Reggae’s only true superstar, Robert Nesta Marley, was born in 1945 in rural St Ann, Jamaica, the son of a teenage mother and middle-aged white British sea captain.
As part of vocal trio The Wailers – who scored their first hit in 1964 with rude boy anthem Simmer Down – he emerged as a singer of considerable range and poise, effortlessly adapting his style to suit ska, rocksteady and roots reggae.
In December 1971, a down-and-out Bob Marley walked into the London offices of Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, looking for a break.
Recognising a golden opportunity, the Jamaican-born Blackwell fronted Marley and the Wailers $6,000 to fly home to Jamaica and record an album.
Upon receiving the master tapes, Blackwell recruited American session men, overdubbed some catchy rock guitar and keyboard licks, and commissioned a cool Zippo-shaped record sleeve.
The album Catch A Fire (1973) generated rave reviews and set the stage for reggae’s international ascent.
Not only was this the first reggae album to penetrate the mainstream rock market, it was also Marley’s key collaboration with fellow Wailers founders Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston.
Natty Dread (1974) was the album that introduced the world to Marley and his new Wailers. Tosh and Livingston had left the band – a reaction to the stresses of continual touring and the pressures of their burgeoning international stardom – and rumour had it that Marley’s sound would now become thinner and his politics blander. Natty Dread proved everyone wrong.
From Marley’s first ululating rebel yell on call to action Lively Up Yourself, the album took no prisoners and simply overflowed with great tunes.
Exodus (1977) was recorded in London during the mellow months that followed an assassination attempt at Marley’s Jamaican home.
The album showed Marley exploring contemporary musical movements such as funk, dub, and rock, particularly on the heavily political side one, which fades in with the powerful religious groove of Natural Mystic and issues an epic trumpet call for audiences to “listen carefully”.
Side two, by contrast, is a lush love-fest featuring the beautifully crafted smash hit Jamming and the simple yet irrepressible One Love. The album reached No. 8 in the UK and made the Top 40 in the American R&B charts.
In 1999, Time magazine named Exodus its album of the century.
Bob Marley died in May 1981 from a brain tumour. He was just 36.
Peter Tosh (McIntosh)
Guitar, keyboards, vocals
Bongos, congas, vocals
Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett
Bass, guitar, keyboards
Keyboards, percussion, vocals
Earl “Wya” Lindo
Carlton ‘Carly’ Barrett