Black Uhuru: The Rantings Of An Angry Fan

Michael Rose, Puma Jones, and Duckie Simpson

The Classic Black Uhuru Line-Up

Black Uhuru has become nothing more than a bad cover band.

The once roots-heavy collective, backed by musicians such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Skakespeare, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, Mikey Chung, Bubbler Waul, and Dougie Bryan, are now sporting talent show winners and newspaper ad-responders.

And the power trio?  Well, it’s been reduced to two on one night, one on the other, maybe you get three if you are lucky.  But hey, who doesn’t enjoy going to a Uhuru show and watching Andrew Bees do his worst Michael Rose impersonation?

Michael Rose with Black Uhuru, 2004

I hate to bring negativity to such a positive blog, but someone must rip the band-aid off of this wound and reveal it for what it really is:  a bloody, infected mess with a risk of becoming gangrenous.

Timeline

  • Claim to Fame: Waterhouse roots-reggae group which won the first Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, with Anthem, in 1984. 
  • Classic Line-Up: Michael Rose, Duckie Simpson and American Puma Jones.
  • Original Line-Up: Duckie Simpson, Garth Dennis, and Don Carlos (1972)
  • Critically Acclaimed Albums: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Red, Anthem, Brutal, Now
  • Steven Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and later of The Sopranos) wrote and recorded the original version of Solidarity for Anthem. 
  • Many critics blasted Uhuru for abandoning their hardcore sound on Anthem. 
  • Toured with The Clash, The Police, The Rolling Stones
  • Rose left the group following the Grammy success of Anthem. He was replaced by Junior Reid, another Waterhouse singer.
  • Junior Reid and Puma Jones departed in the late 80s and the original line-up rejoined and recorded modern roots reggae classic Now in 1991.
  • Puma Jones passes away in 1990.
  • Andrew Bees is enlisted after Don Carlos and Garth Dennis depart in the mid-90s.
  • Uhuru releases only 2 studio albums between 1994 and 2012:  1998’s Unification and 2001’s Dynasty, both critical and commercial failures.
  • Duckie Simpson plans the release of As The World Turns in 2008.  The album never materializes.

Junior Reid, Glastonbury, 1986

© Andrzej Liguz

Gone are the days of the original, roots heaviness we all remember from the 80’s.  Welcome to the days of uninspired performances, marginal musicians, and struggling vocalists.

Word is that Duckie Simpson is still captaining this sinking ship, but he was nowhere to be found the last time I witnessed this atrocity on stage.  Oh, they put a “Duckie Simpson” on stage.  The problem is the Duckie they put on stage was not the Duckie that helped found this group.  It may have been Duckie’s son.  It may have been some other performer who vaguely resembles Duckie;  but it was not Duckie.

Duckie Simpson 2011

© Floyd Celluloyd

I am reminded of the time I went to see Shabba Ranks at The Boathouse in Norfolk, VA in 1991.  I paid for Shabba.  I waited for Shabba.  I cheered for Shabba when he took the stage.  Problem is, it wasn’t Shabba.  It was a Wesley Snipes look-alike with a coarse voice and Jamaican accent.  I guess Shabba was “sick” that night.

I have been a die-hard FANATIC of Black Uhuru for more than 20 years.

I was there when Michael Rose departed just as they were peaking.

I was there when they struggled through Positive, a very lackluster record released upon the heels of multiple Grammy-nominated albums.

I was there when Puma died.

I was there when the phoenix rose from the ashes and virtually saved roots reggae with Now.

I continued to go see them perform throughout the 1990’s.

The Police on stage with Black Uhuru 1982

© Lynn Goldsmith

Then Duckie Simpson did the unthinkable.

He enlisted a bad Michael Rose impersonator, dropped an abomination of an album in 2001’s Dynasty, tried to recapture Puma’s magic by enlisting several different sub-par female vocalists, and now it appears that he has given up on the collective completely.

He is allowing a bad band to use the Black Uhuru name.

A terrible band.

A band with poor and uninspired performances.

I am therefore not torching Black Uhuru.  I am torching the collection of meager musicians who are using Uhuru’s name, all at the behest of Duckie Simpson.  I guess.

