Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Ernie gets guitar from father, permission from mother

Published:Tuesday | February 14, 2017 | 2:00 AMMel Cooke
Ernie Smith with his guitar at home in Sterling, St Ann.
Ernie Smith at his alma mater, York Castle High School, Brown's Town, St Ann.
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This week, The Sunday Gleaner featured reggae legend Ernie Smith's early days in Bamboo, St Ann. Today he tells the story of his first guitar.

In September this year, singer Ernie Smith will celebrate 50 years of being involved in Jamaican popular music. Much of his childhood (where he was known by his given name, Glenroy) was spent in Bamboo, St Ann, and it was there that his family would put on concerts at a hall outside the Roman Catholic Church, which was close to their home.

Smith told The Gleaner "my father played the guitar, but he never had one." What the father did not possess he acquired for his son, who went on do popular songs such as Duppy Gunman, Pitta Patta, All For Jesus and Life is Just For Living.

Still, Ernie did not take it seriously when his father said he would get him the instrument. One of his father's friends who worked at the Reynolds bauxite mining company had bought the guitar for his son, but suggested that Ernie's father buy it from him. When Ernie was told he would be getting a guitar he did not take it seriously and simply continued playing around as boys are wont to do.

 

Promise kept

 

His father made good on his promise and Ernie cannot forget the moment he was given the guitar. "I see my father come with the guitar, bend down, put it in my hands," Ernie said. He put the moment into song, with the lyric "Thank you Daddy for my first guitar/Without it I would not have come this far."

However, although he gave Ernie the guitar he did not want him to take it to the York Castle High School, where he boarded. There was a school competition and a teacher named Mrs Poxon wrote a letter asking that Ernie be permitted to take the guitar to York Castle High. It was his mother who gave the permission and Ernie duly thanks her in the song. with "I want thank you Mom for letting me take it to school."

Smith went on to be a singer-songwriter who carried his guitar around, the instrument an integral part of not only the performance but also the creative process. He has come a very far way from, as a child, tuning a guitar to play a single chord but confesses that the fingers are not as nimble as they once were. Still, as he starts to play and sing, the instrument of the voice and the instrument in his hands are in perfect sync.