meta-scriptLiving Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation | GRAMMY.com
Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation
Marcia Griffiths

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Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation

In a career-spanning interview, iconic singer Marcia Griffiths spoke with GRAMMY.com about her impressive run of solo releases and many years spent singing with Bob Marley as a member of vocal trio the I-Threes.

GRAMMYs/Jul 10, 2023 - 06:45 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with reggae singer Marcia Griffiths, whose voice can be heard on seminal recordings from the '60s and '70s. Griffiths continues to perform today, and will headline Celebrate Brooklyn! In July.

Singer Marcia Griffiths believes her life has been preordained. "When I was a younger girl, I used to pray that I could be of service to mankind," she says.

It seems as if her prayers were answered: Her sweet voice caught the ear of a neighborhood singer as a young teen, and she soon launched her career at Jamaica's equivalent of Motown Records. Griffiths later met Jamaica’s biggest musical legend and sang on some of his most popular recordings. Her solo releases remain indelible works in the reggae canon, and have remained a constant on turntables the world over for nearly 60 years.

"God could not have chosen a better position for me. I can stay in one place and send my voice to the four corners of the world and touch souls," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I had no vision of this — that I would’ve lasted 60 years down the road."

Now 73, Griffiths is a reggae icon whose career highlights include numerous solo records, over 50 collaborations with singers such as Shaggy and Buju Banton, and seven years spent in the I-Threes — a trio consisting of Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley, which sang with Bob Marley until he died. 

Yet her career had auspicious beginnings. At the behest of her neighbor, Marcia entered a neighborhood talent competition. She easily won, and soon began to perform with ska group Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires. Not too long after, not one but two label heads offered her a contract — she decided to sign up with the legendary Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and his Studio One label in 1964.

Dodd "gave me the baton and I just ran with it," Griffiths recalls, adding that in the '60s, "We were so sincere in what we were doing….We just wanted to sing our hearts out."

From there, Marcia Griffiths worked with a who’s-who of Jamaican music in the 1960s and ‘70s: Marley, Bob Andy, legendary producer Sonia Pottinger, Lloyd Charmers, and many others. Griffiths' first solo hit, 1967’s "Feel Like Jumping," established her as a force in rocksteady and the burgeoning reggae scene. Her 1982 single "Electric Boogie" is credited with the birth of the electric slide dance in America; in 2005, her legacy was honored by fellow reggae icons Toots and the Maytals' on their GRAMMY-winning album, True Love. Griffiths also received a nomination for Best Reggae Album at the 63rd GRAMMYs for her work on the WailersOne World.To date, she's released 16 albums, and hints that her 17th will be completed by the end of the summer.

Griffiths continues to perform and record today, her voice sweet and nice as ever. Ahead of a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival on July 15, Marcia Griffiths spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding her power, working with Bob Marley, and the importance of creating uplifting reggae music.

The beginnings of your career in reggae are legendary. Yet to walk into Studio One at such a young age — a place with a lot of older men, and likely some very serious people — was probably very intimidating.

Oh yes. And don't forget, we're talking about a male-dominated business. That's where I met Sister Rita and the Soulettes. I met Bob Marley there, Ken Boothe, the Heptones — just about everyone. I see Studio One as Jamaica's Motown. All the greats, that's where we all graduated. That was the place to be.

It was a little uncomfortable for me as a young girl going in and seeing all these people that I've just been hearing on the radio. So it was really overwhelming. And of course, my father had to be everywhere that I was at the time.

I recorded a song, a ballad called "Wall of Love" that was never released up until this day. This song was written by a friend of mine, he lived in Hannah Town [in Kingston], where I'm from originally. I used to just do the harmonies on the song while he was playing his guitar. So when I called him to come up to Studio One, [my friend] was shocked because he had never seen a studio or been close to any studio. 

I never had any nervousness, any part of me; he was the one who got cold feet. So he ended up not even coming in the studio. I'll never forget, [organist] Jackie Mittoo said, "Little girl, you know the song? And I said, "Yes." And I sung the song and the music starts to catch a chord and I ended up recording that song all by myself.

I met Bob Andy at a rehearsal in a group called the Paragons and we became very close friends. Then he wrote songs for me like "Feel Like Jumping," "Tell Me Now," "Melody Life," "Mark My Words," "Truly." All those Studio One songs were during the decade of the '60s. And my first hit song was in 1967, "Feel Like Jumping." 

I love that song. It still feels so fresh and enthusiastic. Do you remember recording that one?

In those days when you're recording a song, it's just two tracks. So the voice and the music goes on one side. Other artists like Bunny Wailer would sing harmonies when I and Bob Andy were recording. And the Heptones — it was like a family affair.

It was like a togetherness and so much love. And innocence. So much was invested in all of these songs, and that's one of the reasons why these songs have such longevity and they can be played years down the road as golden oldies — we were so sincere in what we're doing. We were genuine. We just wanted to sing our hearts out. All the good ingredients are invested in all of these songs.

And that's one of the reasons why we're still talking today. At the time, did you have a sense that you were recording, that you were making music that was so enduring?

I came to understand more that to have a God-given talent was something very special. And when I read the Bible, I see where God calls upon singers and players of instruments. We are the ones who can take the music to the four corners of the earth. And true music comes in message to teach, to educate, and to uplift and unite the world. We cannot live without food and music.

When I met Bob Marley, I still had no vision that I would end up working with this man. He was the one who opened my eyes. When I started performing with him and recording with him,  I saw how serious this man took his music. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Right there and then, I said to myself, This is a responsibility that we have, and we have to be careful of the message that we are sending.

Because he was so sincere and dedicated to doing what he was doing that he never cared about money or anything. I realized the position that I was in was much deeper than I thought; it wasn't just entertainment and you go on stage and sing and dance. 

It certainly comes through in your music and, obviously, in Bob Marley's as well. Do you have a powerful memory about performing with him as a member of the I-Threes?

I am happy that I gave him flowers while he was alive, because I knew that this man was very, very special before anything happened. I have never seen anyone so unique and sincere. 

When we went to Zimbabwe and everyone, including us, ran for our lives, that man stood on stage and he was ready to die or to go down with his people. [Editor’s note: Bob Marley performed during the newly formed Zimbabwe’s Independence Day in 1980, and police fired teargas into the stadium.]

I realized then that he was not a person that was just preaching, he was practicing what he preached. Because he wasn't going anywhere; he was ready to go down with his people. So all of this showed me who this man was.

But what stood out in my mind more than anything else is, I was on tour, and I was maybe about seven months pregnant. We were doing "Lively Up Yourself" — and we have a lot of activity in that song, dancing up a storm — and immediately after the song was finished, I just saw dark coming towards me. Some little things twinkling before my eyes, and I knew that I was about to pass out.

So I held onto Sister Rita's dress and I was trying to beckon to her that I was going to faint. Out of nowhere I felt an arm around my shoulders, and it was Bob. And it is not that he saw something happening. He led me away from Rita and Judy slowly while he was there with the microphone, and he was doing ad libs about mothers and children all over the world. And I was instantly rejuvenated.

