I always say to people: “If you were a record label I would have no problems remembering, as I have a photographic memory for them!” Reggae and dancehall have so many iconic labels to remember.
In the 90s the glorious trio of King Jammy, Black Scorpio and Penthouse all took up lots of space in my 7” record case, but one of my favorites was the yellow label with a touch of green and red. The legendary Digital-B is the label in question today.
It was a late evening in Kingston that I decided to make a trip to the Hughenden community, where Bobby Dixon – aka Bobby Digital – has been recording hits with the likes of Shabba Ranks, Garnet Silk, Morgan Heritage, Bounty Killer and Sizzla for many years.
There aren’t many quality Jamaican artists that haven’t visited this studio. Upon entering I began to get a real feeling of déjà vu. Bobby’s studio is very reminiscent of Stingray studio in
West London. Bobby chuckles as I make mention of the similari- ties and lets me in on the reason why.
“I built that studio for Dilly! (Stingray’s owner) – it just has a little more room, but it’s mine!” Bobby started his career and made a notable mark at King Jammys during the ‘80s where as he says he “was producer, engineer…Everything. I gotta give thanks to King Jammys for giving me the opportunity showcase my talent”.
If you look at his back catalogue, his talent and skill cannot be questioned. He has many classic reggae albums under his belt and our conversation started with how Shabba Ranks’ ‘Just Reality’ album came about.
“I had just got my mixing board and a 16-track recorder. We set it up in the room around the front that is now a bedroom. ‘Just Reality’, ‘Roots and Culture’ and even ‘Wicked In Bed’ all came from there.”
The stories that Bobby unleashed about how some songs came about were unbelievable. With a grin on his face he tells me: “Seani, if I was to start telling you stories we will be here until tomorrow morning.” I can well imagine.
Next up on the history lesson was the UK’s very own Jazzwad. “When Jazzwad flew in from London, he was just looking for a resident studio to unleash, but due to him being English was not getting that chance – but I found his drum programming skills were great,” Bobby continues.
I remember in an earlier interview I did with Jazzwad when he mentioned some sessions with Garnet Silk. The mere mention of Garnett’s name evoked so many emotions in Bobby. Their collaboration on his 1992 album ‘It’s Growing’ was reggae at its finest, and serves as a bonafide classic for me.
With Songs like the title track, ‘Bless Me’ and ‘I Am Vex’, this was a fine moment in reggae history. “If Garnett was here right now you would get that chill because of his delivery,” he says. “He was easy, just like many of the artists I worked with. As we would make the riddims, we would say who it would fit.”
MAN OF WORDS: Sizzla has worked tirelessly with Bobby Digital to create some reggae classics
At this point I knew I was in store for a history lesson of length as my memory of his catalogue started to grow in my head. “We used to have days when we say, ‘Alright, today is this artist’s day and tomorrow this artist’s day’.
My neighbours never knew for 10 years what I was doing. “There was never a hang around culture, but sometimes the police would come knocking wondering what we were up to. People were constantly coming in and out, which caused suspicion, but I would invite them in to show them that it was just making music and nothing sinister.”
Quality music has always been what the Bobby Digital label was all about. Morgan Heritage was another act that Bobby worked with from an early stage. “I remember when a bus load of them came here and I thought, ‘What is this?’. For two days we sat down and talked, held a reverence, cooked and ate food. Music is something you don’t do jus’ so.
“I have to understand a person so I know how to approach a person because you can’t do music and be stiff up.” It seemed as if Bobby knew how to connect with his artist over three decades to be able to draw the best out of them.
Personally, I believe he has shown these qualities best with Miguel Collins, aka Sizzla. ‘Black Woman And Child’ and ‘Da Real Thing’ both equally left marks on their releases, but the latter has to be one of the all-time classics.
Bobby lights up as we start to talk about this album. “You see, I had songs like ‘Thank You Mama’ in my head for six months,” he tells me. “It was my engineer Arthur who told me to build the riddim. “At the same time I made the ‘Dry Cry’ Queen Majesty riddim and then called Sizzla. I always work with two songs cos bird nuh fly ‘pon one wing.
“When Miguel heard the idea within 20 minutes he was ready to add his voice to it. Actually, ‘Dry Cry’ was the last song that was voiced for the ‘Da Real Thing’.” His humility and openness to share the heritage, stories and background to some of the cornerstones of our culture brings an amazing opportunity for an enthusiast like me.
As you can imagine I would need a few more pages to even summarise the history lesson I had. If this was part of my school exams I would have been a A+ student. Characters like Bobby are vital in this game, and I salute the many doors he has opened, and hope they continue to keep slamming open for years to come.
Bobby Digital’s “Massive Times” album has just been released on VP Records.