Keeping rhythm with the 'Gong'

Observer senior writer

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

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The guitar is synonymous with Bob Marley. There's hardly a photograph of him on stage without his trusty Gibson Les Paul Special, which was reportedly his favourite instrument.

He was a rhythm guitarist, but not in the class of Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper, Keith Richards or Catfish Collins. However, Marley had a distinctive feel and riffs which earned him the nickname 'Ska'.

His son, Stephen, is also a rhythm guitarist good enough to play on some of his Grammy-winning albums. In a 2016 interview with the Jamaica Observer, he said his father had improved as a musician, as can be heard on songs like Work and Coming in From The Cold.

“Gong did a learn jazz, if yuh listen to song like Jammin', is a jazz vibe. Dat's what him did a get into, more jazz,” he explained.

According to the website, Marley switched to the Gibson Les Paul Special after The Wailers recorded their Catch A Fire and Burnin' albums in 1973. Prior, he played a Fender Stratocaster on songs like Stir It Up (from Catch a Fire).

On his last tour, in 1980, Marley played a Yamaha SG1000. He also owned a variety of acoustic guitars including a Epiphone FT 165 12-string which he reportedly used to compose Redemption Song.

Ernie Ranglin, arguably Jamaica's finest guitarist, said Marley approached him in the late 1970s to tour with him as a teacher. Ranglin declined, as he was employed at the time to Jimmy Cliff's band as musical director.

Peter Tosh, Marley's colleague in The Wailers, was considered the group's musician, playing several instruments on Catch a Fire and Burnin'. Sly Dunbar, drummer in Tosh's Word, Sound and Power band, said “Peter was the wickedest wah wah guitarist.”

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