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Interview: Robbie Lyn in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Robbie Lyn in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Robbie Lyn in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"With the advent of digital the keyboards became more important"


Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Robbie Lyn, he remembers his work with Lee Scratch Perry and Bob Marley, his time with Peter Tosh, and why the digital revolution of the 80s had him doing more work than ever…

Robbie Lyn

Did you ever play with Sly in Skin Flesh And Bones?

No. What used to happen is along Redhills Road there were a lot of clubs. And when the then manager for In Crowd band bought a club along there he changed the name and it was two doors from where Skin Flesh And Bones were.


Tit-For-Tat. Right. Previously Jackie Mittoo would have played at that club. Then Skin Flesh And Bones became the regular band there with… his name was Irving Brown but he recorded over Al Green songs as Al Brown. And Cynthia Richards was the female singer for the band. The band was Sly and Lloyd Parks and Ranchie and Ansel. A band used to play from nine until three or four o'clock sometimes, and then take a couple of breaks. So when we took a break we would go to their club, look around and see a couple of guys from there and go over and just hear the vibe. So I don't know how or why I would have been confused as being a part of the band but geographically we were close on the club scene.

That club scene was how Sly and Robbie started playing together. Robbie’s band was filling in for the Fab Five at Evil People next door to Tit-For-Tat and that's how they met up.

I don't remember how Sly and Robbie actually hooked up. I know when they started working together as producers. Because at the Channel One days when Sly was like the regular drummer, a lot of the songs were done with another bass player until Robbie’s time came and then they became the drum and bass guys. And then they were working with Peter Tosh together and then forming their own recording thing.

There was a lot of anticipation playing with Peter. We knew something was going to happen

It’s Bob Marley's birthday today. You did a lot of work with Peter Tosh and performed at the One Love Peace concert.

Yes. Well I played with Peter Tosh. There was a lot of anticipation playing with Peter. We knew something was going to happen but we didn't know what was going to happen. All the musicians were getting a little nervous or concerned because Peter was not necessarily the most popular person for different reasons whether musically or outside of the music. Peter was trying to mould himself as the next thing behind Bob. Because Bob was getting all the attention. I guess there was a little bit of animosity there and Peter was now going to prove that he was worthy.

Jamaican people who like entertainment, they like to take sides. I can remember even in my band days there were times that two or three bands will be playing on the same stage for the night and you would have people coming out not necessarily just to enjoy everything but to say they are supporting one band and downplay the other band. I am sure that a lot of people who came to the concert all knew what the logic behind that concert was because we were in serious times. But I'm also sure that a lot of the supporters came on a partisan type of basis. A lot of people in that time would say "Boy, I am coming to listen to Peter" or "I am coming to listen to Bob".

So I am sure that there was a lot of emotions running that night. And as a musician I just remember that Peter was going to come with something that would last forever in whatever form. We just had to wait until we got to the bandstand! (Laughs) And the whole irony about that week is that I recorded with Bob Marley that week! The only recording I ever did with Bob was the week of the Peace Concert. Which is kind of a little ironic!

Jamaican people who like entertainment, they like to take sides

Tell me about those recordings…

It was two songs recorded and produced by Lee Perry. Rastaman Live Up and Black Man Redemption. Which I think are on the Confrontation album. Which my name is not on that album! But I used to work with Lee Perry at Black Ark studio as one of his regulars. He had a lot of regulars. At any one time you would find three keyboard players getting together. I remember the day that he came to inform me about that recording. He actually came with Bob. I don't remember if I didn't have a working phone or whatever but he drove up to my gate and Bob was just sitting in the passenger seat. He told me about the recording and it was at Dynamic studio.

We didn't even know the musicians who were going to turn up at that session! Whether mostly Wailers or some other guys. Wire played organ but I played clavinet on both songs. And there was another keyboard player who played the piano. A guy named Charles Farquharson who played with Inner Circle for a while. He is now a member of Toots’ band. And the other unknown guitarist at the time was a guy called Billy Johnson who is the brother of a keyboard player named Jah Macka. The other players on the session in terms of the rhythm were Wailers, there was Carlie and Familyman and Junior Marvin on lead guitar and I think Seeco on percussion. So Lee Perry called the session and we went and Bob came and did his thing.

