Bobby Melody interview
Bobby Melody came up at a time when the music was changing to a harder sound. The man got shaped in the roots music of the early seventies, singing with the late Yabby You in his first constellation of The Prophets, then named The Ralph Brothers, and this is – still, I would say – what he was best remembered for, cultural music, even though he had success the following decade in the early dancehall style with records for people like Jack Scorpio and Jah Thomas. A rockers update of a rock steady chestnut by Delano Stewart and the Gaylads, ‘Jah Bring I Joy (In the Morning)’, brought him and the Joe Gibbs camp a big hit back in 1976 and the definite highlight of his career, commercially. Melody moved to the UK in the late eighties and settled there, only sporadically recording.
“SALUTE TO FATHER MELODY”
The last projects were together with the Nottingham based Roots Vibration band. The majority of those recordings remain unreleased. He died of cancer last year around this time, sadly. This interview took place at a time when he was still positive about what was to come, but one could detect the pain somewhere, he sounded weak and frail throughout the conversation but I didn’t know what was behind it. These are some of the last words recorded, perhaps the only in-depth interview the man ever gave. My thanks to Bobby (R.I.P.), Clifton Bartley (Roots Vibration), Carlton Hines, and Steve Barrow.
Let’s go back to the beginning there, what was your early days like? You’re born in the countryside, in Trelawny?
Yeah. Born in Trelawny, grown up in Manchester, Mandeville. Then moved to the city, Kingston. And that was between – I go to Kingston about 1970. Singin’ on the fest there, the Jamaica Festival, I came second, then went for the final. And then me start my recordin’ there an’ then. That was about ’69, ’70. Dynamic studio. Then me moved on to from Dynamics to Derrick Harriott to GG Records, an’ then me end up with Lee Perry, Upsetters. Then me go through Studio One, and then endin’ up at Joe Gibbs. That’s where I did ‘Jah Give I Joy (In the Morning)’.
Right. But before we move too fast over your career, you started by learning the guitar but the other way around, wasn’t it?
Yeah, I found it.
Then it became a ‘self-taught’ process?
Yes. Somebody started me off, showed me, like, the chords an’ t’ing. Then, that person was right-handed, so I start – I tried it, change the guitar now, tried to play it on the right hand – it didn’t happen. Changed the strings around, couldn’t work, so I would set it up on the right and play, but I play on the lef’ hand. An’ I can say self-taught, yunno, I jus’ sit down and find things out for myself. Then me start goin’ out to session, like, live stage show, watch the guitaris’ how he play an’, y’know, hold the position an’ everyt’ing. An’ that was it, man. And then it just go by feel. I’m making a song by jus’ trying to find the nex’ chords, to match it.
Lot’s of hard work there.
Hard work, man. I was at home workin’ it… fe years.
Back in Jamaica.
What was some of your earliest efforts now. You spoke about doing something as far back as ’69, but did you go to a talent contest before that? This was perhaps the festival gig?
Yeah. The talent contest was before, that’s how I got to do the recordin’. ‘Cause I was on the talent contest, which is the Jamaica Festival. And I was introduced to Toots & The Maytals, so what I – ’cause I was living in Mandeville them time, I won for Mandeville. Then before Kingston, it was the fourteen parish meet, an’ I stop by Toots’ place, yunno, he was the only one lookin’ after me, Toots & The Maytals. So he was connected to Dynamic Sounds, recordin’, an’ he took me there, y’understan’, introduced me to them. And then, it wasn’t produced by Dynamic, it was like a private producer go ‘appen. He liked my sound. So I did two. Yeah, I did two song’ there, and they was great; ‘Israel Rise’ and the nex’ song was ‘I’m Proud of You’, reggae.
And those song was played by, let me see now, Gladstone Wilson (probably pianist Gladdy Anderson), Keyboard man, Winston Williams (possibly Winston Wright)… let me see now, could be – those man were from the early days still, yunno, early days from, like, Byron Lee & The Dragonaries an’ them time, an’ Dougie (Bryan) an’ Ranchie (McLean). Yeah, both of them, they play for Dynamic, they play in the studio all the time. So those were the musicians. Plus Toots, Toots play a part in it an’ dem t’ings. An’ you ‘ave Bobby Ellis (trumpet), ‘Deadly Hedley’ (Bennett, sax) an’ (Herman) Marquis, which is Don D. Junior.
Don D. Jr., that’s Vin Gordon, yes.
