Bob Marley’s 70th birthday is less than a month away, and the tributes have started pouring in. From now until then, we’ll be devoting each week’s Throwback Thursdays post to Bob. To start things off, we thought we’d direct your attention to one of the most legendary and important concerts to ever happen in Jamaica: Marvin Gaye’s visit to the National Stadium in May, 1974.
Marvin played two shows in Kingston that month, and Bob Marley and the Wailers opened both. The first was on May 21, at the famed Carib Theater in Halfway Tree, followed by the National Stadium show ten days later. As you can imagine, any visit by Marvin to Jamaica would be notable, but this particular set of appearances came amidst a run of classic albums (What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On) which deeply resonated in Jamaica. And they featured some of the Wailers’ first appearances in Jamaica in years—a reunion of sorts following the international focus, and subsequent dissension, of their early ’70s period. Perhaps most crucially, would also be the last Wailers shows with the classic lineup of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. These were the band’s only performances in 1974: when the Wailers next hit the road, for 1975’s Natty Dread tour, it was a very different animal.
American photographer and filmmaker Lee Jaffe performed with the band at the Carib Theater show, making his live debut on the then freshly-released “Road Block,” on which he’d played harmonica. (Hear audio of that performance here). Jaffe describes the energy around Marvin Gaye’s visit, in “I Was a Wailers,” an essay printed in his 2003 book, One Love: Life with Bob Marley and the Wailers.
In Jamaica, they are very picky about what kind of American music they like, but Marvin Gaye was special. A lot of his popularity had to do with the social and political themes on What’s Going On. He showed up in Jamaica with a 70-piece orchestra. It was a really big event, a hot ticket. The promoter added the Wailers on to the show, but nobody really believed they would play, because they hadn’t played in Jamaica in many years. The reason we played was everybody was swept up in the vibe. There was a new Wailers single out [“Road Block”], and it was a smash, and we felt that we couldn’t be overshadowed by Marvin, that even with his huge crew he couldn’t upstage us. That turned out to be true.
The show at Jamaica National Stadium was a benefit for the Trench Town Sports Complex and, as the ad in Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper unearthed by reggae blog Midnight Raver shows, some 200,000 people were expected to attend. The Wailers only got to play two songs that night, but, unlike the Carib Theater (which could fit just about 2,500) there is some video footage of this event. There’s no Marvin, just 2:25 of The Wailers playing “Lively Up Yourself,” with a quick bit of “Trenchtown Rock.” The audio hasn’t been preserved well, but that just seems to add to the surreal appeal of the footage.
A few days before the Carib Theater show, The Turntable Club on Red Hills Road also hosted Marvin Gaye’s Welcome to Jamaica Stage Show and Dance. The guest of honour didn’t perform, but according to this advertisement we came across (Via Merritone Disco’s Monte Blake), the night’s musical lineup featured the late John Holt, Delroy Wilson and Bob Marley & The Wailers along with Soul Syndicate and MCs Jerry Lewis (the Jamaican DJ, not the American actor) and Errol “ET” Thompson. With admission costing $3 and a special couples price of $5, we can just imagine what the vibes must have been like in there that night.
Jamaica must have left an impression on Marvin because, eight years later, on his Sexual Healing album, he would release the song “Third World Girl” about a special love in JA.