Bobby Melody came up at a time when the music was changing to a harder sound. The man got shaped in the roots music of the early seventies, singing with the late Yabby You in his first constellation of The Prophets, then named The Ralph Brothers, and this is - still, I would say - what he was best remembered for, cultural music, even though he had success the following decade in the early dancehall style with records for people like Jack Scorpio and Jah Thomas. A rockers update of a rock steady chestnut by Delano Stewart and the Gaylads, 'Jah Bring I Joy (In the Morning)', brought him and the Joe Gibbs camp a big hit back in 1976 and the definite highlight of his career, commercially. Melody moved to the UK in the late eighties and settled there, only sporadically recording. The last projects were together with the Nottingham based Roots Vibration band. The majority of those recordings remain unreleased. He died of cancer last year around this time, sadly. This interview took place at a time when he was still positive about what was to come, but one could detect the pain somewhere, he sounded weak and frail throughout the conversation but I didn't know what was behind it. These are some of the last words recorded, perhaps the only in-depth interview the man ever gave. My thanks to Bobby (R.I.P.), Clifton Bartley (Roots Vibration), Carlton Hines, and Steve Barrow.

Q: Let's go back to the beginning there, what was your early days like? You're born in the countryside, in Trelawny?

A: Yeah. Born in Trelawny, grown up in Manchester, Mandeville. Then moved to the city, Kingston. And that was between - I go to Kingston about 1970. Singin' on the fest there, the Jamaica Festival, I came second, then went for the final. And then me start my recordin' there an' then. That was about '69, '70. Dynamic studio. Then me moved on to from Dynamics to Derrick Harriott to GG Records, an' then me end up with Lee Perry, Upsetters. Then me go through Studio One, and then endin' up at Joe Gibbs. That's where I did 'Jah Give I Joy (In the Morning)'.

Q: Right. But before we move too fast over your career, you started by learning the guitar but the other way around, wasn't it?

A: Yeah, I found it.

Q: Then it became a 'self-taught' process?

A: Yes. Somebody started me off, showed me, like, the chords an' t'ing. Then, that person was right-handed, so I start - I tried it, change the guitar now, tried to play it on the right hand - it didn't happen. Changed the strings around, couldn't work, so I would set it up on the right and play, but I play on the lef' hand. An' I can say self-taught, yunno, I jus' sit down and find things out for myself. Then me start goin' out to session, like, live stage show, watch the guitaris' how he play an', y'know, hold the position an' everyt'ing. An' that was it, man. And then it just go by feel. I'm making a song by jus' trying to find the nex' chords, to match it.

Q: Lot's of hard work there.

A: Hard work, man. I was at home workin' it... fe years.

Bobby Melody.

Bobby Melody.

Bobby Melody.
Q: Yeah.

A: Back in Jamaica.

Q: What was some of your earliest efforts now. You spoke about doing something as far back as '69, but did you go to a talent contest before that? This was perhaps the festival gig?

A: Yeah. The talent contest was before, that's how I got to do the recordin'. 'Cause I was on the talent contest, which is the Jamaica Festival. And I was introduced to Toots & The Maytals, so what I - 'cause I was living in Mandeville them time, I won for Mandeville. Then before Kingston, it was the fourteen parish meet, an' I stop by Toots' place, yunno, he was the only one lookin' after me, Toots & The Maytals. So he was connected to Dynamic Sounds, recordin', an' he took me there, y'understan', introduced me to them. And then, it wasn't produced by Dynamic, it was like a private producer go 'appen. He liked my sound. So I did two. Yeah, I did two song' there, and they was great; 'Israel Rise' and the nex' song was 'I'm Proud of You', reggae.

Q: OK.

A: And those song was played by, let me see now, Gladstone Wilson (probably pianist Gladdy Anderson), Keyboard man, Winston Williams (possibly Winston Wright)... let me see now, could be - those man were from the early days still, yunno, early days from, like, Byron Lee & The Dragonaries an' them time, an' Dougie (Bryan) an' Ranchie (McLean). Yeah, both of them, they play for Dynamic, they play in the studio all the time. So those were the musicians. Plus Toots, Toots play a part in it an' dem t'ings. An' you 'ave Bobby Ellis (trumpet), 'Deadly Hedley' (Bennett, sax) an' (Herman) Marquis, which is Don D. Junior.

Q: Don D. Jr., that's Vin Gordon, yes.

A: Yeah, Don D. Junior. And in those days, man, y'know, you've got all the Jamaican singer, innit, they were there, like. Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaac, Dennis Brown, Mighty Diamonds an' all o' the man, Viceroys. Jus' like one family, innit.

Q: True.

A: Yep.

Q: So what happened after that now, after the 'stint' with Dynamic?

A: Well, after Dynamic I release my firs' singles. Those producers, they give it to a distributing company. An' then me move on from there. Didn't make any money or anyt'ing, but people start recognise me. Then, from there, let me see now, from Dynamic Sounds, it was from Dynamic to Derrick Harriott.

Q: Mmm.

