Noel Hawks interview – November 2018

Noel Hawks speaks with Bob Andy – November 2018

Good Afternoon Bob. How are you?

I’m alive and navigating my way through life the best I can… you’d better ask me some questions because (otherwise) I’ll just go on rambling…

How did the ‘Lots of Love and I’ album come about?

Something happened… there was a traumatic event took place in my life (with) someone I was close to and the shortness of life, or the mystery of life, just crept slowly into my consciousness. I thought if one’s life could be snuffed out so easily, then I have to empty out what I have inside me now.

Artistically the songs (on the album) were gestating for a long time and for me, after a time, you become pregnant with a certain amount of songs and somewhere you’re going to have to start giving birth to them. And because some of the songs are born out of misery and pain and suffering, one way to get that outside of you… the word I want to use is exorcise… is to exorcise those kind of emotions.

The album was recorded at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Recording Studio which, at this time, was being managed by Mrs Sonia Pottinger of High Note & Gay Feet Records. What was your connection with Mrs. Pottinger?

I had access to Mrs Pottinger, who had been running Treasure Isle, and I went down there because she had worked with Marcia (Griffiths) before… it was Sonia Pottinger’s facility. I got all the album done myself… artwork, jacket design, credits, I paid the musicians … essentially what I did was the production, arranging, writing and singing, all in the absence of Sonia Pottinger. It was understood that if I paid her for the studio time… because it was my tape… then I owned the album outright. That’s how it went in those days.

I thought, as I’d used her facilities to make the songs, it was a privilege if I gave her credit as the executive producer. So I took the credits for being the creative producer (and the somewhat executive producer). I only used her studio but, because of that privilege, I decided it would be alright if she shared the executive producer credit. The only thing I didn’t do was release it… Sonia Pottinger released it on High Note (in Jamaica) and in England through Chips Richards.

What was it like recording at Treasure Isle?

Listen! In Christendom people who attend one church consecutively refer to it as a home church and, once you start going to this tabernacle or enclosure for a while, then of course you’re going to develop a relationship with your surroundings. But it’s the people who create the vibes… the studio doesn’t have a life of its own. It’s people who breathe life into a situation so, while the studio might be conducive, it’s the confederation of souls that makes the vibration, because the place becomes a sanctuary so to speak. So I would leave the ambience of the studio out of it… I just want to put it into perspective.

By that time the engineer at Treasure Isle was Errol Brown, Duke Reid’s nephew. How did you get on with him?

Errol Brown was a young engineer… we were all learning the business together. He was learning his engineering and I was learning how to put a project together outside of Studio One which was the first facility I worked in and put a project together and the place that allowed me to do that. So I was learning a lot of things… how to co-ordinate… and Errol was learning about me and how to engineer me but I guess all of us were a part of his engineering tapestry. When I worked with him he was very receptive to me, and essential in accommodating and passing on whatever he knew.

How did making ‘Lots of Love and I’ compare to your previous recording experiences?

I had creative and artistic freedom with Coxsone (at Studio One) but I was never going to be able to take an album out of Coxsone and say I’m the creative producer… which all of us were! Leroy Sibbles was a creative producer… BB Seaton… there’s a saxophonist named Carl Bryan who played on a lot of the songs at Studio One. People like Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson and other artists were the recipients of good songs… they’d either do good covers or write a good song themselves now and then. But in terms of the creative aspect of things…

Recording ‘Games People Play’ with Federal Records was the first time I came to another home studio… Studio One was my original home studio and kindergarten but Federal Records was like a university level because of the sophistication of what they could afford at that time. They were formally set up in business… you could go from the office to the storeroom… but Coxsone and Duke Reid were more of a… what you would call a… not in-house… cottage industry. They were more cottage than industrial. Federal Records was industrial… and Dynamic Sounds was afterwards. You only had two tracks at Coxsone, and Treasure Isle had an eight track tape recorder which Errol Brown mastered. So ‘Lots Of Love and I’ was me learning how to be a producer outside of Coxsone. I didn’t have to answer to a boss… it was freedom and it built on the experiences I picked up at Studio One… but this I was able to achieve outside of the cradle.

So this was a totally different approach to recording, for example, ‘The Way I Feel’ with Rupie Edwards?

There are a few of my songs that have been total spontaneity. I walked into Dynamic Sounds and the rhythm was being played and, as I walked in, someone said “Bob… why don’t you put something on that?” So I just walked up to the mic. and ‘The Way I Feel’ was the result. So it wasn’t scripted or forethought… it was responding to what the rhythm was at the time and how I felt. So that spontaneity just expressed my feeling at that moment.