Yeah, Don D. Junior. And in those days, man, y’know, you’ve got all the Jamaican singer, innit, they were there, like. Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaac, Dennis Brown, Mighty Diamonds an’ all o’ the man, Viceroys. Jus’ like one family, innit.
So what happened after that now, after the ‘stint’ with Dynamic?
Well, after Dynamic I release my firs’ singles. Those producers, they give it to a distributing company. An’ then me move on from there. Didn’t make any money or anyt’ing, but people start recognise me. Then, from there, let me see now, from Dynamic Sounds, it was from Dynamic to Derrick Harriott.
Derrick Harriott – you know Derrick Harriott?
Yeah. When I started with Derrick now, I played the guitar an’ there was an audition by Derrick Harriott’s, an’ he’s requesting singer for his production. So I went there backing up ’bout three different guys, those were my brethren, I play for them. So when it was their time for audition they would call me an’ I played the guitar for them an’ they sing, an’ the man who’s assessing them listen them. So at the end of that audition, they didn’t get anyone that they’re satisfied to record, it wasn’t one song they choose. So the man turn to me an’ say “Have you got any songs?” I say yeah. And then I did one for them, an’ that was ‘Some Other Day’. You know, I did that one for Derrick Harriott.
And it didn’t give you more than a name on the record, like?
Well, them time he was voicing Scotty an’… wha’ the nex’ youth called again…? It’s a group of them… wha’ dem called again… four a dem…
The Chosen Few, yeah. Hard to remember that, the Chosen Few. Yeah, they were recordin’. That session was the Chosen Few, Derrick Harriott, and Bobby Melody.
Did you sing under that name then, or any other name?
Lemme see now…? No, yeah, that time… what was I called them time…? No, I don’t think so. ‘Bobby Melody’ was when I get to Upsetters an’ Joe Gibbs. Ralph Brothers, ’cause on the recordin’ for Dynamic Sounds it was Ralph Brothers.
Ralph Brothers, that was a group Yabby You used for harmony?
Yeah, then Yabby You come in after that. How Yabby You comes in now, he’s got this riddim an’ he couldn’t get anyone to voice it, like any backing. It’s the same song, ‘Yabby Yabby You’. So me an’ my group would jus’ get together with ‘im at Tubbys’ studio, an’ we jus’ do the song. Me an’ my brethren do the backing and that was the original backing on that song, from that day until now.
‘Conquering Lion’ (sings) ‘Be You, Yabby Yabby You…’.
Right. So the Ralph Brothers was your group then.
The Ralph Brothers was my group before ‘Bobby Melody’.
What was the members?
The member o’ that group was Alric Forbes, Peter Paint, an’ George Hanson – me, Bobby Melody.
So that was the only tune you recorded as the Ralph Brothers?
As the Ralph Brothers, the t’ings we come with was about two releases, ‘Great Day of Rejoicing’ and ‘Proud of You’. An’ then during backyard rehearsal in Jamaica you get the guitar and we sit down an’ have a practice. One of my friends says to me “Oh, you got your voice, the sound of your voice – your name is ‘Melody'”. One o’ dem says to me “From now on you’re Bobby Melody'”, an’ I just use the name. Yeah.
And then, many years after, you had Courtney Melody and Singing Melody and a whole heap of ‘Melodies’.
A whole heap of ‘Melody’. All of dem, them come up after me. But they’re all right, man, good yout’ dem. We work together sometime years ago from Black Scorpio an’ even now when we link up, man, is respec’ same way. They call me ‘Father Melody’.
Them call me Father Melody. Last time I see Singin’ Melody was in Manchester, that’s about six, seven years ago, he worked with Downbeat, from New York. And they were doing this gig in Manchester. So I went to the session the night, an’ I was in the crowd an’ then he spot me out an’ he (stood) still an’ he stopped the session, an’ he said “Oh, now we deh ya, we ‘ave got Father Melody!” And he jus’ said “Come in!”, Singin’ Melody, an’ me jus’ gwaan join them. But all o’ dem youthman is very respectable. Yep.
Did you continue with Yabby and the group for a while? The formation of the Ralph Brothers by the way, did you know Alric from before? He was in the Prophets later on, I think, Yabby’s harmony group.
Yeah, well, that’s with Yabby You. Then now, my nex’ friend, he stayed with Yabby You, with the group, ca’ he was in the Prophets. That’s Alric, and they do, like, nuff nuff more song after that. But I jus’ go solo, innit, ’cause I just go Upsetters, Lee Perry, an’ that’s when me come as Bobby Melody.
