Rebel Music, 1970–1975
Once Marley ended his relationship with Dodd, he sought the guidance of a Rastafarian elder named Mortimer (or Mortimo) Planno. Planno became Bob’s spiritual adviser, as well as the manager of the band. Under Planno’s guidance, Bob’s faith in Rastafarianism grew and his Bible studies increased. When Rita became pregnant with their first child, the Marleys decided to move back to Omeriah’s farm in St. Ann (Omeriah had died in 1965). They moved into the cabin that had been built for Bob’s mother 20 years earlier. Once settled in St. Ann, Rita gave birth to a girl, whom they named Cedella. Returning to Kingston only on periodic business trips, the Marley family stayed in St. Ann until 1970. While in the country, Bob returned to the farming life that he had known as a child. He and his cousins cultivated corn and a little ganja on the family farm, as had been done for decades. During this time, Bob continued to let his hair grow and form knots (i.e., dreadlocks). He delved deeper into Rastafarianism and the Bible while he continued to write music. Together with Rita, he wrote “Nice Time,” “Stir It Up,” and “Chances Are” while living on the family homestead. He also began work on two more new songs, “Belly Full” and “Trench Town Rock.”
With their contract with Dodd terminated, the Wailers started their own record label, Wailin’ Soul Records (the name appears on some singles as Wail’n Soul’m or Wail’n’Soul). Bob said of this experience, “I thought I wasn’t going to work for anyone again, so we split Coxsone to form Wail’n’Soul. But I don’t know anything about business and I got caught again. ‘Bend Down Low’ was number one in Jamaica but they were pressing and selling it in a black market type of business.”1 Early releases from the new label included “Selassie Is the Chapel,” in which Bob asserts his Rastafarian faith, and “This Man Is Back,” which announced Bob’s return from America.
Sonny Til and the Orioles set “Selassie Is the Chapel” to the tune of “Crying in the Chapel,” and it was Bob’s first song dealing with Rastafarianism. The original song had recently been a worldwide hit for Elvis Presley; however, Mortimer Planno had rewritten the words and recast the tune to a slow Nyabinghi drumbeat and had given the song to Marley to sing as a testament to his new faith.2 The Wailers’ experience with Planno and their increasing interest in faith made them “the first really strong Jamaican groups to adopt the abstemious, continually testifying life of the Rastafarian, incorporating elements of Rasta drumming into their music long before it became fashionable for reggae groups to do so.”3
In the studio, the Wailers employed the producer Clancy Eccles, and at first their new label seemed to be a success.4 The early releases included the 45-rpm single “Nice Time,” with “Hypocrite” on the B-side, and an early version of Bob and Rita’s love song from their time in St. Ann, “Stir It Up.” Unfortunately, the Wailers did not have the business experience or connections to last in the Jamaican recording industry. The existing labels conspired against them, and their products lacked radio play to boost sales, promotions, and distribution. The label folded at the end of 1967 when they were informed that the stamping machine that actually made the records had broken and production halted. Bob said, “we fight hard, man (to make Wail’n’Soul a success.) But when Christmas came and we go to collect money, the man say the (record) stamper mosh (was destroyed) and alla that.”5
The closing of Wail’n’Soul Records foreshadowed the difficulties that the Wailers would have in 1968. Peter was arrested for taking part in a street demonstration against the white-supremacist government that had been founded in Rhodesia, Africa, and Bob and Bunny were both jailed for ganja possession. Bob served a month-long sentence, during which he contemplated his captivity and further identified himself with the captive sufferers in the Bible and in slavery. Bunny had been caught with a large enough quantity of ganja that he was jailed for a year in the General Penitentiary. Later in his sentence, he was moved to a work camp called Richmond Farm. These events effectively stopped any progress that the Wailers had been making musically. However, this additional suffering would become fodder for the next round of songwriting. Bob spent the year that Bunny was incarcerated playing soccer and “listening intently to the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the new funk modes of Sly and the Family Stone [with whom the Wailers would eventually tour] and working on songs.”6 Although he was struggling in 1968, Bob was overjoyed when Rita gave birth to his first son during that year. David Marley, the newest member of the ever-growing Marley family, was nicknamed Ziggy early in his life and is known by that name today.7
The last two years of the 1960s were a difficult and confusing time for the Wailers. They began identifying with the black power movement in the United States, even going so far as to cut off their dreadlocks and comb their hair out in Afros. Although sympathetic to the movement, Bob was still intensely interested in Rasta doctrine; Planno told him of the Rastafarian sect in Jones Town called the Twelve Tribes of Israel. These Rastas were Christians who believed that the second coming of Christ had taken place in the person of Haile Selassie. Therefore, they revered his words and speeches and spent long hours discussing their meaning at sessions called “grounations.” These meetings also included prayers, drumming, chanting, and ganja smoking. Another aspect of the Twelve Tribes sect is its belief in astrology. Members are assigned tribes according to the month of their birth, and frequently they adopt their tribal name and cast off their “slave name.” The Rasta philosopher who founded the sect, Vernon Carrington, went by the name Gad the Prophet and was the leader of the 1970s peace movement in Jamaica. Bob was born in February, and, as his association with the Twelve Tribes grew, he learned that he was from the tribe of Joseph. Part of Marley’s experience with these Rastas in 1968 was meeting a black American singer named Johnny Nash. Nash was an African American pop singer and actor who gained international recognition with his worldwide hit “I Can See Clearly Now” and was influenced in his later career by American soul and Jamaican reggae. It was Nash who helped the Wailers reorganize musically and who ultimately ushered them onto the world stage. In 1975, Bob said of Nash, “he’s good, I like him.”8
Johnny Nash and his friend Danny Sims had begun a record label in 1964. Called JoDa, for Johnny and Danny, the label released several hits but eventually had the same fate as many other small labels and filed for bankruptcy two years later. However, Nash and Sims did not leave the entertainment business; instead, they began promoting American singers in Jamaica. At this time, it was possible to bring American artists to Jamaica to record very inexpensively. With lowered overhead, it was more likely that the recording venture would be able to remain profitable. Sims sold off all of his original entertainment assets in New York and paid to move both his and Nash’s family to Jamaica. He also financed the move for his producer, Arthur Jenkins. Living in the mountain suburbs above Kingston, Sims reopened his music-publishing business in Jamaica. Called Cayman Music, Sims’s new company was set up in this tax haven and banking center between Jamaica and Cuba.
Their idea was simply to profit from the relatively inexpensive recording location and to ignore the Jamaican music scene, which did not apply to their business. However, Nash began writing songs that had a Jamaican feel to them and eventually released an album recorded at Federal Studio, in Kingston, that contained “Hold Me Tight,” which had a distinct Jamaican influence, and a remake of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” which was heavily influenced by the rock steady style. The effect of the worldwide success of this record on Nash and Sims was that they began to take Jamaican popular music more seriously as a product that could be exported and sold. Beyond this, Nash had become interested in Rastafarianism, and when a disc jockey friend, Neville Willoughby, offered to take him to a grounation, he agreed. The Rasta meeting that they attended was one of the Twelve Tribe’s Sunday afternoon gatherings called Satta Amassagana, which means “give thanks and praises” in the Ethiopian Amharic language. At this meeting, Nash was introduced to two promising young Jamaican singers, Bob and Rita Marley.
The next day, the Marleys were brought to Sims’s house by Willoughby, and together they performed “Nice Time,” “Chances Are,” “Don’t Rock My Boat,” and “Lively Up Yourself,” along with many others. These songs impressed Sims and Nash both, and they told Bob and the Wailers that they were very interested in working with them. Although they were anxious to get back to work, Bunny was still in jail, so Bob and Rita returned to St. Ann for several months to work on existing songs and to compose new material.
Sims wanted to promote the Wailers internationally, and he approached Bob with the idea. Bob sent him to Mortimer Planno, who was still functioning as the Wailers’ manager, and after some discussion they came to an agreement. Cayman Music had hired the Wailers as songwriters at a weekly retainer of fifty dollars each. When Bunny was released from custody at the end of 1968, the Wailers began recording the songs that had been written for their new employers. During the following four years, the Wailers recorded more than 80 songs for Cayman Music.
In early 1969, Sims formed a new record company, called JAD Records, again a shortening of the names Johnny, Arthur Jenkins (the producer and new partner), and Danny. During this period the Wailers did not record songs that contained Rastafarian imagery. Instead, they worked out rock steady versions of many songs such as “Mellow Mood,” “Put It On,” “How Many Times,” and “There She Goes.” Also recorded were Peter’s songs “Hammer” and “You Can’t Do That to Me,” which was an early version of his seminal “Stop That Train.” Later songs recorded for Cayman Music included Bob and Rita’s “Chances Are,” “Hold On to This Feeling,” and “Touch Me.” The most significant track from these sessions was Marley’s post-rude-boy track “Soul Rebel.” Even though the Wailers’ output for Cayman Music was marketable, it did not contain the Trench Town sentiments that the Jamaican audience had come to expect from the Wailers, and it seemed to some that the Wailers were selling out for commercial success.
Early 1969 brought another change to Jamaican popular music in which the beat slowed down even further. The new beat was a slow, steady, ticking rhythm that was first heard on the Maytals song “Do the Reggay.” Toots Hibbert of the Maytals wrote the song and said that the word really meant “regular,” referring to the steady pulse of rhythm. Whatever its meaning, he had given a name to the new style. Also at this time, JAD Records and Cayman Music had scaled back their production and had agreed to let the Wailers record for other producers with the stipulation that the records be released only in the Caribbean. In response, Bob approached Leslie Kong, who was the hottest Jamaican producer in the late 1960s, and together they recorded enough tracks to create an album. Kong was recognized as one of the best producers on the island and was one of the major developers of the new reggae style and a prime candidate to assist the Wailers. The Wailers used Kong’s studio musicians as their backup band on the tracks and benefited from their expertise. Called Beverley’s All-Stars, the group consisted of the bassists Lloyd Parkes and Jackie Jackson, the drummer Paul Douglas, the keyboard players Gladstone “Gladdie” Anderson and Winston Wright, and the guitarists Rad Bryan, Lynn Taitt, and Hux Brown.
The tracks recorded in this session illustrated the Wailers’ earliest efforts in the new reggae style. Gone are the ska trumpets and saxophones of the earlier songs, with instrumental breaks now being played by the electric guitar. Although the majority of the new tracks were dance songs, some contained lyrics of social consciousness and concern. The majority of the new material recorded in the session was written by Bob, but a few of Peter’s compositions were included as he gradually became recognized as an adept songwriter and lead singer in his own right. The tracks included “Soul Shakedown Party,” “Stop That Train,” “Caution,” “ Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Soon Come,” “Can’t You See,” “Soul Captives,” “Cheer Up,” “Back Out,” and “Do It Twice.”
Kong released almost all of these tracks as 45-rpm singles, both in Jamaica and in England, but they were all commercial failures. Kong later informed the Wailers that he was going to release an album of tracks they had recorded for him, which would be titled The Best of the Wailers. This sent members of the group into a rage, because they had not yet had the opportunity, time, or maturity to record their best material. Without the Wailers’ consent, the album was released the following year. However, Kong did not live to reap any of its rewards; he died of a massive heart attack at age 38.9
Bob was again becoming disillusioned with the Jamaican recording business and felt that the only way to get the best Wailers products to the market was to have complete control over all aspects of the process. To this end, he again left Jamaica in the spring of 1969 and returned to Delaware and his mother to earn enough money to open his own studio. While in Delaware, Bob worked on a truck assembly line for Chrysler and also held several other part-time jobs. He stayed with his mother, played guitar, and wrote new songs in his free time. Bob returned to Kingston in the fall of 1969, having saved little money for his studio dreams. The money that he brought back went to support Rita and his three children, Sharon, Cedella, and Ziggy. The Marleys now lived in a rental house on First Street in Trench Town. The house was small, but it provided a space for the Wailers to get together and rehearse. Although Bob had not earned the money that he needed for his own custom studio, he had returned refreshed and ready to work. Toward this goal, he began a new business and musical relationship with an old friend from the days spent with Coxonne Dodd. The new Wailers producer and songwriting assistant was the sound engineer and musician Lee Perry, who alternately went by the nicknames “Upsetter,” “Little,” and “Scratch.”10
Together Bob, Bunny, Peter, and Perry worked in the back room of Perry’s Upsetter Records shop at the corner of Beeston Street and Luke Lane. Perry spent long hours with the Wailers trying to completely remake the basic Wailer sound and altering almost all facets of their music. Bob’s vocals were changed to make them rougher, more urgent, and more raw. Further, the use of horns was completely dropped, and any sign of Kong’s smooth production style was removed. The lead instrument was now the bass, whose rhythms were augmented by offbeat chocked-chord chops on electric guitar. The product was a reinvigorated Wailers sound that was more driven, in the vein of the rude-boy days.
Backing the Wailers for these sessions was Perry’s studio band, called the Upsetters. The core of the Upsetters was one of Jamaica’s most famous rhythm sections, the Barrett Brothers. Aston Francis Barrett, called “Family Man” or “Fams,” played bass in a driving melodic manner that provided both a rhythmic and a melodic anchor for the Wailers. His counterpart and younger brother, Carlton Lloyd Barrett, called “Carlie,” had an innate sense of time, and together the Barrett Brothers became the driving force behind the Wailers.
The first sessions of the new and Perry-improved Wailers were held at Studio 17, Perry’s record store, in the final months of 1969 and into early 1970. Two early Wailers/Perry collaborations were released on Bob’s new Tuff Gong label instead of on Perry’s Upsetter label. “Duppy Conqueror” and “Who’s Mr. Brown” were both released as 45-rpm singles with their dubs on the B-sides. Dubbing referred to the Jamaican practice of releasing a single with the same song on the B-side with the vocals “dubbed” out so that local deejays could talk, boast, and toast (supply their own words) over the rhythm tracks at the local sound-system dances.
