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

Part Three: Fire Burning

    When you spoke to David Rodigan on “Roots Rockers” you discussed reggae and its international appeal. How great an influence do you now think reggae music has? Bob then recalls a recent concert in London of Latin music he went to see, where the band played a tribute to Bob Marley in recognition of the importance of Jamaican music. Bob in turn then tells us of the influence of Latin music on reggae music:

    Jamaicans are lucky people you know, we have a very rich passage, passage of time between the second World War and up to when Cuba became a rebel country. I grew up on a combination of Dominican Republic music, which was merengue; Brazilian or Latin samba; and we were getting Cuban/ Puerto Rican. Today when you turn on your radio, you get more Spanish. We only have two radio stations; late at night you can pick up a Miami radio station or over in Washington ... if you have a good radio. But normally what you get is endless Spanish.

    How about the Far East sound, any thoughts on that?

    Well, Geoffrey Chung went to school in China! - Hong Kong. His influence on Pablo could have ... I don't know ...

    The Far East sound has also been described as the Middle Eastern sound as well - Arabic ...

    It's African, isn't it ?

    Like with Michael Rose's and Don Carlos's vocal style.

    It's a vocal play against a minor chord. What might sound Middle Eastern could have been meant to be African. But let me go back to key...
When I hear a song, when I hear a rhythm done in a certain key, I'm able to find a comfortable range. I'm able to come up with a melodic structure that can fit within a comfortable range.

    It’s surprised me that Coxsone gave you rhythms in the same way as what he’s doing now. I thought that those records were recorded after you had written the song, and were arranged around the song. The first song you recorded after you left, for Rupie Edwards - “The Way I Feel”...

    It was “Feeling Soul,” “Desperate Lover” and “Unchained.”
(Thanks for this note from Ray Hurford 04.2007: "I have listened to the cassette of this interview again, and although Small Axe originally listed "Crime Don’t Pay" in the above answer, it is clear that Bob mentions only three titles. My apologies for the initial error.")

    They were the three that you had to sing over a rhythm?

    Yes, but the rest were just made from scratch. I tell you, when I heard the rhythm for "Feeling Soul," 'cause I still have never heard the original vocal for "Feeling Soul ... if there was one ... what had inspired my "Feeling Soul" was Carlton and The Shoes. They had done a song called "Feeling"...

    Not "Sweet Feeling"?

    It came out after "Love Me Forever."

    Is it on their album for Studio One?

    That's the one. That might have inspired me to write the "Feeling Soul" melody. I love his work very much, Carlton Manning.

    He is another great artist who can't seem to break through - it doesn't make any sense.

    It don't make no ****ing sense. I don't understand how ... This is why I'm against Coxsone. Coxsone has discouraged by his actions the better artists. You have not heard the better set of guys. There is a brother named Barry who plays a guitar and sings. He's a bird. There is a guy who Leroy of the Heptones recorded a couple of songs with - Rocky...

    Rocky Ellis?

    Yeah. There is Macko, a whole set of guys from Trenchtown. And Coxsone just took these guys' music and just sat on them. Andy and Joey, that guy is probably in the madhouse now. There is no way myself or Marley or any of us could measure up to the kind of natural air and talent and ability that those guys have.

    What happened to the Jamaican copyright control set-up?

    In many respects that's probably what is responsible for the gap in my (career) ... 'cause I thought something would have come of that. Let's just say it was a dream that didn't come true: realising certain rights in Jamaica for Jamaican artists. I personally went to Michael Manley and discussed with the then Minister of Culture, many times, the business of copyright. The Minister of Trade and Industry - we had endless meetings with manufacturers and the Minister of Industry. The Jamaican Industrial Development Commission, we had endless meetings.
The necessity and urgency for a copyright act in Jamaica is without question. All the pussyfooting they have been doing over the years! A good ten years after we have been consciously realising how rapidly the music is growing and how much international protection we need, and that if we do not have an ethnic or national copyright act we will not have direct access to international bodies and organisations. All it takes is for them to pass a legislative act that is relative to the Jamaican situation and can relate to the international situation. I mean Trinidad has it, Barbados has it. And we have endless good lawyers in Jamaica - draftsmen who have been drafting these things for years. It has been tabled in the House of Representatives - has been read, but no act has been passed. So I say well, the Gun Court Act was passed in 24 hours -

    Why has it fallen down? Is it because of certain controlling interests who would rather leave things as is? Like with the version being so ingrained in reggae now...

