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Bob Andy At Open Tropen - 30 June 1990
interviewed by Marc Hutsebaut for Etna Magazine, Belgium
originally published in Flemish - thanks to Marc for his permission to publish the English transcript of this interview.

How did you get involved in music?

Wow, I'd have to think about that … church is probably my best answer. I went to many churches as a child, because at various times I lived with various members of my family, so whatever member I lived with, I went to that church. But the one that inspired me most into wanting to sing was the Salvation Army - it was free, hand-clapping, singing, dancing - that was mostly in the rural areas of Jamaica, the parish of Westmoreland. Then I went back to Kingston and was exposed to radios. There was a particular show in Jamaica that time called "Opportunity Knocks" - it featured some young fellows and girls who were to go on and become great entertainers in Jamaica's history. All of Kingston used to look forward to that show. I remember one particular singer who used to win it very often was Jimmy Tucker, Junior Tucker's uncle. I'd always wanted to be a participant in that show but it never quite worked out, because my mother was not a believer in me standing up in front of an audience and exposing myself.

Why?

Well, I think I had more faith in myself than she had in me … Then I started going to the Church of England where I met Don Evans - those were the days with Alton & Eddie, the Charmers. The particular song by Alton & Eddie, "Muriel", we both loved very much, so we started harmonising that song. And we were in the same scout troop together, so we started singing together as a duo. We were fascinated with groups like the Temptations, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Platters, etc. because of the broadness of the harmonies. With 3-4-5 people you can get a wider sound, so we opted to have three other guys with us. The group went through various name changes and member changes, and we found the four we thought would click. We (the Paragons) did about two and a half years, singing with the Mighty Vikings, one of the popular bands of the day. The popular groups of the day were aligned with particular bands - Toots & the Maytals were with Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires; there was a group called the Sheridans, who were with Carlos Malcolm and his Afro-Cuban Rhythms.
We were one of the first groups in Jamaica which became extremely popular nation-wide, without making a record - just from performances, because we used to be on stage with the visiting acts of the day from the U.S., like Ben E. King, Chuck Jackson, Betty Everett, etc. So by the time we got around to making a record we were well-known. The first recording we did was a ballad for Studio One called "Love At Last." We did two other recordings for Studio One and after that there was a difference in the group, and I decided I wanted to go solo. John Holt was already in the group, and they went to Treasure Isle. I stayed at Studio One. I preferred the vibe there.

Was there a rivalry between you and John Holt, because you have the same kind of tenor voice?

That's probably what brought things to a head; I had started the group, but the other guys preferred John's voice on lead. I wanted to do some of the singing myself, I didn't want to spend my whole life doo-wopping. So I said, "For a peaceful life, you go your way and I'll go mine."
I stayed at studio One for three to four years, where I ran into the school of musicians you know about - the Wailers, Ken Boothe - this was '65/'66. I started mainly as a writer, as I wasn't too confident yet about being an upfront lead singer. I wrote for people like Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, and Marcia Griffiths, and then when I gained confidence I started recording myself. I produced quite a few of the Studio One hits of the day. I left in '68/'69. I went back and did "Really Together", "Feeling Soul" and "Desperate Lover."
I went to Federal in '69 and did a cover of "Games People Play" which became a massive hit - my biggest Jamaican hit. It sold about 80,000 copies, and the flip side was my song "Sun Shines For Me." At the same time I did a song with Rupie Edwards called "The Way I Feel", and I went back to Coxsone and recorded "I Don't Care" with Tyrone (Don) Evans.
Harry J came by with a recording of "Young Gifted and Black" (the background) and asked me if I'd be interested in voicing it, and I said I'd give it a try. I invited Marcia to the studio just to accompany me, and Norris Weir (who used to be with the Jamaicans) and we got it together. But I never gave it a second thought. Then in the spring of 1970 Harry J came to us quite excitedly saying "You have to go to England!" And we said why? And he said "You have to sing on Top of the Pops". I had to ask what that was. That's really how Marcia and myself got together professionally. We had done "Really Together" only out of the fact that we were teenage sweethearts and it was the fitting thing to do, but we never thought of having a career together as singers. "Young Gifted and Black" threw us together for the next three to four years. In 1974 we decided we didn't want to continue singing together, which was about the time she joined the I-Threes and I did "Fire Burning", with Federal again.
A new music company was formed in Jamaica called Soundtracs that I started working with as a producer and an artist. I took a very long break from the business after the mid-70s …

Were you fed up with the business, or just wanted some time for yourself?

All of that.

Did you continue writing during that time?

