One of Jamaican music’s most prolific songwriters in the period 1966 -1986 was Keith Anderson, better known as Bob Andy. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica on October 28, 1944, where he endured an itinerant childhood with virtually no schooling. He was raised partially by his abusive mother in the city 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, lodging briefly with a family that sheltered him, and whose piano allowed early musical experimentation.
Bob Andy went to the Maxfield Park children’s home in Kingston after further conflict with his mother and despite her opposition to the idea, a judge reportedly ruled in Andy’s favor. It was there at the Children’s Home, on their old piano that he continued his musical experiments. By the age of 13 he had already filled a notebook with songs and emerged as a solo star in 1966 with the smash hit “I’ve Got to Go Back Home”, a song that became a much-loved favorite for Jamaicans. He served his singing and songwriting apprenticeship with the legendary vocal group the Paragons which he founded with Tyrone (Don) Evans and Howard Barrett, later joined by John Holt. The Paragons had several hits for producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd including the Number One “Love At Last”, penned by Bob.
The group recorded four songs at Studio One in 1964, but conflict with the lead singer John Holt led Bob Andy to quit the group but remained at Studio One even as the music shifted from Ska and into Rock Steady. He would develop into one of the studio’s leading lights, working closely with Jackie Mittoo on many of the label’s seminal outputs. Bob Andy delivered records to earn some steady cash while writing songs for Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, and the young Marcia Griffiths. Besides that he also wrote songs for himself which have become reggae standards. The album titled Bob Andy’s Songbook comes immediately to mind. In 1969 he also recorded “Always Together”, a superb duet with Griffiths that was seen as a declaration of his love for her.
Frustrated by financial disappointments, Andy soon began to record away from Studio One and in 1969, cut an up-tempo version of Joe South’s “Games People Play” for Federal Records, and the autobiographical ode “The Way I Feel”, for Rupie Edwards. In the same year, producer Harry Johnson persuaded Bob and Marcia to record a cover of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, which in 1970 got to No 5 in the UK singles chart after Trojan Records applied orchestral overdubs, making its reggae vibes more acceptable to a general UK 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 at home with the contemplative, self-produced Life (1972), the forlorn “You Don’t Know” (1973), and the caustic “Fire Burning” (1974), a commentary on the island’s violent political divisions at the time. His 1975 album “The Music Inside Me” explored the positive power of music, with its song “Nyah” signaling Andy’s embrace of the Rastafari faith, while the deep roots Reggae album “Kemar” released in 1977 caught Bob and Marcia at the tail end of their relationship, although they remained close friends. Three classic songs that underlined that friendship were “Always Together” “It’s A Rocking Good Way” and “United We Stand.”
Bob was one of the first Jamaican artists to establish his own publishing company, Andisongs, and served as one of the prime movers in the attempt to establish a Caribbean Copyright Organization. 1978 saw the release of Bob’s album “Lots of Love and I”, which contains the classics “Ghetto Stays in the Mind” and “Feel the Feeling.” In the same year, he traveled to Cuba to perform at the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students. During this period he took a hiatus from the music and accepted lead roles in several theatre productions, and in 1979 starred in the Jamaican feature film “Children of Babylon.”
In 1983 Bob Andy returned to music with a UK number-one single, “Honey”, followed by a Number One album, “Friends.” For these and subsequent releases, he formed his own label, I-Anka, in Jamaica and the UK. Bob would tour California in 1985, appeared at the Youth Festival in Moscow and headlined the first Japanese Reggae Sunsplash. In 1986 he released the “Retrospective” album (1987 on Heartbeat/Rounder Records in North America) to widespread critical acclaim. The album served to close the gap between the Studio One masterpiece Bob Andy’s Songbook and his more recent work.
In November 1987, Bob assumed the post of A&R and Promotions Director for Tuff Gong (the group of companies founded by Bob Marley). In this capacity, he represented Tuff Gong Music at many industry functions in Jamaica and abroad. He produced artists such as Nadine Sutherland, Ernest Wilson and Tyrone Taylor, as well as new talent. Bob’s stay at Tuff Gong provided him with many opportunities to express his life-long desire for higher standards in Jamaican music, both in its business operations and in the quality of its musical output.
Freely, also released on I-Anka in late 1988, comprised tracks recorded throughout the middle 80s. It received rave reviews and spent many months in the reggae charts. Assuming once again his role of Jamaican music pioneer, Bob spent six months in Australia in 1989, conducting workshops and playing with local musicians. He joined other leading reggae artists at Gdansk Shipyard in Poland in December 1989 for an Anti-Apartheid concert sponsored by Solidarity to celebrate the progress of the world’s liberation movements.
During the 90s Continental Records, one of Brazil’s largest record companies issued a Bob Andy compilation album, and several of Bob’s albums received Japanese releases. Bob recorded the album Hanging Tough for producer Willie Lindo at his Heavy Beat Studios in Miami. The set was released in 1997 on VP Records and included the inspirational singles “Love This Life” and “Die No More.” Formal recognition of Bob’s musical contributions has flowed in from many sources during the last two decades. Rockers Magazine honored Bob with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Kingston in 1989, as did the Canadian Reggae Music Awards in Toronto in 1991.
Bob’s song “Fire Burning” received the JAMI Award for Song of the Year in 1991. In 1997 he was named as one of the music’s “Living Legends” at the Reggae/Soca Awards in Miami and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the 1999 Bob Marley Day Festival in Southern California. He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Jamaica in 2003.
In early 2005, Bob made his first journey to Africa. He performed at the Bob Marley 60th birthday concert in Addis Ababa to an audience of several hundred thousand, and also sang at the Ethiopian President’s Palace.
In October 2006, the Government of Jamaica conferred on Keith “Bob Andy” Anderson its Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) for his contributions to the development of Reggae music. Bob Andy died on March 27, 2020. He was 75 years old.
About the Author
Richard Hugh Blackford is the host of a 2-hour music-driven internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com each Sunday from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The show focuses on Foundation Jamaican Music and takes its audience on a nostalgic but historical musical journey, peeling back the years of Jamaican musical development as the hosts explore the careers of Jamaican artistes. Sunday Scoops provides interviews with personalities, and discussions on Jamaican music and other topical issues. The show is co-hosted by noted DJ Garth Hendricks.