That was the time when he had the Black Ark studio set up and running, you recorded there?
Yeah. I did an album. But he didn’t really… I did ’bout seven songs. Yeah, it was for an album. An’ that was ‘Best Dress’, ‘Chana Chana’ (also known as ‘Perception’ by the Divine Brothers), ‘Warrior’, you had a nex’ one called ‘Stab Me In the Back’… ‘People Would Stab Me In the Back’ an’ some other one, but I can’t remember some of the lyrics. Then Upsetter, he release’ ‘Warrior’ firs’. ‘Warrior’ comes out when Bob Marley say (sings) ‘Yes me friend, me friend, me deh a street again’ – that’s the same, dem two tune come out the same time. An’ ‘Warrior’ was… ‘Duppy Conqueror’, ‘yes me friend’, that was part of the promotion, too, the production. So he produce’ all dem tune, he bring my tune out with that one. An’ the t’ing, he got Junior Byles, ‘Beat Down Babylon’. No, the nex’ one now, ‘Curly Locks’, same label. Upsetters, Lee Perry.
Did you appreciate the vibes at the Ark, to work there?
Yeah, the vibes was all right. An’ what really ‘appened, I was living at Marverly (a working class community close to Drewsland) an’ he build this studio at Washington Gardens, so that wasn’t far from me. An’ that’s how I link up an’ I go to meet the original Upsetters, Family Man were there. The drummer were there, the bassie, an’ then you’ve got the rest of the Upsetters, but those man were the original, Reggie (Lewis) an’ them, Upsetters.
So an album never came out, that’s a shame.
No, what really ‘appened was, we done ’bout seven tracks an’ Lee Perry left to England, like, he leave an’ come up ‘ere. But when he got back to yard, he sell the tune dem, like, do some business, some distribution or somet’ing. When he come back to Jamaica, he don’t want to give me any money. An’ he did call some vibes, y’understan’. ‘Cause my guys dem who back me now, do the harmony, he didn’t have it like that, an’ tek it like that, man. We want our money an’ start to pressure an’ t’ing. So wha’ he did, he jus’ tek we to him house, him give we a cheque – not big, big money still. An’ then he still ‘ave all the tracks dem ‘pon tape. So he give us them an’ seh, well, better we jus’ release dem, get a deal with them, an’ that was it. So we didn’t get to finish the album. But the singles dem, they did well still, y’understan’. That was it. Then we move’ on from there, to Joe Gibbs. That was 1975. Yeah. That’s when I did ‘Jah Bring I Joy’, ‘Let It Be’ an’ all a dem.
Before we get into the Gibbs part of it now, what was your connection to Peter Tosh at this time?
Peter Tosh? Well, some a dem times I was tellin’ you about I was living in Trench Town, in the same street whe Bob Marley lived. An’, you know, I see the man, not regular but most o’ the time still. An’ not even jus’ that, when I move from Trench Town to uptown, Barbican (uptown community), Peter jus’ – he lives somewhere up Cherry Garden (an upper middle class community in Kingston), that’s just up in the hills, not far from Barbican. So Barbican now, I sit in me brethren’ yard an’ I was playing me guitar, but sometime Peter Tosh he pass through there an’ check some people he have some connection with. So he come there, see all the youths siddung in the yard, I was jammin’ an’ singin’ this song, so he jus’ go straight down an’ seh he liked this song, he liked the vibes, so me must come check him. So we did some deal after he leave an’ go up Cherry Garden, not even drive, it was jus’ walking distance. Check him at his yard an’ t’ing, him look after we an’ t’ing, treat we good. An’ play me guitar, him seh, well, ‘dat song’ or ‘dat song’. And he recorded, tek me to the studio. He took me to the studio an’ recorded for us three song’. And then him go foreign, him leave an’ him go an’ him come back an’ seh, well, when him come dem time him seh, well, yeah, he waan release that track. He release’ the track, an’ then he went back to foreign. So after he went back to foreign, the track was out in the shop, gettin’ the promotion an’ all dem t’ings, on his radio show an’ everyt’ing. An’ the plan was, when he get back to yard now, he was gonna spend more time on my t’ing, y’understan’, like, get more tracks together. When he come back to yard, they kill him, innit. That’s when he got shot up, man, an’ the whole vibes jus’ go down, yunno.
So that was in the late eighties sometime.
