Profile and Interview by Vivien Goldman
Photographs from the 1977 Exodus Tour
I seem to be sharing a lot of Vivien Goldman on this blog. It’s not by design. Vivien just found a way to present reggae music and its artists in such a way that no one else could. She became a member of Marley’s inner circle in the late 1970s while he was living in London and recording his masterpiece, Exodus.
She has written several books about this period in her life, my favorite being “The Book of Exodus: the Making and Meaning of Bob Marley & the Wailers‘ Album of the Century” (Three Rivers Press). You’d be doing yourself a huge service to pick up anything she penned on The Wailers or on reggae in the 1970s. Please visit her website at http://viviengoldman.com/.
Today, I share with you a profile and interview she penned for Sounds. It’s a really interesting look inside Marley’s inner circle in 1977. The world of Exodus. In 1977, Exodus was everything, and everything was Exodus.
MOVEMENT OF JAH PEOPLE
Vivien Goldman, Sounds, 28 May 1977
ISN’T IT A NICE feeling… isn’t it a nice day…isn’t it a nice feeling…” Bob Marley croons, strumming on an acoustic guitar. He’s glowing, planted on the neutral modern sofa, in this sunlit hotel room.
Outside the sliding plate-glass windows there’s a balcony. Stand on the balcony and the river Isar rushes in a yellow froth far below, bubbling through spans of green leafy trees. We’re in – where are we again? Oh yeah. Munich. The Hilton.
It’s because, for example, Family Man never knows where the hell we are, that the Wailers travel in such a tight, closed unit. A real family on the road. It could be, and usually is, anywhere outside, but the Wailers world is secure. A mobile Jamdown in a Babylon. European Dread.
Looking around this light, spacious living-room of the corner suite, some of the family are taking their ease. This Saturday a.m. is brilliant. There’s a natural mystic flowing through the air, and everything happens crystal clear, because it’s Saturday morning, and it’s a day off the bus.
And everybody’s either singing, beating time on a coffee table, or just aware of the sweet music dancing like sunlight through the room. You can hear the river bubble, the hissing wind through the trees, you can hear the distant sound of cars on the highway, and above it all you can hear Bob singing this tune, mellow as the river, fresh/free as the wind.
The melody swirls like incense in the air, interlocking everyone into a mood of peaceful i-nity, breathing in synchompatibility. The tennis on the colour T.V. is turned down low. The positive vibrations are turned up higher than high. Photographer Kate Simon says, “Now I’m gonna shoot some black and white,” firmly switching cameras.
“Hey sister,” someone interrupts, “Why dontcha shoot some black and black. No offence.”
“That’s cool,” Kate says brightly, beaming like she’s just scored the cover of the National Geographic, “I’ll see what I can do.” And shoots off another dozen pics while she speaks. And when that film’s developed, there it’ll be, black on black.
Roland Kirk called it Blacknuss, playing just the black notes on the piano to make sweet rebel music, telling his brothers and sisters not to worry ’bout a thing, ‘cos every little thing’s gonna be alright.
Bob Marley and the Wailers call it Rastafari. “We know where we’re going, we know where we’re from, we love in Babylon” (‘Exodus’)
I’VE BEEN on the road with all kinds of bands, and so’s Kate, but never on a tour quite as hermetically sealed as the Wailers. Mick Cater, the man- on-the-road from Alec Leslie who set up the tour (very efficiently, I might add,) had this to say:
“It’s easy to arrange a Wailers tour. All they want is a room where they can be left alone to eat their ital (natural) food, and not be hassled. The only reason why they’re staying in Hiltons and expensive hotels like that is because they’re the only places with private kitchens.”
The Wailers follow the Rastafarian way, they like everything to be natural. And what’s a more natural part of life than FOOD? Right! Where other bands hit the night-spots, the Wailers chow down.
The Wailers are the exact reverse of junk food junkies. You can’t imagine Family queuing up at the Blue Boar for a plate of egg and chips, it just doesn’t work that way. No, the Wailers have Gilly and Inez in i-fficial green/yellow tour jacket ON THE BUS to take care of their stomachs.
Gilly looks like a cross between a swashbuckling seafaring man and a giant doorman from the Arabian Nights, with scimitar and turban. He rolls as he walks, and he has a way of looming over you as he talks that can be almost alarming. At gigs, he positions himself by Tyrone’s keyboards at the side of the stage, stepping solemnly in his imposing solar topee. Then he rushes to the kitchen and concocts those fabulous, indecipherable Jamaican brews. Standing sternly over the blender, he adds a splat of red, a smidgeon of brown, and whirrrrrrrs. Yumyumyum. What’s this, Gilly?
