Bob Marley Biography

Nesta Robert Marley was born in the small hamlet of Nine Miles, St. Ann's, Jamaica, on February 6th 1945. His mother Cedella Malcolm was a young country girl of 19, and his father was an elderly white Jamaican by the name of Norval Sinclair Marley.

Until he was 5 years old, Nesta lived with his mother and lived at the house of Cedella's father Omeriah Malcom. Nesta's father suggested the boy should go to live with him in Kingston, where he could benefit from better schooling. Reluctantly, Cedella agreed, and Nesta left to live in the capital with his father.

As the weeks passed, and no word came, Cedella grew increasingly worried for her child. Amazingly, it was not until a year had passed that mother and child were reunited. By complete coincidence, a friend of Cedellas had been visiting Kingston and spotted the young Nesta playing in the street. Hearing the news, Cedella immediately left for the city and tracked Nesta down in Heywood street, where he had been living with an old lady by the name of Mrs. Grey.

Marley was taken back to the country, where he struck up a close friendship with a boy by the name of Neville Livingstone, affectionately known as Bunny. This friendship lasted until Bunny's father, Thaddius Livingstone decided to move to Kingston to open a rum bar. Cedella soon left for the city too, and Bob was left behind to be cared for by relatives until he was old enough to join her

Bob finally moved to Kingston in 1957, where he ws reunited with his mother, as well as Bunny. Kingston exposed the boys to the developing local music scene, and the pair grew increasingly interested in learning to sing and play.

In 1960, Bob, as he was now commonly known, found himself under the tutorage of local singing sensation Joe Higgs. Higgs held basic music lessons in his yard for the young local talent, and Bob was introduced by a man remembered only as Errol.

Music was now the most important influence in Bob's life. He had just quit his welding job after a slither of metal had piereced his eye, and now spent his time hanging around Clement Dodd's Muzik City store, checking out the latest hit sounds.

Under Higgs' guidence Bob's talents bloomed, and in 1962 Derrick Morgan introduced Marley to Chinese-Jamaican producer Leslie Kong. Kong owned the Beverleys Ice Cream Parlour, and had also moved into music production, enjoying considerable success with Morgan.

Marley cut four songs for Kong, two of which were issued on single. The first was "Judge Not", which was issued in England with "Do You Still Love Me" on the flip in 1963, and the second was "One Cup Of Coffee". The fourth track, "Terror" was never issued, and has remained elusive to archivists. Neither of the singles did much business in Jamaica, but that didn't diminish Bob's enthusiasm to build a career in music.

Marley returned to Higg's sessions, and soon after Joe added three new faces to compliment the Marley, Livingstone and Tosh line up. Junior Braithwaite was a young 14 year old with a tender yet powerful voice, compared by some to the great US teen singer Frankie Lymon. Little is known about the backgrounds of the two female singers Higgs introduced, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Green. Indeed, for many years Cherry Green's name was thought to be the more annonymous Cherry Smith.

Bob continued to dabble with a solo career, and enjoyed his first taste of success when he won a talent contest at the Ward Theatre singing his latest composition "Simmer Down". Marley also performed at two farewell concerts held in honour of the emigrating Derrick Morgan, where he performed his debut single "Judge Not" and "One Cup Of Coffee".

In the winter of 1963, the line up that Higgs had assembled took the name of the Wailing Wailers, and on a December morning found themselves auditioning for producer Coxson Dodd. Dodd was not particularly impressed until the fourth song of their audition, Marley's composition "Simmer Down".

Dodd signed the band on the strength of this one song, and before the year was out the Wailers had recorded at least two sessions for the producer, resulting in massive popularity with their debut release, a superbly captured rendition of "Simmer Down".

The Wailers recorded for Dodd until 1966, in which time the line up had returned to the original trio of Marley, Tosh and Livingstone following the departures of Green, Kelso and Braithwaite in 1965.