Going around and selling stuff now – because back then when you formed the Hi Rock label, you started to produce independently, or it was the Perry recordings? Maybe you had another label before this?
Yeah, yeah, it was from Lee Perry time, same time with Lee Perry. So me just keep that label going with me yard, I jus’ in Davidson Drive (a road in Drewsland) same way an’ t’ings. I did a lotta exportin’, like record, dem days was vinyl, innit. Yeah, me used to go around with me bag, man, that’s how the whole a we used to drop it; walk around with we record bag, man. Supply all a de shop, distribute to de shop an’ meet people, man who come down from foreign, man a buy export an’ a import tune. That’s how we use’ to make a money still. A man would just seh ‘Me waan a five hundred of dat’ or ‘Two hundred of dat’, that’s how it goes. So we used to walk around makin’ record sales, man, that’s how we gettin’ known, innit. For, it’s a work, like. Y’understan’? The time that you spend doing it an’ all you ‘ave to go through.
On Hi Rock, the first releases you went around with and sold was stuff like ‘Sinners’ and ‘Master Mind’?
Yeah, ‘it’s easier for a camel’. An’ then, I had all dem tracks.
What a struggle to go through, airplay, getting exposed and have the product sold, on your own?
Yeah, it was. It was when ‘Jah Give I Joy’ lef’ a lickle impact in dem time, that’s… Ca’ when Joe Gibbs release ‘Jah Bring I Joy’, that’s when him bring Culture out, innit. I was there before Culture, then them come inna the studio an’ dem did ‘Jah Jah See Them A Come’, ‘Two Sevens Clash’, an’ we all link up. An’ then me start – wha’ really ‘appened, the song went in the Top Ten, so they put me on one of the Jamaica TV show, and Culture was on it an’ dem man, so me start get some show now. Now people start recognise me through shows an’ all a that. But the song was all right in Britain, innit, it went to number one in the reggae chart. Even now it’s still sellin’.
How did that come about, that either you or Gibbs chose the Gaylads’ rock steady chestnut for a do-over, ‘Joy In the Morning’?
It was through BB Seaton. Wha’ really happened, I jus’ liked the song so I just, like, put in my vibes in it, y’understan’. It was good, even BB Seaton sez that to me, y’know, he liked it, I done it all right. It create a lickle scene, y’understan’. Yep.
That was the biggest success up to now, and, as you said, it saw release in England on the Trojan label, too. And then I ‘suspect’ that it was the same old story from then on, you never got your fair share?
No, I didn’t know they release it, y’know. Joe Gibbs did release it but it took some time before I see it on Trojan. Even on Youtube an’ them.
OK. And then you left there and went on to recut ‘Warrior’ for a guy called Alvin Reid, the One Heart label?
What’s his name?
Alvin Reid, perhaps a one-off producer at the time, ’79.
Yeah, I think so.
It saw release on a 12″.
Yeah. And then I do something with, let me see now, Robert – you know the twins from London? You got Robert an’… Palmer, I did two for them.
You mean the Negus Roots label?
Negus Roots, yeah. I did two for them, and then in them time I was with Cool Ruler, Gregory (Isaacs). That’s when Gregory produce ‘Try So Hard’ and ‘Got To Be True’. That’s on a compilation album.
‘Togetherness’ (released back in 1982 on the US Heartbeat label), right.
Yeah. (Mighty) Diamonds, Viceroys an’ them, Gregory on it, me, Delroy Wilson (DW was never on this LP, probably he meant Ronnie Davis).
What was Gregory’s approach to production? Did he spend extra time with you?
Yeah. In the earlier days now when often I get so busy an’ I lose a t’ing, him say “Wha’pm?” an’ help out. He was brilliant with that. I mean, he was one o’ the man who… all a de track them, he would give us some money, man. He jus’ call me an’ give me some money, he always see that we all right. I was doing a gig once and couldn’t buy the gears for the group. And I can remember we went to Gregory on that evening, I was singin’ the night, Gregory jus’ leave we deh an’ say “I soon come”. We stay there an’ once Gregory pass ’bout five, six, different type a… down the road, and he get back there before the showtime, for the store’ dem shut. He could leave a store an’ get lickle gears, gears out an’ t’ing. An’ then he sez “I’m coming to that show tonight”, to watch our performance. That was the time when he was in trouble, innit. An’ then he would jus’ get release’ from jail an’ t’ing. Well, he treat we good, man. Yah, it was all right with Gregory dem time.
