Throughout history, no artist has so dominated the world of music as Bob Marley. A musical, political and even spiritual icon, a figure of almost mythical proportions, both poet and prophet, Marley was the first Jamaican artist to give voice to the struggles of his people and the Rastafarian culture, and the first to gain worldwide fame.
Today, Bob Marley remains one of the 20th century’s most important and influential entertainment icons. Marley’s lifestyle and music continue to inspire new generations around the world as his legacy lives on through his music. In the digital era, he has the second-highest social media following of any posthumous celebrity, with the official Bob Marley Facebook page drawing more than 74 million fans. Marley’s music catalog has sold millions of albums worldwide and his hits compilation, Legend, holds the distinction of being the longest-charting album in the history of Billboard magazine’s Catalog Albums chart and remains the world’s best-selling reggae album.
The Marley family will honor the legacy of Bob Marley commemorating his 70th birthday milestone and his importance in the history of global music with a year-long celebration.
UMe, a division of the Universal Music Group, will work closely with the Marley family for new unreleased material ensuring the highest possible quality, integrity and detail to honor the Marley legacy. The Marley family is also giving UMe unprecedented access for the first time to material from their private collections and their vaults. Releases will be announced throughout the year, sure to please longtime fans and collectors with rare and unearthed treasures, as well as Deluxe editions of key albums with bonus material. New material will highlight special treasures in both audio and video formats. The first release on the schedule is Bob Marley & The Wailers – Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 on February 17th. The new package, of completely unreleased material available for the first time in any format, will come in Blu-ray/CD combo pack, DVD/CD and CD versions. The video was shot with a hand-held camera by a fan that Marley allowed to sit right in front of the stage. The result is remarkable footage that captures Marley from just a few feet away, allowing one to experience the intimacy of his set. While the cinematographer was shooting with film and needed to change rolls during the performance, the gaps in the live footage have been augmented with specially created animation over the existing audio. This also marks the first time they have approved newly created material, in this case animation, for a Marley release. The animation video was produced by Craig Bernard and Sara Mora Ivicevich; created and directed by S77 & Matt Reed and Michael Scroggins was the Oil Light Artist on the project. Between them, their resume includes recent projects including Bruno Mars, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others.
Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born February 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. Music was Marley’s escape and way to survive Trench Town, a government tenement housing project where he lived that was teeming with poverty and crime. One bright spot from Trench Town was another local, Alfarita “Rita” Constantia Anderson who he later married. He cut his first single, “Judge Not,” in 1962 when he was just 17. It turned out to be a local hit, and was followed by “One Cup of Coffee,” “Terror” and “Do You Still Love Me.” Although he earned very little money from his records, he ended up meeting Peter McIntosh (Peter Tosh), and together joined with childhood pal Neville Livingston (Bunny Wailer) to write songs together as The Wailing Wailers, named because they were ghetto sufferers who’d been born “wailing.” They debuted with “I’m Still Waiting” and its “rude boy” ska style follow-up, 1964’s “Simmer Down,” topped the Jamaican charts. Soon they would be known simply as the Wailers.
A man who rose from the humblest of origins to become a champion for the oppressed, Marley was a streetwise sharp dresser influenced by the U.S. civil rights movement and the music and fashion of black America. He sang of rebellion, Rasta, partying, uprisings and love. Long before the world discovered him, both Bob Marley & The Wailers and Jamaica were grooving to rocksteady classics “Sugar Sugar” “Soul Shakedown Party,” and perhaps his deepest devotional track, “Selassie Is The Chapel.” Other classics included “Duppy Conqueror,” “Soul Almighty,” “My Cup,” “Trenchtown Rock” and “Small Axe.”
Marley knew that his music and reggae was just limited to Jamaica and set his eyes on the world. In order to break out of the Jamaican market and on his own, Marley moved to London and signed with CBS Records U.K.. In 1971, Marley founded his own Tuff Gong label and was signed to Island Records by its leader Chris Blackwell, who had licensed some of his band’s previous releases for Island Records and offered Marley a deal to record their debut album, recording Catch a Fire at Harry J’s in Kingston. 1973’s Catch A Fire, their first album released outside Jamaica, signaled the emergence of reggae’s patron saint and immediately earned global acclaim, even garnering the group its first tour of the U.S. Reggae’s first true album, rather than a collection of singles, Catch A Fire included such well-known tracks as “Stir It Up,” “Concrete Jungle” and “Slave Driver”–all of them fiery, politically charged, and uncompromising.
The album Burnin’ that same year launched the reggae anthems “I Shot The Sheriff” and “Get Up, Stand Up.” Eric Clapton’s #1 pop version of “I Shot The Sheriff” gave a major boost to reggae’s acceptance with the general public and to recognition for Marley, who some have called the first Third World superstar. But the album would be the last Wailers effort with Tosh and Livingston. By 1974, the original trio of Marley, Tosh and Livingston broke up, going their separate ways.
