Tyrone Downie, a pivotal member of Bob Marley and The Wailers, died in Kingston on Sunday at age 66. The Wailers disclosed the organist/keyboardist’s passing on the band’s official Facebook page but didn’t give a reason behind death.
“It’s with great sadness and a heavy heart from the news that The Wailers’ own keyboard player, brother, and friend Tyrone Downie passed away today. Tyrone joined The Wailers just before the age of 20, making his recording dÃ©but with the band on Rastaman Vibration. If you hear the keys on Three Little Birds [and many others hits], you must at all times consider Tyrone. The Wailers and friends would really like to supply our heartfelt condolences to Tyrone’s family. Rest in Power Tyrone. #RestinPower #TyroneDownie,” the statement read.
Downie was from Cockburn Gardens in Kingston and attended Kingston College (KC), where his prodigious talent was first spotted by Douglas Forrest, head of the college’s music department.
It was while at KC that he played his first recording session on Eric Donaldson’s Cherry Oh Baby, which won the 1971 Festival Song Competition.
Tommy Cowan produced Cherry Oh Baby and took Downie on that session which took place at Dynamic Sounds.
“I saw Tyrone fiddling with some musicians at a rehearsal house somewhere on Windward Road back in early 1971 and liked his style. He was a schoolboy then, so after I was about to provide Eric Donaldson with Cherry Oh Baby with the Inner Cirlce band I went for Tyrone at KC, took him from school to the studio, and asked Ibo Cooper to shift from piano to organ and permit Tyrone to play,” Cowan told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday. “I assumed Tyrone had a fresh and nice sound so it might be a plus adding him to the music.”
Downie left KC in fourth form and played in several clubs and hotels before joining Marley and The Wailers. He’s first credited on Live!, the band’s outstanding 1975 album that captured them in concert on the Lyceum Theatre in London.
Nicknamed Organ D, Downie became some of the in-demand session musicians in Jamaica in the course of the Nineteen Seventies. He played on Legalize It by Peter Tosh, Blackheart Man by Bunny Wailer, and Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear.
He played on every Marley studio album after Live!, including Rastaman Vibration, Exodus, and Kaya. He remained a member of The Wailers following Marley’s death in 1981, touring Europe and the USA.
Downie, who lived for a few years in France, was also musical director for Senegalese World Beat/reggae star Youssou N’Dour.
Cowan said they last saw one another two weeks ago in Kingston at a tribute for singer Karen Smith who died last yr. They previously worked together on The Project, a 2018 song by Carlene Davis, Cowan’s wife.