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From behind the shadows - Music historian Herbie Miller takes a look at Bob Andy

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Bob Andy
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Who are Dorothy Fields, E.Y. Yip Harburg, Mitchell Parish, Julie Stein, Sammy Cahn, and Leo Robin? Between them they have given the world perennial classics like Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, Time After Time, A Fine Romance, April in Paris, All the Way, Sophisticated Lady and Thanks for the Memory.

They are Tin Pan Alley writers, who, like Keith Anderson (aka Bob Andy), existed and exist in a culture that focuses on the singer and performer; they are songwriters or lyricists whose material provides the substance that make singers and performers famous. These lyricists provide the songs that are the staple for many of the singers we celebrate, while the writers who contributed to their success, remain in the shadows or behind the curtains as the singer takes bow after bow.

brilliant writers/singers

With the exception of a few brilliant writers who also sing or sang - Paul McCarthy and John Lennon of the Beetles, Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson and Bob Marley come to mind - and those writers who sang and sing but were not considered singers as such - like Hogy Carmichael, Cole Porter and Carol King - it is the extent to which peers; the artiste, especially those who are recognised both by critics and the public at large, perform a writers material that establishes and confirms that writers pre-eminence. They authenticate such writers.

It is also important that institutions acknowledge the contributions citizens like Bob Andy have made to Jamaican society: to its civility, humanity, advancement, culture and identity. And so as director of the Jamaica Music Museum, I would be remiss if I did not also endorse and support the example Andy has set, the high standards he has established, simultaneously as citizen, songwriter and performing artiste. His taxing personal and professional life has displayed resolute strength, in spite of the challenges faced.

And those challenges, as Bob's journey has shown, are both personal as are they the pressures one bears being part of the proletariat in a country not designed to advance the descendants of those whose forebears worked the plantations when sugar was gold.

Andy's resilience, therefore, is a reflection on the life and creativity of the majority of Jamaicans.

The creative capacity has always been a means for survival called upon by the Jamaican people to overcome our challenges. Thus Bob's achievements should, and must be regarded as guideposts, as we eye the creative industry as a primary area in the development of this country of ours. Not only can the personality of students be shaped through the study of manners and resoluteness demonstrated by Jamaicans like Bob but also, how the business of the arts can become sustainable entities in a society where talent in any given area seem abundant beyond the size of the island and its population.
As far as songwriters go, Bob Andy's peers are few. His enviable catalogue contains masterpieces like Going Home, Feel Like Jumpin', Life Is A Symphony, Desperate Lover, Sun Shines For Me, Honey, I've Got to Go Back Home, and many, many more.

And not only has he sang his own songs, but even before turning to singing, Andy provided songs for outstanding singers such as Delroy Wilson, Ken Booth, Marcia Griffith, The Paragons and others. His quality songwriting is validated and approved by among others Barrington Levi, Maxi Priest, Gregory Isaacs, A.J. Brown, UB40, Taj Mahal and many other Jamaican and foreign singers who are indebted to Bob for his lyrics of poignancy and courage that texturalize the human condition.

He has demonstrated that he is a writer whose creative imagination is not limited; it transcends the trivial. Topics suggested by tabloid sensationalism hardly provide his subject matter. His writing does not exist because of clichés but is drawn from a wellspring of imagination grounded in the natural characteristics of artistic expression. His creative sources are idiomatic by nature; they are grounded in the aesthetic vernacular of the land. Therefore, brimstone, fire and Rastafarian rhetoric do not constitute the foremost subject of his songs, though they represent metaphoric points of references, independent thought and the kind of writing, which suggests the sensitive, the tender and romantic pleasure and pain. As such, Bob remains relevant as far as topical matters are concerned. Nor are the 'boy and girl' I-love-you-and-will-die-for-you songs with trivial lines like 'I will swim the highest ocean and climb the widest mountain' his style.

Bob's point of view, his inspiration, is informed by a deeper, more diverse attunement to the nuance and detail of humanity; the spiritual, social and political nature of the people, and even more, the human experience, including love and romance which extends to life in all its phases. Structurally appealing, melodic lines and, at the same time, rhythms - the earlier ones in collaboration with Jackie Mittoo - attractive to dancers as well as listeners strengthens Andy's songs.