I didn't take it lightly. It was something very special. And the whole thing was just the works of God; I cannot merit it to anything else. So that is something that always stands out in my mind with being on that journey with the band. 

**Is it true that you recorded all of the backup vocals on Exodus?**

It was just Rita and myself that went to England; I think Judy was having one of her babies at the time. But a couple of nights Rita was not available and I went in and I did a lot of the tracks. Actually, we ended up with two albums from that trip: Kaya and Exodus.

Some nights when I'm there by myself, I would do my part, I do Sister Rita's part, do Sister Judy's part, and then I do another fourth harmony because Bob usually liked high harmonies.

So whatever it is that I'm doing, it was never like a strain or work. It was always something that I'm enjoying. And Bob was so unique that some of the ideas that he would come up with that we would sing, they were just one of a kind. Definitely on another level.

Exodus is such a seminal album as well. When you were in the studio, do you recall feeling anything special about the work that you were all doing together?

Oh yes, because at the time I think Bob had been going through a whole lot of changes. This all happened after the shooting and everything. So he was more in depth. He was hurting, and everything that was coming out of him was so real. It's always real, but this time it was with a whole lot of emotion. 

So I could feel every moment that he invested, even when we were there at night doing anything at all. I remember Tyrone [Downie]. [Aston Barrett a.k.a.] Family Man, Junior Murvin — just a few of the musicians were present in the studio because some of the tracks, Tyrone Junior, they do backup as well.

Did the mood in those sessions, everything that was going on in Bob's life, etc, affect what you brought to the sessions?

Of course, because energy is so important. I can pick up energy easily, and sometimes you have good energy and you have bad energy. So the energy that was coming, it was so solid and positive that immediately you know that you are in it 100 percent. And whatever's coming out of you is 100 percent of yourself as well.

You also had a very prolific run with Bob Andy for many years. Can you tell me about that creative partnership?

All that started when Bob Andy and myself left Studio One in 1969 and we went to Harry J [Records]. Bob Andy and myself recorded that song "Really Together," and that was a really big song up until this day. It's one of the biggest dubs on soundsystem dub specials.

I think it was Bob’s idea to re-record the Nina Simone song, "Young Gifted and Black." Anywhere I perform today, I do that song on stage and it is fresh as ever. I perform that song with my son.

The song was No. 2 on the British charts and we had to go to England to do "Top of the Pops." And that was a whole new experience for both of us.

Being in England was like I was doing another life, because everything was just so familiar, and I was truly enjoying every moment of it. So we ended up recording another song called "Pied Piper" as a follow-up to "Young, Gifted and Black." 

How did you manage to negotiate for yourself as a young woman in an industry that doesn’t treat women or artists well?

That's a downfall we experienced in Jamaica especially, not knowing the business part and not having good management. Back then, we never had any manager to do the business part. And you cannot be a singer and a manager or a business person at the same time. One is definitely going to suffer. And it's a business. We would get caught in the fine print.

It’s much different now because we learn from our bad experiences. I communicate with almost every upcoming young woman in the business. It's one of my highlights to know that I was their inspiration. I share a lot with them so they don't fall in some of the holes that we fell in along the journey. 

But things are looking brighter. And nowadays, a lot of these sisters are knowledgeable of what's happening. And I'm truly thankful for that. 

It's wonderful that you are sharing your experience with other women who are looking up to you. As a female solo act in the '70s, did you feel supported? Was it tough to make your way as a serious artist?

By then I was gathering so much knowledge from traveling. In the '70s, I-Three were just totally involved with Bob Marley. If I'm going on the road with Bob, we’d go for months.

But at no time did I relinquish my solo career. In the decade of the '70s, I had two albums that were released: Naturally and Stepping out of Babylon. And sometimes they would demand that Bob Andy and myself [perform in] different parts of the world, especially in England. So that decade was between Bob and Marcia, Bob Marley and I-Three, and myself as a solo artist. 

I'd love to hear a bit about those solo records that you put out in the '70s. How did you differentiate what you were putting out as a solo artist from the work that you were doing with Bob Andy or with Bob Marley and the I-Threes?

It's much easier when I'm doing my solo thing, whether it's a recording or a performance. On  most of my recordings, I do the harmonies myself. And the engineer would love [that] because it's tighter, it's more precision. Everything is just locked in nicely.

Bob [Marley] was just so unique and so full of music that you can expect anything in a session with Bob. He was always surprising you with some ideas and unique sounds. It just amazed me. Sometimes you'd want to stop and say wow, but you don't want to make it so obvious.

With I-Three, it flows easy as well because we had a connection. I usually tell people that coming together with Judy, Rita and myself, was ordained by the Almighty God. It was never a mistake. At the time when we formed this group, I invited Judy and Rita to come and sing some back up for me at a three night performance in New Kingston. We did a little jam session on stage and the audience loved it. They said, "Why don't you girls form a group?" And we say, "Why not?"

That was the time that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer — who are the original Wailers —  had a major fall-out. And Bob Marley heard that we formed a group and immediately he called us in to do "Natty Dread" and it went straight to No. 1. We became his three little birds. And we started there, right up until God called him and he passed.

Is there a recording that you don't speak about too often but strikes you deeply? 

The song that I wrote for Bob Marley, "He's a Legend," that was something very special for me. I hardly talk about it. But the song speaks for itself because every single word in that song is truth and reality. 

I remember going to someone's birthday and they requested for me to do that song for him. So I said, "That song was just written for one person, and I don't know if the person that you are asking me to do the song for is even worthy." It's not just singing words; it is meaningful that it has to be suitable for whoever I'm seeing the song for.

This song is saying, "Oh, what a blessing I received, to have been so privileged to share such wonderful moments with such a man." So everything that we are singing about and I wrote is things that I experienced, I'm not just writing nice lyrics or something that will make someone feel nice.

This is the same man who opened my eyes to know that the message in the songs are the most important thing, especially in reggae music. All these songs that he has done, we see in today's world and today's life that everything is manifesting. He was way ahead of his time. So "He's a Legend" was something that I experienced and it was straight from my heart.

I like hearing that display of integrity, because people think that songs are just songs or pop songs, but it’s so much deeper than that.

When I started work with Bobby and I realized, nothing came before his music; no money, nothing. So it was something else for me to go into a studio and to sing about folly, or things that are not really truth and reality.

Bunny Wailer wrote "Electric Boogie" because of the rhythm that I gave him. Bunny's also a great songwriter, like a Stevie Wonder, who writes about life and reality, but because of the kind of rhythm and the dance beat that he heard, that was a happy, fun song. 

Bob Marley himself was a versatile songwriter. He wrote about love, he wrote about life, people, lifestyle, wars and those things that is to come, and what was there that he was experiencing at the time. 

You sung some of the most enduring reggae love songs, like "Dreamland," "Truly" is the message of spreading love very important to you as a singer?

Of course! That is my life, because without love and truth, the world crumbles. From the moment a baby is born, and they hear music, they start moving their little bodies. Music touches the soul, which no doctor in the universe can do.

