Uprising on holdThursday, April 08, 2021
BY KEDIESHA PERRY
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the fifth in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
Between May and September 1980, Bob Marley's career was at its peak. He had just completed the European leg of his Uprising Tour and was four dates into its American leg when he suddenly became ill.
Marketing manager at Tuff Gong Records at the time, Tommy Cowan, said the tour was promising.
“We started in Europe and we were going on to America. We did one show which featured The Commodores at Madison Square Garden, then we were supposed to go to Philadelphia for the second show, but everything had to be cancelled. We had big hopes for the tour and was even looking into renting football fields to host the concerts based on the thousands of people that came out to see him in Europe. Everybody wanted to see this man,” Cowan told the Jamaica Observer.
Cowan served as marketing manager from 1978 to 1981, when Marley died.
Uprising was Marley's 12th studio album. It features tracks like Coming In From The Cold, Redemption Song and Could You Be Loved.
Cowan was responsible for promoting the project in Jamaica and the Caribbean. When Marley was diagnosed with cancer in September, everything changed.
“I cannot speak on behalf of the promotional team in the US, I was out here ensuring that I was marketing the album. There was not enough time to determine whether our strategies were paying off or not because once Bob got sick, all efforts and attention were invested in him and his well-being. There weren't any feelings about the cancellation of the tour; all feelings were about an ailing Bob and ensuring that he got better. Promotion could have always continued once he was well enough, so that wasn't our concern,” Cowan added.
After his death on May 11, 1981, Tuff Gong struggled to find its footing.
“Everything was different. It took a while for everybody to come to terms with it. Federal Records was sold to Tuff Gong and a guy from America was recruited to steer the record label alongside Mrs [Rita] Marley. At this point, distribution was not taking place from Hope Road anymore, they moved to Bell Road and things were just fluctuating. For about two years they tried to sign new artistes and get back to a level of normalcy but eventually it crashed again,” said Cowan.
He also recalls how optimistic Marley was about making a full recovery.
“After Bob fainted while jogging in Central Park, New York, I was told it was best to visit him, so I went to Manhattan, and he was in high spirits. He was flexing his muscles and I remember him saying, 'Mi alright man. Mi jus' tired out.' He was being treated at home by a doctor, so everybody expected him to be okay,” Cowan disclosed.
Just weeks before his passing, Marley caught wind of a rumour that he was dying. Cowan said this did not sit well with him.
“He would always call me to find out how things are at the studio and to bring messages to his architect about how he wanted his house; how he wanted the sunlight to come into his bedroom and so on. One day, he called me saying he heard that there were people in Jamaica claiming that he was dying, and he was very upset about it. There was even a lady out here who said she could help him with bush medicine and when I told him, he said, 'Jah will take care of me' and I left it at that,” he said.
When Marley died, Cowan said it shocked him.
“I was in Jamaica when I got the news and it felt unreal. The Bob I knew was always healthy, playing his football, eating right and so on. While he was in [West] Germany [seeking treatment], I did not hear from him for days and afterwards I got to understand that he did surgery on his stomach and was headed to Miami. I thought things were going well, so when he died, I could not believe it,” Cowan said.
He remembers Bob Marley as an exceptional artiste.
“He sang in the key of man. It is easy for anybody to sing any of his songs; you don't have to be a great singer. Bob was disciplined and gifted about his craft. He was the first to be on the tour bus and the last to go to bed.”
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