What are your memories of Scratch at that time?

Ah, Scratch! Well, apart from him being a character, he had his ideas, probably couldn't express them in a musical sense but we knew his sound. Having worked with Bob on those two songs I think Scratch probably wrote those songs or had something to do with them. I know he produced them, but you could hear his influence on how Bob sang those songs. And when you go back and listen to other songs that he had worked on before that didn't involve me, you can hear the influence of Scratch.


Yes and how he delivered certain little slangs and catch phrases. Like saying "Dig it!" - that was something that Scratch used say a lot. And you can hear it in said song and another song that Bob had recorded. You can hear directly Bob saying how Scratch would be talking to him.

You could hear Scratch's influence on how Bob sang those songs

How did you start working with Peter Tosh? Through Sly and Robbie?

No. This was within a year after I had left In Crowd band. It was kind of the end of 1975, so in 1976 I was pretty much freelancing as a studio musician, mostly Now Gen and sometimes me along with other musicians. Peter’s manager, Herbie Miller lived near to me and he knew who I was but we had never actually been in dialogue. He just turned up to my home one day and said "Peter needs a keyboard player” - was I interested?

I don't remember the first event that I played on. I know we did a thing which is on video at a hotel in Trelawny or something like that. I think Ranchie would've been playing guitar on that function. But anyhow, Robbie and Sly had started playing with Peter not too long before, probably they did a tour with him on the Legalise It album or the other one from Columbia.

So when Herbie called me, I said I would do it. I started doing the rehearsals. A couple of short trips to the islands. We did one event in Birmingham and a short tour in the Caribbean. Then of course by that time the Peace Concert came and then we met Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones recording happened which catapulted Peter more into the public's eye.

Tell me a bit about your involvement in those Peter Tosh Rolling Stones recordings. This was for doing Don't Look Back and things like that?

We actually went up to upstate New York to record that so I was actually out there for that. It turned out Peter actually recorded that song before. But such is the case with Bob and Peter. A lot of the songs that came out in the 70s and 80s were songs that they recorded in the early 70s. Bob recorded over so many of his songs and kind of brought them up-to-date sound-wise.

Peter liked that song a lot and by this time Robbie now had a lot of input into where Peter was going musically. They came in with a strong hand and could convince what to do and how to do arrangements, change this up, change that up. And the idea was to have the Rolling Stones, well Keith and Mick primarily because they were both together as the Rolling Stones label, to have them involved with the actual recordings. So that was the song that was chosen and Mick said "Yeah, I will do that".

How much interaction did you have with Mick and Keith?

They were in the studio as much as they could be. The place where we were recording was kind of secluded and that is where the Rolling Stones were preparing for their American tour. This was 1977? So they had their big tour and they wanted to be in close proximity because Peter was their first signing and their first product that they were going to put out so they wanted to be hands on with what was actually going on. Keith was there, not necessarily influencing the recordings but they were pretty much going along with what was happening. Mick did the vocals for Don't Look Back. And there were a couple of other songs that Keith played on the guitar.

Why did you leave Peter’s band?

The last time I played with Peter was the World Music Festival in Montego Bay which would've been 1982. There were certain things that started to happen. Sly and Robbie had already left so I pretty much helped to put the new guys together with the band, which would have been Fully and Santa on bass and drums and they brought back Donald Kinsey on lead guitar - who had played with Peter before and also with Bob. So I was kind of the senior person because Steve Golding had just replaced Mikey Chung as one of the guitarists in the band and everybody else was pretty new. I kind of stayed committed to Peter and helped get the new guys on the right track.

It took a little while, the first tour had a few little moments, but eventually they became one of the better bands with Peter. In all honesty, I must give credit to Robbie Shakespeare because the band had still kept a lot of his arrangements intact. But by that time there were certain little personal things that I didn't like that were happening around. I decided after the World Music Festival I would call it a day.

