Natty Dread In Babylon: Bob Marley Interview 1975

My good friend and avid Bob Marley collector and historian Marco Virgona is a regular contributor to the Midnight Raver blog.  Today, he donated this 1975 interview to the archives. 

Marco is partial owner of www.bobmarleymagazine.com, the best site on the web for finding information on Bob Marley.

This interview was published in the Ann Arbor Sun on June 20, 1975.  Enjoy!

Click here to read interview from the Ann Arbor Sun.

Bob Marley 1975

© Neville Garrick

Back-A-Yaad With Bob Marley: Interview 1979

Today I share with you another brilliant piece by noted music journalist Vivien Goldman.  This interview with Bob Marley was conducted at Marley’s home at 56 Hope Road.  The interview was initially published in Melody Maker on August 11, 1979.

Vivien Goldman is, without a doubt, my favorite music journalist.  She covered Marley like no other because she really had a deep love for the man and his message.  This is abundantly clear in each of her pieces.  This is the most in-depth and detailed interview ever conducted with Marley.  Enjoy!

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Bob Marley:  In His Own Backyard
By Vivien Goldman
Melody Maker, August 1979

AS YOU drive through the white-pillared gates into the grounds of 56 Hope Road, the first thing you notice is that the road doesn’t have any holes. Even here, uptown in New Kingston, the road surfaces are pitted and scarred, as if someone had scratched their spots; great boulders are kicked casually into the gutter. All the damage, we’re told, is because of the recent flood; but the fact remains that in Bob Marley’s yard, the tarmac is new, shiny, and unblemished.

One side of the house is a big record shop, in an airy room. There are “Babylon By Bus” and “Rat Race” and “Tuff Gong” tie-dye T-shirts hanging on the walls, the most Western-style merchandising techniques I’ve ever seen in Jamaica. There’s even a fanzine section on the counter, selling the Wailers fan club booklet, including ital recipes, and Rasta Voice magazine.

The Tuff Gong outfit is ensconced in what used to be Bob Marley’s house. Other Wailers also used to live in the white mansion. The pillars at the front of the drive still say Island House – that’s because before Marley took over, it was Island Record‘s HQ. They don’t have a a Jamaican base any more; in its place, Marley’s own record company.

The yard has become a car park. While the whole island is full of cannibalised cars, bits of cars grafted onto other cars, as car and spare-part import bans reduce the available transport still further, there’s a remarkably high collection of new, functional cars – including the BMW, the Wailers’ favourite motorised vehicle (just check the initials).

The “straight” world of Jamaica is still making life difficult for the Dreads, but here at ex-Island House it’s Rasta Country. Men and women sit on the steps, lean up against trees; Tuff Gong Records is obviously where the action is in Kingston these days.

INSIDE THE house is the ultimate proof that Marley, the local boy made good, is bringing it back home. A 24-track studio – there’s only one other on the island, at Harry J’s. Channel One has only just gone up from four to 16 tracks.

And what a studio. Very small, but the style…someone says it looks like Miami’s Criteria Sound, but my terms of reference tell me that the stripped pine walls are strictly West Coast style. More roots; reggae has gone well international.

In the control room, watching the vertical strips of light that indicate the recording levels on each track flickering up and down, are Bob Marley and his brothers and sisters. Alex Sadkin has flown in from Miami to work with Bob, and Tuff Gong has poached Treasure Isle’s engineer, Errol Thompson. They’re mixing a new song: “Step it natty, step it inna – Zimbabwe…soon we’ll find out who is – the real revolutionary…”

Marley takes time out to talk. We go round the house, through a big beautifully-carved wooden door, into an office. And that means a regular, Western-style office with new office furniture, even IBM typewriters, and phones with intercom systems.

It’s astonishing how much more direct and militant your new tunes are than Kaya…

This is getting to the point. What they said about Kaya is true, but you can’t show aggression all the while. To make music is a life that I have to live. Sometimes you have to fight with music. So it’s not just someone who studies and chats, it’s a whole development. Right now is a more militant time on earth, because it’s Jah Jah time. But me always militant, you know. Me too militant. That’s why me did things like Kaya, to cool off the pace.

