Bob Marley and the Wailers
Bob Marley's third album for Island Records "Natty Dread", released in October 1975, was the first credited to Bob Marley and The Wailers; the harmonies of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were replaced with the soulfulness of the I-Threes, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. The Wailers band now included Family Man and Carly Barrett, Junior Marvin on rhythm guitar, Al Anderson on lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl "Wya" Lindo on keyboards and Alvin "Seeco" Patterson playing percussion. Characterized by spiritually and socially conscious lyrics, the "Natty Dread" album included a rousing blues-influenced celebration of reggae, "Lively Up Yourself", which Bob used to open many of his concerts; the joy he experienced among friends amidst the struggles of his Trench Town youth is poignantly conveyed on "No Woman No Cry", while the essential title track played a significant role in introducing Rastafarian culture and philosophies to the world. A commercial as well as a critical success, "Natty Dread" peaked at no. 44 on Billboard's Black Albums chart and no. 92 on the Pop Albums chart.
The following year Bob embarked on a highly successful European tour in support of "Natty Dread", which included two nights at London's Lyceum Theater. The Lyceum performances were captured on Bob's next release for Island, "Bob Marley and the Wailers Live", which featured a melancholy version of "No Woman No Cry" that reached the UK top 40.
Bob Marley catapulted to international stardom in 1976 with the release of "Rastaman Vibration", his only album to reach the Billboard Top 200, peaking at no. 8. With the inclusion of "Crazy Baldhead", which decries "brainwash education" and the stirring title cut, "Rastaman Vibration" presented a clearer understanding of Rastafari teachings to the mainstream audience that was now attentively listening to Bob. Also included was "War", its lyrics adapted from an impassioned speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, delivered by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I whom Rastafarians consider a living God. Thirty-five years after its initial release "War" remains an unassailable anthem of equality, its empowering spirit embraced by dispossessed people everywhere.
As 1976 drew to a close Bob Marley was now regarded as a global reggae ambassador who had internationally popularized Rastafarian beliefs. At home, that distinction fostered an immense sense of pride among those who embraced Bob's messages. But Bob's expanding influence was also a point of contention for others in Jamaica, which was brutally divided by political alliances. With the intention of suppressing simmering tensions between Jamaica's rival People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), Bob agreed to a request by Jamaica's Ministry of Culture to headline a (non partisan) free concert, Smile Jamaica, to be held on December 5, 1976 in Kingston. Two days prior to the event, as Bob Marley and The Wailers rehearsed at his Kingston home, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on his life. Gunmen sprayed Bob's residence with bullets but miraculously, no one was killed; Bob escaped with minor gunshot wounds, Rita underwent surgery to remove a bullet that grazed her head but she was released from the hospital the next day. Bob's manager Don Taylor was shot five times and critically wounded; he was airlifted to Miami's Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for the removal of a bullet lodged against his spinal cord.
If the ambush in the night at Bob Marley's home was an attempt to prevent him from performing at the Smile Jamaica concert or a warning intended to silence the revolutionary spirit within his music, then it had failed miserably. Bob defiantly performed "War" at the Smile Jamaica concert, which reportedly drew 80,000 people but shortly thereafter he went into seclusion and few people knew of his whereabouts.
Three months after the Smile Jamaica concert, Bob flew to London where he lived for the next year and a half; there he recorded the albums "Exodus" (1977) and "Kaya" (1978). Exodus' title track provided a call for change, "the movement of Jah people", incorporating spiritual and political concerns into its groundbreaking amalgam of reggae, rock and soul-funk. A second single, the sultry dance tune "Jamming" became a British top 10 hit. The "Exodus" album remained on the UK charts for a staggering 56 consecutive weeks, bringing a level of commercial success to Bob Marley and the Wailers that had previously eluded the band.
In a more laid back vein, the "Kaya" album hit no. 4 on the British charts, propelled by the popularity of the romantic singles "Satisfy My Soul" and "Is This Love?" Kaya's title track extols the herb Marley used throughout his lifetime; the somber "Running Away," and the haunting "Time Will Tell" are deep reflections on the December 1976 assassination attempt. The release of "Kaya" coincided with Bob Marley's triumphant return to Jamaica for a performance at the One Love Peace Concert, held on April 22, 1978 at Kingston's National Stadium. The event was another effort aimed at curtailing the rampant violence stemming from the senseless PNP-JLP rivalries; the event featured 16 prominent reggae acts and was dubbed a "Third World Woodstock". In the concert's most memorable scenario, Bob Marley summoned JLP leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley onstage. As the Wailers pumped out the rhythm to "Jamming", Bob urged the politicians to shake hands; clasping his left hand over theirs, he raised their arms aloft and chanted "Jah Rastafari". In recognition of his courageous attempt to bridge Jamaica's cavernous political divide, Bob traveled to the United Nations in New York where he received the organization's Medal of Peace on June 6, 1978.
