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Bob Marley: Change Is Gonna Come

I present to you a brilliant article written by Andy Gill and published in the Mojo August 2002 edition.  The article describes the period from 1966-1973, when Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer penned many of the songs that would later catapult Bob Marley into super stardom.  It also discusses the relationship between Bob and Danny Sims and Johnny Nash, American musicians/producers/accused pirates.  I find it amusing that Danny Sims accuses Lee “Scratch” Perry of pirating Wailers material, when as I write this, Sims and Nash are accused of the same (and even worse) by Bunny Wailer.  I will not comment on the accusations of piracy, or the presumed guilt or innocence of the parties discussed in the article.  I simply present it as information for fans interested in this period of The Wailers’ development.

Click here to read the article on Issuu.

Peckham Manor Boys School, London

© Keith Baugh

Bob Marley: Change Is Gonna Come
Andy Gill, Mojo, August 2002

BY 1966, IT LOOKED LIKE THE WAILING WAILERS WERE FINISHED ON the Jamaican music scene. They had recorded numerous hits, eventually challenging The Maytals as the island’s top vocal group, but hadn’t seen too much return on their endeavours, thanks to music-biz conventions which left most of the power – and the rights, and the royalties – in the hands of producers.

The only solution was to try to raise enough money to start their own label, and retain the rights for themselves. Accordingly, in February 1966, shortly after marrying Rita Anderson, Bob Marley left Jamaica to go and live with his mother Cedella in Wilmington, Delaware. He’d work hard, make some money and when he returned, he vowed, things would be different.

As a Jamaican artist, Bob Marley had been round the block several times over before the rest of the world had heard of him, changing and adapting as the island’s music styles shifted from ska to rocksteady to roots reggae. Over the dozen years prior to his mainstream emergence with 1973’s Catch A Fire, he and The Wailers recorded literally hundreds of songs, many of them Marley’s own compositions – including a substantial number which, re-recorded for Island, would eventually bring him global fame and fortune.

“Ninety per cent of Bob Marley’s songs were written prior to 1970,” claims Danny Sims, his former manager. “He wrote very little after that. We had so many songs that he had already written. In 1973, he went with Island, and from then until his death, he didn’t write 20 songs. That’s my guess – and I was his publisher!”

Marley’s first recorded song was ‘Judge Not’, a penny-whistle-driven ska shuffle recorded for Leslie Kong in 1962, when Bob was just 17. By then, he had already joined together with Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh – first as The Teenagers, then The Wailing Wailers – after meeting them in 1961 at an informal musical get-together in the back yard of their mentor, Jamaican music-biz veteran Joe Higgs.

‘Judge Not’ failed to make much of an impression, but a subsequent liaison between the trio and top Kingston producer Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, owner of the Studio One label, was an instant success: The Wailing Wailers’ first Studio One single, ‘Simmer Down’, became a huge hit in 1964, selling an estimated 75,000 copies in Jamaica alone, and topping the island’s charts. A call for ghetto ‘rude boys’ to turn their backs on violence, it was the first of several songs reflecting the group’s complex relationship with the underprivileged, often lawless elements of the shanty towns. Over the next couple of years, they would record around 80 tracks for Dodd – including early versions of songs such as ‘One Love’ – before Bob tired of the treadmill and headed for Cedella and Delaware.

Cedella, who had remarried and moved to the US permanently, hoped that her son Bob would also start a new life there, but eight months driving fork-lift trucks and working on the Chrysler car plant assembly line proved more than enough for him. He returned to Kingston in October, where he used his $700 savings to start up his own Wail’N’Soul’M label, hooking up again with Peter and Bunny to record tracks like ‘Mellow Mood’, ‘Nice Time’ and the original ‘Stir It Up’. Clive Chin, son of Randy’s Studio owner Vincent Chin, and an old friend of Peter’s, remembers them then.

“They used to come by the record store,” he recalls, “because they had this little label called Wail’N’Soul, and used to bring the records in to Miss Pat, my stepmother. Bob was very moderate, very sociable, he was someone that you could hold pretty much any conversation with, other than negative crap like politics – he couldn’t get into that. He was more religious, more concerned about the cultural structure of Jamaica, ‘ about the people who were living in poverty and how he would like to help them. But he was sociable, he’d share a joke with you, he wasn’t a hard person to deal with.”