So for me, spreading love and joy to the world and to every mankind — especially to the sisters. A song like "Survival" is one of my favorite songs because it is relating to the sisters who are abused by men.

And I try to embrace my sisters because we are not just here as women to look after babies. Of course, we are mothers of creation, but some men see us as the household chores. Women are flying airplanes now and they're doing so many different things. So there's no limits to us.

So I just want to spread the love. I always tell people that I know I am the mother of love. And all I have to give to the world is love. And I try to do it through my music. 

In the past two months, two people that were very ill and were passing — one of them was from Canada and wanted to meet me before he died. And they flew him down to Jamaica and I met him. And just four days ago, my eldest son called me and he said that he has a friend and his father was passing and he asked that I just send a voice message to him.

Sometimes I see some young pregnant mothers, and for some reason they believe if I rest my hands on their tummy, their babies will be blessed. I'm blessed that people see me in that light, and I will just continue to touch souls and to do whatever I can do for mankind. 

There's no limit for me. I shall sing as long as I live.

**Are you working on anything new? The last album you put out was in 2019, Timeless.**

I started an album on the Penthouse label, which is where I've been recording. I've been there since '86 and that's how I came to do all these collaborations. I have 50 collaborations.

I'm completing an album. I have maybe about three tracks left, but I'm completing it by the end of August. I'm working with Clive Hunt and of course, Buju.

There's no energy like the youth. And I think that's one of the things that keeps me relevant over the years, that I interact with the younger generation. The last four shows I did were with Romaine Virgo, Grams, and it's beautiful. So I just try to maintain on that level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love'
Kingsley Ben-Adir and Ziggy Marley attend the Los Angeles Premiere Of Paramount Pictures "Bob Marley: One Love" at Regency Village Theatre on Feb. 6, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images

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7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love'

Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, 'Bob Marley: One Love' takes viewers inside the tumultuous world of late '70s Jamaica as Marley prepares to release 'Exodus.'

GRAMMYs/Feb 16, 2024 - 07:23 pm

For so many modern music fans, Bob Marley is more of an image than an actual person. 

The late reggae superstar died in 1981 — struck down by cancer when he was just 36 years old — and while his popularity has only grown in the 40-odd years since, audiences now might be more familiar with music’s vibes and Marley's image than they are with the man in totality. 

A new movie starring Kingsley Ben-Adir seeks to rectify that. Produced by Ziggy, Rita and Cedella Marley, among others, Bob Marley: One Love highlights Marley’s music, family, and deep passion for Rastafarianism. The biopic also takes viewers inside the tumultuous world of late ‘70s Jamaica, when crime bosses battled colonizers and Marley prepared to release his 1977 album Exodus — the record Time Magazine would come to call "the best album of the 20th century." 

Bob Marley: One Love is only in theaters. For those who can't make it out to the silver screen, read on for seven insights into Bob Marley’s life gleaned from the movie.

Bob Marley Had A Complicated Upbringing

In the movie, we learn that Bob Marley never really knew his dad. Marley's father is never shown in full, but depicted as this sort of faceless white colonist with nothing but contempt for his young son.

Bob’s mom moved to Delaware when the singer was quite young, following her marriage to an American civil servant, and a teenaged Bob was sort of left to fend for himself in Jamaica. It was then he met and fell in love with Rita Anderson, who introduced him to Rastafarianism. 

Bob Believed His Music Could Bring People Peace 

When the movie opens, we’re thrust into 1976, during which Jamaica was undergoing major political and economic turmoil. Crime bosses were warring, political rivals were clashing, and there was a lot of unrest in the street. While Bob took pains to not take sides at the time, he felt like he could help heal the country through music, planning the Smile Jamaica concert to bring people together. 

Unfortunately, as we see in the movie, Bob’s homebase is invaded just before the tour, with Bob, Rita, and their manager suffering gunshot wounds. (According to the movie, the thickness of Rita’s dreads kept a bullet from hitting her brain.) 

Read more: Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic

Though people encourage him to flee the country after the shooting, Bob is committed to the show. He performs, though he appears rattled in the movie, ultimately sending his family off to Delaware and heading to London to get away from an increasingly untenable situation in his home country. 

Rastafarianism Influenced Bob's Language & Songwriting

If you’ve always hummed along to cuts like "Redemption Song" but didn’t quite understand the meaning of  lines like "Old pirates, yes they rob I," One Love is here to answer. Per the film, Rastafarians believe that "words separate people," meaning that there should be no "you" or "me," but rather just "I and I." 

Bob’s love for Rasta life features prominently in the film, and there are revelations about how he thought that his music and the Rasta message were essentially the same thing. "Reggae," the film says, "is the vehicle" to spread the gospel of Haile Selassie and the idea of a Black God. Songs like "Natural Mystic" were, in Bob’s eyes, just classic Rasta messages set to catchy music. 

That’s also partially where the idea for Exodus comes from, which we see the recording of in the film. One of Bob Marley's most important records, Exodus was inspired not only by the cinematic saga of the same name, but of the singer’s religious politics. While tracks like "Turn Your Lights Down Low" are pretty much torch songs, others, like "Exodus" are about the Rastafarians’ quest for a spiritual homeland, or, as the song puts it, the ongoing "movement of Jah people." 

Bob Marley May Was A Visionary, But He Was No Saint

While we don’t get a real clear picture of what was going on with Bob and Rita’s marriage in One Love, we do catch some glimpses at random women giving Bob the eye, as well as a blowout fight between the two in which they both rail against the other’s infidelities.

While it’s well known that Bob fathered at least six children out of wedlock, two of his 11 or so claimed descendents are solely Rita’s kids, including one daughter she had before they were married and another conceived during an affair with a former Jamaican soccer player. 

While Rita’s involvement in the movie would suggest that she doesn’t necessarily harbor any intractable feelings about what was going on outside their marital bed, the inclusion of some of the less savory parts of Bob’s personality serve to make him seem like a more complete human on-screen.

Bob Wasn't Concerned About The Almighty Dollar

Though Bob Marley’s estate is worth an estimated $500 million today, the movie makes it clear that the singer didn’t care all that much for money. 

There’s archival interview footage of him during the credits pooh-pooing the notion that he was "rich," with him saying, "my richness is life." He’s also seen during the movie doling out money to needy Jamaicans, as well as to his band. At one point, Marley tells his manager that he doesn’t really care how much they make on a potential African tour, as long as they "have enough to pay the band."

Read more: Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation

Bob Died Of An Extremely Rare Cancer 

Though it’s generally well-known that the late reggae icon died much too young, the circumstances of his death are discussed less often. As we see in One Love, Bob found out on July 7, 1977 — an auspicious day according to Marcus Garvey — that he had acral lentiginous melanoma, an extremely rare form of skin cancer that appears in generally ignored parts of the body, like on the soles of the feet or. In Bob’s case, the cancer appeared under a toenail. 

Though his doctor recommended that Bob have his toe amputated to stem the spread of the disease, the singer rejected the notion, citing his religious beliefs as well as his performing career. The cancer would spread to Marley’s brain, lungs, and liver before he died a little shy of four years later.