With me, I'm always writing. Even though I don't put things down on paper, I always have ideas about what I could do. I wasn't active in the business but I was still having an ear there, and I did a little acting … I did a couple of plays and a full-length film, Children of Babylon. In 1978 I went to Sonia Pottinger and we agreed to do an album. I did the album called Lots of Love and I, but I still wasn't very happy.
Then in 1982 I met some guys in Atlanta and we decided to do an album - that's how Friends came about. I worked that album myself for about two years and then I met Janis, and the rest you know: we put out the album Retrospective and the Bob & Marcia album, and a couple of singles, and then we did the latest album Freely.

Did you want to start up a company when you did the '82 album?

That's when I started it.

Did you do that because you wanted everything in your own hands?

Well, I certainly wasn't gonna sit down and wait on a major company to offer me a deal, because they might not. And I was very stubborn at the time - I might not have accepted one anyway. I thought that if I was going to put my own record out then I might as well try to do it in an orderly way. I thought about paying taxes and … it seemed like a good idea to have a company.

Do you feel like you've ever been ripped off by a company?

That's probably my middle name in the business, but I'm not the only one so I won't elaborate on that. Even at this time, a song I had written for Delroy Wilson in '67, UB40 did a cover version of it on their second Labour of Love album and some guy in England called Honeyboy Williams has claimed the credits for my song. So anyway, they have now acknowledged that but I'm still having problems fighting with his publisher to get my money. They found out through various copyright societies that the song really is my song, but I guess they spent off some of the money they collected, so we're having problems getting it. Over the years Coxsone Dodd has taken credit for a lot of my songs.
In my case, I'm always surprised when I'm not ripped off, but maybe some people are in the business to be ripped off. It's not a very positive way to look at it, but it has happened quite frequently.
Anyway, one of the reasons I wanted my own company is that at least what I do in my company, I can be accounted to, and I can account for what happens.

But can you make a living just out of your own albums?

If I travel around and do shows like I'm doing now, I can.

Are you thinking of recording other artists for your label? Because I don't think that has been the case until now.

I did a stint at Tuff Gong in '88/'89 - fourteen months, and I produced about five albums whist I was there. As far as production is concerned, a lot of the songs that Clement Dodd takes credit for, he wasn't even in Jamaica when they were produced. People like myself, Jackie Mittoo, the Heptones put those songs together - we just happened to be in Studio One at the time. So I'd say not for a living, but I've always been producing other artists. One of the reasons that at the moment I'm not keen to produce other artists is that it requires a lot of capital. And once you start releasing recordings with other artists, they start expecting money. And I should at least try to make a living myself before I start trying to make other people a living. But I do have the desire to produce and have other artists on my label.

Janis sent me an article where you said you were peeved that dub music was predominant over other kinds of music, but you have now …

Not I - Janis. That dub album there (Bob Andy's Dub Book)? That's her project.

So you didn't like it?

I didn't hate it.

That's a bit cruel on her, because it's a very good album.

Well I understand why she did it, and it sells somewhat, it's alright, but I don't support that aspect of the music industry in general.

What's wrong with dub? Because for many people here, they go wild when they hear a dub on a good song.

I think the dominance of the dub music for a long time undermined the structure of the classical Jamaican music.

You're probably referring a bit now to dancehall music as well, because that is also the bass and drum thing.

No, you see dub music is something that developed spontaneously and it really was just engineers jerking off and came up with various sounds here and there. So it has mass appeal, and there is an art form to it, but that doesn't mean that it should put all other forms of Jamaican music to rest. No, go ahead and love it …I'm just saying that if it continued at that level - because it's not as prominent as it was, you know that? - the coming generation wouldn't know anything about writing lyrics or playing an instrument to make music. What it has effectively done is that it has brought the Jamaican music scene into technology, which we're not ready for, we're not prepared for. So it has just come in, taken over, run away, but it has not developed. You're a bit cross now because you're a good songwriter yourself and you know what a good bottom, a good bass and drum, can do in a song, and the lyrics in dub are forgotten …
As a matter of fact, when I started doing my own recordings, every song I did, I put the rhythm track on the other side, but I never got off on this reverb thing - it doesn't make sense to me. If it sends people wild, OK. So does rock music, and acid, and heroin - but it doesn't mean I partake of them. I respect that it has become an art form, but it doesn't mean that I'm going to drop what I'm doing to dub music.

So coming back to your songwriting, do you play an instrument yourself, or …

I play enough on a guitar and a keyboard for practising, and to be able to write my songs. There is no particular place for me to start - for me normally, the whole thing comes at the same time. The songs of mine that people love, it just happens - bam, melody and lyrics.

Is it sometimes difficult for you to avoid the pitfalls of songwriting, in that you have a refrain, a chorus, a refrain, a bridge …

No, do you think all my songs have the same format?