If you were interested in being heard by an international market, maybe they were frightened off by militant music…

Of course, especially the parents.

Did you feel under pressure to record for the States market, for example?

To tell you the truth, I don’t even think that way. I just think more of an inner creativeness. Inna my chest. I don’t make a tune specially for this and this; if the feeling comes nice into my soul according to a certain vibration – me no really a prostitute. Me just respect people like Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan for how they do with themselves. They respect their own talent, that means where they are and who they are. It’s that that people have to want, you dig, ‘cos the people don’t want to be pleased, they want to please someone, you dig, it goes both ways. So it’s no use getting in this mechanical bag, because creativeness leave if you do that. That’s why plenty of artists come just for a time and then you hear no more of them, because them no really be themselves. Because when you are yourself, boy, that’s it, I think…

Were you ever annoyed at Rasta being used as a sales gimmick?

As far as I’m concerned the record company might try and show the people a gimmick – we don’t think we play at a place and tomorrow everyone is Rasta. It’s not like that. It grows. You never can tell which vision you’re going to get, or if God is going to call you. So Rastafari is God’s new name, Head Creator. Africa is the cornerstone to the realisation of people’s unity.

You just went to Africa for the first time, after trying to get a visa for ages. Was it like you’d imagined?

When I got there it was the same thing I felt about Africa here, the same as I’d always imagined it would be. But nicer.

How nicer?

Just nicer in terms of living, development, opportunity. When you go to Africa you see how useful you can be to mankind.

You mean they need a lot of help out there?

Not in respect of the material element. It’s like – Africa awaits its creators. It needs a lot of people who know how to do things. This is just a little studio. Africa is capable of plenty studios, but it’s up to who really wants to deal with it.

Some people in England regard Rasta as another offshoot of the colonial mentality, something that holds people down.

What one man thinks is great. But only a fool leans upon his one understanding. The truth is there. King Solomon and King David are the roots of black people and the roots of creation – they are Jacob’s people. So when a black man says that Rasta is colonialist, he’s turning it the other way in a sense of diplomacy, he’s putting down his own thing, because he’s learnt how to do it. Who teaches him? You dig what I’m saying?

Just like they say that it’s more important to confront the reality in England, for example, than to think of going to Africa.

I could agree with that, but why fight to stay in a place that’s dirty, where the rivers are polluted? Why stay in a place where if God shook two earthquakes, all these stones are gonna fall on you and kill you? Africa for Africans at home and abroad. Like England for English people, America for Americans, Asia for the Chinese…but we’re not saying that people can’t mix together. But this world is funny, because you claim you’re white and I claim I’m black, and we have a fight, because if you’re not sensible, it becomes a barrier. But the truth is the truth, your father’s name is Noah and my father’s name is Noah and Shem’s father’s named Noah, so we all three people come from Noah so we’re the same people. But right now it’s just a few who search out their roots.

Do you feel you could exert a lot of power in Jamaican politics?

Me can do a lot of things, anywhere.

But, for example, after Claudie Massop (one for the organisers of last year’s Peace Treaty in Kingston) was shot by the police, how did you feel about the Peace Concert?

I and I is RASTA, and the struggle continues.

But where do you struggle? Do you feel that a Rasta musician should never get directly politically involved?

I don’t involve myself. We don’t support either the JLP or the PNP. Rasta is different. Claudie was my brethren. And a lot more people. But we know that we are Rastafarians, that we have something to offer. We have the 12 Tribes of Israel, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Theocratic Government. If a youth wants to go out there and fight politics, he can go. We have something that demands rights if you stand where me stand. If you don’t do that, you’ll be dying in the streets with your dreadlocks on, because you’re not defending the thing you must defend. You can’t be strong, you must be a weakling. It’s just the truth. We defend His Majesty’s philosophy. It’s not political – it’s only words that make it political. It’s life – people – action.

When you sing about militancy what do you expect people to do?

