Thanks to Bob Marley for bringing his LOVE and JOY to the World
Robert Nesta Marley was born February 6, 1945 in rural St. Ann's Parish, Jamaica; the son of a middle-aged white, British military officer father and a local teenage black mother. Bob had little exposure to his father but got loving care from his mother Cedella and his Grandfather who was known as an obeah man... a kind of shaman or medicine man who had considerable influence on the young Bob. At age 14, he left home to pursue a music career in Kingston, becoming a pupil of local singer and devout Rastafarian Joe Higgs.
My first experience of Bob Marley and The Wailers was in 1973. I was in an apartment in New York City and I remember I was sitting in the living room on the floor and talking with friends sitting on the couch across a coffee table in front of me. It was then that I heard a beat and a voice from the turntable playing music in the next room. I was distracted from the conversation and got up from the floor and made my way to the turntable. The party disappeared into the background and I had to know more about this music that called out with an intensity I had not heard before. The spinning label said “Catch A Fire” and the band was Bob Marley and The Wailers. A friend had seen the band playing a double bill with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at Max's Kansas City a few weeks earlier in July. He had told me both bands were going to be big but he had no idea what he had witnessed.
The next day, I went out and bought "Catch A Fire" and "Burnin'" and listened to nothing else for several days. 60's and 70's rock had owned my turntable before - much of it was music with a message. Marley took this to a new level of passion with a riddum that could not be resisted. The songs presented stories of persecution but always filled with hope. Many of the songs were filled with a Spiritual energy that made them feel like hymns from the inner city. They were songs from the Concrete Jungle telling a story that would inspire not only Bob's friends and neighbors in Kingston, Jamaica but people of all walks of life, races, nationalities and levels on the economic ladder. Bob Marley's lyrics are enlivened by compassion and a determination to refuse to settle for a less than satisfactory status quo. Get up stand up, stand up for your rights! Who the cap fits, let them wear it. Jammin' and easy skanking, every ting gonna be all right.
If you got to see Bob live, you know. I have been lucky enough to see most of the top acts of the 60's and 70's live but the Marley shows were special... they were on a different plane. The first show I saw was the RastaMan Vibration Tour in late April 1976 at the Beacon Theater on Broadway in NYC. The Beacon was a top Rock concert Hall and drew fans from New York University, Columbia University the boroughs and Jersey. All the shows were sold out with fans of the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Doors, Jefferson Airplane and the like who had all be captured by Marley's Reggae Vibe. Lot's of trips to Jamaica were planned those nights.
All this time, I was buying up Reggae records from other artists - I figured if Bob's stuff was this good, there had to be other great stuff out there too. Culture, Joe Higgs, Burning Spear, Third World, Ras Michael, Lee Perry, Big Youth, U-Roy, The Heptones, Jimmy cliff... the list and my music collection grew and grew. I knew BIG TINGS A GWON.
When I heard Bob Marley and The Wailers were going to be at Madison Square Garden, I waited on line over night to get tickets. I got a ticket for myself and my little sister - I'd taken her to one of the last shows at the Fillmore East when she was 13-14 years old - I hadn't wanted her to miss being in that theater and this was the same kind of thing - I wanted her to get to see Bob. That night, as we walked in the Garden it was transformed into a magical place. It was a little like the energy being there for a Grateful Dead show but much deeper and more mystical - there was a natural mystic blowing through the air, can't keep them down - if you listen carefully now you will hear. It was a totally mixes audience from Rastas in Regal Garb to yuppies in jeans and t-shirts to N.Y's hip and connected "cool" crowd - it was the hot ticket in town that June 17 night in 1978. On another page you can see the ticket stub and program cover. I shot some great Bob Marley pictures at the Garden - the Ras John Reggae logo is from one of the shots I go that night as are the two stage shots you'll find. The memory lives on.
