On the UK music scene in the late 1960s & early 1970s there was always room for the reggae song of the day to crossover from the mod or skinhead dance scene on to the main charts. I can remember the pirate radio stations playing Desmond Dekker’s rude boy anthem “007 (Shanty Town)” in 1967, the first Jamaican produced record to hit the UK Top 20. I could slice it & dice it, tell you about where this music came from, how it influenced the songs that came later but it will sound no better. The ka-chink, reverse R&B, of the ska guitar, the sweet vocals about street life JA style had a irresistible otherness back then & still has it now. “Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail”
“007 (Shanty Town)” was recorded at Leslie Kong’s ice cream parlour/record store/studio. The combo chased a follow up & in April 1969 “The Israelites” was #1 in Britain, sandwiched by Marvin’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” & the Fabs’ “Get Back”…heavy hitters. There was just the single UK pop music station now. If a record got on to the daytime playlist it inevitably shifted units. In 1970 this lovely record was “wonderful” (Ha !) Radio 1’s reggae song of choice.
The great Nina Simone & her bandleader Weldon Irvine wrote “Young, Gifted & Black” as a beautiful tribute to her playwright/activist friend Lorraine Hansbury who had died from cancer in 1965 at just 34 years of age. Her own haunting version, recorded in 1970, more than hit the spot. In 1968/69 Ms Simone scored 3 Top 10 hits in the UK but this song, so appropriate an articulation of African-American pride & hope, made no impression over here. In Jamaica pop hits were often reggaefied for the local market. Producer Harry J, known in the UK for his hit “The Liquidator” paired 2 young successful solo singers, Bob Andy & Marcia Griffiths, for a duet of the song which became an instant pop reggae classic.
Well, look at Marcia here, Miss Jamaica ? Miss World I think. Just 20 years old & on her way to becoming “The Queen of Reggae” after her 1968 triumph “Feel Like Jumping”. “Young, Gifted & Black”, an upful slice of affirmative action, went international before Marcia joined the majestic I-Threes, backing singers for Bob Marley & the Wailers. There’s a black & white Y-tube clip of Bob & Marcia in afro-chic dashiki finery where they look so great while the audio is a cut-price cover recorded by Elton John when he was still Reg Dwight…what the…!!
Bob Andy was an established star in Jamaica too. After “I’ve Got To Go Back Home” in 1966 there was a string of songs for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. In 1970 the collection “The Bob Andy Songbook” was released. If Bob & Marcia were Jamaica’s Marvin Gaye & Diana Ross then this record is reggae’s “What’s Goin’ On”. Of the 12 songs 11 are written by Bob. This was his thing. He was writing cool tunes with simple, heartfelt, direct lyrics long before “conscious” reggae was a thing. I listen to Bob Andy’s songs & I am impressed by what he knows.
“My Time”, oh boy…world class. I was given the opportunity to add something to my by-line for all of my posts. It could have been a smart-arse non-sequiter or a Vonnegution “everything means nothing” epigram. I must have been in a considerate mood that day. “I need nothing to be a man because I was born a man and I deserve the right to live like any other man”…Serious, I have no more to say about this emotional declaration of rights
In 1978 Bob stepped away from music to develop his acting career. This seems like bad timing as a confederacy of roots reggae musicians swarmed through the door opened by Bob Marley on to an international market. We loved this dreadlocked diapason, it seemed so shiny & new. Ska & Rock Steady would always have a place in our hearts but around this time we were dancing to the rhythm of the drum & the bassline. Bob Andy was from those old times…I know crazy. The 1978 LP “Love & I” passed me by just as this candid classic from 1973 , “You Don’t Know” had.. In the UK at that time the sweetness of Ken Boothe & John Holt was breaking through. Maybe Bob Andy was before the times, a little too roots for daytime radio.
When he returned to music Bob worked for Tuff Gong, the company founded by Marley while starting his own label I-Anka. His own experience of sharp practice spurred him to champion higher standards in Jamaican music & business. Through Andisongs, his publishing company, he put things right when others claimed to have written his tunes. Over at www.bobandy.com a list of his songs show how significant his contribution to reggae has been. with master organist Jackie Mittoo he wrote “Feel Like Jumping” for Marcia. Their sweet duet “Really Together” is one of his. I did not know that he was the originator of one of my all-time reggae favourites. Bob Andy is still around, still an ambassador of Jamaican music, a silver haired Dreadlock. “Truly”, a 1977 Channel One triumph by the Jays & Ranking Trevor is a joyful mix of vocal harmony, confident toasting & a cool song. Perfect for a Summer’s day.