The Marley Family Is Heavily Invested In Keeping Their Legacy Alive 

One Love opens with an introduction from Ziggy Marley, who says that he was on set nearly every day the movie was in production. He added that he wanted to make sure the film captured his dad’s true essence, and it’s clear both from his speech and the work that he’s done since that he really does mean it. 

Read more: Ziggy Marley Talks Working With His Kids On 'More Family Time,' The Joy Of Toots Hibbert & Bob Marley's Revolution

The Marley family has always stayed close, recording and performing together quite a lot (Bob’s sons Damian and Stephen are touring this summer, for instance).  Bob Marley: One Love seems to be just another extension of the love they have for their dad and for their whole family, as well as for the rich legacy their parents created together.

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21 Albums Turning 50 In 2024: 'Diamond Dogs,' 'Jolene,' 'Natty Dread' & More

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21 Albums Turning 50 In 2024: 'Diamond Dogs,' 'Jolene,' 'Natty Dread' & More

Dozens of albums were released in 1974 and, 50 years later, continue to stand the test of time. GRAMMY.com reflects on 21 records that demand another look and are guaranteed to hook first-time listeners.

GRAMMYs/Jan 5, 2024 - 04:08 pm

Despite claims by surveyed CNN readers, 1974 was not a year marked by bad music. The Ramones played their first gig. ABBA won Eurovision with the earworm "Waterloo," which became an international hit and launched the Swedes to stardom. Those 365 days were marked by chart-topping debuts, British bangers and prog-rock dystopian masterpieces. Disenchantment, southern pride, pencil thin mustaches and tongue-in-cheek warnings to "not eat yellow snow" filled the soundwaves.  

1974 was defined by uncertainty and chaos following a prolonged period of crisis. The ongoing OPEC oil embargo and the resulting energy shortage caused skyrocketing inflation, exacerbating the national turmoil that preceded President Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal. Other major events also shaped the zeitgeist: Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman slugged it out for the heavyweight title at "The Rumble in the Jungle," and People Magazine published its first issue. 

Musicians reflected a general malaise. Themes of imprisonment, disillusionment and depression — delivered with sardonic wit and sarcasm — found their way on many of the records released that year. The mood reflects a few of the many reasons these artistic works still resonate.  

From reggae to rock, cosmic country to folk fused with jazz, to the introduction of a new Afro-Trinidadian music style, take a trip back 18,262 days to recall 20 albums celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2024. 

Joni Mitchell - Court & Spark

Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark is often hailed as the pinnacle of her artistic career and highlights the singer/songwriter’s growing interest in jazz, backed by a who’s who of West Coast session musicians including members of the Crusaders and L.A. Express. 

As her most commercially successful record, the nine-time GRAMMY winner presents a mix of playful and somber songs. In an introspective tone, Mitchell searches for freedom from the shackles of big-city life and grapples with the complexities of love lost and found. The record went platinum — it hit No.1 on the Billboard charts in her native Canada and No. 2 in the U.S., received three GRAMMY nominations and featured a pair of hits: "Help Me" (her only career Top 10) and "Free Man in Paris," an autobiographical song about music mogul David Geffen.

Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown

In 2023 we lost legendary songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. He left behind a treasure trove of country-folk classics, several featured on his album Sundown. These songs resonated deeply with teenagers who came of age in the early to mid-1970s — many sang along in their bedrooms and learned to strum these storied songs on acoustic guitars. 

Recorded in Toronto, at Eastern Sound Studios, the album includes the only No.1 Billboard topper of the singer/songwriter’s career. The title cut, "Sundown," speaks of "a hard-loving woman, got me feeling mean" and hit No. 1 on both the pop and the adult contemporary charts. 

In Canada, the album hit No.1 on the RPM Top 100 in and stayed there for five consecutive weeks. A second single, "Carefree Highway," peaked at the tenth spot on the Billboard Hot 100, but hit No.1 on the Easy Listening charts.

Eric Clapton - 461 Ocean Boulevard

Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard sold more than two million copies worldwide. His second solo studio record followed a three-year absence while Clapton battled heroin addiction. The record’s title is the address where "Slowhand" stayed in the Sunshine State while recording this record at Miami’s Criteria Studios. 

A mix of blues, funk and soulful rock, only two of the 10 songs were penned by the Englishman. Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s "I Shot the Sheriff," was a massive hit for the 17-time GRAMMY winner and the only No.1 of his career, eclipsing the Top 10 in nine countries. In 2003, the guitar virtuoso’s version of the reggae song was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping

No sophomore slump here. This "second helping" from these good ole boys is a serious serving of classic southern rock ‘n’ roll with cupfuls of soul. Following the commercial success of their debut the previous year, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second studio album featured the band’s biggest hit: "Sweet Home Alabama." 

The anthem is a celebration of Southern pride; it was written in response to two Neil Young songs ("Alabama" and "Southern Man") that critiqued the land below the Mason-Dixon line. The song was the band’s only Top 10, peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100. Recorded primarily at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, other songs worth a second listen here include: the swampy cover of J.J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze," the boogie-woogie foot-stomper "Don’t Ask Me No Questions" and the country-rocker "The Ballad of Curtis Loew." 

Bad Company - Bad Company

A little bit of blues, a token ballad, and plenty of hard-edged rock, Bad Company released a dazzling self-titled debut album. The English band formed from the crumbs left behind by a few other British groups: ex-Free band members including singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, former King Crimson member bassist Boz Burrel, and guitarist Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople. 

Certified five-times platinum, Bad Company hit No.1 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 in the UK, where it spent 25 weeks. Recorded at Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, the album was the first record released on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label. Five of the eight tracks were in regular FM rotation throughout 1974; "Bad Company," "Can’t Get Enough" and "Ready for Love" remain staples of classic rock radio a half century later. 

Supertramp - Crime of the Century

"Dreamer, you know you are a dreamer …" sings Supertramp’s lead singer Roger Hodgson on the first single from their third studio album. The infectious B-side track "Bloody Well Right," became even more popular than fan favorite, "Dreamer." 

The British rockers' dreams of stardom beyond England materialized with Crime of the Century. The album fused prog-rock with pop and hit all the right notes leading to the band’s breakthrough in several countries — a Top 5 spot in the U.S. and a No.1 spot in Canada where it stayed for more than two years and sold more than two million copies. A live version of "Dreamer," released six years later, was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. 

Big Star - Radio City

As one of the year’s first releases, the reception for this sophomore effort from American band Big Star was praised by critics despite initial lukewarm sales (which were due largely to distribution problems). Today, the riveting record by these Memphis musicians is considered a touchstone of power pop; its melodic stylings influenced many indie rock bands in the 1980s and 1990s, including R.E.M. and the Replacements. One of Big Star’s biggest songs, "September Gurls," appears here and was later covered by The Bangles. 

In a review, American rock critic Robert Christgau, called the record "brilliant and addictive." He wrote: "The harmonies sound like the lead sheets are upside down and backwards, the guitar solos sound like screwball readymade pastiches, and the lyrics sound like love is strange, though maybe that's just the context." 

