Monday, October 19, 2009

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2009 - Track Thirteen - Ernie Smith's "Duppy Gunman"

The classic 1974 duppy tune by Ernie Smith and taken from a 7" on the Wild Flower label. Here's a little write-up about the story behind the tune that appeared on the Jamaica Gleaners website on October 28, 2007 and written by Mel Cooke.

"If ever there was a case of a songwriter starting a song with the opposite of the real life situation which inspired it, it is Ernie Smith and Duppy Gunman.

Written one Saturday night in 1974, recorded the following Monday at Federal Studios, released that same mid-week and soaring to the top of the charts ("in those days everything I did went to number one except Power and the Glory. Michael banned that," Smith told The Sunday Gleaner), Duppy Gunman tells the tale of a romantic liaison that could have been. It opens:

I an I man forward

Pon a different scene

I an I man collie weed

I an I man queen

Everything was irie

Getting in the groove

We jus' a come dung to movement

When someone sey don't move

However, while there was a 'queen', there was no getting down to movements.

"I had just played a gig. In those days I had a friend who used to help me lift the equipment. Coming home from the gig I got a girl to go home with. I dropped him home. Me and the girl going on a liaison. I got the feeling like my friend is sitting there," Smith said.

The friend had been in the back of the VW van he was driving.

"I said 'It feels like Robbie is still sitting there. I said 'It must be a duppy'. Then I thought about the violence and I said 'or a gunman'. I said 'It is a song'," a laughing Ernie Smith told The Sunday Gleaner.

Hence the chorus:

It mus be a duppy or a gunman

I man no fin' out yet

I an I did so frighten

All de daughter name I feget

He may or may not have forgotten the 'daughter's' name by now, but he did forget whatever intentions were at hand before the song came. "I never bothered to go home with the girl. I went to my real home and wrote the song. She was very upset," he said.

There is some similarity to that real life anger in the fictional musical tale, as Smith sings "The nex' day de daughter ask me, what happen to yu las' night, jus' when yu ready fi work de show, yu ketch stage fright".

And one line that was definitely taken from something that really happened was when Smith sings "One ting me know fe certain, spread it round the town, it no mek no no sense yu run before yu foot touch the ground".

"There was a guy who described sitting in his living room and watching a thief in his pear tree. All he said was 'hi sah' and the man started running in mid-air. When the man hit the ground his feet were like a car burning rubber. That is where that line came from," Smith said. He was told that story a couple weeks before the song was written.

Sometimes Smith changes the name of the speedster recorded as the point of reference for fleetness of foot in 1974 ("Quarrie was a bway to I man las' night, him coulden falla me") to Asafa Powell and he says no other outstanding Jamaican sprinters have been used in between. And on occasion he adjusts the chorus and sings "I an I did so frighten all me underwear I feget". "Sometimes I sing it like that if there are not too many children around," he said.

The distinctive trombone featured on Duppy Gunman is the work of Trinidadian Jerome Francique and the Now Generation Band supplied the music.

Smith laughs as he says he hopes non-Jamaicans who jam to the song understand the lyrics and adds that "A lot of non-Jamaicans who are into reggae understand the song".

And a song that was "an instant hit" has been a lasting one as well. "These days when I do that song anywhere I ask the audience to join in and sing the chorus. They know every word," Smith said."

Spooktacular Track Thirteen


Christofari said...

Fascinating! I always thought that this tune was by Pluto Shervington - and only now realize that Pluto's songs ('Ram Goat Liver' and 'Dat' for example) were to some degree copying the delivery and arrangement of this tune. I love Jamaican music for this kind of jigsaw-puzzle trail.

Thanks again for these beautifully collated treats, John!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

heheh, now he can use usain bolt's name in the song...

Raggedy said...

This whole story is just too funny to imagine ....

chris said...

Ernie Smith and Pluto were both labelmates on Ken Khouri's Wildflower Records, part of his Federal empire that churned out mostly middle-of-the-road reggae aimed at the uptown people living in Upper St. Andrews (suburbs of Kingston) and the like. the personnel and production for both were no doubt similar. "Duppy Gunman" was a massive hit when i was a kid in 1974, my mom bought all the Ernie and Pluto records that came out without fail.

Ernie Smith vexed more than a few PNP/Manley types with "Brown Sugar" and "Power And The Glory" in '75-76, which were stinging critiques of how things had gone so badly in Jamaica at that time..... as a result, he felt a tiny bit less safe than he otherwise might have and left Jamaica soon afterwards, like so many others did.

love the blog John, hope that you keep it going one way or another!