© Imani Collings
Bob Andy. Ever heard of him? I didn’t think so. How about Dennis Brown? Barrington Levy? Freddie McGregor? Gregory Isaacs? I-Roy? J.C. Lodge? Ken Boothe? Marcia Griffiths? Luciano? Maxi Priest? Mighty Diamonds? Sanchez? Sluggy Ranks? The Specials? Wayne Wonder? UB40? Now we’re talking, right? These are, without a doubt, the biggest names to ever emerge from the reggae music scene in Jamaica and the UK. What is the common thread among these gifted artists? They have all performed songs written by Bob Andy, a man who is called “the greatest living songwriter in Jamaican music” and “one of the best songwriters in the world.” As weighty as those descriptions are, they do not do Bob Andy’s talent the justice it deserves. I am talking about a man who has written, produced, arranged, and sung the most touching, the most ethereal, the most soul-soothing songs in music.
Not reggae music.
Not island music.
Not world music.
Herbie Miller, Sunday Gleaner (November 2011):
‘…Bob Andy’s genius is genuine. It is not some egotistic self-applied moniker, nor is it any shallow claim by an overzealous media person, or a publicist’s ploy seeking notice or grabbing a label that is beyond the capacity and capability of this songwriter. Let me only remind you that Bob Andy is the real deal, that he does not need my authentication, only my recommendation that you trust yourselves and go back and analyse his work.’
I will never forget where I was when I first heard Bob Andy’s hauntingly beautiful “Unchained“, a song that defines Studio One’s sound for me. It’s 1990 or 1991 and I am waiting tables at the local tourist trap restaurant in Virginia Beach, VA. Every Sunday night, the kitchen pipes in the sounds of “Reggae Sunset”, the local reggae radio show which airs every summer Sunday night at 6 p.m. The intro with the horns stops me in my tracks. It isn’t just the tune that takes my knees out, it’s the atmosphere, the voice, the rhythm. Everything about the song. I can only describe Bob Andy’s voice on that tune as a “ghost on wax.” I’ve held a deep appreciation for Bob Andy since that day. He introduced me to that Studio One sound. Heavy drum and bass, echo, piercing horns – not so much a sound as an atmosphere where sound flourishes.
Bob Andy “Unchained” (Original Mix)
That voice. Ghost on wax. Those lyrics. That sound. The voice and the lyrics remain, however, that Bob Andy sound is nowhere to be found.
“Don’t worry“, the thick Jamaican patois is almost unrecognizable. “You will be hearing from Bob Andy real soon. Big ‘tings soon come.”
These words send chills through my body as I sit in my living room grasping the phone to my ear, living on each spoken word. Could this really be Bob Andy? Surely it is one of my friends playing a brilliant practical joke on me. But no one could borrow this voice.
A man so revered on the island that he was recently awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction for his contributions to the development of Jamaican music. A man lost, now found. This ghost on wax who appears from time to time to send us a message of hope in times of darkness, then returning from whence he came to inspire new works in others.
Angus Taylor, United Reggae (November 2010):
‘Ask a random person for the greatest song-smith in reggae and they’ll likely say Bob Marley. But try someone immersed in the music and they’ll doubtless tell you it is Bob Andy.’
You see, Bob Andy has been singing, producing, arranging, and writing songs for more than four decades. His strength, many say, is his songwriting. He is a man who is responsible for some of the most popular and successful reggae tunes ever to grace the human experience. “Too Experienced“, a tune made famous by Barrington Levy, was first written and performed by Bob Andy. “Feeling Soul”, “My Time”, “Desperate Lover”, “I’ve Got To Go Back Home”, “Going Home”, “You Don’t Know”, “Life”…all Bob Andy.
Dennis Howard – Jamaica Observer (2001):
`Bob Andy is one of our great political songwriters … (he is) more than a musician or good singer; a philosopher who has a clear understanding of world issues and how this impinged on our small society with its heritage of slavery and colonialism.’
Too many times, Bob Andy didn’t receive the recognition deserved for such soul-settling lyrics, sung by the artist-of-the-day, launching the song and the artist to stardom. Bob Andy remains a ghost. Sitting alone and writing those lyrics that make your heart stop, while the artist and producer receive the recognition and financial reward for his song. Of course, Andy will tell you that it doesn’t bother him. Says Andy:
“Long after the lights have been turned off, and the bands have quit, the song remains.”