Yeah. Is this back even before your stint with Gibbs, when you took a break from everything and had a walk on the beach somewhere and…
Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, those are the ones that I did… I did ’em once fe Upsetter. Ca’ is after – yeah, I did ‘Master Mind’ (half singin’) ‘I took a lonely walk one day, I was walkin’ by the beach alone, and then I made a…’. Yeah, that one, and ‘Warrior’ an’ all a dem, ‘Best Dress’, ‘Chana’. Yep. Well, ‘It’s Easier Fe A Camel’ an’ ‘Master’s Idea’ (aka ‘Master Mind’), that’s for I Jah Man Levi.
For I Jah Man?
Yeah. That one was fe I Jah Man Levi.
‘You Can Make It’?
There was a tune called ‘You Can Make It’ on I Jah Man’s label.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And ‘Master Idea’.
What about harmony work, you did some of that on, for example, Edi Fitzroy’s album (‘Check For You Once Girl’, ’82).
Yeah, not to mention again, that was… what’s his name again…? It was on that label, too.
Musical Ambassador, Trevor Elliott?
Trevor, yeah. Musical Ambassador. That’s how me did (half-sings) ‘Remember I love you, I love you, don’t be discouraged, then I’ve got to get you…’. All now that song, man, them draw that at every place, any big dancehall, any big session. Last time me draw that was Killimanjaro, it was in London, Stratford Rex – Josey Wales, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin, an’ Daddy Freddie an’ them. When me touch the mike, man, way down in the mornin’, that’s how me could build a vibes, man, anywhere me go an’ sing it, just how me do ‘Jah Give I Joy In the Morning’. So I did that one fe Trevor.
What was the title again, ‘Cheer Up’?
And you did ‘Ital Feed’…
‘Ital Feed’, yeah.
… and ‘Drewsland Rock’.
For Trevor, too.
Musical Ambassador. Me back Edi Fitzroy when him doing (sings) ‘I check for you once little girl…’ an’ all dem song, yunno.
Did you do any more harmonies for other people at this time?
Yeah, more harmonies. Sometime I get to do backing. When harmony is needed I jus’ do it. My song ‘Let It Be’, Dennis Brown did harmony on it. Most man didn’t know that. He jus’ listened the song an’ see wha’ it need, like him jus’ put harmony deh. You know, Mighty Diamonds, even Lloyd Parks an’ them. ‘Jah Bring I Joy’ is Heptones, Barry (Llewellyn) and Earl (Morgan) did the harmony. Joe Gibbs. Joe Gibbs hire’ them.
But Gibbs, after the song hit, did he have any intention to do an album with your songs?
No, ’cause wha’ really happened. After that song, like, they still give me some money but it was… after a while it stopped, so… An’ that’s why me jus’ – in the studio now… Ca’ we started with Joe Gibbs, I went there when he got this huge song with (half-singing) ‘All a now she have a heavy waistline, she jus’ a walk an’…’, then ‘All the money dem a spend, me seh me win them…’, all dem t’ing. It was the earlier days, when dem man started. But later now then Joe Gibbs’ started crowd up now, loads of people start to come in an’ ray ray, so the attention wasn’t that… on one person, y’understan’. So that’s how me jus’ start branch out an’ do other t’ings. Now, me started me label from Joe Gibbs, me gi’ dem fe press the records. Yeah.
And that was your Hi Rock productions. You recorded most of them there as well, most of the Hi Rock tracks?
Hi Rock productions? Hi Rock productions started with some of the tracks from Lee Perry, those tapes that he gave me.
That’s when we took it from there an’ get them out. A so me start the label. Then between that we do some other work, y’understan’, like deal with another studio.
What about a tune like ‘Hide & Seek’ on the Future-able label, around this time, ’76?
‘Hide & Seek’? Yeah, I did that. That one done with ‘Too Fussy Fussy’, I did it fe this chap from Waterhouse. Future-able his label?
Yeah. An’ me voice with some more guys dem, a nex’ man me go sing… doing a Slim Smith song, ‘Blessed Are The Meek’, that’s the other one I did.
Other singles like ‘Natty Rock Reggae’, anything you recall?
‘Natty Rock Reggae’, it came out in…
Yeah, yeah. That was for Duke Reid International… Duke Reid, yeah.
Charles Reid, a UK sound system man, not to be confused with the more famous Duke Reid himself, not even related to my knowledge, and he’s deceased now as well.