Again, the Wailers’ attempt at an independent-label release failed, and Tuff Gong disappeared as quickly as had its predecessor, Wail’n’Soul. Lack of radio play, distribution, advertising, and money had sealed the fate of the new label. Perry, who had wanted the Wailers to record for his label from the beginning, again extended the invitation, and the Wailers began recording for the Upsetter label. During the Wailers’ tenure with Perry, he would act not only as producer but also as coauthor and co-lyricist. This resulted in some of the Wailers’ most impressive tracks but also created a great deal of difficulty over author attribution. Many of the early collaborations were credited to Perry, but it is likely that these songs were written with Bob, Bunny, Peter, Perry, and the band all contributing in the hothouse environment of Perry’s studio.
Tracks from the early Upsetter sessions (now available in a six-CD set, released by Trojan in the summer of 2000) included Wailers masterpieces such as “Small Axe,” “Stand Alone,” “Don’t Rock My Boat,” “Mr. Brown,” “Corner Stone,” and “It’s Alright.” During the early 1970s, the Wailers/Perry sessions mixed recording of new tracks and reworking of old songs (the CD set contains 116 tracks, many of which are dub versions). Begun in early 1970, a second Wailers/Perry session contained many more new and powerful songs. Seminal tracks from this second session included “Lively Up Yourself,” “Kaya,” and “400 Years.” The track “Kaya” reflected on the Jamaican Rastafarian drug culture in 1970. “Kaya,” a Rasta term for ganja and the relaxed feeling that smoking it causes, further reflected the early 1970s “herb culture” that dominated artists and musicians in Jamaica at this time.
Also recorded during these sessions were many of Bob’s most personal songs about love—not just the love of a man for a woman but also the brotherly love that he had come to understand in the ghetto. Love songs from these sessions included “Don’t Rock My Boat,” “Stand Alone,” “Put It On,” “Keep On Moving,” and “Fussing and Fighting.” Songs that illustrated the Wailers’ Rastafarian faith also surfaced with examples such as “Brain Washing,” a track written by Bunny about the Babylonian contamination in Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and “African Herbsman.” Perry released several singles from these sessions in Jamaica and England through 1970 and 1971, with encouraging results. However, when “Trench Town Rock” was released in 1971, the Wailers again soared up the Jamaican charts.
Even though the Wailers would achieve success by the end of 1971, the decade began with the band again struggling. Its session work for Perry was complete, but there was as yet little monetary compensation to divide. The group was in a period of stasis in late 1970 and early 1971. Bob had learned that in early 1970, Sims and Nash had liquidated their Jamaican record business and that Nash was planning to travel to Sweden, where several of his singles had been hits. Nash had been offered the job of writing the music for and acting in a movie to be shot in Sweden. Nash and Sims asked Bob to accompany them and assist in the scoring for the movie. Marley accepted, and on the way he took Rita and the children to live with his mother in Delaware. During the year that Bob was in Europe, Rita worked as a nurse in a Delaware hospital.
Bob’s time in Sweden was filled with work on the soundtrack for the movie. He spent time “collaborating with Nash’s Texas-born keyboard player, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick … [in addition to] two African hand-drummers who played on the soundtrack sessions, Remi ‘Rebop’ Kwaku Baah and Coffee.”11 Nash and his band had a small tour of Sweden scheduled, and Bob went along before he left Sweden. Once the tour and the movie (neither the movie nor its soundtrack was ever released) were complete, Nash, his band, and Bob went to London, where Nash was working on a record deal with the English branch of CBS Records. With the deal secured, Peter, Bunny, and the Barrett Brothers came to London, where they thought that they would be supporting Nash on a tour of England. The Wailers lived in deplorable conditions in a hotel in Bayswater and rehearsed in the basement of a Surrey-based company called Rondor Music. The group was very disappointed with its situation, but Bob remained optimistic that Danny Sims was working on a recording deal with CBS for the Wailers.
The Wailers began recording at the CBS studio at Soho Square in early 1971. They were working as the backing band for Nash’s upcoming album, which contained “I Can See Clearly Now.” Also recorded in this session and included on the album were four of Bob’s songs: “Stir It Up,” “Comma Comma,” “Guava Jelly,” and “You Poured Sugar on Me.” Another of Bob’s songs, “Reggae on Broadway,” was also recorded at this time, because Sims hoped to sell it to CBS as a single.
The Wailers returned to Jamaica in the spring of 1971 to visit and to do some recording. They were scheduled to return to England in the fall to back Nash on a British tour. While back on the island, the Wailers began recording at Dynamic Sounds and at Harry J’s, a new studio on Roosevelt Road built by the producer Harry Johnson. The Wailers spent the next four months creating and recording at a pace they had never before attained. This new energy came about as a result of some new musicians and a new manager, Alan “Skill” Cole. Known as one of Jamaica’s most talented soccer players, Cole was a perfect match for Bob and the Wailers, sharing their enthusiasm for music and Rasta culture and having extensive connections thanks to his sports popularity.
The Wailers’ core group of Bob, Bunny, and Peter now included the Barrett Brothers but lacked a keyboard player. Tyrone Downie, a 15-year-old who had played in the Young Professionals, the Barretts’ club band formed while Bob was in Sweden, was recruited to fill the open position. The first track that Downie played on with the Wailers was the new song “Lick Samba.” Engineered by Lee Perry and produced by Bob, Downie’s performance on “Lick Samba” cemented his place in the band. In the early summer of 1971, the Wailers and Perry recorded and released “Trench Town Rock,” a true reggae standard that not only galvanized ghetto residents but also sent the Wailers to the top of the Jamaican charts for the next five months.
The release of “Trench Town Rock” immediately caused a big demand for the Wailers both in the studio and for live appearances. Additionally, the social and cultural importance of the song made the Wailers into the voice of the ghetto, and they were never to return to songs of less substance. The song was about the deadly 1967 Kingston riot that was a harbinger of the troubled Jamaican political climate that would affect Bob’s entire life. Bob sought to move the Jamaican underclass out of its depravity through music. When he sang “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain,” it was as an anesthetic to the ghetto. Bob and the Wailers also benefited financially from the popularity of their new single. Bob and Rita were able to establish Tuff Gong Records, first on the Parade and then on Beeston Street, where they sold the Wailers’ releases.
Meanwhile, Perry was busy releasing many of the tracks that the Wailers had recorded with him, including “Small Axe,” “Kaya,” “All in One,” and “More Axe.” With the increased revenue, Bob was able to establish Tuff Gong Productions to keep up with demand for their new music. There followed an unprecedented period of productivity for Bob Marley and the Wailers. They worked at several studios and recorded “Midnight Ravers,” “Craven Choke Puppy,” “Satisfy My Soul,” “Redder Than Red,” and “Mr. ChatterBox.” They also recorded Peter’s songs “Stop That Train” and “Burial,” in addition to Bunny’s “This Train” and “Dreamland.” Other songs recorded or re-recorded in 1971 were “Guava Jelly,” “Screwface,” “Natural Mystic,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Reggae on Broadway,” its follow-up “Dance Do the Reggae,” “Chances Are,” “Mellow Mood,” “Stay with Me,” “Gonna Get You,” and Bob’s extremely raw tale of ghetto abandonment, “Hurting Inside.”
Although this was the busiest Bob had been in his adult life, he was kept in balance by Alan “Skill” Cole. Cole had Bob on a schedule of exercise and physical activity in addition to his full days of recording. Each evening began with a communal Ital meal (referring to the Rasta diet of organic foods, no meat other than fish, no salt, and no alcohol) and ended with rehearsing and composing new songs. This hectic pace, coupled with their meager financial gain (in comparison with the earnings of American and English rock-and-roll stars who periodically came to Jamaica), began to strain the seams of the once inseparable Wailers. Bob and Bunny, though raised as brothers, frequently stopped speaking due to disputes, and Peter was constantly disappointed when his songs were passed over in favor of Bob’s during recording sessions.
In the summer of 1971, Bob began his first foray into politics by allying the Wailers with the People’s National Party (PNP). Since the country’s independence, in 1962, the Jamaican political climate had remained largely unchanged, with the Jamaican Labour Party (JPL) running the government. The JLP maintained a neocolonial state in which the landed wealthy, the mercantile families, and the middle class always benefited from the blind oppression of an ever-increasing pool of cheap black labor from the ghetto. The leader of the PNP was Michael Manley, the son of the party’s founder, who was a union leader and a moral authority.12 Manley gained a portion of his moral authority from his alliance with both the working class and the Rastafarians. It was Manley who had invited Emperor Haile Selassie I to visit Jamaica in 1966. By virtue of this, the Rastas felt that Manley had been chosen by the Emperor to lead Jamaica. Manley often carried a staff that the Emperor had given him when he arrived on the island and that the Rastas referred to as the “rod of correction.”
In preparation for the general elections of 1972, Bob and Rita traveled on the “PNP Musical Bandwagon,” playing and singing on the back of a flatbed truck in support of the Manley candidacy. Bob believed that Manley could effect change in the Jamaican political scene that would reflect the interests of the underclass Jamaican. Also, Bob saw in Manley’s breed of socialism an inroad for Rastafarianism that would allow it to be viewed as a legitimate island religion and not as one of the fringe sects that the JLP had caused it to become.
Sims again called Bob to England in the fall of 1971 to support the four tracks Bob had written for Nash’s new album, which was steadily climbing up the British charts. Also, Sims now wanted to sign Bob to CBS so that they could release “Reggae on Broadway” in the wake of Nash’s success.
The Wailers again suffered in England from poor accommodations, staying in the same seedy hotel they had stayed in on the last trip, and there was general discontent among the group members. To placate them, Sims hired a Trinidad-born black Londoner named Brent Clarke to serve as the Wailers’ London manager. Clarke’s first act was to move the Wailers to a small house with a kitchen so that they could prepare their own Rasta Ital food. This did much to improve the morale of the group, and the members began to immerse themselves in the London music scene. Soon an entourage of other young black musicians, groupies, drug dealers, and fans was surrounding the Wailers. Bob and Peter were adjusting quickly to their new environment, but Bunny resisted, always pining for Jamaica.
By the end of 1971, Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” was a number one hit all over the world. However, Bob’s single “Reggae on Broadway” suffered a very different fate and was ignored by its English audience. Trying to boost sales of both records, Sims convinced CBS to fund a three-week tour for Nash and Bob. For 18 days in November and December, the two toured 72 English high schools, performing acoustic sets at 4 schools a day. The tour ended with a greater English appreciation for Bob, but still no record sales. The group was then left in dire straits when Sims and Nash disappeared unexpectedly. They had returned to New York to try to boost waning sales of Nash’s album in the United States. Bob and the Wailers were abandoned in England with no money, no work, and no means of getting back to Jamaica. Bob did the only thing that he knew to do, and, in December 1971, he went to the Basing Street Studios of Island Records to see its owner, Chris Blackwell.
Blackwell, an Anglo-Jamaican, had begun to record Jamaican music under the company name Island Records in 1959, and he knew of Bob Marley and the Wailers before Bob came to see him. For several years prior to their meeting, Blackwell had followed the Wailers’ progress. In fact, 10 years earlier, Island had released Bob’s single “One Cup of Coffee” in England under a license issued by Leslie Kong. Blackwell was firmly grounded in the music business, having discovered the Jamaican singer Millie Small, whose song “My Boy Lollipop” had sold 6 million copies in 1964. Blackwell also discovered the 15-year-old singer and keyboard player Steve Winwood when he was playing with the Spencer Davis Group and went on to sign Traffic (Winwood’s second group) after the Spencer Davis Group broke up, in 1968. With these successes, Island had changed its focus and become a rock-and-roll label, with a large stable of bands that included John Martyn, Fairport Convention, Cat Stevens, Free, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Blackwell’s rock acts had already made him a millionaire by the time he was approached by Bob.
Shortly after their meeting, Blackwell advanced the Wailers 8,000 pounds to return to Jamaica and begin recording their first album for his record label. Once the Wailers were back in Jamaica, with the money and support of Blackwell, their attitudes improved dramatically. Bob could afford to bring Rita and their children back from Delaware, and everyone was happy to be reunited. Tuff Gong Records was moved to Beeston Street and Chancery Lane, and the Wailers began rehearsing songs for their new album.
The new sessions began in early 1972 and produced the tracks for the album Catch a Fire. The words “catch a fire” were Jamaican patois for “catch hell.” They were applied to Bob when his friend Mortimer Planno, a Rastafarian affiliated with the Divine Theocratic Temple of Rastafari, in Kinston, told him that he would either grow in his spirituality as he became more famous or “ketch a fire.”13
Prior to this album, true reggae music had always been released on 45-rpm singles, but Blackwell wanted the Wailers to make the first reggae album. Recording sessions for the album took place at Dynamic Sound, Harry J’s, and Randy’s, on the North Parade. The product was a mixture of songs of alienation, rebellion, and love that had previously been released in Jamaica, in addition to several new songs. Released on Island Records on April 13, 1973, Catch a Fire comprises nine tracks in the following order: “Concrete Jungle,” “ Slave Driver,” “400 Years,” “Stop That Train,” “Baby We’ve Got a Date,” “Stir It Up,” “Kinky Reggae,” “No More Trouble,” and “Midnight Ravers.” Bob said of the album, “Catch a Fire was an introduction. Nobody know who Bob Marley and the Wailers were, at the same time maybe you have other group who people were more interested in at the time. It was for people [to] get in and listen.”14
The lineup for the Catch a Fire sessions grew from the Wailers’ core. Bob sang and played acoustic guitar, and Peter sang backup vocals and played guitar, piano, and organ. Bunny sang backup vocals and played congas and bongos. The Barrett Brothers supplied the rhythm section on many tracks, with Aston on bass and Carlie on drums. However, several studio musicians were also used during the recording sessions. The legendary Jamaican bassist Robby Shakespeare played on “Concrete Jungle,” and Tyrone Downie again joined the Wailers to play organ on “Concrete Jungle” and “Stir It Up.” Winston Wright, a veteran Jamaican keyboardist, played organ on other tracks and a longtime friend of Bob’s, Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, played hand percussion on akete drums for several tracks.15 The original tracks for the album were recorded at a variety of Kingston-based studios, including Dynamic Sound Studio, Harry J. Studio, and Randy’s Studio.
