Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bob Marley: Trench Town Rock

Bob Marley is the most famous figure in the history of reggae music and the first “Third World” music superstar. Marley was not the first star of the indigenous Jamaican music, reggae, but he is largely responsible for it becoming internationally-known.

Marley was born in Nine Mile, Saint Anne Parish, Jamaica, and lived in the rough Trench Town part of Kingston. At the age of eighteen, he formed the band that would forever be associated with his name, “The Wailers.” The Wailers consisted of Marley as vocalist and guitarist, Bunny Livingston as singer and percussionist, and Peter Tosh as singer and guitarist. Livingston and Tosh would leave the Wailers in 1973 to pursue solo careers and would become reggae stars themselves. The band featured numerous other supporting musicians who came and went during the subsequent years. Guitarist Junior Murvin was a notable member during the final incarnation of the band.

During the Sixties, the Wailers recorded a number of hit singles in Jamaica including “Simmer Down,” “Love and Affection,” and an early version of “One Love” that would later become an international anthem in the Seventies. When these songs were released, the term, “reggae,” hadn’t been coined, and this jaunty dance music was referred to as “ska, and was later dubbed, “rocksteady.”

During the Seventies, the Wailers began to record albums on Upsetter Records with Lee “Scratch” Perry as producer. It was under Perry’s direction that the band began to distinguish itself from its ska/reggae competitors.

In 1971, the band released its first classic album, “Soul Revolution.” Another classic album followed in 1973, with “Catch a Fire,” containing the well-known Marley song, “Stir it Up.” By this time, the Wailers had been signed to Island records. The following year, 1974, saw the release of “Burnin,’” another solid effort containing the classic songs, “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” a song that would soon become a chart hit in a version by Eric Clapton.

By this time, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh had left the band to pursue solo careers, and Bob Marley was left in full control. Marley was beginning to attract international acclaim, aided greatly by Eric Clapton’s success with “I Shot the Sheriff.” He would try to build on this foundation by adding rock record production and studio polish to his successive albums, but he never lost the gritty, soulful essence of his music. His next four albums, “Natty Dread,” Live,” “Rastaman Vibration,” and “Exodus” would see Marley at the height of his creative powers. It was during this run of albums that Marley would achieve international stardom.

“Exodus” (1977) is generally regarded as Marley’s finest original album with its catchy songs, fine arrangements, and its pop production values. Marley had practically made reggae a crossover genre with this album by rendering reggae palatable to pop music fans. Exodus contained a bevy of classic songs such as the song, “Exodus,” “Jammin’,” “Three Little Birds,” “Waiting in Vain,” and an updated version of “One Love.” Marley titled the album “Exodus” in recognition of his flight to sanctuary in England following an attempt on his life in Jamaica.

Another solid live album, “Babylon by Bus” followed in 1978, and then his final studio release, “Uprising,” appeared in 1981. “Redemption Song” from the latter album is especially haunting as it is the last song on the last album that Marley recorded.

 Marley died at age 36 in 1981.

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