In 1969 young Horace attended one of Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's Sunday afternoon auditions on Brentford Road, Kingston and was asked to come back to record at Studio One. His first big hit was 'Skylarking', a direct call to wayward youths to get back on the straight and narrow - it would become his signature tune. Mr Dodd had promptly renamed him Horace Andy because he considered his song writing abilities were in the same class as Bob Andy, although Horace is better known as 'Sleepy' to the Reggae cognoscenti. Horace recalls that the time he spent learning his craft on Brentford Road enabled him to continue his successful singing career and he refers to Studio One as his musical college. At the outset his chief vocal influence had been Delroy Wilson but, with the encouragement and assistance of the many other teachers and pupils at Studio One, including Leroy Sibbles and Earl Morgan from The Heptones, Alton Ellis and Dennis Brown, he began to develop his own unique, haunting style.
"That's where I learned to sing and to sing harmony. I have no regrets…"
Many of Horace Andy's songs from his time at Studio One have subsequently become part of Reggae's vocabulary. Records such as 'Just Say Who', 'See A Man's Face', 'Skylarking' and 'Mr Bassie' (a tribute to Leroy Sibbles' mastery of the bass guitar) form an integral part of the fabric of Jamaica's musical foundation.
In 1972, Horace graduated from Studio One and his first move was to return to his original employer, Phil Pratt. Afterwards he began to freelance for many of the top Kingston record producers, such as Derrick Harriott, and the up-and-coming Leonard 'Santic' Chin and Gussie Clarke, before settling for a time with Bunny 'Striker' Lee. 'Striker' and Horace worked closely together for a number of hit making years and the pair produced many classic recordings, but at the same time Horace also recorded for other producers, such as Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo and Errol Thompson. At this time a singer in Jamaica had to sing to live (this might sound like stating the obvious), but a singer in any other area of music would have been placed on a retainer by their record company; they would have been placed under contract and given advances against future earnings to enable them to develop their craft, to consider their career direction and to write their next works. A Jamaican artist would be paid to record a song on a one-off basis. That's it. So, unless they made more records they did not earn money. The real source of wonder is not how many records singers (and later deejays) made, but just how good the majority of them actually are. Horace Andy became another example of the solo singer caught up without managers or contracts in the machinations of the Jamaican music business, yet the standard of his releases was never less than excellent.
Horace next established a close working relationship with New York-based Jamaican producer and colleague of Augustus Pablo, Everton DaSilva, and produced what has come to be regarded as some of his best work for the classic 'In The Light' album. He settled down in Hartford, Connecticut in the U.S.A. towards the end of the seventies and began to release records there on his own 'Rhythm' label. He continued to record in Jamaica and the power and focus of his music rarely wavered. Incredible records such as 'Pure Ranking' for King Tubbys (although eventually released on Carlton Patterson's Black & White label) returned to the theme of Kingston's bad youths, who had now grown up into bad men, and whose behaviour had been his original inspiration for 'Skylarking'. A decade on and Horace saw that very little had improved; this time round the mood and tone were much, much darker.
As the end of the seventies ushered in what was to become the much maligned 'dance hall style', Horace Andy was there again and together with the talented deejay and producer Tapper Zukie, updated Alton Ellis' 'Hurting Me' rhythm into the anthemic 'Natty Dread A Weh She Want'. It was one of the key records of the period and although the mixing and matching of new songs to old rhythm tracks was not new to Reggae, it became, for a while what seemed to be the only acceptable way of making music. It is unfortunate that the type of records truly talented professionals such as Horace and Sugar Minott made with consummate class and seeming ease, many less gifted and inspirationally challenged individuals attempted to emulate with a great deal less success. The dance hall style was ultimately responsible for far too many records consisting of too many dance hall clichés strung together in melodies and tunes that noticeably failed to sit on the far too few choices of tired rhythm tracks. The digital revolution of the mid eighties would eventually show the way forward out of this particular impasse but, at its best, the dance hall style created some wonderful music that has proved as timeless as the music that it used for its initial inspiration. The outstanding records of the period, such as 'Natty Dread A Weh She Want', easily match the best of any other period in Jamaican music.
After completing the album with Tapper, Horace Andy remained with the dance hall style and linked up with New York-based Jamaican producer, Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes. Wackie's unique mixing style provided Horace with another near crossover hit with a stirring version of the Diana Ross song, 'Love Hangover'. Wackies followed it up with the 'Dance Hall Style' album, considered by many to be another classic, and including the brooding 'Spying Glass'. Many of his contemporaries were left out of the equation during the dance hall explosion and the digital revolution that followed, but Horace Andy stood his ground. He continued to freelance throughout the eighties working both in Jamaica for Jammy's, Bobby Digital, Prince Jazzbo and many more, while also recording extensively in the U.K. for Ariwa, Blacker Dread, Fashion and Jah Shaka.
The Bristol-based musical collective, Massive Attack approached Horace in 1990 and asked him to contribute vocals to their album 'Blue Lines'. This established a relationship that has continued up to the present day. The retrospective set, 'Skylarking' was released by Massive Attack in the late nineties and included some of the highlights of Horace Andy's amazing career. It introduced the original music of Horace Andy to an entirely new audience and it is truly heartening to see a man who has paid his dues in the Reggae business time and time and time again receiving his rightful measure of both 'praise and raise'.
One of the music's most distinctive and original singers and songwriters, he has always been the roots man's singer of choice, but he is as equally at home with hard hitting social commentary as he is with soulful love songs. Horace Andy's influence on Reggae music, and on Reggae vocalists in particular, is immeasurable, yet after nearly forty years in the business his humility and self-deprecation still set him apart from many of his contemporaries. Responsible for inspiring an entire style of Reggae singing, he has left in his wake a legion of imitators who have demonstrated that imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery. Always a setter of trends rather than a follower of fashion, Horace Andy has played a vital part in the progress of Jamaican music since he entered the business in the late sixties, and the new Millennium finds him in the same commanding position that he has assumed throughout his outstanding career.