Music: It really is Bob, having a wail of a time

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is the 53rd anniversary of Bob Marley's birthday, writes James Maycock and the 35th anniversary of Studio One which launched Marley and The Wailing Wailers on the road to reggae stardom

With a strange lack of logic, many people who decide to explore reggae often begin and, swiftly, end their tentative inquiry with Bob Marley's music. To this day, he remains, despite the militancy of his lyrics, one of the few "acceptable" faces of reggae, together with Jimmy Cliff and, most recently, Finley Quaye. Convinced that they are now devotees of reggae, these converts often falter in any deeper pursuit of the music. Despite Legend, the posthumous Bob Marley and the Wailers compilation, having sold a phenomenal 12 million copies, only a small fraction of those who bought the album went on to investigate the work of Dennis Brown, Bob Marley's favourite singer.

Many of these admirers of Bob Marley's music ignore all his work before the release of "Catch A Fire", in 1972. Yet, the producer, Leslie Kong, released Bob Marley's first song, "Judge Not", in 1962. In the mid-Sixties, the Wailing Wailers recorded more than 100 songs for Studio One and many of Bob Marley's songs from the Sixties, such as "Cry To Me" and "One Love", were reworked, resurfacing on his albums throughout the Seventies.

At the end of the Fifties, many young men and women abandoned Jamaica's rural countryside to live in Kingston. Inevitably, slums, chronic unemployment and a rising crime rate resulted from this mass migration. Bob Marley had moved there from the district of St Ann and, by 1961, he and Desmond Dekker, who would become famous with the song, "The Israelites", were working as welders in the same Kingston factory.

Despite the poverty, a buoyant sense of optimism at the approaching independence in 1962 swept through Jamaica. This was readily reflected in the infectiously energetic ska music that was played constantly on the local sound systems. Clement Dodd, who ran an extremely popular sound system, invested his profits in a record company and early in 1963, started Studio One at 35, Brentford Road, on the northern edge of Trench Town. This quickly became the seminal Jamaican record company of the Sixties, essential to the production of ska and its evolution into rock steady and, later, reggae. The Wailing Wailers became one of his most prolific and successful groups.

After the disappointing response to his first single, in 1962, Bob Marley formed the Teenagers which included Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverly Kelso and Junior Braithwaite. They changed their name to the Wailing Rudeboys before settling on, simply, the Wailers. Alvin Patterson, a Rastafarian drummer who became Bob Marley's percussionist in 1975, knew Clement Dodd and arranged an audition for the Wailers in August, 1963.

Shattered after a week of rigorous rehearsals in Joe Higgs's kitchen, the Wailers gave a mediocre performance at their audition. Clement Dodd appeared indifferent to their music until, almost as an afterthought, they launched into the vigorous ska song, "Simmer Down". A cunning businessman, Clement Dodd recognised its potential and asked them to return later on in the week to record the song. He pressed a copy of the record the day it was recorded and played it that night on his sound system. The Wailers were present and watched, stunned, as the excited crowd demanded the song again and again. The record went on sell 70,000 copies, reaching number one in January, 1964, which made it their first of 20 hit singles for Studio One - though Clement Dodd neglected to inform the group that he had changed their name to the Wailing Wailers.

Clement Dodd paid them a weekly salary and bought their songs off them. While Peter Tosh lived in Trench Town, Bob Marley slept in a room at the back of the studio building. During the day, the Wailing Wailers rehearsed incessantly, inspired by the success of Millie's song, "My Boy Lollipop", which sold six million copies. They also made frequent live performances. For such events, Clement Dodd bought them matching suits that shimmered under the light.

But, despite their conservative clothes, short hair and sweet vocal harmonies, the Wailing Wailers identified with the infamous "rude boys". The rise in the number of "rude boys" was a result of the lack of employment in Kingston. These young men, anarchic, anti-authority and occasionally violent, drank rum and smoked marijuana throughout the day. On top of revelling in the latest violent American films, they also dealt in petty crime.

The Wailing Wailers shared their rebellious spirit and empathised with their plight. While songs such as "Judge Dread" by Prince Buster and "Don't be a Rude Boy" by the Rulers condemned their behaviour, the Wailing Wailers believed the "rude boys" were scapegoats, and their songs, such as "Put it On", "Rude Boy" and "Jail House", were homages to these characters. When the Clarendonians released the song, "Rude Boy Gone a Jail", which criticised the "rude boys", the Wailing Wailers quickly recorded the song "Let Him Go". The first line of this song, "Rudie come from jail", was a deliberate reply to the title of the Clarendonians' song.

In 1965, the group became a trio and was officially called Bob Marley and the Wailers. Bob Marley had also started managing the Soulettes. He married Rita Anderson, a member of that group, in 1966. She would later become an integral part of the I-Threes, his female backing singers of the Seventies. The day after his wedding, Bob Marley travelled to Delaware in America, where his mother and stepfather were living. The group had decided that the only way they could break away from the dismal salary that Clement Dodd paid them was to start their own record shop. To fund this, Bob Marley worked in an American car factory until October 1966.

Both Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh continued to release records in Bob Marley's absence but, on his return, he discovered that the frenetic pace of ska had slowed down and the music had evolved into rock steady. With the political and social turmoil increasing, it seemed that the speed of ska only aggravated the tension. Bob Marley had also missed Haile Selassie's historic arrival at Jamaica on 21 April. Hordes of Rastafarians had broken through the police barricades and, surrounding the stationary aeroplane on the runway, they chanted and bowed in reverence towards their god. Rita Marley was there, and was convinced she had seen stigmata in Haile Selassie's hand, which only increased Bob Harley's interest in Rastafarianism.

Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded "Bend Down Low", their final song for Studio One, at the end of 1966. Marley soon moved away from Kingston to concentrate on his songwriting and study of Rastafarianism. Bob commuted into Kingston regularly, but he and Rita Marley lived in the peaceful district of St Ann, the place where he was born 53 years ago today.

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