Update 2020: We are saddened to report the passing of producer/engineer Bobby Digital on May 21, 2020. His son Sheldon relayed that his father passed away from a kidney-related illness. The entire Reggae and Dancehall family mourns the loss of this visionary who left his mark and sound on five generations of musical history. ~ M. Peggy Quattro
Bobby Digital – The Producer for the ’90s
By Clyde McKenzie V14#3 1996
Bobby Digital, producer extraordinaire, shares the same astrological sign as such notables as Albert Einstein, Quincy Jones, and Mikhail Gorbachev. This affable Pisces is also a first-class studio engineer and creator of some of Reggae’s most compelling rhythms, including the popular “Kette.”
Bobby Digital’s life began in a fashion not far removed from that of many major players in the music industry. He was born poor to Mary, a dressmaker, and Eric Dixon, a carpenter. With his four siblings, Bobby Dixon shared a modest existence in the Olympic Gardens area Kingston, notorious for its natives who find refuge in a life of crime.
It Began with Electronics
Young Dixon enrolled in Balmagie Primary School and later attended the Penwood Secondary School, where he graduated with no professional distinction. He credits his elder brother Eric, a technician, as the man who sparked his interest in the field of electronics with which he would forge a lifelong association.
His insistence on attending popular dances against the strong wishes of his Pentecostal mother and his heightened awareness in matters of electronics helped to mold the man who we now refer to as Bobby Digital.
Bobby reflects fondly on the days he started out in the music industry as a selector with the popular sound system Heatwave. He recalls the versatility displayed by the selectors in those days and quickly adds that he would like to see more variety on sound systems in Jamaica today. According to Bobby, he was later introduced by his friend Mr. Jamieson, a customs officer, to King Jammys. The rest is now a part of our proud musical heritage. Digital took charge of King Jammys’ sound system of the same name. However, while entertaining the dance patrons had its own measure of fascination for Bobby Digital, he wanted to make a greater contribution to this industry he loved so much. He decided to become an engineer. It was through his association with Jammys that he had his first taste of musical immortality, and that he became part of the famous crew that fashioned the world-famous “Sleng Teng” rhythm.
Digital’s creative association with Jammys spanned most of the seventies and was a most productive one. A number of artistes, including Junior Reid and Half Pint, came to the force during this era. However, the success of Jammys was not quite enough to quell Digital’s restless spirit. He wanted more. His desire was to be his own boss. He speaks fondly of the great influence the king had on his development. According to him, “Jammys is a man weh believe seh anything him do mus’ be excellent.” This approach of the king, Digital took to heart. His foray into the role of studio investor was not particularly spectacular. He remembers starting off with a Tascam consul, a gadget that could hardly have been mistaken for state-of-the-art. He would later acquire the house in which he still lives (and which is the home of Digital B studio) from Mr. Jamieson, his friend who introduced him to the king.
Bobby is quick to point out the fact that his residence happens to be his place of work does not mean he has to compromise the standards he sets for his professional and personal life. He advises those who might not be aware that his two children (a son and a daughter) live on the same premises with the studio, and that no lewd behavior will be tolerated in his yard. He points out that sometimes meets resistance from some of those who think that he is ”picky” and “boasty”; however, he will not relent.
Digital bemoans those producers who foist off-key music and technically inferior work on the public. He has forged an excellent personal relationship with a number of artistes. “Shabba Ranks is like a brother to me,” Bobby points out in his sometimes halting speech. When asked how he has managed to work with Shabba for so long and so well, Digital simply puts it down to ”vibes.”
He and Shabba collaborated to produce the album Best Baby Father, which was to be the first album for Bobby as a producer and which really launched Shabba’s career. Flourgon’s ”Jump and Spread Out” and ”Mama Man” were two of the earlier works released on the Digital B label. Since then, Bobby has received numerous accolades working with most of the current group of stars, including Beenie Man, Garnet Silk, and Buju Banton.
“Bobby Digital has created musical monuments to himself, which will undoubtedly outlast him.”
Bobby related that he and George [Miller] from the Firehouse Crew were trying to create a Rastaman sound when they finally struck upon the Kette rhythm – a musical goldmine. Shabba Ranks, Mutabaruka, Cocoa Tea, Beenie Man and Determine, Josey Wales, and Spragga Benz are only a few of the many who have straddled this very powerful rhythm. Bobby is happy with the success of the Kette drum rhythm but adds that he has to keep looking ahead. He says he would like more than ever to get some good singers to work with him. He notes that DJs are quite easy to come by, but good singers hardly ever surface.
What is next in the life of this 35-year-old giant of the Jamaican music industry? The stars seem to be the limit. He intends to move into another studio, although, he says he will still maintain the current one in Hughendon. He plans to expand his record distribution system, thus creating greater harmony between his creative and business sides. Bobby Digital has created musical monuments to himself, which will undoubtedly outlast him. Through his five-year-old son Craig, Bobby might still find another means of immortalizing himself through music.
The Kette Drum Rhythm Rules
By Dennis Howard. V14#3 1996
“Kette Drum, kette drum, mek we hear di sound.” This is the most popular refrain in Reggae since early 1995. The Kette drum rhythm with all its various versions, is the synthesis of the creative efforts of the Firehouse Crew namely: George Miller, Danny Dennis, Dalton Browne from Big Ship, and producer Bobby Digital.
Recorded at the Digital B studio and originally dubbed the ”Bongo Riddim.” the Kette drum rhythm was done with no particular artiste in mind. George Miller recalls just being called to lay some rhythms for Bobby Digital. He went to the studio and laid a couple of rhythms, including the “Kette” without much fanfare or concerted effort to make a great rhythm.
The first artiste to ”bless” this rhythm was Cocoa Tea with the monster hit “Holy Mount Zion.” This was followed by Shabba Ranks’ “Flag Flown High,” a combination with Cocoa Tea; and “Think You Have it All,” which has turned out to be Shabba’s biggest hit in Jamaica since “Ting-a-Ling.” The rhythm was an instant hit on the radio and in the clubs and dance halls.
The name “Kette,” however, came about later when Beenie Man and Determine met accidentally at the Digital B studio. Determine was about to record on the rhythm. Beenie Man liked the idea and joined the recording, and the rest is history. ”Kette Drum,” the song, got almost instantaneous airplay from Mighty Mike of Irie FM. By the time it was officially released, “Kette Drum” was a monster hit in Jamaica.
The Kette drum rhythm is a result of the new musical path taken by performers and musicians, a path to Rastafari. The potent sound of the Nyabinghi drums, reminiscent of the 70s, echoed all over Jamaica and transformed the dance hall crew into a spiritual and reflective mood. This manifested in a newfound brotherhood among artistes, musicians and their ardent fans in most ghetto communities.