Yeah, that was his company. I met him through Flames, this chap who used to sing with Alton Ellis. We call him Flames.
Yeah, Flames. Him did link up with Cornell Campbell an’ dem, with Duke Reid, his company there.
And you recorded for Jimmy Cliff, was that later on?
‘My Woman’ an’ ‘Send A Letter’. An’ even after that me leave fe Englan’, innit.
Right, but before you left for the UK you…
I sang for Black Scorpio too.
True. You did an album.
That’s my firs’ album, ‘Live Stock’.
‘Live Stock’ in ’85.
For Jack Scorpio.
And then me was on the Midnight Rock label, this album was (for) Jah Thomas.
‘Two Uprising Stars’ alongside Singie Singie.
And Singie Singie, yeah.
I seem to remember that at least the Sunset album (‘Live Stock’) made some noise at the time, but the Jah Thomas production?
They kept your name out there, but you didn’t get much more than that?
Yeah, exactly. Not much more than exposure.
I look upon you as more of a cultural artist, if that’s acceptable, and ‘Live Stock’ is more adjusted toward the dancehall audience. You had to adjust to it, but was that the kind of music you really wanted to project to the people, those who knew your work?
The reason for that was, the vibe, the music at the time was jus’ deejays doin’ it, innit, an’ dancehall doing it. For I wasn’t dem dancehall man, I almos’ never go to the dance. I was at home, someone jus’ come check me. Scorpio come one night an’ check me. That was (when he had) Echo Minott, General Trees, an’ some other youth dem. Me go a de session, I didn’t know what to sing ca’ I didn’t fit in. Me brethren jus’ give me the mic, they sing on the mic an’ say (sings) ‘Aahh aahh aaahhhh, Jah bring I joyyy in de mornin’…’, an’ me jus’ draw fe that. An’ me tell you, man, the dance jus’ a rip up, brethren! Rip up! An’ then me go back an’ sing another one an’ dance rip up again. An’ then that’s how me start comin’ with the dancehall t’ing an’ dem days deh now them like how me do them songs. Is jus’ dem t’ings was happenin’. Like, if you cyaan do that you no really eat a food, y’know what I mean?
Artistic survival, and so on, you just had to.
Yeah. Them days they stop play certain song’ on the radio, you no hear no singer, is jus’ pure deejays an’ just what’s happenin’, the dancehall t’ing, innit. So is a good t’ing me could really fit in. An’ that’s how me come to Englan’.
You did a tour in that period with Black Scorpio sound.
What year was it, ’87, around there?
It was ’bout ’89.
And then you stuck in England.
No, not really. Me clear now, ’cause it took me two years, innit. From there now, me set up me studio an’ t’ing, me a do some work. Me send dung me tune dem same way. Still link up with Jack Scorpio. Me jus’ waan finish up some tracks now, an’ then can go Yard (JA) an’ do some. Me still get riddim from Yard. A brethren jus’ go dung an’ come up with some riddim. Plus me voice fe other man, too. We got album fe release, Turbulence, Lukie D, most o’ dem youth. An’ they’re all on that riddim, ‘Jah Bring I Joy (In the Morning)’. But is me an’ me brethren doing this, kinda delayed through certain deals, y’know, but dem works still to come. But me work for me now.
But you cut an album around that time, was it ‘Rock It Tonight’?
‘Rock It Tonight’? It’s ‘Rock Dem A’ready’.
‘Rock It A’ready’, right.
‘We a go rock them again’.
Who was it for?
That was on the Blue Mountain label. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I rememba dat one.
Dancehall same way.
Then it was, as far as I can remember, quiet from the Melody camp. There turned up a 45 in the mid nineties during the wave of roots revival, ‘Mount Zion’, Melody going all digital. You recall that tune, apparently is was taken from a forthcoming album at the time, but it was never pressed as far as I know?
Who did you produce that with?
Dubba, Dubba from Brixton did that one.
Did you get that one on record, release?
Have it on a single, yes.
Yeah, yeah. Ca’ some a dem song’ don’t even come out as yet.
So he never released this album?
Um, no, not with Dubba. I did two tracks for Dubba, but since that I jus’ do different stuff still. But I don’t think he has release’ any of these track’ as yet. People know them beca’ dem haffe get dubplate from them, them play in a dance an’ dem t’ings. So people know the track’ dem still.
Now we’re coming up to a point in your career where a retrospective had to be put together. How did this ‘Greatest Hits’ set come about? Possibly your first release on CD as well, issued 2002.
