Robert Nesta Marley came into the world on 6th February 1945 in Nine Miles, a small village St. Ann, the largest of Jamaica's fourteen parishes, situated on the island's central north coast, and it was there that he spent his early years, far from hustle and bustle of city life. The sole offspring of a union between a young Afro-Jamaican, Cedella and a middle-aged white man named 'Captain' Norval Sinclair Marley, 'Bob' was quickly deserted by his wayward father, leaving his 18 year-old mother the responsibility of raising the child alone. As a result, much of his early childhood was spent under the supervision of family members or friends, but when, in 1957, Cedella settled in a one-room apartment at 19 Second Street in Trench Town, Kingston, Bob finally found a home that provided a degree of stability. And it was here that he was to spend the remainder of his formative years.
Housing much of Kingston's under-privileged population, Trench Town was by this time a hotbed of creative talent, with many of its residents instrumental in the development of the island's burgeoning the music industry. None more so of course, than Bob himself, and while international stardom was still a long way off, he was already showing signs of his performing talents. As the years went by, the growing youth was exposed to a rich variety of sounds, from the local gospel Mento and Calypso songs to the more sophisticated stylings of American Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Country and Jazz, all of which poured forth from the myriad radio sets strung around neighbourhood yards. This array of styles served to shape the Bob's developing musical tastes, and when he began attending the evening music sessions held by local Rastafarian singer-songwriter, Joe Higgs on Third Street, he found a mentor capable of harnessing his raw, nascent talent.
Higgs was already an established figure on the local music scene, having enjoyed considerable success over the past few years, partnering Roy Wilson on a number of hits, and his evening tutorials were to leave a profound impression on many young hopefuls in the area. Bob would usually attend these educational gatherings in the company of Neville 'Bunny' Livingston (b. 23rd April 1947) whom he had befriended in St. Ann, and whose father was now romantically involved with Cedella. Another teenager drawn to the sessions was a tall, gangly youth called Peter McIntosh (19th October, 1944), a newcomer to the area who had recently moved from Denham Town in West Kingston.
Peter was the owner of a real, if somewhat battered guitar and rudimentary playing skills greatly impressed Bob and Bunny, with who be soon began harmonising, both during and after the tutorials. Before long, the trio had formed a group with three more youngsters from the sessions: Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith, the sextet initially calling themselves the aptly named 'Teenagers', then the 'Six Teens', before finally settling on the more enduring 'Wailers'.
By now, Bob had completed his schooling and was working as an apprentice welder, but an accident that almost left him blind in his right eye, convinced the youth he should pursue the seemingly safer, if less financially dependable career of singer-songwriter. It seemed a shrewd move when soon after, he came to the attention of popular local singer and Beverley's Records A&R scout, Derrick Morgan, who had already been responsible for unearthing two previous unknown talents for his employer: Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker. Morgan recognised in Bob a potential for greatness and a subsequent session at Federal studios resulted in the youngster cutting four original compositions: 'One Cup Of Coffee', 'Judge Not', 'Do You Still Love Me', and 'Terror'. While the latter remained unissued, none of the remaining three sides sold locally and just weeks after fulfilling his dream of becoming a recording artiste, Bob was dropped from the Beverley's roster.
The failure convinced him the best chances of success lay with his fellow Wailers, who by now had been groomed into a cohesive vocal unit by Higgs and fellow music tutor, Alvin 'Seeco' Patterson. It was in fact was the latter who towards the close of 1963 arranged for the sextet to audition for leading Kingston producer, Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, a man with a reputation for possessing the keenest ears in the business. Impressed by what he saw and heard, Dodd promptly had drawn up a five-year contract, to which the six elated teenagers hastily put their names.
A session at Dodd's newly opened 'Studio One' in Brentford Road, Kingston followed soon after, but within weeks, Cherry Smith was dismissed for 'unprofessional behaviour', while Braithwaite emigrated to the US, his departure leaving the way open for Bob to assume the mantle of lead vocalist - a role he rarely relinquished over the years that followed.
The first song recorded by the new, Wailers quartet was 'Simmer Down', which upon release promptly became a best-seller, and the first in a run of hits that ensured the Wailers were rarely out of the Jamaican charts. Over the next year or so, the group cut over a hundred different titles for the producer, while also providing backing vocals on numerous other acts signed to Dodd's Studio One operation.
It was also during this period that Bob first met and befriended Alvarita (Rita) Anderson, a pretty teenager who for the past year or so had fronted the Soulettes, an all female vocal trio also signed to Dodd's roster of artistes. Rita and Bob's friendship quickly blossomed into romance and on February 10th 1966, the pair cemented their relationship by marrying at a friend's house in Trench Town. It was a marriage immediately put on hold, as the very next day Bob left Jamaica for Wilmington, Delaware, planning to settle in the city before sending for his new bride.
