As the Impression reissue should hit the shops within a week or two, here’s Zen Bow’s interview regarding his childhood in Jamaica, his musical experiences and, well, how he got that name… Enjoy!
Zenbar, where are you from in Jamaica?
ZB : I grew up in Falmouth, parish of Trelawny, Jamaica.
Same place than the Twinkle Brothers…
Exactly. We’re from the same block. I used to listen to them, Ralston, Norman… But they were older than us.
Were you already singing as a youth?
I was singing back in Jamaica among a group called Righteous Roots, small local band. But then moved to the US in my early twenties and did I some work -then I went back into the singing.
Why did you pick Zen Bow for a name? I thought that was after the book Zen Bow, Zen Arrow.
OK. Zen Bow was given me by my teacher. I used to love writing, I love to write. I had a pen pal back in Jamaica that instead of putting ‘Zenbar’ on his envelopes, he put ‘Zenbow’, so my class started calling me Zen Bow.
So how did Zen Bow got his break in the reggae scene in the US?
First thing I did in 1985 was to attend a talent shows where I lived, in Hartford CT. It was for reggae artists in town, I can’t remember exactly its name, it wasn’t broadcast. It was just a little thing to bring out the artists in Hartford. It was more of a talent search. I came second but caught the ear of the people in that band called Crucial, and they asked me to join. At first I said, “not really”’cause I didn’t want to take away the leadership of the band. But I went listen to them and I liked what I heard, and they liked what they heard from me.
So I joined, and we started to play around, you know, in places like in NYC, Rhode Island, Boston, year round. Jimmy Swing played lead guitar. There was a big bass player called Jimmy Rankin, “Big Bassie”. And you have Snow White on drums. We didn’t do no recording. We did live shows, that was they used to do before, cover songs, but since I joined the band, I always do the writing so I’d bring forward new material to the band.
So Impression was pretty much the first tune you recorded?
Yes. Now this song was inspired by an incident that took place in Hartford on a Sunday afternoon. Something went down and they started to say, you know, ‘rastaman did that, and Jamaicans did that’, and so, it kind of put a damper on the surrounding of dreadlocks and Jamaicans. So I became aware of the impression that we’re bad. And that was all how the song came about. It was an incident that I don’t wanna talk about -a shooting incident. Certain people did it and certain group of people did it. That was it so I decided to pen it into a song.
You recorded its instrumental with Crucial?
Yeah they’re the same band, Crucial.
And then you called your label Gramps, why is that?
Gramps was the lead singer for the group I was in back in Jamaica, Righteous Roots. His real name is David Robinson, he has a band in Milwaukee now called Road Damage. So for me to pay him tribute, I used his name, Gramps.
The other recorded tune of yours I know is Black and Beautiful with King Culture.
King Culture, yeah ! Someone told me about him for distribution in Canada. We spoke on the phone and we did some transaction and he distributed for me, then he proposed me to record, but I did my own production on this one too. I did another tune called Auction Block, but that didn’t go nowhere. That tune is saying that I’ve seen my stock rise and I’ve seen my stock fall cause I was a slave. And in America it seemed like I was controlled by a remote. I released it but it didn’t go nowhere. And I just did it for myself. I mean it came out but it didn’t go nowhere, I sold maybe 100 copies of it.
How many copies of Impression did you press?
I mean, over a thousand only. Cause it was underground, independent.
Did you stop producing after that?
No, I was still producing but for myself. Cause it takes money. Not time, cause I had time but I didn’t have the money. At that time when my kind of songs was coming out, people weren’t that much into the culture rasta music, they were more in the punaany business. So I kind of got stuck in mid-stream. Mid-80s was a different kind of music coming about.
What have you been up to these days?
Well after my divorce, I moved to Atlanta in about 2006. I do work for a Japanese company. I still sing, and I would love to come up with something new pretty soon.
To contact Zen Bow for dubplates, recording or shows, please visit his Facebook page