, down in a Jamaica people do dem t’ing deh still, but in dem time we haffe sing carols in the morning, you no see it, as momma send you to church an’ dem t’ing deh an’ ray ray ray. But after a while now the people kinda get separated, Babylon separate the people dem now, an’ we figure seh right now ‘If you live in Tivoli (Gardens) you a JLP, or if you live in Trench Town you a PNP’, you know dem way deh?
So dem t’ing deh, a so the violence kinda create in dem way deh. A man seh, Rasta, like we would a seh, well, then St Ann’s Road could be an area where a man could live down deh but don’t mix with politics, y’know. Through which party, you could a end up… a man could always say ‘Cho, dem man gwaan like a politician’, like, could be a politician, ‘a dat him a defend’ an’ dem t’ing deh. But everything was nice, man. A just dem, a just Babylon system, you no see it, divide fe power an’ dem way deh. A just dem manipulate, y’know. But Spanish Town originally was a nice place. And up to when I left, a little bit over a week fe San Diego, I left Spanish Town and St Ann’s Road did irie. No violence. Yeah man.
Tell me about your start in the business, was this after or before Cornell Campbell left when you joined The Eternals?
Yeah man, is like the Eternals dem, you no see it, actually from inna the Spanish Town area, them area me know them from now. So Ken Fyffe, one of the Eternals, was my brethren an’ him hear me sing, an’ me hear Cornell left them an’ me always drive an’ pick them up inna the night-time, we always hang out. And so right now we say “A Rastafari we haffe praise”, an’ we all lick the chalice an’ ray ray. Was Errol, I think Errol used to play the guitar. Errol did a jam an’ a so it started with the group. But I man a come from long time, from before dem I used to own a sound system. Hear whe my music come from now: I man used to own a sound system an’ that sound system was like a make-believe sound system. You know when you’re young an’ you play toys, it was a toy-sound then, you understan’? When we’re playin’ as kids, when we put on the song is like you have to be singin’, like me show you seh a deh so me start sing an’ like performed in front of people in dem time deh. Them time we was lickle kids, y’know. Yeah. And when the carpenter cut the wood from making the house, some lickle piece of the wood shape like a sound-box, so we jus’ used it as the sound-box. And we used bottle-stopper on it too, like the amp, that they turn up and turn down. We use all wires from electrician whe build the house an’ make-believe. A so we get together a whole heap a vocal skills from there so, y’know. So my voice say, well, “Now me a go play half-hour of Paragons” (giggles), you know say me haffe sing that. So me say “We have a brand new Paragons left” (sings): ‘Have some fun on the beach where there’s a party…’ – so me sing a half-hour of Paragons! ‘Cause the Paragons was my group. And Ken Boothe was my solo artis’, you no see it. We all talk ’bout Motown, me is a Motown man. Me grow up on dem man deh an’ all, plus Ben E. King an’ dem man deh. ‘Pon a mic, no man cyaan dead me. When it come on to my sound an’ the tune dem drop ‘pon the radio me know them, you no see it. So then we hook up now with Ken Fyffe now, an’ then in the night now we would a go ‘pon the corner like me a show you seh an’ jam together still. First t’ing we do, we do a t’ing with Herman Chin-Loy, you know from Aquarius Record?
Yeah, we do a t’ing name ‘Hallelujah’. Him have all a dub album too, with a version of that tune (possibly on the classic ‘Aquarius Dub’ set). Well, him wanted to do some more songs but is like, me nuh know wha’ happen to the guys dem, y’know. My brethren dem, is like dem start to have some lickle negative t’ings like seh, well, then me a get all the promo and me a the star… We do a TV, a TV performance, and you know as the lead singer they would bring me up an’ bring me up full up-screen an’ dem t’ing deh, an’ me check seh dem a get kinda negative, so me jus’ finish with the group.
What was the TV show, like ‘Where Its At’?
‘Where Its At’ I think! Yeah man, ‘Where Its At’, man. I think ‘Where Its At’ was a t’ing with Alphonso Walker, don’t it? One time it was Paulette (?), but I think in dem time deh was Alphonso. Yeah, me do the ‘Where Its At’. Yeah man. Nuh true, man, an’ then me no like how dem a gwaan, star, an’ me jus’ ease out a the business.
