Remembering ‘Gladdy’ Anderson, the founding father of ska and rocksteady

Gladstone Anderson, who died on December 3 aged 81, made a very important contribution to the development and evolution of reggae.

A permanent recording studio fixture during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Gladdy helped bring about the ska form, played on countless reggae hits, and helped roots reggae transmogrify itself into dancehall. He also maintained a parallel career as a singer-songwriter, sometimes in tandem with another vocalist, and other times simply accompanying himself on the piano. But most important of all was the crucial function he provided as a musical arranger, being the unsung hero that put the meat onto what was typically brought to him as bare-bones song lyrics. From the late 1960s, Gladdy was the one that the singers would head to in the studio to determine the correct key for the song they were about to commit to tape, and Gladdy would then bash out some chord changes, crafting the song’s basic structure and melody line.

He was born in Kingston in 1934 and initially raised in Jones Town, a community located a little to the northwest of the downtown Kingston centre, but soon moved into the bordering Trench Town slum, the same neighbourhood that gave rise to Bob Marley and the Wailers and many other popular Jamaican vocalists. During his formative years, his uncle, the noted pianist Aubrey Adams, taught him to play on the family piano at home, giving him the solid grounding he needed to become a professional musician.

Although the Jamaican music industry was then in its infancy, Adams had already been recording for Duke Reid and Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, and before leaving Jamaica for Panama, Adams introduced Gladdy to the Duke, who began using the young nephew in place of his uncle. Gladstone Anderson thus began recording at a time when rhythm and blues formed a basic blueprint for most Jamaican popular music. Soon, he was doing sessions for Reid and Coxsone, and whilst working with Don Drummond and the other musicians who would later form the Skatalites, Gladdy helped ska obtain its defining rhythmic characteristics.

Becoming a member of Lyn Taitt and the Jets as ska was waning, Gladdy played on some of the earliest rocksteady ever recorded, including Hopeton Lewis’ ‘Take It Easy’ and Roy Shirley’s ‘Hold Them’. Lewis remarked that Gladdy was even the one to come up with the rocksteady name, which the pianist first uttered upon hearing the initial playback of ‘Take It Easy’. He formed a duo with Stranger Cole in this era, scoring a big hit with the dejected ‘Seeing Is Knowing’ for Joe Gibbs (recorded at the time when Lee Perry was arranging most of Gibbs’ releases), and featured strongly on the Jets album Glad Sounds, also known as Let’s Go Native.

During the late 60s and early 70s, Gladdy’s hit-making ability went into overdrive. He was responsible for arranging hugely successful work that achieved chart success in Britain, such as the Upsetters’ ‘Return of Django’, Harry J’s ‘The Liquidator’, Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ and Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’, to name a few of the best-known examples. Another Stranger and Gladdy vocal collaboration achieved a fair degree of success in Jamaica in 1972, the boastful ‘Conqueror’, issued on Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Wizzdom label. Gladdy became an important part of Harry Mudie’s production team at this time, arranging hits by John Holt, Dennis Walks and Jo Jo Bennett, among others, in addition to cutting his own piano instrumentals, which were gathered for the albums It May Sound Silly and Gladdy Unlimited, emphasising how important he was within the Kingston music scene. Touring Britain with Jimmy Cliff in 1974 brought him into the orbit of flautist Herbie Mann, who recorded Gladdy and the rest of Cliff’s backing band on the crossover album Reggae (revisited two years later in Jamaica for sequel Reggae II), and when Bob Marley ceased working with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, he engaged Gladdy’s assistance on the Natty Dread album, before Bernard ‘Touter’ Harvey came on board.

Shortly thereafter, the opening of Channel One studio on Maxfield Avenue in western Kingston gave Gladdy a new place of daily residence. Working with the Revolutionaries house band, Gladdy again became an important part of the incredible range of hit recordings that emanated from the space during the mid-1970s, featuring on massive successes voiced by the Mighty Diamonds, Leroy Smart, Horace Andy and the Wailing Souls, to name but a few, and working closely with drummer Sly Dunbar both before and after he teamed up with bassist Robbie Shakespeare. Gladdy continued to produce original work for Harry Mudie too, and after playing on John Holt’s Time Is The Master, one of the first orchestrated reggae albums, he also contributed to the highly experimental In Conference album series that Mudie engineered at King Tubby’s studio between 1976-78. Then he became part of the Roots Radics, a spin-off of the Morwells backing band which swiftly became the most in-demand session group of the day. The Roots Radics made indelible changes to the dominant mode of Jamaican music by pointing reggae away from roots and towards the emerging dancehall style, as heard on the incredibly popular material that Barrington Levy began recording for Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes towards the end of the decade.

In the early 1980s, Gladstone Anderson made progress in his vocal career with Songs For Today and Tomorrow, issued on Ijahman Levi’s Jahmani label. He branched out into dub production as well, creating the compelling Radical Dub Session with Roots Radics dubs, issued on the Croydon-based Solid Groove label (which mostly operated as a UK outlet for the productions of Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes), and followed that up with Peace Pipe Dub, an enjoyable set of Radics dubs laid at Channel One and given a mixdown at Tuff Gong, issued on the Kensal Rise-based Seven Leaves.

In the late 1980s he was feted overseas on his first tour of Japan, arranged by noted promoter and producer Shizuo Ishii of Overheat Music, who paired him with the experimental Japanese dub band Mute Beat for a successful joint performance that took place in Tokyo on Valentine’s Day in 1987, which was subsequently released as the album Gladdy Meets Mute Beat. Overheat issued Gladdy’s Caribbean Breeze in 1989 (the same year he recorded Get Closer in New Jersey for Bullwackie, with the assistance of Ishii’s brother Sony Ochiai), and the label would later issue Gladdy’s 1994 album Piano in Harmony, as well as the 2010 set, Gladdy’s Double Score. Gladdy would also feature heavily in Ishii’s documentary film, Ruffn Tuff: Founders of the Immortal Rhythm.

It’s fair to say that much of Gladdy’s work has a timeless quality about it; just ask Jay Z, who sampled ‘Mad Mad Ivy’, one of Gladdy’s orchestrated piano numbers from the It May Sound Silly album, for his 2009 release, ‘Already Home’. Gladstone Anderson was one of those rare individuals with an intrinsic ear for sound and a natural ability to make unformed music take credible shape. And despite being a truly gifted musician whose talent brought him all over the world, Gladdy remained a resolutely humble and down-to-earth person that radiated warmth.

His death on December 3 at the age of 81 followed a long illness, and although already at the age when many of his peers had already left us, his passing still brings sadness to those honoured enough to call him a colleague and friend.



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