The album also exhibited the first use of the female vocal backing trio of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths that would become known as the I-Threes. With the rhythm and vocal tracks recorded, Bob returned to London to overdub and mix the album.16 For this, additional players were enlisted, including the guitarist Wayne Perkins (known for his work at Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama) on “Concrete Jungle” and “Stir It Up.” The percussionist Chris Karen overdubbed tabla drum parts on “Concrete Jungle,” and John “Rabbit” Bundrick added electric piano, Clavinet, and Moog synthesizer parts to the majority of the songs. Blackwell added his own flavor to the mix by slightly accelerating the tempo of all the tracks to appeal to a larger rock-and-roll crossover audience.
Blackwell’s idea of tailoring the sound of the Wailers’ first album to help it achieve crossover success was significant. His rock success and sensibilities allowed him to take the original Wailers material and transform it into a product that could generate international attention. Blackwell’s decision to overdub rock guitar and keyboard parts on Catch a Fire changed the Wailers’ sound. This changed the sound of future Wailers’ releases and, by extension,
The Wailers: Bunny, Bob, Carlie, Peter, and Aston. Courtesy of Photofest.
reggae music at large. The goal of Blackwell’s overdubbed material was to make the Wailers sound more approachable to a wide, rock-centric audience; the result was that it helped catapult Bob and the Wailers to international superstardom. He said of this, “I felt the way to break the Wailers was as a black rock act; I wanted some rock elements in there.”17
Interestingly, the Blackwell-altered Wailers sound maintained significant Jamaican roots. The lively and rootsy sounds of the rhythm section, coupled with the tight male and female harmonies, were benchmarks of Jamaican popular music in the 1970s. The songs on the album were all original and were written by all of the members of the Wailers. Peppered over what would soon be called roots reggae, the lyrics on this album move from grave reports on life in the Kingston ghetto to lighthearted love songs.
Also unique was the original packaging for this album. The first vinyl release of Catch a Fire was fashioned in the form of a large stainless steel Zippo lighter with the album titled engraved on it. Instead of sliding the record out of the right side of the jacket (the usual way of exposing a vinyl LP), the lighter case hinged on the left side to expose the record. Inside the lighter case was a cardboard cutout of the internal workings of the lighter. Included inside were the standard windproof mechanism, the striker wheel, and a flaming wick. In retrospect, these flames seemed to signify how this album would catch on around the world and rocket the Wailers to international fame. While the Zippo concept-album art was unique, it was also expensive to produce. Upon its release, Catch a Fire received a favorable review in Rolling Stone; the package garnered nearly as much attention in the British press.
Subsequent pressings of Catch a Fire were released in a more traditional package. The second incarnation of Catch a Fire displayed a large picture of Bob taking a draw from a massive bugle-shaped spliff.18 The back of the non-Zippo version of the album depicted Bob, Peter, Bunny, and the Barrett Brothers standing on an outdoor staircase. Bob had his hands in his coat pockets, Bunny had one arm in his coat in a vaguely Napoleonic pose, and Peter was wearing an Army surplus jacket that displayed the stripes for the rank of a U.S. Army staff sergeant on the left sleeve.
The album began with the song “Concrete Jungle.” The sentiment of this song was inspired by the Jamaican government’s urban development plan. The plan resulted in the demolition of vast tracts of the west Kingston ghetto, which were replaced by concrete-bunker-style housing projects, the concrete jungle. Most of the members of the Wailers lived in these housing projects during their formative years. Bob viewed the governmental intrusion as evidence of unwanted political control and references this sentiment in the words of the song. In short, the song described the plight of the Jamaican underclass living in the ghetto.
The lyrics describe a place where the sun does not shine, a place whose suffering residents cannot escape. Images of darkness and despair prevail. However, each verse does contain at least one reference to gaining some sort of happiness. The words are cast in a loose verse/chorus form in which the chorus does not contain the same lyrics each repetition. Significantly, “Concrete Jungle” was rife with rock-guitar overdubs by Wayne Perkins.
The track was the first example of Blackwell’s overdubbed rock-and-reggae hybrid. Much of Peter’s usual lead-guitar role was relegated to rhythm guitar, and Wayne Perkins played the lead. Perkins was an American session player affiliated with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, which played in a driving rock-riff style unlike Peter’s more laid-back, island-informed style. Blackwell himself described the number as “a song with an urgent, contemporary edge, ‘Concrete Jungle’ is complex, brilliant.”19
The relationship of reggae music to the Rastafarian religion has long been misunderstood. Reggae music was not the music of the Rastafarians; there was a separate and distinct type of music specific to the religion. Rastafarian music consisted largely of chanting and drumming. Three drums were used: the bass drum, the fundeh, and the repeater (peta). The bass drum would move very slowly and keep time. The fundeh, or lifeline, carried a steady rhythmic pattern that was faster than the bass drum line. The peta was the highest pitched of the three drums and supplied a colorful melody line and embellishments. The role of the peta was not just to mix with the patterns of the other two drums but also to move against them in complex counterpatterns. The late Oswald “Count Ossie” Williams was a highly accomplished Rastafarian drummer who was credited with bringing the drums into Jamaican popular music.
Not only the instruments but also the texture of Rastafarian drumming permeated reggae. The typical reggae band consisted of a drum and a rhythm guitar functioning as the Rastafarian bass drum. The more active repeated rhythm of the fundeh was comparable to the activity of the electric bass in a reggae band. The function of the repeater was usually taken over by the singer in the contemporary ensemble; however, during instrumental breaks this part was often taken by the lead guitar or the bass. The vocalist could choose either to complement the patterns established by the other players to create a polyrhythm or to move against them in a counterrhythm; either resulted in a highly stylized, rhythmically active product.
The texture of “Concrete Jungle” basically conformed to the crossover just described. The drum set and the rhythm guitar function in the support role of the Rastafarian bass drum. The drum largely accents the second and fourth beat of each measure while the guitar plays eighth-note offbeats. The guitar’s role changes at the time of the solo, during which it functions more as the repeater. The rock-and-roll guitar solo was performed in the studio by Perkins but was subsequently played live by Wailers guitarists such as Al Anderson. The electric bass fills the role of the fundeh with a fairly active line that complements the rhythms of the drum and the guitar. The vocal line was the most active, with the inclusion of some echoing and phrase-end harmonizing by the band, and occupied the role of the repeater for the majority of this song. Here the vocals did not move against the rest of the group in cross-rhythms; instead, they occupied the role of the most rhythmically active part.
“Slave Driver” was the second song on Catch a Fire. Written and sung by Bob, the sentiment of the song was again defiance and discontent with a longstanding oppressive state. The album takes its title from the lyrics of this track, which begin, “Slave driver, the table has turned, catch a fire, you’re gonna get burned.” Here the Wailers warned the government that the day of reckoning was coming and that when it did, the master and slave roles would be reversed. Evident in the sentiment of the song was the Wailers’ groundings in Rastafari, the teachings of Marcus Garvey, and the American civil rights movement.
The song was built on a repetitive bass pattern, which was augmented by offbeat rhythm guitar chords. Layered over this were intermittent high vocal harmonies and Bob’s lyrics. Here the standard verse/chorus form was clear and straightforward. Upon his first hearing, Blackwell reported that he was simply blown away. The songwriting, musicianship, and quality far exceeded earlier Wailers material.
“400 Years” was written and sung by Peter Tosh. The song began with a downward turning opening phrase, before the bass and keyboards entered. The drum exhibited reggae’s characteristic one-drop rhythm.20 The vocals entered next and expressed dire statements lamenting Jamaica’s extended period of slavery and colonization (this album was written just 10 years after Jamaica declared its independence from England). Peter implored the youth to rise up out of the vestiges of colonial oppression and positioned them as the saviors of the future.21 The ultimate outcome was the “promise land, the ‘land of liberty,’ [which] is the hope of Tosh … commanding the people to turn from a life of pain and suffering and enter a land of hope and possibility.”22
The next song, “Stop that Train,” was also written and sung by Peter. Faster than “400 Years,” this song maintained much of the same sentiment. Here Peter was looking to escape his depressed situation after realizing that he could not change it. The sound of the song was characteristic Wailers. The drum played the one-drop rhythm, the guitar kept time on the offbeats, and the vocals were cast in high male harmonies; however, the bass movement was not as present in the mix. Intermittently during the song, there were breaks in the standard beat, during which Peter sang and was closely accompanied by a lead guitar solo. This was not a standard Wailers band sound, but it was particularly effective in this case. These breaks were in the verse position of the standard verse/chorus alternation. Peter chose to begin this song with the chorus, so there were more statements of the chorus than the verse material.
One of the lighter songs on the album, “Baby We’ve Got a Date (Rock It Baby),” was written and sung by Bob. In the lyrics of this song, Bob forecast the events of an upcoming date. There was mention of his coming to pick up his girl and them walking in the moonlight (Bob’s love songs were always sung to an anonymous lover). However, the real subject was physical love. Bob repeated that they have got to get together and “rock it baby, tonight.” This song was again in verse/chorus form, but the form was loose and freewheeling. The chorus music did not have the same words each time and came in statements of varying length. Musically, the song began with a short and repetitive organ part, which was augmented by an active bass part, one-drop drumming, and offbeat guitar chords. The vocals began with Bob’s voice in front of alternating female and high-male vocal harmonies. As the song progressed, the lead guitar part became more active. This material was part of the overdubbed lead parts played by Wayne Perkins. His southern rock–influenced guitar style was foreign to reggae but ended up meshing perfectly with Bob’s voice.
“Stir It Up” was the sixth track of Catch a Fire. The words and music for this song were both credited to Bob. It had already been a hit for Johnny Nash on the CBS label the year before Bob released it on Catch a Fire; incredibly, it was not released as a 45-rpm single until 1976. The track again contained rock-inflected overdubs by Wayne Perkins on guitar.
The song began with a distorted guitar line that was underpinned by an active walking-bass pattern. The drum played the one-drop rhythm but was buried in the mix. The form of the song was protracted and involved, making use of five chorus statements and a keyboard solo. It was, however, symmetrical. The song began with a statement of the chorus, which was followed by standard alternations of verse and chorus. The chorus was sung in high male harmony and was the same for each repetition. During the verse sections, Bob repeatedly referenced a love interest whom he implored for physical contact. Although the chorus statements were straightforward in their message, the verses contained more metaphorical references to lovemaking, such as “quench me when I’m thirsty.” Bob wrote this song while he and Rita were living back in St. Ann’s parish in 1967, and the vivid love descriptions applied to his life with Rita.
“Kinky Reggae” was written and sung by Bob. The song began with the rhythm section establishing the characteristic Wailers groove. Added to the texture were offbeat chords on the organ, which played an active role throughout the song. The form was an interesting alternation of short verses and extended chorus statements. The two statements each came in three parts, and the middle section was different from chorus one and chorus two. The only two sets of lyrics that can be described as verses were short, referenced places (downtown and Piccadilly Circus), and mentioned people (Miss Brown and Marcus).
Kwame Dawes noted that Bob’s choice of lyrics position the song in two distinct realms. First, he observed that in Jamaica the word “kinky” did not have the sexual connotations that it does in the United States. In Jamaica, the word has the meaning “insane, strange, or different.”23 Further, the location associations Bob made in the lyrics place it in London, as opposed to Jamaica. Like “Reggae on Broadway,” Bob used place names in his lyrics to separate Jamaican and foreign concepts. He took this separation one further step by stating that he “just can’t settle down” and that he is “leavin’ … today.” Thus, Bob remained separate from these foreign references.
Track eight was another politically motivated song. “No More Trouble” was written and sung by Bob. It began with a distant sounding chorus of the title words, which led into the first chorus. The form alternated chorus and verse with the song being chorus-heavy. An interesting feature was that the chorus sections highlighted the female background vocals. The verse sections were sung by Bob, with the female vocals adding emphasis to phrase ends by repeating the last word of each line. Distinct in the Wailers’ songcraft approach on this album was that, while the songs were in verse/chorus form, there was little use of instrumental solos toward the end of any given song. The general message of the lyrics was similar to that of “Simmer Down,” a general call for love to overcome conflict and for peace to reign.
The final song on Catch a Fire was “Midnight Ravers.” Again the song began with the rhythm section establishing the standard Wailers reggae groove. The lyrics began after a short introduction, and Bob began singing. Unlike other examples on this album, “Midnight Ravers” was not in verse/chorus form. Instead, it was built in two large sections that were lyrically related. The first four lyrical statements constituted section one. Section two was a repetition of section one, with all of the pronouns changed to first-person statements. Thus, the line “They become the midnight ravers” in section one becomes “I’ve become a night-life raver” in section two. The music of both sections was the same and quite static. The raver reference spoke to the 1960s and early 1970s party culture. Interestingly, when Bob descended into the raver culture, in the second half of the song, he pleaded for help to escape. The possible remedy was found in the biblical reference to “10,000 chariots.” Maybe the armies of God can save the singer from the ravers.