You went to Canada after that?
Yeah, yeah, in ’73, going to Canada an’ do a couple little t’ings up there. I try to remember… The firs’ time me go a Canada, I don’t think me recorded anything up there. But then, second time when I went back now to Canada, I was on Much Music now. I went on Much Music, I don’t remember the guy’s name but it was a popular TV program, me do the Bob Marley Day t’ing. I did a few gigs in Canada.
But the first time was just a short stay, and then you hooked up with Jack Ruby?
Yeah, first time. Then me link Jack Ruby.
Did you know Jack from before?
Ah, let me see now…? Come like me don’t even remember how me link Jack Ruby, but all I know I link Jack Ruby an’ him used to be me good brethren, me a tell you. Beca’ Jack used to come around an’ pick me up a Spanish Town an’ go to Ocho Rios with him inna him car, and we start to record. We record about three songs before he died, an’ we didn’t get to complete the album. But the other day I was on the internet an’ I saw one of those song, I dunno… maybe I didn’t think it was released. In Canada, was I think Montreal, one I sing with the Heptones, ‘For Vanity Your Heart Cries’. ‘Cause me have a copy an’ this man, he used to play with Ziggy (Marley), Squiddley Cole, him have a studio now, 100 Studio, an’ me know by him me leave it , an’ the other day me aksed him about it.
It came out on a ‘Winston Riley’ label.
Winston & Riley.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That was in Montreal too, don’t it? Yeah man, me ‘memba, me ‘memba them have the record store, ca’ me go Montreal too.
It was released on a disco 45, a 12″ in ’79 or thereabouts.
Yeah, you know, man. You know seh a yout’ out there have a copy, me would a love fe get back that copy, ca’ Squiddley Cole used to have that copy. I check him still.
I think Reggae Quarterly stated that you recorded about five tracks for Jack.
Me do? With Jack Ruby? Me couldn’t even remember. I think me check seh is about three. Beca’, me nuh know, me think the yout’ deh him have a studio now in Ocho Rios, so when I go down deh me a go find out if me can find any tapes or whatever. Yeah man. But the album never finish, Jack never complete the tapes still. Him never did a gwaan with no shady business, ’cause is a man whe rate me an’ respec’ me, he used to come an’ check for me. Yeah man.
Did you sing live on his sound?
Yeah man, I think me used to sing live ‘pon him sound a’ready. But him mostly a record man, ’cause him live – I live in Spanish Town an’ him sound inna St. Ann, so me remember me go aroun’ with his sound. Stereograph is a sound right now whe used to be in Spanish Town, an’ then Charlie Chaplin him a me brethren, we spar. Me always go round Stereograph.
When things didn’t work out with Jack, what happened next?
Yeah, after Jack now, after Jack Ruby it come like me jus’ gwaan chill still, it come like me chill for a while.
Maybe hiding away from the political violence at that time.
Maybe when things didn’t work out, me put certain things ‘pon a hold, you know dem way deh?
Could possibly be that.
You had to cool out for a while.
Yeah, and then it’s like I think after me going in a the studio, going inna the studio an’ record two tracks.
Was that when you met up with Roy Cousins?
Yeah, me met up with Roy Cousins, me almost inna them time deh too. In a them time deh me meet up with Roy Cousins, but Jah know… And me do a track, ‘In Danger’.
That’s a classic.
So Roy got the first cut of that tune.
What was the inspiration for ‘In Danger’, what’s the story?
‘In Danger’? Well, right now it’s like I man deh ‘pon a corner one day, one of my brethren dem beat a chalice, so somet’ing was going on. Violence was going on further round the corner. They had a lickle Mini Moke, me dunno if you a remember this car deh, is not manufactured anymore, an’ dem drive a Moke. The Moke driving back here, you no see it, but we still a smoke. But when the Mini Moke drive right upside me now, me see this big tall detective man…
Police saying hi.