There had been two momentous changes during Marley’s absence. The first was purely musical: through 1966, the old ska and bluebeat rhythms that had dominated Jamaican music for over half a decade had been supplanted by a smoother, more laidback style that came to be known as rocksteady. Coxsone Dodd‘s supremacy was soon usurped by producers such as Derrick Harriott, Bunny Lee, Sonia Pottinger and particularly Duke Reid, whose work with vocal groups like The Paragons, The Jamaicans, The Melodians and The Techniques revolutionised the island’s music scene. Despite, keeping abreast of musical developments, the handful of tracks released by the re-formed Wailers on Wail’N’Soul’M failed to re-ignite the group’s career as hoped, and when Bunny Livingston was jailed for 14 months on marijuana charges, it looked as if the writing was on the wall for The Wailers.

The other change was more spiritual than musical. In April 1966, the state visit of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica had given a tremendous fillip to the burgeoning Rastafarian movement, in which all three Wailers were becoming deeply involved – Peter Tosh had even celebrated the visit with the single ‘Rasta Shook Them Up’. Until then, Rastas had been pariahs to the Jamaican establishment, routinely deprived of the civil liberties and ruthlessly repressed as the lowest of the low. But besides providing The Wailers with a solid spiritual foundation for their acts of creation, Rastafarianism would prove instrumental in helping their career move onto the next level.

While attending one of the Rasta chant-and-drum sessions known as ‘graunations’, Bob was introduced to a visiting American singer, Johnny Nash, and seized the moment, playing the star some of his songs. Over the course of 20 or so songs, both men’s lives were transformed. When he got back to his business partner’s palatial home in Kingston’s Russell Heights district, Johnny Nash was in a lather of excitement. “Dannyl” he called out, “I’ve just met this guy with long dreadlocked hair, and man, every song this guy played was a smash hit!”

DANNY SIMS IS A TALL, ASSERTIVE AMERICAN businessman whose dapper style and forceful attitude belie his 60-ish years. He’s what you imagine Samuel L Jackson’s father might look like, cool and capable in the stickiest of situations. He’s certainly a great advert for healthy living and vegetarianism – during our interview at his London base in leafy Balham, he munches his way steadily through three or four oranges, two bananas, and what seems like several punnets of apricots, peaches and nectarines. This hasn’t always been his diet, though; at one point, in the mid-’60s, he was the soul-food king of New York, serving up Southern fried chicken to the great and the good of Broadway society at his Times Square restaurant, Sapphire’s.

“It was one of the famous entertainment restaurants where all the Broadway show stars would all gather,” he explains. “I was in the heart of the theatre district. It was a 24-hour restaurant, and when the shows finished, it was where all the actors would come to eat. I started meeting all these entertainers. In those days, I knew every entertainer, black or white, and every athlete in America, they all came.”

Rubbing shoulders with show people had its inevitable effect on the restaurant proprietor, and before long he added another string to his bow, promoting concerts in Central and South America. When Dinah Washington died, he “absorbed” the licence for her booking agency, and became a representative for soul acts including Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, and black activist Malcolm X, whose lecture tours he booked. The next logical step was his own record label, JAD Records, which Sims set up in 1965 with producer/arranger Arthur Jenkins and a young Texan singer with business smarts, Johnny Nash. A child star who was a regular performer on Arthur Godfrey’s highly-rated TV show between 1956 and 1963, Nash had starred in Philip Leacock’s 1959 film of Louis S Peterson’s play Take A Giant Step, an early manifestation of the growing civil rights consciousness, but was keen to broaden his showbiz interests.

