Stir it up, again: deal allows sale of unreleased Marley songs

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The Independent Culture

Previously unreleased tracks by Bob Marley are to be released more than 22 years after his death. A deal was clinched in London yesterday involving the former musician's family and the world's biggest music company.

Songs composed by the godfather of reggae during the early years of The Wailers - the group he formed with Neville "Bunny" Livingstone and Peter Tosh - have been licensed to Universal Music.

Tracks including "Music Gonna Teach", "One Love True Love" and the Peter Tosh version of Roger Miller's "Little Green Apples" are to be released on CD for the first time.

The deal to license a catalogue of 211 songs recorded between 1967 and 1972 (including Wailers anthems such as "Stir It Up", "Small Axe", "Guava Jelly" and "Concrete Jungle") will bring to an end the widespread exploitation of the singer's early back catalogue that enraged the family.

Previously, neither Mr Livingstone (known as Bunny Wailer) nor the Marley and Tosh estates have received royalties from sales of music made during their early years working in Kingston, Jamaica.

The music from that "Funky Kingston" period - during which Marley began to explore Rastafarianism and The Wailers released their debut album Soul Rebel - has, for years, been sold in compilations of questionable quality, often produced by small companies with no rights to license the music. The music was made at the time when The Wailers teamed up with local producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, who went on to become a pioneer of dub music. The Wailers had also just formed their own Tuff Gong record label and hired Aston and Carlton Barrett, who became the rhythm section.

The rights to the music have long been owned by the American-based JAD Records, whose co-founder Danny Sims can claim to be the man who introduced Bob Marley to an international audience.

Sims signed Bob Marley and The Wailers to JAD in 1967 and, for the next four years promoted their reggae to black America, before signing the group over to CBS in 1971.

The following year, the London-based Jamaican Chris Blackwell clinched an assignment deal with CBS and JAD to bring the band to his company Island Records.

In a statement yesterday, Sims said: "I'm delighted to be working with Universal Music to tell the story of Bob Marley and The Wailers before they found fame in the West. I'm happy that, for the first time, Bob's children, the Peter Tosh Estate and Bunny Wailer will earn royalties from this extraordinary music."

Universal, which has Marley's Island Records back catalogue, will mark the acquisition of the early material with the release of a three-CD box set in March, Grooving Kingston 12. Two more box sets will be released later this year.

The package will be the most important Marley release since the million-selling box set Songs of Freedom in 1992.

Julian Huntly, of Universal Music International, said the 10-year licensing deal was "a considerable coup".

He said: "It is thrilling, both personally and professionally, that Universal is now able to present to fans virtually the entire recorded works of one of the most prolific and influential artists of the 20th century."

Marley, who was born in 1945, made his first recordings at the age of 17 and, by January 1964, The Wailers had their first Jamaican number one.

"One Love True Love" was recorded in 1968 but never released. "Music Gonna Teach", recorded in the same year, has also never been available except for a version of the song called "Music Lesson", which was released by Bunny Wailer in 1986, five years after Marley's death from cancer.