Yeah (laughs)! Just put him foot an’ stop and step outta it, an’ me have the chalice too, yunno, so me just a freeze now… Me see the man come out a the t’ing an’ me jus’ sit round an’ jus’ mek a move for that, you no see it (chuckles), an’ me throw away the chalice. So me switch direction now. But there was a cane field there an’ me run in the cane field, but he would just stand up outside an’ hear in wherever direction me going, beca’ through the cane trash them dry, you understan’, he’s just there. So is like if me come out me would look straight inna the gun barrel, straight inna the gun barrel me a look ‘pon, you no see it, an’ toward the man’s position, him position like Lone Ranger. You understan’? All right. So me just ‘Move man, run!’ an’ go across the street an’ go over a lickle place now an’ check seh, well, then me well protected now, an’ hidden, y’know. Man come over there, them neva stop till them find me. Ca’ when them find me, man seh ‘Right now, must stop sleep on that pillow that I’m sleeping on’, ca’ right now… An’ first, me never leave gun, ever stick. An’ so right now, when man leave the station, him no really feel fe going, he jus’ tek up a gun an’ come say… so him say him a pull him trigger, yunno. Him shout we have fe come out, my brethren stand up an’ escape when him fire the shot. So, that’s why me jus’ write that tune ’bout it, an’ write ‘Trouble passing through, tribulation following I, I wonder what to do, I’m so far away from home, I got to get…’, you see me? (Chuckles) So hear wha’ go happen now. Me a go see the policeman one day now, an’ me see my brethren an’ him waan say bwoy, me see the policeman an’ the policeman say “You a sneak ‘pon me street”, you no see it, me na hail him up. The policeman say “Yo!” – him mek me go beca’ him check me seh some of my people related, y’know. So him tell me brethren now seh “Hey, me bump into Ken Bob ‘pon the street, him na respec’ an’ hail me, so tell him seh me catch him again”. So one day me come in a Spanish Town now an’ it’s like him jus’ pull me over an’ say “Yo, what’s up? Wha’ happen, you ‘ave the tune ‘pon you?” Through me did ‘ave a cassette inna me car, you no see it, so me have the song ‘pon cassette. So him drive me inna the station an’ carry me go inna the place deh, with them gun an’ them a eat an’ drink an’ big talk, y’know. So him jus’ call him big friend them an’ say “A Ken Bob this, yunno”. And him say “Listen the tune ya”, an’ him just push in the cassette. And when him hear (sings): ‘I see trouble passing through…’, him jus’ touch him brethren an’ say “You hear wha’ him call me? ‘Trouble'”. You no see it (chuckles)? Yeah, and just have nuff fun. Still y’know, you see da man deh, a whole heap a people dem kill inna Spanish Town. Yeah man, even me brethren. A couple days after that him killed me brethren whe lived next door to me.
That’s the type of police-harassment or aggression you experience on a regular basis in Jamaica, or what?
In Jamaica? Yeah, yeah. True, man. The system is set up a certain way, you no see it? But right now, bwoy, a the light me want ya now, me no want no darkness. A right me waan an’ no wrong, a righteousness me a deal with. That’s why singers have to come with the truth. But I man want know seh, well, then is a unity an’ a strength we ‘ave between each other, ca’ the heights, the livity, we have to respec’ humanity, and so we have to love one another. An’ through I and I seh right now, how we would like to be treated, yeah? So we have to treat we neighbour with one another, the neighbour a the guy nex’ to you, not really in the sense the guy live next door to you, but when you’re on the street, the guy next to you. That mean it don’t fall ‘pon like your brother in Jamaica or whatever, an’ he cyaan help you. So, is the neigbour nex’ to you. Yeah man.
What became of that tune?
Yes. You didn’t work any more with Roy?