The biblical reference that Bob made, “10,000 chariots,” echoed the language of Psalm 68.24 Old Testament language is found throughout Bob’s output and his use of it intensified as he matured. This illustrated his deep religious roots and strong Old Testament convictions. There were several iconic images of Bob reading the Old Testament to children, and in that same vein he was passing these religious convictions on in his lyrics. Bob’s connection to Rastafari and Marcus Garvey and his association with Joseph bear witness to his interest in connecting his faith and his music.
Timothy White’s take on Bob and “Midnight Ravers” dates to something that happened to Bob in 1972. At that time, the Wailers were sleeping outside in the yard of the house at 56 Hope Road. Various hangers-on were free to approach the band members as they relaxed in the evening. According to the story, on one such occasion Bob met a woman named Patricia Williams. This meeting yielded a child named Robbie. Bob reportedly wrote about the meeting the day after it occurred. His account yielded the song “Midnight Ravers.”
Late in 1972, Bob was in London working with Blackwell on overdubs and mixing the album. Sims and Nash were also in London at this time for a short tour to promote “I Can See Clearly Now,” which had finally broken in the United States, selling 2 million copies. Bob agreed to be the opening act for the tour, with Nash’s band, the Sons of the Jungle, backing him. Sims did not realize yet that the Wailers had established a business relationship with Island, and he informed Bob that he was negotiating with CBS to release another Wailers single and to back an English tour. For this purpose, the rest of the Wailers were brought to London to rehearse for the often-postponed tour. At Nash’s London concert, the Wailers informed Sims of their desire to abandon CBS and to record exclusively for Island. Sims put the Wailers off, saying that he had already given CBS five tracks toward an eventual album and that they had already agreed to release a follow-up to “Reggae on Broadway.”
After the tour, Sims and Nash again immediately returned to New York, leaving the Wailers in London. Shortly thereafter, CBS sent Blackwell documentation that the Wailers had indeed been signed to them though their agent, Danny Sims. Anxious to avoid a lawsuit with Cayman Music, Blackwell sent Bob to New York to ask Sims to release the Wailers from their contract. Sims agreed but informed Bob that the group owed CBS for advances and expenses and that Blackwell was expected to pay 5,000 pounds for the Wailers’ contract. Further, he insisted that the Wailers sign a new songwriting agreement with Cayman Music and grant Sims a 2 percent override on the first six Wailers albums to be released by Island. Bob informed Blackwell of the terms, and he agreed to buy the Wailers from CBS, Sims, and Cayman Music.
While in New York, Bob spent an evening with his label mates in the band Traffic, who were there on their last American tour. After the show, the band invited Bob back to the Windsor Hotel for a party, where he met a harmonica player named Lee Jaffe. An immediate friendship began between Bob and Jaffe that lasted for the rest of Bob’s life. For the following three years, Jaffe accompanied Bob almost everywhere, acting as road manager for the Wailers and becoming the only white musician to regularly perform with the group. After returning to Jamaica, Bob contacted Jaffe and invited him to join the Wailers on the island.
When Jaffe arrived, he eventually found Bob in the Wailers’ new rehearsal space, in an outbuilding behind a large house at 56 Hope Road. Blackwell had just purchased the house, called Island House, as the Jamaican headquarters of Island Records. Bob had use of the house for the Wailers’ rehearsals and various band activities; eventually he took up residence there and ultimately took complete possession. Soon after Jaffe’s arrival, Blackwell chartered a DC-3 and took the Island Records contingent to Carnival in Trinidad. Flying from one Caribbean island to the next, Blackwell would periodically “notice a nice beach somewhere below, [and] he’d tell the pilot to land so everybody could swim.”25
In early 1972, Rita had given birth to Bob’s second son, named Stephen, and moved to a small house at Bull Bay, west of Kingston. Bob slept either at 56 Hope Road or at Bull Bay. While Bob was staying at the Hope Road house, he was having an extramarital affair with Esther Anderson, a beautiful Jamaican actress he had met in New York. Through the course of his life, Bob had several childbearing relationships with women other than Rita. As noted, early as 1970, Bob had a son named Robbie with a Trench Town girlfriend named Patricia Williams (thus White’s theory on “Midnight Ravers”). About that same time, an affair with a woman named Janet was about to produce another Marley son, Rohan. It was common in Bob’s adult life to periodically spend a night with “the mothers of his babies.” On his second trip to London, an affair with a black English girl, also named Janet, produced a daughter named Karen.
During this time in Bob’s life, a typical day began just before sunrise with a chalice full of ganja that was passed among those in attendance.26 Cole, when not out of town playing soccer for Santos Brazil, had put himself in charge of Bob’s fitness training, which consisted of eating a regimented diet, running and jogging, and playing soccer. Part of being a Rastafarian, which Bob considered himself regardless of hairstyle, was submitting to a strict diet that excludes meat, salt, and shellfish. Thus, in addition to Cole’s workouts, Bob limited his diet primarily to fruit, fish, and rice. Once awake, Bob, Cole, and friends drove to Bull Bay for an hourlong run on the beach. Frequently, they ran up the hill to the Cane River waterfall to bathe and wash their hair. While in Bull Bay, Bob visited Rita and his children and checked the progress Rita was making rebuilding the house that they owned. Next, the group went to the Tuff Gong Record Shop, in Kingston, where Bob took an accounting of sales and spent time as part of the downtown reggae scene.
The Wailers retained the Caribbean rights to all of their Island Records output and sold new Wailers releases at the Tuff Gong shop, along with many of their own singles and those of Peter, Bunny, Rita, and the Barretts. After spending the morning at the record shop, Bob frequently got back together with Cole for an afternoon drive into Trench Town in search of fresh ganja. On these trips into the ghetto, Bob was now treated as a hero. He was immediately recognized and had to carefully navigate the throngs of children that gathered around his car. Once he and Cole had purchased some fresh ganja, they traveled to the ball fields at Boy’s Town to play pickup soccer games against all comers into the late afternoon. Finally, they returned to 56 Hope Road for Wailers rehearsals, which often continued long into the night.
Two events occurred in 1972 that had lasting effects on Bob and on Jamaica. First, Michael Manley was elected the new Prime Minister, and under his socialist government Jamaica began to change from its days of postcolonial servitude to a nation preoccupied with equal rights and justice for all on the island. Second, Catch a Fire, the first-ever full-length reggae album, was released in December in Jamaica and in January 1973 in the United States. Regardless of the album’s sales and reviews, the release of Catch a Fire changed reggae both in the way that it was played and in the way that it was sold. Bob and Blackwell had made it possible for a reggae artist to compile enough material to generate a whole album and had infused the reggae style with so many other elements (funk, rhythm and blues, and soul) that the music now had international appeal.
The release of their first album had an effect on the Wailers, as well. They were now professional musicians with all of the associated responsibilities, such as regularly releasing new recordings, touring, and sitting for interviews. Blackwell had informed Bob just as Catch a Fire was being released that he wanted the Wailers to create another album as soon as possible. In addition, Island would back the Wailers on a promotional tour of England in the spring and on an American club-date tour in the summer and fall. The Wailers began rehearsing new songs for the tour, in addition to holding auditions for a keyboard player to take on the road.
As a result of these auditions, the Wailers hired a keyboardist named Earl “Wya (or Wire)” Lindo. Born in Kingston in 1953, Lindo was well known on the island for playing in the band the Now Generation. He took the place of the young Tyrone Downie, who had opted to stay in Jamaica through the tour and work in the resorts on the North Coast. When Lindo agreed to join the Wailers on tour, he took a leave of absence from the Now Generation until that group got back together for its next album.27
The tour rehearsals were held behind the 56 Hope Road headquarters of Island Records. The Wailers also worked on new songs for the next album, which had been tentatively titled Reincarnated Souls, after the title of a new song by Bunny. Like its predecessor, the new album contained remakes of several older songs, along with new tracks. Blackwell arranged for the sessions to take place at Harry J’s studios in Kingston. The old songs were updated and included “Put It On,” “Small Axe,” and “Duppy Conqueror.” They also recorded three new tracks written by Bunny: “Reincarnated Souls,” “Hallelujah Time,” and “Pass It On.” Peter contributed a new song called “One Foundation,” and the burru meditation song “Rasta Man Chant” was updated and recorded. The songs that Bob supplied for the sessions were militant and reflected the new Jamaican political climate more than any of the other tracks on the album. Bob contributed three new rebellious songs, “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” and a track he had cowritten with Peter, “Get Up, Stand Up.”
The first official Wailers tour began in April 1973 when the group arrived in London for the three-month British leg. On the way, Bob had made a stop in Delaware to visit his mother. Once in London, the group was amazed to find a Wailers album called African Herbsman available in local record stores. Released on the Trojan label, African Herbsman contained the best tracks from the Wailers’ sessions with Lee “Scratch” Perry; however, the Wailers themselves knew nothing about it. Perry had sold the license for these tracks to Lee Goptal, an Anglo-Indian accountant, who had founded Trojan with Blackwell. Blackwell and Goptal had dissolved their partnership in 1972, but Goptal retained Trojan and its holdings. Together with Perry, Goptal released African Herbsman, which increased the Wailers’ audience even though they did not benefit from it financially.
African Herbsman was released in 1973.28 The album contained the following songs: “Lively Up Yourself,” “Small Axe,” Duppy Conqueror,” “Trench Town Rock,” “African Herbsman,” “Keep On Moving,” “Fussing and Fighting,” “Stand Alone,” “All in One (Medley),” “Don’t Rock My Boat,” “Put It On,” “Sun Is Shining,” “Kaya,” “Riding High,” “Brain Washing,” and “400Years.” Although the album was a respectable collection of early Wailers material, it was not generally taken as seriously as the Island releases. Its release did come at a good time for the Wailers in that it parlayed the success of Catch a Fire and kept the Wailers audience satiated while the group toured and recorded Burnin’.
The first show of the tour was held in a London club called the Greyhound. The Wailers had been scheduled to play two shows a night, travel in a small van without a road manager, and set up and tear down their own equipment at each show. Many of the audiences at the shows were initially shocked, having never heard music from the Caribbean before, but soon people were coming backstage after the show to express their pleasure at the new sound.
Returning to London at the end of the tour, the Wailers were in peak performing condition. However, they were struggling in all other respects. Bunny, a strict Italist, had spent days on the tour without food, since he did not allow himself to eat anything that had been processed. In addition, Bunny and Peter were having difficulties with Bob’s ever-increasing control over the band while they struggled for equality.
While still in London, where their following was the largest they enjoyed outside Jamaica, the Wailers played a club date at the Speakeasy that garnered some significant media attention. Also, on May 20, 1973, the Wailers appeared on the BBC program Old Grey Whistle Test, performing “Concrete Jungle” and “Stop That Train.” Another television appearance quickly followed when the Wailers played at the BBC’s Paris Theatre for the pop music series Top Gear. The set that the Wailers played on Top Gear was almost flawless, with sizzling performances of “Rasta Man Chant,” “Slave Driver,” “Stop That Train,” “No More Trouble,” “400 Years,” “Midnight Ravers,” “Stir It Up,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Kinky Reggae.”
The band returned to Jamaica exhausted and in bad need of rest. Bunny immediately left the band, never to tour with the Wailers again. He told Bob that he would record and perform in Jamaica but that he was not interested in touring. This presented a problem for Bob because the Wailers were now scheduled to go on a short North American tour. Bob consulted Peter about the problem, and together they decided to invite their old teacher Joe Higgs to tour with them and cover Bunny’s high-harmony parts. Higgs agreed, and the Wailers resumed rehearsals at Island House.
With the great increase in Wailers activity, coupled with touring, the band was in dire need of a manager, both on and off the road. Blackwell had been fulfilling this role, supervising recording sessions, acting as artistic director, and promoting and booking Wailers shows. He also knew from his experience that in order for Catch a Fire to sell well in the United States, the band needed to book some high-profile shows and thus generate interest in their recordings. To this end, Blackwell enlisted Lee Jaffe to fly to New York to promote the record and to book shows for the upcoming tour. Jaffe was able to secure a date for the Wailers to play at one of New York’s premier pop club, Max’s Kansas City, on Park Avenue South. The show was booked for the second week of July 1973, as the opening act for a young New Jersey–born singer named Bruce Springsteen. Jaffe then arranged for the Wailers to play at a Boston jazz club called Paul’s Mall. Gradually, Jaffe arranged other tour dates, and soon the Wailers embarked on their first American tour. The tour included shows all over the United States, with concerts in Florida, Kentucky, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California.
Released in October 1973, the Wailers’ second album was called Burnin’, after Bunny’s song “Reincarnated Souls” failed to make the final cut. The album revealed a more organic roots sound than its heavily produced predecessor, Catch a Fire. The tracks on the new album were on a mixture of topics that ranged from the political protest sentiment of “Burnin’ and Lootin’” to direct Rastafarian content in “Rasta Man Chant.” The cover art was a depiction of the heads of the six core Wailers (Bob, Peter, Bunny, Lindo, and the Barrett Brothers) burned into the side of a wooden box. According to Ian McCann, this crate-and-brand imagery recalled the type of tools used to mark and transport slaves in the colonial era.29 The rear sleeve had a picture of Bob taking a drag from a large spliff. Burnin’ was released just six months after Catch a Fire and was indicative of Bob’s prolific songwriting ability.
The band lineup for this second “official” Wailers and Island project included the original trio of Bob, Peter, and Bunny, each in their traditional roles. To this was added the Wailers’ rhythm section: Aston on bass and Carlie on drums. Additional players were Earl “Wya” Lindo, on keyboards, and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, on percussion. The album was recorded at Harry J’s Studio in Kingston and mixed at the Island Studios in London. Production credits were shared by the Wailers and Blackwell.
The songs that made the final album were a tight collection of the Wailers at their full post–Catch A Fire potency. The music was rootsy and hard hitting and revealed an increasing religiosity and militancy. The 10 tracks that made up the album—“Get Up, Stand Up,” “Hallelujah Time,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” “Put It On,” “Small Axe,” “Pass It On,” “Duppy Conqueror,” “One Foundation,” and “Rasta Man Chant”—were an interesting blend of old and new and included songs written by each of the three core members.
