1978 Interview with Bob Marley
As a dedicated follower of Reggae music and the vision behind the first ever ‘San Francisco Bay Area Reggae Hotline’, Jeff Cathrow was never far behind Marley. In June 1976, the photographer and journalist was granted his first ever interview. Cathrow continued to interview Marley on a regular basis during his time in San Francisco. They formed an immediate friendship, and Marley began to actively encourage Cathrow to photograph him, allowing him to capture some truly original moments – during a 1978 interview, for example, Cathrow presented Marley with a gift of some home-grown sinsemilla buds, to which Marley replied “Ya grow some RAS herb, mon! Here, tek a picture a’ dis, mon! Tek a picture a’ dis!”
Here we present that 1978 interview that took place on July 19. Unfortunately two parts of the transcript are missing (where stated), but nevertheless we think it’s still worthwhile reading.
The Beresford Arms is a benign touch of regality in a squalid region of San Francisco known as the Tenderloin. Abundantly adorned with chandeliers, and with gold lions incorporated into its logo, the hotel became the headquarters of Bob Marley and the Wailers during their three Northern California appearances.
An ecstatic female voice over my telephone one afternoon heralded the band’s arrival, and a few hours later I was on my way to the Beresford to see about setting up an interview with Mr. Marley. However, my visit to the hotel that evening was in vain–calling several rooms from the front desk, I received no answer. Were the Wailers asleep already, tired from their journey from Portland?
The night was wearing on, and I decided not to press my luck by possibly waking any of the “satta-ing” dreads. (I later learned, had I arrived twenty minutes earlier, I would have witnessed a crowd of dreadlocked brethren smoking Transamerica Pyramid-sized spliffs, hanging out in the otherwise sedate lobby, as families and elderly matrons checked in and tottered nervously to the elevator. The Wailers’ entourage later gathered in a room I had not called, and had themselves a party.)
I may have missed the excitement inside the Beresford Arms that night, but as I stepped outside, human arms and fists were flying, as a bloody fight had broken out directly across the street. I decided it would be wise to get some rest for the Santa Cruz show the next day, and I made my exit from Babylon swiftly.
As I was waiting around the stage door at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium the following afternoon, Gilley, the Wailers’ travelling cook, ambled over and asked me where I got the Marley T-shirt I was wearing. I explained that I had made a number of the shirts and would be happy to give him one upon my next visit to the hotel…
A couple of nights after Bob Marley and the Wailers totally electrified 4,000 fans at the Civic (one of the smallest gigs of the Kaya ’78 Tour), I returned to the Beresford to give Gilley one of my ill-fated shirts (I decided to scrap the project after printing only a dozen), and interview Bob–if only I should be so lucky.
Tyrone Downie, the Wailers’ lively keyboardist, opened Gilley’s door and welcomed me like an old friend. The “Positive Vibration” T-shirt he was wearing couldn’t have been more apropos.
Gilley decked out in virtually neon Rasta colors (red, gold, and green vesr, with cap to match), was keeping a close watch on several pots bubbling merrily on the kitchenette’s tiny stove. He seemed in a constant vigil: keeping Bob and the band supplied with the “vital ital” (natural food, Jamaican style). Well fed, well dread.
Althea, one-half of Althea and Donna (the success of their hit single, “Uptown Top Ranking”, rocketed them into stardom overnight), was also in the room, and joined Tyrone and myself for some of Gilley’s ital stew of the day–lima beans, potatoes, green beans, macaroni, and cayenne.
We reminisced about their last visit to San Francisco, and Tyrone informed me that the skateboard he’d be flying down Lombard Street with was now in the possession of his younger brother, “Who,” he exclaimed, “is much better at it, mon!”
Seeco, the eldest Wailer, ambled into the room in some of the meanest-looking army fatigues I’d ever seen, carrying a bottle of Port in one hand and a copy of “Don’t Let Go” (George Duke’s latest album) in the other.
