Reggae pianist who played with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff–an obituary from London’s Telegraph.
Gladstone Anderson, who has died aged 81, was a renowned Jamaican keyboardist and vocalist.
Best known for his expressive ability with the acoustic piano, as heard on hit records by Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley and the Wailers, Anderson was also a popular singer-songwriter who featured in a number of vocal duos, including one formed with the ska pioneer, Stranger Cole.
Anderson’s greatest contribution to the evolution of reggae came through his (uncredited) arrangement of countless chart-topping songs, which he did as a member of session groups such as the Upsetters, the All Stars, and the Roots Radics.
The eldest of eight children of a railway engineer, Gladstone Anderson was born on June 18 1934 and brought up in Jones Town, a working-class district of western Kingston. There was a piano in the family home, which Anderson was taught to play by his maternal uncle, Aubrey Adams, then one of Jamaica’s top pianists. Before emigrating to Panama during the mid-1950s, Adams introduced Anderson to Duke Reid, a sound system proprietor who had recently begun producing records featuring local talent. Anderson soon settled into Reid’s house band.
Anderson worked mainly for Reid and for Reid’s rival, Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, and while interacting with the musicians who would later form the Skatalites, Anderson helped shift the predominant style into the ska form, whose staccato rhythms were more noticeably Jamaican.
By the mid-1960s, Anderson had joined the backing band Lyn Taitt and the Jets, and was key figure in making the change from the fast pace of ska to the slower, “rock steady” style, playing on singles such as Hopeton Lewis’s Take It Easy, Roy Shirley’s Hold Them, Alton Ellis’s Girl I’ve Got A Date and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Nice Time. He began performing as a featured vocalist with Stranger Cole as “Stranger and Gladdy” at the tail end of the rocksteady era, while his instrumental interpretations of rocksteady hits, recorded with the Jets for Federal, were issued as the album Glad Sounds/Let’s Go Native.
With the advent of reggae, Anderson became the arranger of the most popular Jamaican studio band, known variously as the All Stars, the Upsetters, the Dynamites and the Crystalites. He arranged some of the first reggae records to achieve chart success outside Jamaica, including Desmond Dekker’s Israelites and Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam, as well as the instrumental The Liquidator, with Anderson’s choppy piano chords behind Winston Wright’s playful organ line.
In the early 1970s, Anderson began working with producer Harry Mudie, arranging John Holt’s It May Sound Silly and Dennis Walks’ gritty The Drifter. Anderson subsequently cut contemplative instrumental interpretations of such material, issued by Mudie as It May Sound Silly, and on a later companion set, Gladdy Unlimited.
In 1974,he toured Britain with Jimmy Cliff, which led to collaboration with the jazz flautist Herbie Mann, yielding the albums Reggae and Reggae II. In addition to working on Bob Marley’s Natty Dread album, Anderson subsequently became the resident pianist at Channel One studio during the mid-1970s. Then, after working on a series of King Tubby dub albums issued by Harry Mudie, towards the end of the decade he became part of the Roots Radics at a time when reggae began mutating into dancehall.
In 1982, Anderson released Songs for Today and Tomorrow, the first album to showcase his singing, and then arranged a couple of fine Roots Radics dub albums.
He reached a new audience in the late 1980s in Japan, where he recorded and performed with the experimental Tokyo-based dub group, Mute Beat.
Gladstone Anderson, born June 18 1934, died December 3 2015