On Meeting Marley at his home June 1975

It was June of 1975 in Boston Massachusetts and I had just
completed my sophomore year at Boston University. I had made
some good friends at the school and one of them was Michael
Khaleel, who lived in Nyack, New York, and had relatives in Jamaica.

Michael and I were both musicians, and often played our guitars
and sang together, and we were playing a lot of Lennon/McCartney
songs, Bob Dylan songs along with some Stones songs, a few of Paul Simon’s things, too. A fairly common thing for two 19 year olds raised on American rock and roll radio to be bashing away at.

So, not being employed and with school out for the summer
Michael invited me to travel with him to Kingston, Jamaica for
a summer vacation. I thought it sounded great and so we drove
his grandmother’s car from New York to Miami and flew from
Miami down to Kingston.

Walking down the terminal passageway in the airport at Kingston we were offered a free shot of Jamaican dark rum on ice with a splash of pineapple juice right off the bat. Appleton Estate, mon. Brilliant.

Outside the terminal in the sunlight I felt the warmth meshing with the moisture of the ocean and began feeling quite good indeed.

Michael’s cousin picked us up in the family car and after we’d exchanged greetings he pushed the button to start up the cassette player. The first reggae song I’d ever heard in my life outside of “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker began with claves and a good bassline, followed by a staccato horn section creating a sound and a mood that I would soon become very familiar with. The song was “So Jah Seh” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, the opening track on Side Two of their album titled Natty Dread, released in late 1974. The rhythm was starkly different than anything I’d heard, the accents being the reverse of what 19 years of rock and roll had accustomed my head to. The rhythm of reggae (and ska which preceded it) was accented on the first and third counts of the four count meter, exactly the REVERSE of the accents of a typical rock and roll song, which occur on the second and fourth counts of the four count measure. So, this music was “upside down” to my sense of rhythm, but soon my perception would flip and I suddenly “got it.”

Like this:
1.          2.        3.      4.
One BAP ba boom ba boom BAP ba boom ba boom
(that’s Ska and Reggae, with the bassline synchronized to
PUSH the accent at the 1. and the 3.)

1.          2.        3.      4.
Boom slap and Boom slap and Boom slap and Boom
(That’ simplistic rock and roll, with the bass hanging on
an eight count most of the time)

To my ears it was absolutely NEW, and it took a bit of listening carefully (and dancing with Jamaican girls) to really begin to
FEEL what this new music was communicating. And it wasn’t just
the new rhythm that turned my head around, it was the lyric and
the revolutionary political and spiritual message it conveyed, particularly through the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

The first few days in Kingston we met Michael’s family who were
kind and generous with us, putting us up at a condominium they
owned in Kingston. We toured Kingston, stopping in at numerous addresses that functioned as combination bar, dancefloor and record shop. Reggae and ska records were being sold everywhere,
and the beat came out of every speaker in every car that we rode in.
We were completely immersed in this new sound wherever we went.
Kingston was lively, boisterous, and fun. We started to get hip to
the Jamaican slang. We saw rude boys on their scooters weaving
in and out of traffic. In the summer of 1975 if you were cool they
called you “blood,” if you were not, you were a “bloodclot.”
We walked freely from street to street. This atmosphere was all
new to me, and more than once we were invited into strangers
homes for something to eat or to listen to a new record, things that
NEVER happened back in the States.
Michael explained to me that reggae had grown out of the dancehall genre called ska, and that there were many studios with many producers cutting and releasing scores of singles every month,
everyone striving to be heard on the dancefloor, to be heard on the
radio, to get their sound and message out to the people.

Note that ska and reggae music had not become widely known outside of Jamaica and among Jamaicans living in the U.K. up to that time. But that was just about to change.