I expect if you’re living by the gun, if gun is the fight, then FIRE gun. If where you come from, you fight with sticks and stones, then fight with sticks and stones. If the fight is spiritual, then fight spiritual, because everywhere the fight goes on. We don’t have any alternatives. If a man fights you with machine guns and you throw stones, then – machine gun for machine gun! So the struggle continues. A lot of people defend South Africa, some secretly, some openly. A lot of white people defend South Africa, and when you keep the black man down in South Africa you keep him down all over the earth. Because Africa is Solomon’s goldmine. So – war! Either I and I lives, or no-one lives. You know what the big fight is? It’s that black people – and only black people – mustn’t say the truth about Rasta.

I disagree – you can get lots of information about Rasta.

Of course, but say you love Rasta, and see a chance whereby mankind can set up something new to live by so that we can all say: THIS is how we want to live – the system won’t support that. If all the leaders were to get up tomorrow morning and say they defend Rasta, what do you think would happen? But all of them can get up tomorrow and die. (Rastas reject the concept of death, won’t attend funerals.)

In the mid-Sixties you worked in a car factory in Wilmington, Delaware. What was that like?

As a youth I was always active, never lazy. I learnt a trade, welding, so dealing with those things is part of my thing. I enjoy dealing with parts, part-work, and I never really mind because I just did it as much as I wanted to do it. Any time I felt fed up, I didn’t really look for a job. I come from country, and country is always good. You grow everything. You don’t really have to go out there and kill yourself to get a place or have money, you can eat and bathe and make clothes and build your own house, but in a strange land you can’t find a place or settle down to find a way to leave. The best way out is to organise and leave.

Do you regard Jamaica as a strange land?

Jamaica is a place we know, but the system change and it a gets strange. It just change, and get strange…because I’m tired of saying it, I and I are tired of saying this: RASTAFARI! I and I not trying to push myself; it’s just the truth, God knows…that’s why sometimes I don’t even bother to talk because it’s just a waste of time, but I still have the urge. But when I talk to People, it seems sometimes we’re not on the same wavelength. From Pope Paul’s time, we knew we’d be under pressure. White man doesn’t have any sympathy with Rasta, but he has to hear that, and perish in his own fornication that he deals with, his own fuckery and his own atomic and his own S.A.L.T….(Marley’s voice sneers – he’s referring to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, and punning it with salt, which Rastas are forbidden to eat according to their dietary laws.) We haven’t really come to save the white nation. But they are some of the people on earth, and they have to hear the truth. The white man has nothing he can give us, you know – only death. That’s why I & I is Rasta, because we know death has nothing against I & I.

But you’re working within those white man’s systems. Would you have got to be an international star if Chris Blackwell (head of Island Records) was a black man?

Watch me. If I wasn’t capable of being something…Chris Blackwell didn’t help me. I had to work hard while Blackwell flew out and enjoyed himself. But he had the contacts at the time that we felt we needed, and perhaps we did. But Blackwell did a lot for himself. I remember a time when he had 19 Jamaican acts signed, and before my days he wouldn’t touch one. The pressure of the way we had to work was why the Wailers (Marley’s referring to the trio of himself, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone) didn’t agree, because we didn’t get any help, we were out on tour under some steep conditions that first time…because if it was my raasclaat I’d have blown up the whole earth already, with its corruption. It’s just pressure from all sides, we’re born to get pressure, we come upon the earth to get pressure. You get pressure from your family, pressure from strangers, pressure from all over. So you’ve got to be mindful.

One of the biggest pressures on you is being THE international reggae messenger. That’s why I felt ‘Running Away’, where you defended yourself against people accusing you of doing that when you left Jamaica for Miami after they tried to shoot you, was Kaya’s most penetrating, sincere track.

People don’t understand that we live in this earth, too. We don’t sing these songs and live in the sky. I don’t have an army behind me. If I did, I wouldn’t care, I’d just get more militant. Because I’d know, well, I have 50,000 armed youth, and when I talk, I talk from strength. But you have to know how you’re dealing. Maybe if I’d tried to make a heavier tune than ‘Kaya’ they would have tried to assassinate me because I would have come too hard. I have to know how to run my life, because that’s what I have, and nobody can tell me to put it on the line, you dig? Because no-one understands these things. These things are heavier than anyone can understand. People that aren’t involved don’t know it, it’s my work, and I know it outside in. I know when I am in danger and what to do to get out. I know when everything is cool, and I know when I tremble, do you understand? Because music is something that everyone follows, so it’s a force, a terrible force. Someone like me, now – if I want to be a loudmouth, I’m a loudmouth, and someone can come out one day and BOOGAAAA! – shoot me. So, I’m a loudmouth – and then I’m cool. Then I’ll come out again. So someone might say, Yes, we have to defend this youth, because he deals with the right things, or else I go – WAWAWAWAWAAAAAAA! And one day – know what I mean? But I am a man that can sing any song, because I can never change. I’ve even tested myself to see if I can change, and there is no change.

