Bob Marley, the man who’s name is almost synonymous with reggae, would have been 69 years old today. His reach and his impact were immeasurable. He passed in 1981 at the age of 36, but his face still adorns the t-shirts and walls of folks both young and old. I was genuinely surprised to learn that he never had a Top 40 hit on the U.S. pop charts, though he did make the R&B and soul charts. (It was Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sherriff” that spent 10 weeks on the charts and hit the number one spot.) Yet, how many people, record collectors or otherwise, know his name? How many people picked up a guitar after listening to him play? How many bands–some who never once saw him play–list him as an influence? His impact on pop music is just staggering. I’ll spare you a recap of his life. Head to the Boston Public Library or AllMusic for great places to start.
I’m almost embarrassed that I didn’t really start listening to him until I was almost 30. I have to confess, I was never much of a Marley fan. I think at the times in my life that I was discovering my own taste in music, I had him too closely associated with pop music and those who listened to it. These were things I avoided at all costs in high school. As I started listening to punk and ska-punk, I wasn’t yet interested in anything “slow,” and I ignorantly dumped most of reggae and traditional ska into that bucket. As I branched out and gained a love for two-tone, traditional ska, early reggae, and rocksteady, it was only natural I be exposed to songs like “Simmer Down” and “Soul Shakedown Party.” I dug those tunes but never went any further, assuming they were the exceptions. On a college spring break trip (yes, I did one of those, tease all you like, it was great), Marley’s music was almost inescapable, and unfortunately associated with one too many rum and cokes. It never helped that every time I saw a Jamaica tourism commercial, I had to hear a
parody interpolation of “One Love,” a song I still could still live without (watch the video below). Still, Marley was a fairly useful reference when explaining ska, depending on who you were talking to.
Last summer I had the pleasure of filling in on guitar for Duppy Conquerors, Boston’s premier Bob Marley tribute band. They gave me a list of about 70 songs to learn (and they went easy on me). I knew about 4 of them, tops. I had a couple of weeks to really dive into Marley’s discography. When all was said and done, I came out with a more intimate knowledge of Marley’s stylistic range and a greater appreciation and, frankly, great reason to be embarrassed. I was holding out for no good reason.
You can celebrate Bob Marley’s birthday this coming weekend in Boston at a few different shows:
- Friday, February 7 – 2nd Annual Punky Reggae Birthday Party featuring Duppy Conquerors – Cavern Club at Hard Rock Cafe – Tickets, Facebook Event
- Friday, February 7 – 5th Annual Bob Marley Birthday Bash featuring iLa Mawana, Dom LaColla And Elephant Gang, Rocky & The Pressers – Church – Details
- Saturday, February 8 – 5th Annual Bob Marley Birthday Bash Night 2 Featuring Fear Nuttin’ Band, Abstract Dub Co, Dubbest – Church – Details
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live Set – Amandla Festival, Harvard Stadium, 1979-07-21
The intro is important and worth listening to. Learn more about the Amandla Festival here. But should you want skip to the music, Marley hits the stage at the 16 minute mark.
How Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ became the Theme song for Jamaica
Blame the marketers.*
* My day job is in marketing.