Bob and me
Nadine Sutherland reflects on her time with MarleyMonday, May 10, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 32nd in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
NADINE Sutherland was 11 years old when she won the Tastee Talent Contest in 1979. Her prize package included a recording contract with Bob Marley's Tuff Gong label. In the weeks that followed her win in the popular amateur competition, Sutherland's father contacted Tuff Gong's legal counsel Diane Jobson and a date was set for an initial meeting with reggae's megastar.
“I recall getting to the gates and daddy told the security that we were there to see Diane Jobson, as she was the point person at Tuff Gong. I distinctly remember her coming out to greet us and fixing her tam which held up her long, flowing locks. She took us around to the side of the building where Bob was leaned against the side of his Land Rover. I can see him now. He was wearing dark denim jeans and shirt with the sleeves rolledup,” Sutherland recalled in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
“Diane said: 'See the little girl here.' The look on his face remains with me to this day. In my 11-year-old head he was just beaming. That smile… it's like the man just clean him teeth. He was glowing. It was an ethereal moment. My father, on the other hand, was 'fanning out'. This was Bob Marley and my father was a pan-Africanist and identified with calls for equal rights and justice for all, so meeting Bob Marley was a big thing for him.”
The enormity of the moment was lost on the young singer. She admitted that it was later that the magnitude of her association with the reggae king became apparent.
The Tuff Gong deal resulted in her first single, Starvation. The song was written by long-time Marley collaborator Sangie Davis and the finer details were arrived at between Tuff Gong and Sutherland's father.
“It was all organised for me. Sangie taught me the words and music. Then came the day of the recording. We were doing the preliminaries, such as checking for pitch and key with the musicians. This is when I started to get excited as I had never been inside a studio before. They had me standing as we laid the rhythm and did the overdubs. Then the door opened. I didn't even know Bob was there. He came into the studio and looked at me and said: 'Unnu put har pon a chair, nuh.' Everybody started to scramble to find me a chair. He then went into the control booth and I remember him saying to adjust the bass line and made about two other suggestions and left us to do the recording. I was in awe,” she said.
Sutherland developed a personal relationship with the Marley children, who were just about forming The Melody Makers. This led to day trips to a farm Bob purchased in Above Rocks, St Andrew.
After Starvation was released the association with Tuff Gong intensified for Sutherland, whose next move was to work on her debut album. However, Marley was not around; she had become accustomed to him travelling for tours, but his prolonged absence from 56 Hope Road became more apparent. The youngster kept asking herself: 'Where is Bob?'
“I was a little girl, so I was not privy to adult discussions. I recall one day I was there and Diane said to me: 'Come talk to Bob on the phone.' He asked me how I was doing and if everything was okay. It is only in later years that I am piecing together the sequence of events and realise that I spoke to a very sick Bob Marley on the phone that day and this was during his time in West Germany in the months leading up to his passing,” related
Sutherland got emotional as she remembered May 11, 1981.
“I got home from school and it was my granny, who listened to the radio 24/7, who told me Bob Marley died. It was surreal. I could not piece it all together. It was only upon reflection that I could put the sequence of events into context. The day after he passed I recall the girls at St Andrew High (her alma mater) being extremely supportive. They reached out to me because they knew of my association with him.”
Going back to 56 Hope Road after Marley died was difficult for Sutherland. There was a different vibe on the property.
“Bob's energy lifted the place. I recall seeing a line of people waiting to see him. Now those persons didn't know what to do with themselves. This was where everyone came… black, white, and everything in-between. Uptown, downtown, Rasta and baldhead, journalists, everyone came there and it was now silent,” she reminisced. “As for me, all the plans for my album were put on hold.”
That album, Until, was released by Tuff Gong in 1985.
Nadine Sutherland is in her 42nd year as an artiste with several hit songs to her credit, including Until, Babyface, Action (with Terror Fabulous) and Wicked Dickie (with Buju Banton).
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