Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Lee Jaffe
Over the last two Throwback Thursdays, we’ve shared the stories, flyers and recordings from the times Bob Marley rubbed shoulders with R&B greats Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye on his home turf, performing with the soul legends at the height of each of their respective careers in the mid ’70s.
This week we turn our attention to the time Bob met a possibly more iconic icon, Michael Jackson, literally in his own backyard, in 1975. As they did with Marvin and Stevie, Bob and the Wailers shared the stage with the Jackson 5 at Jamaica’s National Stadium for a massive stage show that was the talk of Jamaica. However, unlike those performances, there is no recorded A/V evidence of these performances, at least not in the universe of the Internet. (Perhaps former Jamaican president and then-opposition leader Eddie Seaga, a one-time record label executive and the figure responsible for the Jacksons’ Jamaican visit, could point us to a dusty corridor of Jamaica’s national archives where such footage might exist). For details of the show, which lasted six hours and went on to 4 a.m. after technical difficulties and the storming of barricades led to near-riot conditions, check this Jamaican newspaper account.
What does exist, however, are some amazing photos of the Jacksons and the Wailers literally hanging out in Bob’s backyard at 56 Hope Road, in Kingston—known today as the Bob Marley Museum—taken by Wailers photographer, documentarian and occasional harmonica player Lee Jaffe (and perhaps another photographer–Jaffe is clearly visible in at least one of the shots that’s surfaced).
In the most remarkable of these shots, we see Bob, Michael, the rest of the Jackson brothers and assorted Wailers band members and bredren, literally on top of a tree hanging over Marley’s driveway. The images speak volumes about each. In the aforementioned group shot Bob, as usual, is the center of things, seemingly in mid-reasoning. In another, taken behind the house with Aston Barrett, Bunny Wailer and Katherine Jackson, he’s the picture of happiness. Michael, as ever, appears aloof and tenuous, looking away in one shot; In another, his head is completely obscured, only his tall afro visible. What’s most remarkable, though, is the moment captured: The pics are of a time when both Bob and MJ were stars on the rise, popular and established enough to inspire pandemonium, but nowhere near the level of fame and influence they would one day attain as, arguably, the two most important musical figures of modern times.