What happened to ‘In Danger’ now, wha’ became of that tune deh now… You see, even right now, the producer dem, the nex’ t’ing is that dem couldn’t even rate or respec’ the artist, or some people would like to jus’ have all for themselves an’ don’t want to give or don’t want to share. Or, you know seh, well, all right then, here’s the artist. Him go to the studio, go book the studio, him have fe pay the man advance fe him studio. You want four hours, you would have to pay two hours, firs’, an’ then him come fe the pay the nex’ two hours, you understan’? An’ if him waan some tape fe use him haffe go to the store an’ buy it, buy dem tape deh an’ dem t’ing deh. An’ if him waan press it him have to go to the pressing plant, him ‘ave to pay the press. But some a dem jus’ want fe ignore the fact that the artis’ is there, them don’t treat the artis’ good, an’ then the blessing no come. Beca’ anyt’ing you do you have to do (it) ‘pon a positive level, an’ Father God a forgive them, you no see it, God Almighty ‘ave to be inna it, them have to deal with humanity a certain way. But at the same time it might look like seh, all right, then it never did no gold an’ dem t’ing deh. But maybe through that song could be all the reason why right now me own a farm, an’ me plant coffee an’ me plant pineapples an’ so on, because is different way Jah Jah give I and I and pay I and I, ca’ you have a man whe aks fe wisdom an’ you have a man whe aks fe money. Seen? Ca’ right about now, until this day me even re-record it over for my music, different CD, ‘Reggae Rider’. When me come now is like, the other night when me go a San Diego, me deh now, an’ me go amongst a one fe do some work, an’ me hear the man crave about ‘In Danger’, but it wasn’t the Roy Cousin one, the one whe me do with Dean Fraser an’ some more yout’ ‘pon a new… not really ‘new’ but a different one ‘pon my album, ‘Reggae Rider’.
But anyhow, that tune, you did a recut on the Asher label, as you spoke about, for yourself.
Yeah, I have it ‘pon me CD, and it was on the Asher label too.
It was released in England on the Dynamic label as well.
Yeah man, yeah man, a Dynamic did ‘ave it too.
But that song, did you get any exposure in Jamaica at all, did it climb the charts?
Yeah man. As me say, there’s ‘In Danger’, an’ me have a tune named ‘Lovely Lady’, an’ me ‘ave a tune named ‘A Chapter A Day’. So a dem tune deh, a dem three tune deh really keep me in the business an’ keep me alive an’ kickin’. Yeah.
Things didn’t turn out as expected with Roy, so it was time to move on?
Yeah man, right, right, right. No good intentions, ’cause right about now ‘In Danger’ end up on about three different compilations.
I think one of them is ‘Roots of David’, a Wambesi production.
And I don’t think I ever, ever, receive royalty from Roy Cousin. Yeah, true.
And it came upon a various artists set in America too.
Yeah, ‘Greatest Hits’… ‘Reggae Greatest Hits’ (Heartbeat).
Yeah man, me see dem ‘pon the internet. A record company now, dem send me an email too an’ dem waan fe deal with my music, dem would like to sign me up. ‘Cause dem check me an’ seh the vocals nice, dem say dem a support wha’ me working on right now.
Did you record a full album in those days?
No, it’s like… no, me do ‘In Danger’ and ‘A Chapter A Day’, dem t’ing deh come out ‘pon my t’ing. Dem t’ing deh come out inna ’85. And then some years later me deal with the ‘Reggae Rider’ album.
So it was a limited vinyl release in that time, ‘Reggae Rider’ on your Asher imprint, or it just came out a few years ago?
Yeah, it was on vinyl only it come out. And me did some distribution deal with some Japanese, yunno, with ‘Reggae Rider’.
So I suppose that’s partly why you haven’t had your name out there, that the album came out as far away as Japan only.
Yeah, yeah. That’s why me buy me farm an’ all dem t’ing deh, through that album.
You’ve been around for so long but there’s so little recorded bearing your name, what’s the reason for that? You just don’t want to be over-exposed or exploited?
More time you see I and I spiritual wha’ you hear sah, so more time you have fe ‘ave a spiritual link with people. More time many are called but chosen is few, you no see it, an’ good t’ings come in small parts. So me no bother do a whole heap, you understan’? Me na watch the crowd an’ the whole heap, good t’ings come in small parts. When man plant Jah wipe out, an’ me know seh whatever Father want fe I and I, a that me haffe do. Me no push t’ings an’ me jus’ mek t’ings happen naturally. An’ you know seh me an’ Chinna Smith we hook up too, yunno. Me an’ Chinna hook up an’ me and him do a couple tunes, so we have a couple tune well ‘pon track. And you know seh, well, them have a project out name ‘Inna De Yard’, me an’ him deh ‘pon the firs’ version. Him have a portion of tune with me too, yunno, ca’ we hook up now fe quite a while.
