Bob Marley Biography - Part 1

The Long Road Begins...

Bob Marley was born in the parish of St Ann, Nine Miles in Jamaica, on February 6th 1945. Born to Mother Cedella and his father Norval Marley. The village of Nine Miles is a lot like many of the country areas of Jamaica, where the people work the land for their living, so from an early age Bob learned the values of nature, and a respect for the simple things in life that he would carry with him throughout his time here on earth.

Captain Norval Marley, (Bobs father) was an English man who worked as a quartermaster attached to the British West Indian Regiment, his job involved riding around on horseback as an overseer of crowns "contingent lands" in the districts around Roden Hall. Although Noval was almost 50 years old and Cedella was just turning 18 they became lovers. When Cedella told Norval she was pregnant by him the two married and Norval promised to take care of the child.
But the day after they wed Norval left for a new job in Kingston. Norval visited Cedella twice while she was pregnant and once more shortly after Cedella give birth. He had told Cedella that his mother in Kingston was mad at him when she heard that he had gotten a young black country girl pregnant and had married her, so much so that she disinherited him; "His whole family where very against him, because of me." says Cedella.

Cedella Booker
Cedella Booker

Cedella took care of Bob in the countryside (were he is remembered with particular fondness) until he was almost six years old, when Bobs father asked if Bob could go to Kingston were he would be provided with better schooling. Cedella finally agreed, and a young Bob was sent to Kingston.

Cedella wrote several times to Norval in Kingston asking how Bob was getting on at his new school. Norvel had written back saying that Bob was doing well at his new school. Six months past and Cedella wrote to Norval saying she was coming to Kingston to see her son. Norval replied and said that Bob had gone on a vacation with his teacher and there was no point in coming to Kingston, so Cedella accepted the story (she later found that this was untrue) but after a year had passed with no word from Norval, Cedella began to worry.

One day a friend of Cedella's told her that she had seen Bob on the streets of Spanish Town Road in Kingston. She said that he had asked about his mother and asked for her to come and look for him.

After hearing this Cedella went to Kingston to find her son. When Mother and son were reunited Cedella found that Bobs father had left Bob (who was now 7) to look after a sick, elderly woman who was a friend of Norval's family. She said that Bob had been a great help to her, fetching groceries and coal. But Bob had said that he wanted to go home with his mother so the two returned to Nine Miles.

Bob adjusted well back to country life, although he had refused to read any more palms for customers at his mothers' shop, which he had started to do before he had left for Kingston. According to customers he was very accurate. He said he didn't read no more palms, "I'm singing now".

Three years after they had settled back in Nine mile's Cedella learnt that Noval had died in 1955 from either malaria or cancer, Bob was now 10. Bob had grown up angry with his father as he felt that he had abandoned him and his mother. Later that same year Cedella (like most Jamaican country girls) wanted to explore the bright lights of the city, and the opportunity came when her brother who lived in Kingston was emigrating to England asked if Cedella would look after his house for him. Cedella grabbed the opportunity and left for Kingston, leaving Bob with his grandfather Omeriah were Bob took responsibility for his Grandfathers goats.

Two years past and Cedella wrote a letter to Omeriah asking to send Bob to Kingston since she had finally gotten a place were he could stay with her.


Trench Town Rock...

The 3 original Wailers: (L to R) Bunny Livingstone, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh

It was in an area of Kingston called Trench Town that Bob met a boy by the name of Bunny (born Neville O'Riley), his family shared the same yard as Bob and his mother. The two boys became close friends who began an interest in singing. They practiced every evening after school with Bunny making a homemade guitar from various pieces of scrap.

By the age of 15 Bob had began to lose interest in school and was concentrating on his singing, so his mother found him a job in a welders shop.

At this point Bob realized that he could go no futher as a singer without someone to teach him some more about the business. He found such a teacher by the name of Joe Higgs who held singing lessons for anyone interested in learning the trade.
Higgs lived in the same yard as Bob and Bunny, (just round the comer) in Trenchtown. Higgs was himself a Rastafarian and shared his knowledge with Bob about the little known (to most) way of life of its followers.

Bob with his friend and teacher, Joe Higgs
Bob with his friend and teacher, Joe Higgs

It was at these lessons that Bob and Bunny met another youth by the name of Peter McIntosh. The three boys soon got together and were calling themselves The Wailing Wailers. They soon found that they sounded very well together and with Higgs teaching them they realized that they were on the road to success.

An accident at the welders' shop that Bob was working at (in which a piece of metal was lodged in Bobs eye) gave Bob the final push he needed to go into the music business full time.

Bob finally got the chance to audition for a record producer by the name of Leslie Kong at his shop (Beverlys record shop). Bob sang a song called "Judge Not" which he and Joe Higgs had written. Kong liked what he heard and a month later a 45rpm single of the song was released in Jamaica. Although the record didn't sell well, it was the start of Bob musical career. Bob was only 16 at the time.