However, it’s an injustice that’s been visited upon too many Jamaican artists. To see their songs achieve world-wide acclaim while they remain the ghost trapped in some island purgatory, reaching out only to bestow their lyrics, borne of sweat and tears, upon another popular artist.
Finally, in October 2011, Bob Andy is recognized for his years of contribution to the art of songwriting. A celebration of Bob Andy titled “Bob Andy: Unplugged” is held on October 28, 2011 at the Karl Hendrickson Auditorium, Jamaica College, St Andrew. The list of scheduled performers reads like a who’s who of legendary Jamaican singers and songwriters. Marcia Griffiths. Freddie McGregor. Luciano. Mutabaruka. Tony Rebel. Protoje. Duane Stephenson. Big Youth. Ken Boothe.
(Click to access Programme)
“The outpouring of love was incredible”, says Andy during our recent telephone conversation, “So many talented artists. It was a night to remember.”
“We have big plans for my father”, says Bianca Anderson (Andy) on the telephone from Santa Monica, CA. “We want to get that ‘Bob Andy sound’ back. We feel that it was lost on his releases for VP Records. We are having some struggles right now with song selection and such, but our plans are to release Bob Andy’s Song Book II this spring. The album will include previously recorded material that has never seen wide release. There is so much beautiful music that my father created that was never heard by the people.” Ms. Andy refers to the follow-up to Bob Andy’s classic Song Book, which was released in 1972 on the Studio One/Coxsone label.
“We plan to release it electronically, maybe through iTunes. We already have the album cover art, and a list of songs. We are carefully working to select the tracks for an expected spring release date.
“We are planning to re-release all of his existing albums digitally. Currently the only albums available on iTunes are Studio One and VP Records, so we are missing about 20 years of music. We are going through the process of digitizing all of the master tracks in order to get the best possible sound.”
“There is a plan to release the Bob Andy: Unplugged performances in CD and DVD. All of this is planned for Spring 2012. He is still recovering from his recent stay in hospital, so we don’t want to rush things too much.” Ms. Andy refers to her father’s recent surgery and hospitalization for a stomach ulcer.
Imagine that. Just when we thought Bob Andy sang his last song, he returns to grace us with another illustrious Song Book. New music for the masses at a time when we need Bob Andy more than ever. With wars, fledgling economies, and recent economic and sociopolitical uncertainty, Bob Andy – that ghost on wax – reappears to deliver us from the troubles and worries of ‘dis ya Iwa with songs of hope, and love, and positivity. But he’s always done that hasn’t he? Been with us when the going gets tough.
“Time tough”, but Bob Andy tuffer.
The release of Bob Andy’s Song Book II and Bob Andy: Unplugged is scheduled for Spring 2012. Please “Follow” the blog, and I will keep you posted.
Big thanks goes out to Ms. Bianca Anderson for her support and help. The pleasure was all mine!
Also a big thanks to Roger Steffens for his support and for reviewing and commenting on the piece.
My Interview With Bob Andy
I recently spoke with Bob Andy regarding his health and plans for the future. Here is the text of our brief discussion:
I know you had a stay in hospital last year. How is your health at the present time?
“I am out of the recovery zone and into the survival zone and looking forward to working soon.”
In October, you attended the Bob Andy: Unplugged celebration. Can you describe what this meant to you?
“It was touching and overwhelming – a wellspring of love from both colleagues and friends.”
Like many Jamaican artists of the “golden age” of reggae, much of your rightful royalties were pirated by shady producers, do you have any plans to seek restitution for these royalties, or have you just written it off?
“I have two current court cases that have been running for over 12 years. I am still fighting for my rights.”
Rumor has it that you will be releasing a Song Book II which will included never-before released material. Will the album have that signature Studio One sound, or can we expect something completely different?
“Studio One was a time, place and space. Songbook 2 will not be the Studio One sound – it will be different.”
Are there any plans to tour in 2012?
“Some of that is in the cards. We are being very selective about tours in 2012.”
What would you like to say to your fans?
“I am happy that my life has been spared. Thanks to my fans for their generous support, prayers and thoughts. It is almost as if I am willed to treat my fans with more music.”
January 29, 2012 Update: Big up to my good friend and fellow blogger Dubwise Garage for sharing these rare live performance tracks by Bob Andy with Alton Ellis. Dubwise blogs at http://bobmarleyconcerts.wordpress.com and shares tons of live bootleg recordings through his main website at www.dubwisegaragecollection.com.