Can you recall a song named ‘On My Guitar’?
Yeah man, ‘On My Guitar’! Me see a nice review ‘pon that tune deh from Roger Steffens too, same tune that. Me ‘memba it.
When was it recorded?
You know seh, bwoy, me no even remember the year but the studio was Stable Sound studio, near Stadium. An’ me remember the bass player was a yout’ whe play Riddim Kings band. Me jus’ send a message to him, him have a studio up in Florida now. I think the producer was Chester. Yeah, I think Chester produce da tune deh.
Me no remember him last name.
Another single was ‘She Knock Me Out’ on Abyssinia House.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, High Times too. High Times connection. Abyssinia House a some yout’ from St. Lucia. ‘She Knock Me Out’, yeah.
Plus ‘Yes I’ on Midas Music.
Yeah, Midas Music. Could be a music for a brethren dem from Montego Bay. An’ he was one of the guys who firs’ started (Reggae) Sumfest. I dunno what happen to him now.
When did you cut this album ‘Hang On In Deh’ for Tapper?
Tappa Zukie. That was about ’89. On that album me ‘ave songs like ‘Hang On In Deh’, ‘Your Eyes’, ‘Love Is Not A Gamble’, ‘Your Love Man’. An’ I did a version of ‘Deep River Woman’, Lionel Ritchie. I check seh, well, then really that t’ing a poorest production that, you no see it. The production is a bit poor, plus Tappa Zukie is a man whe record a lot of people. Sometime you’re put on a backing track or whatever, you’re limited with track space. It was dem time with computer or whatever. You’d never have space, an’ so he had limited with space an’ dem t’ing deh, serious. But me feel like seh is me poorest production. So the last album wha’ me do me tek from the tracks offa it, too, like putting on tracks like ‘Emergency’. Yeah.
Was that an album too, ‘Emergency’?
Right now, yeh, one of the last t’ing wha’ me deal with. But dem t’ing deh more time me jus’ sell dem when me have all me shows an’ dem t’ing deh. You know? But it no really compilate still.
‘Over Yonder’ was on Taxi label, right?
Wasn’t it a Ruddy Thomas production?
Ruddy Thomas, yeah, him produce it, but it came out on Taxi label. An’ before Ruddy died him supposed to give me a cut of it, you no see it, an’ him die an’ me never get a cut of it. Me would like to get a copy of it, yes. ‘Over Yonder’, it was on Sly that, Sly & Robbie hook me up on Taxi label. Me remember that tune.
And ‘A Chapter A Day’ as you mentioned before.
‘A Chapter A Day’ was produced by me, an’ the firs’ time it was released it was on Harmony House; a Beres love that tune ya, him sing back-up on that music too. Him sing back-up on ‘In Danger’ also, Beres Hammond. Me an’ him used to be close brethren, me an’ Beres Hammond, so ‘A Chapter A Day’ was on Harmony House label.
Would you like to do some more work with Beres?
Hmmm… The other day when me do a show me say me fe check him an’ dem t’ing deh. As me a show you seh me is a Rastaman like this way: everyt’ing wha’ me woulda like now a which Jah want too. It comin’ like is jus’… me jus’ waan a pure in heart an’ keep my healthy life-style going, whenever and whatever me jus’ going stick to it. Whatever the Most High Father waan a that me want. But right now me on a different phase now, me jus’ branch out an’ lease out an’ dem t’ing deh. You ever hear me sing a tune name ‘The Makings of You’? A’right, an’ me do a version of ‘Keep On Pushing’ too, with some guys from Boston. The youth come to Jamaica and we put down the drum track an’ it start, then him go back to Boston an’ put on the bass an’ strings an’ all a dem t’ing deh, ‘Keep On Pushing’.
Sounds almost exactly like Curtis Mayfield, that one.