His locks wildly stuck out from underneath a conservative grey wool cap, and they were nearly as thick as the cigar-sized spliff he rolled before turning on the color TV. He settled back on one of the king-size beds to watch Van Heflin, George Kennedy, and Joseph Cotton in “Bottom Of The Bottle.”
“Ras clot-look at dat! Van Heflin a blood claat!” Seeco growled, as he watched Van Heflin waking up to find himself lying between railroad tracks as a locomotive barreled down on him.
Gilley finally came out of the kitchen, and after giving him the shirt, and showing him some of my photos from a previous Marley concert and interview, he assured me that I could “go check fe Bob.”
As I approached Bob Marley’s room (on the ground floor) a short while later, I noted the only clue to his presence was the scent of incense that drifted through the tomb-quiet hallway. Cautiously I knocked…
Ever so slowly the door opened, as there were so many people covering the tiny hall and bedroom floor that ingress was difficult. Perched atop a dresser, Bob Marley eyed me, my taperecorder, camera, and general menagerie of belongings suspiciously. He was wearing the pink beret that lately he seemed quite fond of, and a gold and green soccer shirt– avant-garde Rasta colors, perhaps?
I carefully stepped over and around people, and sat next to his well-worn Gibson guitar that was laying face down on his unmade bed. About 30 members of the All-Afrikan People’s Revolutionary Party had also come to have words with the reggae prophet, and I listened patiently to their dialogue.
One of the Party members handed Bob a poster announcing a campaign to “smash the FBI and CIA,” and after looking it over for a minute, replied, “You must have His Majesty ‘pon this t’ing, this is how y’ relate to all black people, ya dig it? This particular consciousness not reach America right now.”
Bob began to play with a rubber ball, twirling and bouncing it off the top of his head, as the conversation turned to the coup against Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie in 1973. But his playfulness was only temporary, as he retorted: “So hear me now! Who overthrow ‘im? Who support the group that overthrow His Majesty? The communists–Russia, right? Yeah, mon. Russia overthrow His Majesty–a white mon overthrow him, and he’s a black man. And propaganda it out amongst the black people, and it look like is a revolution inside. Just a big foolishness, y’know? Heh, mon, them sabotage… Why them overthrow His Majesty’s state?” Someone in the room responded, “Too many people starving and dying–famine.”
(Marley) “Famine? Well, let me tell y’ bout that. You see all a dem t’ings? Them things some sci-en-ti-fic famine, ya dig it! Overnight, them spray the land an’ kind a poison it. Ethiopia starve, and the whole America–Russia skin them teeth. Ethiopia starve, an’ black people die out! Ya see, the white mon get the gift of technology–the Bible say that. B’ when them use it, them use it to fight the people. Them no use it for the benefit of the people, them use it to kill the people. Always His Majesty a mon wit’ plenty a money in a Swiss bank. His Majesty have all the money, him have everyt’ing–a God! That’s why dem overthrow ‘im, because they want all a dese televisions and t’ing, right? They want His Majesty to send to Japan or America, order couple t’ousand, well, um, whaddya call dem, television? And bring it come feed deh material ego. God na’ gwan do that! You can’t expect God fe do that–buy a million TV’s; bring come share it up! (Bob broke into a hearty laugh.) Wanna watch TV… God say, ‘If you wanna watch TV, make one!'”
After the laughter died down, the 30 (or so) members of the All-Afrikan Revolutionary Party thanked Bob and bid their farewells. Myself and several Ethiopian friends, Elias, Dosho, Samrom, and Mulu, gathered around Bob, who wasted no time in securing a vacant and comfortable chair in a corner of the room. He mumbled something about it being nice to have some herb to smoke, and to his surprise, I pulled an ounce of prime home-grown sensemilla out of my camera bag and presented it to him. Marley exclaimed, “Bumbla clot! They’re good!” as he checked out two giant buds. “Ya grow some RAS herb, mon! Take a picture a dis!”–Bob was delighted and clowned for my camera–sticking the buds underneath the front of his beret, they appeared to be two stray locks of his kinky mane. When I explained to him that I no longer smoked, he intoned in disbelief, “Nehhhhhh?” as everyone around cracked up. Bob then rolled a spliff, (carefully setting the prime buds in a safe place beforehand) lit up, took a substantial toke, and passed it around.
