Everybody loves reggae music. Okay, maybe not everybody. But we can all agree on the cultural significance of Bob Marley, the genre's godfather and one of the pioneers the sound in the '60s and '70s before his death in 1981 at the age of 36. But the aftereffects of his short life are still felt today, particularly on Feb. 6, his birthday and also the date each year of Bob Marley Day, which I believe is a paid holiday in Humboldt County, Calif.
Marley didn't invent Rastafarianism, but he did help popularize it - kind of like the religion's Tom Cruise to Haile Selassie's L. Ron Hubbard. Before Marley and the Wailers hit it big with their first album, Catch A Fire in 1973, the religion was virtually unknown outside of Jamaica, Ethiopia and a few other countries, and has now spread throughout the world. You can even find certain elements of it practiced on college campuses across the United States.
Marley formed the Teenagers, a ska and rocksteady group, in Jamaica in 1963. It morphed into the Wailing Rudeboys, then the Wailing Wailers and the finally settled on the Wailers. The group, which included longtime associate Bunny Wailer, underwent a lineup change in 1974, a configuration that still exists and tours today.
Also in the original Teenagers lineup was one Peter McIntosh, a product of Kingston's Trenchtown slum. Angrier, funnier and more politically intense than Marley - Tosh called cities "Shitties," called Island Records President Chris Blackwell "Whiteworst" and crafted a song, "Legalize It," which would become an anthem of the pro-marijuana movement - Tosh also folded layers of heavy, rock-influenced guitar into the traditional reggae paradigm like no one else. Give a listen to "Rastafari Is" and you'll see exactly what I mean.
Bob Marley had 13 children. Five were by his wife Rita - two of which were adopted by Marley - and the remaining eight each had a different baby-mama. Of them all, the most famous are Ziggy, who scored a big hit in the '90s with "Tomorrow People" and still tours today; Stephen and Damian, who worked together on several albums; Ky-Mani, who recently opened for Van Halen; and Rohan, who played linebacker at the University of Miami and went on to play pro football in Canada.
The Ocho Rios hustle
Don't ask me how I know, but cab drivers in the Jamaican tourist town of Ocho Rios offer any and all out-of-towners a chance to visit Bob Marley's house, which they'll describe as being up in the hills by scenic waterfalls. In truth, the house they describe is a nearly two-hour drive from the port, following a route that traverses rough roads and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. But really all they're trying to do is sell marijuana.
"Master Blaster" by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder was onstage with Bob Marley & the Wailers on Oct. 4, 1975 in the National Arena in Kingston, the last time the original Wailers ever played together. Wonder wrote this song in 1977, when Marley was diagnosed with cancer, as a tribute to the man. It also kicks ass.
Tuff Gong Records
Tuff Gong was Bob Marley's nickname, derived from the fact that he was such a badass - after discovering cancer in his toe, Marley refused to have it amputated due to his Rastafarian beliefs. But it was also the name of a record label begun by the Wailers in 1970 to promulgate reggae music's message. Its headquarters in Kingston now houses the Bob Marley Museum.
The Bob Marley Foundation
After he passed, Marley's wife Rita founded the Bob Marley Foundation in order to, according to the website, "fulfill his comprehensive vision of social development through advocacy for social change." Its current projects include Africa Unite, which sponsors events in different countries on that continent with an eye toward unification.
"No Woman No Cry"