Bob Marley (1945-1981) was a singer, guitarist and songwriter from St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. He is the son of Norval Marley, an elderly white Marine officer, and Cedella Booker, a much younger black woman from a respected local family. Marley’s father died when he was ten years old. Without significant means of support, Cedella moved to Trenchtown, a poor neighborhood in Kingston, the island’s capital. For several years, Cedella lived with Taddeus “Taddy” Livingston; his son Bunny and her son Bob became roommates and lifelong friends.
By the late fifties, the two boys had a serious interest in the growing Kingston music scene, then focused on American rhythm and blues music. When rhythm and blues popularity waned, entrepreneurial record producers like Coxsone Dodd searched for local musical talent to fill the void. Dodd opened Studio One Records in 1963 with his house band The Skatalites. Marley and Livingston, along with their friend Peter Tosh, auditioned for Studio One records as the Wailin’ Wailers. They were signed on the spot, and their first single, “Simmer Down”, a #1 Jamaican hit in early 1964, is considered the first hit song in the Jamaican ska style.
The original Wailin’ Wailers:
The Barrett brothers, two important musicians who joined the Wailers around 1967:
Jamaica’s two most important record producers:
Other interesting links for Bob Marley and reggae music:
Welcome to the Reggae Supersite – Roger Steffens Reggae Archives
Dubwise Garage/Bob Marley Concerts, An Elaborate Fan Blog
Director Kevin Macdonald Discusses “Marley” Documentary, Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2012
The Wailers’ rise to stardom happened gradually; their impact is perhaps greater today than during their heyday as worldwide pop stars. They were among Jamaica’s most popular bands in the sixties, during a creative period of music making that yielded three distinct types of popular dance music: ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Still, the band struggled to make a living as musicians. In 1966, Marley left the band and moved to Delaware to take a manufacturing job for a short time. Marley returned home, and over the next five or so years they worked with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and refined their sound in hopes of greater commercial success.
In 1972, the band got a lucky break, while out of money and stranded in London, England. Island Records producer Chris Blackwell was looking for a replacement for Jimmy Cliff. Marley went to Blackwell seeking an advance to produce a single, and walked away with a deal to produce a whole album, 1972’s Catch A Fire. They followed up the album with their first significant tour of America, at which point the band caught fire, beginning a decade long period of growing worldwide popularity. In 1974, both Livingston and Tosh left the band to pursue solo careers, as the charismatic Marley began to assume the spotlight. The Wailers are fondly remembered for their hypnotic dance beats, their gentle songs of love and their forceful songs of protest against slavery. Diagnosed with melanoma in his toe in 1977, Marley failed to recognize the serious nature of his illness, and decided against having his toe amputated. He passed away in 1981, only thirty six years old.
Old Grey Whistle Test Performances
There are several Wailers videos available on Youtube. The two performances from the British program “Old Grey Whistle Test” stand out as superior, and the only videos featuring Marley with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. There is no significant video documentation before these performances, despite the band being at its creative peak.
Next, a South African journalist’s report on Jamaican culture, including the frightening poverty of Trenchtown, and the hope of reggae music and the Rastafarian movement. The report reveals as much of the journalist’s preconceptions as it does the plight of the people. Bob Marley’s sullen compliance answering the journalist’s questions is a sight to behold.
The Wailers were among the many young men influenced by the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, a spiritual philosophy based on Christianity which identifies Haile Selassie I, the former emperor of Ethiopia, as God’s chosen King on earth. The movement also stresses a repatriation of African people from the white man’s world (Babylon) back to the African homeland (Zion).
Several other interviews with Mr. Marley are worthwhile. Interviewed here by a fellow rastafari, they create a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere for conversation, which is instructive given the dire circumstances of his fellow men in Jamaica. Marley’s importance as a world figure grew after his premature death; his peaceful but insistent protest against the status quo evokes comparisons with India’s Mahatma Gandhi. Marley was able to take his message worldwide through the power of music.
The risks to one’s safety are magnified in a poverty stricken country, where envy and jealousy are acute, and so few have the means to live comfortably. The story of the Wailers is both tragic and violent. Peter Tosh was murdered at his home in 1987; so was Carly Barrett, the longtime drummer who joined the Wailers with his brother Aston in 1970. Early Wailers member Junior Braithwaite (1949-1999) was also murdered at the home of a fellow musician. Marley survived an assassination attempt in 1976. The relaxed and peaceful feeling achieved when listening to the hypnotic reggae belies its dangerous origin.
