His songs have stood the passage of time – “Carmen”, “People To People”, “Naughty Johnny”, “Sugar Apple Guinep”, “Finance Man”, “Ting An’ Ting”, “Goin’ Ter Pick Up Der Mail”, “Mike” and countless others. Eddie Minnis could rest on his laurels, but this consummate artist simply can’t, and so 13 years after the release of his last CD – and 81 recorded songs later – Minnis is spicing things up with “Spice of Life”, a 10-song compilation and his seventh album to drop.
It offers the variety that you can expect – from rake ‘n’ scrape to ballads to inspirational and almost gospel. And it took him two years from start to release, having teamed up with giants in Bahamian music in Fred Ferguson, who arranged the music and is featured on the song “Two Time Loser”, and the late Ronnie Butler, who is featured on the single “In the Sunshine”. Up-and-coming singer Osano Neely is featured on the song “Nice Guys (Finish Last)”.
The length of time in production was simply due to the fact that he said Ferguson allowed him the luxury to take as much time as he needed, and he wasn’t limited by financial constraints.
“As long as it took to get it done, we would get it done, which enabled me to rethink the songs, make additions to them and try to refine them. The end result was this variety of songs that I called ‘Spice of Life’. Ronnie was able to sing one of the songs; he was slated to do another one, but his untimely death prevented that. But he had great input into the songs that we did do because he was working with us the whole time.”
The lyrics aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination. They were all penned before 1990, and some are songs he was inspired to write in 1971 when he began songwriting, but the time wasn’t right for their release.
“Most of the songs I concentrated on [in my earlier CDs] was the Bahamian calypso and rake ‘n’ scrape. I didn’t release them then. The time wasn’t right for those songs, because most of the songs that I concentrated on were the Bahamian calypso and rake n’ scrape. A lot of these have more of an international flavor and international message.”
The songs hold special meaning for him. He lived them. The single “Driftwood and Flowers” was written in 1971. He had just graduated McGill University with his architecture degree, and instead of returning straight home, he and his wife, Sherry, and daughter, Nicole, took the circuitous route, traveling in a Volkswagen camper which they drove clear across Canada, down the west coast of the United States, through Mexico, up the Gulf Coast to Florida and then home to The Bahamas. It took them three months.
“As we were driving along the Oregon coast off the Pacific, I saw the driftwood; I saw the flowers and I was inspired to write the song ‘Driftwood and Flowers’; and then shortly after that, I wrote ‘A Boy’s Prayer’. We used to park beside a stream
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or in the forest, and one morning I got up and saw the grass dancing on the early morning breeze, and that was the genesis of ‘A Boy’s Prayer’.”
In putting these songs on his new album, Minnis said the time was right for their release.
“It’s like a passion. You have the songs, and something tells you at a certain point in time you can’t keep it in the book, you have to release it, and this is what happened with this particular collection.”
It’s also a body of work he says long-time fans and the new ones that he will pick up will enjoy, because he did his best with all of them.
“My practice has always been to put the best of what I have at any given time on an album. I have bought so many CDs with only one or two good songs on it, and the rest are fillers. And since I’ve never liked doing that I always try to put my best on each CD. My first CD – 10 of the songs were hits; my second CD, the same thing because I always put the best I had.”
He credits Butler with having helped him with the selection and what was appropriate at this time.
The other songs on the CD include “Don’t Judge (The Day By The Mornin’)”, “Pennies You Find”, “Sat-A-Day Nite”, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, and “Rome”.
The last time he released any music was his Greatest Hits 3 in 2005.
The release of “Spice of Life” comes as the theater festival’s 10th season of Shakespeare in Paradise features “Der Real Ting!!”, a musical featuring 25 of Minnis’ former hits, this year. The musical was written by Philip Burrows, Nicolette Bethel and Patrice Francis.
Between the CD release and musical, the music of Eddie Minnis is being introduced to a new generation of Bahamians.
It’s pure coincidence that the CD dropped just prior to the curtains going up on the musical. But they were both in the works.
