Ranford “Ranny Bop” Williams is a tall man at six foot, three inches. He is soft spoken and humble, and has played guitar on hundreds and hundreds of recorded songs that have rippled through the entire world over the last sixty years. There is a degree of consensus that Ranny Bop created the reggae sound on his guitar. He is an originator, and went on to play with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash, on the Harder They Come soundtrack, for producers Leslie King, Duke Reid, Bunny Lee, Coxson Dodd. Ranny is also a story teller. His reports of events are very consistent and accurate when compared with the historical reports of others.
The following is Ranny Bop's telling part of his story as it relates to Bunny "Striker" Lee. Written in his words, this is a subject that was very important to Ranny Bop. Ranny and I discussed this story and worked it into a formal presentation, so the story is told from the perspective of Ranny Bop himself.
(Ranny Bop) Byron Lee owns Dynamic Recording Studio. So much record we do there. Lots of recording we did as session musicians, but not with his band The Dragonaires. We never count Byron Lee as any musician, because we think he couldn’t play. That’s how we see him in those days, like him can’t play. We wouldn’t even put him in our category, but he had his band and he did what he was doing. Most of what we remember is what make a hit. If it didn’t hit, we don’t know it until we hear it back. Lots of album that we record with our input at one studio – Dynamic. Twelve per LP, so just imagine what we do for a week! Bunny Lee had me playing and arranging his music with the expectation that Palmer in England gonna send the money down for all of us. Bunny was the Executive producer of those songs when I arranged music for him. That money never come to me for all Bunny Lee stuff that I arrange and play them. Him sit on them in England making money.
This is not a certainty, but we hear that many songs that we play in the studio were passed on from Bunny Lee to Byron Lee. I have no proof of that, but one of them that I am aware was “Stick By Me” by John Holt. I think he did pass that on.
I had one tape of music that I personally produced and owned. I call that tape, “The Heart of Ranny Bop.” I could only get the studio at night (Dynamic Sounds Recording Studio) and had been recording before I start with the big band in 1967 – that is The Supersonics. Those days we don’t have many tapes with recordings. We just have one one-inch tape that we carry with us. It was an eight-track tape that I mix the music and sync it, so there was more space. When you buy one tape, you just keep bouncing back songs to have as many as you want.[i] We call that type of eight track tape, “The Big One.” A whole lotta song would be on one. That tape can take between eight and twelve song, because it can do LP. When you overdub, it can hold twenty-four songs. I don’t know how much was on the tape, maybe twelve songs I had, because I give away track to people to try recording. These were people who had more money than me, but they couldn’t afford to do a session and pay like the other guys, them. They would axe me for a riddim and I would give it.[ii]
I spend nights and days in the studio doing the arrangement, make up the music, and playin’ these songs. All my stuff was on that tape. When I came back from England in 1969 and went into the studio, we did the song “I Got A Heart” which is known today as “Shocks of Mighty.” You see, when he went into the recording studio late that night, Reggie Alva Lewis had said to me, “You got a heart.” In response, I titled one song that night as “I Got A Heart,” and this is where I got the title for the tape itself – “The Heart of Ranny Bop.” Other songs on my tape include, “Better Must Come” and “Cool Operator” with Delroy Wilson, Pat Kelly “How Long,” “Dig It Up” by The Sparklers, “Shocks of Mighty” (which Ranny called "The Art of Ranny Bop”) and he took away my version of “Throw Mi Corn” too. “Throw Me Corn” get number one in Jamaica. That’s my cousin’s baby father Winston Shan singing, with me on harmony. We were there in Spanish Town and I took him to Kingston and make the song. Jackie Jackson was there on bass, Jackson Jones guitarist, and Tony King on percussionist. That day we play like crazy on “How Long,” and that song did have to make a hit. Pat Kelly could sing, too! If you listen to my arrangements, most of the time I back the lead because I am the reggae mon, and the rhythm is reggae. When we play with the Hippy Boys I overdub on the lead guitar or just play lead alone and have Reggie Lewis play the rhythm, because I was teaching Reggie to play guitar at the time. I teach him reggae; when to phrase and when not to phrase. When you are getting ready to hit a bridge, you have a sustained note or an accented note, to let the listener know that something new is gonna happen. It’s hard to explain, but it is a sound to indicate that something is gonna happen. He really could play good rhythm.
