BOB MARLEY and the WAILERS – ” Live At The Roxy “

Posted: February 12, 2021 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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When Bob Marley and the Wailers made their way to the United States in the spring of 1976 to tour behind their eighth studio album, Rastaman Vibration, they were well on their way to becoming one of the world’s biggest bands.

While Robert Nesta Marley was already becoming known as a visionary artist in Jamaican and U.K. music circles, Rastaman Vibration marked the turning point in Bob’s public perception as he went from reggae favourite to global pop sensation, bringing the sounds of Jamaica into the mainstream along with him. It became the first Marley release to crack the top ten of the charts, peaking at number eight.

As Rolling Stone‘s Robert Palmer wrote in his initial review of Rastaman Vibration, “The sensitive, careful listener will learn from Rastaman Vibration something of the pain, rage and determination of Shantytown, Jamaica, and perhaps something of the community’s political and cultural fragmentation as well. Those who don’t care to listen carefully will still get the celebratory, life-affirming message of the sound and the beat. Perhaps that sound and beat are the ‘positive vibration’ Marley talks about at the beginning of the album, and his apparently inconsistent stand halfway between revolution and the Hot 100 masks an underlying unity of feeling and purpose which only the music can express. In any event, as a pop record Rastaman Vibration makes perfect sense.”

Marley took his surging, new-look Wailers (Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh had split from the group in 1974) on tour that spring for a run that would help catapult him to superstar status and bring his unique mix of positive vibrations and rebel laments to a global, mainstream audience.

One performance from the Rastaman Vibration tour, at Hollywood, CA’s The Roxy on May 26th, 1976, was broadcast live on KMET Los Angeles and subsequently made the rounds in growing fan circles by way of bootlegs. The majority of the show was released officially as part of the Rastaman Vibration: Deluxe Edition in 2002, but the full performance—including its remarkable, twenty-eight-minute encore medley of “Positive Vibration” and “Get Up, Stand Up”/”No More Trouble”/”War”—was not officially issued until June of 2003, when Tuff Gong released Live At The Roxy.

Perhaps due to its anachronous release, Live at the Roxy often does not receive the same attention in hindsight as Marley live records like Live!(from London’s Lyceum Theatre, 1975) and Babylon by Bus (recorded over three nights in 1978 and released soon after). When viewed with historical perspective, however, Bob Marley Live at the Roxy captures a pivotal moment for both the man and his music—and the success of the tour it spotlights emerges as the proverbial bridge to Marley’s final act.

Later that same year, Bob Marley planned to perform at a concert in his native Jamaica in an attempt to quell recent political violence in the island country. While Marley officially maintained a neutral stance and agreed to play a single song for the December 5th show so long as it remained unpolitical, public opinion had him pegged as supporting sitting prime minister Michael Manley and his democratic socialist People’s National Party.

Two days before the planned concert, the violence came to his front door, instead. On December 3rd, 1976, seven armed men raided Bob Marley’s home. Marley was shot in the chest and the arm, with three others also sustaining gunshot wounds. Miraculously, none of the shooting victims were killed, and the shooters were later tried and executed. Prior to his execution, one of the shooters even claimed that they had been hired to kill Marley by the CIA in exchange for guns and cocaine.

On December 5th, just two days later, a defiant Bob Marley hit the stage at the Smile Jamaica Concert as planned, performing a full set instead of his planned single song despite the wounds he had sustained in the assassination attempt. More than just a living musical legend, Marley had now become a living political martyr, as well.

Following the attempt on his life, Marley moved away from Jamaica and resettled in London. He went on to release Exodus and Kaya while living in England, but as his political clout and commercial musical success continued to rise, his health began to unravel. In 1977, he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma under one of his toenails. Citing his Rastafarian belief in keeping the body whole, Bob Marley declined medical advice to have the toe amputated.

The final albums he released during his life, 1979’s Survival and 1980’s Uprising, leaned even further into his increasingly prominent religious and activist beliefs, continuing to elevate him from famous musician to cultural hero. In 1978, Marley returned to Jamaica for the One Love Peace Concert. In a momentous moment of reconciliation, at Marley’s request, Manley and his political rival, Edward Seaga, came onstage to shake hands during Bob’s performance.

By 1980, the cancer had spread throughout his body, prompting him to step away from touring amid a U.S. arena run. By May 1981, five years after the Live at the Roxy show, Bob Marley had died at the age of 36. When he passed, the world mourned a legend, a leader, a revolutionary—and rightly so.

The Live at the Roxy performance serves as a time capsule for a more innocent time—a snapshot of the peak of Bob Marley’s rise to global musical stardom. In the time between that tour and his death five years later, Marley would be thrust into the heart of the conflicts he referenced in his music, shifting his classification in the cultural pantheon from musician to social icon, his image and his words becoming synonymously intertwined with the fight against persecution and the spirit of his homeland.

On Live at the Roxy, we hear the creative, exuberant seeds from which his cultural legend grew—Bob Marley, the observer, the leader, the rebel, the artist, eyes on the future but still largely untarnished by the very unrest and persecution he decried.

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