WINSTON 'BOPEE' BOWEN - VK 02/2015

Bopee, to me and I would say many reggae lovers, you're one of only a few iconic Jamaican guitar players. That being said there's very little biographical information on your person out there. Are you someone who prefers to stay in the background?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "That's exactly it! (laughs) I've always been someone who prefers keeping a low profile. If you know where to look, you'll find a few things about me on the internet though. I own my own label called Jobes Hill Records and have created a website to promote it. Feel free to check it out at www.jobeshillrecords.com.

When and how did your love for the guitar start?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "That was way back when I was still a kid. I still remember there was this guy who visited our village and brought an acoustic guitar along. As I stood there watching him play his instrument I was struck by how beautiful it sounded. When he left I decided to try and put together a guitar of my own, but in reality that didn't amount to much yet. Things got more serious when I asked a musician at my mother's church to teach me a few techniques; I think I must have been seventeen or eighteen years old at the time and from there I've never looked back."

Did you get some form of formal training or are you completely self-taught?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "When I was still at school, I used to attend classes at the Jamaican School Of Music during the summer holidays, but apart from that I taught myself most of what I know from a few guitar manuals I bought."

Who were the people you looked up to as a guitarist?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "Oh, there are so many… The first names that spring to mind are David T. Walker (Born June 25, 1941 to a Native American mother and African American father, David T. Walker is an American session rhythm and lead guitarist, appearing on numerous soul, funk and jazz releases, red.), George Benson (Born March 22, 1943, George Benson is a ten-time Grammy Award-winning American musician, using a rest-stroke picking technique similar to that of gypsy jazz players such as Django Reinhardt, red.) and Larry Carlton (Born March 2, 1948, Larry Carlton is an American jazz, smooth jazz, jazz fusion, blues, pop, and rock guitarist. He has divided his recording time between solo recordings and session appearances with various well-known bands. Over his career, Carlton has won four Grammy Awards for his performances and compositions, including performing on the theme song for the television series Hill Street Blues, red.). I particularly like the warmth they are able to put in their sound; they are all musicians who let their instrument do the talking."

A lot of these famous guitarists have a fetish instrument they carry with them wherever they go. Is that something that also applies to you?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "I always carry my Fender Stratocaster with me. I've customized it by adding some AMG pickups and it really sounds great. That guitar really sings for me!"

Are you passing on your skills in any way?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "Oh yes, I'll teach whoever is willing to learn and I do some part-time lecturing at Edna Manley College."

Who were the first artists you started playing and touring with when you started your career as a guitarist?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "That was Dennis Brown; I joined the We The People Band in 1977 and stayed with them for about seven years. After that together with Dean Fraser I formed the 809 Band which lasted for about ten years and after that I joined Luciano, who back then was still playing with Firehouse Crew."

I think a lot of people will know you from the time you spent backing Luciano. How did that relationship get started?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "That whole story started when at one point Firehouse Crew found themselves without a guitarist. It was actually Fatis Burrel who asked me to join the band and I've never regretted the time I spent with them. I played with Firehouse Crew and Luciano for over five years and it was a great experience."

How exactly did you come by the Bopee moniker?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "It was Sly Dunbar who gave me that name one day when we were recording at Channel One back in the nineteen seventies. Back then I still used to have dreadlocks and because of my humble nature Sly mockingly called me: "Bopeep, the humble sheep" ('Little Bo Peep' or 'Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Sheep' is a popular English language nursery rhyme. The earliest record of this rhyme is in a manuscript of around 1805, which contains only the first verse, red.). I later shortened that to Bopee."

Have you ever put out any music of your own?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "As it happens I did; a few years back I released and album called 'Bo's Moods' (Jobes Hill Records, 2006, red.), an instrumental album I was quite pleased with myself. Apart from that I'm also a songwriter - Luciano has already recorded a few of my songs - and as a producer I've released quite a few recordings of upcoming young artists on my own Jobes Hill Records label."

Will you play anything you're asked to play or do you look for a certain content or substance in the music you commit to?
Winston 'Bopee' Bowen: "Absolutely! I refuse to play anything derogatory, like most of the dancehall music put out these days. To me that's not music. I'm all about roots & culture!"