Alvin ‘Seeco’ Patterson, percussionist with Bob Marley and the Wailers – obituary

Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson - Wikipedia
Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson - Wikipedia

Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson, who has died aged 90, was a percussionist with Bob Marley and the Wailers, and a mentor and father figure to the reggae legend; he was with Marley when gunmen attempted to assassinate him, and was by his side during his treatment for the cancer that ultimately killed him.

Seeco was born Francisco Willie in Havana, Cuba, on December 30 1930; his largely absent father was Jamaican, his mother Panamanian. The family moved to Jamaica in his childhood, and he eventually settled in Kingston with his mother.

After leaving school he worked as a bauxite miner while playing percussion with the celebrated calypso artist Lord Flea. In 1957, he planned to emigrate to the US, but when the notorious Kendal train crash occurred, killing nearly 200 people and injuring 700, he returned to the island to search for relatives he thought might have been among the casualties.

He became friends with another denizen of Trenchtown, Bob Marley, who was in search of a mentor and father figure. Willie introduced the nascent Wailers – Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston – to Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One.

The great producer and reggae and ska pioneer initially sent them packing, but Willie persisted, and they went on to cut Simmer Down, their first hit, there.

Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson and Bob Marley at Crystal Palace Bowl in 1980 - Pete Still/Redferns
Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson and Bob Marley at Crystal Palace Bowl in 1980 - Pete Still/Redferns

His musical and mining careers continued in parallel, with Willie adopting the stage name Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, his sobriquet being derived from his given name, “Francisco” (another nickname was “Pep”).

Then in 1966 he was injured when a gas pipe under his works canteen exploded. Marley persuaded him to concentrate on music, and the following year he made his first contribution to the Wailers, on the tracks Lyrical Satyrical I and This Train.

At first, though, he was used sparingly, and when the original band undertook their first and only tour to the UK, in 1973, he was a roadie. The trio split the following year – due to Tosh and Livingston’s refusal to play what they called “freak clubs”, which they saw as antipathetic to their Ratsafarianism – giving way to Bob Marley and the Wailers. “Seeco” would play on every recording and at every gig for the rest of Marley’s life.

In 1976 the band was rehearsing at Marley’s home in Kingston, two days before they were due to appear at the Smile Jamaica free concert organised by the country’s prime minister Michael Manley, when gunmen – thought by some to be associated with Manley’s rival, Edward Seaga – burst in and began shooting. “Is Seaga men! Dem come fe kill Bob!” Seeco shouted out of the window.

As they were shooting at Marley, his manager Don Taylor pushed him to the floor, meaning that the bullet intended for his heart hit only his upper arm (he was later advised that an operation to remove it might cause loss of sensation in his fingers, so it remained there for the rest of his life).

Taylor and Marley’s wife Rita were seriously injured – both made full recoveries – but Marley kept his concert date, along with Patterson.

In September 1980, Patterson was with Marley when he collapsed jogging in Central Park, in New York, and remained with him during his cancer treatment in New York and Germany.

Following Marley’s death, Patterson continued to play with the Wailers band.

In 1990 he all but retired from music after suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was a mentor to musicians and singers including Ken Boothe, who had a UK No 1 in 1974 with Everything I Own. “Seeco’s house was one place where we used to go and listen to the songs and get training,” Boothe recalled.

Patterson is survived by his wife and six children.

Alvin Patterson, born December 30 1930, died November 1 2021