In our book, Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer, photographer Bruce
Talamon and I document the reggae prophet's final two tours of
California in 1978 and 1979.
California was a very special place for Bob, especially the south,
whose climate and flora Marley felt were similar to Jamaica. The
abundance of herb in places like the Santa Cruz mountains and the
San Francisco Bay area was another enticement, and Bruce's
photographs capture Marley in near-constant partaking of the
sacrament.

According to several of his closest assoicates, Marley's favorite
concert in North America took place on Haile Selassie's birthday,
July 23, 1978, at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. He did three sets
of encores on a sizzlingly hot afternoon. On page 117 of our book,
you can see Bob standing, as if in trance, backstage before his
final encore that day, drained, but still "in the spirit."

I was lucky enough to catch a half-dozen of Bob's California shows
from 75-79. Back in 75 Bob had a series of sold-out dates in San
Francisco's tiny Boarding House club, and so great was the demand
that promoter Bill Graham, on just a few day's notice, booked the
giant Oakland Paramount for a show that was almost completely sold
out on word of mouth. It was my initial exposure to a man whose
music I had become enamored with two years earlier. I had yet to
see even a video of him, and didn't know what to expect. As a rock
fan since its birth in the early '50s I had seen most of the '50s
and '60s legends live, from Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley,
and Jackie Wilson, to Janis Joplin at the Fillmore the night before
the Army shipped me to Nam in the war-rattled year of 1967. But no
artist had ever captured me quite as strongly as Bob did that night
in Oakland, windmilling his Medusa-like locks as he spun in trance-
like possession, then standing stock still and mesmerizing the
audience, eyes squeezed shut in ecstatic concentration as he
channeled his Creator into our slack-jawed midst. I sat next to
Moe, the Telegraph Avenue bookstore owner, who had been told by one
of his employees not to miss this unprecedented spectacle. "What
the hell's he saying," Moe kept asking me, and I translated as best
I could. It really didn't matter then if you knew what his words
were, he could have been chanting in Swahili for all the audience
cared, so powerful was his presence that night.

Bob's '77 "Exodus" tour of California was cancelled when melanoma
cancer was discovered in his right big toe in Europe that summer,
so it wasn't until the following year that he returned, in support
of his new "Kaya" lp. Critics were decrying its alleged "softness,"
saying Bob had taken refuge in ganja-induced oblivion following the
assassination attempt on his life in December of 1976. In fact,
herbal-grounding was numbingly evident when I met him for the first
time, backstage in July of 1978 at the Santa Cruz Civic. My wife
Mary and I had been living that summer in Big Sur, and when we
heard Bob was coming, we bought tickets to both his scheduled
shows. We were among the first in the auditorium early that
evening. The soundboard was right in the middle of the floor, and
there was a tall man I didn't recognize, standing by it, curling
his nascent dreads around his fingertips. I figured he had to be
with the band, so I approached and asked him if they were going to
play "Waiting in Vain" that evening. "Why?" he asked. "Well," I
said with excitement, "that's my very favorite Wailers' song,
especially that incredible lead guitar solo that Junior Marvin
plays in the middle of it."
"You want to meet Bob," the dread said, catching us completely
offguard. Without hesitation, of course, we both blurted "Yes!" and
he began leading us backstage down a long corridor. "What's your
names?" he asked us. I told him and asked his. "I'm Junior Marvin,"
he laughed. Boy, I thought, did we say the right thing to the right
guy at the right time. Junior ushered us into a large backroom,
where four large cafeteria-style tables had been pushed together,
to make a giant table around which each of the Wailers was seated,
at great distance from each other. The room was virtually
soundless; it looked like a convention of zombies! No one was
saying anything to anyone. They each had a tall green ant-hill of
herb piled in front of them, with their own individual packs of
rolling papers. I had a poster with me for the Greek Theater show
coming up that Friday in Berkeley, and Junior said, "Why don't you
ask Bob to sign it." "Uh, yeah, sure!" I stammered. Junior
graciously introduced us, but Bob was definitely "inna de ites" and
well red by this time. He signed the poster for me, as did each of
the other band members in their turn, and we left to find seats,
speechless and freaked to the max. I still have the poster, and
since then, nearly everyone of major import in his life - saints
and sinners alike - has signed it for me too; it's perhaps the most
precious piece in what has become a massive archive of Bob Marley
material, collected from all over the world. And every time I look
at it I think of that night.