The Wailers album Burnin’ , released in October of 1973, contained the memorable song “I Shot the Sherriff.” A few months after the release of Burnin’ Eric Clapton released a cover version of “I Shot the Sherriff “ and by mid September 1974 the
song reached #1 on Billboard and became a smash hit for Clapton worldwide.
The growing FM radio audience in the U.S. got it’s first taste
of this new sound. But the REAL sound of this thing called
reggae was still bubbling up under the mainstream.
A few days into our stay on the island we were in one of the
dancehalls in Kingston and I was flailing around on the dance floor
when this lovely Jamaican girl came up to me laughing and told me
“Oh, mon, you dance TOO FAST!” at which point she showed me how to dance reggae. Slow and easy with the accent on the one. This gracious girl did me a real favor, because learning how to move to reggae is the only way to really feel it. “We’re chuckin’ to Jah Music, yeah, we’re chuckin'” (From Dem Belly Full but We Hungry from the Wailers LP Natty Dread)

The next day Michael and I were sitting on the porch overlooking
the parking lot of the condominium where his family had put us up,
playing our guitars and singing. Sometime during our jam, we were hailed by one of the guys who worked on the grounds who said:

“Hey, mon…you’re not too bad. When I get off work tonight I
want you to come and meet my friend Bob. He’s the master musician of the island. He can take, like, two chords and make
a great song from it.”

There’s nothing like an invitation like that to turn on a couple
of 19 year old college kids, so about 10 that night we
piled into this guy’s clapped out old Fiat sedan and tore
out of the lot. The floorboards of the Fiat had rusted completely out
in a few places and I remember watching the surface of the road glimmering by in the moonlight as we sped towards Hope Road.

It was a beautiful island night. As we pulled up to the house on Hope Road the moon was overhead, the stars were out and a gentle breeze was blowing off the ocean pushing a few clouds along, alternately hiding and revealing the moon.

Our new friend shut off the motor and I heard a deep, rumbling, pulsing bassline originating from inside a building to the right of the house, the front yard of which had several large, overhanging trees. There were some guys out in the yard. Tall men with dreadlocks flowing down their backs. I had never seen guys who looked like this before, and as they walked with us to the building from which the music was coming, they looked like walking trees!

We were walked into the place and invited to sit at a picnic
table which was set up about fifteen yards from the stage where
Bob Marley & the Wailers were rehearsing their set. They were playing the songs from Natty Dread, “No Woman, No Cry,”
“Rebel Music” but when they started playing “So Jah Seh” everything clicked for me. This was the song I’d heard within
twenty minutes of landing in Kingston, and this guy Bob Marley
was leading this great sounding band the Wailers! And they were
playing so well. There was magic in the air. And ganja smoke.
Lots and lots of ganja smoke.

On the picnic table where we were seated was a bushel basket
sized pile of ganja, much more than I’d ever seen in one place at one time before. I suppose I wanted to convince myself that I was cool with these guys who had invited me to this rehearsal, so snatched up a moderate quantity of the dope and rolled a joint.

I lit it up, took a puff and politely handed it to one of the rasta guys who was sitting to the left of me. He looked at it, smiled broadly, then laughed and said “What’s this, mon?” He then threw the joint over his shoulder said “Lemme show ya how to do this!”

He grabbed a brown paper bag and tore a square piece from it and quickly and expertly formed an ice cream cone sized spliff
which contained at least a half ounce of ganja. He held it upright above his head, tilted his head back, lit the top, and inhaled deeply.
As he exhaled he was smiling and said….”One draw, mon” and handed the cone to me. I took “one draw” and then passed it to the guy next to me, who patted my hand away and said “No, mon, that’s for you!”

Not wanting to be impolite I did my best to finish the spliff,
getting just out of my head WRECKED in the process, grooving to this strange beautiful music the Wailers were playing.

I had lost all track of time but eventually the Wailers finished
rehearsing and put their instruments down and walked across the room. Some sat directly across from us at the picnic table. Bob Marley sat across from me, with Aston Barrett on one side and Carlton Barrett on the other. The remarkable I-Threes, Rita, Marcia and Judy walked through the room, glowing in their beautiful, colorful wraps. I told Bob that I thought what their music was just amazing.
Bob and I kept talking for awhile, the mood was good. At one point during our conversation Bob told me this:
“If you want to play music, you’ve got to play with good people.”
Then he said:
“And. You’ve got to play FOR the people,” though the way he said it sounded more like “FAR da people.”