“This life protoplasm, mon.”
Seen. Not much answer to that, is there?
Like everybody connected with the Wailers, he’s fiercely loyal and protective. Inez was almost reduced to tears when she arrived at the Heidelberg hotel and found NO KITCHEN. (Turns out they had space reserved in the main hotel cookery, so everything, of course, turned out to be ALRIGHT. Don’t worry ’bout a thing.)
Neville Garrick, the Wailers’ willowy art director bred’rens hovers on the blender, eyes glued to the Life Protoplasm. As soon as the first lot’s done, he knocks a glass back, then says, “Where’s the skip?” and sprints solicitously off with the machine to ensure that Bob gets a generous dose of the life-giving juices.
Bob’s a man who spent a good few formative years being ripped off, and the result is, as Mick Cater said, “Where business is concerned, Marley doesn’t trust anybody. That’s the only way to be.”
Members of Marley’s entourage took the accounts of the last tour away from Alec Leslie’s offices for inspection before this tour. (AL Enterprises weren’t obliged to show the books, but they did quite happily.) Marley representatives cover every aspect of the money-gathering procedure – double-checking. And on this tour, everybody’s on the case.
Kate and I were sitting in back-up singers, the I Three’s, room one night – they share a room together on the road, kind of like the Girls Dorm – Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths were lounging around on the gilded beds, offering us delicious cold spicy chicken they’d saved over from supper.
Rita’s small, dark and lithe, with a cheeky snub nose and a warm, urchin’s smile. She was tidying away her clothes in a big cardboard drum she travels with, folding tops and skirts away. A red-green-gold Ethiopian lion flag drapes over the mock Louis Quinze lampshade, softening the light. They’ve made this baroque one-night stop-over room look homely, inviting.
I tell them how much I enjoy watching them onstage – they always look like they’re having a party going on in the corner of the stage, looking at each other, whispering between numbers and laughing, generally vibing each other up while they sing those frighteningly perfect-to-the-point-of- sublime harmonies.
Then towards the end of the set, perhaps during ‘Lively Up Yourself’, Bob dances over to them and flings an arm over Judy’s shoulders, swinging his hips against hers, eyes closed in concentration, singing along with them – “yes, lively up yourself,” … and sure enough, Judy, who all through the set has been performing with exquisite purity (tongue delicately poking out in concentration as she swings through the gun-shooting mime that accompanies ‘I Shot The Sheriff’) SPARKLES! even more. Marcia, pale moon-face serenely lovely, looks up and laughs. “Yes, we all brighten up when the big boss is around…”
And what she means by that is not that everyone suddenly starts working extra-hard when Marley’s at hand, just that his energy is inspirational. Serious t’ing, me a tell ya.
Kate said to Bob, “You know, Bob, when you smile it’s like seeing the sun come out.”
She’s right. It was like the sun emerging on the horizon when his head bobbed up behind Seeco’s seat on the bus when they brought out the champagne to celebrate Seeco’s birthday. The gnarled conga-player (he’s had a meteoric rise in the Wailers ranks – starting out as a roadie who kept on crashing out in the dressing-room, he was promoted to cook, but couldn’t, and finally metamorphosed into the nifty congas person he is) was grinning with shy pleasure, his girlfriend squirming with modest glee beside him, as the entire bus sang an affectionate, spirited HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him.
Neville says, “It’s funny, everyone has birthdays on this trip…”
Family’s sitting next to me, his usual blissed-out self, eyelashes curling tight over the swell of his cheek – and I comment on the – well, the nicer atmosphere on this bus.
“Yeah, mon,” Fams sighs happily, “there always is.” The bus moves on through the night, bearing an extraordinary cargo of talent. Movement of Jah people. Backtrack to the interview, London, 30th April 1977. As a man sow shall he reap and we know that talk is cheap (‘Heathen’).
Another bright Saturday, this time in Chelsea.
I’m climbing the white wrought-iron spiral staircase to Bob Marley’s eyrie. When my head reaches floor-level, I see him asleep after a hectic soccer game in the park, on the beige couch, legs dangling over the end in their faded khaki trousers, militant-style, one foot bandaged from a soccer mishap.