Working with both black and white artists – and by white, we can include US harmony pop group The Cowsills – the label soon proved a success. Sims, however, was pessimistic about the deteriorating race-relations situation in America, and couldn’t help but notice the contrast between Caribbean and American attitudes to black businessmen. As he told Lloyd Bradley, author of acclaimed reggae chronicle Bass Culture, “I’m living in Manhattan and I’m operating downtown and I’m seeing nothing but white people – just a few black people, yet we’re 10 per cent of the population, so no wonder I’m paranoid. Then I found, going to Jamaica and Trinidad, that I’m doing good business and I saw maybe one or two white people…I go to Barbados, I can see the Prime Minister. I go to Jamaica and I’m a king!” Before long Sims had sold both booking agency and restaurant to concentrate on the record business, moving his base of operations to his house in Jamaica.

“Every winter, when the weather got bad, we would go to Jamaica,” he recalls. “The house was great for promotional purposes – everybody would go there, there were lots of girls, and marijuana, and they’d just come down and have fun.”

So it was that Johnny and Danny came to be in Jamaica, having fun and making music, when Johnny was blown away by the songs pouring out of the skinny, wiry-haired kid with the guitar.

“Bob and Rita and Mortimer Planno, the Rasta chief who was acting as Bob’s manager in those days, came over to my house the next day,” says Sims. “Bob sat down with the guitar – he always had his guitar with him, always – and every song he played, I thought it was a smash. I thought he was one of the greatest artists I had ever seen – as a writer, his style, everything he did was just so great. So we started recording him.”

This was Sims’ first encounter with Rastas, and he was duly impressed by their attitude and spirit.

“Mortimer was great!” he enthuses. “He was like a god! He treated Bob like his son. I had never ever seen a Rasta before in my life, but I liked them. I used to stay at Mortimer’s place in Trenchtown, I’d go to sleep down there – because in those days, Johnny Nash and I didn’t smoke weed, and one hit was enough to put me out! I liked those people, they were really wonderful. I felt safer in Trenchtown with the Rastas than I did uptown, where I lived with the rich people, because the rich people all want something from you – they’re either going to rob you, or you’re gonna get skinned messing with dem…”

Peckham Manor Boys School, London

© Keith Baugh

Not everybody agreed with him. Indeed, Sims’ own Jamaican servants refused to serve his dreadlocked guests when they came to visit. So he sacked them and employed replacements. When they also refused to serve Bob, he sacked them too. Eventually, when his new discovery moved in with him, he was forced to take on a Rasta friend of Bob’s as his cook. Just getting to Danny’s house in Russell Heights was, for Bob, a process fraught with difficulties.

“Bob got stopped every time he’d come to my house in Russell Heights,” he explains. “Because he was a Rasta, he wasn’t allowed to come into a rich area. The security police would stop him. They didn’t allow the Rastas into the radio station, they didn’t allow them into society – they were extinct from society. You should remember that Bob Marley’s family was middle class, not poor; his mother’s side of the family may have been poor, but his father’s side were lawyers, very wealthy people in Jamaica. Bob’s was a wealthy sort of background, but he chose to be with the Rastafarians in Trenchtown.”

Singer Dave Barker, who as half of Dave & Ansell Collins scored a couple of huge UK hits with ‘Double Barrel’ and the original “heavy heavy monster sound” of ‘Monkey Spanner’, remembers Bob and his fellow Wailers as quiet, spiritual types, devoted to the religion. “Bob was a Rasta from start,” he explains. “Even though he did not have the locks on his head then, the Rastafarian was in his heart. How him and Bunny and Peter moved and lived, you could see the Rasta in them, because they lived it, it was their lifestyle. They lived it, they sang it, and they talked it. They were Rastafarian from long, long time.”

They weren’t, however, men to be trifled with.

“Those guys hardly talked, hardly spoke a word,” Barker remembers. “At times, we would be walking down the road, and people literally had to come out of dem way, because they were true rebels, but in a quiet, militant way. If you mess with them, trouble them, them will kick your ass!”

Indeed, one shouldn’t imagine that Bob and The Wailers were all sweetness and light. As in any ghetto, one couldn’t afford to be regarded as a soft touch in Trenchtown. Producer Winston ‘Niney The Observer’ Holness recently recalled how Marley tried to steal the master of his landmark ‘Blood And Fire’, which he had left playing at Bunny Lee’s place. When he went round to Marley’s and retrieved his disc from the turntable, a scuffle broke out between him, Bob, and some of Bob’s friends, which ended with Holness in hospital. “I don’t think it’s him cutting me,” said Holness, “but when we’re on the ground, one of his men come round, there was a bottle and I get stabbed, all I can see is blood. Bunny Lee drive up fast and take me to the hospital.”