I began the interview by asking him how many children he had, as he is rumored to have many. He elusively replied, “All children belong unto Rastafari,” but became undeniably earnest as he elaborated….
(Unfortunately at this point a part of the transcipt of the interview is missing, so we pick up where it continues/RV)
“Why do you figure Haile Selassie (Rastafari) is God?”
“B’cause the Bible says he’s the King of Kings. Heh, dig this. Toss that Bible up here, Rasta.” (Samrom handed a well-worn Bible to Bob, who, mumbling to himself, began to quote Revelations 17:14) “‘These shall make war…’ Y’know, there’s plenty parts that really show it, but this is the part that I say, ‘These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord Of Lords, and King of Kings…’ There is only ONE King of Kings, and Lord of Lords that I know of.”
“Where is he right now?”
“WHAT? Whaddya mean, ‘Where is he right now?’ In your consciousness! In your consciousness! That where ‘im always live–in your consciousness, ya dig it? Every mon, when ya see it, born from a woman; bloody–mother wash ‘im off, make ‘im suck ‘er breast, and ‘im grow up. And ‘im grow up and start rass school–get the white mon education, and then ‘im start talk fuckery. That’s why you could ask me, ‘Where is he now?’ because y’ no understand. His Majesty always the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Me understand the question, cause me been asked this question over and over. But I’ll ask you, ‘Who invent capitalism? Yeah, the system that you’re livin’ through–who invented it? Is the guy who invented it still alive? That guy dead years ago, but (his) system still alive. Even if ya think His Majesty dead, the truth still live. His Majesty cannot die! Neither in flesh, nor nuttin’! That is the only consciousness I deal with.”
“How do you spread this ideology or way of thinking to the people?”
“The Bible, mon. The Bible the whole thing, mon. Everybody have the Bible, regardless of which nation. Ya go an’ see a Bible in Chinatown–ya can’t read it b’cause it written in Chinese, and you no can read Chinese. But if them translate it and read it–same thing as this guy would say. And the Bible say, ‘King of Kings, and Alpha and Omega…’ Who is Alpha and Omega?”
(after a pause) “God.”
“Yes–so y’ never know that His Majesty is Alpha and Omega? Y’ see wh’ ‘oppen is that Ethiopians no directly know about their King in their own country. ‘Cause His Majesty dead all the while, and nobody who know him say him a God, because it ain’t easy.”
“What does Rastafari mean?”
“‘Rasta’ mean ‘head’, ‘fari’ means ‘creator’–‘Rastafari’ means ‘head creator.’ Now in a natural sense, ‘head creator’ a God. He’s ‘head creator’–then he must be God. No, mon can’t change dis, ya know! Because, what–come and bring a white mon, come say he’s a Christ?… Ras clot! Pope Paul (could) bring a guy tomorrow and say, ‘This is Jesus Christ’–everybody a say ‘Yes!’ But His Majesty a God Almighty! His Majesty an’ Jesus Christ–God dem all–Rasta Fari.”
“Somebody has to define clearly and simply what Rastafarianism is…”
“My simple way is just like this: I believe in God. Me no CARE what the next guy say! Ya have King Solomon and King David, ya dig it? Now anyone could (have been crowned) until the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, seen? And come say that is Christ. But the truth ’bout it–if you’re not coming t’rough the line of ya King Solomon and King David, then is not the right Christ. When ya check out His Majesty, and come through the line–him the King Of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Ya can’t dispute it. I mean, this is how God say Him a come. And when God come, ya never look upon ‘im and say is not ‘im. So Him come as the King of Kings… and bring back the world that Israel wanted never again, which is Black Africa. Haile Selassie a God, whether them like it or not! And them people will always suffer an’ die, until them come to the realization of the consciousness that this is ‘ow it go…”
“Yes, everything is written in the Bible. Who wrote the Bible?”
“The Bible is Abyssinian book, mon, but me now say the white mon write it.”
“If the white man wrote it, why does he deny what he wrote?”