In 1965 a young nurse by the name of Rita Anderson had begun her recording career with her band the Soulettes at Studio 1. Rita had met the Wailers on their way to Dodd's studio one day, and eventually talked them into arranging an audition for her band. When Dodd agreed to take the Soulettes on, he gave Bob the duty of grooming them for success. Although Bob always seemed distant from Rita, eventually they started a relationship, and on February 10th 1966, the couple were married.

The following day, Bob left his newly acquired bride and flew to Delaware in the United States to be with his mother, who had emigrated in 1962. The purpose of the trip was to earn enough money to finance the Wailers own record label, a move ignited by the disatisfaction of the meagre financial rewards coming from Coxson Dodd.

Bob's stay in Delaware was an unhappy one. The long cold winter was hostile to Bob's Jamaican blood, but he remained undetered, and earned money working as a janitor, and also taking a job at a Chrysler car factory. Bob stayed in America for nine months, before returning home when the US army decided they would like him to take up their offer of being drafted.

When Marley returned to Jamaica, the Wailers opened their own record shack at 18a Greenwich Road, from where they hoped to distribute their own product. The first single on the Wail 'N' Soul 'M label was "Bend Down Low", a song that Bob produced at Dodd's Studio 1, and this was followed by a version of Junior Walker's "Got To Hold On To This Feeling", recorded as a duet by Bob and Rita. By now Bob was fully embracing the Rasta faith, although it was still sometime until it flourished fully in his music.

It wasn't long before Wail 'N' Soul 'M was in financial difficulty, and after a spell farming land back in St. Annes, the band were looking around for another way to fund their projects. Mortimor Planno, a Rasta bredren of Bob's introduced him to American concert promoter Danny Sims, who was in the country working with his star client Johnny Nash. Both Nash and Sims were hugely impressed by Bob's songwriting, and Sims offered Bob finances in returning for signing over his publishing rights to his Cayman Music company.

The deal gave the Wailers a weekly income, as well as allowing them to record for other producers, keeping them free from any contractual shackles that could hold them back. The contract saw the Wailers recording a large catalogue of material, including re- cuts of previous Wailers hits, and songs specially written by associates of Sims.

The independence allowed by the contract freed the Wailers to record an albums worth of material for Leslie Kong, the producer of Marley's first recordings. These recordings, which were completed in April 1970, were compiled by Kong onto the album "The Best Of The Wailers", much to the chagrin of Bob, Peter and Bunny.

Moving away from Kong, the Wailers next paired themselves with the emerging genius that was Lee Perry, the producer of the international hit "Return Of Django" in 1969. The first track cut was Marley's composition "My Cup" and this was followed by a flood of classic recordings over the next year, which many hold as the zenith of Bob's career.

It was during these sessions with Perry that the Wailers integrated session musicians Carlton and Aston Barrett into the Wailers, to become a self contained band, not having to rely on outside session players.

In May 1971, Bob moved with Johnny Nash and Danny Sims to Sweden, where he was to work on the soundtrack of a film that Nash was to star in. Nothing ever came of the soundtrack, and the film sank without trace after closing within days of it's premiere. It was during this this Scandanavian break that the acoustic medley featured on the "Songs Of Freedom" box set was recorded, with Bob running through some of his compositions for Johnny Nash.

One of these compositions was "Stir It Up", a song the Wailers had recorded in 1967 for Wail 'N' Soul 'M. Nash decided to cover the track in his own style, and the song became an international hit in April 1972, making Bob, according to Danny Sims, a rich man before he discovered his own international success.

Nash's version was also included on his hit album "I Can See Clearly Now", along with a few other Marley cuts, bringing Bob further royalties. The album was recorded in London, and Bob flew over during the sessions, trying to escape the cold of Sweden.

While in London Danny Sims secured a recording contract for Bob with Columbia Records. Among the half dozen songs Bob recorded for them was his first and only single under the contract, "Reggae On Broadway", backed with the pop-reggae "Oh Lord I Gotta Get There". Following the recording Bob finally flew back to Jamaica to prepare the Wailers for a UK tour.

