Bob Marley’s Early Years: From Nine Miles To London
Nesta Robert Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in Nine Miles, a district in St. Ann’s Parish on the north end of Jamaica. He spent his early childhood with his mother, Cedella Marley, sharing a tiny shack made of corrugated metal and wood in the mountainous countryside. “He was my first-born and very precious to the family and friends,” Cedella reported in Jim Henke’s essential sourcebook, Marley Legend: An Illustrated Life of Bob Marley. “He was always a jolly, happy little man. He loved to make friends, loved to play. I never had no trouble with him going to school and things like that. He was very obedient.”
Bob spent little time ...view middle of the document...
They lived at various addresses on Berry Street, Oxford Street, and Regent Street, and then in 1958 settled into a three-year stay at 19 Second Street in Trench Town. Years later, Bob immortalized his experience living there in his beloved song “No Woman, No Cry”:
“Said, I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trench Town
Observing the hypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet
Good friends we’ve had
Oh, good friends we lost along the way . . .”
In her book Bob Marley: My Son, Cedella Marley Booker remembered Bob singing the Christian hymn “In the Garden” one day after school. “I was stunned at how well he sang. Nesta has always been a singing child, but this is the first time I can remember being struck by his beautiful singing voice.” He made his first public appearance singing in a talent show at a local theater. “Me saw dem have a little t’ing down at Queens,” Marley remembered in 1976. “So one night me go in and sing a tune. Me nuh remember what it was, but me win a pound. The man must tell me me must start sing. And me did.”
Bob reunited with his childhood friend when Bunny and his father, Thaddeus Livingston, moved to Trench Town. Cedella and Thaddeus shared living quarters and had a daughter together, Pearl. Their sons immersed themselves in American radio broadcasts from Miami and New Orleans, dialing in the Drifters, Moonglows, Impressions, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino, and even country musicians such as Jim Reeves and Lloyd Price. While living on Second Street, Bob said, he also started “listening to jazz, except me couldn’t understand it. After a while me get to understand it and me meet Joe Higgs and Seeco Patterson, who schooled me. After a while I smoke some ganja, some herb, and then I understood jazz. I tried to get into the mood where the moon is blue and understand the feelings expressed.”
Bob and Bunny were also drawn to a ska, a new sound emerging right in their own neighborhood. Ska typically featured a fast rhythm accented by horns riffing on the off-beat. The style was deeply influenced by R&B, especially the sound of New Orleans, with its horns, boogie piano, and strong bass. Most ska music was instrumental, with the after-beat played on rhythm guitar or piano. Bunny crafted a homemade guitar using copper wire, a sardine can, and a bamboo neck, and the two friends began singing calypso, ska, and American R&B. Asked about his influences in those days, Bob said, “My greatest influence was the Drifters – ‘Magic Moment,’ ‘Please Stay,’ those things. So I figured I should get a group together.”
By 15, Bob had dropped out of school to concentrate on singing. His mother arranged for him to work as an apprentice welder. One of the workers Bob sang with around the welding yard, Desmond Dekker, encouraged him to pursue his dream of making records. “Me did sing in school and love singing,” Marley explained, “but what really made me take it seriously is when I...