Errol Brown, Sound Guy for Rebelution, Gives a Look at the Making of Some of Reggae's Greatest Hits
Courtesy of Errol Brown Errol Brown, sound engineer who recorded several Bob Marley and the Wailers albums
Fame, for most artists, is short-lived.
When stars come and go, a core network of lyricists, producers, crew members and musicians persists through the decades, typically unseen, giving support from one fresh face to the next.
Errol Brown is a sound engineer who, within the industry, carries much name recognition. Born in Jamaica, he has worked predominantly in reggae music since the '70s. He's won two Grammys and has produced music for and toured with a guy named Bob Marley.
We were able to catch up with Brown before he headed out to Lollapalooza this past weekend and chatted about how music has changed since Bob.
Up on the Sun: Describe what you do.
I'm sound recording and mixing engineer /producer
When did you start getting into sound engineering? Who trained you?
I started in the business in the early '70s at my uncle's studio Treasure Isle Recording Studio. His name was Duke Reid. [I] started training by an engineer named Byron Smith, and completed training by my uncle Duke Reid, which was a serious drilling. It wasn't easy.
How was sound engineering different when you started, compared to now?
Well, when I started it was really hard because you have to record everyone one time, it's like mixing a song now, the balance had to be accurate, because those days the recording machine was one track, then two tracks, then four tracks, then eight tracks, then 16 tracks, then 24 tracks, then 48 tracks, now unlimited tracks. No fixing or correcting when I started, unlike today's world, [where] every instrument is on a separate track, so you can take out, or replace, any mistake. I know it is strange, but I love the digital world we are in today. The sound - it's just perfect, no tape hiss, no scratchy records, so better separation. What you record is what you hear when you play back. In the early days I would have to align the tape machines to get the best quality, and don't care how perfect you aligned these machines, the bass drum and the bass guitar would come back very heavy, I personally didn't like that. I always want to get back the sound I put on tape, I know the American engineers love that, always talking about warmth you get from tape, that you don't get from the digital world, but it definitely don't bother me. Love It! Hahaha.
Did you embrace the digital take over when it happened?
I was scared, but my son Shane Brown ask me "so daddy what you are going to do, retire early?" I couldn't answer, I just laugh. So I then challenged it, and there goes, conquered It.
When did you start working for Bob Marley?
I started working for Bob Marley 1979 after I left Treasure Isle Studios.
Do you remember the first time you met him?
I definitely remember, in the record shop at 56 Hope Road [in Kingston, Jamaica, now the Bob Marley Museum]. It was really Marcia Griffiths [who] took me there; I was her personal engineer in those days.
What was your first impression?
Well I wasn't scared, because I was and still not starstruck. It was just like meeting a regular person, and that's the way he was, in any case. What got me frightened was when he took me in the studio and lifted off the cover off the MCI Recording and Mixing Console/ It was really frightening. Imagine, I'm coming off a very simple 12-channel console and buck up this [36-channel] state-of-the-art console. I didn't know if I could do it, but I got brave and challenged and conquered it.
How did your professional relationship with Bob Marley and the Wailers happen?
Marcia Griffiths usually bragged about her engineer to them, and he told her he wanted to meet me, so that's how it happened. Although he really met me at Treasure Isle Studio when Peter Tosh rented the studio to do the Legalize It album with The Wailers. He was there with Peter through the recording, so I guess he was listening from them.
Which albums did you work on with Bob?
The first album at Tuff Gong Studios was [Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1979 album] Survival. I was assistant engineer to Alex Sadkin (of course I learned a lot from him). Then the next album, Uprising , I recorded and mixed. Confrontation recorded, mixed and produced along with Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend was a mixture of some of my mixes.