LINER NOTES: Soul Almighty the formative years Vol. 1

Marley in the Sixties
by Roger Steffens

 Here, after three decades, is a long-awaited look at some of the most intriguing and highly anticipated material of Bob Marley's entire career, compelling experiments that have been locked away in the vaults ever since the late 1960s. These are soul shots, almighty riddims based on the tumultuous sounds of the inner city from the time when America was in upheaval; sounds of Bob Marley with Aretha Franklin's band members, produced by Danny Sims, Arthur Jenkins, and their associates, for the label they co-owned with reggae/pop pioneer Johnny Nash. This is Bob Marley as you've never ever heard him before. In addition to powerful alternate r&b versions of 11 of Bob's most interesting late-'60s compositions, there are four tracks of which even the titles have never been revealed prior to this album.
"These are not demos." confirms co-producer Sims, from his current home in Beverly Hills. "These are complete songs exactly as Bob wanted them to sound." The story of how they came to be is a long and fascinating one; one in which Sims played a crucial part during the five years in which Marley was signed to his company as songwriter and performer. And it is a tale that could never be told till now.
"We always knew of the existence of these tapes." admits Sims, his voice still containing a hint of deep south drawl scraped and shaped by the grit of New York. "But we had so many other labels and albums and acts to keep track of. And with all the legal battles that went on during the past fourteen years, it would not have been right for us to release these things until everything had been settled. So this material couldn't have come out sooner than now. Now is the right time."

The pre-Psychedelic Sixties dawned as the nation was in the height of its cold war frenzy. In New York City, a young man who had been born in Mississippi arrived in town to open a supper club in the heart of the Great White Way at 47th St. and Broadway. It was called Saphire's, and the proud new owner was Danny Sims. His place was the first black club south of 110th St., and became a 24-hour-a-day hangout for the cream of show business celebrities from Broadway stars to swingers and singers.
"It was about that time that I began palling around with Johnny Nash, the Texas singer who was having such success on the Arthur Godfrey Show," recalls Sims. "In '63 Johnny asked me to promote a Caribbean concert tour, which is how I first saw Jamaica. The tour was a success, and it lead me to open a concert promotion company called Hemisphere Attractions. I brought into the Caribbean and Central and South America people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Paul Anka, Brook Benton, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Patty LaBelle, Otis Redding and lots more. In 1964, when Dinah Washington died, I absorbed her Queens Booking Agency, and ran one of the biggest African-American agencies of that time."


Nash and Sims decided to form a record label to be called JODA (after Johnny and Danny), and had an immediate success with a song called "Let's Move and Groove." "It was Johnny Nash's biggest hit in the black community ever," Sims recalls. "There was a very popular African-American disc jockey in Los Angeles at the time who called himself 'The Magnificent Montague.' He played Johnny's record all the time, and he would yell over the air while it was spinning, "Burn, baby, burn!" Montague's highly charged rap began making waves just as the L.A. riots of 1965 torched the city. "The feds said that our record was creating the riots," laughs Sims. "'Burn baby, burn!' became a slogan all over the black communities in America." Then, shuddering at the memory, Sims turns solemn. "I thought I was dead. So many of our people were being killed then.