The first song on the record was credited to Bob and Peter. “Get Up, Stand Up” featured Bob on lead vocals, with a heavy dose of Peter and Bunny on backing vocals. In addition, Peter took over the lead vocal role for the third verse. The song began with a drum and bass lead-in that went directly into the first chorus, sung in male harmony. The instrumentalists assumed their usual role as a rhythm-section underpinning with one-drop drumming, active and increasingly present bass, and demure keyboards. The song alternated chorus and verse, with three verse statements.
The essence of the message was that if those living in the Kingston ghettos and black people internationally would “get up and stand up” against corrupt and oppressive political systems, then change can begin. Bob began the first verse by admonishing the “preacher man” for selling the underclass a bill of goods that kept them in a disadvantaged condition. This preacher reference was one that Bob used in a derogatory manner, and it was pointed at the Pope and the Catholic Church. Rastafarians felt oppressed by Catholicism and believed that Catholic popes had waged a longstanding battle against the black race through their tacit acceptance of slavery. This sentiment was continued in the second verse when Bob warned listeners not to bank all of their earthly time for prosperity in heaven. Peter echoed this sentiment in the third verse. Here, he declared that “almighty God is a live man,” a reference to Haile Selassie I. He continued with warnings against trying to continue to fool the righteous. The song was a testament to Bob’s life. He was fed up with the treatment of the Jamaican underclass, and he had finally attained enough success to start commenting on it in an honest, and fairly militant, manner. In 1975, Bob said of this song “that song say man can live.”30
The harmonies used were static and meant to highlight the presentation of the lyrics. The result was an unsettled feeling that could be what Bob was intending in this message to the people of the ghetto. Further, his singing was not lyrical; instead, he was intoning a direct call to action. In the verse sections, where he was furthering the text of the song by chanting the lyrics rapidly, he did so without consideration for melody. There were many repeated notes, and the range of any individual phrase was very small, generally limited to only two or three notes.
The precedent for this type of chant-style vocal presentation can be found in both the African akete tradition and many religious rituals. (The akete drum is an African drum with a high pitch that is sometimes used in Rastafarian and reggae music; it is also called the repeater, as mentioned previously.) This drumming and chanting style descended directly from the mystic burru tradition. The burru tradition was an African-derived drumming style played by African-Jamaicans in the parish of Clarendon, in the center of the island, in the 1930s and later in the west Kingston ghettos. Living on and off in the ghetto while growing up, Marley was exposed to this type of chanting and drumming from an early age, and it had a strong musical influence on him.
The roles of the instruments in this song can again be defined within the Rastafarian drumming model. Here the drum set and the guitar function in the slow-moving support capacity. The electric bass, moving step-wise, fills the role of the slightly more active fundeh. The most active line is held by the vocals that fill the role of the repeater.
After the Burnin’ had been out for five years, Bob commented about “Get Up, Stand Up”: How long must I protest the same thing? I sing “Get Up, Stand Up,” and up ‘til now people don’t get up. So must I still sing “Get Up, Stand Up”? I am not going to sing the same song again. … I do not want to be a prisoner. I don’t want too see people suffer and sing as if I’m glad to see people suffer and to make money off of that. I want people to live big and have enough.31
As a testament to the staying power of this song and its unfailing popularity in the United States, in 2005, “Get Up, Stand Up” was played in the NASA control room as confirmation images proved that the Spirit launch had landed on Mars.
The second song on the album was written and sung by Bunny, although it was credited to Jean Watt.32 The song itself began with a short bass and guitar lead-in. The end of the introduction was signaled by the first stroke of a gong. There followed a male harmony lead in that created a call and response with Bunny’s voice. The opening lyric was telling, with the words “hear the children crying.” However, Bunny immediately responded that “they cry not in vain.” This opening led into the first full verse, which furthered the suffering and toiling allusions. Under this material, the Wailers played a medium-tempo reggae groove with one-drop drum, active bass, and guitar offbeats. The chorus followed, and the sentiment changed from despair to jubilation. The song’s two chorus statements were the same, and each described the turning of the tables from the verse material. Instead of crying, the children were singing.
Bunny’s singing voice was markedly higher than Bob’s and Peter’s, and he used it to excellent effect. Additionally, Bunny was careful to sing in standard English and not to obscure his words with the heavy Jamaican patois that he was capable of talking in (as Bob often did). Kwame Dawes noted, “‘Hallelujah Time’ unfolds with clarity and grace. Yet both [Bob and Bunny] shared a seriousness of purpose in the writing of songs, one that was matched by Tosh’s work.”33
Song three on Burnin’ was “I Shot the Sheriff.” The song was markedly faster than most of Bob’s others. It began with a short introduction of chorus material that was sung by Bob, Peter, and Bunny in high male harmony. The drumming was a more straight-ahead rock beat, the bass was active and present in the mix, and the guitar maintained the reggae role of playing offbeat chords. In the transition material from the verse to the chorus, the bass and keyboard played a unison descending line that drove into the chorus. The song structure was verse heavy, as the song was a narrative story told by Bob.
In 1974, Bob said of the song: “I want to say ‘I shot the police’ but the government would have made a fuss so I said ‘I shot the sheriff’ instead … but it’s the same idea: justice.”34 The song quickly became the most popular on the album. Also, in 1974, Eric Clapton’s version of the song went to number one on the charts. The general tenor of the lyrics was self-defense but also defiance. While Bob admitted remorse over taking the life of the deputy, he said that he was simply defending himself against “Sheriff John Brown [who] always hated me [Bob].” Bob went on the record in 1975 this way: “‘I Shot the Sheriff’ is like I shot wickedness. That’s not really a sheriff, it’s the elements of wickedness. The elements of that song is people been judging you and you can’t stand it no more and you explode, you just explode.”35
“Burnin’ and Lootin’” followed “I Shot the Sheriff ” and continued the defiant attitude of much of the album. Whereas “I Shot the Sheriff ” was faster than most of Bob’s songs, “Burnin’ and Lootin’” was slower. It began with a winding, distorted guitar part underpinned by one-drop drumming. Bob entered on the opening verse and began his story of imprisonment and brutality. The mood was one of despair, but there was an escape plan. The chorus elucidated the plan for “burnin’ and lootin’” the way out of the negative circumstances. The original story behind the song was that the police had cordoned off Bob’s Trench Town neighborhood in response to violence perpetrated by ghetto youths. Thus, when Bob awake, he was literally locked in and surrounded by the police.
The song began with two verses, followed by a chorus statement. The third verse was then presented, followed by the return of the chorus. Next, the third verse was repeated, seemingly for emphasis, and the song ended with a return of the chorus material. Bob described the song in March 1976: “Dat song about burnin’ and a-lootin’ illusions. The illusions of the capitalists and dem people with the big bank accounts.”36 This declaration was a window into Bob’s growing discomfort with the white-run record industry in England and in the United States. This sentiment intensified as Bob’s popularity grew. This growing uneasiness was expressed in both the lyrics and the sound of this song.
The serious tone of the first four songs on Burnin’ was defused by the playful feeling of “Put It On.” The song was in an up-tempo reggae groove that began with a vaguely doo-wop-sounding male chorus statement. The song itself was written earlier in the Wailers’ career and exhibits their early influences. The bass was not as present in the mix as was the usual Wailers custom. The drum played a more standard offbeat heavy second- and fourth-beat rhythm, and almost all of the minimal lyrics were presented in tight harmony. The message of the lyrics seemed to be a call to the faithful to “feel the spirit” and “thank the Lord.” Unlike much of Bob’s material, this song did have an instrumental solo between the alternating verse and chorus statements. Two-thirds of the way through the tune, an electric organ solo interrupted the presentation of the lyrics. Garth White and Kwame Dawes were careful to point out that this song may not have been as innocuous as it seemed. The phrase “put it on” was a term of violence in period street language. “When a man used a ratchet knife to cut another man, he would be said to be ‘putting it on’ the other fellow. Thus, the spiritual song of piousness becomes something more ominous and disarming.”37
“Small Axe” was another of the early Wailers songs that made it onto the album. The song began with an organ and distorted guitar introduction that drove into the first verse. Here, Bob returned to his role as biblical prophet. He sang in biblical parlance and quoted from Proverbs. “Small Axe” was originally recorded for Clement “Coxsone Dodd,” at Studio One, in 1971. It appeared on the unauthorized Best of the Wailers album. However, its inclusion on Burnin’ was the first official release of the song. The song itself was a collaboration between Bob and Lee “Scratch” Perry. It was an oddity on the album since it was recorded for Dodd but appears courtesy of Upsetter Records (Perry’s imprint), which places the genesis of this track about five years prior to the rest of the album.
An interesting aspect of Bob’s music was that, although he had a growing global fan base, it was surprising how the myriad meanings behind his songs frequently were lost on his loyal followers. “Small Axe” was one of Marley’s songs that had several messages, both obvious and obscure. On the surface, the song is about a woodsman who is informing a large tree that he is about to chop it down; however, according to Timothy White, it is actually a three-pronged assertion that “is readily understood by all Jamaicans but is utterly obscure to almost anyone else.”38 The first underlying meaning is a warning to colonial powers from the Third World, which is conveyed in Old Testament imagery. The warning comes in the form of a boast that the people of the Third World will one day rise up and cut their oppressors down to size.
The second is a warning from the Wailers and their then-producer Lee “Scratch” Perry to the big three studios in Kingston. Perry complained to the Wailers about the “big t’ree,” referring in Jamaican slang to Federal, Studio One, and Dynamic Studios. According to the lore of this song, Peter commented at the time, if they are the big t’ree, then we are the small axe, meaning that, regardless of the power of the three companies, the Wailers could (and did) cut them down to size and prevail in spite of them. The irony of this was that the song appeared on a Clement “Coxsone” Dodd–produced Studio One release. The third, and possibly most important, message was a direct condemnation of all who held down God’s chosen ones, the followers of Rastafari.
The song setting was quite complex. In addition to the surface and veiled meanings of the words, there were several instances of word painting. This centuries-old technique was defined as the literal portrayal of the meaning of the words in the motion of the music. Thus, when Bob sang, “whosoever diggeth a pit, shall fall in it” and “we are the small axe, ready to cut you down,” the melody descends. On the words “fall” and “down,” the melody of each phrase descended, tying the meaning of the text to the motion of the music.
Beyond these examples, this song also contained several examples of the lyrics taking the cross-rhythm role with regard to the Rastafarian three-drum texture. The highest pitched drum (repeater), frequently analogous to the vocal line in reggae music, can choose to act in either a syncopated manner to create cross-rhythms with the other two drums or to add another rhythmic layer that maintains the expected accents. In this song, the vocal line moves almost exclusively against the rhythms being created around it.
The form of the song was fairly symmetrical: a verse and chorus with a short guitar solo about two-thirds of the way through. As was the case in “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” the words of the third verse are repeated as the fourth verse. This emphasis on certain lyrics was not by mistake. In this case, Bob was adding further emphasis to texts with biblical connotations. The biblical content in this song appeared in the opening verse: “you’re working inequity to achieve vanity,” which paraphrased Proverbs 22:8. The reference in the third and fourth verses was “whosoever diggeth a pit shall fall in it,” which paraphrased both Proverbs 26:27 and Psalm 7:15. Emphasis was given to this passage when Bob preceded them with the lyric “these are the words of my Master.”
In addition to quoting the Bible, Bob made use of language that was specific to his Rastafarian faith. Specific words were loaded and had meaning that Rastas identified with immediately. The words “I-doreth” and “I-ver” were purposeful mispronunciations specific to the Rastafarian context. Rastafarians frequently manipulated the spelling and pronunciation of words to make them begin with the letter “I.” This was done as a sign of respect for their deity, Haile Selassie I. Rastafarians interpret the Roman numeral one after his name as the letter “I.” This led to the use of phrases such as “I and I,” referring to one’s self and one’s god collectively.
“Pass It On” was another song written and sung by Bunny and again credited to Jean Watt. An opening organ solo led into Bunny’s singing alone in his high male vocal range. After he presented the first verse, he was joined by the other Wailers as backup singers for the second verse. Next, the chorus entered for the first time, sounding like a slow gospel choir. The texture was sparse, and Bunny’s lyrics were emphasized. The third and fourth verse statements then followed, and Bunny moved quickly through the lyrics. The song ended with other chorus statements that repeated the first chorus before the song faded out.
At first listen, the song seemed to contain a few basic messages. First, Bunny advised to keep one’s actions pure, as one’s conscience was the judge. Second, he pushed the message that the wise man lived for others. Finally, he warned that these truths were universal and could not be escaped. Kwame Dawes described Bunny’s song as “typical of his carefully constructed hymning style and … manner of offering of truth … the lyrics [are] filled with personification and a careful literary style.”39
The third of the older songs on the album was “Duppy Conqueror.” Bob wrote and sang this song. Interestingly, as Bob continued to emphasize the message in his music, the form of the songs increasingly became verse heavy (more verse statements than chorus statements). That was the case here. The song began with a short drum, organ, and guitar introduction that led into three consecutive verse statements before the chorus finally entered. Next, the first verse was repeated, followed by a return of the chorus. The first verse was again repeated, and the song faded out to end. A feature of this song that was quite uncommon was the inclusion of approximated bird cooing by one of the male vocalists.
The word “duppy” was Jamaican patois for a ghost or spirit that descended on a living person to do him harm. In the song, Bob has not only slain the evil spirit but gone on to reach Mount Zion. There was a degree of autobiography to this song. Bob was on record as fearing that he was being taken over by a duppy when he lived in the back room of Dodd’s studio. He relayed the story to Rita, who often visited him during his residency in the studio. However, as the song attested, Bob was too tough to be taken by an evil spirit.
