Nesta Marley Feature Section
Bob Marley chronology 1945-1981 by Roger Steffens
Nesta Robert Marley is born in a tiny hilltop settlement called Nine Miles, in the parish of St. Ann in northern Jamaica at 2:30 in the morning of February 6. His father is in his 50s, a white Jamaican named Norval Marley. His mother is the 19-year-old Cedella Malcolm. Although they are married, the couple never lives together because of the disapproval of "Captain" Marley's family, which threatens to disown him.
At the age of three, Bob is reported by the locals to have psychic powers. He reads the hands of several people in the area, revealing to them surprisingly intimate knowledge of their lives.
Norval sends for his son to come to Kingston, where he promises to educate him. Reluctant but hopeful, Cedella sends Bob alone to Kingston on a mini-bus, where his father meets him. Instead of school, Bob is sent to live with an infirm and elderly lady, and never sees his father again. It will be almost 18 months before his mother discovers his whereabouts and comes to the capital to bring him back to Nine Miles.
Upon his return to St. Ann's, Bob is asked once again to read the hand of one of his mother's adult friends. He refuses, announcing, "I'm a singer now."
Around this time, Toddy Livingstone and his son Bunny move to Nine Mile. The 11-year-old Marley strikes up a fast friendship, strengthened as Bob's mother moves in with Bunny's father. Eventually, the new "family" moves together to Kingston.
Bob Marley, 16 years old, cuts his first recordings for Leslie Kong's Beverly's label. His initial single contains a pair of self-composed tracks called "Judge Not" and "Do You Still Love Me." His second is a cover of Claude Grey's 1961 U.S. country & western hit "One Cup of Coffee," released under the Kong-imposed pseudonym of Bobby Martell. An additional track, "Terror," is recorded but never released. Both records fail with the public, and Bob returns for coaching to the tenement yard of successful Trench Town singer Joe Higgs, who has been tutoring him. There he teams with the young man with whom he has been raised as a brother, Bunny Wailer, along with Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, with occasional contributions from young women named Beverly Kelso and Cherry Green.
By December of 1963, Higgs declares the newly named "Wailers" ready to audition forth
Recording with the legendary Skatalites as their backing band, the Wailers release an almost monthly stream of records, including Peter Tosh's first lead vocals "Hoot Nanny Hoot" and "Maga Dog." They cover Jimmy Clanton's "Go Jimmy Go" and Dion and the Belmonts' "Teenager in Love." Spirituals that year include "Amen," "Habits," and "Wings of a Dove." First recordings appear of their classics "It Hurts To Be Alone" with Junior Braithwaite's haunting lead, and "There She Goes." Bob assists Coxson by auditioning and coaching new singers, including a group called the Soulettes. Rita Anderson of that trio pairs with Bob on a duet called "Oh My Darling." They make occasional stage show appearances, but concentrate primarily on daily rehearsals to polish their sound, influenced in particular by the harmonic style of the Impressions. They also record backup vocals for Barbadian superstar Jackie Opel and local youth Delroy Wilson. Junior Braithwaite leaves for America.
Beverly Kelso quits because of Marley's unrelenting urge for perfection, even in rehearsals. The Wailers are now down to their core trio of Bunny, Bob and Peter. First recordings are made of "One Love," "Rude Boy," "I'm Still Waiting," "I'm Gonna Put It On," and "Cry to Me." They also sing backup to Jackie Opel again, as well as Lee Perry and Leonard "The Ethiopian" Dillon. Cover versions are released of the Beatles' "And I Love Her," Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat," and Irving Berlin's standard, "White Christmas." By the end of the year, the Wailers have five tunes in the top ten at the same time, but Coxson gives them a "bonus" of just £99 for all their hits.
Disgusted at the lack of financial rewards after two years of constant hit-making, the Wailers decide to start their own label. On February 10, Bob marries Rita Anderson, and leaves the following day for his mother's home in Wilmington, Delaware. There he gets a job on the night shift of a Chrysler automobile factory, working in the parts department. He is replaced in the group by Constantine "Dream" "Vision" Walker of the Soulettes, who is Rita's cousin. Bunny, Peter and Dream, sometimes joined by Rita, record "Who Feels It Knows It," "Let Him Go," "Don't Look Back," "Dancing Shoes," and "I Stand Predominate." They become known as the prime defenders of the "rude boys," or as Bunny calls them, the "roots radicals." Haile Selassie I, the God of the Rastafarians, arrives in Jamaica on April 21, and the Wailers embrace the faith, beginning to grow their locks, and to take instruction from elder dreads in their community. When Bob returns in October, he too "sights" Rasta. Armed now with enough money to found their own label, they call it Wail 'n Soul 'm, and release their first independent single, a cry of emancipation from Coxson called "Freedom Time" backed with "Bend Down Low." "Nice Time," "Hypocrites," "Mellow Mood," "Thank You Lord," and "Stir It Up" are all recorded before the end of the year.