So I decided to get the hell out, and we left for the Caribbean. Our favorite country in the world was Jamaica, so we headed there to see our friend Ken Khouri, the owner of Federal Records, who was JODA's licensee at the time. Ken got us a house near his in the hills above Kingston, in a place called Russell Heights. Ken's son Paul taught Johnny how to play rock steady, which was the music happening in Jamaica at that time, and eventually we started to record Johnny's album Hold Me Tight. Khouri flew Jamaican emigre Lyn Tait down from Canada to play with Johnny on the lp. After its release, Nash became a superstar in Jamaica.
"We first met Bob at the time of the Ethiopian Christmas at the start of 1967. Jamaican DJ Neville Willoughby - his father was my lawyer - told Johnny that he wanted to take him to a Rastafarian religious gathering, something called a 'grounation,' being held by a man called Mortimo Planno." Seen in scores of photographs from April 21, 1966, Planno was the dreadlocked man in the white robe standing beside Haile Selassie I as he exited his plane to begin his frenzied royal visit to Jamaica. In Trench Town, Planno was known to possess a large library of books on black power and Rastafarian and African history; his yard was a magnet for both ghetto sufferers and uptown University rebels, drawn by the Rastaman vibration. "It was January 7, Ethiopian Christmas," recalls Planno today. "Willoughby carried them to me. The report that Johnny Nash gave Danny was mindblowing."
Sims readily agrees, his memory vivid. "That night, Johnny came home raving about this guy he had met named Bob Marley. He said every song he heard him sing was an absolute smash and that we should sign him immediately to our label. The next day Bob came to our house with his wife, Rita, and Bunny Livingstone and Peter Tosh, along with Planno. Bob played guitar and sang about 30 songs for me.
"The following morning I invited Bob Marley to my house for breakfast. But my servants refused to serve him and walked out: they would not serve a Rastafarian. The servants I had after that also refused to serve him, and they quit too. So Mortimo put a Rasta dreadlock named Jeff in our house to cook and work for us. We were looked on in Jamaica as Americans who came there to cause trouble, working with Rastas, going to Trench Town." With the Jamaica Labour Party in power, times were extremely conservative politically. Sims shakes his head with disbelief as he cites one of the government's most outrageous acts: "Once Muhammed Ali came down to visit us and the Jamaican government turned him away at the airport, they wouldn't let him in the country!"


Not long after, in July of 1967, Bunny Livingstone was sent to prison for fourteen months, on trumped up ganja charges. A Kingston cop pulled a Fuhrman, and planted false evidence. The result left a hole in the Wailers, into which Rita Marley stepped temporarily. "It was a difficult time for the group," observes Planno, whose thick voice rumbles heavy and lugubrious as hot black tar. "Me and Danny and Johnny decided that we didn't want the same situation that was happening to Bob - sitting down inna yard in Trench Town experiencing police brutality and harassmen

t - to prevent our production. We wanted to produce the best of Bob Marley, and the best of Bob Marley was to get him in himself."
Marley and Tosh were excited by the prospect of being signed by a big international star's company that wanted them not only as composers but as performers too. "I put Peter and Bob and Rita on a regular salary of $100 a week," says Sims. "There were times when I had to be away for most of a year, and I gave my house to Bob so he had a place he could stay and feel comfortable.
"Bob told me right away that he wanted to be a star in the African-American community. He wasn't that interested in Jamaica, it was America that he wanted to conquer. Bob didn't want to record anymore in what he called 'the Babylonian-type studios, like Federal and Dynamics. So we decided to record him in my house." On page 59 of Malika Lee Whitney and Dermott Hussey's wonderful book Bob Marley Reggae King of the World there is a picture of one of the first such sessions. "That's our arranger, Arthur Jenkins, standing in the room with a microphone over their heads," Sims explains, pointing to the shot of Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and Bob and Rita Marley seated in a semi-circle, harmonizing. "Some of the earliest tracks on this album, like 'Fallin' In And Out Of Love' were recorded just like that. Now the tapes are so old and in such poor condition, that we had to bake them to retrieve the sounds, otherwise they would have been lost forever." Literally baked? "Yeah, just like a cake! You've got 72 hours to get them copied after that before they just crumble away."

The effort was worth expending in order to reproduce accurately the remarkable vibes of an extraordinary set of instrumentalists. "We brought a lot of great musicians down from the States to record with Bob, so we could capture the more R&B- oriented sound. Many of them were red-hot, cream-of-the-crop studio guys who played for Aretha Franklin and people on that level, musicians like Bernard Purdie, Eric Gale, Hugh Masakela, Chuck Rainey and Richard Tee. We wanted them to woodshed with the Jamaican musicians, to get that feel. The guys in Jamaica just weren't disciplined enough for us. They weren't dependable. They wouldn't show up on time, and they'd play off key. Plus the local technology was way behind the times. We thought that the Americans, once they learned how to play rock steady, could do it as good as the Jamaicans. And it proved that I was right. The vocals were done in Jamaica with the Wailers, but our music was never intended to be done there, because we didn't feel we could get the quality we wanted out of there. So we would go up to New York to lay the music. That's how we always did it. We invariably never kept anything that we did in Jamaica except the vocals. Our intention was to fit the U.S. and British radio formats. We weren't at all concerned about selling records in the Caribbean," says Sims, laughing dismissively. "We wouldn't get paid anyway."