SIMS’ FIRST PRIORITY – AND MARLEY’S too – was to get Bob into a studio to record some of his potential hits. Sessions at studios such as Dynamic, West Indies and Randy’s were set up, and tracks laid down with the JAD soundman Arthur Jenkins. Keen to break into the US R&B market, JAD brought over the Atlantic house band of Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Eric Gale and Richard Tee to play on the tracks (and on Nash’s breakthrough hit ‘Hold Me Tight’), along with exiled South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Clive Chin, whose own productions later included Augustus Pablo’s breakthrough tune ‘Java’, remembers the scene. “They were very laidback guys, they did things differently,” he recalls. “They dressed, ate, communicated differently. This was the period of time when America was at war in Vietnam, so you had hippies, these soul guys with beads around their necks, wearing dashikis and bell-bottom pants and sandals, so they weren’t like an average Jamaican, they dressed more like foreigners. I saw Johnny Nash peeling sugar cane with his hands, and told him, ‘You don’t peel cane with your hands, you bite the cane and peel it with your teeth’ – he was amazed when I said that! Even the way they rolled their joints was different – these small, crazy-looking little things, and the funny pipes they would carry around with them. It was the changing of a generation, the coming of the ’70s, the hippy, soul period.”

Peckham Manor Boys School, London

© Keith Baugh

That generational change had yet to fully impact upon Jamaican music. Although Marley had reflected the island’s social climate in his songs about rude boys, Rastas and righteousness, he avoided the overt political statements that were an everyday part of Anglo-American music culture.

“I don’t think Bob’s music got political until the political situation in Jamaica got on the move,” believes Danny Sims. “When Edward Seaga lost power and Michael Manley got in, and developed a relationship with Russia and Cuba, there was what I would call a Jamaican Revolution, and I’d say that until then Bob Marley’s lyrics were love songs, situation songs – Bob’s material wasn’t Jamaican material, it was world material. He started writing revolutionary stuff when the revolution got started, but the revolution didn’t get started until the early 70s.”

Because Bunny was still in jail, the first album that JAD made with Marley was called Bob, Rita & Peter, with Bob’s wife deputising for Livingston. But the record suffered from JAD’s desire to develop a more exportable variant of the Jamaican rocksteady style and fell between two stools. Too slick and soft for native tastes, it nonetheless proved an unfathomably alien experience to the American DJs surveyed by Sims.

“I remember a disc jockey called Hal Jackson in New York, I took the record to him, then I went to see Frankie Crocker,” says Sims. “They said, ‘Danny, you bring your gun, your dope, your money, but with this material here, you gotta bring a translator! It’ll never be played on the R&B stations!’ That broke my heart. And to this day, it’s never been played on R&B stations in America. Canada was different – Canada had a lot of Jamaicans, and I got good action on Bob Marley And The Wailers there. Canada was the only country that put out the album.”

Canada alone, however, was not what The Wailers had in mind when they thought of international success. Dismayed at the poor reception accorded the Bob, Rita & Peter material, and worried that they might be alienating their core Jamaican audience, The Wailers pressed Danny Sims to let them record some tracks for their home market. He acceded, and late in 1969 they went back into Randy’s Studio with the island’s hottest young producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, currently riding high on the success of The Upsetters’ ‘Return Of Django’, a UK Top 5 hit. Though Sims would ultimately regret the liaison with Perry, the sessions would transform The Wailers from just another sweet-sounding harmony group into something far tougher and more resilient. The results revolutionised the Jamaican music scene, crystallising the definitive roots reggae style that would finally take the island’s music on to the global stage.