The theater festival runs October 1—13, and the gala premiere of “Der Real Ting!!” takes place on October 10, with additional shows October 11—13. Eddie Minnis and the creative team will host a making of “Der Real Ting!!” on October 9.
“Philip Burrows had the concept, and approached me about a year ago… maybe even more – and said he wanted to do a jukebox musical along the lines of ‘Mama Mia!’ that they did for the ‘Abba’ music. He explained to me that a jukebox musical was taking existing songs and building the story and musical around it, rather than writing the story and creating the stories for the musical. So, he got a collection of six of my CDs and discovered that it was 81 songs. He took 25.”
After listening to all of Minnis’ songs, Burrows chose the ones that fit the idea he had in his head and began to create the book for the musical. One of the songs chosen was “Carmen”, which highlights the conflict in the production.
The main characters – brothers Mike, a politician, and Johnny, a jitney driver – both vie for Carmen’s attention. The story takes the audience through the ups and downs of each of their lives.
Minnis also has two songs called “Mike (Don’t Love you No More Cause Your Money Gone)” and “Naughty Johnny”.
He said he found it interesting that most of the cast was not familiar with most of his music.
Minnis started his recording career in 1971. His first solo album “Der Real Ting” was released in 1976, hence the name of the musical is “Der Real Ting!!” and the love lady of question was someone called Carmen, hence the song “Carmen”.
He appreciated the writers bringing in the islands of Eleuthera and Exuma as well as a lot of the cultural things happening in the country in the production that’s set in the 70s.
“I was saying to Philip that it may trigger a resurgence and appreciation for the music because what Philip and Nicolette found of interest was that the lyrics hardly had to be changed and fit the play beautifully; they say some of it is more up-to-date now than when it was written, so it’s going to introduce a whole generation of Bahamians to the music.”
Beyond the music
Minnis is more than a singer-songwriter, but a renowned artist as well.
He grew up Over-the-Hill on Hospital Lane, in a clapboard house with an outside toilet, but he said he was raised in a community that was a community during a time when you knew your neighbors and they cared for you.
Growing up in that era provided the backdrop for a lot of things that he put into his music.
“I knew about clapboard house. I knew about playing under the floor. I knew about tiefin’ people plum and that sort, because the neighborhood was like an orchard, all these fruit trees around the place. And I knew about the time when your neighbor was your friend, and the time when we heard about people putting up burglar bars in Jamaica and we had no such thing in The Bahamas, so I was in a position to know how things were in the past and could see the changes both negative and positive in the country.”
Before he got into music, the son of Wilfred and Kathleen Minnis said he was an artist. He loved to draw and said it was his favorite subject in school.
“I had a mom that encouraged me to try to excel academically as opposed to just the art side of it, so that was positive. I had three sisters (Andrea Archer, Esther Deryckere and Jessica Minnis), and I was the only boy in the family, so that had its positive as well. My mom was from Inagua, and back in those days, you finished the all-age school and you went out to work. She made certain that her children benefited from what she didn’t benefit from. She was high on education.”
Minnis matriculated at Quarry Mission, Nassau Street; Western Junior which was on Market Street; then Western Senior, on top of the hill at Baillou Hill Road, before he was awarded a scholarship to attend St. John’s College (SJC). Without the scholarship, he said, his parents would not have been able to afford for him to attend the school. It was at SJC that he honed his art skills in their program.
He would also venture to the General Post Office after school, where he would take in artists like Max Taylor and Brent Malone, who inspired him. At 13 he started painting on the street, because his mom didn’t want him painting on her kitchen table anymore.
“I became a street artist from that age.”
At that point in his life, music was nowhere on his radar.
He recalled his music teacher putting him out of class, saying that anybody who got a zero did not deserve to be in her class. At the time he had no idea that he had any musical skills, but he said the art talent was evident from he was in primary school.
“I went off to McGill to study architecture because I was told that artists starved to death and I did not want that fate – so architecture sounded like a good trade-off ,and I figured I could do art on the side.”
