BOB MARLEY'S EXTRAORDINARY 1976, which began with such promise as sessions for his breakthrough Rastaman Vibration album forged a new sound for the reggae superstar, ended after a year of escalating political violence with his attempted assassination.
Reggae historian David Katz takes the lid off Jamaican politics and gang crime in the latest MOJO magazine (on sale in the UK from July 26), while showing how a sojourn for the Wailers in Miami helped add cosmopolitan flavours to Marley's eighth studio album, as Criterion Studios’ in-house mastering engineer Alex Sadkin was drafted to mix.
“I needed somebody to engineer and he [turned out to be] the best engineer I’ve ever worked with,” Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell tells Katz. “He was a real master at what he did, a perfectionist, and it was really by luck that we used him.”
The sound had resonances beyond Marley’s Trench Town, Kingston stronghold and the Rastaman Vibration tour of spring 1976 took Marley to a new level, particularly in the States, where a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles on May 26 brought rock royalty out in force.
“It was kind of remarkable,” Marley associate and graphics honcho Neville Garrick tells Katz, “because he had people like Ringo Starr and George from the Beatles, and Doctor Hook, all kinds of mega-stars. I think that’s when they said Bob Marley had arrived.”
Meanwhile, reggae was in an extraordinarily creative phase, with landmark albums by Peter Tosh (Legalize It), Bunny Wailer (Blackheart Man), Max Romeo (War Ina Babylon), Tapper Zukie (MPLA) and Augustus Pablo (King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown) to name just a smattering.
But reggae thrived on a knife edge of poverty, international tension and gun crime, and when gunmen broke into Marley's house at 56 Hope Road on December 3, the vulnerability of the genre’s shining figurehead was suddenly apparent.
“I could see guns going – just gunshots, man! It sounded like war.”
“I heard the first gunshot, and then I saw this guy come up through the back door,” Wailers guitarist Donald Kinsey tells David Katz. “He had on a leather glove, with a gun, and just let loose. After I seen that gun pull back out through the door, I ran out the kitchen and ducked behind one of my Ammo guitar amp cases, and when I peeped around, I could see guns going – just gunshots, man! It sounded like war. Then Bob ran out the kitchen and came through the rehearsal room and went on down the hallway. [Marley's manager] Don Taylor finally came out and blood was just coming out of him like ketchup. He collapsed right there in the rehearsal room, and I just sat there and waited to not hear any more bullets.”
For more, including the immediate aftermath of the shooting and the latest theories surrounding the murder attempt, a 15-track covermount CD of Jamaican classics from Prince Buster, Lord Creator, Jimmy Cliff and more, and a fascinating piece on the early development of the genre in the UK, pick up the latest MOJO magazine, on sale in the UK from Tuesday, July 26.
Also in the issue: David Bowie's lost album sees the light, plus the magick and madness of Station To Station; how to fail in style with The Replacements; the R&B legacy of Graham Bond; Riot Grrrl remembered; UK reggae on the rise. Not to mention: The B52's; Angel Olsen; Scotty Moore; Ramones; Jarvis Cocker's Mindblowers; the Who, Springsteen and Beck hit the stage; Jimmy Webb’s Self Portrait and more!
PHOTO: Peter Mazel/Photoshot