Bass player Bertram ‘Ranchie’ McLean, dead at 64

BASS player Bertram ‘Ranchie’ McLean, who played on seminal hit songs like I Need a Roof and Dreamland, died last Wednesday at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew. He was 64.

His son, Antonie McLean, told the Jamaica Observer that his father had been ill for some time. He had surgery for prostate cancer two years ago and was wheelchair-bound for the last year.

Bassist Lloyd Parks, who knew McLean for over 40 years, said he was a “very talented person” who made the successful transition from guitar to bass.

“One of the great things about Ranchie was that he caught on quickly as a musician. He played some great lines,” said Parks.

Parks, McLean, keyboardist Ansel Collins and drummer Sly Dunbar were the mainstay of the Skin, Flesh and Bones band that played the popular club scene along Red Hills Road in the late 1960s. Later, they became the nucleus of The Revolutionaries, house band at the Channel One studio which was launched by the Hoo Kim brothers in 1972.

McLean had played guitar at Studio One, recording with the Ethiopians and Jacob Miller during his stay at producer Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd’s base. But he made his mark at Channel One, the hottest recording studio in Jamaica in the 1970s.

He started out on guitar but in a 2010 interview, said he switched to bass after the Hoo Kims heard him play on The Mighty Diamonds’ Have Mercy. McLean never looked back, recording numerous hits at Channel One including I Need a Roof, Right Time and Africa (The Mighty Diamonds), Woman is Like a Shadow (The Meditations), Ballistic Affair (Leroy Smart) and John Holt’s Up Park Camp.

He also had a good run with producer Sonia Pottinger and Burning Spear. He played on two of Pottinger’s biggest hits, Dreamland and Stepping Outa Babylon by Marcia Griffiths, and was guitarist on Spear’s 1976 album, Man In The Hills.

In the early 1980s, McLean recorded and toured with Jimmy Cliff as a member of the singer’s Oneness band. He co-wrote Rub a Dub Partner from Cliff’s 1982 album, Special, and the following year played on his big hit, Reggae Nights.

McLean and Dunbar both hailed from the Olympic Gardens community in St Andrew. In 1974, they launched the short-lived Taxi label which Dunbar revived in 1978 with bass player Robbie Shakespeare.

McLean suffered a stroke in 1998 which effectively ended his career as a musician. He is survived by eight children and several grandchildren.


Short Bio

McLean began working as a session musician in the 1970s, as guitarist in the groups the RHT Invincibles (along with Ansell Collins, Lloyd Parks, and Sly Dunbar), The Randy’s house band The Impact All Stars, The Revolutionaries, and Skin, Flesh & Bones, and playing on albums by artists including Earth & Stone, Culture, and Jimmy Cliff. He also released solo material including the “Toy” single. Primarily a guitarist and bass guitarist, he also plays keyboards. Throughout the 1980s he was in demand as a studio musician, joining Cliff’s backing band Oneness and writing songs for Cliff such as “Rub-A-Dub Partner” and “Roots Woman”, recording with The Clarendonians and Sadao Watanabe, and playing on the soundtrack to the film Club Paradise, in which he also had a small role. In the 1990s his output increased, working with Burning Spear, I Roy, The Meditations, and Sly & Robbie.

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