The Beat, August 3, 1989

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The Beat

US music magazines


Give thanks and praises

Timothy White

The music community remembers Bob Marley

It never ceases to amaze me how touched other artists are by Bob Marley's legacy. Not just reggae musicians but those of every stripe, every genre, every persuasion. On the morning after Bob Marley died, I got a phone call at Rolling Stone from James Taylor, then on tour for his Dad Loves His Work album. Sitting in a hotel room somewhere in the Midwest, Taylor told me how deeply saddened he was by Bob's death, and he explained that he knew writing how much the man's music meant to me. Through his tears, he said he wanted to let me know that "people all over the world felt strongly" about the loss.

Then, over the phone, James played me the bare bones of a tune he'd spent part of the previous evening working on, a simple tribute to Bob he had titled "A Man Is Gone." It was a brief, spare, three-chord tune — more a narrative accompanied by James' distinctive picking style than a full-blown song, but what has always lingered in my mind in the years since was the tenderness of the effort itself.

"I don't think I've written this for the public," he said when he was done playing, "I believe I wrote it to make me feel better."

Of course, to have gotten such an intimate call out of the blue was extraordinary, yet in the days immediately following Bob's death in May '81 there was such a palpable sadness in the air that the need to acknowledge it was very strong on the part of many musicians. In the years since, some of the most moving conversations I have had about Bob Marley have been ones initiated by other performers — some of them familiar with my own writing about Bob, others having no prior knowledge of it yet eager to discuss the man after his name had come up.

Sting has always been very open in his admiration of Bob. The profound respect Sting says he had for Marley played a pivotal role in Sting's teaming up with Ziggy Marley in 1988 to record a duet version of The Police's 1981 reggae track "One World (Not Three)" to open a European tv special for the Council of Europe's North South Campaign, an educational drive designed to show citizens of fully industrialized countries the importance of their ties to Third World nations. Others who have enthusiastically initiated discussions of Bob Marley with me over the years have been Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar, David Byrne, Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (who co-produced Ziggy Marley's superb Conscious Party album), Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Little Steven, Pat Benatar, and the members of U2, particularly Bono and bassist Adam Clayton.

What follows are informal interview testaments to the enduring impact of Bob Marley by those who had a special love for him — his fellow musicians. Their diversity alone is a marvelous indication of how many hearts he has touched and his enduring place in each of them.

Elvis Costello:

When I was 15, rock steady was all the rage at parties in England, and you heard records by the Pioneers, Alton Ellis, and Roland Alphonso's fantastic "Phoenix City" which was a direct influence on a song from Spike, "Stalin Malone." Anyhow, because the Wailers weren't really a major presence on the local British bluebeat and tighten-up charts until the Island reggae era, the first Wailer album I fell in love with was Catch A Fire; I had the original "cigarette lighter" album cover which I was quite taken with. I also loved Burnin' and Natty Dread, which were very potent and personal.

However, shortly after Catch A Fire appeared in shops, some earlier Lee Perry stuff surfaced on Trojan Records' African Herbsman collection, and I went completely wild for that album. Tracks like the original "Trench Town Rock" and "Small Axe" had a murkier sound to them, but I preferred those versions for the mystery and ghetto atmosphere they exuded.

Other Bob Marley performances that have had a great effect on me are the version of "No Woman, No Cry" on the Live! album, and also "Redemption Song," because of the incredible purity of expression in that recording. Incidentally, I have a little confession to make: I always wanted to write a riff as good as the one on "Lively Up Yourself." I haven't done it yet, but I'm still trying.


The Beat, August 3, 1989

Timothy White recalls the 1981 passing of Bob Marley and shares "informal interview testaments" from several musicians — including Elvis Costello — on Marley's enduring impact.


1989-08-03 The Beat page 31 clipping.jpg

Page scans.
1989-08-03 The Beat page 26.jpg 1989-08-03 The Beat page 31.jpg

1989-08-03 The Beat cover.jpg


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