I think early ’83 when Peter made his first trip to Australia was the first thing I missed! (Laughs) Funnily enough the programme came out for the tour and my photo and my little bio was in it. Because when I told Copeland who was Peter’s manager at the time that I was calling it a day he probably didn't think I was that serious! (Laughs) Until when they came calling for me to get ready to go and there was no response. So I would have been with Peter from 1976 until the end of 1982. I played on the studio albums Bush Doctor, Wanted, and Mama Africa which was the album without Sly & Robbie but they had used a couple of tracks recorded before. I probably did three or four studio albums while I was a full-time member of Peter's band.

In terms of giving you exposure, and travelling internationally, was working with Peter a good thing for your career?

Yes, in some respects but I didn't take advantage of it like Sly and Robbie did. Because I was not really endeavouring to become a producer or songwriter looking for outlets. There would've been a lot of opportunities while travelling with Peter to meet people who would help you along the way eventually, which is what Sly and Robbie did. Because before they had left Peter they had become producers in their own right. Which led to Black Uhuru, not the advent but the resurgence with Michael Rose. Sly and Robbie became very involved with that and when it seemed to be the next big thing, they opted to leave Peter and concentrate on that. I was just in the background with Peter but I met a few people who I am still in touch with. I never really took advantage of meeting record company executives and that sort of thing.

Did you ever want to be a producer or own your own label?

No, not really. I was comfortable, because I was doing pretty well as a freelance studio musician. Probably if I had a chance to go back and revisit that maybe I would've thought a little differently. Because subsequently you have a lot of musicians who've come on the scene and made that move and become very successful at it. Maybe it's just your personality because you have to have a certain type of demeanour and how to be with people and maybe it wasn't me.

In the 1980s when the music changed, when it went digital, for someone playing the keyboard there were still opportunities. So it didn't feel like everything was shutting down for some the way it would've done to some people?

Yes. I can sympathise with the guitarists at the time! (Laughs) But with the advent of digital the keyboards became more important actually. I was investing in a keyboard where I'm doing the horns to the chagrin of a lot of horn players, who started finding fault with it - "It doesn't sound right!" It is because they were being displaced. But I did a lot of work that I am proud of.

And not only that, if you take enough time to work with digital equipment it can sound almost close to the original. A lot of people just go in and do it quick and get out and it doesn't do any justice to the music – ‘til it almost becomes part of the sound of the day. I got into the drum programming thing, not that I did it a lot. I never invested into much of the equipment because I consider myself primarily a keyboard player. But when I got the Emulator I can pretty much get any sound that I or that producer wanted.

I could understand where some producers were coming from. It would cost them less studio time if I was to do certain things - maybe not to the satisfaction of certain ears but for what they wanted. Sometimes it was pretty difficult to get a horn section that I could satisfy some producers. Gladly now, there are a lot of good young horn players on the scene. There were some good horn players before - going back to the Skatalites days. Those guys were exceptional. But after a while there was a little lull and a gap in the standard and some producers agonised, maybe because they didn't know how to tell them what they wanted. A good producer could tell a horn player "No, don't play that harmony - play this instead” when switching around the harmonies, what type of texture to use.

But some producers said "I need horns on the song" and called in two or three guys to pretty much do it on their own how they want to do it. Sometimes one guy was out of tune - maybe they're not totally playing together. Somebody is coming in too late or too early. And it was kind of agonising for that producer. So I know the reason for some producers calling me to try and do horns. (Laughs) It can be done pretty quick and they don't have to worry about spending too much money on studio time. Then also bass-lines were being done by the keyboards so that when Steely and Clevie came in and then everybody started to try and do that.

So in the digital time, which associations were you most happy with? Was it Gussie Clarke?

Robbie LynDefinitely. Because I was always expected to be a part of his productions, whether I played on the actual recording of the rhythm track, or do that after production once the vocals went on. Because Clevie would have worked with Steely for the most part with other producers but there he worked with his brother Danny. Danny played a lot of the bass-lines that Steely and Clevie were doing. So it was pretty much the same sound. So a lot of times he would just work with them and probably a guitarist and then bring me and to do all the keyboard work to finish up or help enhance the production. And as I said there were a lot of times when I was involved with the actual making of the rhythm track. I had a good working relationship with Gussie and he had a lot of top songs at the time.