With a new backing band which included brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett on drums and bass, Junior Marvin and Al Anderson on lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl “Wya” Lindo on keyboards, Alvin “Seeco” Patterson on percussion and the I-Threes (his wife Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths) on background vocals, Bob Marley and the Wailers hit their stride, achieving their first U.S. hit with “No Woman, No Cry,” from 1975’s NATTY DREAD. The album featured Marley’s name on top for the first time, and is considered by many to be his finest album and one of reggae’s best – balancing revolution and celebration like no other reggae album before or since.
Marley then followed it up with 1976’s Rastaman Vibration, which proved to be Marley’s American and commercial breakthrough, climbing to #8 on the Billboard 200. Rastaman Vibration paired hard-hitting tracks such as “War” (essentially a musical recitation of a speech by Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor considered a prophet of Rastafarianism) with lighter fare such as “Positive Vibration.”
Bob Marley & The Wailers were declared Rolling Stone’s Band of the Year for 1976. “Marley, like Dylan, has transcended genre,” wrote the magazine. “You only have to see him on stage, a dancing dervish, dreadlocks wind-milling, to realize that here is a rock & roll star.”
Marley was becoming an international superstar, not just a pop music personality, but a political figure for the underclasses around the world, a lightning-rod for liberation in such songs as “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Exodus,” “Waiting in Vain,” “One Love,” “Zimbabwe,” “Africa Unite,” “Wake Up and Live” and “Survival.” The singer/songwriter was the target of an assassination attempt at his Kingston home on the night of December 3, 1976, during rehearsals for a free concert called Smile Jamaica. During this attempt, a bullet grazed his chest, wounding his wife and manager. A defiant Marley went on to perform at the show just two days later, his injuries visible to one and all, and it further solidified his heroic stature as a real leader of the people and his true commitment to his words “One Love.” The violence forced Marley to move to England for a two-year exile.
Exodus would be Marley’s only album primarily recorded outside Jamaica; its London sessions were the first time the band recorded in the 24-track format. His exodus resulted in an album that was tough and reflective, angry and romantic, suitable for domestic consumption and for crossover success.
Featuring the international hits “Jamming,” “Waiting In Vain” and “One Love/People Get Ready,” Exodus was named Album of the Century by Time Magazine. “Every song is a classic, from the messages of love to the anthems of revolution,” Time wrote. “But more than that, the album is a political and cultural nexus, drawing inspiration from the Third World and then giving voice to it the world over.” The irony of Exodus is that in leaving Jamaica, Marley brought reggae home to the rest of the world. Along the way, he popularized the innovative form known as “versions,” which separated out and spotlighted the instrumental rhythm tracks to reggae songs. Due to this process, reggae’s loping, hypnotic rhythms would find its way into rock ‘n’ roll.
Upon his return, and not one to give up his quest for peace, he famously brought together Jamaica’s warring factions, having political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Siega join hands with him on-stage during his historic “One Love Peace Concert” in Kingston, which took place on April 22, 1978. No bullets this time.
Shortly thereafter, Marley was awarded the United Nations’ Peace Medal of the Third World in June, 1978, by the African delegation for his efforts “on behalf of millions of disenfranchised blacks round the world.”
The mellow Kaya in early 1978 was highlighted by “Is This Love,” one of the most buoyant and unabashed love songs in the Marley repertoire, and “Satisfy My Soul.” Babylon By Bus, released later that year, is considered one of reggae’s most powerful concert albums. The fist-pumping Survival in 1979, with the track “Africa Unite,” was followed the next year by Uprising, which featured the impassioned “Redemption Song.” Marley’s support for the struggles of Africans brought attention to their plight and he became an honored guest on that continent, including performing in 1980 at the celebration of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day.
Bob Marley stands as one of the giants of world popular music, with his untimely death at the age of 36 on May 11, 1981 in Miami from cancer complications, leaving us without one of the most revered and influential performers of the 20th century.
In 2014, thirty years after its original release, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Legend, shared the top of the charts, holding the No. 5 spot on Billboard’s 200 Album Chart among Maroon 5 (#1), Jeezy (#2), Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack (#3), and Ariana Grande (#4). Marley’s accolades include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1994) and ASCAP Songwriters Hall of Fame (2010), a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award (2001), multiple entries in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2001). His music was the centerpiece of a 2011 Grammy tribute by Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna and sons Damian and Ziggy Marley. In 2004, Rolling Stone placed Bob Marley #11 in its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time,” and in 2012, an acclaimed feature-length documentary, Marley, directed by Kevin McDonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) was released to critical and audience acclaim.
Bob Marley’s legacy truly lives in the artists and generations he has influenced. Today, the spiritual, political and musical resonance of Bob Marley’s work continues to be felt around the world.
Bob Marley’s 70th birthday – an occasion to celebrate his global legacy.
Author: Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.