By 1962 Cedella had an affair with Bunny's father, Mr Taddy, and had a daughter named Pearl Livingston, both Bob and Bunny's half sister. Bob was almost 17 when she was born. Life at home in trenchtown became different with a baby in the house. By the end of 1962 Cedella moved to Willmington Delaware, USA, leaving Bob and Pearl with her sister Enid, which lasted till Enid took Pearl and decided to return to the countryside of St Ann. Bob moved in with Mr Taddy and was part of the family until Bob had a disagreement with a girlfriend of Mr Taddy's and by the age of 18 Bob was living on the steets of Kingston. He was homeless.


Cold ground was my bed last night...

By early '63 Bob had found a place to sleep in the corner of a kitchen on First Street. Another friend of Bobs shared the room with him; his name was Vincent Ford who was confined to a wheelchair by a crippling illness. The two boys often found themselves without any food and would often sing songs together to cover the uncomfable rumblings of their stomachs. Despite the difficulties Bob faced he still persued his dreams of becoming a singer and still attended the lessons at Joe Higgs's yard, along with many others with a similar interest.
The next hit the Wailers group had was with a song called "Simmer Down" which went to no 1 on the JBC chart in January 1964. The song itself was a way of telling the rudeboys of Jamaica to "cool down". It was recorded at Coxsone Dodd's studio named Studio 1.

By the time "Simmer Down" had become a success in Jamaica, Bob had been homeless now for a period of six months, fortunately after the success of the song Dodd give Bob a room to sleep in at the back of the studio, and for the next two years it was to be Bob's home.

Bob and Rita on their wedding day
Bob and Rita on their wedding day

On the way to rehearsals at Coxsones studio the trio would pass by a girl's house by the name of Rita Anderson later known as Rita Marley. Rita lived with her Uncle and Auntie; she would see Bob and the others as they passed by. Rita had her own group of singers called the Soulettes, consisting of her, her friend Marlene and her cousin Constantine. In time the group of girls got an audition at Coxsone's studio, Coxsone liked what he heard and and agreed to to take the girls on as trainees. Coxsone assigned Bob to act as the group's manager and to rehearse them.

After several months of rehearsals Bob became attracted to Rita; unknown to her at that point as Rita saw Bob as a father figure type, who seemed too serious about the rehearsals to possibly take an interest in her, So when one day Bunny told Rita that Bob was in love with her, Rita was shocked.

A love affair between the two soon developed, and the two were married on February 10 1966. The next day like his father, Bob left his bride and headed off to find work in Delaware (to join his mother) in the hope of making enough money to start a record label of their own back in Jamaica when he returned.



By 1966 Bobs mother had settled well in Delaware with her own home and a little grocery shop in Willmington.

"How come you marry and you never tell me?" Cedella asked.

Bob told her that it wasn't his intension to marry just then but Coxsone had told him to marry his girlfriend Rita before he left for America so it would be easier to send for her if he wanted to.

In the 4 years that they were apart, the Christian youth that Cedella had left behind in Trench Town had been exposed to the Rastafarian religion, which was difficult for Cedella to understand being a fundamentalist Christian, she simply didn't want to know anything about Haile Selassie to whom the Rasta's consider the "Almighty Living God " on earth.

"Me all is a Rasta from creation. Rasta is our thing. Is not an influence, Rasta is everything... Rasta the first!"

For Cedella Rastas were dread lock wearing people who didn't work, didn't go to Church and smoked ganja all day long. Bob tried to explain to his mother about the concept of Rasta but Cedella didn't want to know. By the end of the year Bob decided he had enough of the cold winter weather in Delaware and decided to return to the climate he was used to in Jamaica. At first Cedella was upset with the idea of Bob returning to Jamaica and turning Rasta, little did she know that in later years she too would turn to the Rasta faith.
For the 7 months that he stayed in Wilmington, Bob worked hard trying to earn enough money to get a little record company off the ground when he went back to Jamaica.

By October 1966 Bob returned to Jamaica.

While Bob was in Delaware with his mother, Haile Selassie had paid a state visit to Jamaica, where he was greeted at the airport by thousands of Jamaicans. To many he was a man of great respect and admiration but to the Rastas he was a living God, the King of Kings and Earths Rightful Ruler.

The Wailing Wailers had continued to record for Coxsone's studio in Bob's absence. They recorded several hits for Coxsone with both Bunny and Rita having big hits with "Rude Boy" and "Pied Piper" respectively. Although the group had recorded many hits for Coxsonne (at least 20 hit singles) they felt that they weren't getting paid enough for their work with him.


Wailin' Soul...

Eventually, the Wailers decided to leave Coxsone and form their own label, using the money Bob had saved while working in Delaware. The Wailers called there new label Wailin' Soul Records, but despite having had some hit's which where being played at dance halls and sound systems which toured the island, (Songs like "Nice Time", "Hypocrites" and an early version of "Stir it up") the group where not getting any much needed airplay by the radio stations.

