JAMAICA has been blessed with many talented musicians who have made their contribution to the development of our music industry and to music worldwide. Keyboardist Ansel Collins is one such individual who will be lauded for generations to come though his work is usually overlooked.
Like many musicians, Collins started out as a singer performing at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour in the early 1960's before moving on to playing drums in the band, the Carib Beat. He eventually changed to keyboards after being influenced by Conroy Cooper, brother of Grub, and one of the original members of Fab Five. He eventually left the Carib Beat and joined the Father Gooden outfit, the RTH Invincible Band where he further honed his skills as a musician.
After his band experience, he became one of the leading studio session men, playing piano and keyboards for producers Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, Leslie Kong, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Prince Buster. During this period of the late 1960's he created some famous keyboard phrases that are still being copied today.
The year was 1968 when Collins received some funds to record material for the British market from an associate in England. Collins produced four songs, the first, Night Doctor, was the first recording for a young drummer named Sly Dunbar. Another of the four recordings was a track named Double Barrel which was an instrumental. Collins gave the track to former Techniques member and producer, Winston Riley who took it to England and added toasting vocals by Dave Barker to it.
Double Barrel was a big hit in Britain and would eventually sell over one million copies. It even made the American pop chart. Although the song was a big hit, Collins says he did not benefit from its success, another case of copyright infringement which he says is finally being settled. The follow-up to Double Barrel was Monkey Spanner which featured bass player Lloyd Parks and guitarist Rad Bryan. This was not as big as Double Barrel.
In the 1970's Collins sent to the famous Channel One studio on Maxfield Avenue. There he resumed his work as one of Jamaica's top keyboard session men. As part of "The Revolutionaries" which included Sly Dunbar, Herman Marquis, Robbie Shakespeare, Ranchie McLean and Headley "Deadly Headley" Bennett, he played on all the major hits of Channel One for the label's emerging acts which included The Mighty Diamonds, Leroy Smart, Wailing Soul, Earth and Soul, The Jays and Ranking Trevor.
In Addition, Collins played for other artistes and studios including Tubbys and Dynamics. "The only artiste I did not work with during that period was Third World, quips Collins.
In the 1980's, he began touring with Jimmy Cliff and co-produced some of Cliff's Columbia Records albums including the gold-selling Special.
Collins also toured with many other reggae greats, including Toots Hibbert. He also found time to record two solo albums, So Long and Ansel Collins on which he sang and played keyboards.
Nowadays, Collins still works out with Sly and Robbie and has contributed his talents to several Taxi Gang projects, including Mambo Taxi and La Trenggae. Collins continues to tour with and produce for Cliff as well as collaborating with Keith Francis, the Chalice and Alpha Blondy bass player who is his musical partner.
Ansel Collins - one of the great piano and keyboard players of popular music in the Caribbean.