Bob's big plansSunday, April 11, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the seventh in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
Respected Bob Marley archivist Roger Steffens says the Uprising album would have been the reggae king's last album for Island Records, the company that launched his international career in the early 1970s.
Steffens told the Jamaica Observer that Marley had signed a multimillion-dollar contract with Polygram Records to distribute music by artistes signed to his Tuff Gong label. Uprising was released in June 1980 by Island, an independent label owned by Chris Blackwell.
“I think it was going to be his final Island album, but it was also his farewell. He knew he was dying,” said Steffens. “He was about to sign a US$10-million agreement with Polygram for the Tuff Gong organisation, including Burning Spear and other artistes he had signed. It would have been a major step towards him creating a Jamaican Motown.”
Uprising was Marley's eighth studio album for Island Records. He also did two in-concert sets for the London-based label which St Mary-raised Blackwell founded in Kingston in 1959.
In 1983, two years after his death, Island released Confrontation, an album that contained unreleased songs by Marley and his band The Wailers.
Though it had rootsy songs like Zion Train, Redemption Song, Bad Card, and Forever Loving Jah, Uprising was the album Marley hoped would finally break him in the black American market. It also contained uptempo, pop-reggae tracks like Coming in From The Cold and Could You be Loved.
“He (Marley) gave Danny Sims (former manager) US$80,000 to get his disco song Could You be Loved onto black radio and even then, it didn't become a big hit with the black community. And that was the biggest disappointment I think of his life…the fact that he couldn't reach the African-American audience,” said Steffens.
In October, 1979, Marley launched his boldest bid to breach the black American market. He opened for Stevie Wonder at Harvard Stadium in Boston, followed by six shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
That push continued on the Uprising Tour when Marley opened two shows for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden on September 19-20.
The Brooklyn, New York-born Steffens met Marley in 1979 when he was touring California in promotion of his Survival album. He interviewed Marley during tour stops in San Diego and Los Angeles, which kicked off his extensive research and documentation of the Rastafarian singer/songwriter.
Steffens has written voluminously about Marley, made numerous presentations on his life and music and appeared in several documentaries about him. His previous book, So Much Things to Say: An Oral History of Bob Marley, was released in 2017.
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