by Eric Doumerc
Bob Andy (b.Keith Anderson, 1944, Jamaica) started out as a member of a vocal duo with singer Tyrone Evans (Keith and Ty) and then they went on to form a trio which eventually became kown as The Paragons. Before forming that vocal trio, they had more or less three different groups they constantly drifted in and out of. The Paragons included Evans, Howard Barrett, Bob Andy and John Holt as lead singer, and had hits like "Love at Last," "Good Luck and Goodbye," and a version of the Drifters' "Follow Me." When the original Paragons split up, Andy chose to work at Studio One and the remainder of the group went to Treasure Isle.
At Studio One:
Here, Bob Andy was employed as a kind of staff writer and would audition singers for Clement Coxsone Dodd, which gave him access to the studio to work on his own projects. Andy wrote songs for Delroy Wilson ("It's Impossible"), Ken Boothe ("I Don't Want to See you Cry"), and Marcia Griffiths ("Melody Life," "Tell Me Now"), but his time at Dodd's studio is also remembered for the many hits he produced there, which are conveniently gathered on his first album, Bob Andy's Song Book (Studio One, 1970). This album contains Andy's first hit, '"I've Got to Go Back Home" (with the original Wailers on backup vocals), which has remained perenially popular with Jamaicans at home and abroad, as well as "Too Experienced," "Let Them Say" and "Unchained." As Andy rightly claimed in an interview published in 1995, Song Book is an album that many Jamaicans have in their record collection, and many have bought it twice. "I've Got to Go Back Home" has become over the years a kind of national anthem, guaranteed to get many Jamaicans singing along.
After leaving Studio One in the late 1960's, Andy recorded a few tunes for Federal Records ("Games People Play" and "Sun Shines for Me," later covered by Gregory Isaacs, and by Dillinger for his song "CB 200"). Then he started working at Harry J's studio where he had his biggest hits.
At Harry J's:
While working for the producer Harry J (Harry Johnson), Andy had a massive hit with the singer Marcia Griffiths, "Young, Gifted and Black" (a cover of the Nina Simone song) which made him very popular in England and which led to extensive touring there. Two albums were recorded for Harry J's. The lack of financial reward led Andy to leave Harry J's and to record "Pied Piper," a breezy pop song originally by Crispian St. Peters) again with Marcia Griffiths, which was another European hit.
After Harry J's:
After leaving Harry J's studio, Andy recorded an album for Sonia Pottinger (Lots of Love and I, Sky Note, 1977) which contained the tunes "The Ghetto Stays in the Mind," "Feel the Feeling" (later covered by Aswad) and a rockers-style version of his Studio One hit "My Time," but further success seemed to elude him, and he contemplated leaving the music business for a while. For a few years, he concentrated on his acting career, but came back on the scene with the album Friends in 1985, whose title track is a beautiful hymn to world peace. The 1980s also saw the release of the album Freely in 1988 and of a dub album (Bob Andy's Dub Book, I-Anka, 1989).
Bob Andy has remained active since then, releasing the album Hanging Tree on Willie Lindo's Heavy Beat label in 1997, and has received many accolades from fellow musicians and music journalists. In 2006 the Jamaican government awarded him the Order of Distinction for his contribution to the development of Jamaican culture. He is today considered as one of the elder statesmen of reggae music and was recently invited to give a talk at a conference organised by Professor Carolyn Cooper at the Jamaica ncampus of the University of the West Indies (the Reggae Talk series).
That said, recognition has come late, very late for Bob Andy, and for years, he struggled as an artist. In an interview granted to Michael Turner and published in The Beat in 1995, Andy said that he was one of the artists who had been given a "raw deal" and that it was only "through extreme skill" that he had survived.
The artistry of Bob Andy:
The "raw deal" that Andy mentioned in the Beat interview may of course refer to some well-known practices within the Jamaican music industry and to the lack of financial reward associated with those practices. Andy is not the only Jamaican artisit to have suffered as a consequence of these practices. But, by "raw deal," he may also have meant the lack of exposure which is due to the very nature of his art.
Indeed, Bob Andy's songs are quite different from what many listeners think a reggae song should sound like or be about. Most of his songs are about personal problems or dilemmas and can be considered as portraits of his state of mind at a particular time. Although Andy has written some intensely political songs (like "Check it Out," "The Ghetto Stays in the Mind" or "Fire Burning") and was very sucessful in Europe with a version of "Young Gifted and Black," most of his songs are either love ballads or personal relections on life (or both).
A typical Andy song will reveal a nugget of truth or of wisdom at the end and the listener always feels that he has been given some comforting words of wisdom. For instance, the song entitled "Life" has a chorus that goes "The more you give to life, the more you will get from life" and "Peace of Mind" tells the listener that however rich or famous you may become, you have nothing if you don't have your peace of mind. Most of his songs are based on memorable hooks, well-crafted structures and thoughtful lyrics, which is not surprising when you know the singers he looked up to as a young man were Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, and Smokey Robinson, with Dylan as the most influential of these songwriters. Andy has mentioned John Lennon and Paul McCartney as major inspirations and his songs do have the apparent simplicity but real depth associated with these artists.
In 1985, Andy made a spectacular comeback with an album entitled Friends whose title-track was a reflection on the necessity for world peace and for mankind to live in peace. With any other artist, such trite sentiments might have given rise to a mediocre song, but Andy's delivery and the song's well-crafted structure made all the difference. It must be said that Andy has always surrounded with gifted musicians such as Willie Lindo whose guitar solo on "Friends" lifted the song to new heights. 1988 saw the release of Freely (on the I-Anka label), which contained new versions of two of Andy's songs, "Sun Shines for Me" and "I Don't Want to See you Cry."
The intensely personal or private nature of his songs may have resulted in a lack of exposure at a time when certain record companies in Europe were promoting a certain idea of reggae music, an idea associated with political or social themes and with the Rastafarian movement and its symbols. As a result, Andy's 1977 album Lots of Love and I and his 1987 12" Super Powers (I-Anka) did not sell as well as they should have. This lack of recognition is all the more regrettable as Bob Andy was one of the few singers of the Studio One era who could go into the studio with an arrangement in his head and a chord progression he could show the other session musicians. Andy can play the piano and the guitar enough to aid composition and, while at Studio One, he was able to work as an arranger, as a writer, in addition to auditioning singers for the label.
Over the years, Bob Andy has become a kind of elder statesman for reggae music and his songs have been covered by many reggae artists, like Barrington Levy ("My Time," "Too Experienced"), Marcia Griffiths ("Fire Burning"), Freddie Mc Gregor ("I've Got to Go Back Home"), Gregory Isaacs ("Sun Shines for Me," "My Time"), and Sanchez ("Unchained"). This is after all the greatest accolade of all.
- Cooke, Mel. "Bob Andy Talks Life, Love and Running Away," The Gleaner, 14 March 2016.
- Hurford, Ray and Colin Moore, "Interviews with Bob Andy," Small Axe, No 16 and18, 1983, Bob Andy's Official Website.
- Turner, Michael. "Bob Andy : Too Experienced," The Beat, Vol.14, # 6, 1995.
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