The other thing, which we mentioned earlier, was Gussie wasn't too into the re-versioning thing. You’ve said in the past that you felt it was getting too repetitive, people trying to do the same things again and again.

Yeah. And as I said, if you talk to Gussie, he’ll probably tell you his main role in the music business, although he wears many hats, is publishing! (Laughs) And you're not going to get the publishing by doing over peoples’ stuff. So he set up his publishing company and signed a lot of people to it and that's where his business is.

So did you find that for other producers you were being called into work and thinking "Oh no, not this again"?

Yeah, to some extent. I can remember clearly, when I worked on One Dance with Beres Hammond. It was produced by Willie Lindo as the world should know by now. At the time Willie Lindo was very reluctant to use a drum machine. But the sound of the music was evolving and he kind of gave in and he got this drum track from Sly.

Willie wrote the song for Beres and we laid the track and then Gussie’s rival, friend, whatever you call it, Germain had just started coming into it and decided to record over back the same rhythm track and asked me to do it. (Laughs) So myself and another musician laid the track and I kind of did it with a heavy heart because I was that close to Willie. I knew that he would probably distance himself from me for going back and doing his thing. But maybe not, because he probably has more publishing coming in now that I'm looking at it! (Laughs) So Germain recorded over the song then actually answered Beres' song with Audrey and I said “Okay”. Germain actually put out one whole album with just the rhythm track on it.

Then not very long after another top producer, called me to do the same thing over. I had used that sound to do the bass line and I think they wanted back the same exact sound that I did, with a piece of equipment that I used. Did it back identical, the same textures again. (Laughs)

But I have to look at it from both ways. You can say "How many times am I going to do this particular track?" But at the same time you say "Well I am trying to make a living also”. And if I said "I am not going to do it" they'll just get somebody else to do it and pay them! (Laughs)

Did you do much travelling and touring during the digital time?

No. After I had Peter in ’82 or ’83 I did some travelling, but more as a freelancer. I did stuff with Sly and Robbie but I'm not really a member of the Taxi Gang that travels. Because once when they left and did the Black Uhuru thing they had a regular keyboard player. But I would still go if 809 band was doing a trip because at the time they never had a regular keyboard player. I did a couple of trips with them. So I was very comfortable being here in Jamaica and recording because I knew I would have something.

Beres never liked to do live shows. But he's eager to get on stage now

You still seem to be doing some travelling. I saw you at Reggae Geel 2015 with Lloyd Parks.

Yeah, occasionally. It seems to be more important in the business, believe it or not. Because when I was working with Peter when you made an album you’d go on tour to promote the recording to generate sales. It’s in reverse now. You make a recording, you give away the music so that you can get bookings to go on the live shows. I remember, speaking about Beres Hammond again, Beres never liked to do live shows. I can tell you that. Because in the early stage when Willie Lindo put a little group together to do a function with Beres at a hotel in the north coast - Beres was trying to find every reason not to sing that night! He left his clothes out in the car - you know that sort of thing? (Laughs) But he's eager to get on stage now.

Yeah, you'd never know it if you saw him live now!

Right. And sales from recorded music is not where it used to be so if you're going to stay in the business and be successful, live shows is where it's at. So after I left Peter, I was very comfortable recording, just freelancing and doing the occasional trips when needed. I think over the last few years I've worked with a band that did some travelling. And there is a little yearning that is coming back to do more travelling mainly because the recording aspect has kind of slowed down for a lot of musicians.

There are a handful of guys now that just move from one studio to the other and they have no complaints. But some of the older guys who laid the foundation or kept it firm for a few years, we're not getting the calls like we used to. We still get calls but it's the next generation taking over, that's what you have to admit. So sometimes you say "Boy, I wouldn't mind getting back on the road".

But you don't want to go on the road for the sake of going. You want to be in the right situation, working with somebody you are comfortable with. I've heard stories of guys who go out on the road and the arrangements are kind of substandard, financially, accommodation, that sort of thing. Working with certain artists who give a black eye to the industry. If it's a one off event then if there is anything negative I can handle it for a couple of days. But put yourself in a longer situation that you might not be comfortable in and you won't want that. If the right thing comes along I will do it.

But you're doing okay financially?

