Bob Marley: The Lion’s Last Roar
The surviving band members say that people knew the Wailers for routinely delivered blistering performances, but at those shows, Marley had something to prove. “When he sang, ‘ Get up-get up-get up-get up-get-up, a get up, a get up, a get up now, ’ I literally felt Madison Square Garden swing from east to west, left to right,” remembers Wynter. “The whole building rocked. ”
Few of the surviving members have good memories of that final trip to New York. Even before the Marley’s collapse, there seemed to be signs that the dark cloud that had been following him since the attempt on his life in Jamaica in 1976—a hit attributed to everyone from local gangsters to the CIA—had finally parked itself permanently overhead.
Throughout the band’s career, the entire entourage stayed together, in the same hotel. But due to an apparent lack of rooms on this particular stop of the tour, Marley was separated, booked at the upscale Essex House on Central Park, with Cole, while the band—and even Rita—stayed downtown to the Gramercy Park Hotel.
With Bob’s Island contract expiring, rumors surfaced members of the Gambino crime family were underwriting his touring ambitions in America. True or not, many “hustlers”—as the band refers to them—and even known Jamaica mafia figures started showing up at the Essex House and wherever Marley went in New York. Various accounts report that Marley, while in the hotel, hid away from the crowd in his room, nonplused by—among other things—the rampant cocaine use in his suite. “It was a fuckin’ mess,” says Anderson. “As big as it was, with all the crowds, it was no fun to be a musician in 1980 in the Wailers, despite all the money. There was so many heavy people trying to control us; it was so weird.”
All that seemed to fade when it came time to take the stage in Pittsburgh. Moments before show time, Cole broke the news to the band that this would be the last show of the tour, and, potentially, their last show ever. “We were like, ‘OK, this has gotta be the best show in history. We’re not gonna make one mistake,’” says Marvin.
Before stepping onstage, Marley leaned over to Cole and asked him to stay close, in case of a fall.
I’ve got two boys and a woman
And I know they won’t suffer now
Jah, forgive me for not going back
But I’ll be there anyhow
Yes I’ll be there anyhow
Lord, I got to keep on moving
Part last stand, part test of will, the performance that followed was as lively and audacious as the magnificent New York shows. If the Stanley Theatre audience was oblivious to what was happening, then they had every reason to be: Marley soldiered onto the stage as if the laws of medicine didn’t apply to him. His voice and performance beared their full range and character on meditative favorites like “Natural Mystic” and “Crazy Baldhead” on through the anthemic “War/No More Trouble” medley into his immortal ballad “No Woman No Cry.”
The feeling in the room was so euphoric that Engler began to worry that the swaying, enraptured crowd would collapse his mezzanine. “I don’t know in his mind if he knew that was going to be his last show or not, but he played it like it was,” he says.
Just like the sound check, Marley turned the performance into a solitary experience, interacting little with the ten musicians surrounding him. Live Forever, the newly released double-disc recording of the Stanley Theatre show, is as much a tribute to their ability to balance the job at hand with the drama of the day. “It was kind of a send off party,” says Family Man. “In everyone’s minds, we were meditating on what was happening. So everyone was playing with a special soul.”
Clocking in at an hour and a half, the show doesn’t seem like much of an epic by today’s standards, but for the Wailers, it was a milestone. As the band came on and off stage, delivering then-new songs like “Redemption Song” and “Coming in from the Cold” in one encore, Mowatt remembers silence among the Wailers. “We didn’t want to say a word, we just wanted to do all that we could for the moment,” he says. “I mean, if I could go up there and sing for him, I would have. Our support is only to sing background, but we were there holding him up.”
Immediately after the show, Rita demanded that the powers that be issue a press release canceling the tour due to exhaustion. In less than eight months, Bob would be dead—but not before round after round of chemotherapy robbed him of his dreads, transforming him into the bald man Rita saw in her dream.
“I know how hard Pittsburgh must have been for him,” says Mowatt, “because that must have felt so lonely—because he alone knew what was happening. He alone felt what he was feeling, but it’s not something that he shared, and it’s not something that he allowed us to even share with him. It could be, ‘I don’t want them to hurt,’ because he knew how much it would have hurt us. He knew how much we loved him, and he knew how much it would affect us. It was like a father wouldn’t want his son to know how serious his whole body was hurting on the inside. I don’t think he wanted us to hurt for him.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
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The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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