I never give Bunny Lee my tape - The Heart of Ranny Bop, but he grabbed it from my hand y’know, at Dynamic. He knows I have a lot of stuff on it. All of us used to carry our tape with us, because the tape as our property. I didn’t know his intention. Most of Bunny Lee stuff I arrange and play them, like the songs by Johnny Ace that John Holt sing. Some of the tracks on my tape were a mix between he and I, but he grabbed the full tape. I start to hear my songs playing in the background in England. I heard this years later on a Bunny Lee collection radio program and these earlier songs were playing in the background. They don’t call my name and don’t say anything about me. All this happened after 1967.
Bunny Lee gave a copy of my tape to The Upsetter, which is Lee Scratch Perry. Perry puts Dave Barker on it and calls it “Shocks of Mighty.” I didn’t name it “Shocks of Mighty,” Upsetter named it and then he release it. All of those songs were released and many of them make a big hit. If I had known to register all of those songs, but I didn’t know! When I went to Jamaica to get my royalties from all of these songs, they say I already came and took my royalty already. I say, “How can I take my royalties if I’m not even in the country?” That was at the Performing Rights Society on King Street that collect royalties for singers and musicians. Those days, if you can’t beat a man and throw punches in his mouth, and stop him from do things, there’s no way of stopping him. That’s what used to happen in those days. They will take your things and do as they like. You can’t do nothing about it. That was what going on during that time.
I always try to live up and stay up. I stay with the law and I am a person like that. Bunny Lee taking all my music on the tape and getting wealth from it, cripple me. My name he wouldn’t call because he tried to set me up, so I couldn’t ask for the music. My tape – my songs, them. He even came up to Canada and call me to use me for more sessions and I say no.
What happened was when I left England in 1976, my passport was expired, but they flew me to Jamaica on that expired passport. When I get to Jamaica, I went to get my passport, fast. What we do in Jamaica is get a friend to help you out, and that’s why I went to Bunny Lee. Bunny Lee was pulling a string and take me to a justice of the peace. I suspected right there and then that I shouldn’t do this because it was all happening too easy. The justice of the peace didn’t know who I was and didn’t ask me nothin’ about my passport that I had right in my pocket. I knew something was wrong and I just want a way out, so I write incorrect name on the paper and left. When I went to the passport office the following day with my old passport, Bunny Lee had a woman waiting there for me. This lady came over to me and say, “Come here man. This place full. Me carry you go somewhere you get this thing fast. Come with me. ” Bunny Lee was so powerful, that he had that women there waiting for me and I feel that they were going to lock me up for fraudulent documents. She took me right to a policeman, and she walked away. When he asked for my paperwork, I didn’t give his the papers from the justice of the peace, I gave him my old passport! I could see on him face that it is something that is not what he wanted to see! He couldn’t do nothin’ because I left Bunny Lee with the fake documents. What they do in Jamaica, is if you are wrong, ya get caught, and they divert you to a police that is waiting at the office. That woman was there to wrong me. I truly believe that they were trying to put me in jail. Because I had done nothing wrong, the police sent me back to the passport office and I gave them my expired passport. They took my picture and gave me a brand new passport for Ranford Williams.
I want the world to know that my music was taken from me and sold all over the world and made riches, and I get none.
Many years later my friend Markus is Switzerland encouraged me to call Bunny Lee, which I did. Even that I was afraid to do. I was very much afraid of the man. He’s powerful and I know that, because if they can remove my money without me, I know there is some strong arm there. When I call Bunny Lee, the first thing he says to me, “So you get a Canadian now.” So my passport was still on his mind! Then we talked about the John Holt song “Stick By Me” that I arranged. During that call, I didn’t get the chance the really penetrate our disagreement. That’s the only time I get to talk with him about my music and my money.
Written with the assistance of Ranford Williams from numerous interviews throughout 2020-2021,
© by Rich Lowe 2021. www.reggaejamaicaway.com
*Special thanks to Markus of Reggae Fever and to Ray Hurford of Musik Tree for the assistance.
[i] Bouncing tracks is a term applied to multi track audio recording where audio is recorded on numerous tracks with one track remaining empty. Upon completion of the live recording, the tracks are mixed and loaded onto the remaining “empty” track/s. This frees up the other tracks to be deleted as a mix is retained. Ranny is referencing the use of bouncing with the goal of freeing up space for additional recording. It was not easy for Ranny to obtain blank tapes for recording, so he made maximum use of what he had.
[ii] Ranny Bop added, “I did give one track to Winston Merritone. He try it, and start to become a big producer and same girlfriend Cynthia Schloss start become a great singer. I was the first one to give him music to try with. Merritone was a very powerful guy with sound system in Jamaica. The last time I saw him, he glad to see me. Glad to talk with me. I gave him the recording and that’s why he greet me that way when he see me.”