Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mr Brown (Glen Adams 1945-2010)


        Behind in my reading, I only learned yesterday that Glen Adams, the pioneering Jamaican musician and former member of Lee "Scratch" Perry's seminal Upsetters band, passed away in December after a long illness.

Glen Adams, 1969

        Originally known as a backing musician (keyboards) and later as an innovative record producer, both in Jamaica and the United States, I mainly think of Glen Adams as the composer of one of the best songs ever, the unforgettable Wailers track Mr Brown.  Written in 1969, Adams had originally intended to record and release the song himself, but Scratch persuaded him to let the Wailers record it for inclusion on their pivotal Soul Revolution lp, two years before the group broke through worldwide with Catch A Fire

        Known for its "spooky" (really spooky; really burning) organ sound (provided by Adams and Wailer Peter Tosh), Mr Brown's fabulous, striking lyrics and Bob Marley's great lead vocal performance, Mr Brown has always been on my personal Top Ten list.  Jamaican folklore and news-based interpretations have occasionally been advanced to explicate the Mr Brown ghost story, but they remain marvelously incomplete and unconvincing.  Mr Brown, as they say, is what it is.  (Please click on link in the first line of the song below to enjoy the performance.)

        Less well-known, except to reggae aficionados, is the fact that Glen Adams was one of the several musicians who recorded as melodica master "Augustus Pablo" for producer Herman Chin-Loy before the late and greatly missed Horace Swaby permanently assumed the role and enlarged the artistic identity of Augustus Pablo.  

        That, of course, is another, equally important story.   

        But first -- Mr Brown:

Who is Mr Brown?
Mr Brown is a clown who rides through town in a coffin. 
Where He be found? 
In the coffin where there is 
Three crows on top and Two is laughing. 
What a confusion! 
What a botheration!  

Mandeville Market, Manchester Parish, ca. 1900

Who is Mr Brown? (I want to know now!) 
He is nowhere to be found.  
From Mandeville to Sligoville, coffin running around. 
Upsetting, upsetting, upsetting the town, 
Asking for Mr Brown.
I want to know Who -- 
Is Mr Brown?  

Kingston Tram, Parade & Orange Streets, ca. 1900

Is Mr Brown controlled by remote?  

Calling Duppy Conqueror -- 
I'm the Ghost Catcher. 
This is your chance -- Prove Yourself! 

Down in Parade, 
People running like a Masquerade.  
The police make a raid 
But The Thing get fade.   
What a thing in town! 
Crows chauffeur-driven around. 
Skanking as if they never had known 
The man they call Mr Brown

Jonkanoo Masquerade, Kingston, ca. 1960

Sligoville, First "Free Village" in Jamaica (1834) , St. Catherine's Parish, mid-19th century 

Glen Adams w/The Slackers, 2002 

Big Youth, Natty Warning (Glen Adams/Manley Buchanan), produced by Glen Adams

In this great future, you can't forget your past -- Peter Tosh & Bob Marley ("Get Up, Stand Up").

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