I am still involved. It's not what it used to be. Another generation of singers, musicians, producers, they may be into something else that is a little bit outside of what you are accustomed to doing. The productions will favour some other people now. There are times that I'm not doing anything but I have to give thanks sometimes that I am still requested to come and work. Maybe it's because it is a type of project where you were part of something that happened before and they are trying to recreate or emulate that sort of thing. But it's a work in progress still and you just try to keep yourself ready.

Some of the older guys... we're not getting the calls like we used to

In 2006 you put out your Making Notes solo album. Will you do any more?

Yeah, I made an album. I was very happy with it when it came out and it seemed to be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately the company that were entrusted to distribute and put it out just kind of locked shop and closed down. Unknown to me! (Laughs) The person left Jamaica, closed the business and that was the end of that. My associate producer has good intentions, and every now and then he made some effort but time is going by and you don't want to go back in the past and try to recreate something that was made for a certain time. He still has it at heart but he can only do so much to. So it just fell by the wayside so to speak! (Laughs)

If somebody asked me for a copy of the album there's no way I can give them a CD without going back at some expense and doing a reproduction and doing over the master. Recreating jackets, the inner sleeves and all that sort of thing. I am not in a position to and I don't want to bring back something from 2007 or whatever. Nine years. People keep asking me "When are you going to do something?" But I'm not really that interested.

I hear you are working on a project at Mixing Lab with Sly, Mikey Chung and others. Kingston All Stars?

Well this week on Monday starting is the beginning of recordings for a project that sounds interesting. It hopefully will mean that I will be able to do some travelling if all goes well. It's going to be some musicians of my generation. There is a market for everything if you were to shop it. So we'll see how it goes.

It is somebody who I worked with on a project in 2009 on a project called Get Ready Rocksteady. He is in Jamaica now. I had a little meeting yesterday. We just have some ideas and when we get into the studio it will be more like an experiment to see which direction we are going. It's not going to be like the everyday thing. The guy who conceptualised it has identified a few possible dates for this year for travelling and some things are going to be definite for next year. One note is not been played yet so I can't really say more! (Laughs)

You also see European producers coming to Jamaica to record foundation musicians for their projects - have you been involved in any of that?

I have been involved with a couple of those projects. Bob Sinclar who is very popular in his genre is apparently a big fan of Serge Gainsbourg who was idolised all over France. Serge came to Jamaica in the 70s to record an album. I didn't know much about Serge at the time when we were recording with him. That is an album that has left a lasting mark on a lot of the music loving people of France, reggae lovers, and a lot of producers. Bob Sinclar came to Jamaica specifically to get back recordings as close as possible to what Serge had done. So he had as many of the musicians as possible who played on those tracks. Sly, Robbie and myself, Mikey Chung, Sticky on percussion.

And another producer from France who I worked with recently, also did a project involving re-recording over some of the backing tracks of Serge. And they wanted back the same people who were with him. So I can honestly say I have got some work because of what I've been involved in previously. Not because I'm ongoing and current and creative with new ideas and people want to get a part of what's happening. It is just because on that day or that date they wanted to try and recreate that moment!

Well maybe, or maybe people like working with you?

Yeah, well, a lot of people are comfortable working with me. That's true. You might even have some producers in Jamaica who are very active and they might not necessarily call me now like they did for everything they are doing but there are certain elements that they're looking for that they say "Robbie would be perfect for this".

Final question, which keyboards and organs do you have at home?

I just took down a lot of them. I had some of the old synthesisers from the 80s. Like my DX7's, the Korg DW8, Roland D50. I took them out of the cases for a while and had them set up. I have a clavinet which I've just put in my living room a couple of days ago because I wanted to start experimenting with some effects and try to compare the sound. Because every now and then you have some people try to want to use back the original keyboards as opposed to the synthesised version.

But to answer your question, I have a portable Hammond organ which is an X5. It is actually a transistorised Japanese thing. And the Leslie speaker which is the most important thing. I have a Wurlitzer electric piano which I got from Robbie Shakespeare. My main keyboard which I used is the Motif although that's a couple of years old. That's the last keyboard. I have a few modules so it's a handful still!

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