The Night I Met Bob Marley
I was just cruisin’ around today … coffee and conversation with a friend, a trip to the car wash, gas, groceries, and a burger and fries at Five Guys. Typical stuff one does on one’s day off. I was listening mostly to tunes spanning three years from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ compilations albums, and I suppose I got into a sort of Celtic state of mind. ’Twas one of those crisp autumn days here in the valley north of Manhattan, good for looking at trees with leaves full of fire and stopping off at an apple orchard before heading home. I even discovered these two women, and made a mental note to seek out more from them.
When I’m behind the wheel or in a plane or on a train (doesn’t that sorta have a Dr. Seuss vibe to it?) for any length of time, I often get antsy. It’s a post-2016 election thing, as I anticipate at any moment 45 will have a tantrum, mental breakdown, or indictment and press the big red button. It’s exactly how I used to feel when I lived in California: You know an earthquake is gonna hit but you don’t know when, for how long, the intensity, or the damage. Constant anxiety, but with ocean views, palm trees, movie stars, assorted Kardashians, and medical marijuana. And so it is now, when I’m disconnected from the latest headlines for too long, I need to stop the music and turn on the radio just to make sure all is well. Good news … we’re still here. And in other news, I learned that Ziggy Marley just turned 50.
Ziggy Marley was only 11 when he joined brother Stephen and sisters Cedella and Sharon to form the Melody Makers. In September 1979 they made their debut, performing on the same bill as their father for the first and only time at the Roots Rock Reggae two-day concert series in Kingston, Jamaica’s National Arena. Two years later, when Bob Marley passed, Ziggy took his place in the Wailers at concerts in Jamaica, and then in 1984 he did a world tour with them in support of the greatest hits Legend album. The Melody Makers recorded about a dozen albums through 2001. When Ziggy went solo in 2003, Stephen formed the Marley Boyz with his other brothers Damien and Ky-Mani. Sharon is the curator of the Bob Marley Museum, Cedella is the CEO of the family’s Tuff Gong International as well as a fashion designer, and they’ve both toured with their brothers throughout the years.
The daughter of an overseer of a Jamaican sugar plantation, teenager Millie Small was discovered by Chris Blackwell in 1963 and taken to London, where she recorded a number of singles before breaking through a year later with “My Boy Lollipop,” considered by many to be the first international “blue beat/ska” hit. Prior to going to England, she had recorded in Jamaica at Sir Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label with Roy Panton (as Roy & Millie), scoring one local hit called “We’ll Meet.” She only charted once more in America, and performed through the ’70s until settling in the United Kingdom, where she lives today.
Since I’m ramblin’ on here, I’ll share a small tidbit of rock and roll history: “My Boy Lollipop” was originally written by Robert Spencer from the doo-wop band The Cadillacs for a singer named Barbie Gaye who was promoted by disc jockey Alan Freed. Notorious gangster-record exec Morris Levy, who was sort of like a Jewish version of Suge Knight, also received credit. When Small’s version took off, Levy took full credit and stripped Spencer’s name off the song.
As ska music began to evolve during that time period, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingstone came together and began recording in the studio initially with Leslie Kong in 1962, and then producer Coxsone Dodd. They were first called The Teenagers, followed by the Wailing Wailers. The aforementioned Chris Blackwell began releasing the band’s albums worldwide in 1969 on his Island Records label that he founded back in 1958. Tosh and Livingstone left in 1974 for reasons having to do with their religion and the clubs they were playing in, but each went on to have their own successful careers.
Sometime in the mid-’70s I got a chance to meet Bob Marley at a hotel in Philadelphia. I was doing sales for Island’s local distributor and we hosted a dinner in his honor with local radio and record store folks. Several of us got there early, finding Marley sitting and talking to a couple of old friends. In 1966 he had lived with his mom for a short time in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, working briefly at both DuPont and on the Chrysler assembly line. With a big fat spliff in his hand, he stood up in bare feet, walked over to greet us, and extended his hand. He was soft spoken and very gracious; we spoke for several minutes and my only regret was that he didn’t offer to share. Now that would have made for a better story.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.