A: Derrick Harriott - you know Derrick Harriott?

Derrick Harriott.
Q: Yes.

A: Yeah. When I started with Derrick now, I played the guitar an' there was an audition by Derrick Harriott's, an' he's requesting singer for his production. So I went there backing up 'bout three different guys, those were my brethren, I play for them. So when it was their time for audition they would call me an' I played the guitar for them an' they sing, an' the man who's assessing them listen them. So at the end of that audition, they didn't get anyone that they're satisfied to record, it wasn't one song they choose. So the man turn to me an' say "Have you got any songs?" I say yeah. And then I did one for them, an' that was 'Some Other Day'. You know, I did that one for Derrick Harriott.

Q: And it didn't give you more than a name on the record, like?

A: Well, them time he was voicing Scotty an'... wha' the nex' youth called again...? It's a group of them... wha' dem called again... four a dem...

Q: Chosen Few?

A: The Chosen Few, yeah. Hard to remember that, the Chosen Few. Yeah, they were recordin'. That session was the Chosen Few, Derrick Harriott, and Bobby Melody.

Q: Did you sing under that name then, or any other name?

A: Lemme see now...? No, yeah, that time... what was I called them time...? No, I don't think so. 'Bobby Melody' was when I get to Upsetters an' Joe Gibbs. Ralph Brothers, 'cause on the recordin' for Dynamic Sounds it was Ralph Brothers.

Q: Ralph Brothers, that was a group Yabby You used for harmony?

A: Yeah, then Yabby You come in after that. How Yabby You comes in now, he's got this riddim an' he couldn't get anyone to voice it, like any backing. It's the same song, 'Yabby Yabby You'. So me an' my group would jus' get together with 'im at Tubbys' studio, an' we jus' do the song. Me an' my brethren do the backing and that was the original backing on that song, from that day until now.

Q: 'Conquering Lion'.

A: 'Conquering Lion' (sings) 'Be You, Yabby Yabby You...'.

Q: Right. So the Ralph Brothers was your group then.

A: The Ralph Brothers was my group before 'Bobby Melody'.

Q: What was the members?

A: The member o' that group was Alric Forbes, Peter Paint, an' George Hanson - me, Bobby Melody.

Q: So that was the only tune you recorded as the Ralph Brothers?

A: As the Ralph Brothers, the t'ings we come with was about two releases, 'Great Day of Rejoicing' and 'Proud of You'. An' then during backyard rehearsal in Jamaica you get the guitar and we sit down an' have a practice. One of my friends says to me "Oh, you got your voice, the sound of your voice - your name is 'Melody'". One o' dem says to me "From now on you're Bobby Melody'", an' I just use the name. Yeah.

Q: And then, many years after, you had Courtney Melody and Singing Melody and a whole heap of 'Melodies'.

A: A whole heap of 'Melody'. All of dem, them come up after me. But they're all right, man, good yout' dem. We work together sometime years ago from Black Scorpio an' even now when we link up, man, is respec' same way. They call me 'Father Melody'.

Black Scorpio Crew (with Bobby Melody standing left).
Q: OK (chuckles).

A: Them call me Father Melody. Last time I see Singin' Melody was in Manchester, that's about six, seven years ago, he worked with Downbeat, from New York. And they were doing this gig in Manchester. So I went to the session the night, an' I was in the crowd an' then he spot me out an' he (stood) still an' he stopped the session, an' he said "Oh, now we deh ya, we 'ave got Father Melody!" And he jus' said "Come in!", Singin' Melody, an' me jus' gwaan join them. But all o' dem youthman is very respectable. Yep.

Q: Did you continue with Yabby and the group for a while? The formation of the Ralph Brothers by the way, did you know Alric from before? He was in the Prophets later on, I think, Yabby's harmony group.

A: Yeah, well, that's with Yabby You. Then now, my nex' friend, he stayed with Yabby You, with the group, ca' he was in the Prophets. That's Alric, and they do, like, nuff nuff more song after that. But I jus' go solo, innit, 'cause I just go Upsetters, Lee Perry, an' that's when me come as Bobby Melody.

Q: That was the time when he had the Black Ark studio set up and running, you recorded there?

A: Yeah. I did an album. But he didn't really... I did 'bout seven songs. Yeah, it was for an album. An' that was 'Best Dress', 'Chana Chana' (also known as 'Perception' by the Divine Brothers), 'Warrior', you had a nex' one called 'Stab Me In the Back'... 'People Would Stab Me In the Back' an' some other one, but I can't remember some of the lyrics. Then Upsetter, he release' 'Warrior' firs'. 'Warrior' comes out when Bob Marley say (sings) 'Yes me friend, me friend, me deh a street again' - that's the same, dem two tune come out the same time. An' 'Warrior' was... 'Duppy Conqueror', 'yes me friend', that was part of the promotion, too, the production. So he produce' all dem tune, he bring my tune out with that one. An' the t'ing, he got Junior Byles, 'Beat Down Babylon'. No, the nex' one now, 'Curly Locks', same label. Upsetters, Lee Perry.

