Bob Marley: Then and Now

Today I leave you with an article written by Garry Steckles and published in the Toronto Star on February 6, 2011.  I have also included video of the interview referenced within the article.  The interview was conducted by news reporter Sandie Rinaldo on June 9, 1978 prior to Marley’s performance at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Enjoy!

Toronto 1979

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Bob Marley: Then and Now
By Garry Steckles
Toronto Star
February 6, 2011

Thirty years after he left us, at least in the physical sense, it’s easy to forget that Bob Marley used to be regarded with enormous suspicion by the more conservative members of society, whether that society happened to be in Jamaica, England, the United States or a Canadian city that was trying to distance itself from the indignity of being scorned, from sea to shining sea, as “Toronto the Good.”

Let me take you back to the old Gardens, on College Street, the hockey shrine in which the Leafs actually won a few Stanley Cups. The year is 1978, and Marley, who is touring North America in support of his Kaya album, is taking a break from sound-check chores to sit down for a backstage interview with an up-and-coming young television personality.

After an opening exchange of pleasantries, it becomes obvious that Sandie Rinaldo is out to do a hatchet job on Marley and on Rastafarians in general. Which, strange as it may seem more than three decades later, was not particularly surprising in Toronto in the ’70s. We’re talking an era in which one of Canada’s great newspapers (this one) carried a police top ten most-wanted list in which the description of one of the villains included the information that he was “a Rastafarian”. There was no mention, needless to say, of the religious affiliations, if they had any, of the other nine.

After introducing Marley positively and listing some of his achievements, Rinaldo quickly shifted gears and started to bombard him with aggressive questions that, today, sound almost bizarre. She told him, among other things, that Rastafarians have “a very bad reputation” among the upstanding citizens of Toronto, that Jamaicans were notorious for being involved in “the trafficking of marijuana” and that his appearance (and these are her exact words) was “quite strange.” Marley, despite looking at first bemused and then as though he could cheerfully strangle the glacial white woman who was trying to sandbag him, fielded the questions adroitly; he’d had plenty of experience of dealing with journalists trying to goad him into saying something he’d regret and which would give them a snazzy headline or a lively sound bite.

Things change. Sometimes for the better.

Bob Marley Interview with Sandie Rinaldo

Fast forward just over three decades, the world’s a different place and Toronto’s a different city. You can get a beer in a bar on a Sunday, and Toronto the Good has evolved into a multi-racial, multicultural, multi-everything metropolis in which Caribbean culture flourishes, hand in hand with dozens of others. It’s a city where, on February 6, Marley’s birthday, the mayor of the moment has, for the past 20 years, proclaimed it to be officially “Bob Marley Day” and invited Torontonians of all backgrounds to celebrate the music, the message and the legacy of the King of Reggae.

And it’s a city in which, on May 11, just four days away, a lot of tears will be shed as we mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Robert Nesta Marley.

A lot of music will be played, too.

Music like “No Woman No Cry.” “Crazy Baldhead.” “Exodus.” “Positive Vibration.” “Trenchtown Rock.” “Slave Driver.” “Burnin’ and Lootin’.” “Concrete Jungle.” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock).” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry).” “I Shot The Sheriff.” “Kinky Reggae.’ “Midnight Ravers.” “Natty Dread. Talkin’ Blues.’ “Lively Up Yourself.” “Get Up, Stand Up.” “Want More.” “Roots, Rock, Reggae.” “Rat Race.” “War.” “No More Trouble.” “Rastaman Chant.” “Is This Love?” “Jammin’.” ‘Easy Skanking.’ “Africa Unite.” “Johnny Was.” “One Drop.”

It’s worth listing so many songs not only because for tens of thousands of reggae fans, each one of them is as familiar as Marley’s aquiline features, arguably the best-known in the history of the world, but also because they’re all among the numbers he performed during his four visits to Toronto.

Marley played here first on June 8, 1975, during a landmark tour in support of Natty Dread, the first album recorded as “Bob Marley and the Wailers” after the departure of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, the other core members of the original group, to pursue individual careers. Like just about every other show on that historic tour, the Wailers’ performance at Massey Hall was a huge success, and a prelude to one of Marley’s most momentous concerts. The tour wound up with a handful of shows in England, one of which, at London’s Lyceum Ballroom on July 18 – tickets cost £1.50 – resulted in the release of a live version of “No Woman No Cry,” the hit that catapulted Marley from being a huge star in the Caribbean with something of a cult following in North America and Europe to international superstar.

