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Bob Marley and the Wailers - The Half That's Never Been Told, Finally Is

 For Bob Marley collectors, the Holy Grail has long been an obscure seven-inch, blank- label single released in 1968 in a tiny edition of 26 copies, called "Selassie Is The Chapel." Adapted from the Orioles' doo-wop hit, "Crying in the Chapel," the Marley single contained new lyrics especially written for him by his one-time Rasta mentor Mortimo Planno. Recently a copy was offered for auction, receiving a high bid of $3,800!

 Now, at long last, that nearly priceless rarity is available to the public, along with other long-lost treasures from the Wailers' late '60s Jamaican catalog like "The Lord Will Make A Way," "Tread Oh," "Feel Alright," "Rhythm," "Give Me A Ticket" ("The Letter"), "Trouble On The Road Again," "Hold On To This Feeling," "Black Progress," and "Sugar Sugar." They're all part of a projected 10-CD series known as The Complete Wailers 1967 - 1972, from a revived JAD Records, the label which signed Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Rita Marley to a long-term contract during that period as both singers and song-writers. JAD was co-owned by Johnny Nash, producer Arthur Jenkins, and businessman Danny Sims, whose initials formed its logo. "In those days," Sims explains from his current headquarters in Santa Monica, California. "Bob wanted to be a soul singer like Otis Redding. He told us to do whatever it would take to make him number one on the American r&b charts."

 For the past couple of decades I have been railing on the air and in print about all the unreleased Marley gems lying dormant in various record companies' vaults. In the l7 years since the reggae master's passing, only a trickle of "new" material has been revealed. A major part of the reason for this musical drought was the never-ending litigations among various factions vying for control of Marley's estate. By 1996, most of the lawsuits had been settled, each of Bob's eleven acknowledged children had become a millionaire, and the way seemed clear finally for all the suppressed material to surface. Instead, nothing but bootlegs continued to appear, with substandard sound and inaccurate titles, and - most egregrious - not paying royalties to anyone.

 The antidote to this dismal shituation had its beginnings in January of 1995, when I had a visit at my Reggae Archives in L.A. from noted French journalist/cartoonist/musician Bruno Blum. A handsome long haired vegetarian tee-totaler, who had written for several major French music magazines from his London base during punk's emergence in the late '70s, Blum was seeking help for several projects involving the history of Jah music. These included a mini-encyclopedia for Best magazine, a feature film containing unreleased Marley footage called "Get Up Stand Up-The History of Reggae" and a proposed compilation of all the Jamaican singles that the Wailers released betwen the end of their time with Coxson Dodd's Studio One in 1966 and the beginning of their international period on Island in 1973. Regarding the latter, I told him quite frankly that I thought he was crazy, that assembling these 200+ releases was a practical and legal impossibility and basically a waste of time.

 Bruno spent several days going through my drawers of rare singles and tapes, discovering several tracks he had never heard of and getting more and more excited about the prospect of releasing them to the public. Shortly after his return to Paris he arranged a meeting between Danny Sims and his British partner David Simmons, and Jean-Michel Fava of France's major record company A.B. Disques. He got them to agree in principal to the project, with Fava providing the funding, and Sims giving the go-ahead.

 In August of '96, Blum (pronounced "bloom") returned to Hell A, and together we began two exhausting weeks of exacting l6 - l8 hour days reviewing every single recording the Wailers made in the 1967 - 1972 period - all the dubs, the out-takes, the alternate versions. Playing them back to back, over and over again, looking for subtle variations, lyric differences, added instruments. The process, needless to say, was mind-numbing, especially in light of the various bootleg CDs eminating from Europe and Japan, often with totally mistitled track listings. Before Blum returned to Paris, he got Sims to sign a contract guaranteeing that all the original creators of the music - the Wailers and their co-writers - will be paid royalties for their efforts - in many cases, for the first time since the tracks were laid thirty years ago!

 In the following weeks, Jeremy Collingwood, a noted British collector and co- editor of the acclaimed Wailers fanzine Distant Drums, was brought on board in London to handle the legal aspects of the project, and locate near-mint copies of several rare singles to go with the DAT tapes that Blum had made of my collection while in L.A. Collingwood also located many rare photos and original masters. Once the best sources available for each track had been determined, Blum came to London to work at the Beatles' studio with some of the engineers who worked on the Fab Four's "Anthology" series. "At Abbey Road," says Blum, "I started to sort through the various sources, painstakingly declicking, dehissing, EQing, and restoring them with Cedar and Sonic Solution, and finally mastering them. I worked alongside engineers Ron Hill, Pete Mew, Terry Burch and Simon Gibson; who gave tireless and invaluable assistance.

 "We straightened out the claimants' imbroglio with the families, discovered unhoped-for original tapes, found all the singles but two, and scrupulously restored all of them with the best specialists in the world, one crack at a time, one hiss at a time. We mastered everything in some indescribable confusion of different versions, wrongly titled songs, previously unreleased mixes, psycho-neurotic rival collectors and inaudible bootlegs. We tore our dreadlocks late at night but all the piles of tapes and hyper-funky Jamaican singles were finally gathered, sorted, filed and, at last, saved in digitaldom."