On the colour TV the Saturday afternoon sitcom is playing away to itself. The floor’s covered in cassettes, a bag of cashew nuts. The room basks in late Saturday stillness, light rippling through the trees outside in waves that wash over Bob asleep.
Hmmm. Asleep. What to do…
Just then, Bob looks round. Sees me. Closes his eyes again, as if to sort out whether he’s awake or asleep. Decides to be awake. Sorry to disturb you, Bob, but you said I could call by…“Na. cool. One minute…”
…and vanishes downstairs to collect his thoughts. Moments later he re-appears, and establishes himself cosily back on the couch, ready to talk…
“You see me here? The first thing you must know about me is that I always stand for what I stand for. Good? The second thing you must know about yourself listening to me, is that words are very tricky. So when you know what me a stand for, when me explain a thing to you, you must never try to look ‘pon it in a different way from what me a stand for.”
He’s an unusually participant interviewee, always asking me questions –
“What you think about now? How you feel in life? You feel like you gonna live, or you feel like you must die?…”
I feel … movement.
“You feel like you’re gonna live … that’s a good thing. You have people feel seh, yes bwaoy, they gonna die so nothing makes any difference …”
Basically, this interviewee’s as interested in checking out the interviewer as vice versa (and that’s unusual.) Reason being:
“Speaking truly, when people write about me, me no specially like it, y ‘know. Me no really deal with – make and break, that type of word. Whatever I have to say, I wouldn’t like it to be a personal thing, like what me think about meself.
“If you want to do some good, you should say some good things about rasta, so that people can get some enlightenment. “Like today, we talk kind of personal, I don’t come down on you really with blood and fire, earthquake and lightning, but you must know seh that within me all of that exists too…”
Marley’s keen to remind me that he’s not just a man, he’s a spokesman.
Patiently, he explains (“every writer same procedure”) that he no longer regards it as excusable when writers’ refer to His Majesty Haile Selassie as ‘deceased’; Jah Live, and Marley reckons that it’s about time, with the quantity that’s been written about Rasta, that everybody realised it.
A brief crosscut. Just ‘cos you’re a righteous man doesn’t mean you’re not human too. Two contrasting encounters illuminate Marley’s chemistry.
Munich. Marley’s manager, Don Taylor presents me with my first ever ceremonial bowl of steaming hot Irish Moss (a JA beverage). The city electric spreads out far down below, nothing but shadowy concrete hulks strung about with necklaces of sulphuric fluorescent light. Bob scans the Telegraph, then the Express (Jah only knows how they got here,) and tosses them aside. Sighs, puts his feet in their broken-down Roman sandals (plus bandaged toe – some injury) on the chrome ‘n’ glass table.
What’s new in the papers, Bob?
“Nothing, mon. Same thing every day.”
He moves closer up the table.
“You like that?”
Sure I do, it’s great. I can’t begin to imagine what it is, but there’s cinammon and nutmeg, it’s faintly acrid and faintly sweet … Bob’s eyes are twinkling.
“That’s good for ya…you know that?” His eyes twinkle. “Make your pom-pom wet.” London
I think it was the night they were mixing ‘Heathen’, Bob was sitting on a tall stool by the studio kitchen bar, holding forth about politics with Mikey Campbell, Trevor and some other breddas, locks piled into a towering natural wool hat. Suddenly he swings towards me, pinning me with his eyes.
“Why you no write about Africa?”
Well, Bob, as you know I write for Sounds and they’re a rock ‘n’ roll paper which tends to stick pretty darn close to music. “Seen.” Nodding, meditative, eyes downcast. Looks up. “And if you did write about it, the editors would probably take it out.” Back to the interview
Me love talk about Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, y’know,” he continues, extra-animated, “me feel stronger. Me feel like a celestial thing happen to me, yes mon. Me just feel – different. So, see it, there come a stage where I check that these writers purely defend Babylon, just a different pure bloodclaat BABYLON. Although dem smile at me and laugh at me every day…”
“Ten, twelve years me a sing – am I always gonna sing about aggression and frustration and captivity and all dem t’ing? Well now, you think it’s my pride to really keep on doing that? The thing is, that must end when it must end. Me no gwan sing ’bout dat. Me is ahead. Not A HEAD of a people,” he cautiously interrupts himself, mindful as ever of possible misinterpretations of arrogance, “but ahead of certain things.
“How long must I sing the same song? I must break it sometime, and sing ‘Turn The Light Down Low’, and deal with a woman, talk to some LADY, y’know?” He laughs again, jubilant as – well, as I am, listening to Exodus, the new Wailers album.