The Eagles - On the Border

The third studio record from California harmonizers, the Eagles, shows the band at a crossroads — evolving ever so slightly from acoustically-inclined country-folk to a more distinct rock ‘n’ roll sound. On the Border marks the studio debut for band member Don Felder. His contributions and influence are seen through his blistering guitar solos, especially in the chart-toppers "Already Gone" and "James Dean." 

On the Border sold two million copies, driven by the chart topping ballad "Best of My Love" — the Eagles first No.1 hit song. The irony: the song was one of only two singles Glyn Johns produced at Olympic Studios in London. Searching for that harder-edged sound, the band hired Bill Szymczyk to produce the rest of the record at the Record Plant in L.A. 

Jimmy Buffett - Livin’ and Dyin in ¾ Time & A1A

Back in 1974, 28-year-old Jimmy Buffett was just hitting his stride. Embracing the good life, Buffett released not just one, but two records that year. Don Grant produced both albums that were the final pair in what is dubbed Buffett’s "Key West phase" for the Florida island city where the artist hung his hat during these years.

The first album, Livin’ and Dyin’ in ¾ Time, was released in February and recorded at Woodland Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. It featured the ballad "Come Monday," which hit No. 30 on the Hot 100 and "Pencil Thin Mustache," a concert staple and Parrothead favorite. A1A arrived in December and hit No. 25 on the Billboard 200 charts. The most beloved songs here are "A Pirate Looks at Forty" and "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season." 

Buffett embarked on a tour and landed some plume gigs, including opening slots for two other artists on this list: Frank Zappa and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Following a successful tour of Europe and North America for their 1973 album, Selling England by the Pound, Genesis booked a three-month stay at the historic Headley Grange in Hampshire, a former workhouse. In this bucolic setting, the band led by frontman Peter Gabriel, embarked on a spiritual journey of self discovery that evolved organically through improvisational jams and lyric-writing sessions. 

This period culminated in a rock opera and English prog-rockers’s magnum opus, a double concept album that follows the surreal story of a Puerto Rican con man named Rael. Songs are rich with American imagery, purposely placed to appeal to this growing and influential fan base across the pond. 

This album marked the final Genesis record with Gabriel at the helm. The divisiveness between the lyricist, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks came to a head during tense recording sessions and led to Gabriel’s departure from the band to pursue a solo career, following a 102-date tour to promote the record. The album reached tenth spot on the UK album charts and hit 41 in the U.S. 

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs

Is Ziggy Stardust truly gone? With David Bowie, the direction of his creative muse was always a mystery, as illustrated by his diverse musical legacy. What is clear is that Bowie’s biographers agree that this self-produced album is one of his finest works. 

At the point of producing Diamond Dogs, the musical chameleon and art-rock outsider had disbanded the band Spiders from Mars and was at a crossroads. His plans for a musical based on the Ziggy character and TV adaptation of George Orwell’s "1984" both fell through. In a place of uncertainty and disenchantment, Bowie creates a new persona: Halloween Jack. The record is lyrically bleak and evokes hopelessness. It marks the final chapter in his glam-rock period — "Rebel Rebel" is the swaggering single that hints at the coming punk-rock movement. 

Bob Marley - Natty Dread

Bob Marley’s album "Natty Dread," released first in Jamaica in October 1974 later globally in 1975, marked his first record without his Rastafari brethren in song Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It also introduced the back-up vocal stylings of the I Threes (Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths.) 

The poet and the prophet Marley waxes on spiritual themes with songs like "So Jah Seh/Natty Dread'' and political commentary with tracks,"Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)." The album also Includes one of the reggae legend’s best-loved songs, the ballad "No Woman No Cry," which paints a picture of "government yards in Trenchtown" where Marley’s feet are his "only carriage." 

Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

The third studio album released by the British rockers, Queen, is a killer. The first single, "Killer Queen," reached No. 2 on the British charts — and was the band’s first U.S. charting single. The record also peaked at No.12 in the U.S. Billboard albums charts. 

This record shows the four-time GRAMMY nominees evolving and shifting from progressive to glam rock. The album features one of the most legendary guitar solos and riffs in modern rock by Brian May on "Brighton Rock." Clocking in at three minutes, the noodling showcases the musician’s talent via his use of multi-tracking and delays to great effect. 

Randy Newman - Good Old Boys

Most recognize seven-time GRAMMY winner Randy Newman for his work on Hollywood blockbuster scores. But, in the decade before composing and scoring movie soundtracks, the songwriter wrote and recorded several albums. Good Old Boys was Newman’s fourth studio effort and his first commercial breakthrough, peaking at No. 36 on the Billboard charts. 

The concept record, rich in sarcasm and wit, requires a focused listen to grasp the nuances of Newman’s savvy political and social commentary. The album relies on a fictitious narrator, Johnny Cutler, to aid the songwriter in exploring themes like "Rednecks" and ingrained generational racism in the South. "Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" is as relevant today as when Newman penned it as a direct letter to Richard Nixon. Malcolm Gladwell described this record as "unsettling" and a "perplexing work of music." 

Frank Zappa - Apostrophe

Rolling Stone once hailed Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe as "truly a mother of an album." The album cover itself, featuring Zappa’s portrait, seems to challenge listeners to delve into his eccentric musical universe. Apostrophe was the sixth solo album and the 19th record of the musician’s prolific career. The album showcases Zappa’s tight and talented band, his trademark absurdist humor and what Hunter S. Thompson described as "bad craziness."  

Apostrophe was the biggest commercial success of Zappa’s career. The record peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200. The A-side leads off with a four-part suite of songs that begins with "Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow" and ends with "Father Oblivion," a tale of an Eskimo named Nanook. The track "Uncle Remus," tackles systemic racism in the U.S. with dripping irony. In less than three minutes, Zappa captures what many politicians can’t even begin to explain. Musically, Apostrophe is rich in riffs from the two-time GRAMMY winner that showcases his exceptional guitar skills in the title track that features nearly six minutes of noodling.

Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel

Grievous Angel can be summed up in one word: haunting. Recorded in 1973 during substance-fueled summer sessions in Hollywood, the album was released posthumously after Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose at 26. Grievous Angel featured only two new songs that Parsons’ penned hastily in the studio "In My Hour of Darkness" and "Return of the Grievous Angel." 

This final work by the cosmic cowboy comprises nine songs that have since come to define Parson’s short-lived legacy to the Americana canon. The angelic voice of Emmylou Harris looms large — the 13-time GRAMMY winner sings harmony and backup vocals throughout. Other guests include: guitarists James Burton and Bernie Leadon, along with Linda Ronstadt’s vocals on "In My Hour of Darkness." 

Neil Young - On The Beach

On the Beach, along with Tonight’s the Night (recorded in 1973, but not released until 1975) rank as Neil Young’s darkest records. Gone are the sunny sounds of Harvest, replaced with the singer/songwriter’s bleak and mellow meditations on being alone and alienated. 

