Famous Jamaicans: The Great Singer-Songwriter Bob Andy
Bob Andy who passed away on Friday, March 27, 2020, after a decades long career as a singer, songwriter, producer, dancer and actor was best known as a singer and songwriter. He wrote and produced song standards throughout his life for famous artistes such as Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths. He started his career as a member of the singing group, the Paragons and is well known for his duets with Marcia Griffiths of the I-Threes fame.
The Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Andy, who died of cancer aged 75 on March 27, 2020, enjoyed a long and fruitful career. He was best known in Britain for the chart successes he achieved with Marcia Griffiths in their duo, Bob and Marcia. The most notable were Young, Gifted and Black (1970) and Pied Piper (1971). He was also responsible for some of the most enduring classics of the reggae songbook in Jamaica, where he was widely admired for his emotive voice and poetic lyrics.
In Jamaica, Andy released a string of hits at Studio One, beginning with I’ve Got To Go Back Home (1966), which yearned for an African homeland. He followed up with two songs about heartbreak, Too Experienced (1968) and Desperate Lover (1969), and then My Time (1968) and Unchained (1969), which explored the disenfranchisement facing poor black Jamaicans. In 1969 he also recorded Always Together, a superb duet with Griffiths that was an open declaration of love.
The UK Sojourn
Frustrated by financial disappointments, Andy had begun to record away from Studio One in 1969, cutting an uptempo version of Joe South’s Games People Play for Federal and the autobiographical ode The Way I Feel, for Rupie Edwards. The producer Harry Johnson then persuaded Bob and Marcia to record a cover of Nina Simone’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black in 1970. It got to No 5 in the UK singles chart after Trojan Records applied orchestral overdubs, making its reggae vibes more palatable to a general audience.
Following an appearance on Top of the Pops and an extensive tour of Europe, sharing stages with Elton John and Gilbert O’Sullivan, Bob and Marcia settled for a time in Lewisham, south London, working with the arranger Tony King on an orchestrated cover of Crispian St Peters’ Pied Piper, which peaked at No 11 on the UK singles chart in 1971. After returning to Jamaica, Andy continued scoring hits in his homeland.
Born Keith Anderson on October 28, 1944 in the Jamaican capital, Kingston, Andy endured a nomadic childhood with virtually no schooling. He was raised by an abusive mother in a city slum and by maternal grandparents in rural Westmoreland. After his grandmother died, he was placed with extended family members, but ran away from home after mistreatment. He then lodged briefly with a family that sheltered him, and whose piano allowed early musical experimentation. After further conflict with his mother, in desperation he fled to the Maxfield Park children’s home in Kingston, pleading to be taken in. Although his mother opposed the idea, a judge ruled in Andy’s favour, and it was on the home’s piano that he continued to experiment.
By the age of 13 he had already filled a notebook with songs and had begun singing informally with his friend Tyrone Evans, with whom he would later form a noted vocal quartet, the Paragons. They recorded four songs at Studio One in 1964, but conflict with the lead singer John Holt led Andy to quit the group. He remained at Studio One as the predominant ska style shifted to rock steady, delivering records to earn some steady cash while writing songs. Bob Andy wrote songs for artistes such as Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson and the young Griffiths. He recorded duets with Marcia Griffiths with whom he had a romantic relationship that continued until the late 1970s.
Following the release of the 1977 album Lots of Love and I, with its outstanding social commentary song, Ghetto Stays in the Mind, Andy performed in Cuba in 1978 and starred in the film Children of Babylon, set in the Caribbean, in 1980. He recorded the album Friends on the London branch of his I-Anka label in 1983 and toured Japan in 1985. After touring, he became a talent scout at the Bob Marley family’s Tuff Gong label in 1987, releasing the album Freely the following year.
Andy was based in Florida from 1992 and although his output subsequently slowed, interest in his work was revived by dancehall adaptations of Fire Burning by Griffiths and Too Experienced by Barrington Levy, resulting in the 1997 album Hanging Tough.
In 2005 he performed in front of huge crowds at Africa Unite, held in Ethiopia to commemorate what would have been Marley’s 60th birthday; the following year he was granted the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government.
He is survived by a son, a daughter, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Please like and share this story.
If you liked this story, join our email list to have the blog delivered to your inbox weekly.
Jacqueline Cameron is a writer with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.