Bob Marley & The Wailers Song Notes:
I selected forty-seven songs for the collection. Several well known songs, such as “Three Little Birds”, “Exodus”, and “Could You Be Loved”, are not included. The song ratings are very consistent; I like many Wailers songs, but very few stand out as superior to the others. Bob Marley is a subtle pleasure, one that I enjoyed more and more during this study.
I reviewed a couple of music blogs to compare which Bob Marley albums they consider best. Both blogs chose Exodus and Natty Dread, while Tom Moon also selected Catch A Fire. The selected albums may be their finest “modern” records, but they don’t address the band’s early years in Jamaica, where ska music gradually transformed into reggae. The early Jamaican recordings are quite crude, with poor fidelity; audiophiles should stick with the Island recordings. I like the muddy sound of the old recordings; the late seventies Island recordings sound homogenous and a bit antiseptic. Early Wailers songs feature unique singing interplay between Tosh, Marley and Wailer. If only one album is acquired, I recommend African Herbsman. Finally, rather than the posthumous hits compilation Legend, I recommend the original documents such as Catch A Fire, Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration.
1. “Get Up, Stand Up (Alt)”, “Duppy Conqueror (Live)”, and “Slave Driver (Live)” are found on Burnin’.
2. “Trenchtown Rock (Live)”, “Burnin’ And Lootin’ (Live)” and “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block) (Live)” are found on Live At The Roxy: The Complete Concert.
3. Three compilations will acquire most or all of the early Jamaican music:
One Love At Studio One
Fy-ah, Fy-ah – The JAD Masters, 1967-1970
4. “Bend Down Low (Live)” and another good version of “Slave Driver (Live)” are found on Talkin’ Blues, aka Rastaman Chant. The version of “No Woman, No Cry (Live)” is the famous version from Live!.
Bob Marley & The Wailers Songs:
Small Axe, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
I Shot The Sheriff, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
No Woman, No Cry (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
African Herbsman, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
Bend Down Low (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
Waiting In Vain, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭✭
Keep On Moving, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Don’t Rock The Boat, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Sun Is Shining, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Brain Washing, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Four Hundred Years, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Get Up, Stand Up, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Get Up, Stand Up (Alt), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Hypocrites, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Mr. Chatterbox, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
One Love, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
It Hurts To Be Alone, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Sunday Morning, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Is This Love, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Buffalo Soldier, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Stir It Up, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Redemption Song, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Trenchtown Rock (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block) (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Slave Driver (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Lively Up Yourself (Alt), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Them Belly Full, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
He Who Knows It Feels It, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Roots, Rock, Reggae, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
War, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Duppy Conqueror, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Duppy Conqueror (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
Could You Be Loved (Alt), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭✭
All In One, Part 1, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Burnin’ And Lootin’, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Burnin’ And Lootin’ (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Slave Driver (Live), Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Soul Rebel, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Mellow Mood, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Simmer Down, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Sinner Man, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
One Love/People Get Ready, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Jammin’, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
This Train, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Rolling Stone, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Roots, Rock, Dub, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Kaya, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
Lively Up Yourself, Bob Marley & The Wailers ✭
I Shot The Sheriff, Eric Clapton ✭
I Shot The Sheriff (Live), Eric Clapton ✭✭✭
This Time/Waiting In Vain (Live), Los Lobos ✭✭
Stir It Up, Johnny Nash ✭✭
Sinner Man (Alt), Nina Simone & Felix Da Housecat ✭✭
This Train, Sister Rosetta Tharpe ✭✭
Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ✭✭✭✭✭
Like A Rolling Stone (Mono), Bob Dylan ✭✭✭✭✭
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ✭✭
Like A Rolling Stone, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ✭✭✭✭
Get Up, Stand Up, Peter Tosh ✭✭
Stepping Razor, Peter Tosh ✭
Why Must I Cry, Peter Tosh ✭✭
Fighting Against Conviction, Bunny Wailer ✭
Dreamland, Bunny Wailer ✭
Armagideon, Bunny Wailer ✭