 Meantime, my writing partner and fellow Wailers' discographer, Leroy Jodie Pierson, who lives in St. Louis, began a long-distance collaboration on the definitive liner notes, taking pains to identify every single musician who played on the tracks, and the periods in which they were originally recorded, so the 10 CDs could be done in proper chronological order. Anecdotes from the sessions' original participants were published for the first time anywhere, and references were made to all the alternate versions elsewhere in the series. Blum wrote several background pieces on contemporary social history for the four-color booklets accompanying each album, and Collingwood found remarkable Ethopian illustrations of things like a dreadlocked Jesus and early Nyabinghi warriors. In touch with several Great-Britain based people like Chris Lane, keyboard player John "Rabbit" Bundrick, businessman David Simmons, who'd all worked with Bob, Collingwood also gathered much unveiled information.

 "In February of '97," recalled Blum, "I hired the top French layout artist from Actuel magazine, Laurent Barbarand, to design the sets, to include rare photos supplied by Collingwood and Steffens, along with others from writer/producer Chris Lane and the highly acclaimed lensman Dennis Morris, who gave us never before published shots of the Wailers in 1973. By April, Part I was ready, featuring 47 tracks, 23 of them previously unreleased outside Jamaica." These were joined by discoveries from Collingwood's forays into JAD's London vaults, where he turned up unknown tracks like "Rock to the Rock," and a Peter Tosh ballad called "Love." There are a total of 52 songs in the series that will be "new" to all but the most livicated, hardcore collectors, a veritable avalanche of provocative revelations.

 France was the first country of release, with Blum translating the voluminous notes into French, and supervising the English-language versions released six months later in Canada by Koch International, and then in early '98 in the States. The immediate French reaction was more than any of us could have hoped for. The Nouvel Observateur, a French equivalent to Times Magazine or Newsweek, compared the set to "restoring Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel - a Renaissance!" Encore, a monthly entertainment glossy, devoted 32 pages of raves to the box in an exclusive special issue. And French National television flew Bruno to Kingston for a four minute report on the series for the evening news.

 As the first box is issued in America, Vibe magazine calls it "a...a veritable treasure trove of early recordings...this collection shines as a living testament to the birth of the legend." Entertainment Weekly give it an A-. And an entirely new dimension of Marley and the Wailers' genius is revealed to their hungry fans, the half that's never been told. For myself, it's a twenty-years-long dream come true, an all but vain hope finally realized.

 But wait! There's more! Now it's time for us to bang on Island's doors, especially with label founder Chris Blackwell out of the company now. Polygram, its new owners, should be made to realize the wealth of out-takes, alternate versions, dubs, and more that they're sitting on. Meantime, Coxson Dodd is nearing completion of an early Wailers' spiritual collection to be released in 1998 on Heartbeat, showing the group's initial Christian orientation. There's enough to keep all of us Marley fans going for the rest of our lives, if all this unknown material is carefully husbanded. I still want an album (or a series) of Bob's "bedroom tapes," including acoustic beauties such as "Jailbreaker," "Vexation," "Jump Them Out Of Babylon," "Can't Take Your Slogans No More," and "Pray For Me." "Bob Marley Unplugged" - just think of it! And everyone reading this can help bring that about by bugging Rita and all of Bob's children whenever you see them in person, or by writing to Tuff Gong at 56 Hope Road in Kingston (as well as Distant Dums Magazine) and telling them you'd buy this material in an instant if it were available. Otherwise, it'll be lost to you - and history.

- Roger Steffens

VIBE Magazine - May 1998

 Seventeen years after his death, Bob Marley, the undisputed King of Reggae, continues to rule through the numerous reissues and repackaging of his catalog. Most of this output has been available through Island Records-the label that brought him to international stardom. Now comes a veritable treasure trove of early recordings (1967-1972) that was recorded for the independent JAD Records, Marley's first important signing outside the local scene. After years of keeping their treasures under wraps, JAD (which was founded by American soul sensation Johnny Nash, who covered many early Marley tunes, and producers Arthur Jenkins and Danny Sims) is finally letting the lion out of the cage.

  The first installment includes a three-CD boxed set of 47 tracks, 28 of which were previously unreleased outside of Jamaica. Many of these tracks first saw light as limited-edition 7-inch singles-such as the incredibly rare "Selassie Is the Chapel," of which only 26 copies were ever made and which is among the Wailers' first forays into Rastafarian themes and nyabinghi percussion. Just as that song's melody comes from the country and western hit "Crying in the Chapel," so the collection brims with the influence of old American soul, gospel, and R&B hits that were popular in Jamaica at the time. "Black Progress" is a funky reggae reworking of James Brown's "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud," while "Sugar, Sugar" covers the Archies' bubblegum hit.

  Also included are early versions of orginal tunes that eventually became big hits, "Don't Rock My Boat," with its warbling organ, became the '70s standard "Satisfy My Soul," while the swinging version of "Wisdom" later became "Stiff Necked Fools." Even early on, Bob's plaintive vocals on this latter cut, such as "The rich man's wealth is in his city/The poor man's wealth is in a holy place," hint at the true soul power he commanded. Similarly, you can feel the hunger in Bunny Wailer's and Rita Marley's falsetto vocals. Peter Tosh fans get to hear the Stepping Razor handle the lead vocals on "Stop the Train" and "Give Me a Ticket," (a retitled version of the Box Tops' hit "The Letter"), while Bob, Rita, and Bunny handle harmonies.

  With copious liner notes by reggae historians Bruno Blum and Roger Steffens, rare photos, and unheard instrumental "versions," including "Rhythm," whose original vocal never surfaced, this collection shines as a living testament to the birth of the legend.

- S.H. Fernando Jr.