An Interview With Mark Miller On His Experience With The Wailers by The Wailers News
The Wailers News recently had the opportunity to interview Mark Miller, who during the late 1970s was Bob Marley & The Wailers' stage manager. Mark has been in the music business for nearly 30 years, working with some very big name acts. He is now responsible for The International World Music Festival, a traveling music festival that aims to spread positive music to as many people as possible. 2001 sees the return of the festival and will feature Tribo De Jah, Andrew McIntryre and Izrah Williams. In this interview, you will be able to read Mark's fresh perspective on what it was like working with Bob Marley & The Wailers, among many other interesting subjects. All of the pictures below come courtesy of Mark!
Q: Judging from the photographs of you with the various members of Bob Marley & The Wailers, you must have been very close to the band. How did you first get to meet Bob Marley & The Wailers?
A: In early 1978 I was working in Los Angeles at a musical equipment hire firm called Studio Instrument Rentals (S.I.R) as night manager. Early one Sunday morning, we received a call for equipment which was needed for the Village People who had a string of shows in Washington State and Canada. As I had no one to send up with the equipment, I took the job on and drove north from LA in a three-ton truck filled with equipment. We did some shows in Seattle then went on to a two week residency at an old famous club in Vancouver, B.C.
Towards the end of the gig, I was informed that a group called Bob Marley & The Wailers were flying in and needed equipment. I stayed in Canada and another truck full of equipment was sent up from LA. I did the first shows at Queen Elizabeth Hall and when I was unloading, I was asked to take a guitar amplifier to the backstage dressing room, so I wheeled an old Fender twin to where the dressing rooms were. I went down a hall towards a room where I heard alot of talking coming from and pushed open the door to find a big cloud of pot smoke in my face. Shoving the amp in, all I could see was alot of strange looking guys smoking huge joints. I just kinda glanced around and one of them pointed towards a guy sitting off to the back of the room. Everyone seemed to be paying attention to this one guy, so I just pushed the amp over and began to get it plugged in and working. I kept glancing around, the pot smelled so great I wanted to smoke some, but instead I just concentrated in plugging in the amp and making sure the guitar lead worked properly. I coiled the lead up nicely on top of the amp and turned to see this guy looking at me. He was leaning back, with his fingers pressed up against his mouth. He had great hands, long slender fingers, really beautiful hands I thought. We looked at each other and he finally said, "Youth, you no smoke?" I answered "Yes," but that I didn't have anything, so he tore a bit of newspaper which was lying on the counter, looked at another guy next to him who pulled out a bag of pot. The guy put some in the newspaper and handed it to me, then just smiled a little and went about his own. I stood for a second, then kinda felt strange for a minute and left. I learned later the guy was Bob Marley.
Q: The photos show you on a tour bus and with Bob Marley & The Wailers, so did you tour with them? What years/tours? What did you do on the tours?
A: Yes, I toured with them. From the show in Vancouver when following the second night, Dennis Thompson, who did the sound and monitors, came up to me and said "Bob wants to know if you want to come with us, work for us?" My chin dropped, I mumbled something like "What do you think" and finished packing up the stage. I went back to my hotel, packed my bags, called LA to tell them the truck was parked at the hotel and the keys were at the desk and I was an added member of Bob Marley & The Wailers' crew. I joined in 1978 at the middle of the Babylon By Bus tour, and remained with them until after Bob got sick in late 1980.
I was responsible for the entire stage equipment and setting it up so when they walked on, it was ready, and ready everytime. If something broke, I had to fix it, and I also looked after Bob's guitar and amps. After a while I also tuned the guitars, except Al Anderson's. He always checked his own stuff and so did Junior Marvin.
Q: Can you recall/elaborate on a few of the most memorable events/things that you witnessed or experienced during these times?