Peter was credited with the authorship of the epic “One Foundation.” The song opened with a dense layering of bass, keyboards, and guitar woven into a distorted cacophony (vaguely reminiscent of the more psychedelic work of the Beatles). This was then replaced by Peter singing the first chorus statement with minimal accompaniment, save the medium-tempo reggae groove. The first verse was similar to the first chorus, except that the phrase endings were punctuated by wordless female harmonies. The chorus then repeated with instrumental accompaniment reminiscent of the introduction. Verses two and three were not interrupted by a chorus statement in between, but, once verse three was complete, the chorus returned and faded out to end the song.
As was typical of songs written and sung by Peter, the message here was serious and dire. The sentiment of the verses boiled down to the idea that unity is necessary to achieving success and love. The single foundation was the root on which everything must be built. Kwame Dawes speculates that this “‘one foundation’ is an allusion to the New Testament teaching that Christ is the foundation of the church.”40 Christ as the one foundation was a sentiment that Bob also put into song with “Corner Stone.” Ephesians 2:20 contains the line “and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” All three of the original Wailers core members believed these biblical prophesies and infused their lyrics with this sentiment.
“Rasta Man Chant” was described in the original Burnin’ packaging as a traditional song that had been arranged by the Wailers. The original version of the song was meant for performance at Nyabinghi, but, as customized by the Wailers, the song was transformed into a medium-tempo reggae song. Here the traditional Rastafarian Nyabinghi drumming was present. There was a low-pitched heartbeat drum and two higher pitched and more active drums. The only other added instruments were the bass and the organ. Layered on top of this was Bob singing the lead lyrics and Peter and Bunny providing high male harmony.
The song did unfold in verse/chorus form, but not in strict alternation. After a shorthand drumming introduction, the bass and the organ entered to usher in the opening chorus. Bob led the vocals but was closely shadowed by Peter and Bunny. The first chorus was followed by a repetition of the same material with the words of the first line altered. This happened again as the chorus was repeated a third time and the words were again altered. The changing words moved from “rasta man” to “higher man” to “angel with the seven seals.” There followed a verse made up of several repetitive phrases and more repetitions of the last line of the verse. This repetition continued until the song ended.
The song structure might be atypical, but the messages delivered in the song were clear and present. The initial invocation of the Rasta man was followed by the destruction of Babylon’s throne. Here Bob was at once introducing the world to Rastafarian religious chanting and calling for the end of an oppressive system. The religious ramifications of the “higher man” and “angel with the seven seals” lyrics served to heighten the religiosity of the opening three statements. The “fly away home” language of the verse linked this song to songs of freedom from the slave days. Thus, in this wedding of the traditional and the modern, Bob was also joining the concepts of slavery and the Babylonian captivity.
The group and the label were disappointed by their record sales in the United States, and, in an effort to promote Burnin’, the Wailers again went on tour. At the end of October 1973, the Wailers joined an in-progress, 17-city tour by Sly and the Family Stone as the opening band. Because Bunny refused to leave Jamaica, Joe Higgs was again recruited to fill Bunny’s high-harmony role. The tour was a great opportunity for the Wailers thanks to Sly Stone’s popularity and expansive audience at the time.
On the fourth date of the tour, the Wailers were fired because they had been outplaying the Family Stone and were not generally accepted by Stone’s audience. When the tour moved on, it left Bob Marley and the Wailers stranded, broke, and without management in Las Vegas. The Wailers had an in-studio performance date with KSAN-FM and somehow managed to get to San Francisco, where they had already established an enthusiastic audience on the previous tour. Broadcasting from the Record Plant, in Sausalito, the band began with an acoustic version of “Rasta Man Chant.” The performance brought to bear the ties between Rastafarian traditional drumming and reggae. Peter, Bob, and Joe Higgs sat in front of three mikes and laid down the heartbeat reggae rhythm on burru hand drums. Higgs played the fundeh, Bob played the repeater, and Peter supplied support on the large bass drum. The Wailers’ performance continued with full electric-band versions of “Bend Down Low,” “Catch a Fire,” a new song by Peter called “You Can’t Blame the Youth,” “Stop That Train,” and “Burnin’ and Lootin’.” The Wailers continued with “Kinky Reggae,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Rude Boy,” and the show ended with the first live performance of “Lively Up Yourself.”
During the last two weeks of October 1973, the Wailers returned to Jamaica to rest before leaving for England for a brief tour to promote Burnin’. Higgs did not accompany the Wailers on this tour, which left Bob and Peter to front the band. The British dates included shows in Bradford, Birmingham, Stafford, Blackpool, Liverpool, Doncaster Outlook, Leeds Polytechnic, and Manchester. The shows were poorly attended and the reception unenthusiastic. In Northhampton, at the end of November, Bob and Peter got into an argument that led to blows. The Wailers were all miserable, and Earl “Wya” Lindo announced that he was leaving the band to join the American folk singer Taj Mahal. The final 10 dates of the tour were canceled, the official explanation being that Peter had become ill and could not continue. Lindo embarked for San Francisco, and Peter and the Barrett Brothers left for Jamaica. Bob remained in England briefly to meet with Blackwell and discuss the fate of the Wailers. In the wake of the loss of Peter, Bunny, Joe Higgs, and Lindo, a new Wailers band was about to emerge from the rubble.
Bob spent the rest of early 1974 at Harry J’s studio, in Kingston, working on songs for the upcoming album. These sessions produced the first recording of “No Woman, No Cry,” in which Bob discussed difficulties in his past as a comfort for the present and future. The Wailers of that time consisted only of Bob and the Barrett Brothers, together with a 16-year-old keyboard player named Bernard “Touter” Harvey, brought in to play organ. The harmonica parts on “Talkin’ Blues” and “Road Block” were played by Lee Jaffe, and the traditional Wailers three-part harmony was supplied by the female vocal trio of Rita, Marcia, and Judy (commonly referred to as the I-Threes). The guitar parts were not overdubbed until later in the year when Bob and Aston “Family Man” Barrett were in London.
In May 1974, the Wailers were asked to open for the American Motown singer Marvin Gaye, who had come to the island with a 40-piece orchestra to perform at the Carib Club. The concert was to benefit a new sports facility in Trench Town and sold out quickly due to Gaye’s popularity. Everyone in attendance the night of the concert was dubious about the Wailers’ performance, since the group had not performed in Jamaica for several years. However, when it was time to go on stage, all three of the original Wailers were ready, as were the Barrett Brothers. There was a dispute backstage before the show because Touter was thought to be too young to perform live with the Wailers, and at the last minute Tyrone Downie was substituted to cover the organ parts. The performance was a success, and the Wailers impressed the crowd with their new, harder reggae sound.
After the show, Marvin Gaye’s manager, Don Taylor, approached Bob and offered to manage the Wailers. Although born in Jamaica, Taylor had immigrated to the United States and claimed to have significant connections in the American music business. During their conversation, Taylor guaranteed to make Bob a hit in the United States. Although this excited him, Bob did not accept the offer immediately. Opening for Marvin Gaye was the final performance of the original Wailers trio; from then on Peter and Bunny went on to record solo albums.
Bob, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Cole, and Lee Jaffe went to New York in June 1974 with the understanding that they were being invited to work with Taj Mahal, the American singer who now employed Earl “Wya” Lindo. Lindo had made an arrangement of Bob’s song “Slave Driver,” and Taj was preparing to put it on his next album. “The Taj Mahal/Wailers connection might have been wonderful, because Bob and Family Man were prepared to play music; but Taj Mahal had already recorded his album by the time they arrived, and could only invite them to help him mix.”41 Disappointed with the missed opportunity, the group returned to Kingston.
Back in the studio, Bob went to work on the tracks that would become Natty Dread. Work on recording new versions of “Bend Down Low” and “Lively Up Yourself” progressed. Several new militant songs were also recorded, including “So Jah Seh” and “Revolution.” Bob (who was credited as L. Cogil) and Carlie Barrett collaborated in the studio to write “Them Belly Full,” and a demo of “Am-A-Do (Do it to Your Bad Self)” was recorded but not released. The group had a continuing problem finding a keyboard player. Touter was frequently used in the studio but was generally considered too young to go on tour, and Downie was a full-time member of the Caribs, the house band at the Kingston Sheraton. Because of this situation, “Family Man” stepped in to cover the keyboard parts on the recordings of “Road Block” and “Bend Down Low.”
The album captured Marley at a critical point. It reflected the fact that the Wailers, as they had existed, had unofficially disbanded by early 1974. However, Bob spent the year working on and recording the next album, Natty Dread. The album was originally meant to be titled “Knotty Dread,” which was notoriously mispronounced in Jamaica. The result was the name change from “knotty” to “natty,” which effectively changed the intended meaning. The original meaning referenced the dreadlocks of the devout Rastas. The unintended meaning change was to someone with a smart appearance in dress and manners. The pronunciation confusion yielded the opposite meaning of the original intent.
The Natty Dread sessions employed Bob on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. The Barrett Brothers continued on the bass and drum, respectively. Bernard “Touter” Harvey was the keyboard player of record, and Al Anderson was credited with lead guitar parts (overdubbed). The original high male harmony of the Wailers was replaced by the female harmony of the I-Threes. Lee Jaffe supplied uncredited harmonica parts. Other uncredited performers were the horn players Glen da Costa, David Madden, and Tommy McCook. The album cover reflected Marley’s new role as a solo artist. The cover art was an airbrushed picture of Marley standing alone. This was in stark contrast to the previous album, Burnin’, which pictured the whole band on the cover.
Recorded at Harry J’s studio and mixed in London at Island Records’ Basing Streets Studios, the album listed both Bob and Chris Blackwell in the production credits. An interesting feature of the recording process for this song was that it was a very early example of the use of a drum machine in reggae music. Bob and Carlton Barrett had been experimenting with the drum machine from the mid-1970s, and it was used for the drum track on songs on this album. The use of a drum machine in Marley’s recordings did not persist, however; they were used extensively in the style that came after reggae, called dancehall.
The songs included were again a mixture of new and old. The album cover was an airbrushed picture of Bob’s face and dreadlocks over an abstract jungle background. Musically, the new material was the next logical step after Burnin’ and Catch a Fire, with Bob acting as a Rastafarian preacher over the steady reggae grooves of the Wailers. Anderson’s guitar playing infused the Wailers sound with a distinct blues quality that fit perfectly. The horn section returned on some tracks on Natty Dread with well-placed punches to add weight to the end of certain phrases.
The album began with Bob letting out an enthusiastic Yoruba lookout call that seemed to herald a new beginning for Bob Marley and the Wailers.42 This call led directly into a rousing version of “Lively Up Yourself.” Eight more tracks follow, including “No Woman, No Cry,” “Them Belly Full,” “Rebel Music,” “So Jah Seh,” “Natty Dread,” “Bend Down Low,” “Talkin’ Blues,” and “Revolution.” The general sentiment of the album was a militant Rastafarianism that culminated in the last two songs. “Talkin’ Blues” discussed bombing a church as an extension of the Rastafarian belief that the Catholic Church and the Pope were part of the Babylon system that oppresses the black race. This militant sentiment was continued in “Revolution,” in which Bob stated that in order for the situation of Jamaican blacks to change, a revolution would be required. In 1974, Bob said of the track “So Jah Seh” that it “really mean is progress. People a fe [to] start live together. I don’t know so much the big people, but the youth must get together.”43
The album was produced by Blackwell and the Wailers. In 1974, Bob said of the new album that “the Natty Dread album is, like one step more towards [for] reggae music. Better music, better lyrics, it have a better feelin’. Catch a Fire and Burnin’ have a good feelin’, but Natty Dread is improved.”44 When reading direct quotations of statements made by Marley, one must bear in mind that it is typical for Rastafarians to purposely misuse English. This was done as a means to separate themselves from those that they viewed as their Babylonian oppressors. It was also a form of reverse acculturation. Although the diasporic blacks were trained to speak English by their slave ship or colonial oppressors, this did not mean that they had to speak it in the recommended way. By purposely misusing English, black Jamaicans turned the language against its teachers and thus took ownership of it.
The first track on the new album was the already recorded “Lively Up Yourself.” New material was being written by Bob that included “Road Block” (also called “Rebel Music”), “So Jah Seh,” “Talkin’ Blues,” and “Knotty [or Natty] Dread.” Many of the new songs were inspired by the Jamaican political climate of the time as Michael Manley continued to immerse Jamaica in his brand of socialism. The political situation was quickly getting out of control, with factions that reflected class and political affiliation taking sides and refusing to change. The conflict got worse in the early spring of 1974 when several ghetto neighborhoods were under the control of gun-wielding thugs and violence was widespread. Manley had lost control of the situation and declared a state of emergency. The capital was held by government tanks and troops and a 6 p.m. curfew was implemented. It was at this time that the Gun Court, a barbed-wire-enclosed concentration camp, was established in Kingston. Anyone convicted of possessing an illegal handgun was sentenced to mandatory life in prison. The two warring political parties were responsible for the unrest as they fought for territorial dominance. However, the battlegrounds were the west Kingston ghettos where gunmen and political goon squads entered into frequent skirmishes.
Track one on Marley’ first “solo” album was the perfect new beginning, “Lively Up Yourself.” The song was written, credited to, and sung by Bob. The song began with a heavy bass rift that was augmented by a guitar during the introduction. The first statement of the chorus followed and conveyed the song’s languid reggae beat. Unique here were the intricate lead guitar overdubs over Bob’s call to “lively up yourself, and don’t be no drag.” The song does not seem to have formal verse and chorus sections. Instead, Bob took the listener on a long and winding tour through lyrics that were occasionally reminiscent of James Brown’s “brand new bag”; an example was the line “’Cause reggae is another bag.”