You employed The Revolutionaries, the most important and influential band of session musicians of the era. What was it like working with them?

I started to work on the songs with Sly and Robbie and Winston Wright, who were in The Revolutionaries at that time, and I brought in the ex-Skatalites brass section led by Tommy McCook. We went down to Treasure Isle and I transferred thirty or so songs to the musicians. So we started out and they liked the songs and we went the next day, and two or three days after, and we just kept on doing the songs until… either I didn’t go for a while or the band didn’t go or they had to do something else… and we ended up with the ten tracks for ‘Lots of Love and I’.

Those guys… they’d go around to different studios… go to Joe Gibbs and give him his set of hits and go to so and so and give them their set of hits. They could go to any studio almost as the studio band because they had access to the studios, they could record their own things, and they could work with other people because it was a freedom time. The musicians always knew better than the people with the facilities, so it wasn’t difficult for the people with the facilities to leave the musicians to create and so, within that perspective, one could push the envelope and do whatever you wanted to do. It was a freedom of expression time and the fact that those musicians knew that their craft was at such a level that they could negotiate a deal or create a deal at the end of what was done. Like everything else it’s a developing and unfolding science ‘cause you have to react and respond to life in whatever field you are, and hope these responses are appropriate for you and the people you interact with. It’s a continual search for a clear path to navigate your way through life and, if the path is not clear, then you have to clear it yourself.

I actually had a very hard time with the musicians… when I say musicians I mean the horn section… they played the songs and played what I wanted but so reluctantly! I got the feeling they always felt they were underpaid. There was always a resentment towards singers… especially from musicians. The horn section think they knew so much about music… they have to read and write and arrange and play and then one little guy just goes out and becomes the front man and he’s a star. So I felt that resentment. But that behaviour is prevalent in small town and island people because the cake is so small and everyone is fighting for the same cake. So existentialism starts to creep in and each person starts to defend his own personal territory. They do the work… but grudgingly… but I always thought that this socio-economic tension was also what makes our music such a successful genre, because it has a lot of this non-pretentious behaviour involved in it.

But let me tell you… the fact that The Skatalites were this band of renown and they had to split with the different members working with different groups… you know what I’m saying? It wasn’t just in Studio One… other horn sections that were not of that behaviour were people like Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, who were largely a show band, and those guys put on a good show. But to me there was a bitterness that emanated from that kind of experience and it had an impact on the business… just like how ganja smoking had a great impact on our music, white rum drinking and now liquors of all sorts… foreign drugs crept in and all these things. These things grow and develop. They say a rolling stone gathers no moss but that’s a lie… it depends on where it rolls.

I wanted interaction with the musicians especially… all the musicians I work with, I respect them because they have enough respect for me to listen to my ideas and try to give me what I want if they think they can suggest something that would enhance my thing. I don’t think I get along very well with musicians when we get on stage, but anything to do with the creative aspect, and the recording and so on, I cherish that kind of interaction I have with all musicians. The musicians that I’ve worked with each have their strong points and their benefit and their values so…I’m cool as far as this is concerned.

Please tell us a little more about the songs on the album…

You don’t go out to make an album… you just record because you have songs and, because you make enough singles then you have an album, which is exactly how Coxsone compiled ‘Song Book’.

I did twelve songs at Studio One and those twelve songs were good enough to go on an album. So I learned at Studio One… not because it was a practice but because I had access… and you had that kind of privilege.

The rhythms took about three weeks I’d say… spreading out over three weeks and limited to the facility at the time. The hardest part for me was voicing and deciding what tones and how I’m going to emote these songs, because the theme for the album for me was that I’m alive and building the brevity of how life appeared to me after that trauma I spoke about earlier. Even before I knew what the title was going to be I was aware of an empathy and a social conscience and I seem to see everything from the perspective, or through the prism, of socio-economic eyes. This is coming from someone who didn’t even like maths! To this day I don’t even know how to spend money but I found out as I grew up that we were dependent on certain things  for living, and what governments and what systems were all about… but because I learned all of this innocently and subconsciously I wasn’t able to speak it then.

But in recent times I’m able to see the magic of the fact that I was able to find melody and lyrics and emote them the way I did, and so it was me launching out… not as a business concept but as an artistic concept. And (it was) successful in that it didn’t have that kind of relationship or concept of who would promote or manage the situation… even in a joint way… so it could become successful and we’d each get equity.

