Interview with ...
Tony "CD" Kelly

Few producers can boast to have placed so many titles in the international charts. Shaggy, Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks, Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Wayne Wonder… Countless artists have benefited from the talent of the multi-award-winning producer to reach the heights beyond Jamaica.
As apostle of a dancehall crossover, Tony Kelly has constantly worked to break musical boundaries, not hesitating to look at Hip-Hop or R&B. Meeting with one of the most influential characters in dancehall over the past thirty years.

(July 2019 -

You started your career as an assistant engineer in the mid-80s at the Bob Marley owned Tuff Gong studio. What made you become an engineer ?
It was a combination of a chance of a better life and love at first sight. The opportunity came up from a meeting with Hopeton Overton Brown also known as Scientist, who offered me a chance to see the inner working of a recording studio. And from that instance, I couldn’t focus on anything else because all I could see was a mixing board, day in day out.

You’ve learnt the mixing process at Tuff Gong with two of the best engineers in Jamaica Scientist and Errol Brown (Bob Marley’s own engineer). How was it ?
Well Scientist started me out with the overall basics of studio and engineering, while Errol Brown was on tour with The Wailers and when Errol got off tour he was told about me and my enthusiasm for the craft, so he took me under his wings and taught me and refined my mixing skills...

Which other engineers work inspired and influenced you ?
That was enough for me to be in the company of two of the greats to ever do it. But there were other greats such as Cedrica « Soldgie » Hamilton from Channel One, Errol “ET” Thompson, and the influx on foreign engineers who’d visit Tuff Gong to work on various movie soundtracks, I-Trees and Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers projects.

Who gave you the nickname of Tony "CD" Kelly ?
That name was given to me by Super Cat while on a Japan Splash Tour

When and how did you get connected with Donovan Germain ?
I can’t really recall timelines and dates, but it was during my Tuff Gong days, and when the environment started to change from a happy, feel good, love, think free vibe to a structured punch clock vibe that felt like a factory or a camp. He had convinced my brother Dave Kelly to leave Tuff Gong and become the resident engineer at Penthouse Studio, and I followed suit soon after.

Penthouse Records ruled the dancehall during the 90s thanks to a recognizable sophisticated sound. Can you describe how you elaborated this sophisticated sound ?
Shocking Vibes, Steelie & Clevie, Mainstreet Records, Gussie Clarke’s Music Works Studios... also were dominant and could lay claim to being rulers of the 90’s. Penthouse sound was a culmination of different elements and personnel’s that started of with Germain ideas and Dave eventually experimenting on his identity as a beat maker and producer. I did a lot of the mixing along with Dave and Steven Stanley. I was part of and producing for Shocking Vibes at the time, so there was a healthy competition going on between the 3 labels in the yard at Slipe Road (Penthouse, Shocking Vibes and Music Works)

Among all the singles you produced, recorded or mixed for Penthouse, which ones are your favorites ?
Among the singles I've mixed, Freddie McGregor “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, it was Germain first big record out of Penthouse studio that went on the British Pop charts Chakademus “Chaka On The Move” was the first local no1 from out of Penthouse. Little Lenny “Gun Inna Baggy” the first n°1 for Shocking Vibes and the 1st n°1 that’s not Germain’s that was mixed at Penthouse Studio. Various Buju Banton’s songs I mixed.
Among the singles I've produced and mixed, Little Lenny “Punany Tegereg” this led to the start of a new genre in music call Reggaeton. Patra “Workerman” and “Queen Of The Pack” because Clifton “Specialist” Dillon took me under his wings and gave me an amazing opportunity to learn and showcase my talent to the world.

You were with your brother Dave the main engineers in Penthouse studio in the early 90s. What are your commonalities and differences in your work ?
The commonalities were that we were brothers and we were engineers. We did everything else different. Ha too much to mention

What would you hold dear to you the most from your Penthouse experience ?
All the lessons and the opportunities

Why did you form your own label K..LICIOUS ?
After spearheading and helping to create the Shocking Vibes movement with Patrick Roberts, I just felt like it was time to step out on my own with my sound and style that I wanted to share with the world. K..licious actually started 1995-96, even though I was still producing for Shocking Vibes (Cloak & Dagger Riddim, Odour Riddim) and Penthouse (Up Close & Personal Riddim).

What differences do you make between your own productions and the work that you realize for the other labels ?
Not sure to be honest. But I’m guessing more melodic, more structure, more creative content and ideas, more singing and background vocals and harmonies... I’m just guessing cause I never really paid too much attention to that stuff, except that the riddims would be of different flavors

Could you describe your international music approach with crossover productions ?
Happy Music, catchy, melodic, interesting topics or twist, make the hooks understandably and repetitive with either words or melodies. Infectious lead sounds and drums. I’m still guessing cause again I never paid attention to that stuff just create what came to mind and felt good.

Your manager Janet Davidson is alongside you since you started. She has also worked with Maxi Priest and your brother Dave. Tell us about her contribution in your career.
What can I say about Janet ? She’s everything. A dream of a person. She rides for me 1000% even to this day.

You are one of the few producers to launch young female artists like Malica or Khalia. How do you explain that women still do not have as much credibility as men in the reggae music industry ?
It’s not much to explain that would make it different than what’s going on and the undeserved neglected treatment they have been receiving in all aspect of life. It’s a constant struggle for them and I’ll continue to bat for them. Without women who are we ?

Few people know that in addition to producing and mixing, you have written many lyrics for artists. What are the best known ?
Little Lenny “Punany Tegereg”, Patra “Workerman”, Beenie Man “Oyster & Conch”, “King Of The Dancehall” (cowrote), Tanya Stephens “Goggle », Lady Saw “Hice It Up” and “Serious Allegations” (cowrote). Almost all the songs on the “Bookshelf Riddim”. Cowrote Sean Paul “Like Glue” and DMX, Sean Paul & Vegas “Top Shotta”, Wayne Wonder “Watching You”… So much I could go on and on.

You have been in the reggae industry for a long time. What is your opinion about the new reggae music and the evolution of the jamaican music over these years ?
With everything there’s evolution and that comes with ups and downs. So you gotta ride the waves, excel and survive. Go with the flow or just stand out and be different.

What projects should we look out for in the future ?
A lot more music, singles and EP, from Khalia. Shaggy just released his album “Whah Gwaan” on which I produced 5 tracks and also some tracks with Buju Banton.