Neither succumbing to the latest fads and fashions of the day, the whims and fancies of so-called producers, nor genuflecting to the demands of some vacuous radio jocks and the consumers they influence, Andy has maintained the higher ground, crafting meaningful lyrics with thematic attractiveness, the best of which are comparable to that of some of the most celebrated writers anywhere.

concise representation

The autobiographical Let Them Say coming in at just about three minutes is, also for many of us, a concise representation of our own journey. Too Experienced addresses issues of individual pride, relationship, love and romance in ways that are real, not superficial, and Fire Burning stands among the most powerful statements made about political and social issues.

Additionally, the celebratory Sun Shines for Me is simply a nugget, and singers like Gregory Isaacs and A.J Brown among others, by their rendition of this composition, offer acknowledgement to Andy's remarkable achievements as songwriter.

When one considers classics like Desperate Lover, a song that never utters that phrase, a song, built around two verses of basically the same lyric but with a melodic and harmonic sophistication that compares with no less a song than Sam Lewis/Victor Young's Street of Dreams, made popular by Sinatra, Bennett and many others of that ilk, one realises the undeniable capacity of Bob Andy as a writer, whose contribution to the rich soundscape of Jamaica as no less capable than some of the great Tin Pan Ally lyricists and composers whose work help establish the Great American Songbook.

And what is to be said about the Bob Andy's Song Book, that Studio One classic, with its collection of songs that are now standards. If that were the only collection of songs associated with him, then that compilation would be enough to authenticate Bob's accomplishments. But then that is not the case. Bob Andy's Song Book is but one collection of his compositions. Bob Andy's catalogue as writer, though not numerically staggering, is qualitatively superior in conception, execution, design, melodic attractiveness, rhythmic invention and intelligent lyrics, yet without being pedantic, preachy or transgressive and inappropriate. He is not only clear in reflection but, as my friend Stanley Crouch may have put it, he is also a master of allusion, reconfiguration, transformation, and improvisation, the essence of great songwriting. The trivial, the mundane and a reliance on slackness are as absent from Andy's works as are the profound, the focus of his writing.

genuine genuine

So all I am attempting to do here is to remind you, the reader, who I suspect already, knows, and to inform you others, that Bob Andy's genius is genuine. It is not some egotistic self-applied moniker, nor is it any shallow claim by an overzealous media person, or a publicist's ploy seeking notice or grabbing a label that is beyond the capacity and capability of this songwriter. Let me only remind you that Bob Andy is the real deal, that he does not need my authentication, only my recommendation that you trust yourselves and go back and analyse his work.

He is a writer whose body of work is available for scrutiny, critical appraisal and for each and every one to examine and come to his or her own conclusion. His music speaks for itself in that regard. So I do urge you, go back beyond the hits; go beyond the hits and listen to some of those gems written by this man. Go back, and, as another of his timeless pieces recommends, "check it out".

Bob's body of work is an expose of the thoughts of a creative mind that extends the limit and range of the perfunctory, he is a songwriter beyond the ordinary whose compositional quality and artistic and creative achievement are equalled in this country by only a few, and whose place is as secure as the writers whose songs and lyrics we hum, whistle and even attempt to sing without a trace of the writer's identities.

Bob Andy is an aesthete who clearly perceived the journey; both human and metaphysical, from the naïve to the urbane and to our world of civility, whose music brings something elemental to our soul, our culture, the economy, and as Crouch puts it "the many miscegenations that separates ethnic provincialism" from the diverse complexity of Caribbean creolization and global humanity. He uses lyrics as a metaphor for life as he knows it - romantic as rain on a zinc roof, strong and durable as concrete and steel, playful as a child with a bouncing ball, isolated as a bottle afloat on the vast ocean.

Keith 'Bob Andy' Anderson's diverse world view allows him to exist above, apart from and beyond the commonplace world of clichéd songwriters, the usual suspects considered successful by a market who in general, accepts them because they themselves are as inane.

Herbie Miller is the director/curator of the Jamaica Music Museum, currently based in the Institute of Jamaica, East Street, downtown Kingston