Bob Andy: Rootsman Stays True to Roots


“Bob Andy is one of our great political songwriters … (he is) more than a musician or good singer; a philosopher who has a clear understanding of world issues and how this impinged on our small society with its heritage of slavery and colonialism.” Dennis Howard, Jamaica Observer, 2001

The art of songwriting.

Very few have mastered the art of songwriting.  Even the biggest stars in popular music sing songs written by another.  Bob Marley has been called the greatest songwriter Jamaica ever produced, yet some of his most well-penned and popular songs were written by someone else.

So who is Jamaica’s greatest living songwriter?

My answer, and the answer of others who truly know and love this music would surely say Keith Anderson, or, as most know him, Bob Andy.

Ever heard of him?


How about Dennis Brown? Barrington Levy? Freddie McGregor? Gregory Isaacs? I-Roy? J.C. Lodge? Ken Boothe? Marcia Griffiths? Luciano? Maxi Priest? Mighty Diamonds? Sanchez? Sluggy Ranks? The Specials? Wayne Wonder? UB40? Now we’re talking, right?

What is the common thread among these gifted artists?

They have all performed songs written by Bob Andy, a man who is called “the greatest living songwriter in Jamaican music” and “one of the best songwriters in the world.”  As weighty as those descriptions are, they do not do Bob Andy’s talent the justice it deserves.  I am talking about a man who has written, produced, arranged, and sung the most touching, the most ethereal, the most soul-soothing songs in music.

You see, Bob Andy has been singing, producing, arranging, and writing songs for more five decades.  His strength, many say, is his songwriting.  He is a man who is responsible for some of the most popular and successful reggae tunes ever to grace the human experience.  “Too Experienced,“ a tune made famous by Barrington Levy, was first written and performed by Bob Andy.  “Feeling Soul,” “My Time,” “Desperate Lover,” “I’ve Got To Go Back Home,” “Going Home,” “You Don’t Know,” “Life”…all Bob Andy.

As Gleaner writer Herbie Miller recently explains:

“…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.”

Bob Andy doesn’t relish such accolades as one would hope.  He speaks about his humility in a 2005 interview:

“I must really start accepting the credits these people are giving me for writing, because a lot of the times I am so modest that I say, ‘Well, if I was a good carpenter, I probably would make good chairs too’, but I really set out to craft these songs because they represent my aspirations and they were gonna represent me for life. The thing I wanted most in life was to have an education and the thing that eluded me most was getting that education, so I had to prove to the guys that went to school that I could do better than them.”

His career spans more than 50 years, dating back to the release of his first song “I’m In Love,” – a rethinking of The Cliques 1950s doo-wop standard – recorded for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle when Andy was a member of the legendary Paragons duo.  He records his first solo single “Crime Don’t Pay” for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One in 1966.

Along with singing partner Marcia Griffiths, he achieves international recognition in 1970 with a cover of Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black” – a tune which commands radio play even today.  Selling 1/2 million copies, the tune makes Bob & Marcia household names, even appearing on the British hit music show “Top of the Pops.”  As Bob & Marcia, they craft another UK Top Ten single and two albums for Trojan Records.

For the next two decades he trods on through the ‘Valley of Indecision’ known as the ‘Jamaican recording business’ penning international reggae and dancehall hits for the likes of Barrington Levy (“Too Experienced”, “My Time”), Gregory Isaacs (“Sun Shines On Me”), and Horace Andy (“I’ve Got to Go Back Home“), and Wayne Wonder (“Feeling Soul”).

Too many times, Bob Andy did not receive the recognition deserved for such soul-settling songs, sung by the artist-of-the-day, launching the song and the artist to stardom.  Bob Andy remains a ghost.  Sitting alone and writing those lyrics that make your heart skip, while the artist and producer receive the recognition and financial reward for his song.

Of course, Andy will tell you that it doesn’t bother him.  Says Andy:

“Long after the lights have been turned off, and the bands have quit, the song remains.”

However, it’s an injustice that’s been visited upon too many Jamaican artists.  To see their songs achieve world-wide acclaim while they remain the ghost trapped in some island purgatory, reaching out only to bestow their lyrics, borne of sweat and tears, upon another popular artist.

Andy tours Africa for the first time in 2005, performing at the Bob Marley 60th birthday concert in Addis Ababa.  While in Ethiopia, he also sang at the President’s Palace and gave benefit concerts for the Twelve Tribes organization at the Rastafari movement settlement at Shashamane.

