|He cut a lot of material for a wealth of producers, mainly laying tracks for others but also for himself, but he is still one of the greatest obscurities in Jamaican music up to current times. The reason for it is just as obscure, if not unintelligible. But to call it a common story is to repeat what has already been said so many times of the Jamaican record industry, so lets say it once again. Bobby Kalphat, keyboardist extraordinaire, is among the best kept secrets in reggae music. He had a finger in numerous hit recordings and great records and songs from the golden era, yet he has not received the recognition he, like so many from the same period, deserves. Bobby contributed strongly to the high standard we hear from those times. Kalphat started out in the mid 1960's, shifting between the piano, keyboard and even the melodica, being among the first local musicians to discover the actual power of this children's plaything and giving the instrument 'credibility' amongst the musical establishment. My thanks to Bobby, Michelle (Secret Management, CT), Carlton Hines, Teacher & Mr T, Oliver, and Steve Barrow.|
Q: Your musical history, as far as entering the professional stage, it begins somewhere in the 1960's, if not the mid sixties?
A: Yeah, that's the time I did my first recording.
Q: So what role did music play in your family life?
A: I guess I'm the first one in my family as a musician that I know of. I started writing songs and I started singin' first before I started to play.
A: Yeah, I did a couple of recordings before as a singer, but I wasn't that good as a singer, so I decided to be a musician (chuckles).
Q: There's one recording from those days, whether vocal or instrumental, for the SEP label, the late Lyndon Pottinger's imprint, 'I'll Understand'.
Q: Was that the first one?
A: No, I think I went back before that. But I don't know if that was... I did it for a sound system man, Lloyd Bell of President HiFi, on his label called President. I did a song called 'Feel Like A King' and also 'Bernette'.
Q: So what year are we talking, this is even before the rock steady days?
A: Yeah, yeah, that was like in the ska era. It was even backed by members of the Skatalites. Yes.
Q: Recorded where?
A: Ah, it was Federal Recording, that was owned by the Khouris.
Q: Right, right.
Q: As far as starting to record on your own, when did that begin?
A: I produced my first song in 1968, it was an instrumental called 'Rhythm & Soul'. It was on my label, Soul Sounds.
Q: OK. But Soul Sounds, wasn't that together with Willi Williams?
A: No, Willi Williams actually used my label after a while but it's mine originally, I designed the label and all a that. He just used it after a while.
Q: How did you grow up?
A: OK, I grew up in like the Rockfort area (eastern Kingston, near Warricka Hills). Then I moved to... I hear they call it Tower Hill, it's Kingston 11. A lot of singers come from over there, Lloyd Parks, Sly Dunbar, Half Pint, King Jammys, King Tubbys. It's a musical area, where I grew up.
Q: Tower Hill.
A: Yeah, between Tower Hill and Waterhouse.
Q: The heart of the ghetto.
Q: From school days, was it others you grew up with who became a part of the music fraternity?
A: No, just after school days, I was about maybe 21, 22 when I started playing music.
Q: And when 'Feel Like A King' was recorded, about that time...
A: Yes, yes, round about, maybe a year or two younger.
Q: The first instrument you learned to play, was that piano or the organ?
A: I started on the piano. Yes.
Q: What made you go into the world of piano then?
A: OK. I met with a man who had a band, I told him I wanted to sing with his band, yunno. Mickey O'Brien, he was a jazz player, saxophonist. And he said, well, "I don't really need a vocalist, it's a jazz band and my pianist is already singing". But when he listened to my voice the way he heard the singin' on the bars, he said I've got the timing in me. So he goes, y'know, persuade me to be a drummer. When I went home I was very excited and told my parents, but I was going to commercial school doing account. My father said, "No, music is just a holiday thing", a phase thing, and they wouldn't help me with the drumset. But that feel started in my mind so I say OK, what's the instrument in a band that I don't have to buy? And in those days, all there is is the nightclubs, the nightclubs had a bandstand and on the bandstand they had a piano. And I say OK, I don't have to buy a piano. So I just bought a piano book, theory, and the same day I bought the book I met with one of my younger brothers, he's a music teacher, and he saw the name 'Music Mart' on the back, and he said "Are you doing music?" I said, "No, I just bought this piano book", and he said "OK, I can teach you". I used to go by his place but he didn't have a piano, so I just started doing theory. Then he turned me on to one of his friends, Douglas Burke, who had a piano. There I played with it till I took grade five and finally I pass to the Royal School of Music, getting the certificate. And I progressed from there.