The following year, despite the fact Marley and the Wailers were about to be honored as “Band of the Year” by Rolling Stone magazine (in those days the arbiter of what was hot in pop music), Marley was still playing modest-sized venues in most cities. His second visit to Toronto was to the U of T’s Convocation Hall, where he did two shows on the evening of May 5, 1976, early in his Rastaman Vibration tour. The tour was memorable for many reasons, not the least of them being that it brought together one of the most dynamic incarnations of the Wailers’ oft-changing lineups, with Earl “Chinna” Smith and Donald Kinsey on guitar, Earl “Wya” Lindo and Tyrone Downie on keyboards, Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass and Carlton “Carly” Barrett on drums.

There would be some eventful turns in Bob Marley’s life before he returned to Toronto in June of 1978 — and not all of them were positive.

When Marley flew back to Jamaica in the early fall of 1976 after winding up the Rastaman Vibration tour, he found his island under a state of emergency, which had been declared in the wake of a deadly outbreak of political violence among supporters of the then-prime minister Michael Manley and his bitter rival Edward Seaga, leader of the opposition. Marley decided to organize a huge outdoor concert in the cause of unity, and it was scheduled for December 5. But two days before the Smile Jamaica concert, as it was called, a gang of gunmen found their way into Marley’s Kingston home and headquarters at 56 Hope Road and started shooting at the terrified musicians and friends during a break in rehearsals for the big show.

Astonishingly, no one was killed, but four people, including Marley, were hit by bullets. The concert went on, with Marley defiantly brandishing a wounded arm in front of a huge crowd in Kingston’s National Heroes Park, but after it he decided Jamaica was just too dangerous. To this day, no one knows the identities of the men who carried out the attack, and the fear at the time was that they would try again. Marley and the Wailers went into a lengthy exile in London, where they recorded the historic Exodus album in 1977 — and where the cancer that would eventually kill him was first diagnosed.

Marley was told he had melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, in the big toe of his right foot, which had stubbornly refused to heal after being injured during a soccer match. In accordance with his Rastafarian beliefs, he refused to have the foot amputated and instead had a skin-graft operation in Miami, with the big toenail being removed along with the cancerous tissue next to it, which was replaced by skin from his thigh area. The operation appeared to be a success, and Marley, after recuperating in London for several months, was persuaded to return to Jamaica to appear at what would be the most momentous of his many epic performances: The One Love Concert for Peace in Kingston’s National Stadium on April 22 of 1978.

This time, despite considerable tension and a massive presence of armed soldiers and police, there were no violent incidents, and Marley, headlining a remarkable array of the stars of reggae’s great roots era, brought Manley and Seaga on stage to clasp hands with him during an electric rendition of “Jammin’.”

A few weeks later, Marley was back on tour, this time in support of Kaya, and on June 9 he returned to Toronto — but this time it wasn’t to a small, cosy venue. The Wailers were now one of the world’s biggest live attractions, and despite the suspicion that may still have existed among the more conservative elements of Toronto society, their concert had to be at Maple Leaf Gardens. They returned to the Gardens on November 1 of 1979, this time in support of the Survival album — and no one, perhaps least of all Marley, had any inkling that this would be his last visit to Toronto.

A talented athlete and a fitness fanatic, Marley had started to appear a little gaunt, and was complaining of terrible headaches. Pictures of the Wailers taken in London in 1980 show him looking almost haggard, and in the early autumn of that year, soon after the Uprising tour had taken him to the US after setting attendance records that still stand in Europe, he collapsed while jogging in New York’s Central Park. A New York neurologist delivered a harsh diagnosis: Marley’s cancer, which he thought had been cured, had spread through his body to his brain, and he had only a few weeks to live. All but one of the remaining tour dates (he had been due to play in Toronto in October) were cancelled, and Marley’s final concert, on September 23, was in Pittsburgh. After it, he broke the news to the Wailers that he was dying.

Perhaps driven by his ghetto toughness, Bob Marley survived for many months longer than the New York brain specialist had predicted. He was taken to the Bavarian Alps, where he was treated by a controversial cancer specialist, Josef Issels, but became gradually frailer until it was decided, in early May of 1981, that he would go home to Jamaica to die. He made it as far as Miami, where doctors said he was too weak to survive another flight, and he died in his sleep in the Cedars of Lebanon hospital on the morning of May 11, 1981, a few minutes after drinking some carrot juice given to him by his mother, Cedella, and telling her “I’m going to take a rest now.” He was 36.

Judy Mowatt, who as a member of the I-Three backup vocal trio had toured the world with Marley for years, was in Jamaica that morning, and says she knew the exact moment that the man she thought of as a brother had left her:

“It was broad daylight, and there was this great, huge thunder in the heavens. And a flash of lightning came through the house. It came through a window and lodged for about a second on Bob’s picture. We didn’t know at the time, the radio stations hadn’t gotten the news officially to announce it, but people could know that something had happened and that the heavens were really responding to a great force being taken away from the physical place of the earth.”

