Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Tributes for Tyrone Downie as ex-Wailers musician dies in Jamaica

Published:Monday | November 7, 2022 | 12:08 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Former Bob Marley keyboard player, Tyrone Downie.
Former Bob Marley keyboard player, Tyrone Downie.
Tyrone Downie outside of Tufff Gong Studio in Kingston.
Tyrone Downie outside of Tufff Gong Studio in Kingston.

Tribute are pouring in for veteran Jamaican keyboardist Tyrone Downie, who rose to prominence as a member of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Downie, who was reportedly ailing, passed away last Saturday at hospital in Jamaica, his partner, Bernadine Simpson, told The Gleaner. He was 66.

“He was feeling ill Saturday night [November 5] and we took him to the hospital. He died in Jamaica,” Simpson shared.

Both family and friends in the music industry are reeling from his sudden passing.

“I spoke to him three weeks ago and he sounded fine. He was the usual Tyrone,” veteran keyboard player Robbie Lyn said. “Tyrone called me the day after the Karen Smith tribute concert in October and told me that he attended, and asked how I wasn’t there.”

Lyn said he received a call from Simpson on Sunday morning advising him of Downie’s death.

“Tyrone and I were very, very good friends. We came through the music business together in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He was younger than me, but he started in the business very young ... from he was still going to Kingston College. Tyrone made an impact because of his great demeanour. His good vibes attracted a lot people to him. When Tyrone came back to Jamaica after residing in France for many years, I am the one who made a keyboard available for him to use,” Lyn shared.

He described his friend as a “great, innovative, talented musician” whose voice can also be heard as a backup singer on some of Bob Marley’s recordings.

“Tyrone was very influential and also did the arrangements for some of the songs. He will certainly be missed. This is sad, sad, sad,” Lyn said.

Reggae musician and bass player extraordinaire Jackie Jackson shared that he saw Tyrone Downie at the tribute concert for his late wife, Karen Smith, three weeks ago.

“I was sitting outside and he came over to me and said. ‘Mi can’t pass right here and don’t come over come hail yuh up.’ He was the usual Tyrone ... walk fast and talk fast. Tyrone was always slim, but I noticed that he looked a bit small, but that was the only difference,” Jackson said.

He recalled that it was while Downie was a member of his band, the Caribs, that Bob Marley “came and took him”.

“One night we wre playing at the Jonkanoo Lounge and in walked Bob and ‘Skill’ Cole. But I didn’t tek it as anything, because hundreds of people use to pass through Jonkanoo. I saw Tyrone and Skill talking and I figured they were talking football. But the next week, Tyrone said he wanted to talk to me and that’s when he told me that Bob wanted him to play with the Wailers. I was sad to see him go, but I was happy for him. If a man like Bob come and want yuh to play for him, yuh can’t seh ‘no’,” Jackson reasoned.

He agreed with Lyn that Downie’s passing is a huge loss for the music industry and offered his condolences to the family.

Veeran booking agent, artiste manager and author Copeland Forbes said that he “felt his left eye jumping from Saturday evening” and knew that he was going to receive bad news. That proved true when he was told early Sunday morning that Downie had passed.

“Tyrone Downie was defintely among the greats. The news was particularly shocking for me because I had just seen something about him on Facebook and was fininshing up my cooking to go and respond when I got the call that he had died. I was shocked, because it’s not like we heard that Tyrone was sick or anything,” Forbes said.

Downie joined The Wailers in the mid-1970s, making his recording début with the band on Rastaman Vibration.

He has also played with The Abyssinians, Beenie Man, Black Uhuru, Buju Banton, Peter Tosh, Junior Reid, Tom Tom Club, Ian Dury, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly, and Sly & Robbie.

While residing in France, he was a member of the touring band of Youssou N’Dour, whose album Remember he produced.

In 1983, Grace Jones released the single My Jamaican Guy, and, according to his bio, unknown to Downie, he (although he was in a relationship and not romantically linked to Jones) was the subject of the song.

Downie released the solo album Organ-D in 2001.

Tyrone Downie was the father of nine children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.