Former Bob Marley and The Wailers Keyboardist Tyrone Downie Dead At 66

Tyrone Downie
Jamaican musician Tyrone Downie died on November 5

Former Bob Marley and The Wailers keyboardist, Tyrone Downie, has died,

This year has been one where many of the foundation reggae artists have transitioned. Another of the stalwarts and pioneers of that era, Tyrone Downie, has passed at the age of 66. Downie was a crucial member of the iconic Bob Marley and The Wailers band. The talented organist/keyboardist died in Kingston, Jamaica, yesterday, November 6, at age 66. The Wailers acknowledged the death of Downie and expressed their condolences using their Facebook page. However, notably, they did not reveal what his cause of death was.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart from the news that The Wailers’ own keyboard player, brother, and friend Tyrone Downie passed away today,” the beginning of the statement on Instagram read. “Tyrone joined The Wailers just before the age of 20, making his recording début with the band on Rastaman Vibration. When you hear the keys on Three Little Birds (and many others hits), you should always think of Tyrone. The Wailers and friends would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to Tyrone’s family. Rest in Power Tyrone.”

Downie joined The Wailers just before the age of 20 and made his recording debut with the band on the album Rastaman Vibration. They also acknowledged that he was behind the keys on “Three Little Birds.”

Tyrone Downie led a successful musical career that began while he studied at Kingston College and joined The Wailers in the mid-1970s. Besides The Wailers, he played with Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Black Uhuru, Peter Tosh, Tom Tom Club, Junior Reid, Ian Dury, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, and many more iconic reggae bands and artists.

At one point in his life, Tyrone Downie lived in France and toured as part of the band Youssou N’Dour. He would go on to produce their album Remember. In 1983, Grace Jones drops her song “My Jamaican Guy,” which many believed to be about Downie, even though the two were not known to be romantically linked at the time.

The talented keyboardist was from Cockburn Gardens in Kingston, and his enormous talent was first spotted by Douglas Forrest, head of Kingston College’s music department. It was while at the school he played on Eric Donaldson’s “Cherry Oh Baby” and the rest is history.

That track went on to win the 1971 Festival Song Competition. The Jamaica Observer spoke with Tommy Cowan, who produced “Cherry Oh Baby,” and he shared a bit more about Downie’s musical prowess.

He shared that he saw Downie playing on Windward Road in early 1971 and liked his style. He said at the time, Downie was still just a schoolboy.

“I was about to produce Eric Donaldson with “Cherry Oh Baby” with the Inner Circle 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 allow Tyrone to play. I thought Tyrone had a fresh and nice sound so it would be a plus adding him to the music,” he continued.
Downie would eventually leave his schooling in the fourth form to pursue music full-time.

The decision would prove prudent, and the renowned musician, known as Organ D, became one of the most recognized musicians in the early days of the reggae genre.

Tyrone Downie is credited on Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It,” as well as “Blackheart Man” by Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear classic “Marcus Garvey.”

Urban Islandz extend condolences to Tyrone Downie’s family and friends.