So all of that was mixed up and at that age… in my thirties… I was still in my teenage years. I think I’m still in my teenage years as we speak because I think that whatever age you are, it’s on top of when you are one or two or three or four or five. So I have a perspective that, if I need to access my ten year old experience, I trip into that and feel like I’m ten years old. I’m not trying to fool myself that my body’s going to behave as if I was ten! What I’m saying is we have all these experiences of different ages… the decades of ages that we can tap into it.

I was holding ‘The Ghetto Stays in the Mind’ for a long time and didn’t know what to do with it, so that was one of the tracks that inspired me to put down the other tracks.

I was just learning a few chords on the guitar and the first song I composed on the guitar was ‘Lots of Love and I’… and so, in doing the tracks, the album just slowly evolved. ‘Lots of Love and I’ was a vision of a stage in life where I should have been doing exactly what the song says, and the song was the compensation (for not doing it). You have these genes and the sociological and economic situation forces you to have to work… you’re literally making decisions against your desires. I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning or anything like that but I’ve had some weird paths to trod in this life so ‘Lots of Love and I’ was the desire to build a great house… I was just fascinated with that sort of life. It says a great house but that didn’t mean like a mansion. “You and me and baby make three”… that was where my heart and emotions were at the time.

I don’t think ‘You Lied’ is a particularly autobiographical song but what I most love about the song is the trumpet solo by David Madden… it’s an excellent piece of work.

I find that a couple of the songs that I did at Studio One I had to express in different circumstances and get out of them in a different style… so that’s what I did with ‘My Time’ and ‘Unchain Me’. I particularly liked the horn section on ‘My Time’. It’s also a way of defending the rights of those songs… just to prove that over the years I was going to do some of those Studio One songs in different areas.

‘Feel the Feeling’ was the first rendition… that song was written for this album. It’s a song I love very much and I still feel the same way…

Let me tell you something … I feel ‘The Ghetto Stays in the Mind’ is my attempt to master a set of social observations, because the situation still exists exponentially today. It’s not like when we got our so-called independence and Britain believed we were going to turn out to be a fine modern nation. We’re only a fine people because of our ancestral energy and knowledge of ourselves as we grow through the teachings of people like Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie and Eric Williams and, to a certain extent, the stupid politicians here, because we can learn from everybody… whether they do stupidness or good.

I made a remark just before we started about children who are just brought into the world and who are not thought about. They’re there at the traffic signals (in Kingston) insisting that they clean your windscreen and that we must give a handout to them. Who are responsible for these children? It’s people who were not ready to have children. That exact thing happened to I…. and hundreds and thousands more… because that’s part of the pathologies of coming out of slavery. And not knowing anything about the system you are becoming a part of… or a part of without a choice… run by a set of people from a faraway country who colonise you from another faraway country and bring you here. And these people who are of your experience as ex-enslaved people are now taking over the reins of government and doing exactly what  the colonial people who have left here did, because they don’t know otherwise… and who do they have to experiment with? Us! As people! And so we are victims of a failing system.

But… all of those experiences I was learning on the way to creating this project and most of the songs are the way I say they are. I saw how we treat women and how, if you don’t get any love from your parents, no matter how smart they seem and no matter what colour you are, what religion or where you come from, it is the same thing. They didn’t get any love… and if you have any experience of what love is, then it is impossible not to want to share it. But I don’t blame the parents… a lot of the things I’ve seen nowadays coming through my songs and these expressions are the trauma of ancestral pain and heartaches as we journey through different generations and the evolution of the people in the diaspora.

This was a time of great social and political upheaval in Jamaica. How did that unsettling situation affect the making of the album?

I work on the principle of, if you are serious enough to be critical, and going through the paces of criticising, you’re supposed to be developing a response. How could I do that differently if I’m in this position? In a country like Jamaica, in those conditions, you find out that the word independence is really a camouflage because there is no independence… at some level everyone has to be interdependent and no matter how big you are you need other people. That’s what the so-called powerful nations do… limit the growth of smaller nations so that they can have power over them, so that they’re only subservient to their eco-political behaviour and the World Bank has you by the throat.

So what I’m saying is that I was always an observer to all these different emergencies and political shifts and dynamics and learning all the while why people are the way they are, and why I didn’t have a desire to be a so-called rich consumer who has to demonstrate their trappings… the latest car and the biggest house… conspicuous consumption. So all of those social interventions would have been just another set of scenery for me to observe, analyse and write and sing about to do things differently. I read an article about myself the other day and it really humbled me and told me so much about myself. It inferred that I could have used my talent and sung all those rhythm & blues sounding songs about love this and love that but the article was entitled “‘Bob Andy for the Poor…” Wow! It was conscious… I didn’t know it was being that way but it was conscious… to be a voice for people who are dispossessed and disenfranchised, because I’m of that ilk too.