A year of building and regrouping, during which time the Wailers open a tiny shop in Kingston. Bob delivers Wail 'n Soul 'm records around the island by bicycle. Bunny is put in jail from June 1967 until September 1968 on falsified ganja charges. Peter records "Funeral" and "Hammer." Bob sings the prophetic "Pound Get a Blow" and shortly after, the Pound is devalued. They have moderate hits with much of their material, but are unable to get ahead enough financially to achieve stability for their label. In parallel career developments, American soul singer Johnny Nash discovers Marley at a Rasta grounation (a gathering to give thanks are praises to Jah). He and his partners Danny Sims and Arthur Jenkins sign Peter and Bob to writing contracts, and the Wailers to performing agreements. Bob tells them that he wants to be a star on the rhythm & blues charts in America, and the JAD label (Johnny, Arthur and Danny) begins recording them in Jamaica, with sweetening done in New York by members of Aretha Franklin's band. The vast majority of the songs remain in the vaults, unheard to this day.
Sims/Nash continue to groom Bob Marley for international stardom, while the Wailers lay their first versions of later hits like "Don't Rock My Boat," and "Soul Rebel." Peter records "Stepping Razor," written by mentor Joe Higgs. From 67-69, the Wailers had frequent periods in which they fled the tension-filled confines of Kingston for solace in the hills of Bob's birth in Nine Miles, in the parish of St. Ann. Here they grow food and live communally, composing songs and regaining touch with the sources of their original inspiration.
In the summer Bob and Rita visit Bob's mother in Delaware. There, Bob prophesies to a couple of young American friends, Ibis Pitts and Dion Wilson: "I am going to die when I am 36." On the night before Woodstock, Bob and Ibis stay up all night twisting beads and wires into hippie jewelry to sell at the festival. Bob writes "Comma Comma" which becomes an international hit for Johnny Nash.
During the late 60s Bob also records his rarest song, "Selassie Is The Chapel," written especially for him by Mortimo Planno. Only 26 copies are pressed, twelve of which are brought to Ethiopia by Bob's close friend, Jamaican football hero Allan "Skill" Cole.
In the spring, the Wailers agree to record an album for Leslie Kong, Bob's original producer, who has now become a millionaire from the sales of such songs as "My Boy Lollipop" and "The Israelites." The Wailers make the world's first real reggae album (as opposed to a collection of singles) called "The Best of the Wailers," a set of songs designed as a pep talk to themselves. Bunny urges Kong not to title the album this way, claiming that one never knows one's best until he is at the end of his life. Since the Wailers are so fit, Bunny reasons, it must mean that the young Kong is at the end of his life. Kong ignores the warning and eventually releases the album with that title. Shortly after, he drops dead. Next the Wailers join with another emigré from Coxson's studio, the diminutive sprite called Lee "Scratch" Perry. Their time together lasts less than a year, but it produces what many consider the finest trio work of the Wailers' career, backed by the powerful Upsetters rhythm team of the Barrett Brothers, Aston "Family Man" on bass and Carlton on drums. They record such classics as "Soul Rebel," "400 Years," "No Sympathy," "Kaya," "Brand New Secondhand," "Mr. Brown," Dreamland," and "African Herbsman." They agree with Perry that all proceeds from the sales of their records will be split 50-50, an arrangement which Perry negates almost immediately. He sells their tapes to Trojan in England, who release them as the albums "Soul Rebels," "African Herbsman," and "Soul Revolution Part II," but the Wailers never see a penny from any of them (and have not to the present time).
Furious with Perry, the Wailers start another label, Tuff Gong, titled after a nickname Bob has been given among his ghetto brethren, to b
Bunny begins his own Solomonic label, releasing "Search for Love." Bob is brought to England to back a Johnny Nash tour in which Nash is billed as "the King of Reggae." During '71 and '72, Bob plays more than 400 shows in high schools and colleges throughout Britain. A final Danny Sims-Nash session yields a CBSUK single "Reggae on Broadway." Sims signs the Wailers to white Jamaican millionaire Chris Blackwell, whose Island records has been re-releasing Jamaican recordings since 1961, including Bob's early solo work, as well as the initial Wailers records. Blackwell gives Bunny, Bob and Peter £8,000 to record an album, "Catch A Fire," which they complete in less than a month.
"Catch A Fire" is released in a unique zippo-lighter cover and receives ecstatic reviews which hail it as a masterpiece of the newly sophisticated Caribbean sound. The Wailers play emotional concerts live on the BBC, and open in New York City's Max's Kansas City club for Bruce Springsteen. The group records a follow-up album called "Burning which proves to be the trio's final release together. During the winter of 72-73, the Wailers reportedly work every day in the UK for three months, either in the studio or in concert, and at the end of that time they each receive £100. Bunny quits the group to pursue a solo career and vows never to return to Babylon. In October, Bob and Peter open an American tour with Sly and the Family Stone, but Sly fires them after five shows because they are not connecting with his audience. By the end of the year, Peter Tosh quits as well, wishing to pursue his own music. The future for the Wailers looks bleak.