“Because them never fuckin’ know dis was wha’ gon’ ‘oppen! They write dis fuckin’ book long time before His Majesty was born, ya know? This fuckin’ book written a t’ousands a year ago… The white mon don’t even write the Bible–him a edit it. That mean ya don’t get none a dis. Because all a dis is African ‘istory, ya know? The Bible is African ‘ist’ry! International universal ‘istory still, but is African ‘istory. Because is Jacob and all a dem. Solomon and all a dem, ya know, mon? Take, for example, they show Jesus Christ as a white mon. White mon show that! That is fuckery–they want a white God, when God black. God, His Majsty, and all a de eart’ a suffer for dat, bloood claat! Them want a white Go, but God BLACK!”
(The phone rang, and Bob marched over to it, answering with “Rasta!” Exchanging all of three words, Bob slammed the receiver down and continued his discourse.)
“As long as me tell you, and you ‘ear it, you know it, and that is your business. Me wanna make sure you ‘ear. That mean I don’t care what kinna message you come to ‘ave after that, but I’m gonna make sure that you ‘ear, and have proof. And (that) ya couldn’t want a white God when a white mon write the Bible. Check it. So the whole t’ing truth.”
“Why don’t you spread this all over Africa? Is this going on in Jamaica?”
“Nobody can speed this up before the time! Depend(s) on the right person to get it out. Yeah, mon, we can work on…”
“Who says that?”
“ME SAY THAT!–I say that. We’re doing the right t’ing, mon.”
“Do you see yourself as God?”
“Children of the Most High. We’re just children of the Most High. The whole tíng is, in truth and reality, a mon can’t really look ‘pon his life and start bring it in a individual sense, so that. ‘Why this is how I look ‘pon myself…’–that is fuckery! Every mon don’t have a right to do any a dem t’ing. We know God is Haile Selassie, Him Mighty God. Now Him save the poor earth right now, and Him save the people. If it weren’t for Haile Selassie, would anyone know Rastafari? No one would know Rastafari. So Haile Selassie save the eart’, and true dat dem overthrow ‘im. In a sense, all a de people around him was really weird. But just how it go–few people overthrow ‘im, but ‘im save the whole of the people ‘pon the face of the earth.”
“Do you think that someday all the Rastas will go from Jamaica to Ethiopia? When it’s peaceful again?”
“We go Africa, ya know, but don’t know ’bout Ethiopia–we jus’ go a Africa. So it be. People ‘ave too much t’ings–dey wanna own dem own land, people want dis and dat, and all a dat is fuckery. All a dem eat the same atmosphere, (and) ya kyaan live without the atmosphere. One sun circle the whole of dem, yet everybody want (to) divide the land ‘pon the earth, ya know what I mean? Vexed with Africa still–them a set a idiots! True-true. Rastamon is the only wise mon. One time me think that was a bad t’ing to say, but….”
(Here the next part of the transcipt of the interview is missing. Again we pick up where it continues/RV)
“What kind of government does Jamaica have?”
“Like the one they have in Ethiopia–Socialist. Jamaica govamint a no… the govamint in Jamaica, uh, we conn-trol Jamaica, mon. We conn-trol it–Rasta conn-trol Jamaica. True we no want it! We don’t really want it b’cause them ones like the money. So we don’t really want to take it from dem, ya know? Them can’t stand it, ’cause is a problem. But Rasta conn-trol Jamaica.”
“Do the Rastas in Jamaica and the Prime Minister (Michael Manley) get along well together? Do they have the same ideologies?”
“No mon! Michael Manley is a Marxist-Leninist-Socialist, Rasta is a monarchy. Dig It!”
“Do you think Manley will be overthrown?”
“I don’t know, mon.”
“If something happened to Manley, what do you think would happen to Jamaica?”
“ANYTHING that ‘oppen, it have to be better!”
(Ironically, as Marley answered this question, the face of Jimmy Carter loomed giantly on the screen of the color TV that was directly next to Bob, and I tried in vain to get a picture of the two… Meanwhile, Elias turned the topic to music.)
