By Robyn Byrne
“Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. The son of a black teenage mother and much older, white father, he spent his early years in the village known as Nine Miles.”
One of his childhood friends in St. Ann was Neville “Bunny” O’Riley Livingston. Attending the same school, the two shared a love of music. Later Livingston’s father and Marley’s mother became involved.
In the late 1950s, Marley lived in Trench Town, one of the poorest neighbourhoods, but he found inspiration in the music around him. Trench Town had a number of successful local performers and was considered the Motown of Jamaica. Marley liked such artists as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and the Drifters. He worked on improving his singing abilities. “He worked with Joe Higgs, who tutored young musicians in his yard” and started working with Marley in 1959. Bob met another student of Higgs, Peter McIntosh (later Peter Tosh) who would play an important role in Marley’s career.
A local record producer, Leslie Kong, liked Marley’s voice and had him record a few singles, the first of which was “Judge Not” released in 1962. “In 1963, Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh formed the Wailing Wailers.” Their first single, “Simmer Down,” went to the top of the Jamaican charts in January 1964. By this time, the group also included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith.
The group became quite popular in Jamaica, but they had difficulty making it financially. Braithewaite, Kelso, and Smith left the group. The remaining members drifted a part for a time. Marley went to the United States where his mother was now living. “There he married Rita Anderson on February 10, 1966.”
After eight months, Marley returned to Jamaica. He reunited with Livingston and McIntosh to form the Wailers. “Around this time, Marley was exploring his spiritual side and developing a growing interest in the Rastafarian movement”.
In the late 1960s, Marley worked with pop singer Johnny Nash. Nash scored a hit with Marley’s song “Stir It Up,”. “The Wailers also worked with producer Lee Perry during this era and some of their successful songs together included “Trench Town Rock,” “Soul Rebel,” and “Four Hundred Years.””
The Wailers added two new members in 1970 — Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass and his brother Carlton “Carlie” Barrett on drums. The next year, Marley spent time with Johnny Nash in Sweden to work on a movie soundtrack.
The Wailers got their big break in 1972 when they landed a contract with Island Records, which was started by Chris Blackwell. “For the first time, the group hit the studios to record a full album. The result was the critically acclaimed Catch a Fire.” To support the record, the Wailers toured Britain and the United States in 1973. They performed as an opening act for Bruce Springsteen and for Sly & the Family Stone. “!That same year, the Wailers released their next album, Burnin, which featured the song “I Shot the Sheriff.””
Before the release of their next album, 1975’s Natty Dread, two of the three original Wailers left the group. McIntosh and Livingston decided to pursue solo careers as Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The new album reflected some of the political tensions in Jamaica. Violence sometimes erupted because of these conflicts. “Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)” was inspired by Marley’s own experience of being stopped by the army late one night before the 1972 national elections. Furthermore, the song “Revolution” was interpreted by some as Marley’s endorsement for the PNP.”
“or their next tour, the remaining group was helped by the addition of I-Threes, a group of female vocalists was made up of Marley’s wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt” Now called Bob Marley & the Wailers, the group toured alot and helped increase reggae’s popularity abroad. “In Britain, they scored their first top 40 hit with “No Woman No Cry” in 1975.”
Already a much-admired star in his native Jamaica, Marley was on his way to becoming an international music icon. He made the U.S. music charts with the album Rastaman Vibration in 1976. One track stands out as an expression of his devotion to his faith and his interest in political change.
This may have led to the assassination attempt on Marley in 1976. A group of gunmen attacked Marley and the Wailers while they were rehearsing on the night of December 3, 1976, two days before a planned concert in Kingston’s National Heroes Park. “One bullet struck Marley in the sternum and the bicep and his wife Rita was hit in the head by another bullet. Fortunately, the Marleys were not severely injured, but manager Don Taylor was not as lucky.” He was shot five times and underwent surgery to save his life. Despite the attack, Marley still played at the show. The motivation behind the attack was never uncovered, and Marley fled the country the day after the concert.
Living in London, Marley went to work on Exodus (1977). The title track draws an analogy between the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites leaving exile and his own situation. The song also discusses returning to Africa. Released as a single, “Exodus” was a hit in Britain as were “Waiting in Vain” and “Jammin.” The entire album stayed on the charts there for more than a year and is considered to be one of the best albums ever made.
At the same time as making Exodus, Marley and the Wailers recorded the songs that were released on another album, Kaya (1978). With love as its theme, the recording featured two hits “Satisfy My Soul” and “Is This Love.” That same year, Marley returned to Jamaica to play the One Love Peace Concert.
Also in 1978, Marley made his first trip to Africa and visited Kenya and Ethiopia. Ethiopia was especially important to him as the place is viewed as the spiritual homeland of Rastafarians. Perhaps inspired by his travels, his next album Survival (1979) was seen as a call for greater unity on the African continent and the end of oppression there. Bob Marley & The Wailers even played in official independence ceremony for the new nation of Zimbabwe in 1980.
“A huge international success, Uprising (1980) featured “Could You Be Loved” and “Redemption Song.” The pared down folk-sounding “Redemption Song” was an illustration of Marley’s talents as a songwriter, crafting poetic lyrics with social and political importance.”
On tour to support the album, Bob Marley & The Wailers travelled throughout Europe, playing to large crowds. The group also planned a series of concerts in the United States, but the tour soon fell apart. In New York City, they played two concerts at Madison Square Garden before Marley became ill. “It was discovered that the earlier cancer discovered in his toe had spread throughout his body. Travelling to Europe, Bob Marley underwent unconventional treatment in Germany. He was able to fight off the cancer for months. But as it became clear that he did not have much longer to live, Marley tried to return to his beloved Jamaica one last time. He was not able to finish the journey, dying in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1981.”
“Shortly before his death, Marley had received the Order of Merit from the Jamaican government. He had also been awarded the Medal of Peace from the United Nations in 1980.” Adored by the people of Jamaica, Marley was given a hero’s send off. More than 30,000 people paid their respects to him while his body was lying in state at the National Arena. As a part of his memorial service, his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt sang and the Wailers played.
During his lifetime, he sold more than 20 million records, making him the first international superstar to emerge from the Third World. In 1994, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Bob Marleys music is still so renowned today because it is about what he believed in. It’s all about what the Rastafarians believed in and shows what Marley wanted to tell the world. He is still remembered today as the best reggae artist to have ever lived.
Joe higgs at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Higgs
Bob Marley and the wailers at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Marley_%26_The_Wailers