Despite some media coverage, and a few promotional gigs, the single sank without trace, and Columbia didn't seem too interested in their latest signing. Sims and Nash had left the scene and the Wailers were stranded in London. Bob decided to approach Chris Blackwell, the owner of Island Records, who agreed to fund an album by the Wailers, which also meant buying out Bob's contract from Danny Sims.

The Wailers returned to Jamaica and set about recording their first purposed album at Harry J and Randy's studios, afterwhich Bob flew back to London with the master tapes. These were overdubbed by guitarist Wayne Perkins and John "Rabbit" Bundrick, to add a final commercial appeal to the tracks.

Island issued a preview single, "Baby Baby We've Got A Date" ,from the album on their Blue Mountain subsidiary in January 1973, and the long player, "Catch A Fire" followed in April. The album was packaged in a unique, Zippo lighter sleeve, and marketed like a rock record, the first time a reggae album had received such treatment.

"Catch A Fire" received warm reviews from the press, and the Wailers worked hard promotingthe album with a string of dates up and down the UK. The band didn't rest on their laurels, and in November the same year Island Records issued the follow up "Burnin'", but this was to be the last album featuring Peter and Bunny.

During the American leg of the Wailers tour, Bunny, unhappy with life on the road had refused to join the band, preferring to stay in Jamaica. His place was taken by Joe Higgs, who had expertly guided the band through their early rehearsals. Further problems arose that led to Tosh also quitting the band, and so Bob had to rethink his strategy for the next Wailers release.

The next move was a stroke of genius. To replace the harmonies of Peter and Bunny, Bob enlisted his wife Rita, and two Jamaican starlets Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, who formed the harmony trio the I-Three's. The new Wailers line up set to work recording the next album, "Natty Dread" in 1974, and the final product hit the streets in January 1975.

In the mean time, Bob's reputation had spread even further through another hit cover version of one of his songs when English blues guitarist Eric Clapton covered "I Shot The Sheriff" , a track from the "Burnin'" album. Clapton's version shot to No.1 in America, and reached No.9 in the UK.

The "Natty Dread" album was both an artistic and commercial success, leading Bob onto an extensive promotional tour, including memorable shows in the States, and two magical shows at London's Lyceum Theatre, one of which led to a hit "Live!" album at the end of the year.


This live recording was also the source of Bob's breathrough hit in the UK, when a stunning rendition of "No Woman No Cry" was issued in September '75, reaching No.22 in the national chart.

Toward the end of Summer 1975, Bob began work on his next album. It was during these sessions that the news came through that Haille Selassie, whom the Rasta's believe is the earthly incarnation of His Majesty, had passed away. Immediatley Bob began work on a special song, "Jah Live", that delivered a strong response to those who doubted the faith. Bob's message was simple "yuh cyaan kill God!"

As Bob's star was ascending internationally, he didn't forget his roots, or the people who had helped put him on top. On October 4th 1975, Marley rejoined Peter and Bunny on stage for a Wailers re-union at the National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica. The event was in aid of the Salvation Army school for the blind, and the headlining act was Stevie Wonder. At the end of the show the Wailers joined Stevie on stage, and Bob duetted on a version of "I Shot The Sheriff".

In May 1976 the album "Rastaman Vibration" was released in Island, and in June a long tour of the US and Europe began in Miami. The tour was a huge success, many regarding some of the shows as Bob's best performances, and the album was the first breakthrough in America, reaching No.8.

Returning to Jamaica, Bob agreed to play at the Smile Jamaica concert being held at Heroes Park Circle on December 5th. The show was to be a free concert, an attempt to unify the people following the political unrest that had led to a state of emergency on the Island. The concert was supposed to be "politics free", but some people viewed it with suspicion, and ultimately Bob was caught in the middle.

The Friday before the concert, the Wailers were rehearsing at 56 Hope Road, when they were ambushed by gunmen. Bob was in the kitchen peeling a grapefruit when a gunman burts in, shots were fired just as Marley's manager Don Taylor walked into the room. Taylor was hit five times, and Bob was shot in the arm, a further two shots went astray. As Rita fled the building a bullet ricochetted and hit her in the head, lodging between her scalp and skull.