"Ambulance Blues" is the centerpiece. The nine-minute track takes listeners on a journey back to Young’s "old folkie days" when the "Riverboat was rockin’ in the rain '' referencing lament and pining for time and things lost. The heaviness and gloom are palpable throughout the album, with the beach serving as an extended metaphor for Young’s malaise. 

Dolly Parton - Jolene

Imagine writing not just one, but two iconic classics in the same day. That’s exactly what Dolly Parton did with two tracks featured on this album. The first is the titular song, "Jolene," recorded  at RCA Studio B in Nashville. The song has been covered by more than a dozen artists. 

Released as the first single the previous fall, "Jolene," rocketed to No.1 on the U.S. country charts and garnered the 10-time GRAMMY winner her first Top 10 in the U.K. The song was nominated for a GRAMMY in 1975 and again in 1976 for Best Country Vocal Performance. However, it didn’t take home the golden gramophone until 2017, when a cover by the Pentatonix featuring Parton won a GRAMMY for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. 

Also included on this album is "I Will Always Love You," a song that Whitney Houston famously covered in 1992 for the soundtrack of the romantic thriller, The Bodyguard, earning Parton significant royalties. 

Barry White - Can’t Get Enough

The distinctive bass-baritone of two-time GRAMMY winner Barry White, is unmistakable. The singer/songwriter's sensual, deep vocal delivery is as loved today as it was then. On this record, White is backed by the 40-member strong Love Unlimited Orchestra, one of the best-selling artists of all-time. 

White wrote "Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," about his wife during a sleepless night. This song is still played everywhere — from bedrooms to bar rooms, even 50 years on. In the U.S., the record hit the top of the R&B pop charts and No.1 on the Billboard 200. Although the album features only seven songs, two of them, including "You’re the First, the Last, My Everything" reached the top spot on the R&B charts. 

Lord Shorty - Endless Vibrations

Lord Shorty, born Garfield Blackman, is considered the godfather and inventor of soca music. This Trindadian musician revolutionized his nation’s Calypso rhythms, creating a vibrant up-tempo style that became synonymous with their world-renowned Carnival. 

Fusing Indian percussion instrumentation with well-established African calypso rhythms, Lord Shorty created what he originally dubbed "sokah," meaning, "calypso soul." The term soca, as it’s known today, emerged because of a journalist’s altered writing of the word, which stuck. The success of this crossover hit made waves across North America and made the island vibrations more accessible outside the island nation. 

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Living Legends: Andrea Bocelli On His Favorite Duets & What Keeps Him Inspired 30 Years Later
Andrea Bocelli

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Bocelli

interview

Living Legends: Andrea Bocelli On His Favorite Duets & What Keeps Him Inspired 30 Years Later

In an interview with GRAMMY.com, beloved vocalist Andrea Bocelli discusses his enduring success, the collaborative process, and releasing the deluxe edition of his new album, 'A Family Christmas.'

GRAMMYs/Dec 20, 2023 - 03:52 pm

As one of the world’s most beloved vocalists, the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli has built a legendary career over 15 solo albums, a regular schedule of blockbuster tours and five GRAMMY nominations, most recently for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Si in 2020.

Originally setting his dreams onto a career as a soccer player, life set Bocelli on a new path after a mishap playing the sport resulted in the loss of his vision. Worldwide stardom came after his musical success in his native Italy, and since the release of his debut album in 1994, he’s staked a claim as one of the best-selling artists of all time. 

It’s a legacy that continues with the recent release of the deluxe edition of his album A Family Christmas. Originally released to acclaim last year, it features his children Virginia and Matteo; the updated version is composed of 10 new tracks, including the single “Let It Snow.”

Bocelli spoke to GRAMMY.com about the new album, his current nationwide tour and the album that first turned him into a global sensation: “The result went beyond my wildest dreams.” 

A Family Christmas features your kids Virginia and Matteo. Over the years, you also recorded blockbuster duets with everyone from Tony Bennett and Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion, among many others. Can you point out the most memorable duet of your career?

I wouldn’t mention one in particular, to not offend the others. As you know, I love duets; mixing voices is a challenge, a wager, a meeting of souls. Singing together, either opera or pop music, is always a gratifying experience. In my thirty-year career, I have had the honor to sing with extraordinary artists, from the already mentioned Celine Dion to Barbra Streisand, from Stevie Wonder to the unforgettable Tony Bennett. In the lyrical world, I hold close to my heart the memory and privilege of making music with Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti.

You were nominated for the Best New Artist GRAMMY in 1999. What do you remember about that show, and your introduction to America in general?

I remember, with great emotion, the duet that my dearest friend, Celine Dion, and I sang together, interpreting that little masterpiece that was “The Prayer”, written by another great friend of mine, David Foster. A very intense relationship with the United States was taking shape at the time, and then followed a continuous upward curve, to the extent that today I consider it my second home. This extraordinary country immediately showed me love!

You're currently on tour, and are known for your epic performances and specials, whether performing in Milan's Duomo or riding horseback across the country. How do you come up with these ideas? Is the idea to go bigger and bigger, or did these just happen organically? 

The source of my inspiration is always the same, and I can summarize it in one word: love. Love across the board: sensual love, love for life, for beauty, for the brotherhood that unites us, and for He who created us.

I believe that there is a purpose conceived for each one of us. Every life is a story that reflects a specific plan. Every woman, every man is born with a talent that is a gift by heavenly design. It is up to our conscience, to our free will to cultivate and honor it or vice versa squander it.

I personally tried to honor mine, making my voice available to share values, such as love, optimism and brotherhood. After that, everything is in the hands of our good Lord, so what I do is look up to the heavens every day and give thanks, ask for help, pray and whisper, “Your will be done.”

Romanza is one of the best selling albums of all time. When you were recording it, did you feel it was going to be something special — or did its success take you by surprise?

I experienced alternating feelings of hope and disappointment. People appreciated my singing and proved it to me consistently. It was show business itself that didn’t consider me a marketable “product.” I was often told, “you better find a new job.” There were so many potential opportunities lost by a breath, and considering the fact that I was no longer a young artist, at times my expectations of transforming this passion of mine into a profession were truly dim.

How did that change?

When Romanza was released, I, of course, aspired to find my own audience, be it in pop or opera. The result went beyond my wildest dreams, beyond my rosiest and most passionate expectations. This recording project holds within it a very important part of my own personal and professional story. To date, I find it hard to understand the reasons for such an overwhelming success, despite realizing that its songs still today, after so many years, are capable of communicating intense, uplifting emotions.

Do you know right away how to musically interpret a song, or is there a process?

There is always a long, complex and challenging process of reflection and elaboration. There is a first phase of listening to the entire interpreted narrative of the song. Then comes the creative phase, alternating with an analytical phase for the end result, with a constant fine-tuning of the vocal and instrumental solutions.

I must say that I consider this deluxe version of the Christmas album, with extra songs, special for personal reasons. Mainly because I was able to work with my children. But also for its innovative recording, orchestral arrangements and the creative process. For each song, we started off with the piano using a felt to dampen the sound. Then it was overwritten by classical and pop instrumentation, always looking to create sculpted sounds for each individual piece. Everything was first sampled, then recorded with a full orchestra.

