Paul first heard the words 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' uttered by Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott, whom he met at the Bag o' Nails club in Soho, London. A flamboyant and unforgettable character in dark glasses and African clothing, Scott was renowned for his catch phrases: "He used these phrases every day of his life," says Doug Trendle (a.k.a. Buster Bloodvessel) who later worked with him in the band Bad Manners. "He walked around using them. He was form the Yoruba tribe and if you find someone from the Yoruba they will tell you that 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' means 'Life goes on'."
Jimmy Anonmuogharan Scott Emuakpor was born in Sapele, Nigeria, and came to England in the Fifties, where he found work in the jazz clubs of Soho. He played with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames in the Sixties, backed Stevie Wonder on his 1965 tour of Britain and later formed his own Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Band.
The fact that Paul used this catch phrase as the basis of a song became a matter of controversy. "He got annoyed when I did a song of it because he wanted a cut," Paul told Playboy in 1984. "I said 'Come on, Jimmy. It's just an expression. If you'd written the song, you could have had the cut.'"
'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' has been cited as the first example of white reggae; although the phrase was Yoruba, the song Paul created around it and the characters he invented where from Jamaica. When recording the vocals, Paul made a mistake in singing that Desmond, rather than Molly,"stayed at home and did his pretty face". The other Beatles liked the slip and so it was kept. Paul loved the song and wanted it to be a single. John always hated it.
Jimmy Scott played congas on the session (July 5, 1968) - the one and only time he worked with the Beatles. Later that year, he appeared on the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet album and in 1969 at the Stones' free concert in Hyde Park. Around this time he was arrested and taken to Brixton prison to await trial on a charge of failing to pay maintenance to his ex-wife. He asked the police to contact the Beatles' office to see if Paul would foot his huge outstanding legal bill. This Paul did, on condition that Scott dropped his case against him over the song.
Scott left England in 1969 and didn't return until 1973 when he inmersed himself in the Pyramids Arts project in east London, giving workshops on African music and drumming. In 1983, he joined Bad Manners and was still with the when he died in 1986. "We'd just done this tour of America and he caught pneumonia," remembers Doug Trendle. "When he got back to Britain he was strip-searched at the airport because he was Nigerian. They left him naked for two hours. The next day he was taken into hospital and he died. Nobody is too sure how old he was because he lied about his age when he got his first British passport. He was supposed to be around 64."
In July 1986, a concert featuring Bad Manners, Hi Life International, the Panic Brothers, Lee Perry and the Upsetters as well as many others was mounted at the Town and Country Club, London to raise money for the Jimmy Scott Benevolent Fund. He left a widow Lurcrezia and an estimated 12 children from two marriages. "Jimmy was essentially a rhythmic, charming, irresistible man with the gift of the gab," Lurcrezia Scott wrote in the benefit's programme. "If life was sometimes dull, it shouldn't have been, for his stories of people, of places, of incidents, were an endless stream bubbling with fun."
Paul, who kept in contact with Jimmy, also contributed a quote. "He was a great friend of mine," he wrote. "In the Sixties we used to meet in a lot of clubs and spent many happy hour chatting until closing time. He had a great positive attitude to life and was a pleasure to work with."
Two British cover versions of 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' were recorded and the one by Scottish group Marmalade went to Number 1. The Beatles' version was only released in America, but not until 1976.