When Marley met 'Maas Ran'

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

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Bob Marley would have turned 73 in February. The Jamaica Observer 's Entertainment Desk will present a series of off-beat stories on his legacy. Today, we present a teaser.

FOR two generations of Jamaicans, Ranny Williams was a comedic genius — the Oliver Samuels or Christopher “Johnny” Daley of pre- and post-colonial Jamaica. Bob Marley's anti-establishment Rasta message represented the country's changing of the guard during the 1970s.

In late 1979 as Williams recovered from surgery for amputation of his left leg, Marley visited the Pantomime legend at the University of the West Indies Hospital in St Andrew. Tommy Cowan, a colleague of the reggae superstar, suggested he look for the ailing Williams.

Cowan told the Jamaica Observer that Marley was happy to make the visit. But he did not want to go empty-handed.

“He sent someone up to Barbican Road to buy a basket of fruits. When I saw what he did it really moved me 'cause I never knew he was going to do something like that,” Cowan recalled.

He and Marley found the jocular Williams in good spirits despite his life-changing operation. They spent over one hour with him discussing various issues including music, with Marley encouraging the much older Williams to keep the faith.

Ranny Williams and Bob Marley came from entirely different backgrounds. Williams was born in Colon, Panama to Jamaican parents who returned to their homeland when he was six.

He attended Calabar and Kingston Technical High schools, and started his illustrious Pantomime career in Bluebeard and Brer Anancy in 1942. Known to peers and fans as Maas Ran, Williams appeared in countless theatre productions as well as television programmes and films such as A High Wind in Jamaica and The Marijuana Affair.

Marley was born in rural St Ann, but grew up in the tough Kingston ghetto of Trench Town. He began recording in 1962 and went on to a stellar career with The Wailers, before launching his solo career in 1973.

At the time he visited Williams, Bob Marley was one of the biggest names in pop music. Interestingly, three years earlier, he and his wife Rita were treated for gunshot wounds at the University Hospital of the West Indies, after being shot by gunmen at their Hope Road home.

Williams, a tireless social worker, died in August 1980 at age 67. Marley died nine months later from cancer at age 36.

Cowan keeps a framed photograph of their meeting on the wall of his St Andrew office.

“It was the king of comedy meeting the king of reggae. They had different views but the two of them respected each other,” he said.

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