I am not even sure that this version of “Black Uhuru” even has a recording contract.  They have not released an original studio album since 2001’s abysmal Dynasty.  They have no website.  They don’t seem to have a regular tour schedule.  They show up at various festivals and small music halls and steal admission fees from fans who wrongfully believe that they are seeing Black Uhuru perform.

I tried to contact Black Uhuru’s last known management group to inquire about the status of the album, but I could not seem to locate No Joke Entertainment.

I was not a fan of Andrew Bees when he signed on, and I am even less a fan now.  I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy, as is Duckie Simpson, but the performances are just plain awful.

I was not a fan of the Sly and Robbie tour a few years back, where they laid down classic Black Uhuru riddims while Andrew Bees proceeded to butcher it for the fans.

Classic Black Uhuru w/ Sly and Robbie

I was not a fan of Duckie Simpson’s plan to release a solo album under the Black Uhuru moniker.

And I am surely not a fan of being told that ‘that guy’ on stage is Duckie Simpson.

Please Duckie, if you’re out there, do the fans a favor and retire the Black Uhuru name.  The jig is up.

Garth Dennis and Don Carlos 1996

The men who rescued roots reggae from the onslaught of late 80s dancehall slackness and invented a new genre, “modern roots reggae”, with the 1991 release of Now.

For a detailed biography and discography, please visit Wikipedia.

For all fans of the classic Black Uhuru collective, I have included a live performance download and classic interview from 1984.  The interview was conducted by Jack Barron during the 1984 Anthem Tour through Europe.

Click here to read this interview, exclusively shared on The Midnight Raver blog.

This classic performance, superbly recorded by an audience member on August 13, 1982 at the Santa Cruz Civic Center, is presented here in pristine  lossless (FLAC) audio.

DOWNLOAD

Set List

1.  [05:31] Shine Eye Gal
2.  [06:10] Plastic Smile
3.  [06:18] Puff She Puff
4.  [07:37] I Love King Selassie
5.  [05:44] Mondays
6.  [05:45] Youth Of Eglington
7.  [06:57] Chill Out
8.  [10:18] Darkness
9.  [06:25] Happiness >
10.  [06:23] World is Africa
11.  [05:33] Sponji Reggae
12.  [07:51] Sensemilla
13.  [08:08] Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

I have included their legendary performance in Essen, Germany 1981:

Black Uhuru Live From Essen

19 thoughts on “Black Uhuru: The Rantings Of An Angry Fan

  1. Pingback: Ganja Bonanza: Michael Rose Live in Amsterdam 1994 « Midnight Raver

  2. Pingback: “Babylon Release The Chains, But Dem A Use Dem Brain” « Midnight Raver

    • You may be right Ras. I wrote this with all due love and respect for Black Uhuru, of whom I have been a fan for 25 years. Black Uhuru are legendary and will always be legendary and I wish nothing but great things for this band. This was written out of a place of love, I don’t understand your negativity. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Ras,
      You are wrong on this one. Sometimes the truth hurts and you should not attack the messenger. Black Uhuru has fallen from the pinnacle of reggae and has been an embarrassment for quite a few years. I have wondered why Sly and Robbie would have put their names and performances behind the garbage incarnations that have characterized the imitations of Michael Rose in recent years.
      By the way, I am a Jamaican who has watched this deterioration into irrelevance since Black Uhuru peaked nearly 30 years ago.

  3. I just saw Black Uhuru last night in San Francisco. I’m a long time fan and It was a great show but it seemed as if the vocals were lip-synched. Neither vocalist ever spoke to the audience , all communication was by the manager. I enjoyed the songs but found it a curiously slick and soulless version of their hit songs. This is the age of simulacra, the real has vanished leaving only a simulation and I’m sad to say this show was simulated Black Uhuru to cash in on the fame and the name.

  4. ” I’m a long time fan and It was a great show”
    ” I enjoyed the songs but found it a curiously slick and soulless ”
    ” I’m sad to say this show was simulated Black Uhuru” sounds like a great show!