Following hospital treatment, Bob and his family retired to a house in Strawberry Hills, where they felt they would be safer. Their appearnce at the Smile Jamaica show was now in doubt, but following much heart searching, Bob appeared on stage as planned, afterwhich he left the Island and finally settled in London, where he recorded his next two albums ?"Exodus" (1977) and "Kaya" (1978).

Bob didn't return to Jamaica for another 14 months, in which time he established himself as the internationally recognised figurehead of reggae music, with a string of hit singles and sell out shows throughout Europe and America.

Bob's return to his homeland was celebrated by a triumphant performance at the One Love Peace Concert on April 22nd, where Bob and the Wailers gave a magical performance, culminating in Marley joining Prime Minister Michael Manley and leader of the opposition Edward Seaga to join hands on stage in a show of unity.

The Wailers began another lengthy tour to promote the "Kaya" album, and one show at the Pavillion in France was preserved on Bob's second live album "Babylon By Bus", released in November 1978. At the end of the tour, Bob took the band into the newly installed Tuff Gong recording studio at Hope Road to record the next album, "Survival".

The Wailers returned to the live stage with a performance at the second Reggae Sunsplash event in Monetgo Bay, Jamaica, where Bob gave a rootsier performance for his fellow countrymen. During the early hours of the morning, Bob took to the mud covered stage and played a unique set that featured Jamaican only singles "Rastaman Live Up" and "Blackman Redemption", the rocksteady hit "Hypocrites" and tracks from the forthcoming album.

In October the "Survival" album was issued, and the rest of the year was spent on a long world tour, with Bob visiting Australia, Japan and New Zealand, as well as Europe and the US.

1980 arrived with the Wailers performing for the first time in Africa. Just as the band were to leave the country following a two week break, it emerged that Don Taylor had been skimming profits off from the shows. Enraged, Bob beat Taylor up, ended their partnership and returned home.

As work began on the 1980 album "Uprising", Bob re-appointed Danny Sims as his manager, re-newing the link that had ended before Bob's international success in 1972.

In April Bob was invited to perform at the Zimbabwe Independance celebrations in Harare. The Wailers flew over, at Bob's expense, and prepared for the show on the 18th. At the beginning of their performance, excited crowds rushed into the stadium, resulting in the security forces firing off tear gas, which drifted across the stadium forcing the band to leave the stage. After eventually finishing the set, Bob agreed to perform the following day for those who had been locked out, and 100, 000 people attended the following nights show.

In July the "Uprising" album was released, and the Wailers once again took to the road. The European leg of the tour was an enormous success, with memorable shows in Dortmund, London and Milan the highlights. The tour moved over to the States in September, with a show in Boston, before moving on to New York for two appearances at Madison Square Gardens.

The Sunday morning after the second show, Bob and Alan "Skill" Cole went for a jog around Central Park. As Bob came around the pond near Central Park south, he suddenly seized up, and collapsed. Cole took Bob back to the hotel where he was staying, and Bob eventually recovered from the seizure.

Bob was taken to a doctor, who diagnosed a brain tumour, and advised him to seek urgent medical attention. Bob joined up with the Wailers on the 23rd of September in Pittsburgh, where the band were due to perform that night at the Stanley Theatre. Upon hearing the news of Bob's illness, she became hysterical and demanded they stop the tour, but Bob decided that the show must go on.

That night in Pittsburgh, Bob Marley and the Wailers performed for the very last time.

Bob seeked treatment in the Manhattan Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, Cedars Lebanon, Miami and a clinic Mexico, before checking into Joeseph Issels clinic in West Germany in October. On November 4th 1980 as baptised into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, taking the name Berhane Selassie.

Bob fought hard against the cancer, making a temporary recovery from the symptoms as he rallied against the illness, but one day in May, Issels had to conceed defeat. Bob flew back to Miami on the 10th of May, and the following morning passed away in the Cedars Lebanon Hospital. He was just 36 years old.