by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
On Sunday, March 1 at 6 p.m. at Wilson’s Nite Out, 7635 Denniston Ave. in Swissvale, it is sure to be a standing-room-only, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for what’s being called an “open stage tribute” to one of Pittsburgh’s most legendary musicians.
Uzell Finney Jr., the founder and guitarist for The Flow Band, passed away on Feb. 11 from prostate cancer. He was 65. Finney’s funeral was held this past Saturday, Feb. 15, with the burial at Homewood Cemetery. Finney was the husband to Traceanne and the father to two daughters, Lyric and Jurnee.
Finney was a 33-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire as a firefighter and a retired firefighter from Engine Company 20 in West Homestead.
But of course, Finney’s claim to fame for the masses was as the “engine” behind The Flow Band, Pittsburgh’s longest-running reggae band. While Finney began his musical prowess at Allderdice High School in the early-1970s, The Flow Band, which was originally called Rastafari, came to form in the late ‘70s. Finney, along with Norman Green, Ernest Pollard, Sanford Barnes, and Deborah Starling-Pollard, soon were playing at seemingly every venue in town. Over the decades, they opened for the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ziggy Marley and Kymani Marley, and Jimmy Buffett.
“He was a spiritual uplift to me and all people that he touched,” Michelle Sandidge, Finney’s cousin and chief community affairs officer for the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, told the New Pittsburgh Courier, Feb. 17. “Never had a mean word to say about anyone, and his kindness was as infectious as his smile. He could make you laugh and feel good about yourself. He gave you encouragement while helping you with life lessons that were spiritually fulfilling and profound.”
Sandidge told the Courier that while many bands fade away, Finney’s ability to keep The Flow Band on top for decades was his “powerful people presence that enabled him to touch your soul with his spirit through music.”
She said Finney’s “talent far exceeded being a musical genius; his ability to engage the audience in more than song was his strong point.”
Finney’s last public performance, Sandidge said, was at Wallace’s Whiskey Room and Kitchen, inside Hotel Indigo in East Liberty, on Jan. 30.
In addition to a Celebration of Life event that occurred at Rocks Landing in McKees Rocks after the funeral and burial on Feb. 15, Finney was remembered with a final tribute salute from more than 30 fellow firefighters, led by Lisa Epps, a code compliance and education inspector and well-respected, longtime member of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. The salute included a bagpipe serenade by firefighter Pete Soergel.
“He was a genuine artist, playing piano first and self-teaching himself the guitar,” Sandidge told the Courier of Finney. “Our family always said we were his No. 1 fans. His love of family and friends was unwavering. ‘One Love’ was his signature, and he lived by it.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: UZELL FINNEY JR.)