Bob Marley - Early Wailers Era
In 1963 Bob Marley and his childhood friend Neville Livingston a.k.a. Bunny Wailer began attending vocal classes held by Trench Town resident Joe Higgs, a successful singer who mentored many young singers in the principles of rhythm, harmony and melody. In his Trench Town yard, Higgs introduced Bob and Bunny to Peter (Macintosh) Tosh and The Bob Marley and the Wailers legend was born. The trio quickly became good friends so the formation of a vocal group, The Wailing Wailers, was a natural progression; Higgs played a pivotal role in guiding their musical direction. Additional Wailing Wailers members included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith but they departed after just a few recording sessions.
Bob, Bunny and Peter were introduced to Clement Sir Coxsone Dodd, a sound system operator turned producer; Dodd was also the founder of the seminal Jamaican record label Studio One. With their soulful harmonies, influenced primarily by American vocal group Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and lyrics that echoed the struggles facing Jamaica's poor, the Wailers attained a sizeable local following. The Wailers' first single for Studio One "Simmer Down", with Bob cautioning the ghetto youths to control their tempers or "the battle would be hotter", reportedly sold over 80,000 copies. The Wailers went on to record several hits for Coxsone including "Rude Boy", "I'm Still Waiting," and an early version of "One Love", the song the BBC would designate as the Song of the Century some thirty-five years later.
By the mid 60s, the jaunty ska beat had metamorphosed into the slower paced rocksteady sound, which soon gave way to Jamaica's signature reggae rhythm around 1968. Dodd had not made a corresponding shift in his label's releases nor did he embrace the proliferation of lyrics imbued with Rastafarian beliefs that were essential to reggae's development. Declining sales of the Wailers' Studio One singles compounded by a lack of proper financial compensation from Dodd prompted their departure from Studio One.
Cedella Booker, meanwhile, decided to relocate to the US state of Delaware in 1966. That same year Bob Marley married Rita Anderson and joined his mother in Delaware for a few months, where he worked as a DuPont lab assistant and on an assembly line at a Chrysler plant under the alias Donald Marley.
In his absence from Jamaica, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I visited the island from April 21-24, 1966. His Majesty is revered as Lord and Savior, according to Rastafarian beliefs and his visit to Jamaica had a profound impact upon Rita and Bob. Bob soon adopted the Rastafarian way of life and began wearing his hair in dreadlocks.
Upon Bob's return to Jamaica, The Wailers established the Wail'N Soul'M label/record shop in front of his aunt's Trench Town home. The label's name identified its primary acts: The Wailers and The Soulettes, a female vocal trio featuring Rita Marley. A few successful Wailers' singles were released including "Bend Down Low" b/w "Mellow Mood" but due to lack of resources, the Wailers dissolved Wail'N Soul'M in 1968.
As the 1970s commenced, soaring unemployment, rationed food supplies, pervasive political violence and the IMF's stranglehold on the Jamaican economy due to various structural adjustment policies heavily influenced the keen social consciousness that came to define Bob's lyrics.
In 1970 the Wailers forged a crucial relationship with Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, a pioneer in the development of dub, the reggae offshoot where the drum and bass foundation is moved to the forefront. Perry wisely paired The Wailers with the nucleus of his studio band The Upsetters, brothers Carlton and Aston "Family Man" Barrett, respectively playing drums and bass. Collectively they forged a revolutionary sonic identity, as heard on tracks like "Duppy Conqueror", "400 Years" and "Soul Rebel", which established an enduring paradigm for roots reggae. The Wailers' collaborations with Perry were featured on the album "Soul Rebels" (1970) the first Wailers album released in the UK. The Wailers' reportedly severed their relationship with Perry when they realized he was the sole recipient of royalties from the sales of "Soul Rebels".
The Wailers and Bob Marley - "Burnin" and "Catch A Fire"
In 1971 Bob Marley went to Sweden to collaborate on a film score with American singer Johnny Nash. Bob secured a contract with Nash's label CBS Records and by early 1972 The Wailers were in London promoting their single "Reggae On Broadway"; CBS, however, had little faith in Marley and The Wailers' success and abruptly abandoned the group there. Marley paid a chance visit to the London offices of Island Records and the result was a meeting with label founder Chris Blackwell. Marley sought the finances to record a single but Blackwell suggested the group record an album and advanced them £4,000, an unheard of sum to be given to a Jamaican act.
Island's top reggae star Jimmy Cliff had recently left the label and Blackwell saw Marley as the ideal artist to fill that void and attract an audience primed for rock music. "I was dealing with rock music, which was really rebel music and 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 once reflected. Despite their "rude boy" reputation, the Wailers returned to Kingston and honored their agreement with Blackwell. They delivered their "Catch A Fire" album in April 1973 to extensive international media fanfare. Tours of Britain and the US were quickly arranged and the life of Bob Marley was forever changed. Bunny Wailer refused to participate in the US leg of the "Catch A Fire" tour so the Wailers' mentor Joe Higgs served as his replacement. Their US gigs included an opening slot for a then relatively unknown Bruce Springsteen in New York City. The Wailers toured with Sly and the Family Stone, who were at their peak in the early 70s, but were removed after just four dates because their riveting performances, reportedly, upstaged the headliner.
Following the successful "Catch A Fire" tour the Wailers promptly recorded their second album for Island Records, "Burnin", which was released in October 1973. Featuring some of Bob's most celebrated songs "Burnin" introduced their timeless anthem of insurgency "Get Up Stand Up" and "I Shot The Sheriff", which Eric Clapton covered and took to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974; Clapton's cover significantly elevated Bob Marley's international profile, the same year that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group.