The Jamaican government confers the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) on Keith “Bob Andy” Anderson in October 2006 for his contributions to the development of Jamaican music.

So it’s news when Jamaica’s greatest living songwriter writes, records, and performs new songs.  That is exactly what is happening this summer when Bob Andy releases his first new singles since the release of Reggae Land in 2006 and appears live to perform these new songs at several dates in Europe and the US.

Fans of conscious reggae roots music endured months of worry and hand-wringing last year when Andy was hospitalized for an extended period with an unknown illness.  Even when he was diagnosed with a severe stomach ulcer, it seemed most unlikely that the songsmith would return to the studio.  However, with the support of his family, friends, faith, and a little help from Jamaica’s Raging Fyah band, he made a miraculous recovery and has laid down 8 new tracks.

“The outpouring of love was incredible”, said Andy to me late last year during a telephone conversation. “It was touching and overwhelming – a wellspring of love from both colleagues and friends.”

There is absolutely no sign of ill health or weakness in the voice of Bob Andy, that ghostly voice bombarding my senses as I sit at home on my sofa and listen.  I was certainly honored to be one of the first to preview one of his new singles.  “Send Someone (I’m Coming Home)” is a radio-friendly rocksteady tune that hearkens back to his heyday at Studio One.  His voice washes over me as I am transported to a walk on the beach on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.  This is the vibe I’m getting from this track.

Most notable about the track is that voice.  ‘The engineer must be using modulation on his voice‘ I think to myself.  It is as flawless, soothing, and inspiring as ever.

“Not so,” explains his daughter Bianca, “there was no modulation used whatsoever.”

That voice. Ghost on wax. Those lyrics. That sound. That ‘Bob Andy vibe.’  It’s all here in abundance.

In fact, the only thing that matches the superb vocal instrument is that finely tuned internal voice which gives life to so many stories.  Stories about us.  About the human experience.  Our fallacies.  Our fears.  Our wishes and dreams.

Another key aspect of the song that I pick up on is how tight the band is here, especially the drummer and guitarist. 



Also the backing harmonies are spot on…perfect.

In my opinion, this track is as close to a classic Bob Andy track as you will find.

The rootsman returneth!

A rootsman stays true to his roots.

With this tune, and ostensibly with the other new singles, Bob Andy stays true to his roots.  He doesn’t try to re-invent himself to be something he’s not.

The people want Bob Andy.  They don’t want a re-invention of Bob Andy.  He knows what he does best, and he continues to do it here.  This is most important to how this song will be “heard” by his fans.

A man so revered on the island that he was recently awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction for his contributions to the development of Jamaican music.

A man lost, now found.  This ghost on wax who appears from time to time to send us a message of hope in times of darkness, then returning from whence he came to inspire new works in others.

Imagine that.  Just when we thought Bob Andy had sung his last song, he returns to bless us with another illustrious ‘Song Book.’  New music for the masses at a time when we need Bob Andy more than ever.  With wars, fledgling economies, and recent economic and sociopolitical uncertainty, Bob Andy – that ghost on wax – reappears to deliver us from the troubles and worries of ‘dis ya Iwa’ with songs of hope, and love, and positivity.

But he’s always done that hasn’t he?  Been with us when the going gets tough.

“Time tuff”, but Bob Andy tuffer.


Please check out Bob Andy’s albums at Amazon, Itunes, and CDBaby.


Friday JUNE 15 – South Florida
Caribbean Heritage Month Cultural Extravaganza at Miramar Cultural Center in Broward County. Bob will perform and be honoured with a Distinguished Fellow Award from Jamaica Awareness.

Sunday JULY 15 – Los Angeles
Ziggy Marley and Tuff Gong Worldwide Salutes Legends of Reggae at the Hollywood Bowl

Wednesday JULY 25th through Saturday JULY 28th – south of France

Saturday AUGUST 4th – Belgium
Reggae Geel, Belgium’s biggest reggae festival

Saturday AUGUST 18th – New York City
Jamaica Independence Celebration Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Ball at the New York Hilton Hotel, Avenue of the Americas

2 Comments on this post

  1. […] read the article I just wrote about my good friend Bob Andy.  Also, HERE is my exclusive interview with the […]

  2. […] read the article I just wrote about my good friend Bob Andy.  Also, HERE is my exclusive interview with the […]

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