When I interviewed Bob, he wasn’t sure of the final running order of the album. He was unaware of the ‘hard/sweet’ contrast between the sides, but very aware of the shift towards overt romance in his music.
“After the shooting … me never want to … to just fink ’bout shooting. So me just ease up me mind and go in a different bag. What me stand for me always stand for. Jah is my strength.”
Things are very different now from the days over a decade ago when he, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailers and Beverley Kelso started out as the Wailing Wailers, cutting tracks that seem incongruous in relation to his present-day persona – ‘What’s New Pussycat’, for example.
“Yes, Coxon [Dodd] our first producer, he tell me a do that. We do all the Beatles, too – ‘And I Love Her’.” glancing up in amusement from where he’s lying on the couch.
“At the time, it no seem strange. ‘Cos we not really trained singers, y’know, we just like singing – learn harmony, like the sound …”
The memories linger on. The decade old ‘One Love’ re-appears on Exodus, and a new version of the equally old ‘Kaya’ is among the dozen odd tracks in the can for possible inclusion in the next album.
“Sometimes me just like record old songs,” Marley comments simply. “Yes, mon, we used to have some nice times singing …”
But in 1977, we’re dealing with forward movement. An onward, upward motion flowing like the breezy rhythms of ‘Jamming’ – “Yeah, ‘jamming in the name of the lord’.” Marley quotes softly, “You can be sure of that … ‘right straight from yard!”, (i.e. JA).
“Every song we sing come true, y’know,” he adds abruptly. “It all happen in real life. Some songs are too early, some happen immediately, but all of them happen. Burning and looting happen – so much time, it’s a shame. The curfew. Yeeeeees mon, everything happen.
“Same thing with ‘Guiltiness’. ‘These are the big fish that always try to eat up the small fish, they would do anything to materialise their every wish . ..’ You always have big fish, ‘cos they manufacture them. That’s all. I don’t have to sing no more song, just that one line – just, ‘guiltiness rest on their conscience…”‘
Sitting in the placid Chelsea comfort, as Marley intones the biting lyrics, I flash back to an equally placid night in Jamaica. The evening cool settled on Marley’s Hope Road home, many brothers and sisters crammed into the tiny bedroom beneath Family Man’s floor. Bob’s sitting on the single bed, legs crossed at the ankle, in frayed demin shorts, playing an acoustic guitar. He’s staring into the eyes of a pretty young fan who stares transfixed as he sings a song so resonant and moving I’m practically slithering through the floorboards – potent Biblical lyrics about big fish eating small fish, who eat the bread of sorrow every day…
I couldn’t forget the song, and when I heard it again eight months later, propped up against a brown-carpeted studio wall in West London, the slither-effect comes back with double force. All the magic and mystery of Jamaica returns – a naturally mystic land, where duppies (ghosts) are tangible as gunmen. So I don’t blink when Bob says, “JA one of the heaviest places in the West spiritually, regardless of what a go on,” and tells me about the ‘Three Little Birds’ of the song –
“That really happened, that’s where I get my inspiration.” Birds sang to Marley, “don’t worry ’bout a thing, ‘cos every little thing’s gonna be alright…
Marley’s sung similar positive messages before now, but this sounds strangely slick on first hearing, in its chirpy, nursery-rhyme setting.
“The people that me deal with in my music,” Marley replies confidently, “them know seh what I mean. People are gonna like that song, people that don’t even know about Rasta, and it will make them want to find out more.
“Like with that song, ‘Waiting In Vain’. That nice tune, mon, that from long time back. It’s for people who never dig the Wailers from long time, ‘cos dem just couldn’t relate. So, what I do now is a tune like ‘Waiting In Vain’ so dem might like it and wonder what a go on. A different light. It’s movement time.”
Family Man is the band leader. He’s called Family Man (going strictly on vibes this time,) because he’s the perfect image of a family man, warm sympathetic, easygoing, humorous … in fact, he’s got eight kids, so the name fits in more ways than one.
I remember wanting to meet him in Jamaica and Dirty Harry the horn player, telling me, “Just follow the music. You’ll always find Family there.”
He was absolutely right. At home in Kingston, Family breaks into a sturdy, stepping dance, arms swinging rhythmically, head bent gazing down at the expanse of floorboards in this big, square light room; the wall backing on to the verandah is lined with records, tapes, record, cassette, and reel-to-reel equipment; Family’s dancing by huge box speakers. A piano, mikes, guitars and basses, no other furniture (except a little three-legged stool by the Revox, for threading ease, and a fridge full of fruit).