I don’t know why I go to bed with these things on my mind but those are the things I see from I was a child and I don’t know why… all this humanity… how we live, how we treat each other. From a child we used to play Cowboys and Indians because we were influenced, of course, by a young Hollywood and we used to go to the cinema and cheer for the white man when he killed off the Indians. The Indians were painted as the villains but we didn’t know anything about American history. That was their propaganda… to show that there were some wild guys and they had to kill them off. We didn’t know that they’d come to these peoples’ land and they’d embraced them and they went there and killed millions of people over two hundred years. There’s only a million (or so) of them now… they’re not even considered a voting bloc. So …

I consider myself one of the pathologies of civilization and its so-called development and growth, because of how I was brought up… or not brought up… every disease that come on the planet I had it… from poliomyelitis, measles, chicken pox and all those kind of things. So my whole concept of life is that I’m starting from minus zero so everything is a plus… a painful plus however. But my whole thing about life was always observing and feeling and for me, when I first started, I didn’t even know that I was giving vent to emotions that had piled up in me. And to see people appreciate it… because when I’m writing these songs, you feel you’re the only one who’s feeling that and not realising that you’re reflecting other people’s emotions. At that time I didn’t know about art, and that art reflects life or life reflects art or whatever. I was just doing what I could do to keep sane and occupied. I didn’t know how to steal! I grew up on the streets but I was not the average street guy who would know how to make a living on the streets. So basically that’s how the album came into being…

How do you feel about ‘Lots of Love and I’ being given a proper re-release after all this time?

It’s for the people who have stuck with me who they call fans… but I call them my members of the human family wherever they are. That’s the greatest… however large, medium or small the demographics might be, what is satisfying about this re-release is that they’ll get a chance to hear me at that phase and period. And that is how I feel about that… I’m not one of those who go with celebrity. I enjoy the way people treat me… I must say… but I’m not really thinking that I’m one of these people who think they’re special. They put you on a pedestal and you have to be careful not to allow that to govern your life. My sense is that you do things and it’s the people who make them great… so you have to be very careful when people call you a great man, because those same people can deflate you in a minute.

I’m not a seeker of material satisfaction… I’m staying alive because I think I need to say something more. I don’t have a lot of needs. My philosophy is that my needs are taken care of: I don’t have to pay for sunlight, I don’t have to pay for oxygen and I don’t have to pay for water… well I do have to pay water rates! But at least you can get water and it’s those things that keep us alive. My social needs are very limited because I don’t eat a lot and I don’t have a lot of clothing because that confuses me. I never had a wardrobe growing up and I don’t intend to have one now! Any shoes I have I’m wearing them, any clothing I have I’m wearing them… I just have enough to rotate.

For me music business has been a tremendous weight… the commercial aspect of it… because I didn’t know how to deal with that (struggle between) lyrical content and attitude towards the system. If Bob Marley didn’t have Chris Blackwell I don’t know how he would have made it… because his lyrics were biting lyrics and they were offending the people everywhere who were buying the records. But, because there are fair minded people everywhere, one of the wonderful things about music, as you know, is that writers and singers put out a message that touches the human condition.

Like I said I would like to think that of all the albums I’ve done, I’ve never thought about the commercial aspect whether it was reggae or whether it was rock steady… I just recorded a song and the way the song presented itself to me, then I stayed true to the song. So a lot of the songs, although they’re Jamaican influenced, they’re not following any particular rhythm of the day or the era kind of thing. I just knew I had to go out and do some recordings when I had some money. It was the only way… I didn’t have a partner or a company behind me… it was the only way I was going to get my works out so that, at a later date, people would know I have these recordings based on the fact that they might want to take a look at the things they’ve never looked at before, and see the final value in them.

And the future?

I’m still soldiering on. When we talk again I hope to be able to talk about what inspired my new album. I’m busy working on staying alive… and the experiences of staying alive are what this album is going to be all about specifically. I don’t know when we’re going to get it out but I’m pregnant with a lot of embryos right now and I’d love to be able to give birth sometime soon so I can relieve myself of some of these melodic children.

There’s a line that says ‘a bird flies because it takes itself lightly’ and that’s what I’m pursuing.

Thank you so much Bob. It’s been a privilege to be able to talk to you.

Thank you Noel…