Stars pay tribute to the one and only
Friends, colleagues and fans — from Jimmy Cliff and Chris Blackwell to Tom Morello and Snoop Dogg — pay tribute to the everlasting legacy of Bob Marley’s music.
By: Rolling Stone
This article was originally published March 28, 2014. It’s being republished in honour of what would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday, February 6th, 2020.
“What makes him truly unique is his musical alchemy of beauty, fire, talent and authenticity that transcends genre,” says Tom Morello. “Bob Marley was a first-world star, but a third-world hero.” Read on for more tributes from Marley’s friends, colleagues, and admirers — an all-star group including Jimmy Cliff, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, Jack Johnson, Chris Blackwell, Wiz Khalifa, and many more.
In the early sixties, Desmond Dekker, who used to work with Bob at a welding plant, auditioned for me. He went back and told Bob, “I met Jimmy Cliff” — I had already had two hit records by then — and sent him down to the studio. I was playing the piano, and Bob walked up behind me and said, “That sound good.” I thought, “This has to be somebody.” He said, “I have some songs.” I said, “All right, let me listen to them.” The first thing I noticed was he had a thing with words. He put emphasis on words more than melody. He was more like a poet. I really liked three of the songs, and for me, those three songs summed up who he really was. “Judge Not” was a song about your individuality as a person. Who are you to point the finger at me without knowing who I am? I have a right to who I am. He always went through life like that. The other song was “Terror,” about people terrorising people, which was something he was against. And the other song was “One Cup of Coffee,” a love song. That summarised his revolutionary side, his individualistic side, and his love side. The combination of all those songs made him who he was.
Reggae was a new form, a new beat, a new energy, and the Wailers gave him the balance he needed — he needed the harmonies, the vibes of the people around him. And that’s when Rastafarianism really started to become a force in the world, without any guns or bombs. It was a spiritual movement, and Bob was the rider on the horse for that movement. The energy in the air was that people wanted to understand themselves as individuals and how they as individuals connect with the cosmic flux. Bob’s whole thing was about god as man and man as god, as opposed to god being remote somewhere, and that was the consciousness Rastafari brought.
The last time I saw him, I was recording at his studio at Hope Road. I was working early in the morning, and Bob heard the music and said, “Who dat?” We went on the porch and were sitting on the steps. This was before he went on that tour when he collapsed in Central Park. He was always very conscious of fitness, but he didn’t look like a fit man. When I heard he collapsed, I said, “He was probably pushing himself too hard.” No one was confirming the cancer thing, so I wasn’t convinced he had it. I was getting news from people in Germany who said, “He’s still positive,” but I was really surprised when he passed. I was in San Francisco when I got the news, and at my show that night, I asked the audience for a minute of silence.
In our subconscious, we always know when we are going to go, and Bob always seemed to be in a hurry, as if he knew, “My time is short. I got to do what I have to do.” He understood what he was about, what his journey and path were. The first day he walked into that studio when I met him, he walked fast behind me. He knew. After he passed, I wrote a song, “Bob Yu Did Yu Job.” And he did.
The first time I met Bob, I had it in my head that he would be like Jimi Hendrix. I saw the Wailers as a black rock act — that’s how I wanted to position them. But somehow his lyrics and message and aura went so much wider. I don’t think anybody could have foreseen it coming. No one had the reach he had, and it’s still growing. It’s so extraordinary.
When he walked into my office at Island Records with Bunny Wailer, they had a great presence. Confidence, not arrogance. They didn’t have a ticket back to Jamaica! That impressed me a lot. It took a lot of inner strength.
I remember hearing a rough mix of Catch a Fire, particularly “Concrete Jungle.” That song was so advanced. I saw how it could tickle the ear of the audience I was going after — white college kids — and lure them in. At the time reggae music was not recognized as anything other than a novelty. It wasn’t respected as music. I was after something that would make you say, “Wow.”
It took a long time for that album to catch on. It didn’t sell 40 million copies worldwide in the first year, or anything like that. Probably more like 80,000 to 100,000 copies worldwide. Natty Dread was the first one that was a real hit. After that, his audience just kept growing — to India, Indonesia, literally every corner of the world.
I remember a press conference with a lot of journalists from all over the world throwing questions at him. He was brilliant in how he dealt with those questions. He had this great sense of humor. One reporter asked, “Bob, you profess to be a religious man — how come you have children all over the world with multiple women?” He just said, “Go ye forth and multiply.”