    Well, you have just touched it. You have just touched part of the deep problem. If we had a copyright act, version would not have been let loose. When the copyright act failed, the producers realised that here was a way not to pay. This was a way to get singers and songwriters out of the field, so that they could have a feast, 'cause they could get records sold in large quantities just the same and only pay the singers a session fee. Though it has been very negative in aspects, it is also very interesting that deejays, toasters have progressed to the point where they are becoming individual acts. And they have been able to command high returns.

    But they are now suffering from the same problems in that deejays' lyrics are being ripped off by other producers and deejays.

    Well, it's a vicious circle. It is part of the growing pains of a growing nation. We are just 21 years old.

    It's wrong, though, that so many artists including yourself are not gaining from the growing audience for reggae music. The royalties from an album like Songbook - it must be one of Coxsone's best sellers.

    I have had various legal bodies, the last one who made a very gallant attempt, just call me and say honestly it's pointless trying to get anything out of Cosone legally. Coxsone, the way he's set up, he will just have to call you out of the kindness of his heart. But as far as legally, there is nothing you can do. I feel victimised, because Songbook has been one of the biggest, consistent, longest-selling works ever out of the country of Jamaica. And for me to be alive, and to have suffered my fair share of economic hardships ... and I actually have a work earning substantial returns in a world where people are sending spaceships to different planets, as developed as that. Yet there isn't a way I can legally claim my ... it could be disheartening if I allowed it to take hold of me.

    Is the struggle still going on for copyright control?

    Well you know, I have just divorced myself completely from the situation. I don't even read about it when I see any mention of it in the press, or (watch it) on TV. It won't help me anymore anyway, because I have already established relationships with various bodies internationally.

    How about Soundtracs, because that seemed to come up at the same time as your involvement with the copyright control battle. What happened there? Like there was so much excitement when that label started up in this country.

    Yeah, the guy who came up with that brilliant co-ordination was himself not a music man, but a person who was involved with the arts and public relations and advertising. His main thing was that - as is a problem with a lot of producers and managers - they crave the popularity of the artists. So there is always this vicious competition. So the fact (was) that the guy loved to be in the limelight, and he was not a music man at the core, but just wanted to make a quick turnover.     Who was he?

    The guy has absconded from Jamaica and is living a quiet life, making a decent living in some other part of the world, so let him remain nameless. I could call his name but it would make no difference. It was a brilliant effort; if it had worked it would have been great. It's just one thing that could have worked but it never did, because of the people involved.

    The label issued some great albums by people like The Abyssinians, Max Romeo, Pablo Moses, Marcia Griffiths and yourself. How many albums were recorded altogether, because there were albums mentioned at the time of the Skatalites, the Ethiopians?

    If there was one, there were a dozen at least. Feasibility studies were done, it's complicated for me to even dig up right now. It was total chaos.

    How did you end up working with Sonia Pottinger?

    Nicely put, you know of the relationship between Marcia and myself. She was working with Pottinger. At the time, I was delving into the business of drama. And I was a bit frustrated, and she call me. Sent the message by Marcia and say, "You're an artist who is a very good artist. Why don't we pool our efforts and see what can happen."
We did that, and the result was Lots of Love and I. I was disappointed that it didn't get much ... The Jamaican music public didn't really have any time for me at that time, because Marley was swinging, Tosh was, Culture was. I mean who is this guy Bob Andy anyway? That's how I felt. I was being cheated. I found it quite odd after Bob's demise that people ... They used to check me but even more since Bob went on: "It's your time now - it's your time." I mean people actually manhandled me on the street. I have evidence of this. I mean I was in New York City and guys like came up and said, "You make record." And I said, "No, I make records and you don't buy them. And you don't hear them. So what's the point, you know?"

