Friday, May 31, 2013


        I was born in North Ontario.  I grew up in Jamaica.
I grew up in the Parish of St.  Ann.  Bob Marley was  born 
in the parish of St. Ann about 3 miles away.
          When I was 17 years old, living in Toronto, I started singing
by myself in small clubs for folk singers. I sang some songs I wrote myself. I sang some old folksinging classics like,  "O Sinner Man",
"Some Day Soon",  "  Four Strong Winds"  ( Ian and Silvia)  Don`t Think Twice,   " Bend Down Low,"  "Hold em, Joe, "   - me donkey wants water! Hold him Joe.".  "Mama Look at Boo Boo " "O Sinnerman.... where you going to run to....?"

          I`m playing , "Bend Down Low - let me tell you what I know"
and people are loving the song and the rhythms.. So I play it each night...
until one night I smoke a Big One, and swallow a good one - and I`m
sitting up with this writer who` s  a famous guy now, and we both listen to a version of "Bend Down Low" that neither of us had heard before...
           It`s Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Natty Dread album, singing
"Bend Down Low" better than I`d been singing it the last six months.
So I started following Bob Marley and I stopped singing, "Bend Down Low.", the song I`d learned at Miss Gwendolyn Dicken`s knee
 in St.  Ann Bay, Jamaica.

          After singing folk songs and ballads and playing
with calypso rhythms much of the time, but playing acoustic
guitar primarily in folk clubs,  I made a move.
          I took the giant step from the world of
folk music to the wholly different and more dangerous
world of Yonge Street, Toronto.
           I walked into the Zanzibar tavern and Bobby Dean
was doing an afternoon show there playing a B3 organ.
He said. "You look like a guitar player.?
            I told him I was and we decided I`d join him on
stage the next day.  I had a red Gibson 330 which had a sweet neck
on it and a Super Reverb Fender amplifier.
            I asked Bobby what keys he played in mostly.
            "I play in all the keys!`he said.
And he did, too.
             There  was something else he said to me
when we first met.  I`ve never forgotten it. He said:  "There are
no mistakes in music."
             And he`s right - if you`re quick enough you can take a lead
in any direction, and improvise with the song.
             I didn`t know any of the standards - I didn`t even know what the
standards were.  But we`re talking jazz standards... For a period of about two years some of the best jazz that was played in Canada 
was being played at the Zanzibar  in the afternoons.
            I didn`t know the standards so pretty quick I learned to improvise.
             Fine musicians from all over used to line up to get up
on stage and play. Bobby and I were the band.I was known back then
as Johnny Rock.  So it was Bobby Dean and Johnny Rock and
Liberty Silver and Roland Prince ( tho I don`t remember him).
There was a guy who played an old hollow-bodied Gibson
about four inches thick.  He played so well,  so fluidly
that I bought the same guitar when I found one once in Florida.
Turns out he had been the guitar player for the Ink Spots.
             One night some guys joined us in a piano bar on Queen Street.
We were playing a song called,  "Don`t Make Promises You Can`t Keep."
These three guys stepped in and sang with us in three part harmony;
it sounded pretty good.
             So after the set I was talking to these guy. And I say, "You know,
you guys are pretty good.  You should turn pro."
             And they laughed a bit and nodded their heads in agreement.
No one said a word.
              It turned out these guys were The Platters, and they`d
been singing that night in a sold out show at Massey Hall. They`d
come down the street to join us.
              No "I told you so`s". They were a class act.

               Anyway, I stayed at the Zanzibar for over a year.  I rented
a room upstairs. The action never stopped.  Someone was always
trying to sell you something... and the good looking women hanging
around didn`t hurt... The Zanzibar is a strip club,  after all.
               Some of these women could even sing.

Because I mentioned Bob Marley earlier in this article:

"Forget your sorrow and dance;
Forget your troubles and dance,
Forget your weakness and dance,
Forget your sickness and dance."

I`ve always thought these were  his best lyrics.
            Well, there was always plenty of dancing going on
in the old Zanzibar... and it was a wonderful; place 
for a folk singer to learn how to sing the blues.

            There was a lot of running in that place, too. Sometimes we were running because others were chasing us. Sometimes we were running
from the police.

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