If you rocked juju music in the ’60s and ’70s or are a collector of juju maestro, King Sunny Ade’s music, you definitely will be familiar with Bob Aladeniyi. A guitar maestro in his own right, Aladeniyi played alongside the legendary late Fatai Rolling Dollar, King Sunny Ade and at a time led his own band, Bob Aladeniyi and the Juju Rock Stars. Aladeniyi, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, speaks on his escapades and how recording mogul of the time, Bolarinwa Abioro, tricked and turned him against King Sunny Ade. He spoke with Taiwo Abiodun.
HOW do you feel at 70?
I clocked 70 September 15. I was born in Owo in 1949. I attended New Church Primary School then LA Modern School. Thereafter, I went to the University of Ibadan to learn more about music. Age 70 is a landmark. I thank God in His highest. When I wake up in the morning, I can lift my legs, hands and move around. When I open my mouth, I can talk, sing and praise the Lord. I thank God. My eyes have seen, my ears have heard and I have seen the best and the worst in life. Yet I still thank God for His kindness and protection.
Tell us about your music career. How did it begin?
I was with Jimmy Adex, playing Tom-tom drum; then we played I. K Dairo’s style. That was between 1962 and ’63. While in Kano, we played in a hotel called Ibuwa Hotel in Sabongeri, owned by an Edo woman. The Yoruba used to come there to drink and we used to make between 5,000 and 15,000pounds which was big money then. We used to close by midnight, but we stayed much longer when there were ceremonies like naming, wedding and house warming among others. We spent about three and a half years there. I later quit the band – because our leader wasn’t paying us well – and came back to Owo, then back to Lagos.
Who taught you how to play guitar?
Nobody, it is God’s gift. When I wanted to start, I went to the UTC Store on Broad Street in Lagos and bought a guitar with notes and started studying it. When I got to Late Fatai Rolling Dollars, he gave me more inspirations. I learnt more from him. Baba knew how to play guitar; I imitated him, and when he saw that I was talented, he put me through.
At what time did you join Rolling Dollars?
I joined Fatai Rolling Dollars in 1966. We were the second set with Rolling Dollars then after Ebenezer Obey, Late Samson Ogunlade, Adio, Fasasi, Ayodele Director had left him. One of my brothers who was a friend to Rolling Dollars introduced me to him; then he was living at Alhaji Lasisi in Idi–Oro, Lagos. I was also living on the same street with my brother. I was playing gombe and Tom-tom; we waxed records like Sisi jaiye jaiye fe wale mi, Iyawo to ko mi nitori ko si Owo. We also waxed Nwon Kere si number wa; he did the second version before he died. The songs were recorded in Kofagbo Studio, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. I left him and went to play with Tunde Ade who lived in Tapa Street, Ebute Metta. While with Rolling Dollars, we travelled to Owo, Ondo, Ede, Osogbo, North, Zaria, Kaduna then back to Lagos.
In 1969, I joined Tunde Adeyemo at Tapa St, Lagos. One Jimmy Smith used to loan us vehicles and musical instruments, and he would go out looking for engagements for us, such as wedding, naming ceremonies, house warming etc and get his commission or percentage from the earnings. I remember that King Sunny Ade also at a time used to enjoy these benefits/services from Jimmy Smith.
How did you meet and join King Sunny Ade?
In 1968, I went to Tunde Adeyemo, where KSA first saw me. I later joined him in 1969. It happened that KSA was looking for a Solo guitarist. He saw me at a party on Freeman Street in Lagos Island and asked who is that man playing guitar? He then sent his manager to me.
I remember when General Adeyinka Adebayo, the then Governor of Western Region, invited us to play for him. In 1971, we travelled to London and Germany. In London, we mixed Seinde. Seinde was a popular Medical Doctor in Lagos then from Odogbolu in Ogun State and a friend of KSA, who later became Oba of Iperu. He died three years ago. We also recorded Onitemi, E gbe Jehovah…
I remember that KSA bought a British Bus called COMMER Bus then.
While we were in London, I was informed that my wife was delivered of a bouncing baby boy in Nigeria. When Sunny Ade heard the good news, he waxed a record and christened the baby ‘Tokunbo.’ That name stuck till this day. The boy is in Washington DC in America now. True, he was not born abroad, but KSA’s prediction has come to past in a way, as he is today, a citizen of America by God’s grace.
Exactly why did you leave Sunny Ade in 1976?
Chief Bolarinwa Abioro caused it. KSA was my mentor; he so much loved me that he could part with anything with me. When we were together, we used to record songs under African Songs owned by the late Abioro but the royalties he used to give KSA was too small. Abioro would give Sunny Ade 3kobo from the sale of one naira on every album; so my boss called us and said we should have our own label to be known as Sunny Alade Records. We registered and had our own label album, but the contract between Sunny Ade and Abioro was still ongoing. So we went to Decca Studio to wax a record, E kilo f’omode. Abioro heard about this and sued my boss. The late Chief Gani Fawewhinmi was our lawyer. While the case was on Abioro sent for me. He asked me to bring two or more members from Sunny Ade’s band to form a new band. I took along Paul Ohiri, Tiamiyu and Sarafa Bello. He said if he equipped us with instrument and bought us cars, musical instruments and a bus for me, could we form a Band? I said why not. He invited us to Ipokia, his home town near Idi Iroko and camped us there. He said he would put down money and send me to Europe to purchase musical instruments and we would launch it. He fulfilled his promise. But before I came from London, my boss, KSA had gone to beg Tiamiyu Ayo, Sarafa Bello, Paul Ohiri, Moses Owayeye; but Ohiri did not go, he waited for me. We were in London for three months. Abioro lodged me in Self Ridge Hotel, Oxford Street London and I enjoyed every minute of it.