  5. Duckie is and always was on the stage at Black Uhuru shows . That is a fact . I am in a place to know as I played Guitar on the Brutal and now cds. If you can’t even tell if the artist is real or not what do your words mean? Not much lol Sorry. If the shows are to slick for some. Maybe sloppy would be better. As far as lip-synced goes Really ? Ha Ha. You guys should stay as far away from live music as possible . Just sit home and only watch classic You Tube videos of the past. That way you will never be challenged by anything new that shakes up your Idea of what music is . Or was ha ha !! The band has been through a lot, I must admit but Black Uhuru continues to grow and entertain a new generation of Reggae lovers. I know cause I was on stage for the last tour at packed shows all over the U.S. .Seemed like peeps were lovin it to me ! I also have played with the band for almost 30 years. There have been many versions that all had great songs that should be cherished. The past is over so get used to it and learn to love what is happening today. Please support us as we push to bring Reggae to a new generation. Positive vibes have the power to heal all wrongs. Please support Black Uhuru as we need all of you even the critics. You all know the music. The band is nothing with out the fans! Lets live for today! Thank You ” White Uhuru ”

    • Frank: I thank you for commenting on this post. I am very familiar with both albums you speak of. In fact, NOW is my favorite Uhuru album and one of my favorite reggae albums ever. Just a brilliant sound and vibe. And I know a lot about the Brutal album as I have interviewed several people about it including Doc, Fox, and Robbie Shakespeare. I have seen Uhuru too many times to count starting in 1985. Watching Junior Reid shred the stage on that tour is something I will never forget. He and Michael were great when they were out front. As I said in a previous comment, this post came from a place of frustration. If you are honest with yourself and with the people then you know it was truth I spoke. I still stand by my assertion that Duckie was not onstage when I saw them a few years back. I know it is not the norm as I have seen him onstage countless times. Maybe he was ill? Maybe he didn’t make the show on time? I’m not holding that against a guy who HAS MADE many thousands of shows since the mid-1970s. He is a soldier and I respect him deeply. I think some are taking this post the wrong way and for that I apologize. I was not assaulting Black Uhuru. I was simply stating the fact that, for a while, they fell off. I saw them in September and the show was good, but its not the same. Perhaps it cannot be the same and will never be the same without Sly and Robbie. I won’t get into Duckie’s treatment of Garth and Don. People can come on here and throw stones at me and my readers. It’s OK. I know of what I speak. It is foolish to think that because, as one commenter said, “I’m not Jamaican, or not a writer, or white” that I do not know what I’m talking about. I don’t come on here and just start typing hearsay or rumour. I stated my opinion, based on 25 years listening, researching, interviewing, and watching this legendary band. Many people happen to agree with it. I think you know the truth. I have interviewed Don, I have interviewed Garth. Duckie has an open invitation to come and tell his side of the story. And he will be treated with the utmost respect. I am a fan first. Maximum Respect…You are always welcome here…Mike

  6. I have known members of Black Uhuru for over 20 years. I can assure you that it is Duckie on stage, no lip syncing. They were playing to packed houses on their most recent tour. The crowds were not disappointed. It may not be the original band from years ago, but times change. They have the same lead guitar player, Frank, who was on the Now, and Brutal albums. He has been with the band for 30 years. I saw them in Chicago in November and it was a great show. Black Uhuru is still my favorite reggae band.

  7. I agree with this review
    You even can search on youtube: black uhuru has been to zimbabwe, but it was not black uhuru; it was a fake group. There was no Duckie or even Andrew bess there. Only an unknow artist using the group´s name, performing to more than 50.000 people.
    Unfortunatelly black uhuru day`s are over. They were really the best.
    If you want to see good concerts, try michael rose or junior reid solo`s performances.

  8. midnightraver , very good your point of view. People who are criticizing you dont have solid arguments.
    As we are black uhuru`s fans (I am theirs greatest fan on earth) we must have our opinion about their current situation

    I only disagree in one point: Duckie shouldnt retire. He could record a good album, find a good producer (twilight circus, maybe) and invite ex-uhuru members , such as Michael rose, Junior reid…maybe don carlos – I dont know if duckie and Don carlos have a good relationship. And of course, remove Andrew bess, cos he is an awful singer (nothing personal)

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