3:30 p.m. May 12—
Bankie Banx has one of the most distinct voices in reggae music. He has lived on the small island of Anguilla most of his life. The pristine country of Anguilla (pop. 12,000) is in the British West Indies and I figured calypso or soca rhythms might shade Banx’s music.
During a recent visit I wandered around his home studio in a treehouse he built out of driftwood, 15 traditional Anguillan racing boats and discarded instruments. A trombone was embedded into a tiki bar. The treehouse is part of Banx’s four-acre Dune Preserve. Banx, 53, kept referencing a Tom Waits complilation CD that was near a console. Indeed, Banx’s raspy junkyard vocals are reimiscent of Waits and they grapevine into in a reggae-folk landscape to create a very unique sound.
Bob Dylan certainly heard this in late 1982 when he dropped into Anguilla on his 70-foot schooner, the Water Pearl. He met Banx. Bankie was all hydrogen and sulfur, in BobSpeak. And you thought Jimmy Buffett was the only American singer-songwriter sailing the Caribbean…………
“The Water Pearl was made in (the tiny island of) Bequia,” Banx said as we sat at his tree house tiki bar overlooking the Caribbean Sea. “He had a Caribbean crew. He sailed to Anguilla. He picked up my cassette with some conch shells at a gift shop. He sent his captain to look me up. I guess they played the tape on the boat.”
Banx was selling sweet juices and music at his driftwood head shop in the Valley of Anguilla when a bald headed guy in a rental car drove up. It was Dylan’s captain, Christopher Bowman, a California ship builder who constructed The Water Pearl as well as the 40-foot cutter Just Now.
“He told me he was the captain of Bob Dylan’s yacht in the harbor,” Banx said. “He asked me to come aboard and bring a few guitars. I went aboard and met Dylan. We started playing and he was very much interested in (Banx’s 1977 gospel-tinged reggae ballad) ‘Prince of Darkness.’ He wanted me to write out the lyrics and chord progression.
“We went for a swim, we went snorkeling, had lunch. In the evening I invited him to my home studio. I had a Tascam (recorder) n my basement. I was always ready to go. He stepped in and started to play my organ. He said, ‘Bankie, I like the sound of this thing (‘Prince of Darkness’) can you record that?’ I said, ‘Bob, I’ve already done that.’ Then he asked for a reggae bass line. Then a reggae rhythm guitar. Then he wanted some girls to sing backup vocals. I went and got two girls. One of them [Amelia Vanterpool-Kubisch] is now Director of Tourism for Anguilla. He never put his voice on the tape. He just played keyboards and gave us the harmonies.”
Dylan has since covered “Prince of Darkness” in concert.
“In 1994 I was backstage when he did that MTV (unplugged) concert,” said Banx, who lived in New York City at the time. “He said, ‘You know, once in a while I cover two reggae songs. One by Jimmy Cliff and your song ‘Prince of Darkness’ I was totally flattered.”
Dylan paid the women for the impromptu session. He also loaned Banx his crew and his 12-person yacht to do a six week tour through the Windward Islands, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada. Dylan was not part of the tour.
The Water Pearl met an untimely demise.
It sank on a reef off of Panama.
I heard of a guy named Lawson Sargeant who has a model boatbuilding shop on Bequia, where the Water Pearl was born. He reportedy made a replica of the Water Pearl for Dylan.
And anyone who knows me would expect Jimmy Buffett coming into play. Bowman, Dylan and the Water Pearl also came upon Buffett in the Caribbean. As Buffett writes in his 1998 book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” he had been told Dylan and Joan Baez dueted on his tune “A Pirate Looks at Forty” at an anti-nuke rally in California. In 1975 Dylan wrote and recorded the lilting “Mozambique,” which sounds like a Buffett song. Buffett wound up having lunch with Dylan. They didn’t talk music. They talked boats and Dylan gave him a tour of the Water Pearl. No word if they drank margaritas.