A: Man, they were all so memorable, but if I had to pick a few I suppose one might be when were in Miami. The band wanted to have a rehearsal so Dennis and I were dispatched to set one up at a small studio in South Miami. While we were there, a German film crew showed up to interview Bob. During the course of the interview, Bob sat down, picked up a new acoustic guitar he had gotten. A beautiful Ovation guitar, intricately carved out and he played for us and the film crew, "Redemption Song." Just Bob and his guitar. Unbelievable! I think that film became the video for "Redemption Song." I know every time I heard it from then on I thought of that day in the studio. Another event had to be standing in Bob's driveway following the cancellation of the final USA tour and seeing Bob look shrunken, would fit the question. The doctors had most likely told him he was extremely ill and he was keeping a brave face on, telling us all that was happening was he needed rest and the tour would continue. For some reason I knew that it wasn't going to happen; the next I heard was from Al Anderson several months later that Bob was in Issels' clinic in Europe, his dreadlocks had all fallen out and his skin looked like old burnt charcoal from the chemotherapy. You know the rest.
Q: In one of the photos, you are standing with Neville Garrick, behind Bob Marley being greeted by New Zealanders. It seems clear that every BMW tour was a huge event and undertaking, so what was one day like? Can you give an insider's view on just some of the goings-on for one concert date, and all that went into one show, let alone an entire tour?
A: Generally we all traveled together, either by plane or by bus. Once we got to a city for a show, the band would go to the hotel, except for maybe Al, Junior and Fams, who would go with Dennis and I to the venue. Dennis (Thompson) and I would sort out the equipment and start to get it set up or if it wasn't there yet, we'd try to find it! That was fun sometimes! Once we had the equipment, we'd get it uncased and Dennis would help me get it set in place and wired up. Then he would go off to get the P.A. (sound system) sorted out and the monitors working. I would test each and every piece of equipment to make sure it worked, and then set out the guitars and dressing room amps. Once I had the guitars tuned, I would go back and while Dennis was at the mixing desk, I would go again through each instrument so he could get a sound. By that time the rest of the band would show up and we always knew when Bob arrived. You could always tell when he was in the building. I don't know why, it was just something. They did their soundcheck, then we all usually went back to the hotel for a shower and some food which Gilly (Bob's assistant and also a great cook!) would have prepared. It was then cool-out time for a little while and then everyone got on the bus and back we would go to do the show. After packing everything up again and into the trucks, usually Dennis Thompson, Al Anderson, Junior Marvin, me and sometimes Tyrone or Seeco would head off for the clubs. Sometimes we were lucky with the local talent, sometimes not. Then back to the hotel, a few hours sleep and off to the next city.
Q: What concerts were your most favorite during these days? What were your least favorite, and why?
A: They all were great but the most memorable would have to be a few. The Independence Celebrations in Zimbabwe were something, we got tear gassed right after Bob began to play. The cops blamed the locals for trying to get into the stadium, but we thought it was because Prince Charles was running behind schedule. Well, the tear gas drifted from the front of the stage and everyone took off running. I was trying to grab stuff when I saw Ziggy (Marley) who was about eight years old at that time standing in the middle of the stage, tears streaming down his face from the gas. I ran out and grabbed him up and we ran back off stage. I saw him recently at the Rototom Sunsplash in Italy and we said "Hello" to each other, and from the look on his face, he knew there was something more than just a hello between us.
Another memorable show would have to be the one in Gabon, Africa. The President's daughters liked The Wailers, so we were invited down. Dennis and I had to fly on an old cargo plane laying on top of the flight cases. The pilot and his first mate were like something out of an old Hollywood 1930s movie. You know, the corncob pipe and World War II pilot's cap, all beat up and the first mate with hardly any teeth jabbering away. Dennis saw the plane and rushed out to buy a couple of cases of beer which we proceeded to destroy as soon as the plane rattled off the runway. This was the same trip that Bob's ex-manager, Don Taylor, got caught with his hands in the till. Bob had called me into his room and I walked in to find Don Taylor sitting in a chair in front of Bob, surrounded by Gilly, Neville Garrick, and Junior. Bob asked me some questions about the costs of the equipment and things and I could tell that he was quite angry. Gilly looked as though he was ready to tear Don's head off! And for a moment I thought Bob was going to smack Don right in the head. The only thing I saw then was Neville pouring a bottle of milk over Don's head. Don was fired after that, something about fees which were paid and which never reached Bob.
As I said, almost all the shows we did were memorable, from the Carnegie Hall show to the Santa Barbara County Bowl show, each was special in its own way. Maybe we'll go into "Interview Part Two" sometime and I will tell you more.