Song two on the album was “No Woman, No Cry.” Oddly, the song was credited to Vincent “Tartar” Ford. Despite this, a great deal of debate has taken place over this issue. Several explanations have been posited concerning the authorship of the track. First, it is possible that Ford, who was a friend of Bob’s from Trench Town and who also spent time with Marley at his house on Hope Road, actually wrote it. According to McCann, Ford was a paraplegic diabetic who was capable of writing the song, except that it sounds too much like a Marley track to have been entirely written by someone else.
Another possibility that McCann posited was that, because of their longstanding friendship, Bob wanted to thank him for befriending him as a Trench Town youth. Ford’s physical handicaps left him unable to work. Therefore, it was possible that Bob wanted to make sure that Ford would be taken care of financially. He may have taken care to do this because, as a young man, Ford had reportedly run a soup kitchen that fed hungry ghetto youths (such as Bob). Assigning authorship to him gave Ford the right to royalty checks that would keep coming to the present day because of the extreme popularity of this song. The last possibility that McCann noted was that Bob may have worked collectively with Ford while they spent time together, and Ford could have written some lyrics while Bob strummed the guitar.
The fourth possible explanation for the attribution mystery was that Natty Dread was released in 1974, during the time that Marley was under contract to Danny Sims’s Cayman Music Company. Marley had split with Sims in 1972, and their previously signed contract may have been the cause of resentment. The altered attribution could allow Bob’s own company, Bob Marley Music, to collect royalties for the song. This story gained credence when one looks at the other attributions on the album. Of the nine tracks included, five were credited to people other than Marley. A desire to avoid royalty payments, coupled with the knowledge that the author credited on “So Jah Seh,” Willie San Francisco, was a known Marley pseudonym, begins to seem like the most logical explanation.
The introduction of the song was a brief organ-led statement. Next, Bob entered with the first chorus, which then alternated with two large verses. The lyrics of the first verse advised the female subject not to cry because Bob was able to make everything all right. They also discussed time spent in the government yard in Trench Town, the place where ghetto youth grew up. The initial statement of the lyric “no woman, no cry” was sung tenderly. However, the restatement was delivered as a command, and, to add gravity to the repeated text, it was presented at a higher pitch, with a rest after the word “no” in order to establish the desired tone.
After the third statement of the chorus, Al Anderson performed a short guitar solo that was executed over the same chord progression as the chorus. The song ended with an eight-measure coda that again used the chord progression from the chorus. The general tenor of the music fits well with the text that Bob was presenting in this song. He was trying to bridge his experiences in the past with optimism about the future. He also marveled at the generosity of the poor as he observed the hypocrisy and stinginess of the rich. The song became one of Bob’s most famous, and he embraced its popularity. In 1974 he said, “Me really love ‘No Woman, No Cry’ because it mean so much to me, so much feeling me get from it. Really love it.”45
Track three of Natty Dread was credited to L. Cogil and Carlie Barrett. Regardless of attribution, “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” was sung by Bob with special militant fervor. The song began with an extended wordless chorus by the I-Threes, which led into the first texted chorus. Here Bob made clear that the hungry in the ghetto were being left unfed. The only remedy offered was to dance to Jah music to try to forget the circumstances. The chorus unfolded in two sections, the second of which had different words with each repeat.
The second verse bemoaned the high cost of living over a standard Wailers groove. The sound of this song was similar to many of Bob’s most famous; it was a medium-tempo reggae tune with one-drop drumming, active and melodic bass playing that sometimes doubled the voice, offbeat rhythm-guitar chords, and meandering overdubbed lead-guitar parts. After a short guitar solo by Anderson, the song wound to a close with repetitions of the second half of the chorus music with progressively different words. The parting sentiment was simple: a hungry man was an angry man, and angry men create angry mobs.
One of Bob’s more straightforward songs was actually credited to Aston “Family Man” Barrett and H. Peart. “Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)” was a personal and harrowing account of Bob’s own experiences in the violence-filled period that led up to the Jamaican national elections of 1972. The sound of the song showcased Bob, with the three-part harmony of the I-Threes as background. It was an immediate hit, and “Road Block” went to number one on the charts in Kingston. Despite its local popularity, the single received no radio airplay on the island. The rebellious nature of the song’s lyrics made it dangerous, and both the Jamaican stations played very little indigenous music anyway. In response to the censorship, Bob and Cole, along with two of Bob’s friends who were notorious killers, went down to the studios of JBC Radio and threatened the disc jockey on duty. With his life in his hands, the disc jockey played the single, and it remained number one all summer.
The song was actually an account of an experience Bob and several of his friends had had. It told of Bob and friends running into a Kingston roadblock while returning from Negril. Rounding a corner at three o’clock in the morning, Bob, Lee Jaffe, Sledger (Bob’s cousin), and Esther Anderson (one of Bob’s girlfriends) encountered an army-run roadblock. The officers searched their car for illegal firearms and ganja. Fortunately, the group had disposed of its large spliff before it was noticed, but all of them were all searched, and Bob and Sledger were reprimanded for their dreadlocks. The lyrics of the song recount the events of that meeting with the police, which culminated in Bob’s talking the cop: “ain’t got no birth certificate on me now.”
The song began with a repeated drum and harmonica statement over which the I-Threes intoned wordlessly. The first chorus statement began next, with questions about freedom on the island. The first verse began the confrontation with the police. The roadblock was spotted, and the ganja was ejected from the car. The chorus then repeated, followed by another verse. Verse two ended with Bob talking about his lack of identification directly to the police. Next came a guitar solo that led back into two more chorus statements. For emphasis, Bob repeated verse two, and the song ends with him again directly addressing the police.
In contrast to the militant sentiment of “Rebel Music,” “So Jah Seh” offered a message of religious salvation. Begun with what sounds like a drum machine beat, the song included horn lines that added considerable depth to the musical texture. The song unfolded in a manner that became increasingly common for Bob, opening alternations of chorus and verse that culminated in two statements of the second verse before the song ended. Here the lyrics are admonitions from Jah about the treatment and activities of his faithful, channeled through Bob. Jah’s children shall no longer go hungry, and unity of all shall reign. The language Bob used was telling for his choice of words from Psalm 100: “Ye are the sheep of my pasture.” The overall meaning of the psalm was that of praise and glad servitude. Another interesting feature of the lyrics was Bob’s use of numbers in the second verse. By numbering the streets that he walked down in the verse, he effectively made “Natty Dread” into a counting song. Also, Bob made repeated use of the I and I language to associate himself fully with his God: “I and I hang on in there, I and I naw leggo [not let go].”
“Natty Dread,” the album’s title track, was credited to A. Cole (Alan “Skill” Cole) and R. Marley (Rita Marley). The song was in an upbeat reggae tempo that implored the listener to dance. Again, Bob enlisted the help of his horn players to assist on this song. The horn line introduction led into the first chorus, and the song alternated chorus and verse statements, with the verses being much larger than the choruses. The instrumental accompaniment to the song was the standard one-drop drumming, offbeat guitar chords, and active and melodic bass part. The sentiment of the song was the claiming of black and Rastafarian cultural history despite the Babylonian captivity. One formal oddity was that in the position where the guitar solo should be, there was instead a vocal and instrumental passage that was neither verse nor chorus. The lyric meaning of this section was encapsulated in the line “Natty 21,000 miles away from home.”
Rita Marley was credited with writing “Bend Down Low.” Begun by organ, guitar, bass, and cowbell, the song was an up-tempo burner that Bob wrote early in the Wail’n’Soul days. The bass was the real driving instrument in the song, with its ascending walking parts. The I-Threes sang the first chorus, followed by Bob quoting the Bible sentiment about reaping what one sows. The song then alternated choruses sung by the I-Threes and verses sung by Bob. The third chorus led into an organ solo, and the second and third verses used the same words. The final verse was unique in that a flute was introduced to the texture. Overall, Bob was drawing in a female love interest, asking her to “bend down low” so she could “let me [him] tell you what I know.”
“Talkin’ Blues” was also credited to L. Cogil and Carlie Barrett. Slow and languid, the introduction sounded like a rock and roll song. The first chorus came in two sections and described sleeping on the ground with a rock for a pillow. The lore of this was that, as a youth in Nine Mile, Bob would lay outside at night with his head on a rock and dream of a more prosperous future As Bob’s childhood home has become a tourist attraction, the rock that supposedly inspired the song has been identified and painted red, gold, and green. Not to be missed was the association of the title and the situation of black American blues musicians in the rural South.
The song contained only one verse, but Bob made the most of the short statement. He described being on the “rock” for so long, with the rock being slang for Jamaica. This usage made Jamaica sound like a prison, not a tropical paradise. He also talked of wearing a permanent screw. The term “screwface” has several meanings in Jamaican urban patois, but the most likely meaning here is a scowl or angry face. The middle of the verse talked of bombing a church, which again referenced Bob’s and the Rastafarians’ distrust of the Catholic Church. Finally, Bob ended the verse with talk of joining the freedom fighters.
The final track on Natty Dread was the most incendiary on the album. Opening horns heralded Bob’s warning to all listening to seek a “Revolution.” On the track, Bob was supported by the horn section and the I-Threes. His vocal style was altered in that he spoke many of the opening words, instead of singing them in his usual manner. In the lyric, he urged people to rise up from the oppressive prison of poverty, spoke of lack of trust for politicians, urged death to deceivers, and invoked the righteousness of Rasta. The scathing commentary culminated in biblical images of fire, brimstone, and lightening. The song was received with dread by members of the JLP. They interpreted the messages of revolution to mean that Prime Minister Manley (the leader of the PNP) was in fact being backed by Bob.
The Jamaican daily newspaper profiled the Wailers in its Sunday magazine as the Natty Dread recording sessions ended for the new album. The photograph for the interview was taken by a Kingston-born U.C.L.A. graduate in design named Neville Garrick, who would later become the Wailers’ art director. The story came out in the August 11, 1974, but did not mention that the original Wailers had disbanded. Instead, Bob discussed the need for touring in support of the new material, his desire to go to Africa, and his seven children (another son had been born recently, named Justin Marley, to an Englishwoman Bob had met on the most recent tour).
Bob and Aston “Family Man” Barrett took the Natty Dread master tapes to London in August 1974 so that Chris Blackwell could supervise the mixing. While working in London, Bob and Aston found the man who would become the next Wailers guitarist, Al Anderson.46 Born in New York, in 1950, Anderson was a young black rock guitarist who had played in bands that copied Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. Anderson was a bass player when he met Chris Blackwell and began to work for him as a studio player. He had learned about reggae from a fellow Island musician, Paul Kossoff, a guitarist for the rock band Free. Kossoff had played Catch a Fire for Anderson to illustrate an aspect of reggae bass playing, and it was his first exposure to the style. Through Kossoff and Chris Wood, of the rock band Traffic, Anderson met Blackwell and ultimately played with Bob. The following day, Blackwell contacted Anderson to ask him to do some session playing on Bob Marley’s next album. Anderson agreed, having already given up the bass in favor of playing lead guitar for an Afro-rock band called Shakatu, which was led by the Nigerian-born master drummer Remi Kabaka.
Anderson’s first performance for Bob was to provide overdub guitar parts for “Lively Up Yourself” and “No Woman, No Cry” (overdubs previously discussed in the description of the album). The session was not going well because Anderson was playing in an unfamiliar style. Bob advised him to simply play the old-style, 12-bar blues pattern, and soon the overdubs were complete. Anderson was set to leave London and visit Nigeria with Shakatu, but Blackwell called him again and offered him the job as the Wailers’ lead guitarist. At first, Anderson was skeptical, since he was accustomed to much greater freedom playing with Shakatu. However, he met with Bob one evening at Bob’s apartment in Chelsea and quickly learned of the reggae star’s huge potential.
Anderson agreed to join the Wailers, becoming the only non-Jamaican member, and made plans to meet with Bob back in Jamaica. He arrived ready to play but soon learned that there had been complications with the new album and that the release date had been delayed. For six months, Anderson lived in Jamaica as the new Wailers guitarist but without a single rehearsal. During this time, Anderson spent long sessions with Aston “Family Man” Barrett, practicing and learning the reggae guitar style of offbeat chord strumming.
The Wailers spent the majority of 1974 working on their music in a fairly low-profile capacity. However, it was an important year for their music, and its dissemination brought the group even greater notoriety. Taj Mahal covered “Slave Driver” on his new album Mo’Roots. Barbra Streisand included a cover of “Guava Jelly” on her album Butterfly. The greatest cover was a version of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton (the guitar god from the 1960s rock band Cream), which held the number-one position around the world in the late summer of 1974. Not only did these covers give the Wailers extraordinary exposure on the world stage; it also gave them serious legitimacy among rock critics and listeners. Clapton’s version of “I Shot the Sheriff” gave the Wailers something that they had never enjoyed before—radio play on both of the Jamaican radio stations.
At the end of 1974, the relationship between Bob and Chris Blackwell was disintegrating. The tension escalated, and soon the Wailers were told to leave the house at 56 Hope Road, which was still owned by Island Records. The band packed all of its equipment into a truck and took it to Rita’s house in Bull Bay. The difficulties that the two men were having served to delay the release of the new album for several more months, during which time Bob contemplated changing labels again, in favor of the black-music company Motown Records. Ultimately, Bob realized that the only producer that he trusted was Blackwell, and gradually their conflicts were resolved. However, part of their new deal was that official ownership of the house at 56 Hope Road would be transferred to Bob’s company, Tuff Gong, thus ensuring Bob that he would not be evicted again.