In Santa Cruz Bob did two 21-song shows, identical in content
(which was rare for him) and both, of course, sold out. He didn't
talk at all, though, preferring that the words of his songs speak
for him. Or perhaps its was just a tribute to the gift that a young
couple we saw backstage had given him. Dressed all in white,
barefoot, and both very blond, the couple had presented Bob a
donkey-dick bud about l8 inches long. He just smiled, smelled it
admiringly, and began building a cricket-bat spliff of it. A-woah!

We drove down to L.A. the following weekend to catch Bob at the
Starlight Amphitheater in Burbank. It was a nightmare getting
inside, because they had only one entrance, and they were searching
everyone. We missed the Imperials' opening act, but found our seats
just as Bob was introduced. The show was similar to that in Cruz -
at least until the encores. Later we learned that backstage that
night stars like Mick Jagger and Diana Ross were milling about,
trying to wangle an invitation to come on stage with Bob, but he
was having none of that. Imagine our surprise then, as Bob began to
sing his final encore of "Get Up Stand Up" when loping across the
stage with massive strides, Peter Tosh appeared, just at the part
of the song where he came in on the record. As he reached for the
microphone, Bob suddenly caught sight of him, and he broke out into
the most massive grin I've ever seen, Grand Canyon-wide with
delighted surprise. Peter never missed a beat, and the two hugged
each other and acted as if they'd never been separated. It was the
only time they would ever appear together outside of Jamaica after
the breakup of the group, a piece of history that, sadly, most
people in the audience didn't realize was happening. Afterwards, I
encountered Peter walking through the crowd. The next day he was
opening for the Rolling Stones in the Anaheim Stadium, and I
eagerly assured him that we, like many many others, would be there
basically just to see him, and that he had a whole heap of fans in
L.A.

A few years later, just after Bob died, I interviewed Peter for
"L.A. Reggae" a cable tv show Chilli Charles and I had just
started, and asked him whether Bob had known he was going to come
out on stage that evening. "No," he said, indicating that it was
the Spirit that had moved him spontaneously and "whatsoever the
Spirit tell me to do, I do." What else did he remember of that
night? "Well," he drawled, thick smoke pouring from his nostrils,
"I remember we go backstage and Bob clapped my hand and say, 'Bwoi,
the Pope feel that one!'" Then he laughed and, staring straight
into the camera in his most terrifying tone, announced, "And three
days later, the Pope died!"

At the end of 1979, my new partner Hank Holmes and I had just begun
our "Reggae Beat" show on KCRW, the National Public Radio station
in Santa Monica, and Bob Marley was our first guest. On the air a
mere six weeks, we were the only show in L.A., and so Bob's
publicists asked if Hank and I would like to go "on the road with
Bob" during the next two weeks. I was beside myself with
excitement.

The first show, however, turned out to be a dissappointment. Stuck
in the upper tiers of the cavernous, echoey Pauley Pavillion,
UCLA's cavernous basketball arena, we couldn't even make out the
songs that Bob was playing, so distorted was the sound. He still
had the presence, though, that was obvious - especially when a
huge, burly man jumped onstage from the audience and fell on his
belly, holding tightly to Bob's legs. For what seemed the longest
time, no one did anything, until finally security guards pulled him
off and hustled him outside.

