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The Uprising sessions

Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 17th in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.

AUDIO engineer Errol Brown was introduced to Bob Marley by Marcia Griffiths in 1978. That initial meeting landed the former Treasure Isle studio man a job as assistant engineer for Survival, the singer's album which was released by Island Records in October 1979.

For Marley's next project, Uprising, he was at the helm.

Uprising break Bob Marley in the US. And you know which song did that? Could You Be Loved because it was like a disco-reggae beat,” Brown, 70, told the Jamaica Observer. “ Survival was a classical album. Uprising was a Jamaica-US album.”

Uprising's sessions took place in January to April 1980 at Marley's Tuff Gong studio, located at his 56 Hope Road home in Kingston. The 10-track set was released on June 10 that year.

“Bob Marley studio was one-of-a-kind, in terms of presentation, acoustic, and set-up. It was analogue days. He had a full-time maintenance engineer. There was no studio that could compare to Bob Marley studio... It was a 24-track on a two-track machine,” said Brown.

He added that Island Records founder Chris Blackwell was present at the sessions and contributed immensely.

“All when this song here, Redemption Song. We recorded the song the whole day and Bob couldn't get the feel that he wanted. And in the evening, you know who walked through the control room door? Chris Blackwell! Chris Blackwell did a lot for Bob Marley, trust mi. He listened it and just pressed the 'talk-back' and said: 'Bob, a song like this, you do not need the band; you and your acoustic guitar alone'. Chris Blackwell is a good person... Him helped out the business. That song is like an anthem,” said Brown.

In addition to Redemption Song and Could You Be Loved, Uprising includes Coming in From The Cold, Bad Card, Zion Train, and Forever Loving Jah.

“You see all the vocals on Uprising, all of those vocals come in like a live show. Bob sing all of those songs with the band when we were recording. And when wi trying to voice over and Bob was changing the melody and dem thing deh, Chris Blackwell sey: 'Bob, the live vocal is the thing'. That's why in Zion Train, him sey: 'To the bridge!' All a dem voices is live vocal. Normally, people do the music and now afterward they would go back and voice over. All of them was live with the band,” Brown disclosed.

The veteran engineer said after recording Could You Be Loved, the next day Marley and The Wailers headed to Zimbabwe for its independence celebrations in Rufaro Stadium, Harare on April 18.

Brown was present throughout the European and US legs of the Uprising Tour. He witnessed the rise of Marley in black America on September 19-20.

“We did two shows for The Commodores... Him (Bob) collapse between the two shows an' then did the second Commodores shows,” said Brown. “I think this is why Lionel Richie broke up with The Commodores. The worst thing Commodores management could do, after Bob a mash up the place... Him come an' tell dem sey: 'Dem haffi cut dem set. They're going over'. So dem sey alright an' come off and never do Could You Be Loved. The place tear down. Dem haffi send back Bob Marley and The Wailers on stage. And when Junior Marvin start with that guitar, the place flatten. It's an experience I wouldn't have in life again.”

The next day, Marley collapsed before a football game in Central Park. Even though he played the game, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer when he sought medical treatment.

During the Pittsburgh show at the Stanley Theater on September 23, Brown realised something was wrong with the reggae king.

“Mi hear Bob Marley [voice] crack in the Pittsburgh show and that was bad. At the end of the show, dem call a meeting an' tell everybody what is going down. So him guh check on his health,” he said.

“I said: 'Bob, you nuh look sick. Probably, you need to go to Africa to rest likkle bit'. He said he was going to (West) Germany to check out his health and after he would continue the tour with Stevie Wonder. That was the last time I saw Bob,” Brown recalled.

Marley spent seven months in West Germany as a patient of Dr Josef Issels. When his health deteriorated even further, he decided to return to Jamaica.

His condition worsened en route to Jamaica and he was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (later University of Miami Hospital) where he died on May 11, 1981. He was 36 years old.

“There will never be a next Bob Marley. Every time I talk about Bob Marley it brings tears to my eyes,” said Brown.