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Bob - The early years

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM
An album cover showing a young Bob Marley (left), Peter Tosh (right) and Bunny Wailer. - Contributed

The month of February is just three days away and romantic lovers, music lovers and the culturally conscious are preparing themselves in various ways, depending on their individual persuasions and aspirations, for the many events and anniversaries that dominate that month.

It is an incontrovertible fact that that 28- or 29-day period, which represents the shortest month, of the year, quite ironically is packed, more than any other month with some of the most significant events.

The month has been designated Reggae Month, Black History Month, Heart Month and Lovers Month, with Valentine's Day being the main focus. But probably, most importantly, from a musical standpoint, is the fact that it is the birth anniversary month of the two most illustrious reggae icons - Hon. Nester Robert Marley OM, the king of reggae music, and Dennis Emmanuel Brown OD, the crown prince of reggae music.

Two other icons of Jamaican music, the legendary Derrick Harriott OD and William 'Bunny Ruggs' Clarke of the Third World Band, also share birth anniversary dates with Marley.

With all due respect to the other individuals and the anniversaries mentioned, I decided to put the focus on Marley. His achievements have been well documented and exposed in so far as it concerns the Chris Blackwell years beginning in 1972 onwards.

But half of the story has seldom or never been told about his early years (1962-1969), and his recordings with the early Wailers - Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingstone, Peter Mcintosh, Junior Brathwaite, and Beverley Kelso.

Marley was in fact born Nester Robert Marley on Tuesday, February 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, St Ann, Jamaica, to the Jamaican woman Cedella Malcolm, and an English marine officer, Captain Norval Sinclair Marley. He attended the elementary school in the parish, along with Bunny Wailer his close friend, before moving temporarily to Kingston with his mother at age five to spend a year.

He returned to Kingston at age 10, attended Model Private School, Wesley, Ebenezer and St Aloysius.

Trench Town

In 1955, when Bob was still 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at age 70. Living with his mother, he grew up in the ghettos of Trench Town in Kingston's west end under tough conditions, which, no doubt, helped to shape his character at that early stage. But Bob had a mind of his own and showed from that early stage an inclination to lead.

After leaving school, he worked as a welder at Millards Welding Yard along South Camp Road in Kingston. His first love, however, was music, and in 1961 he wrote three songs Judge Not, One Cup Of Coffee, and Terror, which he recorded for producer Leslie Kong's Beverley's record label in 1962. Those he recorded under the name Bobby Martel.

These early songs attracted little attention. They really weren't Bob's vision and desire of pursuing or establishing a musical career, because he had often expressed a desire to unite his talent with that of his closest friend, Bunny Wailer and recruit other members to form a group. This desire developed in him because of his preference and love for harmony singing and his admiration for groups like The Impressions, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Platters, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and The Drifters, the superstar groups of that era.

With constant coaching by their mentor Joe Higgs, one half of the singing duo Higgs and Wilson, the quintet of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and recruitees Junior Brathwaite, Peter Tosh and Beverley Kelso, were ready for an audition which was arranged by a friend of the group Seiko Patterson with top producer Sir Clement 'Coxson' Dodd of Studio One, situated at 13 Brentford Road in Kingston.

The songs chosen for the audition were the best of the lot they had, namely - Simmer Down, I Don't Need Your Love, How Many Times and Straight and Narrow Way, the first three led by Bob and the last led by Junior.

The actual recording session took place the following day and the first one done was Simmer Down, performed by the quintet. It was Bob's first hit and went straight to No. 1 on the music charts in early 1964. The others were also passed and did favourably.

Bob followed up with numerous tracks, singing lead vocal on the recordings - Love And Affection, I'm Still Waiting, Rude Boy Ska, One Love - the original template on which the song of the 20th century was built. There was also Ska Jerk, What's New Pussycat, Put It On, Just Another Dance, Let Him Go, Lonesome Track, Mr Talkative, Love Won't Be Mine, Wings Of A Dove, Cry To Me, I Am Going Home, I Made A Mistake, Jailhouse, Christmas Time and Destiny.

Other tracks were recorded in a four -year stay at Studio One, but Simmer Down remains his most enduring ska work, and the recording that brought him to prominence. The group, The Wailers was reduced to a trio by 1965, when Brathwaite exited via the migration route, and Bev voluntarily dropped out. A long-time group aspirant, Cherry Smith, was earlier drafted to replace Brathwaite in order to retain the high pitch tone that he supplied, but she didn't last for long either, exiting after blending her voice in the recording Lonesome Feeling.

By late 1965, differences developed between Coxson and the group members over remuneration irregularities. It triggered the migration of Bob to Delaware in the United States in early 1966 where he worked and attended school. It was about this time in 1966, - February 10 to be exact, that Bob married Rita Anderson, a wedding that Bunny and Peter, his close friends knew nothing about or were invited to.

In the interim, Bunny, determined to maintain the integrity of the group, recruited Constantine Walker from the group - The Soulettes to replace Bob, and performed wonders with himself on lead vocals in the recordings Dancing Shoes and What Am I Supposed To Do, which were big hits in Jamaica in early 1967.

New ideas

Bob returned from the United States in late 1966 with new ideas for the progress of the group. Doing their own production was at the top of the agenda. This they did on their own label he called 'Wail and Soul'.

This new thrust produced hits like Bend Down Low, the first of the batch, Thank You Lord, Mellow Mood, Nice Time, Hypocrites, and the original cut of Stir It Up.

Bob performed briefly, along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer for Beverley's records in 1969, and also had an association with Lee 'Scratch' Perry's Upsetter label, for whom he did the very popular hits - Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror, and African Herbsman.

This body of work proved crucially important to Bob and The Wailers' future development, and was in fact the blueprint for his international success.

The Tuff Gong business and record label was also established and produced the perennial hits Trench Town Rock, Screw Face and Lively Up Yourself.

In December 1971, a recording deal was struck with music mogul Chris Blackwell that produced some eight albums that sold in the millions. This was the turning point in Bob's life, establishing him as an international superstar, and probably the most popular Jamaican ever.

The group members Bob, Peter and Bunny went their separate ways after recording the second album for Blackwell, titled Burning.

Bob then included Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths, to do backing vocals, reconfigured his band and continued operating under the name Bob Marley and The Wailers for the remaining albums.