Q: People have called Bob Marley words like "prophet," "mystic man,""God," among many other titles, so what was he really like?
A: Whooaa! Words like "prophet" and "mystic man," I would have to agree with, but "God"? That's a bit strong. There are some real fanatics out there and it is probably through them that word came up, but no, I do not think he was a God. The only God, Bob believed in, along with most of the true rastas, is Selassie, but to answer your question, Bob Marley was one of the kindest, most generous, most real human beings to have walked the earth. He was special and took great care of me, that was one of the reasons fifteen years after he died, I came back to help The Wailers Band. I owed him, I paid my debt too. The militant stuff people saw was a front, made up by the newspapers and used, that's all.
Q: What are some facts/bits of information that people might not know about Bob Marley & The Wailers, that you think they should?
A: How about his real name was "Nesta." Mrs. Booker called him by it, rarely I heard "Bob" when I was present and Mrs. Booker was there.
Q: What got you into reggae music? What had you been doing before touring with Bob Marley & The Wailers?
A: I had been active around the music scene in LA from the middle of the 1970s. A friend of mine knew Randy California, who was the guitarist with a well known Californian group called Spirit and who were very big in the USA at the time. This mutual friend had introduced us, as Randy was having a problem with his wah-wah guitar pedal and this friend knew I was good with electronics. I messed with the pedal a bit, cleaned it up and when Randy tried it again he was amazed. I really didn't do much, the pot's were real dirty, but in any case Randy loved it. We agreed I would work on their equipment during some LA shows, then a tour to London came up and I was asked to go along. While the band were in London, they had problems and broke up. I stayed and began a 12-year tour period working with people like Elton John, Rod Stewart, Atomic Rooster, Jon Hiseman's Tempest, alot of old well-known English bands. I guess you could say it prepared me for the ultimate tour, three years with Bob Marley & The Wailers.
Q: Did you have any experiences with Peter Tosh or Bunny Wailer?
A: None, with Peter only played several shows after Bob's death. You know, same venues on a mixed bill.
Q: Did you remain in close contact with any of The Wailers after Bob Marley died in 1981?
A: I spoke to Al Anderson several times after Bob died and saw The Wailers Band around the world at different points and concerts in time, but mostly I was in contact with Junior (Marvin). We both lived on and off in London so we saw each other sometimes.
Q: You then managed The Wailers Band. What years did you manage The Wailers Band and how did managing them come about?
A: I rejoined the band in 1995 after meeting with Junior and his asking me to help out with their business. Junior had been taking it all on himself and did a fabulous job of keeping them going for so long after Bob passed, no matter what anyone thinks. Without him, they all would have gone down the tube sooner. He asked me to take some of the load which I did happily. Remember what I said before? Bob took great care of me for three years and I wanted to repay that. I had my own management company by that time and I knew I could make a difference. The three years with Bob were the best in my life, I thought I would reclaim that feeling, but it was not to be.
Q: Did you find it tough trying to get people to recognize that The Wailers Band were still a legitimate and talented band, after the passing of Bob Marley?
A: That was the hardest part, unfortunately, promoters were pissed off because there were constant changes in the band lineup, and they never knew who was going to show up. Then the band itself, this was after Junior and I put the original members together again (all except Seeco) for an ill-fated Brazilian and Europe tour. The originals were constantly at each others' throats. Al hated Junior, then he hated Fams, then it was Tyrone who got into a fight with him in Germany. It was reported that Tyrone's jaw was broken by Al, but that was bullshit. I walked on the bus just as they were finishing punching the fuck out of each other. Tyrone went to the hospital, but he only had a badly bruised ego, and alot of dislike of Al. Al Anderson is a great guitarist and when he leaves the recreational things alone, he is even a greater guy. But he has alot demons inside for some reason. They all do. I think it is because not one of them gets a penny from any of the Bob Marley albums sold. Not a penny! When Bob died, I heard there was something like $300 million dollars in his accounts, and the band didn't even get a look in. No wonder they are so messed up. Couple that with the fact that the "new" Wailers Band is really only Familyman. It is a shame, but they drag Wya out on tour sometimes, and he would rather be at home I think. Al Anderson is in one minute and out the next, but everyone else is new. I saw them last year in Germany, very disappointing. I'm glad I can remember the real thing.
