The Night Bob Marley Was Shot
Excerpt from new oral history ‘So Much Things to Say’ tells the story of harrowing 1976 ambush at Tuff Gong
By Roger Steffens
(What follows is an excerpt from a Rolling Stone, July 7, 2017, article, edited for size)
Roger Steffens: Friday, December 3, dawned hot and humid. Members of the Wailers Band gathered at Tuff Gong late that afternoon to rehearse for the upcoming concert.
Judy Mowatt: I had a vision a few days before the shooting. Marcia left; she didn’t feel too good about that concert. Like she had a premonition that something could happen, or she heard something and she left the island. Rita and myself had been going to rehearsals. So one night I went to my bed and I dreamt that this rooster, it was a rooster with three chickens, and the rooster got shot, and the shot ricocheted and damaged two of the chickens. I even saw like one of the chicken’s tripe inside, the intestines come out. And I didn’t like it, and I told it to Rita and Rita knew about it. But we were looking out for something. Because usually, how the Africa woman understands, a lot of times we depend on our dreams. We know that when you dream, if it’s not so, it’s close to what it is. So we were expecting something to happen. And then again, I went to my bed. I never mentioned this – but I went to my bed again and I saw in the newspaper where Bob sang that song “Smile Jamaica” and that was the song that created a controversy because of certain lyrics that he had in it that was like a then political slogan: Regardless, you control your state of being, so smile, because the power’s ours. The victory’s ours.
Roger Steffens: The forebodings came true in the midst of rehearsals around 8:30 in the evening. Two white Datsun compacts drove through the gates of Tuff Gong, from which the longtime guards had mysteriously disappeared. The exact number of gunmen who came leaping out, guns blazing, is a subject of controversy. There could have been as many as seven or eight, armed with machine guns and pistols, some reportedly containing homemade bullets. They went room to room, often firing wildly.
Tyrone Downie: At the moment when the gunmen broke in, we were rehearsing “I Shot The Sheriff.” Bob had stepped out, ’cause the horns weren’t on that record and the horn players wanted to play on it. So we were working all the horn parts, and Bob got bored from hearing the “da-da-da.” He came out of the rehearsal room and went into the kitchen to get a grapefruit or something. Don Taylor had just arrived and went round there to talk to him. Thank God they both went round there! Because right after that was just pure shot you hear start fire outside. And all of a sudden you see a hand come through the door like, around the door, and start firing this .38.
At first it was blindly. I mean, when I saw it happening, I couldn’t believe I was actually witnessing this. And then when we really realize that that was a gun, and someone was firing, we all hit the ground. And just headed – the only way we could go was toward the bathroom. And we all went in there, and we were waiting for them to come in and finish us off, me, Family Man, Carly, the horn players Glen DaCosta and Dave Madden. Donald Kinsey came out of the rehearsal room too. Carly was just sitting around the drum. Family Man was standing with the bass. It was a small room, so everybody wasn’t in there at the same time.
And we’re waiting and then Bob runs in, and then I said, “Oh, shit! This is it! They gonna come in here and just finish us off!” And what was going through my mind was, what’s going on! Who did this? Maybe they followed Don Taylor here, ’cause he was a gambler. There were so many things running through my head. Skill Cole was in some problem with horse racing, and we were just waiting. And then we heard a car driving out, which was Rita, and then a shot fired. And then after a while the shots stopped. And then they left, and Rita started asking, “Is Bob OK?” At that time she had a bullet in her head. So I was saying, “Has anybody seen Stephanie [Rita’s daughter]? Is she OK?” And Bob said, “Shhh!” And he had blood on his shirt. We were all in the bathtub, like four or five of us in the bathtub! When I came out of the bathroom and I saw Don on the ground, he was covered with blood, his eyes were wide open and I say, “Shit. Don is dead!” I just say, “I’m going home, fellas.” I walked to Half Way Tree. I wanted to get out of there! I just wanted to leave that place because I just did not know what had happened and why.
Stephen Davis: The Wailers’ guitarist, Donald Kinsey, who was in the room with Bob when he was shot, said that it was just the three of them in the room. It was Donald Kinsey, Bob Marley and Don Taylor. And Donald Kinsey says that the gunman came in with this automatic weapon, looked at Bob, and obviously could have killed him, because Bob was just standing there in a corner. And that instead of aiming the weapon and shooting Bob, he aimed in a sort of vague, general direction, very lightly grazing Bob across the chest. The bullet then lodged in his left arm. Obviously, Donald Kinsey insists, if this man had wanted to kill Bob, he would have. Instead, Don Taylor got five bullets.
Jeff Walker: I have to agree with that in the sense that the firepower these guys apparently brought with them was immense. There were bullet holes everywhere. In the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room, floors, ceilings, doorways and outside. I was there a half hour after the shooting, before all the blood had been cleaned up. And there’s just no question that if there was going to be carnage, there could have been carnage.
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