One of the people that Nash and Sims sent for almost immediately was Jimmy Norman, a singer/songwriter who was a longtime member of the Coasters, one of America's most successful vocal groups ("Poison Ivy," "Yakety-Yak," "Young Blood"). Interviewed in New York in late 1995, Norman had several memories of those early trips to Kingston, most notably that "We had to hold Bob still in front of the mic, he was just jumping all over the place. I had to teach him how to record properly.
"My first meeting with Marley, I was impressed by how spiritual he was. He didn't have dreadlocks at the time, but he was all about music, just singing all the time. That's what drew me to him, because I couldn't understand anything the he and Peter said for the first three or four months, it was all patois. We'd sit on the lawn and write, then we'd go into Danny's guest house that we had converted into a rehearsal studio and record it right away. We had a little Nagra tape recorder set up in there. I remember Bob always saying, 'Music would teach them a lesson,"' lines that would eventually yield the title of one of Marley's biggest posthumous hits, "Music Lesson." (The process by which that recording was created is quite similar to the way in which this album was assembled for release.)


Sims insists that Peter Tosh's contribution to these sessions should not be downplayed. He was the only one of the group who was a full-fledged professional, and in fact Sims used Tosh in New York on many of Johnny Nash's hit records. "Peter had his own agenda," Sims admits, "but he was with us 90% of the time. We used his guitar on practically every track we did. He held us together; he held our rhythm together. Peter was the teacher, along with Paul Khouri, for that rock steady sound. Peter directed us, we spun off Peter Tosh. I never worked with a guy I liked working with more than Peter. He was always with us, always! I saw him as the Rock of Gibraltar with that rhythm."
Norman says that he was most impressed by how the Wailers- Bunny, Bob, Peter and Rita - "staggered their harmonies each time, like the Impressions, just a little bit behind. It gave them something special." While grooming Bob's stage act, Norman noticed that Bob didn't want to be burdened by a guitar while he was singing, preferring instead the freedom to move as if in a trance, unfettered by wires and instruments. Sims adds, "Bob had all these abilities naturally, but we just wanted him to polish them up."
Three of the four newly revealed songs on this album were co-composed by Norman and his writing partner Al Pyfrom, along with Joe Venneri, and aimed specifically at the American r&b market. Says Norman: "I had already written 'What Goes Around Comes Around' and 'You Think I Have No Feelings' before my first trip, but I remember finishing up 'Fallin' In And Out Of Love,' (which I'd started in the States with Johnny's wife, Margaret), in Jamaica. We did 30 or 40 of my songs in about eight months in 1968. I sang bass on 'Chances Are' and 'Soul Rebel,' and lots of others too. We were constantly working."


"'Fallin' In And Out Of Love'," explains Sims, "was first released by Johnny Nash on his own label. Later there was an r&b cover by Lloyd Price, who was working with us, and a blues cover by our artist Howard Tate. This song also features the Soulettes, Rita's group, who were in and out too, but sometimes only one or two of the three women were there. Bob was there every day. And Neville Willoughby, whenever he wasn't on the air, was there all the time too. He was of tremendous help to us; we even did an album on him too.
"'What Goes Around Comes Around,' was also done in the early '60s by Lloyd Price and Howard Tate. 'Splish for my Splash' and 'Stranger On The Shore,' both came out on Lloyd Price's own Turntable label, way before Bob did them. 'You Think I Have No Feelings,' is one that Howard Tate did first."
Says co-writer Jimmy Norman: "I guess my favorite tune, though, is one I wrote called 'I'm Gonna Get You.' I love the way that turned out. I know how Bob wanted to present himself, which is just what we ended up with on this record."
"I'm Gonna Get You" is also one of the most highly regarded tracks of Joe Venneri, a founding member of the folk group turned rock heroes, the Tokens, whose first recording, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," was an early '60s smash. From his home studio in New Jersey, Venneri recalled his days working with Marley as producer, writer, engineer and musician. "I started out with ska in the early '60s. Luther Dixon brought it to me. We were always trying to figure out a way to commercialize it in the States - it was such a great sound."

