Legendary Producer Remembers Jamaica’s Late Great Hornsman
One of Jamaica’s most accomplished musicians, trumpet master Bobby Ellis, died on Tuesday at the University Hospital of the West Indies. The Jamaica Observer reports that he was admitted in late September suffering from pneumonia. During his 84 years on earth, Bobby Ellis and his trusty horn made a mighty legacy. A graduate of the famed Alpha Boys School, he often played alongside fellow alumni Tommy McCook, “Deadly” Headley Bennett, and the immortal tromphonist Don Drummond, and was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2014 for his outstanding contributions to Jamaican culture. His session works are too numerous to mention, from Boby Andy’s “I’ve Got To Go Back Home” to Burning Spear’s classic Marcus Garvey album. Mr. Ellis arranged the horns for Jack Ruby’s stellar Black Disciples band and toured extensively with Spear over the years. He also collaborated with the noted jazz artist Herbie Mann. As news of Ellis’s passing has spread, numerous tributes have appeared on social media, but few more moving than that of legendary producer Clive “Uglyman” Hunt. Story Continues After The Jump…
Rockers All-Stars: Tommy McCook, Dirty Harry, Bobby Ellis and Herman Marquis.
R.I.P Bobby Ellis……. You will always be a part of my cultural musical journey.
My Bobby Ellis Moments:
As a young trumpet player at age 17, I did not know much about who Bobby Ellis was as a player and an arranger. His name was mentioned to me by Peter Ashbourne when I asked him to recommend an arranger to me who I could speak to about teaching me the skills of our music, and he told me to find Bobby Ellis. I was young and cocky and I thought that Peter had dissed me by recommending me to a lowly roots trumpeter. I kept this thought for many years until maybe just over 10 years ago, when I got to realize that was a brilliant idea. I was told that I was one of the best ever at that age, and at that time, potentially, and I looked down on the man and Peter too at the time . This was before Peter went to Berklee and I went to Kneller Hall.
Fast forward to the late 80’s when I was living in a different world, mentally and otherwise, and not showing anything of my earlier potential. I was asked by Al Campbell to record/play on an album of his. I was the only musician he wanted to play on the album. I was not happy with this but because of the relationship I had with Al, as a friend and one of the few people that looked out for me during my addictive years, I agreed. I did it for a few pennies and clothes. After recording about six rhythms and adding the overdubs (horns, etc.) all from one keyboard instrument (which I don’t, and have never played well), and an MPCII Drum Machine, I walked out of the studio and called Al. He came out and saw me standing some distance from the studio. He was really upset, more so when I told him that I wasn’t going to play anymore. My reason was that there were too many great reggae musicians standing around watching me play their instruments on a keyboard. And I couldn’t do that anymore. He got very angry telling me that none of them care about me, to them I was just a stinking cokehead, but I insisted. I sent for the instruments I borrowed from Music Mountain studio and left without pay as I didn’t want it. I must say that I stopped mostly because Bobby Ellis was among the musicians standing there, watching and smiling while I played a trumpet part on the keyboard right in front of his face. I looked up at him and said to myself “No More.” Prior to this day, I was one of the few musicians in Jamaica doing this sort of thing. One of the hits I made during this period with these two instruments was Beres Hammond’s “Putting Up Resistance” for Producer Tappa Zukie. I refuse to record like this since then, unless I am locked away alone and writing down a vibe.
Two weeks ago I was asked by Chris Chin, President of VP Records, to do an instrumental album. After a day or so I decided I wanted Bobby Ellis to be my co-arranger on the project. When I called him, he was so happy to be a part of the project. I was driving when I called about him being involved and I got into a little difficulty and had to drop the phone before we both could hang up. I heard him telling someone at his home that, “A Clive Hunt dat enoh, him want mi fi come work wid him pan some music. Thank yuh God.” A lot of emotions ran through me then. The man is 80+ and stopped playing for over four years and during the brief period that we working together again (the album is still not completed), I learned a few things. One is that there is no support for musicians over a certain age, not even by the insurance companies that they contributed to during their working years. Bobby was a victim of this. Anyway, to conclude my most recent Bobby Ellis moment, I must say that Dean Fraser begged and convinced Bobby to play, and he did. Thanks Dean, and thank you, Bobby. I will treasure these moments and the others I’ve spent with you. You were a special and gentle person, may your path be guided and blessed.
The Black Disciples Band: Bobby Ellis stands in the foreground with his trusty trumpet at the ready as Robbie Shakespear pats his bald head like a bongo drum.