His first year of English 101 introduced him to poetry; prior to that class he had never been a reader of poetry or gotten into it, but his second year at university, he found himself putting his thoughts into poems.
“I started building up a collection of poems, but then I realistically said, ‘Eddie you don’t read poems, so how do you expect anybody to pick up on your thoughts?’ Also at McGill I was able to see the editorial cartoons and I developed a skill in caricature work, and so I determined when I came back home from school I would start an editorial cartoon called Pot Luck.”
The title of the cartoon was based on The Bahamas being comprised of people from many parts of the world, resulting in a ‘pot luck’ society.
Pot Luck ran in The Nassau Guardian for five years, followed by a five-year stint at The Tribune.
Eventually it occurred to Minnis that, if he wrote songs instead of poems, people would get the message in the song. From that point on, his ideas came in the way of songs.
“I would get an idea and I would be able to develop a chorus and a verse and tell the story from beginning to end, not knowing the first note in music. I would literally memorize my ideas, then I would sing them on cassette tape and, of course, write the lyrics down. I wrote it in such a way that as I wrote the lyrics the melody came to me at the same time.”
With his new CD, Minnis is 91 songs in, and he said all of his songs are his favorites, even though he’s perhaps known most for “Naughty Johnny” – the genesis of which came about when he was driving home after a meeting at the Kingdom Hall (he and his family are Jehovah’s Witnesses), with his children, who had misbehaved. He said to them: “Whoy, whoy, whoy, I sorry for you when we get home.” Just talking to them about discipline became the idea for the song.
Speaking to how he came up with lyrics for other songs he said, “The minister of tourism comes out with the people-to-people program and the ministry gone legalize people-to-people ‘cause the Bahamian fellows was entertaining the American girls long time; and when you look around at people who live in that kind of life, they don’t own anything, they living in the hands of the finance man. Many times I would be on the street painting, and I would get an idea, and while I’m painting I’m thinking of the song and developing the melody and the chorus and the verse, and so on, and stop from time to time and write down the lyrics as they came to me. It was really a fun time because I was doing the cartooning, I was writing songs, I was painting, I was doing advertising … everything to do with art, because the idea behind the cartoon was to show that art could play a role in everyday life because the stories are being told through art.”
“Talent is a gift from Jehovah God. Talent is a seed, and it takes a lot of work to plant the seed, and get it cultivated so you can produce fruit. So, when you have a talent, it’s like a burning desire – I don’t just paint because it’s fun – I enjoy it. But I’m motivated to keep doing it.”
While he says he would like to hear more Bahamian music on heavier rotation on the airwaves, he’s also no stranger to having his music blocked in the past as the songs weren’t “politically correct”.
He says his wife describes his music as his expensive hobby.
The singer-songwriter and artist is a father of three – daughters Nicole Minnis and Roshanne Minnis-Eyma, who are excellent artists and with whom he has exhibited as a family, and his son, Ward Minnis, who is also an artist but works with computers.
When not writing, recording or painting, Minnis and his family spend most of their time teaching the Bible.
“As Witnesses, most of our time is actually spent doing our Witnessing work – Bible teaching work, congregation and so forth. Basically, our art has served to support ourselves in our Christian ministry. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses gets paid – it’s a totally voluntary thing. We give to the congregation rather than taking from it, so it’s never about the money, it’s all about helping people and teaching and so this is what we’ve been immersed in.” He was baptized in 1974.
He credits his wife with being the backbone of the family. A former teacher and education ministry administrator, she retired to spend time as a homemaker and mother for her family. “She was able to give them a wonderful foundation, and home-cooked meals and teaching them to cook and making sure we had a solid family life. And it actually freed us to focus on our art as we had someone keeping the family together. We really appreciate the sacrifice. She made a valuable contribution to what we were doing as a family. She finds it gratifying to know the relationship she has with her kids and how things turned out.”
When “Der Real Ting!!” musical hits the stage, the Minnis’ will be preparing to celebrate their 49th anniversary.