BOB MARLEY interview on his last tour 1980 by Fred Schruers (HighTimes mag.); all photos by KATE SIMON
In the early summer of 1980, Bob Marley and The Wailers were almost midway through an extensive world tour that would take them from Libreville, Gabon to, unevocatively enough, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Or unevocative Pittsburgh would seem were it not now recognizable as the last venue whereBob Marley ever took the stage. But that June, when my editor at Rolling Stone assigned me to join the band on a leg of their European tour, all seemed well. In fact, with the Uprising album having been recorded between early January concert dates in Gabon and two legendary mid-April dates in Zimbabwe, it looked to be a propitious moment in an epochal career as Bob brought his political messageto an increasingly-involved and enthusiastically-widening public. He’d also visit Brazil that spring, hoping to tour later with Jacob Miller and Inner Circle—until Miller’s untimely death in March that year, which left Bob alone (not to dismiss the rapturous and soulful work of Toots and The Maytals), at the summit of reggae music.
I knew little enough about the man, somewhat more about hismusic. I had interviewed him for Circus magazine in 1976 (coincident with a pair of dates at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater), resulting in a story not reprinted here but available to all where the sole copy I know of sits lacquered onto the wall of the Bob Marley Museum in his former home at 56 Hope Road in Kingston. On the April day of that interview, I’d turned up in the doorway of the suite he oftenborrowed from Island Records’ Chris Blackwell. I stood uncertainly peering through a haze of blue smoke at a collection of dreadlocked and, it seemed to me at the time, hostile or sardonically amused band mates and camp followers. I recall looking at the man himself with what must have been a forlorn expression. He looked back, forehead knitted in that severely thoughtful way of his for a moment.Then came the smile that audiences often saw, as wide and beneficent as any I had ever seen. “Hey, Skip,” he said, and patted an empty spot on the couch where he sat. That was Bob.
I joined the tour in Barcelona, where the concert took place in a bullring that was hardly as intimate as The Beacon but where he demonstrated, with a great sense of the scale of the arena and what size of gesture wouldreach its far corners, his unerring command of the crowd. He was exuberant on the new song, “Could You Be Loved,” with its Brazilian lilt; fascinatingly querulous with an underbelly of anger as he recited the spoken interludes on “Crazy Baldhead”; and on “No Woman No Cry,” with his hand raised to his brow, shading his eyes as he mimed an entirely believable, supplicating misery, he was completelyentrancing.
The next morning I found myself talking in a car parked on a foggy side street with Tommy Cowan, a long-time football-playing pal of Bob who was as much a part of the travelling party as the band. We were discussing Bob’s Rastafarianism (he was specifically allied with the Nyahbingi tribe), and his history as the son of a white Jamaican administrator—Norval St. Clair Marley, a manknown as Captain who, Bob’s mother Cedella would recall, “loved to cry”—raised in a rural district in northern Jamaica but knowledgeable of the United States from his time working in an auto plant in Delaware. “Bob,” said Tommy simply, “wants to speak to all the people.”
Bob was so unquestionably the center of the travelling circus that the band, especially young and talentedmulti-instrumentalist Tyrone Downie, took his cue and was welcoming. They paid me the compliment of being just as stingy towards me with the ganja as they were to each other. A typical private bus transfer from the airport would feature the various band members pulling out their individual, cigar-sized, conical spliffs and drawing deeply and alone on them; any borrowing of the smoke was understood to be...
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