When it comes to putting the Christmas album specifically, how do you find fresh songs to cover and interpret?  The classics have been covered countless times.

After evaluating hundreds of songs, we chose [together with our record label team] the most intense; the ones capable of evoking the Christmas spirit we were looking for. It is, in some ways, an unusual selection, inspired by the sentiment of universal solidarity. It is a phonic kaleidoscope of international songs, alternating celebratory and festive tones with more intimate and reflective ones.

The album is the genuine musical product of a family dedicated to all families. In it are three voices, three stages of life, three inevitably different sensitivities (despite our strong emotional ties) competing in a mix of genres, but at the same time, looking to recreate that magical state of mind that Holy Christmas can give us. This is what A Family Christmas is about: an album that is markedly different from the one I released in 2009, because it has a more modern and diversified track, with original and bespoke arrangements, fully adapted to our different voices.

Speaking of covers, your version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is very unique. Can you tell me the story behind choosing that, and the arrangement?

The atmosphere created with this arrangement, and through the timbre and expressiveness of Matteo's voice offer a truly different, and I hope, interesting rendering. A decisive contribution to creating this and other songs comes from two extraordinary professionals, Ross Cullum and Stephan Moccio. Both worked in all of the vocal recording sessions, with meticulous and very refined precision on the choice of tonality, rhythm, dynamics, the vocal range of the scores, and orchestral colors.

What songs get the biggest reaction on your current tour?

It's actually hard to give a ranking of my most liked songs. Of course, songs tied to the imminent Christmas festivities warm the heart and are received with joy. But warm reactions are also generated by my operatic repertory with its most famous and beloved arias, as do also my pop classics.

The U.S. public, that I have the honor to have frequented for a quarter of a century, is, to my mind, the ideal audience. It's upbeat, generous, ready to get involved. It's an audience that can still get emotional, can participate and be responsive to what is happening on stage. It can experience with healthy simplicity and enthusiasm the emotions generated by listening. 

You uniquely weave your charitable foundation in with your shows. What's it like trying to think of fresh ideas for your foundation? Do you have fun with it?

The Andrea Bocelli Foundation was established in 2011. With the mission to empower people and communities, we chose education as a true key to offer people and communities the opportunity to live to their full potential. We do so by trying to be innovative in approach and planning our work with a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and consultants coming from different backgrounds and aligned with global objectives, such as the UN 2030 Agenda. We use tools and informal disciplines like art or digital music and promote the development of cross-cutting skills. For this reason, the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations invited us to bring our expertise and best practices to the UN this December in recognition of our work as meaningful and innovative.

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Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic
Stephen Marley

Photo by Stephen Lashbrook

news

Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic

On his new album of covers and originals, Stephen Marley recruited Bob Weir, Jack Johnson, Eric Clapton, and his own siblings. Marley spoke with GRAMMY.com about his multifaceted career, including supervising music for 'Bob Marley: One Love.'

GRAMMYs/Nov 30, 2023 - 09:22 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with eight-time GRAMMY winner Stephen Marley. The reggae multi-hyphenate is the youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley.

Stephen Marley is a reggae Renaissance man. An eight-time GRAMMY winning singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Stephen's nuanced releases retain an authentic Jamaican identity while organically incorporating a broad range of influences. His latest album, Old Soul, continues this boundary-blurring trajectory.

Primarily recorded during the pandemic inside a garage on a family farm in Florida, Old Soul brings renewed luster to reggae classics and standards by the Beatles, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra alongside stunning originals, each delivered with Stephen's warm rasp. It's an endearing and eclectic acoustic set, awash in filigreed guitar strums, tinkling piano keys, swirling flutes, and mesmerizing percussion patterns.

Old Soul’s reflective title track honors Stephen's musical inspirations — especially his father: "Fast forward to 1981, my dad moved on and so did I, inside I kept his songs alive, so they say I’m an old soul, tribute to the ones who made it all possible/inside me your legacy lives on." Meanwhile, "Cool As The Breeze" offers a heartrending tribute to loved ones lost.

Stephen continues to build upon his own esteemed legacy. The youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley, the 51-year-old's musical journey commenced at age 6 when he formed the Melody Makers with his older siblings, sisters Cedella and Sharon and brother Ziggy, the group’s leader. Rita managed the Melody Makers and Bob wrote their first single, 1979's "Children Playing in the Streets." In 1981 the spotlight shone on Stephen's precocious talents when he took the lead on "Sugar Pie."

A guitarist, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter with the Melody Makers, Stephen also assisted in the production of each of their albums including the GRAMMY winning Conscious Party (1989), One Bright Day (1990) and Fallen Is Babylon (1997). He went on to helm the production on projects by several Marley family members including youngest brother Damian’s GRAMMY winning albums Halfway Tree and the influential blockbuster Welcome To Jamrock.

Stephen’s long-awaited, self-produced debut solo album, the multi-genre spanning Mind Control arrived in early 2007 followed in late 2008 by the stripped-down Mind Control Acoustic — both GRAMMY recipients. Stephen dropped another GRAMMY winner, Revelation Part I The Root of Life as a celebration of roots rock reggae, in 2011. Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, released five years later, incorporates various styles that have emanated from reggae's core. 

Old Soul is Stephen’s first full-length project since 2016 and he’s recruited an outstanding cast of collaborators including Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir, singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, rock-reggae outfit Slightly Stoopid, his brothers Ziggy and Damian and Eric Clapton, whose bold, bluesy guitar riffs color Bob’s "I Shot the Sheriff," became a No. 1 hit for Clapton in 1974.

GRAMMY.com recently spoke to Stephen Marley about his illustrious, multi-faceted career including his most recent role as music supervisor for the upcoming Marley biopic, Bob Marley: One Love, due in theaters on Feb. 14.

Please tell me about the process of recording the Old Soul album.

It was during the thick of COVID-19; the walls were closing in so to speak. My uncle said "we need a farm" because we didn’t know what the next day would bring in terms of the control the government had. So, we looked and found a little farm. 

During that time, I was very much distracted [with regards to making music], but when we came down to the farm, it was nature, escape and I caught back a groove. Old Soul wasn’t what we set out to do, but because of the circumstances, we started jamming in the garage and, well, it felt good, so we said, let’s give the people something to soothe them

The choices of cover versions on Old Soul are fascinating. How did you decide which songs you would cover?

"Don’t Let Me Down" was suggested by [producer] Salaam Remi, he thought that song would fit in the acoustic style. I know that song from sister Marcia [Griffiths], she did an old version of it; I didn’t really know it was a Beatles tune. [Laughs.]

Most of the others are songs that I play in solitude or just go to songs like "Georgia On My Mind" or "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)." It was just part of getting back in the groove, with songs I would sing anyway. I love those songs; it doesn’t matter where they come from.

You also cover reggae classics. "Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem)" featuring Buju Banton, is a Lee "Scratch" Perry composition initially recorded with his band the Upsetters in 1970. When was the first time you heard that song?