“Your music isn’t promoted very much in this country, and there’s not much reggae played on the radio, either. Is there anything you can do about that?”
“In Jamaica where we come from, dem no play it that much, neither.”
“But how, then, can your music be promoted?”
“People do it! Dem no advertise herb, and the people smoke it. As long as the music keep doing the right thing, mon, them can’t stop it.”
“Bob, have you ever played in Russia?”
“Me don’t want to play Russia. The only time me play Russia is when Ethiopia run smooth again. (At this point, Marley reached a point of intensity rarely encountered offstage, and he began to rage–) Ya can imagine if you go to Ethiopia now and say, ‘Rastafari!’ and people say, ‘GO AWAY! GO AWAY! NO SELASSIE! BURN! KILL SELASSIE! KILL RASTAFARI! KILL HIM!’ Them blooood claat people! Wicked! All over Ethiopia, ‘BURN SELASSIE!’–Them no know what sin them commit; that’s why them dead off so much. That is a terrible sin them commit. Fuckahs! All the people in the parliament of His Majesty traitors, too. Yeah, mon, dem cause the whole t’ing, and then watch how black people have no pride. His Majesty is 84, Mengistu (Mengistu Haile Mariam, chairman of the military junta in Ethiopia) is 32, and Mengistu go stick up a mon who is 84! Now what kind of dignity does this Ethiopian have? There was none there–that was a sack of shit! That was no war–that was just a SACRIFICE! All the people so foo-lish! Them no try to solve the problem, them use the problem to fight ‘gainst God. They say, ‘We want television! We want telephones! blah-blah! Boom-boom!’ It terrible t’ing–terrible, terrible, terrible t’ing, you know, Rasta.”
(This brought to mind another “terrible tíng”–the attempted assassination of Marley and his family in December of 1976. A carload of men armed with submachine guns stormed Bob’s house during a rehearsal, shooting Marley, his wife, and a friend. Though Don Taylor (his manager) had to be flown to a Miami hospital where he remained in critical condition for some time, Bob and Rita survived the barrage well enough to go onstage at a concert for 50,000 Jamaicans three days later.)
I asked Bob if he felt that that trouble was over with, and if he felt safe in Jamaica now.
In a low voice he answered, “I feel safe. When me check my way, is that, if God plan my destiny, (that a guy go shot me an’ kill me), ‘ow can y’ever escape that? So me deal with life–me never fear nobody or anyt’ing. Anytíng that ‘oppen, it jus’ have to ‘oppen. Ya kyaan stop it. So check as far as these guys that have all a dis atomic energy business–me know, if God want a summer t’rough ‘ere, well, the ras clot place jus’ catch a fire! The sun catch the place a fire! Some people can’t stand the heat; them dead. And you know if God want it, ‘e can stick the heat! The night come, the place dark, and the heat HOTTER than the day! Blood clot! And earthquake after that, ’cause after everything get cris’–jus’ shake. Rain after that, mud it up, ha! ha! ha! A big rubbish ‘eap!”
(After Bob’s belly laughs subsided, Elias asked him how he felt about the use of ganja, of which he consumes a lot.)
“Herb is herb! Herb teach you to find yourself, mon. When you find yourself, you find His Majesty.”
“Which comes first, herb, or Rastafari?”
“Ya couldn’t really say that. It’s jus’ that, what come first, life or the breathin’ blue? You can’t live without the atmosphere, but it’s still a part of you, seen? What really come first is Rastafari–herb come later, after ya start eat food…” (He chuckled to himself after this wry slice of humour went virtually unnoticed.)
Shortly thereafter we prepared to leave, and Bob carefully signed several autographs. He mentioned he was up late the previous night, and that he had much to do the next day (a sold-out performance at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre).
Bidding farewell, I declared to Bob, “You work mighty hard!” “Yeah, mon!” he replied. “Talkin’ is a hard work, ya know. Talkin’ the whole day and the whole night extremely hard. Talkin’ and singin’ not a’ easy t’ing, mon. Talkin’ is where ‘alf the strain go.”