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Bob Marley
Robert Nesta Marley OM

One of the most influential figures in global music history, and most certainly, one of the most important in Jamaican music and its development has to be Bob Marley, born February 6, 1945, in Nine Miles, Saint Ann and christened Robert Nesta Marley.

Bob Marley's Beginnings

It is often said “cometh the hour, cometh the man” and in this regard, Marley’s timing (despite him not knowing) was perfect. He would have been just under 16 years of age when he handed his school books to his mother with instructions for her to give them away as he plotted his way into the capital city Kingston, in pursuit of a career in music. He would eventually hang out in Trench Town, where he was counted among a growing throng of “wanna-be” youngsters desperate for any opportunity to get behind a microphone. In time he was introduced to Leslie Kong by James Chambers (Jimmy Cliff) and in February 1963 recorded four songs with Kong at Federal studios. These were ‘Terror’, ‘Do You Still Love Me’, ‘One Cup of Coffee’, and the seminal ‘Judge Not.’ Months later he formed a group with Neville O'Riley Livingstone (Bunny Wailer), Winston Hubert McIntosh (Peter Tosh), Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith. They intended to be a Ska and Rock-steady group and called themselves "The Teenagers". The group spent more than a year rehearsing under the direction of Joe Higgs before cutting any records. They would later change their name to "The Wailing Rude-boys", then to "The Wailing Wailers." It was at this point that a close friend of Braithwaite offered to introduce the group to record producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd who finally christened them as "The Wailers".

During their tenure at Coxsone, the group turned out a number of sides including their monster hit of 1964 “Simmer Down” a challenge to the Rude Boys to stop terrorizing ghetto residents. The song stayed for two months on the Jamaican charts and was followed by “It Hurts to be Alone” led by Braithwaite and “I’m Still Waiting.” Braithwaite, Kelso, and Smith departed The Wailers in 1966, leaving the core trio of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh. By 1968 the group had become disillusioned with Coxsone and soon left to work with Lee “Scratch” Perry producing some of their most seminal work including 400 Years, the boastful “Duppy Conqueror” as well as “Mr. Brown”, and “Soul Rebel.” This for me represented the Wailers' most impactful works.

Blackwell’s Island Records

It is important to note that at this point, Marley would have been in the business for nearly 10 years but with little commercial success. Most of his contemporaries who had been knocking at the doors had by then thrown in the proverbial towel. In 1972, the Wailers entered into a deal with CBS Records and embarked on a tour with American soul singer Johnny Nash. The tour went badly and left the Wailers without money and stranded in London. Marley paid a visit to Chris Blackwell at his office in London and asked him to advance the cost of a new single. Blackwell’s Island Records had recently lost its top reggae star Jimmy Cliff and was desperately in search of a replacement. Blackwell made no secret that he had seen in Marley the elements needed to snare the rock audience: ["I was dealing with rock music, which was really rebel music. I felt that would really be the way to break Jamaican music. But you needed someone who could be that image. When Bob walked in he really was that image"]. Blackwell told Marley that he wanted The Wailers to record a complete album (essentially unheard of at the time). When Marley told him it would take between £3,000 and £4,000, Blackwell trusted him with the greater sum.

Despite their "rude boy" reputation, the Wailers returned to Kingston and honored the deal, delivering the album “Catch a Fire.” The album became the Wailers' first major-label album and enjoyed worldwide release in April 1973, packaged like a rock record with a unique Zippo lighter lift-top and initially sold 14,000 units, it didn't make Marley a star but received a positive critical reception. The album provided the earliest taste of what we today refer to as “Roots –Reggae.” It paved the roadway for the likes of "The Burning Spear," and "Culture" who would follow in his footsteps. That album was followed later that year by “Burnin” which included my personal anthem “Get Up, Stand Up” and "I Shot the Sheriff” later covered by Eric Clapton becoming a huge American hit as well as helping to raise Marley’s profile.

The Wailers in 1974 were scheduled to open 17 shows for the group Sly and the Family Stone, the number one black act in the United States of America, The Wailers' popularity though was greater than the acts they were opening for and they were summarily fired from the tour. Thereafter the Wailers broke up with each of the three main members pursuing solo careers. Despite .the breakup though, Marley continued to record as "Bob Marley & the Wailers with the “I Threes” consisting of Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt providing backing vocals. By 1975, Marley had his international breakthrough with his first hit outside Jamaica, with “No Woman No Cry.”This was followed by his breakthrough album in the USA “Rastaman Vibration” in 1976.

In December 1976, two days before the free “Smile Jamaica” concert organized in an effort to ease tensions between the warring political groups, Bob and Rita were victims of a shooting attack at their home at 56 Hope Road in Kingston. Both received gunshot wounds from the incident but still proceeded with the concert and an injured Bob Marley performed as scheduled, two days after the attempt on his life. When asked why, Marley responded, "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?"

The members of the “Zap-Pow” band played as Bob Marley's backup band before an estimated 80,000 crowd while members of The Wailers were still missing or (reportedly) in hiding. Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976 in a self-imposed exile to England, where he spent two years. It was during this time that he recorded the two seminal albums Exodus and Kaya. Exodus stayed on the British album charts for 56 consecutive weeks and sired four UK hit singles: "Exodus” , "Waiting in Vain", "Jamming", and the anthem “One Love” (a rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s classic hit “People Get Ready.”

In 1978, Marley returned to Jamaica and performed at another political concert, the “One Love Peace Concert” again in an effort to calm the warring political parties. Near the end of the performance, and following a request from Marley, Michael Manley – Prime Minister and leader of then-ruling Peoples National Party (PNP) and his political rival Edward Seaga (leader of the opposing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) joined each other on stage and joined hands.

By 1980, the man who had years earlier, questioned his musical approach, had become one of the world’s biggest names in popular music. His lyrics represented a voice for the voiceless, and a thorn in the conscience of political power-brokers at home and abroad. He was the testament of the rise of the Rastaman not only in Jamaica but provided its symbol across the globe. His Uprising tour that year saw him playing 33 dates across Europe with a sellout crowd of 120,000 in Milan, Italy on June 27th of that year. It was on the USA leg of this tour that he would perform for the final time-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Marley Bob succumbed to melanoma on May 11, 1981, and was buried at his birthplace in Nine Miles, St Ann. He has been accorded the Nations second highest honor, The Order of Merit.

In 2001 The BBC and the Times magazine Voted the album Exodus as the top 100 albums of the 20th Century. See more articles and videos at

Check out Richard Hugh Blackford's piece on the great Bob Marley here on :

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