Ansell Collins: Man behind the beats

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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With February acknowledged as Reggae Month, the Jamaica Observer salutes some of the music's unsung heroes in this daily column.

ONE of the most easy-going musicians in reggae, organist/keyboardist Ansell Collins has allowed his artistry to do the talking throughout his 55-year career. He has written, arranged and played on some of reggae's biggest hit songs.

Originally from Maxfield Avenue in Kingston, Collins wrote, arranged and performed the hit song Double Barrel (with Dave Barker), which made the British national chart in 1971. He has similar credits for the massive Stalag rhythm that has driven countless hit songs, including Arleen by General Echo and Tenor Saw's Ring The Alarm.

Controversially, he never got songwriting credit for either song and has never earned substantially from them.

Ansell Collins started his career as a drummer, playing on songs like This Old Heart of Mine by Delroy Wilson. He switched to keyboards in the mid-1960s and has played on numerous classic songs, including Night Doctor produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Collins' distinctive feel can be heard on Toots and The Maytals' Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy; Love is Overdue and Soon Forward by Gregory Isaacs; Woman Is Like a Shadow by The Meditations; Natty Never Get Weary (Culture); Dreamland and Stepping Outa Babylon (Marcia Griffiths); and Sugar Minott's Good Thing Going.

The funky Double Barrel is the 70-year-old Collins' finest moment. Featuring Barker's James Brown-inspired vocals, it also had a young Sly Dunbar on drums, Bobby Aitken playing lead guitar, Lloyd Parks on rhythm guitar, and Vincent White playing bass.

The song was a big hit in Britain and earned Barker and Collins a tour of the United Kingdom. They appeared on the top-rated television show Top Of The Pops.

Winston Riley is credited as producer of Double Barrrel and Stalag. Collins, who has recorded five albums as an artiste, has consistently bemoaned his lack of reward for the songs which have been sampled by some of pop music's top artistes.

For several years, Collins recorded and toured as a member of Jimmy Cliff's Oneness band. He played on Cliff Hanger, Cliff's album which won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Recording in 1986.

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