More on Bob Marley and some of those who made him great


Sunday, June 18, 2017

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(In continuing our series of serialising sections of the book Jones Town Trench Town The Journey Back written by former Jamaica cricketer, economist and politician Paul Buchanan, today we continue with a look at the life and work of the legendary Jamaican reggae great Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, and some of the other significant people who influenced his short music career.)

The other Wailers

The original supporting cast all migrated to the USA soon after the formation of the Wailers. Junior Braithwaite, the group's musician and vocalist, migrated early, but on his return, he was tragically shot in a bar in Waterhouse, Kingston.

Backup singer Cherry Smith, 'the mystery Wailer', died in 2008 of natural causes and Beverley Kelso, the other surviving Wailer, resides in the USA.

The I Three

After the break-up of the Wailers in the early seventies, Bob was fortunate to obtain the services of a group of three exceptional singers: his wife Rita Marley, blessed with a wonderful voice; the durable Marcia Griffiths of Oxford Street in nearby Hannah Town, who was a rising star and signal partner of Bob Andy in the duo, Bob and Marcia, at the time. Their duo found success with several number one hits, including the remake of Young Gifted and Black in 1971 which topped the British chart. Bob Andy also wrote her highly successful solo, Feel Like Jumping, arranged by Jackie Mittoo. The third member, the beautiful Judy Mowatt, was also possessed of a fine voice and postponed a promising solo career to work with Bob Marley. He went on to find musical immortality with their flawless harmony enhancing his music and songs.

Joe Higgs — The teacher

At the start, Bob did not have a great voice; neither was he a good singer. But always a realist and perfectionist, he would quickly learn. Hence, his first songs, Judge Not, Terror and One Cup of Coffee, produced by Beverley's Records, were not hits, although they fared better after his rise to stardom. He well understood that nothing came easy and although his contemporaries were better singers, he surpassed them all by offering a special voice developed by disciplined practice. He had a great teacher, the experienced Joe Higgs.

It was under Joe's guidance at his Third Street home that Bob learned to 'hold notes' and sought to pattern the style of Curtis Mayfield, the lead singer of the American group, the Impressions, hence the similarities with the sounds of his early songs: It Hurts to Be Alone, One Love, Put It On and I Am Still Waiting. It was in this development period that the original name of Bob's group, 'The Teenagers', was changed to 'The Wailing Rude Boys', afterwards 'The Wailing Wailers', then later, 'The Wailers'.

Alton Ellis — 'The Godfather'

It was in this vein, also, that Bob came to admire and learn from Alton Ellis, OD, 'the Godfather' whose soothing melodies, Breaking Up (Is Hard To Do) and Girl I Have Got A Date, offered a soulful tone, similar to Mayfield's. There is no debate as to Alton's foundation role in the evolution of Marley's greatness. Alton provided the building blocks of punctuality, discipline, professionalism and social responsibility, reflected in his prodigious output of clean music, which would not have been lost on Marley and the revered Dennis Brown, the 'Crown Prince of Reggae'.

In his October 19, 2008 Gleaner contribution, Alton Ellis, King of Soul, the much respected journalist Ian Boyne has cited Alton's incisive impact:

“Alton Ellis was the incarnation of excellence, precision and artistic genius…Anyone who knew Alton Ellis will testify to his relentless quest for perfection and his corresponding impatience with just-so performance and the excuses which go with it.”

Continuing, Boyne also grasps Alton's essential decency: “His life was a telling rejoinder to those vulgarisers who have perpetuated the myth that to come from the ghetto is to come full loaded with excuses for mediocrity, boorish behaviour and bhuttoism… Alton exemplified the fact that the desire to be world class was not limited to uptown but was very much in Trench Town.” (Alton Ellis, King of Soul) Alton's classic work, Deliver Us, inspired by Mortimer Planno, makes the pre-eminent case for social responsibility:

“Let the hungry be fed; Let the naked be clothed;

And the aged be protected; Lord deliver us.”

When Marley strayed, caught up in the rise of 'badmanism' in the early sixties, recording hits such as Rudie Get Taller, Alton rebuked him in song, reminding him of his duty to use his talents to uplift and ennoble others, with retaliatory recordings like Dance Crasher and Cry Tough. Bob would heed the teachings of the master and thereafter begin his conscious journey of maturity, social protest and change. Then came songs such as Hooligans, written by the creative artist and journalist Shirley Maynier-Burke; his own cry to the 'rude boys', to Simmer Down; his anthem of social consciousness, No Woman No Cry, and the seminal poem of resistance, responsibility and protest, Get Up, Stand Up.




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