Yeah, it come like… is like me nuh know, it come like dem ‘ave a t’ing whe dem waan to do, ‘Tribute To Curtis’. Chinna Smith an’ da yout’ deh work ‘pon it, an’ it’s like a dem way deh them want. You know?
Yeh, a dem way deh dem waan, dem way deh dem say dem want it. As me a tell you seh, me is a man, me jus’ strive fe have the vocal an’ everyt’ing deh nice. Like, when time come me can really… do me vocal.
What’s so special about Curtis’ sound, in your opinion? He is still so popular among Jamaicans.
Well, yeah man, me cyaan believe seh it all out there too. Beca’ right now me see a Mexican man the other night, the other day upon a record store, and him waan me fe do a dub-plate fe him, and him want me do that song personally, ‘The Makings of You’. So many people still a listen to him. Me talk to a young girl an’ the people dem know an’ listen Curtis Mayfield. A lotta people love Curtis. But you know about JAVAA, Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes & Affiliates?
You had a version on their one-riddim album.
A’right, and you know ’bout the organisation too? All right, so we have… with ‘JAVAA Sings Motown’, I always sing Curtis Mayfield. Dem cyaan do without it neither, not Curtis or Smokey Robinson. Me is one a dem top acts, ca’ me a member of JAVAA too. When dem have Motown, no-one touch Smokey Robinson like me. Falsetto is a t’ing whe me a do really well, yunno.
You have a smooth type of style and voice, switching or gliding from baritone to falsetto quite easily.
Naturally, yes, falsetto to baritone. So, me a tell you seh me jus’ live a healthy life, a clean and a pure in heart with Jah. An’ when it come on to vocals, me always a work on me vocals ca’ is my tool. Anyt’ing whe a man do with him instrument, a that me waan do with my voice.
That’s your instrument. How do you keep your voice in shape?
Right now through the weather me take a Golden Seal and some other t’ings for me throat. But naturally, a jus’ natural t’ing, man. An’ when me brush me teeth me use Hydrogen Peroxide an’ dem t’ing deh – me mek special precaution for me throat in every way. An’ me try to find the easiest way fe protec’ the high smooth, you understan’ (chuckles). Yeah, me know seh music a breath business so every day me have to work ‘pon it, ca’ me proud of me voice. A blessing that me get me vocal, me haffe tek care of it, y’know, ca’ the singers an’ players of instruments shall be there.
What was the title of that tune on the JAVAA Jammin’ one-riddim CD, ‘Would You Still Love Me’?
(Sings) ‘Would you love me…’, yes, ‘Would You Love Me’. (Sings a verse) Grub Cooper, him bad, yunno. Grub Cooper, him deal with dem t’ing deh, you know seh him deal with Ziggy Marley dem too, The Melody Makers. Grub’s been going for years (member of the Fabulous Five) an’ dem t’ing deh.
Do you control that tune, would you put it on your own album?
Yeah man, me can do that, man. Me can use it an’ do that, too. Me have a couple tune deh too, me do the (Mighty) Diamonds, me do all a tune fe Diamonds an’ dem t’ing deh. Me back up for ‘How Long’… Pat Kelly, ‘How Long’. Wicked. Sir Coxson seh, Sir Coxson there before him dead, him say “Pat Kelly an’ Ken Bob, hear this one”. Coxson waan do an album with me, yunno, before him dead. It was so good that him was there an’ him say the other day me see him an’ him say bwoy, him a go say to him wife – ca’ him was there too, Coxson wife a support him in the business… It’s possible maybe me could a do all dem tune deh one day, ca’ Coxson did really believe in it before him fall dead too, yunno.
Pity that it didn’t come off properly. Do you still work with the African Brothers by the way? You have a credit on their album.
The African Brothers was just assisting there, yunno, it was jus’ a job me get.
Yes, to do some vocals. Again, dem neva have that falsetto an’ dem key deh, you understan’? So when me do dem ten songs now an’ ray ray ray, when the CD come out me see me picture on it as an African Brother. Through dem a tell me seh right now we a fe go tour, me a fe go come an’ ray ray, you no see it, an’ through me know how me flexible with me baritone an’ the falsetto me can cover a good track, a man jus’ turn up or whatever. But me no really approve as me a tell you seh bwoy, we do a whole heap a more tune an’ dem somet’ing. Me a spiritual man, me no love how a man… action, you no see it, an’ it deh so. Me nuh even know…
So that was that. Are you still a member of the Twelve Tribes?