I was working at NBC and later Westwood One where I got to know Timothy White and Roger Steffens who worked with me at The Source (NBC Rock Radio Network) and then when Timothy was doing Rock Stars for Westwood One. Timothy wrote one of the best books on Marley, “Catch A Fire” and Roger “Rojah” Steffens is probably Bob’s biggest fan along with being a serious historian of Reggae Music with Marley front and center of course. There’s so much thing to say… it is quite an amazement and joyous wonder how this reluctant Messiah from the hills of JA went on to have such a monumental impact on so many peoples lives. He spawned a whole culture. Robert Nesta Marley brought the world together with Music and delivered powerful messages - Robert Marley's lyrics and riddums - when it hit you feel no pain. I got to see Peter Tosh a couple of times, with one of those times a very special night sitting right by the stage with only a couple of hundred other people at NYC’s Bottom Line. It was a great show with the Tamlins providing harmony but no match for the mystical power of Bob.
I got to see The Wailers next in October of 1979 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. Walking along the street one day in the City, I saw a poster – you can see it on another page here – Betty Wight (a soul/gospel singer) and Bob Marley and The Wailers at The Apollo. I was not going to miss it – it was one of the few times Bob got to play to a predominantly Black audience in the States – Bob played every show like he had something to prove and won the heart and soul of the crowd each night. The Legend LIVE show that is on DVD from Santa Barbara, CA takes place about a month later and demonstrates the power of the band as well as anything I’ve seen on recordings except maybe the Roxy Show CD. You can get more info on other pages here. I headed home after the show by myself, thanking Jah for the privilege of being there and wondering yet again of the magic and wonder of the world we live in.
I was to see Bob Marley and the Wailers one more time and at that time, I had no idea that this was to be Bob's second to last live performance ever. The album Uprising was released in May 1980 and the band completed a major tour of Europe, where they played their biggest ever concert, to a hundred thousand people in Milan. The U.S. portion of the tour kicked off at Madison Square Garden in NYC. The atmosphere in The Garden was again mystical, other worldly - there's really no other way I can think to explain it - I have been to lots of concerts and event at The Garden - it is strange because the cavernous space somehow felt smaller, more intimate. There was definitely that Natural Mystic in the air - in my memory, the two Garden shows are merged into one extended vision of intense energy and a spacey, trippy haze. That's not just because mass quantities of upful herb were being toked in the huge building - it is because the event and the audience together produced this mystic magical vibe that was inescapable. When the band launched into the opening of Natural Mystic, the attention of the thousands of people lucky enough to be in NYC that night and at the show was immediately riveted on the stage. Moments later Bob came dancing and skanking out to center stage. For the next hour and a half, this Spiritual Warrior, musician, artist, poet - a reluctant Messiah by the name of Robert Nesta Marley again captivated the masses with his powerful positive and vibrant energy. By the time the encore of Could You Be Loved finished, the audience was filled with satisfied souls celebrating what they had just witnessed. By the time the co-billed Commodores hit the stage, they were left to play to an almost empty arena.
The next day Bob would collapse on a run in Central Park. It was thought he was suffering from exhaustion but it was to sadly turn out to be much more serious. In July 1977, Bob had been diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of malignant melanoma. He did not realize it yet but the disease had spread thorough his body. Bob wanted to press on - he was still on a mission, a mission of taking his Jah inspired message to the world - but, on September 23, 1980, Bob Marley was to play his final concert ever at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A pretty good recording of this show exists and it is testament to his power as an artist - although he was already very sick, the sold out crowd in Pittsburgh still got to see one last, stunning show. That last night, Bob ended the show with an acoustic version of Redemption Song (the recording of the song from that night is the final track on Marley Songs of Freedom 4-cd box set). There would be a three song encore but Redemption Song was poetically perfect as a closing note. "There was a feeling of a whole era coming to a climax. Everyone felt he knew something was going to happen," said Rita Marley. "Redemption Song is like a final statement in a career, a summation of all of the themes and thought that had created it" - to quote the liner notes for Songs of Freedom. "We've got to fulfil the book."