    Initially you recorded "Slow Down" and "Ghetto Stays in the Mind" -

    "Ghetto Stays in the Mind" was never played on Jamaican radio.

    Was it banned?

    The only song they played was "You Lied." They play it a couple of times.

    Out of interest, who played the muted horn on "You Lied"?

    David Madden. That's a guy who I will always have on my session. He's a very willing contributor to the cause.

    How about "War in the City"?

    "War in the City" was actually done by a me and a bredren of mine called Alphonso Small. He's a cousin of Dennis Brown. They killed him in New York. They shot him and killed in New York. He was one of those persons you just couldn't envision, couldn't imagine, him being in a coffin. He was a brother who was ready to live. They just shot the life out of him, man. Al was the guy who had the idea for "War in the City," but that's all he had. I finished the lyrics, we both financed it. That never even play for a month in Jamaica.

    Was it banned?

    No, it wasn't banned. Jamaica is a crucial place. It's a focal point. I am going to have to say I agree that Jamaican music is not getting the kind of percentage of airplay it should get in Jamaica. But I'm not sure whether the lack of a desired percentage is better. So it can force the musicians to actually grow - since it does not exist the guys will say, "hey, I will find a market somewhere else, it's no big deal." In many ways Jamaica has a lot of negative aspects, but there are certain standards that will never fall. No matter what you hear, no matter how shitty this music gets, the average Jamaican has a very sophisticated taste for music.

    I think that's reflected in what's been released in the last twenty-odd years.

    But I for one don't think enough effort is being made. For one reason, it's easy for a man to use a twenty-year-old dub and sing ten, twelve songs over it. I think that has been responsible for the lack of development of individual craftsmanship or musicianship, because the challenge just isn't there.

    Do you think being so close to America could be having a bad effect musically? Like the Jamaican Top Ten has nine American pop records in it.

    If the charts truly reflect the support of the buying public, then what I'm saying is there is an ethnic crowd in Britain, there's an ethnic crowd in America, there's an ethnic crowd in Jamaica - that will go to shebeens, blues dance, certain clubs, and listen to a certain aspect of Jamaican music. But Jamaica is very middle class in its aspirations. The people all have videos. The people all have stereos or quadrophonic sets. When a guy wants to hear a nicely balanced song on his ... he's not thinking about a big speaker in a dancehall that will buzz you when you rock to a certain 3/4 rhythm. He's interested in his collection of records or tapes and his sound coming through his B&O or his Sony or whatever. The family might have the child that wants to buy the dub sound. But they want to hear some electric piano, a certain type of guitar, a certain kind of vocalising. So he buys Christopher Cross, 'cause it sounds good on a set. Though there is hard times in Jamaica, Jamaica is plugged into the developed world - more so America.

    (... Bob then mentions his film Children of Babylon.)
Did that get shown in Jamaica?


    Oh yes, that has had consistent showing in Jamaica and consistently good patronage.

    Who made it?

    It was a wholly Jamaican film. Jamaican finance and everything.

    I know it's been shown in Canada.

    The guy went to school in Canada. It did very well.

    Do you know if the film will ever be shown here?

    I guess if I manage to solicit some kind of recognition they will see fit to put the film out here, you know how these people are. But let's get back to the point.
Up to the time of rock steady, the state of Jamaican music was very sophisticated jazz-influenced instrumentals. Since the advent of rock steady and reggae, all that has fallen by the way. Musicians, i.e. instrumentalists, have not been given ... they have been bombarded with vocalists and deejays. There has not been a band with a challenge ... if a band even comes along, they sound something like Third World. And they are very developed acts, very sophisticated, and it's vocals again.

    I don't think there will ever be another band like the Skatalites.     Jamaica don't need another Skatalites. Jamaica just need to have a band that can play good music. Zap Pow tried. A good thing, but ended up trying to compete ... They tried some good instrumentals but the instrumentals weren't reggae, so to speak. They were kind of soul instrumentals.

    They made one very good record, "Riverstone."