What separates Bob Marley from so many other great songwriters? They don’t know what it’s like for rain to seep into their house. They wouldn’t know what to do without their microwaves and stoves — to make a fire with wood and cook their fish next to the ocean. Marley came from the poverty and injustice in Jamaica, and that manifested itself in his rebel sound. The people were his inspiration. Straight up. Like John Lennon, he brought the idea that through music, empowerment and words, you can really come up with world peace. But it’s hard to compare him to other musicians, because music was just one part of what he was. He was also a humanitarian and a revolutionary. His impact on Jamaican politics was so strong there was an assassination attempt on his life. Marley was like Moses. When he spoke, people moved.
Marley almost single-handedly brought reggae to the world. When I was growing up in Haiti — where my father was a missionary and a church minister — we could barely get away with listening to Christian rock and definitely couldn’t get away with any rap. When I was 14, I slipped on “Exodus,” and my dad, who didn’t speak English very well, asked me, “What’s this song about?” I told him it was biblical, and it was about movement. The minute it reached his ears — the minute Marley’s music reaches anybody’s ears — he was automatically grooving. The vibe goes straight to your brain.
“Redemption Song” transcends time. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds/Have no fear for atomic energy/’Cause none of them can stop the time.” It will mean the same thing in the year 3014. Today, people struggle to find what’s real. Everything has become so synthetic that a lot of people, all they want is to grasp onto hope. The reason people still throw on Bob Marley T-shirts is because his music is one of the few real things left to grasp onto.
To talk only about Bob Marley’s singing voice would negate what makes him one of the greatest voices of our time — why his voice is stamped in our history. He sang about heavy ideas, and he put them out there so delicately and so lightly, with such a generous groove, a generous feel and a generous voice. He didn’t sing correctly; he wasn’t trained, but he had a beautiful voice, a lot like one of my other favorite singers of all time, Marvin Gaye. If they had more similar accents and had sung in more similar styles, you’d hear it.
It’s hard to separate his voice from what he was singing about. Bob Marley sang with a great deal of power — enough to shake the foundations of his country’s government. A measure of a great singer is getting a message across, saying things that otherwise won’t be heard. And in a world that has ways of shutting down people that talk about peace and love, Bob Marley could get that message across and inspire us. It’s rare that something so serious and so beautiful as his music can rise as clearly to the top as he did. His voice is one of the most important inspirations of our time — he was the voice of oppressed people all over the world.
There is a truth, depth, and humanism in Bob Marley’s work that resonates from Tokyo discos to Soweto shantytown campfires, from Berlin street protests to Kentucky frat parties. What makes him truly unique as an artist is his musical alchemy of beauty, fire, talent, and authenticity that transcends genre. Marley just happened to be from Jamaica — that’s why he’s the greatest reggae artist. If he’d been born in Ireland, he’d be the greatest Celtic artist. Brooklyn? The greatest rap artist. And it’s quite possible he’s simply the greatest artist, period.
Bob Marley was a first-world star, but a third-world hero. Why? Because a cornerstone of his catalog is that he created dozens of rebel anthems for the ages. Get Up, Stand Up, I Shot the Sheriff, Crazy Baldhead, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) and (my personal favourite) Redemption Song are global hymns of the global oppressed, lifting spirits and fists with every listen. The hypnotic rhythms, beautiful melodies and vocal performances are unlike any other singer-songwriter in history. His songs soothe restless souls, stoke the flames of resistance and get the damn party started — sometimes all in one throw. This man was not just a working-class hero but a peasant-class hero, a homeless-class hero. And for one man and a guitar (and a spliff or two, of course), that is really something to be.
Marley didn’t just identify with the outsider, he was truly an outsider — neither looking nor sounding like any other pop artist before him. He spoke more like a prophet than a songwriter, and his songs carry the moral conviction of a zealot. His songs speak to our quietest hopes of romance and trust and to our biggest ambitions of justice and freedom. And in a world of anxiety and doubt, his mantra, “Every little thing gonna be all right!” rings in my ears tonight. So thanks for the inspiration and that promise, Bob. As long as we have your timeless jams, everything is gonna be all right.
The thing about Bob’s music is that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it doesn’t matter what your political beliefs or religious beliefs are. I grew up in East Tennessee, but Bob’s music made everybody one, and it touched me. I’ve worked a lot with [bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett] and the Wailers. Family Man has told me so many times that reggae music and country music are very similar in the way that they tell stories and truths; there’s a lot of heart and a lot of love. Love is a thread that runs through a lot of music – don’t care what genre it is.
Last year I shot a video called “Spread the Love” with Family Man and [Wailers percussionist] Seeco Patterson at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston. Just walking around there was a religious experience for me. It’s like a cathedral. When I was in college, I promise you, I never thought I would ever be working with guys that helped create Marley’s music. We didn’t know if Seeco Patterson was going to make it or not; he hadn’t gotten out of his house for a while. When Seeco walked in, you could see the connection between Family Man and him. One of the studio assistants who’s been there for a long time said Seeco hadn’t been in that studio for 20 years.
