Vincent Ford: Songwriter credited with composing 'No Woman, No Cry'

Vincent Ford is listed as the composer of the most recorded and acclaimed song in reggae music, "No Woman, No Cry", although the provenance of the song remains keenly debated. The song, made famous by Bob Marley & the Wailers in 1974, though since covered by scores of acts, including Joan Baez, Jimmy Cliff and the Fugees, is a depiction of what life was like "in the government yard in Trenchtown" where Marley spent his teenage years.

Ford, a friend of Marley's from childhood, was born in Jamaica in 1940 and was five years older than the singer. Both grew up in the Trenchtown area of Kingston, in a housing project of prefabricated apartments where Ford (known as "Tarta") showed Marley the rudiments of the guitar. The pair became close friends, and Ford, who ran a soup kitchen, would allow Marley and his musicians to practice on his premises. "Vincent Ford is a bredda from Trenchtown," Marley once said. "Me and him used to sing long time. Me and him used to live in the kitchen together long, long time."

Marley was recording locally from 1962, but the initial international impact of Jamaican beat music was made by Millie, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash and several bands whose work was released by Trojan Records in the UK. In 1972, Bob Marley and the Wailers were signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Records, but Marley was concerned about a previous songwriting contract he had signed with the producer Danny Sims at Cayman Music. He did not want his new songs to be associated with Cayman and so, in all probability, he put them in the names of his wife, Rita, the Wailers or other close friends to find a way around tight publishing restrictions. This spreading out of writing credits would also have allowed Marley to provide lasting help to family and close friends.

"No Woman, No Cry", according to Marley, was written at Ford's flat in 1974, as the pair reminisced about the past and about playing in "the government yard in Trenchtown". They recalled old friends, some of whom had died, and these sentiments run throughout the song. "No Woman, No Cry" first appeared on the 1974 album Natty Dread, and was then featured during a magical concert at the Lyceum, London, which was recorded for release. The subsequent album, Live! (1975), was a huge success and the new version of "No Woman, No Cry" made the UK charts, returning for a Top 10 appearance in the wake of Marley's death in 1981.

Ford was credited with three songs on Bob Marley & the Wailers' next studio album, Rastaman Vibration (1976). He is listed as the sole writer for the opening track, "Positive Vibration", and for a song about radio playlists, "Roots, Rock, Reggae", which became Marley's breakthrough in America. The credit for "Crazy Baldhead", a blunt comment on non-Rastafarians, is shared with Rita Marley.

There is no proof that Vincent Ford did not write "No Woman, No Cry" and the other songs, but the circumstantial evidence would suggestthat he didn't. There are very fewother Marley songs attributed tohim, although ones that are include "Inna De Red" and "Jah Bless", with Marley's son, Stephen. Ford himself never denied his authorship of Marley's songs.

He suffered from complications of diabetes for most of his life, and both his legs were amputated. He lived in Kingston, just behind the Bob Marley Museum, and spent much time there, talking with fans.

Spencer Leigh

Vincent Ford, songwriter: born 1940; (two children); died Kingston, Jamaica 28 December 2008.

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