World-A-Reggae sits down with Sly and Robbie, and producer Guillaume Bougard to discuss their 2013 albums: Bitty McLean’s Taxi Sessions and Stepper Takes The Taxi.
WAR: First, congratulations is in order. Your album with the Jam Masters is nominated for the Grammy award. You guys laid down five Grammy-worthy albums this year alone. How did you make that happen all in 2013?
RS: “Ahhh, I don’t know (laughs). I can’t answer that question. We just keep working you know? Cuz we did a lot of ting this year. We have to give God thanks.”
WAR: I saw you guys back in September here in DC with Michael Rose. What was it like to play with him again and go on tour?
RS: “It felt kinda good you know? That Black Uhuru riddim was kinda tuff and I don’t think nobody else can do those kind of riddims justice like Sly and Robbie. So it was nice to play dem back.”
WAR: So give me your thoughts on some of the albums that were released in 2013. Are there any that you really enjoy?
RS: “Yes, the Shaggy album. The Shaggy album is great. The one with Sly and Robbie.”
WAR: Yes, I have that one and it is great.
RS: “We work on that one for a while. It was a great, great experience. We really enjoyed working on that album. We have a good vibe with Shaggy and we have a super good time working on it.”
WAR: Guillaume “Stepper” Briard. You did an album this year called Stepper Takes the Taxi which is just outstanding. Talk a bit about Stepper, his talent, and his place in the Taxi Gang.
RS: “First off, Stepper is one of my good, good friends. He is really good friend to me. The album we did…the Stepper album…is one of the sweetest albums come out in a long time. Stepper took Sly and Robbie tracks, tracks we did before, and he took the tracks and make his album and we give him the support and let him use the music. It is beautiful, sweet, and nice.”
WAR: And the Bitty McLean album?
RS: “We working on another Bitty McLean album that has not hit yet. When that one hits the streets, trust me, that will be a whole different story (laughs).”
WAR: When will that one be released?
RS: “When I finish it. No reason to rush it, take my time. This one will be excellent, superb, a masterpiece.”
WAR: The Bitty McLean Taxi Sessions album is so strong because you’ve got, maybe the best singer to emerge over the past 20 years backed by the best musicians, you know, there is no weak link there.
RS: “That is what I was just telling you (laughs). The next one will be something else.”
WAR: When did you start working with Bitty McLean?
SD: “When did I start working with Bitty? I start working with Bitty, lets see, we met through Ali Campbell of UB40. He used to live in Jamaica and they had that studio by St. Mary’s. I met him again when we were in England playing live in-studio, a thing that was broadcast to live radio. He is the kind of person who loves the music very much and he keep up to date with everything and he knows the riddim that he wants. He then hooked up with Guillaume Bougard and they became tight.”
WAR: What is it like to work with Bitty, a singer who is an engineer as well, someone who has other talents as well?
SD: “Well to work with him it mek easier because, you now, he travels with his own microphone and…he’s not really a perfectionist but someone who goes with the riddim and the groove and the elements.”
WAR: What potential do you see for him?
SD: “For Bitty? Well the sky is the limit, he has such great potential.”
WAR: You guys are so diverse. From the start you were not afraid to test your musical boundaries.
RS: “Well everyone try to classify music as soul, funk, reggae, rock. But fo us it’s all the same. It’s all just music and we love to play music. It was always about Sly and Robbie’s interpretation of the music no matter the label.”
WAR: The Taxi Sound in the 1980s and the Taxi Sound today…what would be the significant difference if any?
SD: “There is a difference, the real difference, it just, you know just like people like you who play it pon the radio, you just have to put the groove in the right place. The main thing is the groove, you know…keep people dancing…dance music for everybody so they can forget their troubles. Back then when the sound was like, it wasn’t really dancehall, to the music they play in the dancehall, and then to the dancehall where the deejay come to the front line, we have to gear up ourselves inside of that global element. It’s just a flip and a switch. I know everyone has the ones they like when the elements are working together at the same time.”
GB: “It starts with two supremely talented individuals, when you check it out, nobody in Jamaica is as versatile as them. They have been at the forefront of the Jamaican music scene for almost 40 years and nobody can boast such a longevity. Radics were a dominant force for 3-4 years, so were Steelie & Clevie, but Sly & Robbie have been up there for 4 decades. Their Taxi label has been producing and releasing new music for longer than Studio One, longer than Channel One, longer than any other legendary Jamaican record label.
The work ethic is something else, too. Sly gets up and punches beats every hour of the day for 16 hours EVERY DAY. They never ever refuse work. They will never say it so bluntly, but they are competitive, want to remain the best. Their only problem is that no record company can release their stuff as fast as they put it out. I have miles of tapes. The evolution of their sound has been phenomenal, yet theirs is instantly recognizable.
The Taxi Sound is heavy, yet melodic. Creative, so far ahead of the rest that you can use a riddim from 1993 that was sitting there unused and people would think it was just created. I did just that for one of Brinsley Forde’s songs on his upcoming album, which I’m producing with Robbie and Sly.
Their sound is very funky, too.”
WAR: Are there any emerging artists that you see and want to work with?
SD: “There are a lot of young artists in Jamaica right now who are singing reggae. A lot of local artists with great potential. Just give them a good riddim to sing on…it could work you know. A production outfit to look after them and guide them. Like Bunny Brown and a few others come around like Daniel the DJ. I think you know.”
RS: “Chronixx. He is a nice person. We will probably do something with him next year. Good vibes. Write good songs. Young and energetic. Also Cherine Anderson. We are working on an album for her right now.”
WAR: There is never a bad word said about Sly and Robbie. It is an ugly business. How you stay out of trouble?
RS: (laughing) “Well, what they say, ‘good and bad hang around every day.’ I don’t know. Sly is the good and I am the bad. We don’t have to find trouble (laughs). We just create music, you know.”
WAR: Well, I won’t hold you up any longer. Many thanks for taking the time to check in and talk for a minute.
RS: “Yeah mon. Anytime.”