It’s easy to get really busy in doing what you’re doing and get caught on the treadmill of creating and going on the road and playing. So it was great to be part of something like that. To be there in Kingston, Jamaica, with those guys in that moment was one of the highlights of my career. It made me love Bob’s music even more. Now it’s all about Pro Tools and perfection; they didn’t have that then. Those records aren’t perfect, which is what makes them great. I remember sitting in the studio alone and trying to soak up anything I possibly could – anything that would rub off into my soul.
I was a kid when I first started listening to Bob Marley. It was because of my dad — he put me on to that when I was still in grade school. My parents were divorced, so he’d come pick me up, and I remember singing Bob Marley together with him while we were driving. My dad didn’t even smoke weed or anything. It was just straight up about the music. Of course, weed and Bob Marley do go hand in hand. Reading his interviews definitely made me feel like it’s OK to smoke, even though I already felt that. I thought, “Wow, maybe I could tap into that and find what he found for myself.” But I was into the music way before I became a weedhead. My relationship with Bob was always bigger than that.
Growing up in Hawaii, reggae was bigger than pop radio. It’s the island culture that embraces that kind of music. There’s even a whole subgenre here called “Jawaiian” music — it’s a mixture of reggae, “Jah,” and Hawaiian music. So for me, growing up, Bob Marley was the biggest musician in the world. He was so much bigger than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or anything. Reggae is still mega here. When the Marleys come to town, Ziggy and Damian and Stephen, those are the hugest shows. I still go.
My dad passed away one year when Ziggy was in town, and I wasn’t able to make it to his show. He sent me this really nice letter about his father. I won’t go into the personal matters, but it was really amazing for me to have him sharing thoughts about his father being Bob Marley. I’ve heard Ziggy tell a story, too, the last time I saw him play in Hawaii. He came out just with his acoustic guitar for an encore and said, “This is a song I used to hear my daddy play out in the garden,” and went into “Redemption Song.” Gave me goose bumps.
Marley was able to capture all the emotions. Sometimes, his music was light enough to be on a kid’s record; other times, like “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” he was arguing what’s wrong with the world. Here in Hawaii, they were all on the radio, so I got to experience all the emotions. Sometimes people who know some of Bob’s songs equate reggae with light, happy music, but that’s so not the case. When you’re a fan of reggae, you know how deep it goes.
What makes Bob’s music relatable is that it speaks a universal language of peace and love. We all want to be seen as good in the eyes of whatever it is that made us. Everyone can relate to that need that Bob is expressing.
I listen to Bob Marley’s music in a few different kinds of ways. One way is that I’m sonically attracted to the rhythm, because I resonate with it in my DNA: the African part of it, the drums and the bass, how they ride each other and syncopate. The vibration of it feels good.
Two, I listen to him as a true artist who’s being honest to the point where his emotions are often mistaken as prophecy. We resonate with him deeply, and part of me, as an artist, is encouraged to shine because of his bravery.
The third way I listen is lyrically, just the pure essence of the poetry. We speak the same language, and that language is love, whether it has to do with a partner or the All, and that’s what he sings about. It’s totally authentic.
There are billions of atoms of his spirit, style, melody, inflections and emotions in my music. And the mix of his songs is just so damn good, sonically. It’s unreal. I’m an analog girl, so tape is always going to put a warm coating on everything. It’s like caramel, and it’s a really good feeling. When I put on a Bob Marley record, incense starts burning all over the world.
Bob’s music has always been around me. He’s one of the forefathers. The groove of his music spoke to me, but also the message. “Bob Marley reincarnated, pupils dilated/Emancipated, concentrated, debated, rated many times.” I said that in 2003. There have been traces of reggae in my music for my whole career, but I decided to go all out and do a reggae album when I was in Jamaica in 2012. His spirit lives on in me.
Coming up, smoking weed was a recreational thing to unwind. What I learned in Jamaica was that herb is used for its healing factors. I can relate: I’m at peace when I’m smoking. I do a lot of work in Jamaica now, teaching students and helping local gardeners. Bob’s legacy plays into that. He was all about spreading love.
My parents had all the Bob Marley records in the Seventies, so he was an influence on me from the day I was born. His music was being played in my house daily. Hearing Catch a Fire is one of my earliest memories. Another memory that stands out is when my parents hired a baby sitter because they were going to see Marley play at the Santa Barbara Bowl in the mid-Seventies. I really wanted to go.
When I joined No Doubt, all that ska and reggae was a very natural fit for me. The music that you grow up with is the stuff that never leaves you. It’s somewhere deep in your core, and it stays there until the day you die. The records Bob Marley and the Wailers made in the Seventies are the ones that touched me that way. They were always a part of me.