We interviewed Phill Brown in issue number 12 of Tape Op. Over the years he's worked with some of the greatest artists ever, like Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Traffic, Spooky Tooth, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Robert Palmer, Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, Harry Nilsson, Roxy Music, Stomu Yamash’ta, John Martyn, Little Feat, Atomic Rooster, and Talk Talk. This is an excerpt from his (as yet) unpublished book, Are We Still Rolling?, and we'll be running more chapters from it in upcoming issues. Last issue: Phill began working at Basing Street Studios and worked with Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople and more... –LC
I had worked for the Wailers on two occasions before mixing the album -Live at the Lyceum. The first time was in the Spring/Summer of 1972, just after getting married, and before Murray Head’s Nigel Lived album. I mixed a few songs for the Catch A Fire album. Later, in February 1973, the Wailers were back in England with ten tracks that needed finishing off for their second album to be released in the UK. There were a few overdubs to do and then the mix. Tony Platt and I were both working on the project in Studio 2 at Basing Street - he would do a few days, maybe a week, and then I would take over.
I was 22 years old and very white. It would take a while for me to be accepted by these guys, who were mainly older than me by about six years, except for Earl Wilberforce Lindo, the new keyboard player, who was only 20. The Wailers were a heavyweight bunch of characters, obviously street-wise and at first a little intimidating. The band included Carlton Barrett - drums, Aston Barrett - bass, and Earl Lindo - keyboards. Bunny Livingston, Peter McIntosh and Bob Marley all played guitars and sang. They were all dressed in worn-looking jeans and several layers of coloured T-shirts with jackets and boots. They displayed varying lengths of dreadlocks, and some occasionally wore a woolen hat. With the combination of their stance, clothes, hair and attitude, they gave the impression of being tough guys who meant business. However, there was a very mellow side to their character and for the majority of the time I found them easy to work with. While the assistant Dave Hutchin and I set up microphones, they moved around the studio slowly and determinedly, adjusting equipment, making remarks to each other, smoking and laughing.
Like me, Chris Blackwell was white but at least he was Jamaican, and could speak the patois. I missed or misunderstood a lot of what the band were saying during the recordings - also, having the boss there gave the sessions an edge.
The Wailers smoked grass all day long. This was nothing new, but these joints were big, coned and dangerous - anything from seven to fifteen inches of neat grass. Steve Smith (Island’s House Producer) had referred to the larger ones as ‘baseball bats’. “They take offense if you don’t smoke with them”, he had once said on returning from Jamaica,”and I remember the day someone showed up at the front door with four 55 gallon drums, huge fucking things, and said, ‘I’m supposed to deliver this’. I said, ‘Well, what is it? - I’m not sure I want it’. This guy says, ‘It’s sea water, straight out of Kingston harbour’. I said, ‘I don’t think I want that’, and he says, ‘No, no - it’s for the Wailers. They can’t wash their hair unless it’s out of Kingston harbour - got to be sea water, it’s religious’. I said, ‘Great, bring it on in’. The Wailers are a mad bunch of fuckers”.
It was rumored that Bob Marley’s personal roadie had a bedsit in Earl’s Court, London, where they stashed large amounts of marijuana. No one actually lived there, it was just safer not to carry that amount of dope around. I had been offered a joint some days earlier by “Family Man” Barrett, felt honored, took a couple of healthy puffs and handed it back. "No man, that’s for you," was the response. I felt it was some kind of rite of passage, to see how the young "white blood clot" could handle it. Being stoned and working was not new to the Island staff, and I got on with what I was doing, although it was what we would have called "serious shit".
We were now working on "I Shot the Sheriff". It was necessary to do an edit on the l6-track master - before the second drum fill and the hook "I shot the Sheriff" - to use the start of one take and the remainder of another. This needed to be done before we could continue with overdubs. I enjoyed editing 1/4" tape, but...