Well, yeah man, I and I a Rasta an’ everyt’ing we haffe join pertaining to Rastafari. I and I a Binghi, I and I a Twelve Tribe, I and I a Rasta, you no see it – to the fullness, you know dem way deh? Yeah.
I thought Sangie Davis’ Orthodox label, maybe you would do some work with them?
Yeah man, Sangie know me too, man, an’ Sangie a me brethren too. Sangie was here in the US a few days before me, come here before, maybe I will try an’ link him. Maybe he’s in Jamaica now. But Sangie know me an’ ray ray, but me nuh know… Them have dem t’ing deh too an’ me no really join them right now. Me no really a member like seh a enroll an’ dem t’ing deh, me jus’ love Rastafari an’ everyt’ing ’bout it me’s a part of it too.
All right. So tell me about this ‘Emergency’ CD, is it in the works still?
‘Emergency’ CD… The other day Stranger Cole went on do a tour in Germany with some guy there an’ them call me an’ give me a couple gigs up there. Me do Germany an’ Austria, an’ it deh so me decide fe do the album. ‘Emergency’ consist of Flabba Holt on bass, an’ Asher from Black Uhuru, an’ me ask… Benbow on drums, me ‘ave Sly & Robbie too ‘pon some of the tracks dem, Chinna Smith. ‘Emergency’ album is… not no computer stuff, just real stuff. As me tell you, all of the man dem whe me tell you, jus’ normal drum, natural drum an’ bass an’ everyt’ing. Me have Dean Fraser ‘pon it, too.
Would the music take a turn for the ‘classic’ approach, or how do you percieve the future for the industry, the way to record the music?
You know how me see it? I see it as people gonna be always experimenting the music, an’ people will always want the roots, ca’ you have the roots an’ you have branches. So the flavour, you still gonna ‘ave the real, real t’ing whe people know seh a the real t’ing, an’ people always a gonna play ’round the reggae an’ everyt’ing. But one of the most important t’ing wha’ I feel now, today, is the message in the music. Ca’ the world a go astray ca’ all these wars an’ all kinda shit a gonna come. The kids whe a come, the kids are the future, but dem learn ’bout how the automatic a work an’ pure gunshot. An’ to all nuclear t’ings a whe dem call the atomic t’ing or wha’ever dem call it… So the message in the music, a that the world need, like you ‘ave the song say ‘We all gonna sing the same song’, ca’ we all gonna sing love an’ spread love. Ca’ that is one cause, there’s no other way. You know, riddim, riddim, riddim, riddim, riddim, a jus’ riddim is riddim, you no seen. So if a man like it fast or like it slow, that’s maybe one cause ca’ what him did a want, like French fries or a big beef or whatever. So as long as the lyrics is for real, bringing the humanity together. Me know seh, well, them cyaan love no God an’ dem neighbour an’ dem t’ing, me feel that’s what it’s all about. People always a go observing the real t’ing, not reggae alone, any man music. So we haffe jus’ give the people… That’s why sometime when me a do my performance, me no do all reggae. Ca’ when you check some inna the audience, them woulda really like even an R&B. A man woulda stand upside a girl an’ him woulda like the girl an’ tell him girl somet’ing, a dem t’ing deh me waan show you like ‘long time’ or wha’ever, or hold a vibes.
