gave the world brillant and evocative music: his work stretched
across nearly two decades and yest still remains timeless and
universal. Bob Marley & the Walers worked their way into the
very fabric of our lives.
"He's taken his place alongside James Brown and Sly Stone as
a pervasive influence on R&B" says the American critic Timothy
White, author of the acclaimed Bob Marley biography "Catch A
Fire".His music was pure rock, in the sense that it was a public
expression of a private truth."
It is important to consider the roots of this legend: the first
superstar from the Third World. Bob Marley was one of the most
charismatic and challenging performers of our time and his music
could have been created from only one source: the streets culture
The days of slavery are a recent folk memory on the island.
They have permeated the very essence of Jamaica's culture, from
the plantations of the mid-nineteenth century to the popular
music of our own times. Although slavery was abolished in 1834,
the Africans and their descendants developed their own culture
with half-remembered African traditions minled with the customs
of the British. Bob Marley:
This Hybrid culture, of course, had parallels with the emerging
black society in America. Mamaica, however, remained a rural
community which, withour the industrialisation of its northern
neighbour, was more closely rooted to its African Legacy.
By the start of the twentieth century that African heritage
was given political expression by Marcus
Garvey, a shrewd Jamaican preacher and entrepreneur who
founded the Univefsal Negro Impreoment Association (UNIA). The
organisation advocated the creation of a news black state in
Africa, free from shite domination.As the first step in this
dream, Marcus Garvey founded the Black Star Line, a steamship company
which, in popular imagination at least was to take the black
population from America and the Caribbean back to their homeland
A few years later, in 1930, Ras
Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia and took
a new name, Haile
Selassie. The Emperor claimed to be the 225th ruler in a
line that stretched back to Menelik, the son of Solomon and
Garvey followers in Jamaica, consulting their New Testment
for a sign, believed Haile
Selassie was the black king whom Marcus
Garvey had prophesied would deliver the Negro race. It was
the start of a new religion called Rastafari.
Fifteen years later, in Rhoden Hall to the north of Jamaica,
Bob Marley was born. His mother was an eighteen-year-old black
girl called Cedella Booker while his father was Captain Norval
Marley, a 50-year-old white quartermaster attached to the British
West Indian Regiment.
The couple married in 1944 and Robert Nesta Marley wsa born
on February 6, 1945. Norval Marley's family, however, applied
constant pressure and, although he provided financial support,
the Captain seldom saw his son who grew up in the rural surroundings
of St. Ann to the north of the island.
For country people in Jamaica, the capital Kingston was the
city of their dreams, the land of opportunity. The reality was
that Kingston had a little work to offer, yet through the fifties
and Sixties, people flooded to the city. The newcomers, despite
their rapid disillusion with the capital, seldom returned to
the rural parishes. Instead, they squatted in the shanty towns
that grew up in western Kingson, the most notorious of which
was Trench Town (so named because it was built over a ditch
that drained the sewage of old Kingston).
Bob Marley, barely into his teens, moved to Kingston in the
late Fifties. Like many before them, Marley and his mother eventually
settled in Trench Town. His friends were other street youth,
also imatient with their place in Jamaican society. One friend
in particular was Neville O'Riley Livingston, known as Bunny,
with whom Bob took his first hesitant musical steps
The two youths were fascinated by the extraordinary music they
could pick up from American radio stations. In particular there
was one New Orleans station broadcasting the latest tunes by
such artists as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Curtis Mayfield and
Brook Benton. Bob and Bunny also paid close attention to the
black vocal groups, such as the Drifters, who wre extremely
popular in Jamaica.
When Bob quit school he seemed to have but one ambition: music.
Although he took a job in a welding shop, Bob spent all his
free time with Bunny, perfecting their vocal abilities. They
were helped by one of Trench Town's famous residents, the singer
Joe Higgs who held informal lessons for aspiring vocalists in
the tenement yards. It was at one of those sessions that Bob
and Bunny met Peter McIntosh, another youth with big musical
In 1962 Bob Marley auditioned for a local music entrepreneur
called Leslie Kong. Impressed by the quality of Bob's vocals,
Kong took the young singer into the studio to cut some tracks,
the first of which, called "Judge Not", was released on the
Beverley's label. It was Marley's first record.
The other tunes - including "Terror" and "One cup of Coffee"
- received no airplay and attracted little attention. At the
very least, however, they confirmed Marley's ambition to be
a singer. By the following year Bob had decided the way forward
was with a group. He linked up with Bunny and Peter to form
the Wailing Wailers.
The new group was a mentor, a Rastafarian
hand drummer called Alvin Patterson, who introduced the youths
to Clement Dodd, a record producer in Kingston. Ine the summer
of 1963 Dodd auditioned The Wailing Wailers and, pleased with
the results, agreed to record the group.