How did it come together? Oh, jus’ get all me tracks dem, yunno. ‘Cause dem tracks, I wrote them anyway. Yeah. Is the greates’ hits except track one, ca’ I give BB Seaton his credit, y’understan’ (the original ‘Joy In the Morning’ was a Delano Stewart composition though, performed by the mighty Gaylads). Ca’ that’s how it is, bro’. Mos’ a dem track’, me jus’ put dem together, innit. And the reason why, I never get an album done through most a dem record label’ or producers. I just put them together, y’know, from old vinyl, or whatever.
And it was actually the first CD you had out there?
Did you get it properly distributed? I never managed to get hold of it, it was pretty elusive on release from what my memory tells me.
Yeah, well, I think what did really happen, I put it out, Jet Star took it over an’ he get it in the shop’ like HMW, Virgin an’ dem t’ing deh. Yeh, I mek a lickle change still, but I would say it more gave me a vibe that me can come with a nex’ release, can check dem people, y’understan’, rather than makin’ a lotta money from it. That’s the way it is again.
But I don’t mind. An’ me still got more work comin’ out. The work no stop, y’understan’?
What is the work you are currently doing together with Roots Vibration, the Nottingham group?
Yeah, well, that’s the band, that’s me lickle band. An’ then me got this studio now, me jus’ lay it an’ mix. Me have something almos’ complete up to now. Me ‘ave me equipment an’ me ‘ave me song’ dem, the musician’, so wha’ me do, me jus’ gonna put it together an’ go work in another studio, to complete them. But me still work with Bubblers (Carlton Ogilvie) an’ them, y’know, Ruff Cutt.
Bubblers lay all me riddim. Them waan do over certain riddim from Yard. A ‘Joy In the Morning’, ‘Jah Bring I Joy’, we lick it here an’ send it to Jamaica an’ get all dem man, me would tell you: Luciano, Lukie D, Turbulence, all a dem man, Lutan Fyah, the whole a dem, they jus’ love the riddim. So Bubblers do good work fe me still now.
But there’s an album put together with Roots Vibration as well?
Yeah, well, Roots Vibration, that’s the name of the band. Not really in the studio or so, jus’ do the work. When me use the musician’, me give them the credit. We’re doin’ stuff now with Roots Vibration, but it’s not complete as yet. Like, me got certain original tracks. Ca’ with the band, we can siddung an’ play it an’ build up a vibes. We’re lickin’ over some Studio One or some Yard vibes, then we get Bubblers an’ straight away him jus’ do it. The original tracks we got, I would get Bubblers, man. Roots Vibration, we just get together, through rehearsal or we’re jammin’, that’s wha’ we deal with.
We haven’t spoken about certain long lost tracks from way back, such as ‘Anger & Strife’, that you did for Jah Lloyd?
Yeah (humming it) ‘Oh what a day of hunger and strife…’. Yeh, I did that for Jah Lloyd.
There was a duet between you and Ralph Brother Alric Forbes called ‘I’m Proud’.
When did this tune come out?
That was one from Dynamic, the firs’ one.
Oh, OK. As the Ralph Brothers?
Seems like it didn’t get more than a blank label.
There was another one titled ‘Tribal Man’, on the Rock Records imprint. That’s your production?
Yeah. Trying to remember… no, I don’t think it was my production. It was someone (else).
‘Roots Man Music’ on Shelter Rock?
For Gussie (Clarke), ‘Got To Be Stern’?
‘Got To Be Stern’, yeah.
‘Down In Poverty’, a title you recall?
‘Down In Poverty’?
Yep, released in the UK on Nationwide, about ’80.
You cut another one for Jimmy Cliff called ‘Are You Ready’.
Yah, that one was for Jimmy Cliff.
Did you lay a lot of stuff for Jimmy?
Jimmy Cliff, we did ’bout – I did about eight tracks, but we did an album, complete that before we leave Jamaica. But he release a couple of tracks for me, like ‘Send A Letter’. When me come here him already bring out ‘Are You Ready’, an’ I think ’bout two tracks. And since lately they release two new tracks for me. I see them on eBay an’ them. And me get a copyright statement to say well, they’re out.
You’ve been in the business for so long now, it’s forty years. Bring up some perspective on all those years, all this time, it was what you, more or less, had expected, a rocky road?
Hard work from the beginning. A lot has ‘appened for me a’ready, but it still not ‘appen a hundred per cent…But me still haffe continue, ca’ the work don’t finish as yet. Is jus’ loads of experience, y’know wha’ I mean?
