Marley set holds rare treasures

October 06, 1992|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES — If there was one remaining frontier that reggae master Bob Marley had yet to cross in late 1979, it was the resistance to his music by many African-Americans.

Marley and his band, the Wailers, had already become well-known throughout Europe, Africa and on college campuses in the United States. He was respected by rock royalty. Concert tours were sellouts.

But soul radio rarely played Marley's music, and the racial complexion of his audience reflected that fact. It bothered Marley that he wasn't reaching everyone.

"The problem was exposure," said Neville Garrick, a close friend of Marley's who designed the visuals for nearly all the Tuff Gong/Island albums that bear the reggae great's name. "We couldn't get black radio play without changing the music and adding an R&B flavor. Bob was clever like a fisherman; he had to have a lure."

So Marley booked seven shows in four nights at the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York's Harlem in late 1979. When he looked out at the crowd, he saw a mix of 75 percent African-Americans.

"For the first time, he felt he had reached American blacks," Mr. Garrick, 42, said by telephone from his home in Kingston, Jamaica. "And the next year, he had a black radio and club hit with 'Could You Be Loved,' which had a pronounced R&B streak. Now he's held in the same esteem as Martin Luther King

The rare extended mix of "Could You Be Loved" is just one of the treasures to be found on "Songs of Freedom" (Tuff Gong/Island), the first compilation to chronicle Marley's 18-year career. The four-CD box set, which is due in the stores today and sells for $39.99, contains 78 tracks dating back to Marley's first record, "Judge Not."

It ends with a live version of "Redemption Song," recorded in Pittsburgh at Marley's last concert, on Sept. 23, 1980. He died of cancer at age 36 on May 11, 1981.

Ironically, certain lines from "Judge Not," a fairly typical ska workout recorded in 1962, were used by Marley 18 years later as the chorus of "Could You Be Loved."

"What's most revealing about the box set is the way Marley recycled his own material," said Marley historian and archivist Roger Steffens. "There's also the high standard of his composition, beginning with that first record he made when only 16 years old."

In another twist, one of the compilation's three newly discovered tracks, "Iron Lion Zion," recently debuted on the British charts at No. 11.

"There's a generation we want to reach with this music," said Cedella Booker, 25, Marley's first child and a singer with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. "I'd like to see this set used on college campuses as an educational tool. It teaches about the man and the music and his history."

The compilation touches upon the 13 albums Marley recorded for Island, including the acclaimed debut "Catch a Fire," "Natty Dread," "Rastaman Vibration," "Confrontation" and the live double "Babylon by Bus." Among the rarities is a live version of "No Woman No Cry," taken from a storied May 1976 date at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood.

"One problem we had was what to leave out," said Mr. Garrick, adding that it took nine months to choose material. "There were so many great Bob Marley tracks. In about five years, there may even be a second volume. There were so many tunes that I felt were important."

Disk one shows the evolution of Marley and the Wailers from a teen-age harmony and ska group to a muscular roots-reggae outfit. In a 1965 cover of the Curtis Mayfield classic "People Get Ready," evidence of the American soul singers Marley was hearing becomes apparent.

"In the beginning, the Wailers were influenced by the doo-wop groups," Mr. Garrick said. "Soul artists like Fats Domino, the Meters, Sam Cook, the Temptations and the Miracles all had enormous influence in Jamaica. There were tons of harmony groups there."

Ms. Booker, daughter of Bob and singer Rita Marley, said those early ska tracks reveal an innocent, humorous side to her father as a young man.

There's one tune called 'One Cup of Coffee,' " she said. "It's not the Bob Marley most people know who would sing about coffee."

Mr. Steffens, who worked on the box set as a consultant, said the three newly discovered tracks -- "Iron Lion Zion," "High Tide or Low Tide" and "Why Should I" -- point to the existence of a rumored 100 or so more songs Marley supposedly wrote and recorded in raw form for singer Johnny Nash.

"They were allegedly done as writer's demos, in other words, recorded with just his voice and a basic rhythm track," Mr. Steffens said. "I've heard about those tracks for years and had doubted they existed."

He said one of the great joys of the compilation is an acoustic medley of seven songs recorded in Marley's hotel room in Stockholm, Sweden, during the summer of 1971.

"He would sit with his guitar in a hotel room or on a bus and someone would sit next to him with a tape recorder and tape him," Mr. Steffens said. "There are allegedly 1,000 hours of those tapes scattered throughout the world."

Mr. Steffens said he has only minor quibbles with "Songs of Freedom" as a whole.

"There are no two Marley fans in the world who would come up with the same 78 tracks," he said. "But as an overview of his life's work, it's an almost totally successful attempt. More than 10 years after his death, his reputation has never been more secure than it is now."

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