Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, OM (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers from 1964 to 1974 and Bob Marley & The Wailers from 1974 to 1981. Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited with helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.
In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith formed a ska and rocksteady group, calling themselves “The Teenagers.” They later changed their name to “The Wailing Rudeboys,” then to “The Wailing Wailers,” at which point they were discovered by record producer Coxsone Dodd, and finally to “The Wailers.” In 1965 their debut album, “The Wailing Wailers,” was released, featuring the song, “One Love.” By 1966, Braithwaite, Kelso, and Smith had left The Wailers, leaving the core trio of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh.
After a conflict with Dodd, Marley and his band teamed up with Lee “Scratch” Perry and his studio band, The Upsetters. Although the alliance lasted less than a year, they recorded what many consider The Wailers' finest work, including the 1970 album, “Soul Rebels” and 1971’s “Soul Revolution” and “The Best of the Wailers.” These albums included the Marley penned tracks, “Soul Shakedown Party,” “Stop The Train” and “Soul Almighty.” Marley and Perry split after a dispute regarding the assignment of recording rights, but they would remain friends and work together again.
Between 1968 and 1972, Bob and Rita Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer re-cut some old tracks with JAD Records in Kingston and London in an attempt to commercialize The Wailers' sound. Also in 1968, Bob and Rita visited the Bronx to see Johnny Nash's songwriter Jimmy Norman. A three-day jam session with Norman and others, including Norman's co-writer Al Pyfrom, resulted in a 24-minute tape of Marley performing several of his own and Norman-Pyfrom's compositions. An artist yet to establish himself outside his native Jamaica, Marley lived in Ridgmount Gardens, Camden, London during 1972.
In 1972, the Wailers entered into an ill-fated deal with CBS Records and embarked on a tour with American soul singer Johnny Nash. Broke, the Wailers became stranded in London. Marley turned up at Island Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell's London office, and asked him to advance the cost of a new single. Blackwell told Marley he wanted The Wailers to record a complete album (essentially unheard of at the time) and the Wailers returned to Kingston and honored the deal, delivering the album “Catch A Fire.”
The Wailers' first major label album, “Catch a Fire” was released worldwide in April 1973, packaged like a rock record with a unique Zippo lighter lift-top. It was followed later that year by “Burnin',” which included the standout songs “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” which appealed to the ear of Eric Clapton. He recorded a cover of the track in 1974 which became a huge American hit, raising Marley's international profile.
The Wailers broke up in 1974 with each of the three main members pursuing solo careers. Despite the break-up, Marley continued recording as “Bob Marley & The Wailers.” His new backing band included brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett on drums and bass respectively, Junior Marvin and Al Anderson on lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl “Wya” Lindo on keyboards, and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson on percussion. The “I Threes,” consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and Marley's wife Rita, provided backing vocals.
In 1975, Marley had his international breakthrough with his first hit outside Jamaica, “No Woman, No Cry,” from the “Natty Dread” album. “Lively Up Yourself” was also successful. “Natty Dread” peaked at #44 on the Billboard Black Albums chart and at #92 on the Pop Albums chart.
This was followed by his breakthrough album in the United States, “Rastaman Vibration” in 1976, which became the first (and only) Bob Marley release to hit the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 charts (peaking at #8). “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” a single from the album, was the only Bob Marley track to reach the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, peaking at #51.
Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and after a month-long “recovery and writing” sojourn at the site of Chris Blackwell's Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, and he arrived in England, where he spent two years in self-imposed exile. While there he recorded the albums “Exodus” in 1977 and “Kaya” in 1978.
“Exodus” peaked at #20 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart and #15 on the Black Albums chart as well as remaining on the UK charts for 56 consecutive weeks where it peaked at #8. It included four U.K. hit singles, “Exodus,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Jamming” and “One Love.” “Kaya” featured “Is This Love” and “Sun is Shining” and reached the Top 5 on the U.K. Albums chart.
“Babylon by Bus,” a double live album with thirteen tracks, was released in 1978 and received critical acclaim. This album, and specifically the final track “Jamming” with the audience in a frenzy, captured the intensity of Marley's live performances.
“Survival,” a defiant and politically charged album, was released in 1979. Tracks such as “Zimbabwe,” “Africa Unite,” “Wake Up and Live” and “Survival” reflected Marley's support for the struggles of Africans.
His appearance at the Amandla Festival in Boston in July 1979 showed his strong opposition to South African apartheid, which he already had shown in his song “War“ in 1976. Released in 1980, “Uprising” was Bob Marley's final studio album, and is one of his most religious productions, featuring the tracks, “Redemption Song” and “Forever Loving Jah.” “Uprising” peaked at #41 on Billboard's Black Albums chart and #45 on the Pop Albums chart. “Could You Be Loved” was #6 on the Club Play Singles and #56 on the Black Singles charts. The album fared better in the U.K. where it was a Top 10 hit along with the single “Could You Be Loved” which reached #5 on the U.K. Singles charts.
Marley, who had injured his toe playing football in July 1977, later died from complications of acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of malignant melanoma, in 1981 at the age of 36.
“Confrontation,” released posthumously in 1983, contained unreleased material recorded during Marley's lifetime, including the hit “Buffalo Soldier” and new mixes of singles previously only available in Jamaica.
A greatest hits collection, “Legend,” was released in 1984 and has become the best-selling reggae album of all time with sales of 25 million copies and 13.5 million in the United States alone. It was certified diamond by the RIAA. “Legend” holds the distinction of being the second longest-charting album in the history of Billboard Magazine. Combining its chart life on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and the Top Pop Catalog chart, “Legend” has had a chart run of over 1000 non-consecutive weeks, trailing only the 1600 plus week run of Pink Floyd's “The Dark Side of the Moon.”