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The Small Axe Interview 1983
by Ray Hurford and Colin Moore - reprinted with permission - thanks to Small Axe

Part One: Atomic Youth

    ... 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?

    No.

    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?

    Yeah.

    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?

    16, 17.

    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'm right, it was the first secondary school in Jamaica to have broken the barriers of class education. All Jamaican schools use abbreviations - KC: Kingston College, JC - Jamaica College. JC was largely a school where like, Michael Manley and his father went too. Mostly populated by children of English workers who were in Jamaica at the time. The school was very English country style. Jamaica then was a strict colony. The administrators were English of course. That was basically a school for those kids. So kids who 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 had, and still boasts, a very talented and consistently good school choir. And a couple of guys I grew up with came from that choir. We sung with friends along the way, you know? Before we found our respective vocations. . Barrett again, the arts are 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 decided, (quote) "We really do prefer John's style as the lead singer". But I said, "OK. You're free to have John back in the group, I'm going to go" .. which I was thinking on anyway ...

    To Be Continued - In Parts Two And Three