Q: Was it natural to master it or you had great difficulty getting into it at first, the piano?
A: Well, yes, it was hard because it took time to get accustomed to it. I learned my theory, then I discovered that I could play by ear, and it were a lot of guys in the streets playing and they didn't even know the chords they're playin', but they could play. I could play a little that was written down. So then I had to learn the magic of the ear thing too, yunno. And most bands they play by ear.
Q: Seems to be a natural feel for it down there.
A: Oh yes, yes.
Q: So they don't really need the theory...
A: Yeah, they just have that good musical hearing, whatever they hear they can replay. They jus' know the sound. They're real talent.
Q: So that was more or less your 'school', playing in that band...
A: Yes, the first band I played in was Bobby Aitken and the Carib-Beats. He's the brother of Laurel Aitken, you know that singer, Laurel Aitken?
Q: I do.
A: Yeah, Bobby Aitken was his brother. He played guitar, he also sang a couple of songs.
Q: The Carib-Beats, you had people like Hugh Malcolm on drums?
A: Oh, yes.
A: I think it was... Winston Grennan was playing drums. And Vincent White was on bass. Bobby Aitkens, guitar. And I played some keyboards.
Q: That guy is not exactly known, Vincent White?
A: No, he's not.
Q: So I suppose you got your jobs with the Carib-Beats playing in the North Coast hotels during those days?
A: Yeah man. And also I played with all Lynn Taitt & The Comets. You know, Lynn Taitt, he's from Trinidad.
Q: Yes, true.
A: I played with Lynn Taitt. I played for a little while with Tommy McCook.
Q: The Supersonics?
A: Yeah, and I played with Roland Alphonso & The Meditations.
Q: So it seems like it wasn't really difficult for you to get a foot inside the business, everything just...
A: Yeah, everything just work out for me. Because in those days, those musicians, like Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, when you went into their band, they had the portfolio, y'know, with the chords written out. So it was easy for me, because I knew chords from theory.
Q: So you could 'settle down' easily.
A: Yes, I could do that quickly.
Q: But even as a youngster in that time to play alongside McCook and Alphonso...
A: Yes, and Lloyd Brevett and all those... yeah, they're great, great musicians.
Q: Learning a whole heap of stuff.
A: I was like the baby. But I learned from it.
Q: They encouraged you?
A: Well, yeah. Sometime some of them would really get mad at you when you went out of key, or somet'ing (chuckles). But I didn't make that bother me. I had the basic knowledge from theory, I just follow the chord progressions they'd written out, and it worked out. Gradually I learned the ear t'ing.
Q: So playing with Bobby Aitken's band, did you mostly play out at the hotel circuit, or you got the chance to record with them?
A: Well, it was really both. We did bandstand work. Whenever they had sessions, naturally I'd play with them. I also played at Studio One for a time.
Q: OK, so you got a foot inside there as well.
A: Yeah man, I played at Studio One. Leroy Sibbles was the bassman.
Q: And that was after Jackie (Mittoo) had left for Canada?
A: Yes, after, after, after.
Q: So we're talking like '68, '69.
Q: That was the time when Robbie Lyn played keyboards over there, didn't he?
A: Yea, I know Robbie Lyn well. He played... I would play with Sly and Robbie sometimes, but they weren't as 'Sly & Robbie', but I play with them before they teamed up.
A: Lloyd Parks, I and him had a little band when we were in Waterhouse. I played with a lotta those musicians from the early days.
Q: So you recorded, the one we spoke about...
A: 'Rhythm & Soul'?
