Monday, August 30, 2010

Nesta Robert Marley - a detailed look at "the man".

Looking back I'm trying to remember just when in my young life I was exposed to Bob Marley.  I'm pretty sure it was sometime around 1989 when I was a junior in High School.  My friend had the Legends CD, released by Island records on May 8, 1984, and wanted me to have a listen.  We used this CD as a backdrop to summers of outdoor volleyball the next few years.

Since my early exposure to Bob's music I've learned much about the man, his band and his influence around the globe.  In fact, he's the reason that I first went to Jamaica in 2001 and my 5 subsequent trips back to the island.

Early Years

Bob Marley was born February 6th, 1945 in a small village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica.  Nine Mile Google Map.  His Father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white Jamaican of English descent.  Norval spent time between England and Jamaica but while back in Jamaica he met a then 18-year-old Cedella Malcolm, a black Jamaican woman - enter Bob Marley.  No other children arose from this relationship and Bob Marley never really came to know his father.  Bob was about ten years old when Norval Marley died of a heart attack in 1955 at age 60.  As a youth growing up, he suffered racial prejudice, because of his color, and faced questions about his identity.

He once reflected: "I don't have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black.  Them call me half-caste or whatever.  Me don't dip on nobody's side.  Me don't dip on the black man's side nor the white man's side.  Me dip on God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

In 1959 a 14 year old Bob Marley started his musical career with then friend Bunny Wailer and with Joe Higgs, a local singer and devout Rastafarian. On some of these jam sessions he met future Wailer Peter Tosh.  In 1962 they recorded their first two singles, Judge Not and One Cup of Coffee with local producer Leslie Kong but these recordings got very little attention.

(Bob Marley as a teen in the very early 1960's)

 By the year 1966 a 21 year old Bob and his new friends had gotten "Bob Marley and the Wailers" in full swing.  After a few years of band member musical chairs and band name changes (the names "The Teenagers", "The Wailing Rudeboys" and "The Wailing Wailers") they were getting their groove on as "Bob Marley and the Wailers".  Also in 1966, Bob got married to a young Rita Anderson with his friend and fellow band mate Peter Tosh by his side.  1966 was a big year for Bob - for a short time he moved to America to be near his Mother in Delaware where he worked under the name Donald Marley at a DuPont lab and a Chrysler assembly line.

(Peter Tosh, Rita Marley and Bob Marley in 1966 for Bob's marriage)

Soon life in America became dull so Bob plus his new bride moved back to Jamaica where Bob then decided to join the Jamaican based Rastafarianism movement. He then started letting his hair grow out to dreadlocks that we know today.  From 1966 to 1973 Bob and his band mates experimented with their sound and cut many tracks.  The band was not super solid during these years as members came and went leaving Bob Marley being the foundation of the group.  But by 1973 The Wailers' first album, Catch a Fire, was released worldwide and sold well.  The following year they released their second album Burnin', which included the songs "Get Up, Stand Up" and "I Shot the Sheriff".  Eric Clapton made a hit cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" in 1974, raising Marley's international profile.

(Bob and his growing dreadlocks in 1974 checking out a soccer ball)

 In 1975 the band put out Natty Dread producing a HUGE hit "No woman no cry".  It was an international breakthrough with his first hit outside Jamaica.  This was followed by his breakthrough album in the United States, "Rastaman Vibration" put out in 1976, which spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.  It contained such well known songs as "Positive Vibration" and "Roots Rock Reggae".

With all of Bob's success he was living the life.  However, in December of 1976, Bob Marley was shot by gunmen two days before a planned "Smile Concert" that was to be held in Kingston in support of Prime Minister Michael Manley.  (ever hear of Manley Airport in Montego Bay?)  Manager Bob Taylor and Marley's wife sustained serious injuries, but later made full recoveries.  Bob Marley received minor wounds in the chest and arm.  The shooting was thought to have been politically motivated, as many felt the concert was really a support rally for Manley.  All the same, Bob pulled through and went ahead of the concert.  

When asked why, Marley responded, "the people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?".  He did have to use a different band at this concert as the Wailers went into hiding fearing further violence.  80,000 people watched as Bob Marley and the replacement band "Zap Pow" wow'ed the audience.

(actual concert footage)

His later years

  After the Smile concert and his near death in 1976 Bob decided to bail to England, where he spent two years in self-imposed exile.  During this time he recorded his Exodus and Kaya albums.  These two albums included four UK hit singles: "Exodus", "Waiting in Vain", "Jamming", and "One Love".  He also injured his big toe playing soccer in 1977 and refused doctors orders to have it amputated not wanting to go against his Rastafarian beliefs. (more on this later)

In 1978 Bob decided to return to Jamaica where he once again headlined another political concert called "One Love Peace Concert" where he played his hits and even got Michael Manley and his political rival Edward Seaga on stage where they shook hands.

 (Bob trying to bring peace to Jamaica)

His Death

It's amazing this man who helped change the world's view of Jamaica could be taken down not by the bullets of assassins but by the injury from his big toe.  As I mentioned, his toe got injured in 1977 but Marley refused treatment and kept on going with his concerts and his life.  By 1980 his cancer had progressed and while flying home from Germany to Jamaica, Bob's vital organs were starting to fail. After landing in Miami, he was taken to hospital for immediate medical attention.  He died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami on the morning of 11 May 1981, at the age of 36.  :-(

His final words to his son Ziggy were "Money can't buy life."

(Bob Marley in his final concert 8 months before passing on)

Bob Marley's final concert was September 23rd 1980 held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  By this point cancer had spread all over his body and Bob was past the point of being saved.   The album "Uprising" was put out in 1980 and was Bob Marley's final studio album.  It is one of his most religious productions, including the well known hit, "Redemption Song".

Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica on 21 May 1981.  He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace with his red guitar, a soccer ball, a cannabis bud and a Bible along side him.  Several months after his death, Jamaica issued a series of postage stamps honoring Bob Marley.


  • He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Bob was 5'8 tall
  • His last child, Makeda, was born 11 days after he died.  Her Myspace
  • He was a vegetarian
  • Tuff Gong was his nickname, he was strong
  • Was taught to play the guitar by Peter Tosh
  • Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994

So Bob Marley left us at an early age but he didn't forget to bless us with songs of hope and peace.  According to his official web site, Bob also left us with 11 children including Rohan Marley who married Lauryn Hill and produced 5 children which would have been, of course, Bob Marley's grandkids.

I'm going to leave this post with a new knowledge and appreciation for a man I learned a little more about today.  Feel free to listen to one of my favorite Bob Marley songs, "Could you be loved" below.  Ironically, it was not one of his favorites, but they recorded it with the intention of using it as a cross over hit in America.  Well Mr. Marley, it worked for me.

One love...


  1. Glad I stumbled on your site today. Very brief, but solid bio of a man that I don't know much about but grew up idolizing.


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