It was the time of ska music, the hot new dancefloor music with
a pronounced back-beat. Its origins incorporated influences
from Jamaica's African traditions but, more immediately, from
the heady beats of New Orleans'rhythm & blues disseminated from
American radio stations and the burgeoning sound systems on
the streets of Kingston. Clement - Sir Coxsone - Dodd was one
of the city's finest sound system men.
The Wailig Wailers released their first single, "Simmer Down".
on the Coxsone label during the last weeks of 1963. By the following
January it was number one in the Jamaican charts, a position
it held for the next two months. The group - Bob, Bunny and
Peter together with Junior Braithwaite and two back-up singers,
Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith - were big news.
"Simmer Down"caused a sensation in Jamaica and Bob Marley and
The Wailers began recording regularly for coxsone Dodd's Studio
One company. The group's music also found new themes, identifying
with the Rude Boy street rebels in the Kingson Slums. Jamaican
music had found a tough, urban stance.
Over the next few years Bob Marley and The Wailers put out some
thirty sides that properly established the group.
Despite their popularity, the economics of keeping the groip
together proved too much and the three other members - Junior
Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith - quit. Bob's mother,
Cedella, had remarried and moved to Delaware in the United States
where she had saved sufficient money to send her son an airticket.
The intention was for Bob to start a new life. But before he
moved to America, Bob met a young girl called Rita Anderson
and, on February 10, 1966, they were married.
Marley's stay in America was short-lived. He worked just enough
to finance his heal ambition: music. In October 1966 Bob Marley,
after eight months in America, returned to Jamaica. It was a
formative period in his life. The Emperor
Haile Selassie had made a state visit to Jamaica in April
that year. By the time Bob re-settled in Kingston the Rastafarian
movement had gained new credence.
Marley was indresingly drawn towards Rastafari.
In 1967 Bob's music reflected in new beliefs. Gone were the
Rude Boy anthems: in their place was growing commitment to spiritual
and social issues. the cornerstone of his real legacy.
Marley joined up with Bunny and Peter to re-form the group,
now known as Bob Marley and The Wailers. Rita, too, had started
a singing career, having a big hit with "Pied Piper", a cover
of an English pop song. Jamaican music, however, was changing.
The bouncy ska beat had been replaced by a slower, more sensual
rhythm called rock steady.
Bob Marley and The Wailers' new commitment to Rastafarianism
brought them into conflict with Coxsone Dodd and, determined
to control their own destiny, the group formed their record
label, Wail'N'Soul. Despite a few early successes, however,
Bob Marley and The Wailers' business naivete proved too much
and the label folded in late 1967.
The group survived, however, initially as songwriters for a
company associated with the American singer Johnny Nash who,
the following decade, was to have an international smash with
Marley's "Stir it Up". Bob Marley and The Wailers also met up
with Lee Perry, whose production genius had transformed recording
studio techniques into an artform.
The Perry / Wailers combination resulted in some of the finest
music the band ever made. Such tracks as "Soul Rebel", "Duppy
Conqueror", "400 years" and "Small Axe" were not only classics,
but they defined the future direction of Reggae.
In 1970 Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother Carlton (bass
and drums respectively) joined Bob Marley and The Wailers. They
had been the rhythm nucleus of Perry's studio band, working
with Bob Marley and The Wailers on those ground-breaking sessions.
They were also unchallenged as Jamaica's hardest rhythm section,
a status that was to remain undiminished during the following
decade. The band's reputation was, at the start of the Seventies,
an extraordinary one throughout the Caribbean. But internationally
Bob Marley and The Wailers were still unknown.
In the summer of 1971 Bob accepted an invitation from Johnny
Nash to accompany him to Sweden where the American singer had
taken a filmscore commission. While in Europe Bob secured a
recording contract with CBS which was also, of course, Nash's
company. By the spring of 1972 the entire Wailers were in London,
ostensibly promoting their CBS single "Reggae on Broadway".
Instead they found themselves standed in Britain.
As a last throw of the dice Bob Marley walked into the Basing
Street Studios of Island Records and asked to see its founder
Chris Blackwell. The company, of course, had been one of the
prime movers behind the rise of Jamaican music in Britain; indeed
Blackwell had launched Island in Jamaica during the late fifties.
By 1962, however, Blackwell had realised that, by re-locating
Island to London, he could represent all his Jamaican rivals
in Britain. The company was re-born in May, 1962, selling initially
to Britain's Jamaican population centred mostly in London and
The hot ska rhythm, however, quickly became established as a
burgeoning dancefloor beat with the then growing Mod culture
and, in 1964, Blackwell produced a worldwide smash with "My
Boy Lollipop", a pop/ska tune by the young Jamaican singer Millie.