Q: You consider that one the first, 'real' recording for you, as musician?
A: That's the first, real instrumental I did, yes, as a featured artist, yunno.
Q: What was the demand for instrumentals back in those days? We're talking popular stuff?
A: Oh yes, oh yes. Because Jackie Mittoo had set a standard as an organist, instrumentalist. You had people like Winston Wright and many good organists. Organ instrumentals were popular, y'know, that's why I did my stuff.
Q: It's so out of fashion these days, but how did people look upon instrumentals in that time, that so much of it could hit?
A: I think the listening people were more appreciative of it. Because coming from the Skatalites, Skatalites featured a lot of instrumentals as you know, so with an organ... it was a lead instrument, it could play the melody. And with Jackie Mittoo, it was my favourite keyboard player, yunno (chuckles). He inspire me.
Q: Yeah, understandable. Did you get to play with him?
A: No, I never did play with him, because he's a man... when it comes to keyboards, you don't need anybody. As a keyboard player, y'know what I'm saying.
Q: I was more thinking of you playing melodica or so. But what sets him apart, technically speaking?
A: Well, to me, he's both classic and roots, yunno (chuckles). He's a man who's a very classical player, but then he could really play his roots, so... He can get across to anybody.
Q: When you say 'roots', in this instance you mean... hitting the notes 'harder' (chuckles)?
A: It's a general feeling, the feeling, that roots feeling... OK, I would say, like, an instrumental like (the Beatles') 'And I Love Her', but how I would play it, it wouldn't be what Jackie would play, with that dancehall feel to it. You know, 'And I Love Her', it's a classical melody, but it's the mood you put in.
Q: The key to reach the dancehall crowd was to play with both a rough and classy kind of feel.
A: Yeah, that's the feel. It makes you feel the dance, it keeps you rocking, y'know what I'm sayin'.
Q: And I can imagine you going out to dances, clubs, sound system events and checking people's reaction when instrumentals played, what they responded the most to.
A: Yes, definitely. 'Cause you see the people react, getting into the music. It's like it's natural.
Q: The tracks you created in those days, several at least, the inspiration came largely from watching dancers do their thing?
A: Yes. How people really react, the feeling that I have as a person. That's it.
Q: Not just studio vibes then.
A: Yeah, well, my thing was theory. I would have my melody arranged before, when I go to the studio I wouldn't go fiddling around. It wasn't like 'what am I gonna do?', wasn't like that, no.
Q: So when did you decide to set up the Soul Sounds label? Obviously when you had saved your hard earned long enough, but what led up to it?
A: Yes, what actually happened. I worked as a correctional officer before I matured as a musician, yunno. So I saved my money, so when I think I had enough to do a session, then I went in the studio and did my work. And I just quit my job and went on the road. Those days you could go from record shop to record shop and just sell records.
Q: Like Orange Street.
A: Orange Street, yeah, we used to call it 'Beat Street'. Also on Parade, Slipe Road, Cross Roads, Half Way Tree, it was lined with record shops. You have a new record and it sounded good, you could sell hundreds.
Q: Sort of difficult to believe as it is now, but in those days you could sell truckloads of records.
A: Oh yes, oh yes.
Q: It was cheap, the common man could afford it quite easily.
A: Yes, but I guess... that's not the only point - you didn't have any tape recorders or CD's and all a that. It was just records, what you had was records.
A: You had to sell it from pre-release, you had no labels, blank label, until it came upon your label.
Q: Right (laughs). So that's where you began, producing, doing the first bunch of pressings on blanks and carrying it out there.
A: Yeah, pre-release or a blank. It sell some more than with a label too, yunno.
Q: How come?
A: OK. Well, first you had the dubplate. When a song came out first, they didn't have any stamper company yet in Jamaica, you had to send it to England. And it took a while for it to come back. So what the people used to do, they want to hear the tune, they used to put it on a dubplate. So you had to pay a couple of pounds for a dubplate, and it came on a blank. You pay it cheaper. But when it came out on a label now, the general public, everybody just hungry for that 45.
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