Bob Marley’s father was a plantation overseer of Welsh descent who married an eighteen-year-old Afro-Jamaican when he was sixty-one. The two separated after Bob was born in 1945. The father paid child support but didn’t see his son, and died when Marley was ten.
Marley’s mother lived with the father of Neville Livingston, who would later change his name to Bunny Wailer. Their parents had a daughter together named Pearl. Marley and Bunny were tight, and in 1957 they started listening to the American R&B coming over the airwaves from distant U.S. radio stations—doo-wop groups such as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, and the Drifters. Lennon and McCartney were doing the same thing in Britain at the time.
When Peter Tosh (born Winston Hubert McIntosh) met Marley and Bunny, the fact that Tosh had taught himself to play guitar and keyboards inspired them to learn how to play instruments as well. Tosh popularized the “chik, chik” guitar sound of reggae. (He later had a son with Bunny’s sister.)
The three formed a vocal harmony trio and sang on the corners of Trench Town, in Kingston, coached by a popular singer named Joe Higgs, who gave free lessons. First they called themselves the Teenagers, but since Frankie Lymon’s band was already called that, they soon became the Wailing Rude Boys, then the Wailing Wailers—“wailing” to express the angst of living in the ghetto.
In 1962 they sold seventy thousand copies of the eminently danceable “Simmer Down,” a message to the rude boys to control their temper and stop turning to crime. They released seventeen singles in 1965 alone, including June’s “Rude Boy,” where their doo- wop roots fuse with reggae skank. Their output that year included numerous Beatle covers such as “I Should Have Known Better,” “And I Love Her,” and “Ringo’s Theme,” the instrumental version of “This Boy” from the American A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack album.
27. Marley, directed by Kevin Macdonald (Shangri-La Entertainment, 2012), DVD.
28. Caribbean Nights: The Bob Marley Story, directed by Charles Chabot and Jo Mendell (BBC, 1982), DVD.