Lee Perry at the Black Ark.
Q: Did you appreciate the vibes at the Ark, to work there?

A: Yeah, the vibes was all right. An' what really 'appened, I was living at Marverly (a working class community close to Drewsland) an' he build this studio at Washington Gardens, so that wasn't far from me. An' that's how I link up an' I go to meet the original Upsetters, Family Man were there. The drummer were there, the bassie, an' then you've got the rest of the Upsetters, but those man were the original, Reggie (Lewis) an' them, Upsetters.

Q: So an album never came out, that's a shame.

A: No, what really 'appened was, we done 'bout seven tracks an' Lee Perry left to England, like, he leave an' come up 'ere. But when he got back to yard, he sell the tune dem, like, do some business, some distribution or somet'ing. When he come back to Jamaica, he don't want to give me any money. An' he did call some vibes, y'understan'. 'Cause my guys dem who back me now, do the harmony, he didn't have it like that, an' tek it like that, man. We want our money an' start to pressure an' t'ing. So wha' he did, he jus' tek we to him house, him give we a cheque - not big, big money still. An' then he still 'ave all the tracks dem 'pon tape. So he give us them an' seh, well, better we jus' release dem, get a deal with them, an' that was it. So we didn't get to finish the album. But the singles dem, they did well still, y'understan'. That was it. Then we move' on from there, to Joe Gibbs. That was 1975. Yeah. That's when I did 'Jah Bring I Joy', 'Let It Be' an' all a dem.

Q: Before we get into the Gibbs part of it now, what was your connection to Peter Tosh at this time?

A: Peter Tosh? Well, some a dem times I was tellin' you about I was living in Trench Town, in the same street whe Bob Marley lived. An', you know, I see the man, not regular but most o' the time still. An' not even jus' that, when I move from Trench Town to uptown, Barbican (uptown community), Peter jus' - he lives somewhere up Cherry Garden (an upper middle class community in Kingston), that's just up in the hills, not far from Barbican. So Barbican now, I sit in me brethren' yard an' I was playing me guitar, but sometime Peter Tosh he pass through there an' check some people he have some connection with. So he come there, see all the youths siddung in the yard, I was jammin' an' singin' this song, so he jus' go straight down an' seh he liked this song, he liked the vibes, so me must come check him. So we did some deal after he leave an' go up Cherry Garden, not even drive, it was jus' walking distance. Check him at his yard an' t'ing, him look after we an' t'ing, treat we good. An' play me guitar, him seh, well, 'dat song' or 'dat song'. And he recorded, tek me to the studio. He took me to the studio an' recorded for us three song'. And then him go foreign, him leave an' him go an' him come back an' seh, well, when him come dem time him seh, well, yeah, he waan release that track. He release' the track, an' then he went back to foreign. So after he went back to foreign, the track was out in the shop, gettin' the promotion an' all dem t'ings, on his radio show an' everyt'ing. An' the plan was, when he get back to yard now, he was gonna spend more time on my t'ing, y'understan', like, get more tracks together. When he come back to yard, they kill him, innit. That's when he got shot up, man, an' the whole vibes jus' go down, yunno.

Q: So that was in the late eighties sometime.

A: Yeah.
Q: Going around and selling stuff now - because back then when you formed the Hi Rock label, you started to produce independently, or it was the Perry recordings? Maybe you had another label before this?

A: Yeah, yeah, it was from Lee Perry time, same time with Lee Perry. So me just keep that label going with me yard, I jus' in Davidson Drive (a road in Drewsland) same way an' t'ings. I did a lotta exportin', like record, dem days was vinyl, innit. Yeah, me used to go around with me bag, man, that's how the whole a we used to drop it; walk around with we record bag, man. Supply all a de shop, distribute to de shop an' meet people, man who come down from foreign, man a buy export an' a import tune. That's how we use' to make a money still. A man would just seh 'Me waan a five hundred of dat' or 'Two hundred of dat', that's how it goes. So we used to walk around makin' record sales, man, that's how we gettin' known, innit. For, it's a work, like. Y'understan'? The time that you spend doing it an' all you 'ave to go through.

Q: On Hi Rock, the first releases you went around with and sold was stuff like 'Sinners' and 'Master Mind'?

A: Yeah, 'it's easier for a camel'. An' then, I had all dem tracks.

Q: What a struggle to go through, airplay, getting exposed and have the product sold, on your own?

A: Yeah, it was. It was when 'Jah Give I Joy' lef' a lickle impact in dem time, that's... Ca' when Joe Gibbs release 'Jah Bring I Joy', that's when him bring Culture out, innit. I was there before Culture, then them come inna the studio an' dem did 'Jah Jah See Them A Come', 'Two Sevens Clash', an' we all link up. An' then me start - wha' really 'appened, the song went in the Top Ten, so they put me on one of the Jamaica TV show, and Culture was on it an' dem man, so me start get some show now. Now people start recognise me through shows an' all a that. But the song was all right in Britain, innit, it went to number one in the reggae chart. Even now it's still sellin'.

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