In Chelsea, Family dances on plush neutral carpet in a smaller room full of Habitat-catalogue furniture, round white tables and a fitted white slatted cupboard with built-in sink, crinoline lampshade … Family counteracts the antiseptic Holiday Inn decor with – what else? – music. A mini-mixer between the speakers, singles all over the white lace bedspread, ‘Black Skin Boy’ lying top of the pile … marked contrast to Bob’s portable mini- cassette machine.
And on the bus, Family’s toasting along to his massive portable cassette; a huge ends upturned grin slicing his silky apple cheeks, just like the man in the moon. He toasts and sings along to Dillinger’s ‘Bionic Dread’, the Meditations, Culture, ‘The Aggrovators Meet The Revolutionaries’, Rico’s ‘Man From Wareika’, and lots of rocker 45’s.
In the studio. Family takes control. You think he’s asleep, leaning back in the padded swivel chair, with hands folded on his turn. Then oh-so- slowly, he leans forward, eyes half-closed, rests a well-shaped finger on an echo button and pushes briefly. The music shifts, deepens, as Family closes his eyes with a satisfied half-sigh, and folds his hand on his turn again, settling back into meditating on the music like a shiny black Buddah.
And outside, Bob’s playing table football.
The table football machine’s a welcome variant in the on-the-road staples of life: food and colour T.V. The patterns repeat, like Wagnerian leitmotifs – after a while it seems like one long round of watching a Clint Eastwood movie on TV (when a hapless soldier falls from the top of a building in flames, Neville cries exuberantly, “See it deh: Catch A Fire!”, and everybody yells “EXODUS!” when the prisoners escape from the dungeons …) while tucking into ackee and saltfish and dumplings ‘n’ drinking that Life Protoplasm … so the table football machine becomes a cathartic mirror for the emotions of the day. When everything’s going well, when a track’s near completion, Bob plays a keen attacking game.
“Come, Aswad,” he shouts, “I-man gonna’ mash up all o’ dem!’ Angus Gaye jumps to the table, and balls fly towards the coffee dispenser as they rock the machine. At 5.30 in the morning, when ‘Jamming’ is into what seems its 18th mix, Bob muffs shot after shot. He’s tense; he can’t understand why every track takes so long to mix … “Energy low”, he mutters, as he turns away.
Other nights the energy’s so high it seems as if the whole studio’s about to fly on wings to the sky. Chris Blackwell says, “Call the skip, now,” and someone fetches Bob. Standing on the platform behind the mixing desk, arms folded against the wall behind him, Bob shuts his eyes and listens intently to the final mix of ‘Exodus’.
Suddenly his eyes snap into superlife; he beams, he shines with joy. It’s almost Jekyll and Hyde, Bob dances, transfigured, flinging himself in the free, athletic, MOTION that thrills onstage. Even here in the dark basement studio, it’s as if a Northern Lights aura throbs round every move. Everyone in the studio’s exultant, it’s a moment of triumph. Could anyone but a geriatric basket case with severe arthritis refuse this invitation to dance, dance, dance?
The ‘Exodus’ party carries over quite naturally to the stage. The band are called back (invariably; they’re magnificent) and perform a ravishing ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, that has the entire audience swaying in mass ecstasy, them the beat shifts to the intense pulse of ‘Exodus’, shaking the air like the tread of an army crossing the desert to Africa, to freedom, irresistible as the flow of the Nile to the sea.
Marley trembles like a pillar of fire on the stage, thundering a challenge that’s a command.
“OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK WITHIN, ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE LIFE YOU’RE LIVING, WE KNOW WHERE WE’RE GOING, WE KNOW WHERE WE’RE FROM, WE LIVE IN BABYLON, WE’RE GOING TO OUR FATHER’S LAND – SEND US ANOTHER BROTHER MOSES FROM ACROSS THE RED SEA …
“MOVEMENT OF JAH PEOPLE!”
BY VIVIEN GOLDMAN, SOUNDS, 28 MAY 1977
David Burnett Photographs
From his book “Soul Rebel: An Intimate Portrait Of Bob Marley“
I have included several photos from the 1977 tour. The photos are owned and copyrighted by the photographer, David Burnett. They are published in his most excellent book “Soul Rebel: An Intimate Portrait Of Bob Marley.”