LEE PERRY IS JAMAICA’S ANSWER TO PHIL SPECTOR, A sonic architect of inspirational genius and notoriously short temper, whose sanity has been questioned more than once. Using the tight rhythmic skeletons of New Orleans funk crew The Meters as a template, Perry developed a powerful new groove format whose itchy rhythm guitar – adapted from the ‘chicken-scratch’ style of Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli – would become an instantly recognisable reggae characteristic. The outlandish studio trickery of his instrumental ‘versions’, meanwhile, would introduce the world to dub music.

Perry’s working methods were as unusual as his sound. Clive Chin remembers Wailers sessions at Randy’s as brimming with creative inspiration from band and producer alike: “Lee Perry couldn’t really read music, but he knew what he wanted, and he got what he wanted,” he recalls. “At the beginning of the session he would splash white rum around the four corners of the studio, do his abstract dancing and carrying on, then he would get into the swing of things.”

Dave Barker worked extensively for the producer in this period. “Scratch don’t really plan to go into the studio,” he explains, “it’s when the vibe, the mood, hits him; then him grab up tapes and head towards Randy’s. Randy’s Studio was a wonderful place, it was one of the top studios, with good sound quality. The studio itself was quite big – just a one-room thing, but even with a band and singers in there, you still had a lot of space to chill. You had enough space to relax yourself and feel free: when you are in Randy’s, it’s like you are in some other part of the world, because you are taken up into the music so much you forget about all your troubles and suffering and pain.

“After a while, Wailers start to come by Scratch. We all ended up in the studio, and Wailers start to lay down some heavy roots track, man – ‘Duppy Conqueror’ and all them. Me and Wailers, we all became friends, and I remember, after they had recorded a thing called ‘Small Axe’, Bob walked away from the microphone, looked up at the ceiling of the studio and said, ‘Right now, a lot of people, them not know of Bob Marley; but a time gon’ come when the whole entire world shall know of Bob Marley!’ So said, so done! After that, man, it was like Wailers music start to appear all over the place. On the radio stations, everywhere you go,

just Wailers, Wailers, Wailers. When Wailers tracks play, almost everybody in Jamaica bubble, y’know? Everybody stop and listen – you had to listen, because they were showing you that the suffering and pain you were going through, they were also going through it as well. They were singing about poverty, about suffering, about pain, and also about love, and life – ‘One love, one heart’. So anybody who had feelings would easily relate to the Wailers’ songs.”

To Danny Sims, however, Lee Perry is not so much the man who revitalised The Wailers as the man who rooked them out of untold royalties and he fulminates when I mention the producer. “I gave Bob the right to release JAD product in the Caribbean, so the band could make some money. Lee Perry was the guy who had deals outside of Jamaica, so they elected him to take those singles and make deals with them.”

Whether Perry’s behaviour was any worse than the sharp practice endemic in the Jamaican music business at the time is a matter of opinion. There are countless examples of reggae versions of American soul hits for which neither copyright nor credit was given to the rightful parties – in many cases, the blatant piracy being disguised under a totally different title. As previously noted, Marley himself served for a time as Coxsone Dodd’s A&R consultant, trawling through US imports in search of likely material to cover. Banditry has always been regarded with some ambivalence in Jamaica, from the 1940s folk-hero outlaw Rhygin, to the rude boys of the ’60s and Jimmy Cliff’s reluctant anti-hero in The Harder They Come; even Sims acknowledges the cutthroat nature of the island’s business with a droll reference to Morgan The Pirate, the most notorious buccaneer sailing the Spanish Main.

With specific regard to the music industry the situation was hardly helped by Jamaica’s anomalous copyright laws, which in the late ’60s operated on the basis of possession being nine-tenths of the issue: whoever owned the actual recording of a song also owned the publishing copyright on that song. Hence the competition between labels whenever a new rhythm or song came along: if Label A had recorded a song, Label A owned its copyright; but there was nothing to stop Label B recording its own version of the same song – often with exactly the same musicians who played on the original – and thus claim the copyright for itself. It’s easy to see how this situation could quickly deteriorate into a lawyer’s picnic. Indeed, to this very day overseas labels wishing to license tracks from that era for compilations or reissues have to pick their way carefully through a minefield of conflicting claims.