Meanwhile, as bob began work at the Chrysler car assembly plant in Newark, the remaining Wailers continued to perform and record in Jamaica, achieving moderate degrees of success with a number of Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh-led singles. But more significant to the group's long-term future was a state visit on April 21st 1966 of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopian. The Regent's arrival on Jamaican soil sparked mass celebrations on the island, most notably among the small but devout Rastafarian community that regarded the royal personage to be Christ born again. As his cavalcade drove through the massed Kingston streets, Bob's new wife caught sight of the Emperor waving to the crowds, seeing what she believed to be the 'stigmata' embedded in the palm of his hand. She wasted little time telling Bob of the experience, initially in a letter and subsequently in person, after travelling to Delaware a few months later. Inspired by her story and fearing his draft into the US army, the homesick singer abandoned his American dream and returned to his homeland, where he soon befriended Mortimer Planner, a devout Rastafarian who, over the ensuing months taught the singer of his beliefs.
By now, Bob and his fellow Wailers had decided greater autonomy was essential for full creative control of their work, and so it was that around the close of 1966, they left Dodd's employ to launch their own Wail 'N' Soul 'M' label. Sales of the initial release on the imprint, 'Bend Down Low', were impressive, spurring the group to produce further sides, but despite the quality of the subsequent releases, distribution difficulties resulted in the label quickly running into financial difficulties and, by the end of 1968, the project had been all but abandoned. Throughout much of this time, the group had been signed to JAD, a independent record company owned by American singer, Johnny Nash, entrepreneur Danny Sims and arranger, Arthur Jenkins, all of whom were keen to make the most of the group's talents as songwriters and performers. Despite the best of intentions, however, only Marley's 'Stir It Up' resulted in mainstream success, and that for Nash, rather than the Wailers.
Aside from their JAD work, the trio also freelanced for a number of local producers, although laudable singles for Edward 'Bunny' Lee, Vincent Chin, Ted Powder and Leslie Kong failed to reverse their flagging fortunes and their career remained firmly in the doldrums. But that was soon to change…
The group had first met Lee 'Scratch' Perry during their sojourn with 'Coxson' Dodd, at which time the 'Upsetter' had been employed as something of a jack-of-all-trades, with his roles including songwriter, recording artist, arranger and talent spotter. His departure from Dodd's employ had coincided with that of the Wailers and over the years that immediately followed he had worked for a number of operators, before eventually launching Upsetter Records in 1968. A number of significant hits had followed, including the international best seller, 'Return Of Django', and by the time he was reunited with Bob, Peter and Bunny, he was firmly established as one of Kingston's leading independent producers.
According to Scratch's own accounts, his first collaboration with the Wailers was 'Try Me', although the track initially remained unissued, while 'My Cup' from the same session was released. Although the latter failed to sell, it marked the start of a working relationship that within months produced some of the most enduring Reggae recordings of all time. The first of these was the magnificently broody 'Duppy Conqueror', issued in the summer of 1970. Its release marked a turning point in the group's fortunes, as over the ensuing months, they turned from also-rans to front-runners, cutting a series of classics, that included 'Soul Rebels', '(Who Is) Mr Brown' and 'Four Hundred Years', with the former providing the title for their first album to receive an international release - 'Soul Rebels'. The trio's run of hits continued well into 1971, with notable sides including 'Sun Is Shining', 'Small Axe', 'Kaya' and 'African Herbsman', all of which were gathered on a second Scratch-produced album, 'Soul Revolution'. These seminal recordings not only re-established Bob Marley & the Wailers as Jamaica's leading vocal group, they also led to the group acquiring a firm following in the UK, where the bulk of their material saw issue on Trojan's own Upsetter imprint.
Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, the Wailers launched Tuff Gong, a label that in time would grow into an internationally successful enterprise. Their subsequent rise to global stardom has of course been well documented and needs not be repeated in detail here, but suffice to say, after finding themselves stranded in the UK in 1972, the group signed to Island Records as the long-term replacements to the company's premiere Jamaican act, Jimmy Cliff. An advance of £4,000 paid to them by Chris Blackwell funded their groundbreaking 'Catch A Fire' album, the first collection of Reggae recordings to be marketed specifically for a white audience. Its subsequent success provided the platform for even greater glories and marked the beginning of the globalisation of Reggae music. Sell-out European and American tours followed, but following the release of the critically acclaimed album, 'Burnin'', Bunny and Peter quit the group, leaving Bob as the only original member in the new-look Wailers. Eventually, he enlisted his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt - collectively known as the I Threes - as long-term vocal replacements, and while both Peter and Bunny went on to become successful solo stars in their own right, it was Bob who led the way in 'outernationalising' the sound of Jamaica.
And he continued to spread the message of Reggae and Rasfarianism around the globe throughout the remainder of the seventies, before his career came an abrupt halt. After collapsing while on the American leg of a world tour in September 1980, Bob was diagnosed with cancer, a disease he battled bravely against for the next year or so. But on May 11th 1981, he finally lost his struggle and tragically passed away at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Miami, aged just 36. Six years later, on 11th September 1987, Peter Tosh was gunned down during a robbery in his Kingston home, leaving Bunny Livingston as the only surviving member of the classic Wailers line-up.