28 April 2006

Even Bob Marley was spun for public consumption

Tim Manners, of Reveries Magazine, has an interesting bit on the grooming of Bob Marley for North American (and eventual world) consumption:
Bob Marley’s transition from “local hero to global legend” was the result of a carefully calibrated marketing effort that cultivated Bob’s reggae roots to grow a rock phenomenon, as relayed in a new book, Before the Legend, by Christopher John Farley, excerpted in The Wall Street Journal (4/27/06). Bob Marley was already 27 by the time he was “discovered” by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, which began as a Jamaican music but quickly transitioned to mainstream rock, where the money was. Chris immediately recognized Bob’s star quality, as well as the charisma of his bandmates, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. So he gave the group about $7,000 to make a record. The result was a reggae stunner, but Chris knew that it needed more of a rock sensibility if it were to sell to the masses. So, Chris asked Bob to join him in London to re-mix, overdub and otherwise rockify the tracks.

Chris started by killing two of the 11 songs, “because to me,” said Chris, “a 10-track album was a pop album. A nine-track album — that’s a rock album.” Who knew? Chris also doubled and tripled the lengths of some of the songs, again “to make it more like rock and less like pop.” As you might imagine, this tended to set Bob on edge. And you might think that Chris’s next move (bringing in white session musicians to bring a rock edge to the instrumentation) might have been the final straw for Bob Marley. But it wasn’t: “Race had divided his family. Race had divided Jamaica. Race had divided music. Race had divided the world.” Bob Marley “wanted to bring it all back together again … As a child, Bob had gotten into scuffles with bullies over his mixed heritage. Now, as a musician, he had turned his background into a marketing edge.” Thing is, the black-white collaboration was kept from fans.

Chris Blackwell wanted “to promote the image of a black group” and kept the names of the white musicians off the credits. He “realized white audiences wanted reggae that had the rough edge of rock. But they didn’t want black music that seemed like it was trying to pass for white.” He also rockified the group’s name from “Bob Marley and the Wailers” to simply “The Wailers” and when it came time for a group photo, threw a couple of black musicians who hadn’t even been on the record into the picture to make it look like more of a group. They did join the group after that, but the image was complete and the record, “Catch a Fire," won rave reviews. Bob Marley went on "to be come an international symbol of revolution and freedom." As Farley notes: "Their music made concessions to the marketplace. But they were so cool, so confident, that their credentials could not be challenged."

via Reveries Magazine

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