According to Clive Chin, Sims himself was not one to let a business advantage slip by. “He claimed that anything The Wailers sang for anyone belonged to him,” says Chin. “So when Bob, Peter and Bunny did a cover of The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’ for us, he claimed that it was his! I said, How can you claim it’s yours?, and he said, ‘Ah, everything that The Wailers did is mine, regardless of whether they did it for Randy’s, it’s our tune.’ I said, But that tune is not even an original, it’s a cover! He said, ‘How d’you know?’ I said, Because I gave Bob the tune to study! He wasn’t even aware of it.”

ALTHOUGH THE LEE PERRY SESSIONS HELPED rehabilitate The Wailers’ reputation in their homeland, the wider world was still unaware of them and – save for the occasional skinhead chartbuster in the UK – of reggae music in general. So when Johnny Nash was offered the chance to star in a film with Swedish starlet Christina Schollin, he and Sims jumped at the chance to expose their young charge to the outside world. In 1971, the three of them decamped to Stockholm, where they stayed with Nash’s keyboardist, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, with whom Bob and Johnny wrote the movie’s score. Alas, the film closed the day after the premiere due to bankruptcy, and nobody got to hear the theme that they had written. Shortly after, Bob vanished.

“I really don’t know what happened to Bob,” Bundrick recalled in the sleevenote to Marley’s Songs Of Freedom retrospective. “All I do know is that his air ticket, Johnny’s guitar, and Johnny’s tape recorder all disappeared, along with Bob. Johnny never forgave him for taking his guitar. Bob disappeared as magically as he had arrived.”

He may never have forgiven Bob for nicking his guitar, but Nash was sufficiently appeased by his success with Marley’s song ‘Stir It Up’ – whose UK Top 5 placing in April 1972 heralded a string of hits that included the classic ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and UK Number 1 ‘Tears On My Pillow’ – to have Bob accompany him on a promotional tour of Britain later that year. Sims had found out the hard way that there were limitations to what a small label like JAD could do, and had opted for the larger picture provided by a major label.

“I Can See Clearly Now”

“Independent record companies can’t sell albums, only singles,” he explains. “We sold three or four million singles of Johnny Nash’s ‘Hold Me Tight’, but we only sold 100,000 albums. So I made a deal with CBS UK, and brought Bob Marley and Johnny Nash to England, where we were funded by Derek Green at Rondor Music, who gave us a publishing deal, and Dave Margereson at CBS. Because Johnny was so huge – he had ‘Cupid’, ‘You Got Soul’, ‘Hold Me Tight’, all these big records – we got him and Bob signed to CBS.”

It’s unlikely that Bob’s deal at CBS was anything more than a favour to JAD for Nash’s signature – though it was useful in persuading an increasingly restless Marley that Sims could actually provide the international platform he craved. In between sessions for Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, Bob cut his own single for CBS, ‘Reggae On Broadway’, and the two set off together on tour, promoting their records with countless (unpaid) performances at schools.

“We did schools for about a year,” says Sims, “and after about three months, the kids knew which schools we would be going to. Bob and Johnny were both child stars, so to go into high schools was perfect. They had 30 minutes of Q&A, and 30 minutes of songs, and that’s how we broke them, by doing high schools and under-18 shows at Top Rank and Mecca clubs.”

Now an executive at Virgin Publishing, Stuart Slater was in field promotion at CBS at the time, and remembers Johnny Nash being one of the company’s top priorities – certainly compared to the unknown Bob Marley “We had a single of Bob’s, ‘Reggae On Broadway’, but Johnny was the big star,” he recalls. “I don’t remember anyone saying, ‘Watch out for the support act, he’s brilliant’, and it was only years later that I realised who he must have been! It wasn’t as if there was any kind of interest in Bob Marley, there was certainly no fuss made about him, or about the single, which presumably was a one-off. I certainly didn’t do any promotion or anything for him. But I wish I’d kept the box of records!”

© Andy Gill, Mojo

Click here to read the article on Issuu.




  1. Frank says:

    Very, very well-written.

    1. marleyrkives says:

      Thanks for supporting my friend

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