He bought me a 504 saloon car from France; there was no PAN then. He also bought me a brand new 25-seater Coaster, there was nothing like tokunbo then. I came in from London with new musical instruments. I bought drum sets, keyboards, guitars, base guitar, solo guitar, real guitar, effects, saxophones. I went to Fela Boys – I was a friend to Fela then – and approached his boy- saxophonist, Hico Shico; he is also late now. I also met with Tutu Sorunhunmu, Segun Edo, Bob Ohiri Igochukwu- dead now and Davy, a Ghanaian, who was playing conga. I took them to camp in Abioro’s house in Ipokia. It was a four-duplex building. He was using one while we were using the remaining three. We practised every day and I formed the band called Bob Aladeniyi and the Juju Rock Stars, because the boys were all stars. We recorded good music because there were good instruments. We launched the new band and record at Lagos City Hall and Abioro invited rich people, politicians, Lekan Salami from Ibadan, Olubuse Sijuade (who later became the Ooni of Ife) and a lot of big men. That was in 1976.
What was KSA’s reaction?
KSA did not like it. He later recalled Bob Ohiri who was captain of my band. He recalled Tiamiyu even before I came back from London. Sarafa Bello, Owayeye also went back to Sunny Ade.
How was KSA able to woo them back?
He bought them land and cars. In fact my KSA came to my home town, Owo, to beg me to come back. He went to my late mother; he also went to the late Oba Adekola Ogunoye II (father of the new Olowo of Owo) to beg me. He met with the late Alonge the Tailor, Colonel Adekanye, Chief Ologan, Sijuade Olubuse before he became Ooni but I declined and said I wanted to have my own band.
What led to your break-up with Abioro?
Things went sour. I had waxed four or five records for him, but he said for each engagement I had, I should give him returns. He then tricked me and the band to come to his house in Surulere after an outing. I did not know he had plan to seize our instruments. We drove our vehicles with musical instruments into his compound that fateful morning and he locked the gate. He said the Coaster bus, 504 saloon car and the musical instruments would not go out until I paid for them but I told him that was not our agreement.
We begged and begged with my wife, but he insisted I signed a new agreement. I had no choice but to sign because I didn’t want to be disgraced. The agreement stated that we would be paying certain amount on each record and giving him returns from our engagements to cover the cost of my vehicles and instruments. Later I stopped recording for him. He was highly connected but I proved to him that I was smarter.
Tell us the records you waxed?
When I left KSA, I waxed about six records like Gbedo- Gbedo, Itelorun Ko si F’eye Ega, Loju Won Lo pe si, Gegele lo bi Gegele, Ile Ogere A da, Awa ti juba Fun won, Baba Mimo and many others for Abioro. They were all hits in Nigeria, Britain and America. I became popular.
Are you saying he did to you what he did to KSA?
Yes, the whip used on an old wife was also used for the new wife. He did what he did to KSA to me too. But I thank God that I am still with KSA. I was with him last Sunday when he celebrated his 73rd birthday in Ondo. About six years ago, KSA equipped me with musical instruments worth three million naira. He knew it was Abioro that deceived and took me away from him. KSA loves me and opens his door to me anytime I call on him. I was with him at the Redeemed Church of God he built in his compound. I took pictures with him during his birthday last week.
Why did you relocate to Owo?
I left Lagos for Owo so that I will not be called Baba Eko. I thank God that I am neither rich nor poor. I am still called for engagements. All my children are graduates today and I live in my own house.
What is that experience you cannot forget in life?
I cannot forget the auto crash I had on July 15 1977. It was exactly one and a half years after I left KSA’s band. I went to Benin to play for Owo natives resident there. The university students organised the show and we played at Bazola Hotel. It was Bade (one of the sons of the late Oba (Sir) Olateru Olagbegi II, who was President of Egbe Omo Owo Club Students’ Association. My band boys had gone back to Lagos ahead of me after the engagement. I was the one driving when I ran into a stationary Bedford lorry loaded with logs of wood. My pregnant wife(Alaba), my son and my band manager, Segun Aganga, who sat behind me died in the auto crash. I was the only one that survived. They rumoured that it was the handiwork of my former boss, Sunny Ade but I refuted it and told them not to say that.
The same KSA paid my medical bill when I was admitted at First Shedrack Hospital, Ilupeju. The hospital is owned by an Ondo native, Dr. Akindolue, who put me in a private ward. I spent one month before I became conscious. May God place the dead in paradise. The vehicle was a write-off.
When is your happiest moment?
That will be when we launched our Bob Aladeniyi and Juju Rock Stars Band at Lagos City Hall. People of high class came and our instruments and vehicles were on display for everybody to see. Another time was when I went with KSA to London. This was a place even some professors were dying to go, but it was my handiwork, guitar, that took me there. And when we got to the airport, many people came to welcome us back home.
At 70, what lesson have you learnt?
Many, I learnt many lessons. I thank God for maintaining my good name. I have won many awards. I was honoured as Guitar Lecturer by the University of Ibadan. I was also given the title, Guitar Wizard. In Ondo State, my name is a household name. People come to me for lecture on guitar. I counsel people and teach them how to sing and play on stage.