Q: Can you recall some of the most memorable events while managing The Wailers Band?
A: The beginning, the middle, and finally the end.
Q: You now manage reggae/world groups like Djambi from Brazil, Andrew McIntyre from Jamaica, and Izrah Williams. What kinds of things have changed from your times working with Bob Marley & The Wailers, then The Wailers Band, and now with these up-and-coming bands?
A: With Bob everyone was working together, towards a goal, even if not everyone knew it. It was a great family atmosphere than with The Wailers. It [working with The Wailers Band] was like, everyone was working at their own agenda, trying to get as much as they could out of it, forgetting the real point, the music and the message. And now with these new bands, they try their hardest to do something positive, but promoters are less willing to take a risk nowadays, unless you have a song shooting up the charts like Madonna or Britney Spears, they don't want to know. Even agents don't want to know. I just did six weeks with my International World Music Festival and the great Brazilian band Djambi, in the USA. I had to work my ass off for each and every show, and was lucky a couple of times with great friends like George Michialow and Steve Foster who helped me out. But generally it was because I pushed and pushed with people I knew since Bob's days and who knew I don't mess around.
I feel sorry for all the talented acts out there, they never had a chance, and when they do get one they usually fuck it by being stupid. They always blame someone else for their own shortcomings and failing to see the bigger picture. Luckily, with guys like Andrew McIntryre, Izrah Williams and the great African songwriter Yelen, I have found some very talented and intelligent individuals to work with. Keep your eyes and ears open for these guys, such talent you won't find again in a million years.
Q: From all of your years being intimately involved in reggae music, what locations in the world are the most receptive to reggae and its message?
A: I have been lucky enough in my life to have been able to visit most of this planet, and music, not just reggae music, is everywhere. More and more reggae is prevalant around the world, but that is mostly due to Bob Marley & The Wailers. I am at the moment in Mayotte Island out in the Indian Ocean; I walk down the streets with mudhuts and hear Bob coming out of the huts, kids in torn ragged clothing run around with Marley t-shirts! But I would have to say by now the entire planet is turned on to Marley's music. Because that is what reggae is really, the Jamaican dub isn't played around the world like Bob. There are so many reggae groups out there now it's silly, and silly because they are all trying to be the next "Bob." Somebody should wake them up and let them know there will never be another Bob Marley! There will never be another John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, so they should just go off and try to be themselves. The promoters are sick of all the copies doing substandard shows. Why do you think there are so many package shows now? There are some great bands though, don't get me wrong. People like Steel Pulse, Michael Rose, the guys from one of the greatest reggae bands of all time Black Uhuru, who are still there, but you have to wait until some of the newer acts bring out their music and hope its not just another Marley clone before finding out how good reggae is nowadays.
Q: It has been said by some people that only true reggae music can be made in Jamaica. In your world travels and your personal global experiences with Bob Marley & The Wailers and now with Djambi, Andrew McIntyre, and Izrah Williams, what do you think about this statement?
A: Do you really want to know? It's bullshit, most likely made by a Jamaican I'll bet. Reggae may have started in JA, which after going around the world and hearing all different types of similar rhythms I am beginning to seriously doubt the statement in your question. Music is universal, it comes from the heart and soul, so how can Jamaicans claim another man's heart? Another man's soul? No, I disagree, reggae can come from a Jamaican, it can come from an American, from an African, from great bands like the Brazilian reggae band Makoto. It can come from anyone who feels it. Remember what Bob wrote? "He who knows it, feels it!"
Q: Can you explain and give more insight into the photo of you and Neville Garrick, standing behind Bob Marley, as he is greeted by New Zealanders? (see photo at the right)
A: That photo was taken during the Babylon By Bus tour, right after we landed in Auckland from Japan. Man, those were some big people, the Maoris and I am not just talking about the guys. They greeted us with the big spears and their tongues flapping just like the movies and before their rugby games. We had a great time there and in Australia, in fact we had a great time wherever we went, and I am just happy to have been part of it and been so close to it all. I'll never forget a minute of it. That's it for now, maybe we'll talk again soon about this fantastic journey called Bob Marley & The Wailers.
Check out the International World Music Festival website at: http.//www.iration.com/iwmf