No, I ask how do you avoid it?

I don't think about it …

(INTERMISSION FOR TV INTERVIEW)

Do you like cricket?

I like almost all sports.

Because cricket is so Jamaican, like rum. Something that most foreigners don't understand.

It's Caribbean - we learned it from the English, and they whipped our asses for 30-odd consecutive years until we learned we shouldn't play it their way. They tricked us, they told us it was a gentleman's game, and we played it very gentlemanly for a while there. The umpires used to steal us out and we just used to smile. After a while we found a way …

Do you play?

I used to play. We came up with the idea of having four fast bowlers - those guys don't bowl it, they shoot. They used to have fast, medium, and slow bowlers, and we said OK, we don't want any medium or slow. So the English have adopted our strategy, but the four fast bowlers they have are black.

Macka B has a song about that … I wanted to ask you about "Life" because it's one of my favourites and you played it today ..

Why is it one of your favourites?

Because the lyrics are very good, and it's a good song melodically … have you heard Soul II Soul singing "Get A Life"? It reminds me of you.

I think there are two strains in music today, negative lyrics like rap - Public Enemy, and positive as I said. I don't think I've ever said this to anyone, but "Life" was really conceived as a theatrical production. There would have been a baby, then a child, then an adolescent, then an adult playing a certain part in a certain play … when I was really brimming with ideas in the 70s, maybe broadening my horizons into doing a musical. "Life" was going to be the theme, but the relationship between Harry J, Marcia and myself - I think something went funny there and I just lost the whole vibration. After that I have had a couple other songs which have come out of the idea of a play. I think Jamaica has yet to produce a good musical. Anyone who could come up with that, could be a masterpiece. Caribbean, especially Jamaican music …

Hasn't Benjamin Zephaniah done that?

Well, it certainly hasn't made the impact I'm envisioning. In the mid-70s it was attempted by Butler Productions, the people who did Hair. But it opened on Broadway for a week and fell through. But they did what Hollywood has done to Jamaica - they've used Jamaica as a prime location for certain films. This play had some brilliant actors: Michael-Phillip Thomas (the guy in Miami Vice), Eva Cherry, direction by Leon Gluckman, and I was supposed to play the leading Jamaican character. A friend of mine, I have some stuff at her place and she's now moving to Canada, and I just threw away the script before coming to London this time. Maybe I shouldn't have … if I had my way that would be my next big move.

Is it about an ideal world inside your head, or a complaint about existing music?

It could be both. The dream of Utopia whilst living in a shit world. I do admit I occupy the ideal, lofty world more than living in the everyday, basic, mundane world … A play would be something to do other than just getting musicians together to go into a studio and put something on vinyl again. It's boring, especially if you're not selling millions. But that could be boring too, churning out million-sellers over and over … I wouldn't say no to a few million sellers but I've seen what that has done to some artists.
Primarily my attention has always been focussed on the development of Jamaican music. Always.

What actually happened when you were at Tuff Gong?

I gave the company a good image, because I'm a Rasta, and I was a member of the Marley posse, we grew up together, and the fact that everyone knows that I strive for - if it's dub music, it has to be good, or dancehall - I strive for quality.
A good, critically acclaimed and financially successful musical would lift Jamaican music to a plateau. It would gain the degree of recognition and acceptance that it hasn't got yet, from all facets of the entertainment industry; we have the respect and admiration of the music industry to a certain extent already.

Which film made about Jamaica or Jamaicans would you say has really done something for …

All of them have. Of course The Harder They Come is a classic. A Hollywood panel voted it 17th out of the 20 best films of all time. I don't remember which, but it was a very reputable panel.

OK, I'll just finish with one question. There's one line in the song "Come of Age" which reflects your perfectionism - you're saying "try to put the things you preach into practice (Rastas) …"

The reason why that degree of synchronicity is so hard to attain and maintain is that on this plane, perfection is a pursuit, rather than a stable element. It is good when the myth of perfection is broken, because no matter how brilliant we are, we can never, ever live up to people's expectations - or even our own … You seem to have decided that I'm a person who is hung up on perfection - what has lead you to that thought?

I read it a few times … and I think that anyone who is creative has to strive for it. If you're not going to try, then don't bother.

I hope I have enough time left in this life to … it seems like the more I've thought about my ideal presentation of Jamaican music and my music, the further I've gone from it. Maybe I should tell you what it is: anytime you hear an acoustically sound group play Jamaican music, then you'll hear the essence. It will have lost its rock influences, its blues, its pop influences, and it will have taken on its pure traditional mento element - and then you'll hear a music that will make you wet yourself.