I don’t know what you mean – everyone changes, all the time.

When I sing a tune like ‘Kaya’, do I change? No. I’m more…wickeder! That’s how the earth gets tricked. There are a lot of people just come upon the train, and me just say, right, it’s this direction I’m going in, let’s see who follows me, and who does their own thing. So I just say “KAYA!” and everybody just goes so, and now I come back and say “BLACK SURVIVAL!” and – pure idiots, all they do is follow. Not one of them is a leader, they’re all followers. So I hear people say, Bob Marley’s gone soft, all he is, is a traitor to Bob Marley’s cause. But how could they know who Bob Marley is, and how could Bob get soft? Bob grow inna this thing, the things that Bob sings about are his life, it’s how he lives. I couldn’t get any education that could change my way of thinking, you dig? I live the way I live. My struggle can never ever change. If it could have changed, it already would have, because I’ve been everywhere. I live in Miami the same way I live in Jamaica. But people don’t understand that we’re in contact with our own people, everywhere we go, our people come. It’s not the place, it’s the people. In Miami, my brethren are there, same way. So it’s not a feeling like children waiting for Christmas, we’re just natural people, soldiers, we just live a war every day. Because just imagine being a Rasta in this world which doesn’t like Rasta. We could be enjoying being something else, but no. We say – “WE ARE RASTA!”

How come you’re aware of the danger of being assassinated when you say there’s no such thing as death?

Hold on, now. You think you can go out there and lay down in front of the car and let it run over you? If I go outside and see the big bus coming and put my head underneath it, what do you think will happen?

Your head will be crushed. And what will you be then?

(yells) DEAD! This is where people make a mistake. They say that the flesh doesn’t value anything, but that’s the biggest lie. This flesh is what you’ve got, what God put inside you is your life. That’s the way I think, that’s the way I’m organised, because I don’t stray from my roots, and my roots is God. But sister, I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying a man can be dead in his flesh and his spirit still lives, but I respect my flesh too, and I know my spirit and what it’s like…

So when you say you don’t believe in death…

(firmly) I don’t believe in death neither in flesh nor in spirit.
But I don’t understand, because one minute you’re saying you don’t believe in death, and the next minute you say you’ll be shot, and…

Yes, but you have to AVOID it! Some people don’t figure it’s such a great thing, they don’t know how long they can preserve it.  Preservation is the gift of God, the gift of God is life, the wages of sin is death. When a man does wickedness he’s gone out there and dead.

Oh, I thought you felt death didn’t exist at all.

Death does not exist for me. I truly know God. He gives me this (life) and my estimation is: if he gives me this, why should he take it back? Only the Devil says that everybody has to die.

Someone from Inner Circle told me that the money from the Peace Show never got to all the right people. Did you know about that?

All I know is that it went to everyone that wanted it. Too much people involved, too much people have too much thing to say and they don’t know anything. So many people go on about how they’re roots, and when did you last see them in the ghetto? They hide from the ghetto, they’re not in contact.

But you must find it difficult to keep in touch with the ghetto…

(incredulous) Find it difficult? Watch now. You look into my yard. It’s a ghetto. This is a ghetto you’re looking at. Look out there. I’ve just brought the ghetto uptown. My thing is, why must I stay in one place every day of my life, and all the days of my life I have to run from the police? Look in any other yard along the road and see if you see any one of my brethren out there in any other yard. When I lived in the ghetto, every day I had to jump fences, police trying to hold me, you dig? So my job all the while was to try to find one place where the police wouldn’t run me down too much. So I don’t want to stay in contact with the ghetto, in contact with the ghetto means in contact with a prison, in contact with everything that’s bad all the while, not the people. When the law comes out, they send them into the ghetto first, not uptown. So how long does it take you to realise – boy, well they don’t send them uptown, y’know! So we’ll make a ghetto uptown. EVERY DAY I jumped fences from the police, for YEARS, not a week. For YEARS. So me get afraid now, me have to make some type of move. You either stay there and let bad people shoot you down, or you make a move and show people some improvement. Or else I would take up a gun and start shoot them off and then a lot of youths would follow me, and they’d be dead the same way. I want some improvement. It doesn’t have to be materially, but it can be freedom of thinking.

