Fazal Prendergast, the band leader and guitarist of the reggae group, Yellow Wall Dub Squad, died in a tragic car accident on the afternoon of Friday April 1, 2005. He had performed the night before at the Soma Arts Center in San Francisco, California, backing Don Carlos and Sister I-Live.
It is speculated that Prendergast left soon after the show around 4:30 am and did not sleep much, if at all. Bandmates said he wanted to get to the next venue in Arcata to get an early start. As Prendergast was driving north on California’s Highway 101, he swerved in his 1991 Mercedes over an embankment, a 150-foot drop, into the rain-swollen Eel River near the Mendocino-Humboldt county line. He was swept downstream, but able to get out of his car. Witnesses were unable to pull him out although Prendergast did hand over his Fender Stratocaster guitar to an onlooker before the current came.
The California Highway Patrol said that Prendergast was found dead at the bottom of the river about a quarter-mile away, tangled up with a tree branch and a rock, after a two-hour search involving six agencies and four helicopters.
Prendergast had a long and fruitful music career that began in ernest in Kingston, Jamaica in 1974—first with Augustus Pablo’s Rockers International Allstars Band, then with Earl “Chinna” Smith’s High Times Players. He backed everyone from Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Junior Reid, Don Carlos, The Congos, Sugar Minott, Johnny Osborne, and others. In 1977, he opened with Israel Vibration for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Prendergast linked up with Mutabaruka in 1983 and toured and recorded as part of the High Times Players for the dub poet. Mutabaruka changed the band’s name to “Sound of Resistance” where they toured Europe and the U.S. Predergast continued to record and play music at Tuff Gong, Studio One, Channel One, and other legendary studios with other top-notch session musicians including Santa Davis, Squiddly Cole and Sly Dunbar.
Prendergast then moved to New York in 1989 where he worked with Computer Paul, the Meditations, Sister Carol and others, and relocated to California permanently in 1991.
In conjunction with Amlak Tafari, Prendergast formed the Yellow Wall Dub Squad in 1999. Tafari said Prendergast initially had doubts about working as a collective, since promoters can cut costs by hiring individual session players. But once Prendergast saw the benefits, he worked harder than most to make it work, “Fazal run it 100%,” remembered Tafari, “Him always used to say ‘t’ree-foot horse always win race,’” which is how Prendergast saw Yellow Wall–the collective nature of the group was its handicap in a cut-throat industry.
His vision was that Yellow Wall would be the number one West Coast band, backing everyone who came through. “He was a pioneer,” said bassist and longtime family friend Toho Saunders,”He was like a rebel with a cause. He was into his fast cars, and his Italian shoes, but reggae was a mission. He ate, breathed, lived and drank reggae music and was very diligent about business.”
There was a mischievous side to Predergast as well, “Fazal was a wild child!” Saunders continued. “He would come to sound check and everyone would be trying to tune their instruments, right? Fazal would be playing LOUD over everybody! And he was unapologetic [laughs] That’s Fazal. But nobody skanked like Fazal when it came to rhythm guitar. Nobody has a tone like he got from the instrument. It’s because he used his whole arm. He put his body into it. Some players just use their wrists. Not Fazal.”
Writing his own music was also one of Predergast’s loves. He released a CD last year and was working on another one. “That is something he definitely wanted to get out there,” said Saunders, “he was really working hard on his own stuff.”
Fazal was 46 years old and is survived by his partner and wife of eleven years, Colette McGeough, and his 9-year-old daughter, Deadhra. Aside from his family, music was his life. He told Snowboard Magazine in January, “The only time I find peace, happiness, and a connection with the Most High is when I play my guitar.”
The Bay Area reggae community is devastated and deeply affected by this loss. He will be remembered as a very talented guitarist, a hard worker and someone who cared about people–“he wears his heart on his sleeve,” said Tafari. “The whole community is upset by this loss—everyone is feeling it hard,” said Junglz Apart frontman Tony D.
Prendergast’s manager, Robert Oyugi, confirmed, “Fazal will be deeply missed. It just hits home that you never know when your time will come.”
The memorial will take place on Monday, April 11, 2005 at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, 1990 Franklin Avenue, Santa Rosa, California from 2-3 p.m.
There are also plans in the works for a memorial concert on May 28 at the 19 Broadway Club in Fairfax, CA. More details will be released as they become known.
Donations, condolences and/or flowers can be sent to Colette McGeough, 11229 Loch Lomand, Middletown, CA 95461.