By 1967, he was working with Marley. "After the initial tracks were laid in Jamaica, they were brought to me here in New York to a studio I had called Incredible Sounds. Richard Alderson, who was the chief engineer at Harry Belafonte's studio, also worked here and in Jamaica, back and forth, for months at a time. They'd bring the tapes up from Jamaica and we'd fix them up. Our musicians were the main guys in the Atlantic Records stable, they were absolutely the best people at the time. We were like a clique, we all did the same sessions.
The only time I met Bob Marley was in New York. It was the late '60s, we were all together in his lawyer's office. I had no idea how huge he'd become, but he had this charisma, this spiritual thing that's in his voice - it's still there in every song I hear him sing. It's not musically perfect, it just seems to be an association with the earth. He's got this honest thing that just comes across. Whether he's sharp or flat or sideways, there's something to everything he sings."
Sims notes that "Sometimes folks like Eric Gale would be brought in to overdub just one line, like a blues lick. Or Richard Tee. That's the way we produced. We'd do a little piece of the record and finish it later. Arthur Jenkins would do the arrangement in Jamaica, but we might change it in the States once we got back there.
"A lot of the songs we did with Bob were just fooling around in the studio, seeing what we could come up with. Bob was totally flexible, and we did lots of different kinds of experiments trying to come up with a hit single. We published the Cowsills, and we've got tracks of Bob covering their songs. We were the ones who encouraged the Wailers to cover the Box Tops' song 'The Letter.' Bob and Johnny both sang the same songs - it was a Motown kind of approach to the music," Sims suggests. "We did a lot of Curtis Mayfield stuff with Bob that's all there in the can; we even thought Bob wrote those songs by himself at first."Why did I record so much material? I thought the more songs you recorded, the more chances you'd have to score a hit. But even I never thought these tracks would turn out to be so valuable."
That value was underscored by the realization that what was left on the tapes was decomposing. "A lot of the tapes were bad," Sims acknowledges, "because there was a certain period for Ampex tapes in the late '60s when they were really inferior quality. Nowadays, every major label has got the same problems of deterioration with their tapes from that period. So we knew that these tapes had to be restored, or else no one would ever be able to hear them again, and that would be a crime against history. So Joe Venneri has been working for over three years already to restore them. We feel we have collectors' items that nobody's ever heard, and we feel we should release each of them in as authentic a manner as possible, until all of them are out there for everyone to hear. Some we're still looking for. I believe we have a couple of hundred solo acoustic versions of Bob's songs as well."


Now that the original tapes have been rediscovered, the laborious task of bringing them up to '90s standards has been turned over largely to Venneri, who describes the resulting product as three-layered: the original vocal tracks, with "scratch" instrumentals, from Jamaica; the added instrumental and vocal recording in New York in the late '60s, and the painstaking restoration process that he has now been going on since 1992. "We fixed up the tonality of the instruments. Some of the keys fell in between. So we do what we call a 'time clock' with our computers and adjust the key to one that's playable. We make a 'tempo map/ so that we can put them into a consistent rhythm, no deviation in tempos, none of the voices flat. Sometimes it takes me two or three weeks just to straighten out a minute of music. We've recently added new guitars to accompany what was going on, certain keyboards; some of the old instruments were filtered to make new instrumentals. But I was extremely careful in the sweetening to keep the original moods and feel. We followed suit to whatever the song dictated. We wanted Bob Marley's voice to be in the best possible light," a task that was not always easy.
"For example," explains Venneri, "on 'Fallin' In And Out Of Love' there was a booming, banging piano that covered everything, but with the assistance of filters and state-of-the-art computer programs that I've helped develop, we retrieved Bob's voice as clearly as possible under the circumstances." Marley's fans should be extremely grateful for Venneri's meticulous obsession, because faced with the prospect of never hearing this material, or hearing it in this "heightened" way, the choice is obvious.