Bob Marley in Africa
At the end of 1978 Bob made his first trip to Africa, visiting Kenya and Ethiopia, the latter being the spiritual home of Rastafari. During his Ethiopian sojourn, Bob stayed in Shashamane, a communal settlement situated on 500-acres of land donated by His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I to Rastafarians that choose to repatriate to Ethiopia. Marley also traveled to the Ethiopian capitol Addis Ababa where he visited several sites significant to His Majesty's life and ancient Ethiopian history.
That same year Bob Marley and The Wailers' tours of Europe and America were highlighted on their second critically acclaimed live album "Babylon By Bus". In 1978 Bob and The Wailers also toured Japan, Australia and New Zealand, where the indigenous Maori people greeted them with a traditional welcoming ceremony typically reserved for visiting dignitaries.
Bob released "Survival", his ninth album for Island, in the summer of 1979. From opening track's clarion call to "Wake Up and Live" to the concluding "Ambush In The Night", his definitive statement on the 1976 assassination attempt, "Survival" is a brilliant, politically progressive work championing pan-African solidarity. "Survival" also included "Africa Unite" and "Zimbabwe", the latter an anthem for the soon-to-be liberated colony of Rhodesia. In April 1980 Bob and the Wailers performed at Zimbabwe's official Independence Ceremony at the invitation of the country's newly elected president Robert Mugabe. This profound honor reconfirmed the importance of Bob Marley and the Wailers' throughout the African Diaspora and reggae's significance as a unifying and liberating force.
Unbeknownst to the band, the Zimbabwe Independence concert was solely for a select group of media and political dignitaries. As Bob Marley and The Wailers started their set, pandemonium ensued among the enormous crowd gathered outside the entrance to the Rufaro Sports Stadium: the gates broke apart as Zimbabweans surged forward to see the musicians who inspired their liberation struggle. Clouds of teargas drifted into the stadium; the Wailers were overcome with fumes and left the stage. The I-Threes returned to their hotel but Bob Marley went back onstage and performed "Zimbabwe". The following evening, Bob Marley and the Wailers returned to Rufaro Stadium and put on a free show for a crowd of nearly 80,000.
The final album to be released in Bob's lifetime, "Uprising", helped to fulfill another career objective. Bob had openly courted an African American listenership throughout his career and he made a profound connection to that demographic with "Could You Be Loved", which incorporated a danceable reggae-disco fusion. "Could You Be Loved" reached no. 6 and no. 56 respectively on Billboard's Club Play Singles and Black Singles charts. "Uprising" also included contemplative odes to Bob's Rastafarian beliefs, "Zion Train" and "Forever Loving Jah", and the deeply moving "Redemption Song" a stark, acoustic declaration of enduring truths and profoundly personal musings; Angelique Kidjo, the Clash's Joe Strummer, Sinead O'Connor and Rihanna are but four of the dozens of artists who have recorded versions of "Redemption Song".
Bob Marley and The Wailers embarked on a major European tour in the spring of 1980, breaking attendance records in several countries. In Milan, Italy, they performed before 100,000 people, the largest audience of their career. The US leg of the "Uprising" tour commenced in Boston on September 16 at the JB Hynes Auditorium. On September 19 Bob and the Wailers rolled into New York City for two consecutive sold out nights at Madison Square Garden as part of a bill featuring New York based rapper Kurtis Blow and Lionel Richie and the Commodores. The tour went onto the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pa. where Bob delivered the final set of his illustrious career on September 23, 1980.
Bob Marley Live Forever
The Pittsburgh show took place just two days after Marley learned that the cancer that had taken root in his big toe in 1977, following a football injury, had metastasized and spread throughout his body. Bob courageously fought the disease for eight months, even traveling to Germany to undergo treatment at the clinic of Dr. Josef Issels. At the beginning of May 1981, Bob left Germany to return to Jamaica but he did not complete that journey; he succumbed to his cancer in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981.
The Bob Marley biography doesn't end there. In April 1981 Bob Marley was awarded Jamaica's third highest honor, the Order of Merit, for his outstanding contribution to his country's culture. Ten days after Bob Marley's death, he was given a state funeral as the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley O.M. by the Jamaican government, attended by Prime Minister Edward Seaga and the Opposition Party Leader Michael Manley. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the streets to observe the procession of cars that wound its way from Kingston to Bob's final resting place, a mausoleum in his birthplace of Nine Miles. The Bob Marley and the Wailers legend lives on, however, and thirty years after Bob Marley's death, his music remains as vital as ever in its celebration of life and embodiment of struggle.