Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Ernie Smith Sings In Bamboo, St Ann

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Ernie Smith sings on the road leading to his family home (background left) in Bamboo, St Ann.
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Ernie Smith singing while playing the guitar at his home in Sterling, St Ann.
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Ernie Smith at the Roman Catholic church in Bamboo, St Ann, where he once played the organ. There is now a new Roman Catholic church in the community.
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Ernie Smith and wife Janet

The house set back from a curve in the unpaved road where singer Ernie Smith stands at ease in Bamboo, St Ann, is not the first one his family lived in. He tells The Sunday Gleaner that May Pen is among his earliest memories, but Bamboo - where the Smith parents and seven children moved to in 1958 - holds a special place in his family's history.

"That is where we stopped paying rent," he said.

It is also close to the Roman Catholic Church where Smith struck up a merry tune one Sunday morning, and he still laughs at the priest's reaction. It was during recessional and Smith put some pep into the music from the organ the faithful were walking out of the house of worship to. "It was a little slow and I decided to jazz it up. Father came out and said 'stop that music. this is not a music hall," he said.

he continued singing

He did stop the music in church, pausing more long term than the priest would probably have anticipated. Still, Smith sings All For Jesus beautifully in the church yard, close to a space where his family would put on concerts.

Smith has been on stage in many music halls and outdoor venues before and since recording his first song, I Can't Take It professionally, at Federal Records. His standout recordings include Life Is Just For Living, Duppy Gunman, Tears On My Pillow, All For Jesus, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Bend Down, and Ride On Sammy. And St Ann, where he still lives in Sterling, is central to his music. He has been at it a while: later this year, Smith will officially celebrate 50 years in music.

His easy relationship with Zaccheus and Carmen McKnight, neighbours to that special house for the Smiths, shows that Ernie is rooted in that special hometown. A man given to bouts of heartfelt laughter, he remembers how Zaccheus came to his rescue one night when he was playing at an event on the north coast.

"He saw me looking despondent and asked why," Smith said. The people wanted to hear recorded music and not the band. So McKnight walked through the crowd shouting, "we want the band!" It worked and Smith got to play again.

Taking the accustomed route into music, Smith got his break in Kingston. It was also the place he got his stage name. When he went to do his first song, he was, naturally, asked his name, and "I told them my name was Glenroy Smith. They said it would look terrible on an album jacket."

Smith laughs as he recalls that he used to walk with his guitar and try repeatedly to play It Hurts To Be Alone like guitarist Ernie Ranglin "All now I can't get it," Smith said, playing and singing the Wailers' song.