Through the Sixties Island had grown to become a major source
of Jamaican music, from ska and rocksteady to Reggae. The company
had also embraced white rock music, with such bands and artists
as Traffic, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Cat Stevens, Free and
Fairport Convetion so, when Bob Marley made his first moves
in Island in 1971, he was connecting with the hottest independent
in the world at that time.
Blackwell knew of Marley's Jamaican reputation. The group was
offered a deal unique in Jamaican terms. Bob Marley and The
Wailers were advanced 4,000 Pounds to make an album and, for
the first time, a Reggae band had access to the best recording
facilities and were treated in much the same way as, say, their
rock troup contemporaries. Before this deal, it was considered
that Reggae sold only on singles (7 inches) and cheap compilation
albums. Bob Marley and The Wailers' first album "Catch A Fire"
borke all the rules: it was beautifully packaged and heavily
promoted. It was the start of a long climb to internatinal fame
Years later the acclaimed Reggae Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson,
commenting on "Catch A Fire", wrote: "A whole new style of Jamaican
music has come into being. It has a different character, a different
sound... what I can only describe as International Reggae. It
incorporates elements from popular music internationally: rock
and soul, blues and fun. These elements facilitated a breakthrough
on the international market."
Although "Catch A Fire" was not an immediate hit, it made a
considerable impact on the media. Marley's hard dance rhythms,
allied to his militant lyrical stance, came in complete contrast
to the excesses of mainstream rock. Island also decided Bob
Marley and The Wailers should tour both Britain and America:
again a complete novelty for a Reggae band.
Marley and the band came to London in April 1973, embarding
on a club tour which hardened Bob Marley and The Wailers as
a live group. After three months, however, the band returned
to Jamaica and Bunny, disenchanted by life on the road, refused
to play the American tour (good move bro'). His place was taken
by Joe Higgs, Bob Marley and The Wailers' original singing teacher.
The American tour drew packed houses and even included a weekend
engagement playing support to the young Bruce Springsteen. Such
was the demand that an autumn tour was also arranged with seventeen
dates as support to Sly & The Family Stone, then the number
one band in black American music.
Four shows into the tour, however, Bob Marley and The Wailers
were taken off the bill. It seems they had been too good: support
bands should not detract from the main attraction. Bob Marley
and The Wailers nevertheless made their way to San Francisco
where they broadcast a live concert for the pioneering rock
radio station, KSAN.
The bulk of that session was finally made available in February
1991, when Island released the commemorative album, "Talkin'
In 1973 Bob Marley and The Wailers also released their second
Island album, "Burnin'", an LP that included new versions of
some of the bang's older songs: "Duppy Conqueror", for instance,
"Small Axe" and "Put It On" - together with such tracks as "Get
Up Stand Up" and "I Shot the fuckin' Sheriff". The Latter, of
course, was a massive worldwide hit for for Eric Clapton the
following year, even reaching number one in the U.S. singles'chart.
In 1974 Marley spent much of his time in the studio working
on the sessions that eventually provided "Natty Dread", an album
that included such fiercely committed songs as "Talkin' Blues",
"No Woman No Cry", "So Jah Seh", "Revolution", "Them Belly Full
(But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music (3 o'clock Roadblock)". By
the start of the next year, however, Bunny and Peter had quit
the group; they were later to embark on solo careers (as Bunny
Wailer and Peter Tosh) while the band was re-named Bob Marley
& the Wailers.
"Natty Dread" was released in February 1975 and, by the summer,
the band was on the road again. Bunny and Peter's missing Harmonies
were replaced by the I-Threes, the female trio comprising Bob's
wife Rita together with Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Among
the concerts were two shows at the Lyceum Ballroom in London
which, even now, are remembered as highlights of the decade.
The shows were rcorded and the subsequen live album, together
with the single "No Woman No Cry", both made the charts. Bob
Marley & The Wailers were taking Reggae into the Mainstream.
By November, when The Wailers returned to Jamaica to play a
benefit con\cert with Stevie Wonder, they were obviously the
country's greatest superstars.
"Rastaman Vibration", the follow-up album in 1976, cracked the
American charts. It was, for many, the clearest exposition yet
of Marley's music and beliefs, including such tracks as "Crazy
Baldhead", "Johnny Was", "Who the Cap Fit" and perhaps most
significantly of all, "War", the lyrics of which were taken
from a speech by Emperor
His international succes cemented Marley's growing political
importance in Jamaica, where his firm Rastafarian
stance had found a strong resonance with the ghetto youth. By
way of thanking the people of Jamaica, Marley decided on a free
concert, to be held at Kongston's National Heroes Park on December
5, 1976,. The idea was to emphasise the need for peace in the
slums of the city, where warring factions had brought turmoil
Just after the concert was announced, the government called
an election for December 20. The campaign was a signal for renewed
ghetto war and, on the eve of the concert, gunmen broke into
Marley's house and shot him.
