Passage - Bobby Ellis


Saturday, December 17, 2016

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Bobby Ellis was typical of the Jamaican session musician who emerged during the 1960s. Prolific, low-key and talented.

Ellis died in October at age 84, leaving an impressive body of work as an arranger and musician. Born in Kingston, he was a past student of Alpha Boys’ School (now Alpha Institute) and a contemporary of saxophonists Tommy McCook and Felix "Deadly Headley" Bennett.

He played on a number of songs that rate highly in the Jamaican songbook. They include Higgs and Wilson’s There’s A Reward For Me and I Wanna Go Back Home by Bob Andy.

Like McCook and Bennett, Ellis became teacher to a new generation of musicians in the 1970s who were into Rasta and roots-reggae.

In 1974, he was summoned by producer Lawrence "Jack Ruby" Lindo to lead the Black Disciples band that played on Burning Spear’s seminal Marcus Garvey album.

Ellis arranged the horns on the title track as well as Slavery Days. He was a key member of Spear’s recording and touring band for the next 12 years.

He and McCook also played and arranged the horns for Blackheart Man, Bunny Wailer’s classic 1976 album.

Ellis was among several top Jamaican musicians who played on jazz flautist Herbie Mann’s Reggae and Reggae II albums in the early 1970s.

In 2014, Bobby Ellis was awarded the Order of Distinction (Officer class) by the Jamaican Government, for his contribution to the country’s music.

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