My t’ing is like a mixture of it, me try fe please people an’ you have people of different nations or culture, so when me would a do a show me love to know seh, well, then if me would have a different… from whatever area, everybody cyaan be pleased an’ dem t’ing deh. So me waan put me vocals more upon humanity an’ people loving each other, ’cause is the only way we can get the joy an’ the peace way an’ inherit eart’ as the bible say, you no seen (chuckles). ‘Cause dance create a riddim, yeh, dem deh… Like a dance, a man can go to the bar an’ a barman can sell everyt’ing deh or whatever, an’ is whe some people a design dem t’ing, a design dem t’ing ‘pon a business level. So, a so the music go astray more time. ‘Cause if we a keep it real now an’ seh, well, then to keep them jus’ how like the doctor say an’ dem t’ing deh an’ say, well, then like all right, man need a maka an’ strong drink an’ ray ray, an’ go drunk, you understan’. You cyaan go in a man club an’ go play dem music deh, don’t it? Ca’ if you go inna him club an’ play dem music deh too tough an’ the people dem get conscious, dem na go waan get drunk. A no dat the barman waan, barman want the liquor to sell off. So inna dem way deh the people dem, a so dem people have dem music too whe inna dem place deh… dem do wha’ever dem wanna do. But I and I jus’ sing for the children’s sake or dem whe come from a hard day’s work or whatever, an’ then them tune in an’ it help fe release some tension or some stress. Or a girl him want, maybe him hug her when she come in an’ him a kiss her ‘pon her cheek or wha’ever. Yeh, that’s how me want it when dem tune in when dem tune in ‘pon some music more time. Can be uplifting too an’ keep dem ‘pon the right track, y’know.
Did I forget to touch on something you wanted to talk about, or we had most of it?
Right now me have some tune a come out, Sly & Robbie, when dem tune deh a come out, a same time whe me know seh nuff t’ings a gwaan. Ca’ Sly & Robbie there ‘pon ‘Keep On Pushing’ an’ dem say me a the bes’ singer inna Jamaica. An’ then when you hear ‘The Makings of You’ man seh Ken Bob come like a killer a go kill me, you no see it (chuckles)? So me do two tracks fe him (Sly) the other day before me lef’ Jamaica, an’ it’s like the last time when I talk to him, him is on a UB40 projec’, that’s why him never get on top of it now. Maybe tomorrow or so me give him a call an’ find out, ca’ that will release any time now. So me say dat is crucial, yeah? Crucial, crucial – Sly & Robbie an’ Ken Bob.
So it might become an album?
Yeh, I guess we can go straight to an album, yunno. Me know Sly dem busy too. You nuh know, ca’ me know dem deal with UB40 the other day, dem deal with… wha’ him name again…? McLean or somet’ing like that…
Bitty McLean, yes.
Bitty, yeah, an’ dem deal with a yout’ from Blood & Fire also. Dem busy still, but you nuh know, you know wha’ Jah waan that a go happen. Sly really talk like him really impressed an’ excited ’bout me an’ him combination an’ dem t’ing.
It’s about time that you get your break.
Yeah man, but as me a tell you seh, you no see it, the Almighty know y’know, man, an’ me a tell you seh me pleased. Ca’ sometime when you get to break… you know seh I really think a Duke Ellington or one a dem big guys deh, him say either success or somet’ing was so great to him that it never happen to him when him young, you know dem way deh? ‘Cause nuff guys whe me know an’ dem a big success an’ they’re dead now, one a dem… just because of them success dem get big-headed an’ lose their way. So me always with God, is a blessing from the Almighty fe keep me low profile an’ still happy, still go through more time an’ get me work an’ dem t’ing deh done. So me know seh me a vessel, me a instrument of the Lord. So me happy of how me a live an’ even if me a go through rough or bad times or whatever time, me happy that me live right ya now an’ me give thanks. So me know Father God a look out for me an’ give me strength. Me vocal always nice up the place, me ready for the world, give dem, you no see it, wha’ dem fe get. Yeah man.
Everything will come in due season, perhaps it’s time for Ken Bob to reap the fruits of his talent at this time. But who knows, it’s a funny time to be in the record business, especially for the vintage acts. All I know is that ‘Reggae Rider’ is out there on independent release and the production is crisp and top class. Ken Bob is without doubt a ‘real’ singer/songwriter in every sense of the word. Flexible, smooth, soul, and obviously very tasteful and enjoyable in his approach to songwriting. But where is the breakthrough? Someone with the ability and position to shape and back him up to reach a higher level in the business would be most welcome. Perhaps his collaboration with Sly & Robbie will make a difference, it remains to be seen.