Realistically the Wailers were too inexperienced to run their own label. Wailin' Soul records went quietly out of business by the end of 1967.

By 1968 Bob was learning the way of Rasta through his friend and teacher Mortimer Planno. It was at a meeting of "groundations," (prayer meetings, that wound last for hours) that Bob was introduced to a man by the name of Johnny Nash. Johnny had set up a record company with another man called Danny Sims and was himself well known in the US (he appeared in two Hollywood films and had recorded five albums, which had sold well).

After hearing Bob sing and Rita harmonizing with him Nash and Sims knew they wanted to work with the group. Sims signed the Wailers to a contract with JAD and Cayman Music, Sims publishing company Despite recording some 80 songs for Sims which provided The Wailers with some badly needed income, it did little to futher their career and somewhat shackled them creatively.

During this time Bob (as he had predicted) had begun to work with Leislie Kong recording some ten songs including Caution, Do it twice and Soul Shakedown Party. But when Kong released an album of songs the Wailers had recorded for him (10 in all), Kong said he would name it (to their extreme anger) "The Best of the Wailers".

Bunny shouted to Kong: "How can you know the best of someone's work when we have such a long trod ahead of us? If this is our best to you, it must mean that you are at the end of your life."

Kong released the album as he had planned. A year later Kong dropped dead of a heart attack, after complaining he wasn't feeling well. He was only 38.

By the Spring of '69 Bob returned to the US to live with his mother and find work in Delaware. Bob had worked at several different jobs including a job at the local Chrysler factory, spending his days on a truck assemble line. Seven years later Bob had a song called "Night Shift" based on his experiences.

Bob returned to Jamaica in the autumn of the same year, and although he wasn't much wealthier than when he left, he had a lot of new songs and ideas.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry
Lee 'Scratch' Perry

The Wailers next producer was an old friend from their days with Coxsone Dodd. His name was Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Perry had his own group of mussians called the "Upsetters" who worked with the Wailers; the result was magical, with many Wailers fans regarding these recordings as the best the band ever made, songs such as "Duppy Conquer", "Small axe", "Kaya", and "Lively up yourself".

Two of the Upsetters band consisted the Barret brothers, Aston "Family Man" Barret on bass guitar and his younger brother Carlton on drums; they had long wanted to hook up with the Wailers.

"The Wailers were the best vocal group, and I group was the best little backing band at the time, so we say why don't we just come together and smash the world?" said Family Man. But despite the brilliance of these recordings, Perry sold them for distribution in Great Britain and the US.

Unfortunately as Bunny said "We have never made one dime from any of them. Perry refused to give us our money when it came time to collect". Although Marley would work with Perry again the partnership was broken.

By the early summer of 1971 Bob recorded a hit song that opened a lot of doors in Jamaica musically, the song was "Trench Town Rock" finally the Wailers were getting the airplay they needed and the recognition they deserved.

"One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain."

The song topped the Jamaican charts for 5 months.

In the wake of The Wailers success Danny Sims arranged for Bob to travel to Sweden to work on a soundtrack of a proposed film staring Johnny Nash. In Sweden Bob stayed close to the hotel where he was staying (trying to avoid the bitter cold) writing songs for the soundtrack of the film, but it proved to be a waste of time as the film sank without trace days after its release.


Island Records...

For the next venture Marley was sent to England where he was to be joined by the other Wailers where they were to back Nash in a concert tour, but this too (Like many of Sim's ventures) fell apart. The Wailers soon found themselves in England (after Nash and Sims ran off to New York to try and rescue Nash's latest release there) with no money, no work and no way off getting back to Jamaica. The group were desperate.

The Natural Mystic - Chris Blackwell of Island Records
Chris Blackwell

By December '71 with few options left Bob decided to go to the studios of Island Records and asked to see the boss, Chris Blackwell.

Chris Blackwell was familiar with the Wailers music, as he had distributed some of their songs in England for their old producer Lee Perry. He agreed to advance the group money to make an album's worth of songs for him (approx £8000). Although friends told Chris he might as well kiss the money goodbye, as he would never see it again, Blackwell felt he should take a chance on the trio.

The group headed back to the familiar climate of Jamaica and began to work on the album which would be know as "Catch A Fire" .


To read part 2 of this biography of Bobs Marleys life, CLICK HERE

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The Natural Mystic web site in honour of the Poet and Prophet Robert Nesta Marley, voice and apostle of the spirit of the His Divine Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie, JAH - Rastafari. This site features free access to many rare concert recordings spanning Bob's muscial life. Bob Marleys' music lives on and loves all. There's a Natural Mystic blowing through the air, if you listen carefully you will hear. Site designed and maintained by Notty Dread of the MoonFireTribe. Best viewed in 1024 px. Optimised for Mozilla Firefox, Javascript and Flash plugins needed. © Disclaimer.