A time of regrouping for the band, as Bob keeps the core of the Barrett Brothers rhythm section to back him now as a solo artist under the name Bob Marley and the Wailers. He replaces Peter and Bunny with a trio of female singers who have had successful careers in Jamaica: Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley. The resulting album "Natty Dread," is his breakthrough, acclaimed as a militant work of uncompromising revolutionary fervor. Peter starts his own Intel-Diplo H.I.M. (Intelligent Diplomat for His Imperial Majesty) label, releasing "What You Gonna Do," "Burial," and "Ketchy Shuby," among others.
Bob tours internationally, playing a notable series of dates at London's Lyceum Theatre, which result in the "Live" album. H
"Rastaman Vibration" becomes Bob's only top-ten album in America, and sells millions of copies worldwide. He plays major European venues, selling out everywhere. By the end of the year, rightly or wrongly, it is felt in Jamaica that Bob's endorsement of a candidate can actually swing a national election to that person. Bob approaches socialist Prime Minister Michael Manley, offering to perform a free concert for his countrymen, insisting however that the event be free of any political overtones. Manley agrees, setting Sunday, December 5 as the date for a gigantic festival in Kingston's Heroes Park Circle. But once Bob has accepted, Manley announces that national elections will be held shortly after the event. Bob has been co-opted, and immediately comes under death threats from the opposition party of right-wing candidate Edward Seaga. On Friday night, December 3, several gunmen break into Bob's compound at S6 Hope Road in Kingston, and shoot Bob, his wife, and Don Taylor, his manager. Two nights later, Bob appears before 80,000 people and plays an emotional set of music, displaying his wounds to the crowd. He then leaves the island for a 14 month exile.
Bob spends much of this year in London, living with the reigning Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare. He records enough material for two albums, "Exodus" and "Kaya," and prepares to embark on what is planned as the biggest reggae tour in history. Bob performs the European leg, including a filmed concert at London's Rainbow, but cancels the tour at the end of June when doctors diagnos
Bob is approached by rival gunmen from Jamaica's two leading political parties, and asked to come home to headline the "One Love Peace Concert." The event is to be held to cement a truce declared by the warring factions in Kingston's ghettoes. On April 22, the 12th anniversary of Selassie's visit to Jamaica, under a full moon, Bob is the final performer in an eight-hour concert at the National Stadium. At its triumphant finale, he calls onstage Prime Minister Manley and his political enemy Edward Seaga and makes them shake hands in front of 100,000 people. For his actions that night, and for his exemplary devotion to world unity and the struggle against oppression, Bob receives the United Nations' Peace Medal in New York in June, given "on behalf of 500 million Africans." That summer, his "Kaya" tour sets new attendance records.
Bob brings reggae to countries that have never heard it live before, including Japan, New Zealand and Australia. His new album "Survival" is greeted enthusiastically as a return to his most militant roots. He plays a benefit at Harvard Stadium in Boston to raise funds for African freedom fighters, and makes three powerful speeches about recognizing Rasta as God Almighty, legalizing herb, and uniting humanity for common purpose. His performance that day is recognized as one of the strongest of his life, and parts of his impromptu declarations are later incorporated into his evocative ballad "Redemption Song." But those around him sense a permanent weariness and fatigue, his face becoming drawn and lined with pain.
Bob is invited by the King of Gabon to perform in Libreville in January, one of only two performances Bob ever gave in Africa. The second is historic: On April 17, Bob headlines the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe, spending more than $250,000 of his own funds to bring his group there. That summer, he tours Europe with a tumultuously successful review based on his new album "Uprising." He plays to over 100,000 people in Milan, in a soccer stadium where the Pope had appeared the week before. Bob outdraws the Pope. In September he begins the American part of the world tour as opening act for the Commodores for two sold-out nights in Madison Square Garden, anxious to reach the African-American audience which has always eluded him. The following day, Bob collapses in Central Park while jogging with Danny Sims and "Skill" Cole. Doctors tell him the melanoma cancer has spread to his lungs and brain, and say that he has but weeks to live. Nevertheless, he flies to Pittsburgh and performs his final concert at the Stanley Theatre on September 23, then returns to NY for treatment. Doctors there give up at the end of October. Desperate, he turns to an ex-SS Nazi doctor named Josef Issels in Bavaria, and flies to his Bavarian clinic as the year ends.
Dr. Issels keeps Bob alive for several months, but at the beginning of May he tells Bob there is no more hope. Bob leaves for Jamaica, but makes it only as far as Miami, where his mother lives. On Monday morning, May 11, Bob dies in the company of his family. His final words to son Ziggy are "Money can't buy life." Jamaica goes into a state of shock: even Parliament recesses for the next ten days. On May 21 a state funeral is held with Edward Seaga, newly elected Prime Minister, ironically delivering Bob's eulogy. The biggest crowd in Caribbean history watches as Bob's body is driven home to his birthplace in Nine Mile, St. Ann. Seaga issues seven postage stamps in his honor, and raises a statue to his memory. His headquarters at 56 Hope Road is turned into the Bob Marley Museum.
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