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Published: Sunday | January 22, 2012 —-

Tad Dawkins, was the first to introduce the 'Sleng Teng' rhythm to Osbourne.- Contributed
Tad Dawkins, was the first to introduce the ‘Sleng Teng’ rhythm to Osbourne.- Contributed

Johnny Osbourne clarifies classic song lyric


Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer


“Put it by, put it by, put it by number one

Put it by, put it by, put it by number two

Put it by, put it by, put it by number three

Put it by, put it by, put it by number four

Hol’ up yu han’ if lova dem ya fashion an’ stylee

There is a posse in de corner all a dem jus’ a bawl out fe murder

Come make me hear yu say woah … “

– Put it By, Johnny Osbourne



After 15 years outside Jamaica, singer Johnny Osbourne opened his set at Pepsi Rebel Salute 2012 with his classic cut from the ‘Sleng Teng’ rhythm, which had its first of several incarnations in 1985. The thousands at Port Kaiser Sports Club dutifully sang along to the rapid-fire first part of the song last Sunday morning, not knowing that what they were singing was not what Osbourne originally recorded.

Johnny Osbourne told The Sunday Gleaner that what he sang in a 42nd Street, Manhattan, United States, studio about 25 years ago was not “buddy bye”, the accepted refrain and title of the song, but “put it by”.

“It was ‘put it by number one’. By singing it fast, it sounds like ‘buddy by number one’. I was saying ‘put it by’ up to number four. I was saying, ‘Put it by number one’ because we wanted a number one (hit song),” Osbourne said.

However, even the original 45 rpm vinyl single gives the title as Buddy Bye and Osbourne said, “We just say, ‘OK'”. And Put it By has beenBuddy Bye ever since.

While the rapid-fire ‘put it by’ can easily be mistaken for ‘buddy bye’, dancehall circumstances at the time helped in the lyric confusion.

“In dancehall, true dem did a fire some real shot, police and soldier, we a try say buddy bye, like a blank shot. It is a blank shot for jubilation. It is a safer shot,” Osbourne said.

Osbourne said he came up with the lyrics of Buddy Bye based on the ‘Sleng Teng’ rhythm’s bassline. He had heard Wayne Smith’s Sleng Teng before Tad Dawkins approached him in New York to do a song on the rhythm.

“To how the rhythm was moving, I just say, ‘Put it by’. That is what the rhythm was saying to me. That is what it was saying to me in my mind,” Osbourne said.

Dawkins, Osbourne said, loved it instantly. So did some non-Jamaicans who were in the multi-room facility where the song was recorded.

“The studio was a big one. Every American who passed and hear it say, ‘That tune is sick’. Even them know it gone,” Osbourne said. He eventually laid the hook for King Jammys to do Kenny Dope remix.

participatory song

The ‘woah’ and ‘yeah’ call and response of Buddy Bye is a large part of its appeal. “We wanted it to be a participation song. We (were) sure it was going to be a hit,” Osbourne said. So even the children’s rhyme, ‘Are you sleeping, brother John’ was part of the popularisation strategy. “Everybody know it. We a try make it a participation thing, and so me do it. It work that way for the purpose,” he said.

Back in Jamaica, the response to Buddy Bye was phenomenal, not only in the dancehall but also “when Barry G put it on the radio”. While Osbourne said he performed it in Jamaica several times before leaving in 1996, the biggest response he got was at Reggae Japansplash held at Okinawa Naval Base. “When me say, ‘Let me hear you say woah!’,” Osbourne recalled, still amazed at the thunderous response he received.


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