Mikey Bennett remembers a giantFriday, May 29, 2020
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
'SOLID.' That is how music producer Mikey Bennett described his late friend and industry giant Bobby Digital, who passed away a week ago.
The two met nearly 40 years ago when dancehall music, as we know it today, was experiencing its halcyon days. Bennett had been employed as a staff writer and vocal arranger at the renowned King Jammy's Recording Studio, and Bobby Digital was the chief engineer.
“Back in those days all dancehall roads led to Jammy's. I was so fortunate to have been invited in by Jammy's to work with the artistes on the songwriting and vocal aspects of the music coming out of the studio. It was the place to be if you wanted to make a mark in the music – and Bobby was right there at the centre of it all,” he told the Jamaica Observer's Splash.
The two became fast friends as each understood the importance of each other's work. But while Bobby Digital already had the respect of the artistes who were passing through the recording booth on a regular basis, Bennett, as the newcomer to the studio, had to earn the respect, and that is where Bobby Digital proved invaluable.
“Everybody who was anybody was voicing at Jammy's. I had to listen to their work, critique and offer solutions to improve lyrically and vocally…a lot of them really didn't take to it. So what Bobby did was brokered the relationship between myself and the artiste. He would hear what I had to say and then pass it on to the artiste. They would take it, because Bobby Digital said it. As time went by, he would give the confidence to share my thoughts, opinions and suggestions with the artiste.”
“I remember a recording with Cocoa Tea. I was offering suggestions and he took offence. Bobby understood what was going on and stepped in, brokered the deal by telling Cocoa Tea who I was and my history with Home T. Once we started listening back to the song and I showed where the changes could be made, it started what has become a wonderful relationship with Cocoa Tea. He called me 'Little Man' and always wanted 'Little Man' to be in studio when he recorded. That repeated itself with other artistes thanks to Bobby,” Bennett shared.
The relationship between Bennett and Bobby Digital only grew with passing years. Bennett was part of his friend's wedding and gave a speech; they were constant sounding boards for each other when both decided to establish music labels; they relied on each other's honest opinion on matters related to the music; and for Bennett, most importantly, they remained close friends.
“I remember one night going to the studio and Bobby asked me to listen to a track. I was impressed by the artiste and asked who it was. Bobby introduced me to the deejay whose name was Shabba Ranks and the song was Needle Eye. It was my relationship with Booby and his development of Shabba that led to me writing two hits in House Call and Mr Lover Man for Shabba. Bobby was just a good producer. He knew when a song fit and artiste and when it didn't…he had that ear. There was something about his instinct, subtle things that he said to the artiste to make that recording better. 'Use another phrase' or 'Ride the riddim a little harder' – that thing that brought out the best in the artiste and the song. Then he had an uncompromised standard which made his productions so big,” he reflected.
A week ago Bennett was plunged into mourning at the passing of his friend. He was awoken by a call from selector Rory Stone Love who told him Bobby Digital had passed.
“The rest of the day was really a blur. I just turned off my phone because I knew I would be flooded with calls. Some time later I got the strength to reach out to his wife and family. But this is one of the challenges we face with COVID; that group mourning and consoling that we need is not possible. That makes it rough, really rough. But I treasure the memories like the long-standing joke we have between us. I had a riddim and I gave him a cut, because that is how we operated. He got a hit with Sanchez and none of my acts got anywhere near where Sanchez's song took him...We laughed about it all the time,” said Bennett.
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