"You have to remember,"' cautions Sims, "that there was no reggae at the time we met Bob in '67. Bob wanted me to break him in America as a soul singer. His whole dream, his biggest ambition that he had till he died, was to break the African-American market and radio in the U.S. He did all the black music conventions for free, because he wanted to crack that market. But the only music he had that could do that was the stuff f that I had, and I'm only now releasing it. I'm going to reach that market, and Bob's dream then will now come true at last.
"People think that Bob Marley started in 1973 and had no history prior to that, and that he just suddenly emerged out of nowhere as one of the greatest technicians on stage and in the studio. That's not true. Bob was developed by Johnny Nash and Arthur Jenkins and all the others who really should have the credit for working with him all those years in Jamaica, a year in Sweden, and in 400 concerts that we did together in the U.K. in '71 and '72."
Having resumed residence in America in 1995, Sims is now reaching out on many fronts to expose Marley to a new generation. "This album is the first of nine that I plan to release. We've got at least four dozen songs that nobody's every heard yet. We're going to keep putting them out until that treasure trove is exhausted. The first of a trilogy of ECD releases will be issued through the Rock On ROM company. This is something we're all tremendously excited about, because it gives us a way of telling Bob's unknown '60s history in pictures and text and real time video clips. We'll have the four original tracks recorded in my home in Jamaica in the '60s, and the restored versions too. You'll be able to toggle back and forth on your computer to compare them. "Soul Almighty: the formative years Vol. I" will also feature new video interviews with Bob's closest friend Allan 'Skill' Cole, myself and Joe Venneri. We'll have a ton of information on Bob's life, Jamaican culture, Rastafari, and lots of mixes that are alternate versions of songs on this album. We'll have a gallery of the best photographers of the reggae era. These include Peter Simon, Bruce Talamon, Kim Gottleib, Millard Faristzaddi and others. We'll even provide copies of some of their most famous images for sale.


"Best of all, the ECD is going to make available for the very first time, the rarest, most sought-after recording of Bob's whole career - 'Selassie Is The Chapel.' It was written especially for Bob by Mortimo Planno, who pressed only 26 copies of the original seven-inch record. (I heard that one was sold recently for $1,600!) Now everyone will have a chance to hear one of the most crucial tracks in Bob's musical and spiritual evolution, the one where he truly embraces Rastafari publicly.
"Another area where we'll be moving is onto the Internet," enthuses Sims, not content to leave any potential opportunity unexplored. "We'll have an exclusive site as part of the Reggaesupersite in which we'll make available unreleased Marley material, like those acoustic songs we have, in beautiful custom pressings especially for collectors. First rate, quality stuff. We've got to get people to stop buying all those inferior, bootleg items that you see everywhere you go, that don't produce money for anyone but those thieves. Bob's heirs will share in the profits of everything we do; we've made absolutely sure of that.


"We're also designing a full-scale CD-ROM to cover our entire five year period with the Wailers. Ultimately we'll do a book telling our side of the story, me and Skill and Mortimo Planno and the other important people who contributed so much to Bob making it.
"And to cap everything off, and take advantage of all the years I've been living and researching in Southern Africa recently, we're going to film eight two-hour documentaries that will link the history of the Caribbean, Bob Marley, and the African liberation struggles. It think it's very important to let people know some of the sociological reasons why Bob became a Rastafarian, why he chose to end his life as a member of the Twelve Tribes, and to transform his life as an underdog into a life for the betterment of all mankind."
Shifting his weight, Sims' eyes light up messianically: "I think our projects will be more powerful than any movie you can make, because they have everything from sex, to murder, to violence, to assassinations, Interpol, the CIA, FBI, and the KGB - not to mention the music. And it's all true!"


As he sums everything up, Sims' smooth forehead furrows with intensity. It is obvious that he feels a fiercely burning pride in his contributions to the unprecedented success of one of this fading century's greatest figures. "When we sold Bob's contract to Chris Blackwell and Island Records in October of 1972, Bob was ready. He was an established, polished artist who was able to co-produce with Blackwell or any other producer. He was able to use what he had learned from Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins and all the other great people we put him with. From 1967 to 1972 was enough for anyone to get his Ph.D. and be able to go out on the stage of the world."

-Roger Steffens, co-author (with Bruce Talamon) of Bob Marley:Spirit Dancer (W.W.Norton) and co-author (with Leroy Jodie Pierson) of the forthcoming autobiography of Bunny Wailer Old Fire Sticks and Bob Marley and the Wailers:The Definitive Discography. Steffens maintains the world's largest archive of Bob Marley and the Wailers material at his headquarters in Los Angeles, and has edited the annual Bob Marley Collectors' Edition of The Beat magazine since 1982. In February of 1996, Steffens delivered the first lecture in the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the life of Bob Marley.

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