The next show was in San Diego, and Hank and I rode the bus through
Babylon with Bob down the coast. Don Taylor, Marley's manager (with
whom he seemed to be in constant argument) told all the reporters
present not to talk to Bob because "He needs to rest." That was
readily apparent, and you can see the stress on his face in many of
the pictures in "Spirit Dancer." The cancer was coursing,
unchecked, through his bloodstream, eventually finding new homes in
his lungs and brains, and he seemed a shell of the man we had met
the year before. I remember we drove by San Clemente, and I pointed
out Nixon's house out on the bluff. Bob's only comment was, "What
year him president?" That evening, the venue proved to be another
disappointment, as the bass bounced off the boards of the San Diego
Sports Arena, and I despaired of ever hearing Bob in decent
surroundings. It was the problem of his becoming so big - small
clubs were out of the question now. But the audience seemed pleased
with the show. On the way home, the band jammed in the back of the
bus, guitarist Al Anderson beating time with drumsticks on the
bathroom door. I remember writing an article for the new L.A.
Weekly about the trip, and commenting that the band members and
touring party all seemed a surprisingly healthy lot by rock and
roll standards, eating only Ital food, and pausing often, mid-puff,
to give thanks and praises to Selassie I. When we got back to L.A.
the straight-looking middle-aged bus driver told me that he loved
driving Marley "because every time the band gets off the bus, I get
to sweep up, and they leave behind about a half a pound of
roaches!"

The following Monday evening, I arranged for a private screening of
Jeff Walker's film of the historic "Smile Jamaica" concert, and an
unreleased (more accurately, a surpressed) documentary that Walker
had made of the assassination attempt on Bob's life the weekend of
3-5 December 1976. Walker had been Bob's publicist at Island
Records at the time, and Bob had yet to see any of the footage.
Island's owner Chris Blackwell said he did not want any of the
footage to be released because it was "too political." Fascinated,
I sat in a bungalow at the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood and watched
Bob watch himself, first in the hospital having his wounds
bandaged, then in his hideout in the hills, then speeding down in
the police chief's car to perform "one song" at the Smile Jamaica
Concert, whose audience had grown to 80,000 people before his
arrival. Bob ended up doing almost 90 minutes of the most stunning,
triple-meaning music you've ever heard. The only emotion I saw him
display, though, was when he viewed Family Man Barrett, his bass
player, filmed the day after the shooting. "Fams" was shown putting
his fingers into the bullet holes just inches from where he had
been sitting, when Bob suddenly laughed really loudly. The room
went chillingly silent. To this day I don't know what he found
funny; perhaps he thought he could cheat death forever.

The next night, Randy Torno and Jim Lewis, makers of the film that
came to be known as "Heartland Reggae," brought their raw footage
of the One Love Peace Concert to show Bob - again, the first time
he had seen this equally historic event. The climactic moment, when
Bob invited Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, sworn political
enemies, onstage to shake hands lead to one of the most revealing
comments I ever heard Bob say. Journalist John Sutton-Smith asked
Bob what was going through his mind at that moment and he said,
"Well, I man no politician. But if I-man a politician, only one
t'ing to do at that moment." Then, pausing for effect, he said,
"Kill them both!"

A couple of days later Bob played what would prove to be his final
show in L.A., a benefit for the Sugar Ray Robinson Foundation at
the Roxy. We were invited along for the sound check, and Hank and
I and our wives sat virtually alone in the club for three hours,
while Bob played all the instruments, and Fams went up into the
little sound booth just above the stage, and balanced everything.
I was impressed by some new tune that he was working on, something
about "redemption songs" which he sang over and over and over again
that day. Think of it: five months into a world tour, assuredly a
superstar by this time, Bob still managed the soundcheck almost all
by himself, painstakingly assuring that everything would be perfect
for this important Hollywood audience of music business heavies. It
would be the last time I ever saw him.

But those memories are as strong as yesterday for me, as I imagine
they are for most everyone here in California who saw him. As he
predicted, "the music will just get bigger and bigger." He could
just as surely be speaking of himself, for no artist has sold so
many records after his passing than Bob Marley, the shimmering
spirit dancer who knew his time on earth was limited, and made the
perfect most of it.

Roger Steffens (Ras Rojah)


return