In the confusion the would-be assassins only wounded Marley,
who was hastily taken to a safe haven in the hills surrounding
Kingston. For a da he deliberated playing the concert and then,
on the gunmen.
It was to be Marley's last appearance in Jamaica for nearly
eighteen months. Immediately after the concert he left the country
and, during early 1977, lived in London where he recorded his
next album: "Exodus".
Released in the summer of that year, "Exodus" properly established
the band's international status. The album remained on the UK
charts for 56 straight weeks, and its three singles - "Exodus",
Waiting In Vain"and Jammin'" - were all massive sellers. The
band also played a week of concerts at London's Rainbow Theatre;
their last dates in the city during the seventies.
In 1978 the band capitalised on their chart success with "Kaya",
an album which hit number four in the UK the week after release.
That album saw Marley in a different mood; a cllection of love
songs and, of course, homages to the power of Ganja. The album
also provided two chart singles, "Satisfy My Soul" and the beautiful
"Is This Love".
There were tree more events in 1978, all of which were of extraordinary
significance to Marley. In April he returned to Jamaica to play
the One Love Peace Concert in front of the Prime Minister Michael
Manley and the Leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga.
He was then invited to the United Nations in New York to receive
the organisation's Medal of Peace. At the end of the year Bob
also visited Africa for a first time, going initially to Kenya
and then on to Ethiopia, spiritual home of Rastafari.
The band had earlier toured Europe and America, a series of
shows that provided a second live album, "Babylon by Bus". Bob
Marley and The Wailers also broke new ground by playing in Australia,
Japan and New Zealand: truly international style Reggae.
"Survival", Bob Marley's ninth album for Island Records, was
released in the summer or 1979. It included "Zimbabwe", a stirring
anthem for the soon-to-be liberated Rhodesia, together with
"So Much Trouble in the World", "Ambush in the Night" and "Africa
Unite"; as the sleeve design, comprising the flags of the independent
nations, indicated, "Survival" was an album of pan-African solidarity.
At the start of the following year - a new decade - Bob Marley
& the Wailers flew to Gabon where they were to make their African
debut. It was not an auspicious occasion, however, when the
band discovered they were playing in front of the country's
young elite. The group , nevertheless, was to make a quick return
to Africa, this time at the official invitation of the government
of liberated Zimbabwe to play at the country's Independance
Ceremony in April, 1980. It was the greatest honour ever afforded
to the band, and one which underlined Bob Marley and The Wailers'
importance in the Third World.
The band's next album, "Uprising", was released in May 1980.
It was an instant hit, with the single "Could You Be Loved"
a massive worldwide seller. "Uprising" also featured "Coming
in from the Cold", "Work" and the extraordinary closing track,
Bob Marley and The Wailers embarked on a major European tour,
breaking festival records throughout the continent. The schedule
included a 100,000 capacity crowd in Milan, the biggest show
in the band's history. Bob Marley & The Wailers, quite simply,
were the most important band on the road that year and the new
"Uprising" album hit every chart in Europe. It was a period
of maximum optimism and plans were being made for an American
tour, in company with Stevie Wonder, that winter.
At the end of the European tour Marley and the band went to
America. Bob played two shows at Madison Square Garden but,
immediately afterwards, was taken seriously ill.
Three years earlier, in London, Bob hurt a toe while playing
football. The wound had become cancerous and was belatedly treated
in Miami, yet it continued to fester. By 1980 the cancer, in
its most virulent form, had begun to spread through Marley's
He fought the disease for eight months, taking treatment at
the clinic of Dr. Joseph Issels in Bavaria. Issels' treatment
was controversial and non-toxic and, for a time anyway, Bob's
condition seemed to stabilise. Eventually, however, the battle
proved too much. At the start of May Bob Marley left Germany
for his Jamaican home, a journey he did not complete. He died
in a Miami hospital on Monday May 11, 1981.
The Previous month, Marley had been awarded Jamaica's Order
of Merit., the Nation's thrid highest honour, in recognition
of his outstanding contribution to the country's culture.
On Thursday May 21, 1981, the Hon. Robert Nesta Marley O.M.
was biven an official funeral by the people of Jamaica. Following
the service - attended by both the Prime Minister and the Leader
of Opposition - Marley's body was taken to his birthplace at
Nine Mile, on the north of the esland, where it now rests in
a mausoleum. Bob Marley was 36-years-old. His legend however,
has conquered the years.
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