Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer
Brent Dowe performs on Rockers Night at Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest at Pier One, in Montego Bay, on July 20, 2005. The Melodians lead singer died on Sunday morning, just past midnight. - PHOTO BY ADRIAN FRATER
ON SATURDAY, January 28, having sung lead on five of half a dozen songs on a new Melodians album for producer Willie Lindo, Brent Dowe told Tony Brevette, "Me no know if this album gwine finish with me."
"An me sey why him sey dat," Brevette wondered. "But me no carry it further."
By 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 29, Brent Dowe was dead from a heart attack at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Dowe was 59 years old and would have turned 60 on June 29. His voice is imprinted on Jamaican popular culture, with songs such as Little Nut Tree, Sweet Sensation, You Have Caught Me, Swing and Dine and Rivers of Babylon.
SIGNS OF HIS TIME
"I won't say Brent Dowe did feel death, but it was just a time," the third member of the trio, James 'Trevor Melodian' McNaughton, said.
There could have been signs of that time. "He used to cry for a little sticking in his chest," said 21-year-old daughter Tara, one of four children, the oldest being 23 and the youngest four, with Dowe's widow, Sonia. The couple, together for three decades, celebrated their anniversary on January 22.
Dowe had five other children.
Last Friday, when he was supposed to do the school rounds, Dowe felt the pain again and McNaughton suggested some stretching. Dowe did so, said he was ready and off they went.
At 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, however, Tara said her father again started feeling pain and also started sweating. He asked for tea and actually did some push-ups, but collapsed when he went outside at his Hughenden home. Previously, very reluctant to go to the doctor, Dowe was taken to a doctor on Red Hills Road, who prepared an emergency letter first for the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and then the University Hospital of the West Indies, where he died.
"It looked like he was sleeping. It was unbelievable. I was telling him to wake up," Tara said.
END OF AN ERA
It was the end of the live presence of the lead voice in a group that Fabulous Five Incorporated Band's bass player and chairman of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA), Frankie Campbell, said was probably the band's favourite group of all time.
"We particularly liked the Melodians because their songs were very melodic and easy to the ear," Campbell said. "Their signature song, By The Rivers of Babylon, is a classic. It is one of the most popular Jamaican songs ever."
JAVAA MEMBERS DISTRAUGHT
It was part of the soundtrack for the 1972 film The Harder They Come, and also one of two Melodians' cuts on last year's Fab Five Live Pt. 2 album, the other being Sweet Sensation.
"Brent Dowe is a fantastic lead singer. When he branched out as a solo artiste he had quite a lot of success," Campbell said. Fab Five played with the Melodians from time to time over the last decade, including at the 2003 Sierra Nevada Festival in California, U.S.A.
Dowe was not a member of JAVAA, but was a friend of the organisation, being the featured performer last year when the organisation was still based on Haining Road, New Kingston, as well as being part of the Studio One/Treasure Isle tribute.
"The JAVAA members are most distraught to hear about the untimely passing. We are certainly going to do a tribute. He helped us anytime we called on him. We send condolences to his family and people all over the world," Campbell said.
Brevette said Dowe once said in an interview that money could not break up the Melodians, only death. And Dowe's death does not mean that the Melodians will stop performing. "We not going to stop. Brent Dowe would not want us to stop," McNaughton said.
Their last show together was in New York, U.S.A., in December, along with Marcia Griffiths, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis and Errol Dunkley.
After getting together in 1962, their first recording was Lay It On, done at Studio One. "That time Bob Marley did have a tune call Put It On," Brevette said. The Melodians duly sang "I'm going to lay it on musically/They used to put it on in 60 and five/We're going to lay it on in 60 and six".