Since his death, in Toronto and throughout the world, Marley has been elevated to a level of fame and adoration that would almost certainly have taken this essentially modest and unassuming man, who never lost sight of his country and ghetto roots, by surprise. No matter where you happen to be in the world, it’s just about impossible to go a day without running into Bob Marley in some shape or form or hearing one of his songs, by Marley himself or one of the countless cover versions. The most pervasive examples of Marley’s visual presence are the hundreds — perhaps thousands, it’s impossible to count given the number of bootlegs — of Marley T-shirts. But his image also appears on, among other things: postage stamps, belts, hats, shoes, wallets, postcards, bumper stickers, wall hangings, posters, hoodies, track suits, drinking glasses, jigsaw puzzles, hand towels, blankets, bicycle shirts, iPod covers, London buses, cosmetic bags, necklaces, shorts, incense packages, beach towels, dog tags . . .

Marley’s “One Love” was chosen by the British Broadcasting Corporation as the anthem for their programs to mark the end of the last millennium, his 1977 Exodus was named by Time magazine as the greatest album ever recorded, he became the first reggae artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was honoured with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and in late 1999, when the New York Times decided to bury a time capsule under its head office in Manhattan, not to be unearthed until the end of this millennium, the video chosen as an example of the popular culture of the 20th century wasn’t of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Fela Kuti, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Luciano Pavarotti or Elvis Presley; it was a 1977 Bob Marley concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre.

Abel Bekele hadn’t been born when Bob Marley died. But Marley’s music has played a huge role in the life of the young Ethiopian singer, who handles most of the reggae vocals at an African nightspot in oil-rich Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. Bekele’s repertoire is heavy on Marley numbers, and he speaks of the late King of Reggae with a mix of reverence and awe.

“In Ethiopia,” he says, “every person knows him. Every person, from young people to old.” And, says Bekele, he was surprised and delighted when he discovered that things were not much different when he came to work in Abu Dhabi about a year ago. “Arab people love him, Asian people love him, and when I do my Marley songs they sing them with me,” says Bekele.

“Bob Marley is everywhere.”

Garry Steckles, a former senior editor at the Toronto Star, is the author of Bob Marley: A Life, the first in a Macmillan Caribbean series of biographies of outstanding Caribbean people.

More than one love

Bob Marley’s best-known songs, on the nine studio albums he made for Island Records, are a fraction of his recorded output from 1962 to 1980. Following are 10 of the very best that weren’t part of the Island catalogue:

“Simmer Down” (1964). This ska scorcher was the Wailers’ first big hit. It was cut at Studio One in the summer of 1964 at their first recording session as a group. An instant No.1 hit in Jamaica, it sounds as vibrant today as it did all those years ago. Musical history.

“One Love” (1965). A very, very different early version of the Marley classic that everyone knows and loves. Again in a ska tempo.

“Nice Time” (1967). One of the first hits on the Wailers’ own Wail N Soul M label. How this lovely and hugely popular melody slipped through the Island net remains a mystery.

“All In One” (1971). An hypnotic melange of snatches of nine of the songs that were Jamaican hits during the Wailers’ time with the wildly eccentric and quite brilliant producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.

“African Herbsman” (1971). A reggae version of the great Richie Havens number, also with Perry’s unmistakable hand at the controls.

“Trench Town Rock’ (1971). The song Marley would often use to start his live performances, a No. 1 for five solid months on the Jamaican charts and a prototype of the loping, mid-tempo reggae that would become his stock-in-trade.

“Screw Face” (1971). A little-known gem in the same tempo as “Trench Town Rock.” “Rainbow Country” (1975). A jazzy, scatty, catchy showcase for Marley’s vocal brilliance.

“Jah Live” (1975). Recorded and released within days of reports reaching Jamaica of the death of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie I, the man Rastafarians worship as a living god. And simply gorgeous.“Smile Jamaica” (1976 — four versions, two recorded at Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio, two at Harry Js). Another jazzy vehicle for Marley to stretch his remarkable pipes.

Bob Marley at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto 1978

Archival Video

The following is an audience recording from Bob Marley and the Wailers’ performance at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens the following year on November 1, 1979.

Click downward arrow to download audio file

Set List:

1. “Positive Vibration”
2. “Wake Up And Live”
3. “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”
4. “Concrete Jungle”
5. “I Shot The Sheriff”
6. “Ambush In The Night”
7. “Running Away” -> “Crazy Baldhead”
8. “The Heathen”
9. “War” -> “No More Trouble”
10. “One Drop”
11. “No Woman, No Cry”
12. “Africa Unite”
13. “Exodus”
14. “Jammin'”
15. “Get Up, Stand Up”
16. “Is This Love?”