Rock Through the Ages: Bob Marley 1945-1981


"I love the development of our music, that's what I really dig about the whole thing. How we've tried  to develop, y'know? It grows. That's why every day people come forward with new songs. Music goes on forever."  -Bob Marley

Bob Marley Photograph on Rock Through the Pages biography pageRobert "Bob" Nesta Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the reggae bands The Wailers and Bob Marley & the Wailers. Tremendously popular in their native Jamaica, where Bob Marley was regarded as a national hero, the Wailers were also reggae music's most effective international emissaries. Bob Marley's songs of determination, rebellion, and faith found an audience all over the world. Marley has been called "the first Third World superstar," "Rasta Prophet," "visionary," and" "revolutionary artist." These accolades were not mere hyperbole. Marley was one of the most charismatic and challenging performers of our time. In the clear Jamaican sunlight you can pick out the component parts of which the myth of Bob Marley is comprised: the sadness, the love, the understanding, the God given talent. Those are facts. And although it is sometimes said that there are no facts in Jamaica, there is one more thing of which we can be certain: Bob Marley never wrote a bad song. He left behind the most remarkable body of recorded work. "The reservoir of music he has left behind is like an encyclopedia," says Judy Mowatt of the I-Threes. "When you need to refer to a certain situation or crisis, there will always be a Bob Marley song that will relate to it. Bob was a musical prophet."

Bob Marley was born in the small village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica as Nesta Robert Marley. A Jamaican passport official would later swap his first and middle names. Bob Marley's mother was an eighteen-year-old black girl called Cedella Booker while his father was Captain Norval Marley, a 50-year-old white quartermaster attached to the British West Indian Regiment. Norval Marley's family, was in total disapproval of the marriage and, although he provided financial support, the Captain seldom saw his son who grew up in the rural surroundings of St. Ann to the north of the island. In 1955, when Marley was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at age 60. Bob Marley, barely into his teens, moved to Kingston in the late Fifties. Like many before them, Marley and his mother eventually settled in Trenchtown. His friends were other street youths, also impatient with their place in Jamaican society. One friend in particular was Neville O'Riley Livingston, known as Bunny, with whom Bob took his first hesitant musical steps.

Reggae singer Bob Marley in Rock Through the pages biographyIn the big city Bob was more exposed to the music which he had loved, including such greats as Fats Domino and Ray Charles. Bob and Bunny attended a music class together which was held by the famous Jamaican singer Joe Higgs. In that class they met Peter Macintosh and soon became good friends. Jamaican music was evolving and became very popular throughout the Caribbean due to it's invention of Ska music. When Bob was 16, he started to follow his dream of becoming a musician. Music to many young Jamaicans was an escape from the harshness of everyday life. In 1963 Bob, Bunny and some other friends formed the Wailing Wailers. The didn't get off to a great start, after just a couple recording sessions two members, Cherry and Junior Braithwait left the band. The band continued on and were introduced to Clemet Dodd, a producer of the record company Coxsone. It was here where the Wailing Wailers recorded the first song "Simmer Down" which did quite well in Jamaica. To help with the recording of their songs the studio provided several talented Ska musicians. The Wailing Wailers consisting now of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny were starting to become quite popular locally. Their audiences rapidly grew and they recorded several more songs on the Coxsone label which included "It Hurts to be Alone" and "Rule the Roadie".  Bob soon took on the role of the leader. The groups' music also found new themes, identifying with the Rude Boy street rebels in the Kingston slums. Jamaican music had found a tough, urban stance.

Over the next few years The Wailing Wailers put out some thirty sides that properly established the group. In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, and they left Jamaica and joined his mother in the United States. This marked the end of the Wailing Wailers, Chapter One. Marley's stay in America was short-lived, however, and he returned to Jamaica to join up again with Peter and Bunny. By the end of the Sixties, with the legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry at the mixing desk, The Wailers were again back at the top in Jamaica. The combination of the Wailers and Perry resulted in some of the finest music the band ever made. Tracks like "Soul Rebel," "Duppy Conquerer," "400 Years," and "Small Axe" were not only classics, but they defined the future direction of reggae.  

1970 saw the Wailers family grow with the addition of Aston "Family Man" Barret and his brother Carleton. The Wailers were now quite popular throughout the Caribbean but still internationally unknown. With this popularity a second more successful label was formed by the Wailers called Tuff Gong after a nickname of Bob Marley. The Wailers met Johnny Nash and soon Bob accompanied Nash to Sweden and London. When in London, Bob recorded "Reggae on Broadway" which was released by CBS. In 1973. The band travelled to the US where they were scheduled to open 17 shows for the number one black act in the States, Sly and the Family Stone. The Wailers were fired after 4 shows because they were more popular then they band they opened for. The crowd often chanted "Wail-ers" well into the Sly and the Family Stone set. They also opened a couple dates for Bruce Springsteen. With 1973 winding down the Wailers released the much anticipated follow up album to "Catch a Fire" called "Burnin". On this album many Wailer classics appear such as "I shot the Sheriff" and "Get Up Stand Up". The Wailers popularity in North America grew even more when Eric Clapton re-recorded "I Shot the Sheriff", becoming a number one hit on the US singles charts.1975 saw the release of the Wailers's third album, "Natty Dread" with such great tracks as "Talking Blues", "No Woman No Cry" and "Revolution". On the down side though two thirds of the original Wailing Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer quit the band to pursue solo careers. This caused the band to change their name again, this time to Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marley expanded the instrumental section of the group and brought in a female vocal trio, the I-Threes, which included his wife, Rita.

A 1980 tour of the U.S. was canceled when Marley collapsed while jogging in New York's Central Park. It was discovered that he had developed brain, lung, and liver cancer, which killed him eight months later. He was internationally mourned for and thousands showed up at his May 21 funeral to show their respects. In attendance were both the Jamaican President and the Leader of the Opposition. Bob Marley now rests in a mausoleum at his birthplace. After his death he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit. Tragically, in 1987 both Peter Tosh and longtime Marley drummer Carlton Barrett were murdered in Jamaica during separate incidents. Bob Marley was 36-years-old. His legend, however, has conquered the years. Marley says it best; "One bright morning when my work is over I will fly away home" .
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Bob Marley
Jamaican singer
reggae  music  "Don't Worry Be Happy"