The Original Wailers Disband
In January 1975, the original Wailers officially broke up because of Bunny’s refusal to tour and Peter’s disgust at the secondary role he was forced to take in the band. While Peter was angry with Bob because he felt that Bob did not support him musically, Bunny still treated Bob as a brother. Bunny had long been aware that Bob’s songs of protest did not fit with his own songs of religious activism and brotherhood. Always philosophical, Bunny approached the end of the Wailers as an opportunity to produce even more music, not as a negative breakup. Bunny’s idea was soon realized as Bob and the Wailers continued to release new music, Peter started his own label (called Intel-Diplo, short for Intelligent Diplomat) and began releasing singles in Jamaica, and Bunny began work on his album Blackheart Man, which Island released in 1976.
In early 1975, the new Bob Marley and the Wailers made their official debut as the opener for a Jackson Five concert in Kingston. Bob was now able to officially assume his natural role as the front man for the band and stood at center stage singing, dancing, and playing rhythm guitar. Rita, Judy, and Marcia (the I-Threes) provided vocal support and the trademark Wailers three-part harmony. The Barrett Brothers continued to provide the reggae rhythms on drum and bass, and Al Anderson took over the role of lead guitarist.
In early February 1975, Knotty Dread, the third Island Records Bob Marley and the Wailers album, was officially released. The title had been taken from the single that had been released several months earlier by Tuff Gong. However, when the album came out, the title had been altered by Island to Natty Dread. This caused Bob some consternation regarding the control that the label exerted over his music; however, he remained stoic about the label’s influence. The music press in England and the United States accorded the release high praise and Natty Dread was an international success.
In the spring of 1975, the Wailers were rehearsing in preparation for a summer tour. Bob had decided to allow Don Taylor to become the manager of the Wailers but only after seeking advice about this from his Jamaican lawyer, Diane Jobson. Bob knew that the Wailers were making substantial amounts of money, and he was concerned that Taylor was just trying to take a cut of the Wailers’ earnings. Additionally, Bob was worried that Taylor did not have the professional connections or management skills that the Wailers now required. The two met and talked about the situation, and Taylor told Bob that he did not even want a contract between the two of them; he simply wanted to manage the band. Largely because of Bob’s previous bad experiences with every contract that he had signed, he decided to take a chance on Taylor and hired him to manage the Wailers.47
Taylor began organizing a North American tour for the Wailers that was scheduled to take place in June and July of 1975. This was to be followed by a brief tour of England in support of the new album. Bob began work lining up the Wailers touring group, which included the I-Threes, the Barrett Brothers, and Al Anderson. To this, Bob added his old rhythm teacher from Trench Town, Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, on supplemental percussion. However, the Wailers still lacked a keyboard player, which they all knew was a crucial role in their music. Earl “Wya” Lindo was still working with Taj Mahal, and Touter was still generally regarded as too young to go on the road. Al Anderson and Lee Jaffe both wanted Bob to hire Tyrone Downie away from the Sheraton Kingston cocktail band the Caribs. Bob eventually agreed, and Tyrone was given the new name “Jumpy” as he was brought into the Wailers.
By early 1975, Bob Marley and the Wailers had taken up permanent residence at 56 Hope Road. Island Records had moved out and Tuff Gong Records had moved in, with Don Taylor taking the role of foreman as the house was modified to accommodate the band and its entourage. The outbuildings that surrounded the house were changed into the Wailers’ official rehearsal space. The façade of the house was altered, and the inside was completely remodeled. Also, plans were made to transform part of the ground floor into a Tuff Gong recording studio.48
Bob’s personal life was about to come into the limelight just as his musical career was flourishing. Another one of his girlfriends, Anita Belnavis, the Caribbean women’s table tennis champion, had just given birth to Bob’s eighth child, a son named Ky-Mani, on February 26, 1976. However, Bob was already beginning a relationship with a Jamaican beauty queen named Cindy Breakspeare. Bob and Cindy quickly became close, and their relationship was immediately turned into a scandal in the press, which dubbed them “Beauty and the Beast.” When asked about Cindy in an interview, Marley responded, “I-man [referring to himself] is a saint. My only vice is plenty women.”49
With Bob’s increasing popularity came opportunities for new and different musical developments. Sire Records had contacted him and sent him a tape of one of its artists to see if Bob would be interested in negotiating a production deal. Intrigued by the offer, Bob and Don Taylor flew to New York in April 1975 to strike a deal. The artist was Martha Velez, a talented rock singer based in Woodstock, who was interested in having Bob produce her new album. During the meeting with Sire Records executives and Velez, Bob let Taylor handle the conversation. The group agreed on a production deal, and Bob and Taylor returned to Jamaica.
Velez arrived in Kingston a month later, and Taylor was sent to the airport to meet her. Upon arriving at 56 Hope Road, Velez became nervous when exposed to the group of Rastafarians. However, Bob soon removed her from the group, and together they went to an empty room and began their collaboration. Bob played several songs on acoustic guitar for Velez and told her that he wanted to create an international sound on her record. They began writing a song together that was called “Disco Night.” Three weeks passed, and work on Velez’s album was progressing slowly, having resulted in only two recorded songs. Disheartened by the working conditions and the lack of productivity, Velez returned to New York to consult with her record company.
Shortly thereafter, she returned to Jamaica and was pleased to find that Bob was ready to get to work. Velez and the Wailers went to Negril and began rehearsing at a resort called the Sea Grape. When they returned to Kingston, the remainder of the album was cut at Harry J’s uptown studios. Bob and Lee “Scratch” Perry acted as co-producers, while Tyrone Downie and Aston “Family Man” Barrett worked out the musical arrangements. Velez benefited from years of Wailers’ experience in the forms of Bob, his band, his facilities, his connections, and his backup singers. The album was released in 1976, titled Escape from Babylon, and contained four Bob Marley songs: “Bend Down Low,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Happiness” (a remake of “Hurting Inside”), “There You Are” (a remake of “Stand Alone”), and the song that they had cowritten, “Disco Night.”
Having fulfilled his obligations to Velez and Sire Records, Bob refocused on the Wailers. In June 1975, the Wailers embarked on the North American tour that Taylor had arranged. They flew to Miami, accompanied by Neville Garrick, the new Wailers art designer and lighting director. Staying in the Attaché Motel in Hollywood, Florida, the Wailers began rehearsing while Garrick worked to create red, green, and gold (the colors of the Ethiopian flag) Lion of Judah backdrops that would hang behind the band during concerts. “To relieve the dietary problems that the band had suffered on past tours, the Wailers brought along their own cook, Mikey Dan, a patriarchal Rasta who specialized in Bob’s favorite foods—fish, stew beans, peas and rice, cornmeal or oatmeal porridge, and vegetables and Irish moss, a Jamaican health drink prepared with seaweed, linseed, and milk.”50
Completing the Wailers’ entourage were Don Taylor; their equipment manager, Dave Harper; and Tony Garnett, a Jamaican-born disc jockey and the group’s road manager. Bob also appointed Garnett their master of ceremonies, sent on stage to warm up the audience and introduce the Wailers at each show. The tour generated a great deal of media attention, and everywhere the Wailers went they were hounded by the press. Thus began the media’s love-hate relationship with Bob Marley. Bob very rarely refused an interview, regardless of the interviewer’s employer. However, he was often difficult to question, frequently turning the questions on the journalist. Nonetheless, during the tour, interviews with Bob appeared in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and New York’s Village Voice. Bob never missed an opportunity to discuss his faith in Rastafarianism during these interviews, often quoting from the Bible and frequently leaving the interviewer confused.
The first tour date was at the Diplomat Hotel, in Hollywood, Florida (smaller venues were chosen for the tour because the Wailers were gaining popularity but could not sell out larger arenas). Next, the Wailers traveled to Canada to begin the North American tour in earnest. After the Canadian shows, which were mostly held in nightclubs, the Wailers returned to the United States. They played in Philadelphia and then returned to Paul’s Mall, in Boston, for a sold-out show. A crowd of 15,000 was in attendance for the outdoor show as part of the Schaefer Music Festival, in New York’s Central Park. In its review, the New York Times reflected the newness of reggae to the American audience. John Rockwell, the reviewer, described Bob as “handsomely fine featured, rapt, even crazed, with those lurching movements and all that wild hair.”51 However, he went on to question whether music that is so heavily rooted in a particular culture can translate to others. Such interest was generated by the Wailers’ performance that a follow-up show was booked and immediately sold out at the Manhattan Center. The standard set list for the tour was “Trench Town Rock,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Road Block,” “Lively Up Yourself,” “Natty Dread,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Kinky Reggae.” The shows closed with an encore extended version of “Lively Up Yourself.”
From New York, the tour progressed to Cleveland, Detroit, and then Chicago, where the Wailers played a club called the Quiet Knight. While in Chicago, Bob was reunited with Junior Braithwaite, the original Wailers lead singer, who had immigrated to the United States 10 years earlier. Although this Wailers tour was more successful than previous attempts, there were still many problems. The band clashed openly with the manager, Don Taylor, who refused to show respect to anyone other than Bob. Also, there were logistical difficulties. Travel plans were frequently mishandled, and only one roadie had been hired to drive the truck, unpack, set up, and tear down the equipment for each show.
The Wailers reached California by mid-July and played San Francisco’s Boarding House to a sold-out crowd. “Impresario Bill Graham was so impressed [with the Wailers’ live show] that he quickly promoted a last-minute Wailers show at the large Oakland Paramount Theater … the hall came within a hundred tickets of selling out.”52 The final date of the U.S. leg of the tour was in Los Angeles, at the Roxy Theatre, on the Sunset Strip. The show at the Roxy was the highlight of the American tour. The Rolling Stones were in Los Angeles on their own tour, and they attended the Wailers’ show. The Wailers were building an impressive reputation throughout the rock-and-roll community. Also at the Roxy show were George Harrison and Ringo Starr of the Beatles, the Band, the Grateful Dead, Billy Preston, Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Buddy Miles, and several movie stars. The Wailers were gathering momentum in the United States, and their audience was growing exponentially, largely as a result of the fervor caused by their live performances.
With the completion of the North American tour, the Wailers flew to London on July 16, 1975, for a four-date British tour in support of Natty Dread. The dates were set for performances at the Odeon in Birmingham and the Hard Rock in Manchester and two sold-out shows at the Lyceum in London. Although Bob was nervous about the shows, having learned on arrival at Heathrow Airport that Natty Dread was no longer on the British charts, he rehearsed the band vigorously, and the British leg was a success. Chris Blackwell was in attendance at the first of the Lyceum shows and took particular notice when the crowd erupted with emotion at the opening chords of the fifth song, “No Woman, No Cry.” Blackwell decided to record the second show, on July 18, 1975, and this recording turned into the Live! album that was released in November 1975. The album opens with Tony Garnett’s voice introducing the band to uproarious applause from the audience.
The Live! album was a pared-down version of the set that the Wailers played that night, which comprised only seven songs: “Trench Town Rock,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” “Them Belly Full,” “Lively Up Yourself,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Get Up, Stand Up.” However, the energy exuded by Bob and the heavy reggae rhythms of the Wailers was readily apparent on the album. Several of the songs performed that night were taken at a speed just slightly faster than their studio versions, which made them even more danceable and energized. The recording created a lasting record of Bob and the Wailers at a potent and powerful point in their career. The album art was a mixture of color pictures taken during the show by Adrian Boot, Bob Ellis, and Dennis Morris. The cover photograph was of Bob swinging his dreadlocks, dancing, and holding his signature Les Paul guitar.
Also in November, the original Wailers reunited for their last public performance ever. They joined forces in support of a benefit concert given by Stevie Wonder at Jamaica’s National Stadium for the Jamaican Institute for the Blind. The show culminated with Wonder joining the Wailers on stage for renditions of “Superstition” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” This experience would lead Wonder to write a song about Bob called “Master Blaster (Jammin’).”
James Perone, the author of The Sound of Stevie Wonder: His Words and Music described “Master Blaster” as a “tribute to Bob Marley and the Pan-African politics expressed in some of Marley’s songs.” Perone noted that Wonder gave a nod in the direction of Jamaican popular music by pairing down his usually lush orchestrations to the sound of a ska band and enhanced the vocals with the echo effect familiar from Jamaican recordings. Wonder’s song went on to hit number five on the Billboard pop charts and number one on Billboard Magazine’s R&B charts.53
After the London shows, Bob and the Wailers began the trip back to Jamaica, but on the way Bob stopped in Delaware to visit his mother. While in Wilmington, Bob began to work on several new songs that would soon be recorded, including “Cry to Me” and “Rat Race.” At this time, he was also working to set to music a text by Haile Selassie I that the Ethiopian emperor had delivered to the United Nations assembly at Stanford University, in California, in 1968. The text dealt with war, struggle, and inequality, all issues that were very personal to Bob. The product of this work eventually became the song “War.”
Upon returning to Jamaica in mid-August, Bob and the Wailers went back into the studio, working on the material for the next album. It was recorded at Harry J’s studio and the studio owned by his old friend, singing coach, and mentor Joe Higgs. During the recording process, on August 27, 1975, Haile Selassie I died in his palace in Addis Ababa at the age of 83. This event sent the Rastafarians in Jamaica into a whirlwind of confusion. Many began to doubt the divinity of Selassie, but the devout pointed to Revelations and disbelieved what they had heard.
At 56 Hope Road, the sentiments were mixed, but Bob never wavered in his faith. He and Lee “Scratch” Perry took over Harry J’s studio one night in September, and, as the evening progressed, Bob laid down the vocal track to a prerecorded Barrett Brothers rhythm that articulated his position on the Rastafarian situation. The song, titled “Jah Live,” was Bob’s response to the death of the Ethiopian emperor. Next, Al Anderson overdubbed the guitar part, and the I-Threes filled in the backing harmonies. Released as a 45-rpm single on the Tuff Gong label in Jamaica and on Island in England, “Jah Live” was one of Bob’s most poignant statements of his faith in Rastafarianism.