But the material things have helped you to spread a little bit of freedom out to a few people, but it hasn’t helped all the people in the ghetto. Don’t you think that only more direct political action can do that?

Something more direct would be if Queen Elizabeth would take her raas away from Jamaica, take away her Constitution, call away those ways of life they have down here.

I thought that was supposed to happen when Jamaica became independent.

But it never happened. We still have a Governor-General. No one gives Jamaica people a chance, that’s why we say that the earth is corrupted and everyone has to die and leave we. It’s a selfish way of thinking, but… (mutters) fuck it…how long will they pressure we? We are the people who realise the place where they thieved us from, so we say, AH, you took us from there, AH, this is what we are. But they still tell us, no, no, this is what you are! This is what you must be…This yard (house), they call it Freedom Ground. Hardly anything can happen here. The greatest thing that could happen would never happen, so you could say God has we for a purpose and a reason.

‘Ambush In The Night’ contains the clearest references you’ve ever made to colonialism.

(absently) We always try. There’s a lot of good music we have in there, a whole heap of good stuff…I don’t like to talk, because the way I talk, I don’t know if I can be understood. Or maybe somebody might understand me the wrong way. There’s only one thing we have to say, that is, we are Rastafarian people the same way some people are Catholic. Some people are this, some people are this. They always want to interview I and I, but they don’t want to know what we really want to say. It (Rasta) becomes unreal, like something we try and make…raas…truth is like food, man – when you say food you know you mean food, and when you say truth, same way. You know, Vivien, sometimes me no get over too straight, because you are a woman, and you see things…me understand how you see things, but I can’t please you by talking to make you feel pleased. Me just have to show you say – you have to be strong.

Since you’re always covering old tunes, I thought you should cover the tune ‘Rude Boy Get Bail’. It’s still so relevant.

Well, Bunny did that in ’66, when I was in America, but me did other rude boy songs – that rude bwaoy business, bad, bad music. Only them shouldn’t have said “rude boy”, them should have said “Rasta”. You dig me? But in them times, me didn’t know Rasta. Something was going on, you felt it, and didn’t know if you were bad bad or good good – then I understood it’s good, you’re good – it’s Rasta!

When, or what, made you realise it was Rasta, not rudeness?

What is there to benefit from badness? I wondered, I looked at it and thought, boy, bloodclaat, if I thump this man here I feel the contact too. And then I said, it’s the same God that lives in my hand lives in me, and that means that it’s not him I thump, it’s God I’m really thumping. So I used to wonder about this human feeling business…the whole thing is Rasta. The way I tell you, it’s a whole experience, but you break it down and it’s just – Rasta.

Did you used to play lots of gigs in the early days?

Not a lot, just like Christmas morning and Easter, we’d be there up at the Carib Theatre. But we was always the underground, always the rebels. We came from Trenchtown. So you’d hear about Byron Lee and all that society business, but we came from down so named WAILERS, from TRENCHTOWN. So we stay, and we’re glad of it. You’ve got to be someone.

So now you get society knocking on your door…

Turn them off. Tell them to come another day.

Which bit of your career has meant the most?

I love the development of our music, that’s what I really dig about the whole thing. How we’ve tried to develop, really try to understand what we’re trying to do, you know? It grows. That’s why every day people come forward with new songs. Music goes on forever.

BEFORE WE leave, Marley asks why I haven’t tried to interview Family Man (I have tried) or one of the other Wailers. “It’s always me who has to talk,” he says, “and I don’t dig it either, because it gets me into problems…”

© Vivien Goldman, 1979

Bob Marley 1979

www.bobmarleymagazine.com