Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Story of the Song | Nooks records gospel on grandma's advice

Published:Sunday | November 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
George Nooks
George Nooks
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Al Green performs at the BET Awards in 2008, in Los Angeles.

Al Green, the soulful voice of For The Good Times and Love and Happiness, who turned a preacher man and gospel singer, was a favourite of a very young George Nooks. He was so enthused that as a schoolboy he saved from his lunch money and bought a copy of Green's God is Standing By, which he played on a turntable operated by batteries.

He had to do it in secret, though. "I grew up in the church, so we had to hide," Nooks told The Sunday Gleaner. This was because in one section of the chorus, Green said, "I'll be standing by" and, although the harmony singers make it clear that it is God who made that promise, the faithful around Nooks were not impressed.

Although he liked the song immensely, Nooks never thought that he would record it one day, and it took his grandmother's advice to record the song, which would become his signature and the centrepiece of his Standing By album, released by VP Records in 2001. It was three decades after the original was released on the Al Green Gets Next To You album.

"I did a whole lot of songs and covers when I got into the business. I remember visiting my grandmother, and she hold on to me ear and I bend down to hear, and she ask, 'when you going to start sing the gospel song?'," Nooks said. He did not wait long as "when I left there, I went straight to the studio and that song came up.

The producer was 'Computer Paul' Henton, who Nooks said played all the music for God is Standing By. "About two days later, it was released. She (his grandmother) passed just before it came out," Nooks said.

So she did not get to hear him sing:

"When you have troubles, don't cry

Just remember that God is standing by

Thank you Lord

When you have heartache, don't cry ..."

As for how the song did, Nooks said, "the next thing you know, it is history."

The reggae gospel song not only topped Jamaican charts, but opened a new phase of Nooks' extended career as a vocalist as he went on to release the gospel-flavoured album Ride Out Your Storm last year. "It is a signature song for me," Nooks said of God is Standing By. "I can't go anywhere and not do that song."

And although he did over Little Roy's Tribal War in the 1970s to good results, and as deejay Prince Mohammed, did Forty Leg Dread along with Culture's Zion Gates, the church was part of Nooks' early life - and has had a lasting effect.

"I was in church singing in the choir and at school (Oberlin High) doing concerts and some little get-togethers," Nooks said.