KINGSTON, Jamaica - Bob Marley, a Bee Gees fan? It may sound unlikely, but like millions of music fans in 1980, the reggae king had an ear for the Gibb brothers’ music.
Tommy Cowan was marketing manager for Marley’s Tuff Gong Records in Kingston that year when he travelled to New York City to see the singer who was promoting his Uprising album in the United States.
Cowan said they met at the Manhattan apartment of Danny Sims, Marley’s American manager. He noticed something very peculiar.
“Bob was listening to the Bee Gees the whole time and I said to him, ‘how yuh listening those guys’,” Cowan recalled. “He said, ‘dem selling millions an’ I want to know why’.”
While Marley was huge in Europe, he was yet to make a major mark in the US. With the Bee Gees, it was a different story.
They were heroes of the disco era with songs like Stayin’ Alive and Love You Inside Out. Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb also penned the massive-selling soundtrack for the hit movie, Saturday Night Fever, which starred John Travolta.
Marley, who would have turned 68 today, was keen to break into the US market, especially among black Americans whom he had struggled to make a connection. For the Uprising tour, he reached out to top black disc jockeys like Frankie Crocker and opened for Rhythm and Blues group The Commodores at Madison Square Garden.
That commercial breakthrough never came. Marley collapsed in September, 1980 while jogging in Central Park and subsequent tests revealed he had a brain tumour.
A decision was taken by his management to go ahead with the show at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23, but the remainder of the tour was cancelled.
After radical cancer treatment at a German clinic failed, Marley returned to the US in 1981. He died in a Florida hospital in May that year at age 36.
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