Robert Nesta Marley's vocal group, the Wailers, originally comprised six members: Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. Bob Marley And The Wailers are the sole Jamaican group to have achieved global superstar status, together with genuine penetration of world markets. The original group was formed during 1963. After extensive tuition with the great vocalist Joe Higgs, they began their recording career later that year for Coxsone Dodd, although Marley had made two singles for producer Leslie Kong in 1962 - 'Judge Not' and 'One Cup Of Coffee'. Their first record, 'Simmer Down', released just before Christmas 1963 under the group name Bob Marley And The Wailers, went to number 1 on the JBC Radio chart in January 1964, holding that position for the ensuing two months and reputedly selling over 80,000 copies. This big local hit was followed by 'It Hurts To Be Alone', featuring Junior Braithwaite on lead vocal, and 'Lonesome Feeling', with lead vocal by Bunny Wailer. During the period 1963-66, the Wailers made over 70 tracks for Dodd, over 20 of which were local hits, covering a wide stylistic base - from cover versions of US soul and doo-wop with ska backing, to the newer, less frantic 'rude-boy' sounds that presaged the development of rocksteady, and including many songs that Marley re-recorded in the 70s. In late 1965, Braithwaite left to go to America, and Kelso and Smith also departed that year.
On 10 February 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, at the time a member of the Soulettes, later to become one of the I-Threes and a solo vocalist in her own right. The next day he left to join his mother in Wilmington, Delaware, USA returning to Jamaica in October 1966; the Wailers were now a vocal trio. They recorded the local hit 'Bend Down Low' at Studio One late in 1967 (though it was actually self-produced and released on their own label, Wail 'N' Soul 'M'). This and other self-produced output of the time is among the rarest, least reissued Wailers music, and catches the group on the brink of a new maturity; for the first time there were overtly Rasta songs. By the end of that year, following Bunny Wailer's release from prison, they were making demos for Danny Sims, the manager of soft-soul singer Johnny Nash, who hit the UK charts in April 1972 with the 1968 Marley composition, 'Stir It Up'. This association proved incapable of supporting them, and they began recording for producer Leslie Kong, who had already enjoyed international success with Desmond Dekker, the Pioneers and Jimmy Cliff. Kong released several singles and an album called The Best Of The Wailers in 1970.
By the end of 1969, wider commercial success still eluded the Wailers. Marley, who had spent the summer of 1969 working at the Chrysler car factory in Wilmington, returned to Jamaica, and the trio began a collaboration with Lee Perry that proved crucially important to their future development. Not only did Perry help to focus more effectively the trio's rebel stance, but they worked with the bass and drum team of brothers, Aston 'Familyman' Barrett and Carlton Barrett, who became an integral part of the Wailers' sound. The music Bob Marley And The Wailers made with Perry during 1969-71 represents possibly the height of their collective powers. Combining brilliant new songs such as 'Duppy Conqueror', 'Small Axe' and 'Sun Is Shining' with definitive reworkings of old material, backed by the innovative rhythms of the Upsetters and the equally innovative influence of Perry, this body of work stands as a zenith in Jamaican music. It was also the blueprint for Bob Marley's international success.
The Wailers continued to record for their own Tuff Gong label after the Perry sessions and came to the attention of Chris Blackwell, then owner of Island Records. Island had released much of the Wailers' early music from the Studio One period, although the label had concentrated on the rock market since the late 60s. Their first album for the company, 1973's Catch A Fire, was packaged like a rock set and targeted at the album market in which Island had been very successful. The original Jamaican release was remastered and two tracks removed to make the album more palatable for the rock market, a decision reached with some unease by the members of the group. The band arrived in the UK in April 1973 to tour and appear on television. In July 1973 they supported Bruce Springsteen at Max's Kansas City club in New York. Backed by an astute promotional campaign, Catch A Fire sold well enough to warrant the issue of Burnin', adding Earl Lindo to the group, which signalled a return to a militant, rootsy approach, unencumbered by any rock production values. The rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton covered 'I Shot The Sheriff' from this album, taking the tune to the number 9 position in the UK chart during the autumn of 1974, and reinforcing the impact of the Wailers in the process.
Just as the band was poised on the brink of wider success, internal differences caused Tosh and Bunny Wailer to depart, both embarking on substantial solo careers, and Lindo left to join Taj Mahal. The new Wailers band, formed in mid-1974, included Marley, the Barrett brothers and Bernard 'Touter' Harvey on keyboards, with vocal harmonies by the I-Threes, comprising Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt. This line-up, with later additions, would come to define the so-called 'international' reggae sound that Bob Marley And The Wailers played until Marley's death in 1981. In establishing that form, not only on the series of albums recorded for Island but also by extensive touring, the band moved from the mainstream of Jamaican music into the global market. As the influence of Bob Marley spread, not only asa musician but also as a symbol of success from the so-called 'Third World', the music made locally pursued its own distinct course.
1975 was the year in which the Wailers consolidated their position, with the release of the massively successful Natty Dread and rapturously received concerts at the London Lyceum. These concerts attracted both black and white patrons - the crossover had begun. At the end of the year Marley achieved his first UK chart hit, the autobiographical 'No Woman No Cry'. His first live album, comprising material from the Lyceum concerts, was also released in that year. He continued to release an album a year until his death, at which time a spokesman for Island Records estimated worldwide sales of $190 million. Marley survived an assassination attempt on 3 December 1976, leaving Jamaica for 18 months in early 1977. In July, following a harmless incident when he stubbed his foot during a game of football, he had an operation in Miami to remove cancer cells from his right toe.
Marley's music career remained bright, with the albums Exodus and Kaya enjoying massive international sales. In April 1978, he played the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, bringing the two leaders of the violently warring Jamaican political parties (Michael Manley and Edward Seaga) together in a largely symbolic peacemaking gesture. The band then undertook a huge worldwide tour that took in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. His label, Tuff Gong, was expanding its interests, developing new talent. The album Survival was released to the usual acclaim, being particularly successful in Africa. The song 'Zimbabwe' was subsequently covered many times by African artists. In 1980, Marley and the Wailers played a momentous concert in the newly liberated Zimbabwe to an audience of 40,000. In the summer of 1980, his cancer began to spread; he collapsed at Madison Square Garden during a concert. Late in 1980 he began treatment in Munich, Germany with the controversial cancer specialist Dr. Josef Issels. By 3 May, the doctor had given up. Marley wanted to end his days in Jamaica but the severity of his illness meant his flight home was diverted to Miami, Florida, where he died on 11 May.
Marley was rightly celebrated in 1992 with the release of an outstanding CD box set chronicling his entire career, although his discography remains cluttered due to the legal ramifications of his estate. His global success had been an inspiration to all Jamaican artists; his name became synonymous with Jamaican music, of which he had been the first authentic superstar. His contribution is thus immense: his career did much to focus the attention of the world on Jamaican music and to establish credibility for it. In addition, he was a charismatic performer, a great singer and superb songwriter - an impossible act to follow for other Jamaican artists.
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