An’ you pass through all the rough bits, an’ experience it.
And that experience, has it made you stronger, or the energy is not there as it used to be, the drive?
Yeh, it made me stronger. It jus’ show me dat me have to do t’ings fe me, it all depend upon me now, an’ through Jah Rastafari, t’ings ‘appen. It no happen otherwise. No man is for himself, even me. In the business, that’s how it is.
The development, in what direction would you like to see the music going?
What direction? The roots rock, original. Reggae music where that vibe is always there, y’understan’. Proper message, proper arrangement, everyt’ing. That direction.
What is good songwriting to you?
What I would like to have in a song? Well, songwriting is jus’ t’ings that happen around you, an’ the way you see things, understan’? Just inspiration. But more time you find you jus’ get lyrics, man. Proper meaning an’ very strong, an’ musically it could be lovers, or culture. You know? Could be dancehall same way, but it depends on how you do it. But you know wha’, you jus’ droppin’ some heavy roots music right now, man. Someone who have a message, you carry a vibe to the people, man. You cyaan let them down. Bring back the original feeling. It would never stop, brethren. It’s there, you jus’ come out with it, innit.
Will things turn around more to how it used to be, a reaction to what’s going on now, or it will pretty much stay the same and go further in that (negative) direction?
Well, too much competition, you have a lotta entertainer now, more than it used to be. That’s how it is. Is a whole heap a different culture, a whole heap a different ideas. But me jus’ sticking to my vibes an’ try to build up on that. Is just to stick to the same, you see wha’ me a seh: good lyrics, good riddim, that even the kids can catch on to. Good arrangement, reggae style. The original beat. Mix it with other t’ings same way, but don’t forget the basics.
The downloading dilemma, how do you see this issue?
You just have to find some way to get the work done, set it up that we can get some of the resources. But it has changed now, dem t’ings is ‘appenin’.
Relying on live work seems to be the only way.
Yeah. More live work until me can get some proper tracks done up deh, me try find a way to get some form of fee or somet’ing, in some way, to get my stuff. An’ see what’s happenin’.
So what’s happening now, do you have like a follow-up, a volume two, to the ‘Greatest Hits’ set?
Yeah, me just trying to develop some other tracks now an’ then when we complete them we can get them out, y’know.
Yes, because you should even try to compile things like ‘Let It Be’, ‘Jah Is No Impartial’, ‘I’ll Never Be Lonely’ and ‘Peaceful’, stuff for Joe Gibbs that you never got any control of. Maybe you could try now…
Try an’ redo them?
Redo them but preferably to clean up the original recordings and bring them out on a second CD of the ‘Hits’.
That would be good to see, to preserve that music.
Anything new coming out, this will be through Bubblers then?
Most of the tracks will be with Bubblers, plus with those tracks with Roots Vibration.
So there is a 45 coming with the band?
Yeah, well, not yet. We still rehearse at the studio. There’s certain amount of tracks – it will be more than one track with Roots Vibration still.
Will you try to get some gigs in Europe too?
I’ve worked in Germany before, Stuttgart. Yeah.
OK. Is there any final message you’d like to put across before we wrap this up?
No, not really, it’s jus’… I’d say love to the I an’ to all o’ me fans, and the people, understan’. An’ respec’ too, to mek this possible. For the reggae music, all the singers an’ players, producers. I’m lookin’ forward to even do some work… So a man jus’ say love to the I, to all the people, an’ jus’ Rastafari…
More work… sadly that wasn’t to be. Some five months after this interview was conducted Bobby Melody was dead. But his legacy lives on. The records are still there to treasure for the late George Hanson AKA Bobby Melody made some great music over the years. If only more people could pay attention to it. Why don’t you start with his self-produced ‘Greatest Hits’ package, it is worth the effort to find it because it contains most of the truly essential moments of his seventies period. The sound is not up to standard but surprisingly good in any case. The New York based Digikiller label had the good taste of re-releasing his ‘Original Melody’ single some time back and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if more of the same popped up in a near future. There are, also, a recent single release to be downloaded from the Roots Vibration posse, well worth checking out. You did your work ‘pon earth, Melody. Someone said that ‘after my work is done I will fly away home’. Perhaps that’s where you are right now – in a better place. I hope the sun keeps shining in Zion land and you continue singing your songs over there. Rest well. See you sometime, in a different space and time, hopefully…