    They are a good band, I'm disappointed that the band didn't ...
I want to bring you back to an area I didn't point out to you somewhere along the line. I went to Federal and made "Games People Play." The flipside is "Sunshine For Me" ("Salary is Thin"). And after working with Coxsone for many years, this was the first I was ever really paid - like five, six, seven hundred pounds - to do any kind of work. The most I ever realised out of Coxsone at any one time was probably ten, fifteen or twenty dollars, and I am serious! I was able to get my first royalty statements from Federal and buy myself a Mustang - a second-hand Mustang. And I had money like to live for awhile. And I was accounted to. I went back to Federal Records in 1974 with Lloyd Charmers and did "Fire Burning."

    Was that recorded within the Splash operation, 'cause Lloyd was involved with that?

    No, that was about the same time but I'm not talking about the Splash thing. I'm talking about Wild Flower.

    "Fire Burning" was released in this country under your real name, Keith Anderson.     Yeah?

    Yeah.

    Wow.

    The work you did with Harry J, the records with Marcia like "Pied Piper" and "Young, Gifted and Black" - you were surprised by the success of these tunes?

    Oh yeah, it didn't make sense, it just didn't make sense.

    Did you hear the string version of "Young, Gifted and Black" in Jamaica?

    Yes, eventually I did.

    The strings weren't added in Jamaica?

    Oh no, they were done here by a guy called Johnny Arthey.

    Perhaps being in Jamaica, you didn't know what Trojan Records were doing - which was putting every bit of their effort into promoting that sound. Like you and Marcia's "Young, Gifted and Black" was one of the very few class records that came along that were given that sound. Another one, let's say, would be Nicky Thomas' "Love of the Common People." There were very few songs that were given that treatment, that Radio One in this country played, that were good reggae records. Most of them were slush. If you heard them I'm sure you wouldn't like them. It was pure rubbish. But that was what they were pushing. And "Young, Gifted and Black" got swept along with that. They played it, but not for the lyrics; it was the sound. (Bob, in his interview with David Rodigan, didn't understand the reason for a very militant song like "Young, Gifted and Black" having success in the UK).
It was a very strange time for reggae music in this country. Trojan was schizophrenic. One label was releasing "Pied Piper" and another label was releasing roots music that wasn't getting promoted at all. It was just released, often with the minimum of information, and that was it. They were available for perhaps one or two months. If you didn't get a copy within that time, you would never get a copy, no matter how popular the tune.


    They were releasing 50 records a week?

    About 20 a week, and Island Records just let them get on with it, claiming credit for the successes ...
So how did the latest album Friends come about? It's been a long wait, what took you back into the studio?


    It was a very strange thing. I'd spent the last three summers in the States, and last year I was spending some time in Michigan, and I went to a campus town in Michigan. There was a show - Black Uhuru was there. I was there with my friends who have a record shop in Kalamazoo. They invited me to come. It's a very small town and we drove from there to another small town, to watch Sly & Robbie with Uhuru. We met some guys in an American rock group, and at the end of the set one of the guys said to me, "Keith, I thank you very much for coming to the show with us. I can safely say tonight that I have seen the greatest drummer and greatest bassist on the planet. After this records just won't be enough." So with that, I took him around to the tour bus and introduced him to the guys. He was ... he never said one word. When he got back to the car, he said, "I didn't know what to say, all these guys are my heroes!" So anyway while we were there, I don't know if they were joking - they (Sly & Robbie) said they "would love to work in the studio with this man." I said I would be back in Jamaica at the end of the year, and we can do some work together. And that was said just off the top of my head, you know. And it worked out that way. In some ways I wished the session was a better one, 'cause it could have been much better. But I am more than satisfied with the work. A lot of the stuff I wasn't satisfied with, (but) I've used them as guides, and gone on to get what I really wanted. So for me, the album was an achievement in that it has restored my confidence. It has also added another dimension of confidence, mainly because to be out of the business literally for five years, and to be able to come back in and to be able to achieve a professional and satisfying result is a good thing.

    To Be Continued - In Part Three