I first heard that song from Reggie [Upsetters’ guitarist Alva "Reggie" Lewis] singing it to me; I had never heard the record.

Reggie is one of the persons credited with teaching my father how to play guitar. This man lived among us, he was always at the [Bob Marley] museum, at [the Marley family-owned] Tuff Gong [studios] and at one point, he stayed at my house, too. He was always singing, "look what we do fi dem, this is the thanks we get, what an ungrateful set," that’s how I knew it; I never listened to the record until I was going to record it; that’s when I discovered that Scratch wrote it.

"There’s A Reward" is a poignant, motivational song, written by Wailers mentor Joe Higgs, who taught Bob, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh how to harmonize. Can you share some of your memories of interacting with Joe Higgs over the years?

From child to young adult until him move on [Higgs passed away in 1999], he was always encouraging. I vividly remember those days when he would come and see my dad. He was like an uncle, he always showed love and encouragement. 

Doing that song was definitely one of the highlights of the album for me and Ziggy as well but I really didn’t know the song before recording the album. It really moved me, and I heard the similarities between him and Bob, so I said, yeah, I have to record that one.

Old Soul’s title track was originally written by Jamaican singer/songwriter OMI. What changes did you make to the song’s lyrics?

The song, as he wrote it, was pretty similar to what’s on the album, but it never had my birth year in it, when I graduated, all of those facts. In that sense, I put my life into it, but it already had Bob and Peter in the lyrics ("I knew every Nesta Marley line/You knew that Peter Tosh was fly, in diamond socks and corduroy"). 

OMI is a great songwriter, and the song was about people who influenced him, "tribute to the ones who made it possible," so he was already paying homage.

Your song "Let The Children Play" on Old Soul references the Melody Makers’ first single "Children Playing In The Streets." What are some of your fondest memories of your years with the Melody Makers?

It is such a significant part of our lives, so any memory puts a smile on our faces. One of my fondest memories is, there’s a place in Half Way Tree in Kingston called Skateland and every Saturday we would perform there. One Saturday, our dad came and watched us, and we didn’t know he was there until after.  He wrote our first song, he was pretty into us. He wasn’t a man that would tell you too much, but he would tell his friends, "Yeah, them youth go on good," he was very proud of us. 

The integrity that goes into our music has never changed. From the time we were kids singing "Children Playing in the Streets," we were always singing social songs, meaningful music. I am 51 now, so do the math.

As the music supervisor of the upcoming Bob Marley: One Love biopic, do you choose which songs are used or how they are used in the film?

I don’t choose alone in that sense. The movie is set in a time period, it’s not Bob’s whole life. There are scenes where he is remembering, and you see him when he is young, but the movie focuses on the Smile Jamaica concert (Dec. 5, 1976), the One Love Peace Concert (April 22, 1978) and the songs he was working on in those times. Anything to do with the music in the film runs through me.

I just came back from California to finish up some of the music. We did the music before the actual filming. What you will be hearing has to coincide with what you are seeing; like the live concerts, if the drummer hits the drum, you have to hear the beat at the same time. Some of the music was re-recorded for the film. Like "Smile Jamaica" is a live recording so we had to do some live overdubbing for the quality and the experience in the theater. It has been a great learning experience for me as well.

You produced the Celebrating Nina: A Reggae Tribute To Nina Simone EP featuring exclusively female artists, released in 2022; Nina Simone is an artist that you enjoy listening to. Who are some of the other artists you listen to when you have time to relax?

I listen to Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown. When I was 17, 18, those were the songs that played in my car. As far as our music, people like Toots, Burning Spear, Culture, Steel Pulse — all of those elders were great, and are still great musicians.

Your 1999 production Chant Down Babylon paired rappers with your father’s vocals on hip-hop renditions of his classic songs, such as the Roots on "Burnin’ and Lootin,’" Chuck D on "Survival a.k.a. Black Survivors." Was the album successful in terms of better acquainting the hip-hop community with your dad’s music?

It very much accomplished what I set out to do, especially with the young artists at that time. Lauryn Hill was a staple. I have a lot of testimonies from people about that. People discovered Bob’s "Turn Your Lights Down Low" because Lauryn was on the track.

Have you considered doing an updated version of Chant Down Babylon?

It’s funny you bring this up because Cedella [Cedella Marley, CEO, Bob Marley Group of Companies] just asked me if I can bring it together for Bob’s 80th birthday.  It’s too early for details but definitely Chant Down Babylon 2 is on the table.

Damian’s 2004 single "Welcome to Jamrock" won a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Hip-Hop Performance, to date, he’s the only Jamaican artist to be so honored. The single was praised for its gritty lyrics depicting the politically divisive violence in Kingston’s poorest communities, while your production merged hip-hop percussion with swaggering reggae and influenced Jamaican artists including Chronixx, Protoje, and Koffee. How does it feel to have had such a profound impact on a younger generation of artists?

It is a great feeling to have your music recognized. I had the privilege of being around great musicians and engineers, the best of the best, so it is really passing down those lessons, showing what I’ve learned. To influence the youths coming up is a really great feeling but at the same time, I take it as a "we" thing, more than "I" did this.

Did you delay the release of your debut album Mind Control until 2007 because of the success of Welcome to Jamrock?

Yes. At the time, I was kind of conflicted: Did I want to stick to producing or become a solo artist, so to speak? Being in the Melody Makers from age 7 to then having kids and still being in the Melody Makers, I had to get used to it being about Steve.

So, I decided to put time aside and focus on my record, but it was very important to me to first make sure Damian, my youngest brother, was good. We are very close and if him was alright, then I can focus on myself. Before Mind Control, I put out a teaser, Got Music? "Winding Roads" was on that, but it didn’t make the album.

"Winding Roads" fits in beautifully on Old Soul.

Yes, that’s why I always tell my children that music is a timeless thing so don’t give up on any inspiration or creation.

**How did Jack Johnson and Bob Weir come to be featured on "Winding Roads"?**
My manager always liked the song, and he has a relationship with them. Bob Weir and Jack heard the song and were willing to be a part of it. I went to Bob’s studio, he is a great man, and a true musician. We did a few jams, but "Winding Roads" was the one he gravitated towards.

You released Revelation Part I: The Root of Life in 2011 — which included the anthem "Jah Army" — as a showcase of the revolutionary sentiments and musical excellence intrinsic to reggae. At that time, those standards were overshadowed by the widespread criticism of X-rated lyrics in some dancehall hits. In the 12 years since, have you seen any significant progress in quality Jamaican reggae receiving the recognition it deserves?

I do see a difference. As you mentioned, the youths them that rise up — Chronixx, Protoje, etc. — The Root of Life was a calling for that generation. Over the past 12 years, technology has progressed, social media, how people put products out there now is really different….The quality music is there but you really have to search for it because there are so many distractions.

That was one of the reasons for making the Old Soul record; it wasn’t a reggae album so to speak, but our Jamaican spirit is in the music. When people hear it, it shifts their meditation, appealing to a part of them that is kind of suppressed because of all of the distractions that are going on.

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