We thanked our hosts and stepped outside. I gazed up through the trees into the glittering stars which seemed to swim in a spiral
through the night sky, the night air fragrant with the scents of the
island and the soft penetrating ocean mist. What a fabulous night.

By the next day we were in search of all the Wailers records we
could find in the shops. They were on the Tuff Gong label in Jamaica. We grabbed as many as we could find, along with
records by Toots and the Maytals, whom I learned to love so much!
The Maytals “Reggae Got Soul” is a masterpiece.

Michael Khaleel and I did quite a bit of promotion for the Wailers
over the next year or so in Boston. The Wailers and The Maytals were always going ‘round on my turntable at home and I learned
most of their songs on the guitar. When it was announced that Bob
Marley and the Wailers were to play in Boston we were enthused.
We got tickets for the show on April 26th 1976 at the Music Hall on Tremont Street (now called the Wang Theater) and the Wailers
were just great. The crowd greeted them ecstatically, the sound
was perfect and the band was tight. Bob connected with the audience and the I-Threes backed the vocals expertly, all those
rehearsals on Hope Road had not been time wasted. The set grew
in intensity throughout the hour or so the Wailers were onstage,
climaxing with “Get Up, Stand Up” with Bob and the I-Threes leading a wild call and response vocal improvisation with the audience joining in. They blew the roof off of the place!
Michael Khaleel nudged me as they left the stage. “Let’s go.”
“Go where? I’m staying for the encore, man!”
But Michael was insistent, almost dragging me out the front doors of the hall out onto Tremont Street and around to the back.
We located the tourbus, idling in the back lot; lights on, the driver
at the wheel. Michael walked right up to the bus, knocked on the
door. The driver opened the door and Michael told the driver that
we were friends of the band and could we sit and wait for them on
the bus? To my surprise he agreed and we got on, sat down about halfway back and talked .
About twenty five minutes later the band and the crew and the entourage came walking out the back doors, Marley in front.
He got on the bus first and walked straight down the aisle and stopped and looked me in the eyes and poked his finger into my chest. “I remember you, man. You were at my house!”

I was amazed. It had been about 18 months since that night on
Hope Road and Marley had probably met a thousand people or more in that stretch of time, toured all over the U.K. and the U.S.
and yet he remembered a brief, stoned meeting with us at rehearsal.

We asked if we could ride with them to New York.

Bob grinned at us and said “Yeah, it’s allright with me, but
you’ve got to ask the driver.”

I made my way up through the band-members and crew and
the energy in the bus was amazing. They all KNEW they had really
played well and moved that audience. The I-Threes were sitting
towards the front of the bus, just glowing.

The bus driver was a middle aged white guy and I approached
him, explaining that we were friends of the band and had been
invited to accompany them to the next gig in New York.

He picked up a clipboard with a thin raft of documents clipped
Thereon, saying “Do you know what this is? It’s an Insurance

There was a brief, meaningless pause.

The drivers’ finger tapped meaningfully against the clipboard.

“If your name’s not on The Register you can’t ride the bus.”

So, that was that. The second and last time that I met with the
genius of Trenchtown. I went back to say goodbye and thank
Bob and we got off the bus and the Boston night swallowed us.

But the story’s never really over, is it?

On June 4th, 2017 my wife and and I were invited to an after-party
for U2 after a concert at Soldier Field. The band was there and
so was Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, who had signed
U2 in 1980 and promoted them throughout their career. Chris
Blackwell had signed Bob Marley and the Wailers to Island Records in 1972. We got
a chance to meet Chris that evening and
I gave him a two paragraph version of the story you have just read.

Chris listened patiently to what I had to say and replied.

“I gave the Wailers that house on Hope Road to have as a place
to develop their sound. And I found the money to allow them to
make records the way THEY wanted to make them. And it’s
the thing that I’m most proud of from my career in music.”


David Stowell is a musician, chef, wine steward and arts lover. He and George Black were founding members of the band Stations in 1979. They live and work in Tennessee and remain
madly in love.