Inside the Vaults of Marley – 1990

(As published in Reggae Report V08#04 1990 – this article has not been updated since its original publication. Any updated information is welcome.) 

By Roger Steffens

Reggae historian & Marley archivist Roger Steffens

Bob Marley, Reggae’s prolific king, has been gone for nine years now and for the first time in that period, there exists a growing hope that the protracted legal battles for control of his life’s work are finally drawing to a close. At stake are millions of dollars in royalties, unreleased material, and properties. Nineteen lawyers are currently representing all the different claimants to the estate, including Bob’s children, the estates of the late Peter Tosh and drummer Carlton Barrett, the Wailers band, Bob’s mother Cedella Booker, Bunny Wailer, and various publishers and accountants.

As of the end of April, it appears as if an out-of-court scheme developed by Island Records president Chris Blackwell has met with qualified approval by most of the involved parties, and the way seems much clearer than ever for the eventual release of a treasure trove of unreleased and uncollected Marley and Wailers material going back to the dawn of his career in the early Sixties.

Chronologically, this is my breakdown of what remains to be heard, based on nearly twenty years of following every lead I could. And there is still a great deal of material, some of it stolen from Mrs. Booker’s home after Bob’s death that could yield even more surprises.


1963 – 1967: The Coxsone Dodd, Studio One Period.
Ironically, there is an entire uncollected album of Christian music from the Wailers’ early career, with titles such as “Let the Lord Be Seen in You,” “I Left My Sins,” “Amen,” and “Sound the Trumpet.” There is a scintillating version of “White Christmas” too, that is not quite the Drifters, but far better than Bing, containing Marley’s lovely lyrical twist: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/not like the ones I used to know.”

Coxsone is reported to have discovered recently an acoustic solo track that Bob recorded under the tree at his Brentford Road Studio, and it is all-but-certain that a long-promised inventory of his master tapes will reveal other long-lost masterpieces. In addition, many of Coxsone‘s 45s were issued in extremely limited pressings and have never been anthologized, songs like “What Am I Supposed To Do,” and the breathtaking doo-wop ballad, “Send Me That Love.” IN ALL, SOMEWHERE FROM THREE TO FIVE ALBUMS.


1966-1972:  This is the period in which Bob was under contract with American record exec Danny Sims, and his partner, soul singer Johnny Nash. Approximately 225 titles are laid claim to by Sims. They include two dozen songs written by Jimmy Norman and Al Pyfrom (including the ludicrous and infamous “Milk Shake and Potato Chips,” the single worst recording of Bob’s career and one, doubtless, he never intended for release.) Bunny, Bob, Peter, and Rita recorded demos of these and many other songs that later surfaced in radically re-arranged versions on official albums. The list of titles contains fascinating glimpses into what remains to be heard: “Don’t Draft Me,” “Get Stoned,” and “Angel of Love.”

These are most likely held in Columbia Records’ vaults in New York City. Other titles known to have been written during this period include “Twenty-One Thousand Miles,” and the intriguing “Sophisticated Psychodelocation.” These are problematic tracks, however, since they were done usually as barebones rhythm-only demos, intended to be sweetened later on in New York or London. Collaboration between Sims and Bunny Wailer has been the subject of intense negotiations for more than a year, one that would enable Bunny to oversee the eventual over-dubbing and release of perhaps EIGHT TO TWELVE ALBUMS.


By the end of 1966, Bob had returned from an eight-month working stint in Delaware with enough money to start the Wailers’ first owned and operated label, called WAIL ‘N SOUL ‘M. At least 30 tracks have surfaced in Jamaican pressings, but they have never been collected on any albums. They include Bunny’s wonderful “Tread Along”: “you’re like a macaroni in bed…l knew you when you were just a bottle on the shelf”; “Feel All Right,” ” Pound Get A Blow,” ” Bus Them Shut,” and a Nyabinghi instrumental “Lyrical Satirical I.”

Somewhere in the mid-’60s, Marley’s Rastafarian mentor, Mortimor Planno, produced a highly coveted pressing of an alternate version of “Crying in the Chapel” with newly penned lyrics, called ”Selassie Is the Chapel.” Bunny Lee did an alternate of “Mr. Chatterbox” with a spoken intro. Leslie Kong laid an album’s worth of tracks (available widely today under a variety of titles), but the dub to these tracks are very rare, and of great interest to collectors.

Randy’s Studio is said to contain at least 20 unreleased master tapes, including the circa-’67 rap session on which Bob sounds like soul man meeting Stax/Volt at the roots of dread, called “Black Progress,” as militant a sound as anything he would ever commit to wax. There is also a cover of the Archies’ silly “Sugar Sugar” that is transformed into a minor masterwork by the creative harmonies and unbounded friskiness of the upbeat arrangement. ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR SIX ALBUMS AT LEAST.


1970-1980:  TUFF GONG, the successor to the financially unsuccessful WAIL ‘N SOUL ‘M collaboration, turned out dozens of roots-style bass-heavy productions of songs that would later become world-famous on the Island album remakes of the ‘70s. Searing versions of “Concrete Jungle,” ”Don’t Rock My Boat,” “Talking Blues” (with a toast by I Roy),” Trenchtown Rock” (whose five new versions include a melodica instrumental overdub by Augustus Pablo and a toast by U Roy), “Dub Feeling,” “Wake Up and Live Part Two” and more, indicates the wide range of uncollected tracks. Invariably, the Jamaican mixes are different from the internationalized. Then there are the several alternates of “Smile Jamaica,” along with “Lick Samba,” “Screwface,” and “Pour Down Sunshine.” AT LEAST FIVE ALBUMS WORTH OF MATERIAL.


1969-1971:  With ace producer LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY at the mixing board, the Wailers created what many still consider to be their finest work as a trio. Tracks like “High Tide Low Tide” and “Unjust” (the precursor of “Who The Cap Fit”) remain uncollected, along with several songs on which the Wailers are featured in harmony roles with groups like Rita’s Soulettes. AT LEAST ONE GREAT ALBUM CAN STILL BE ASSEMBLED.


1972-1983:   Bob always cut more tracks than he needed to fill out an album. Reliably reported to have composed one, two, or even three tracks per day, Marley was a dynamo of prodigious creation. Tapes were being run almost constantly, so Bob’s words could be transcribed later. Many of these recordings are still in the possession of Rita Marley, from whose archives the 1983  posthumous Confrontation LP was assembled.

Estimates range from keyboardist Tyrone Downie’s guess of two releasable albums to lead guitarist Junior Marvin’s generous tally of 30. My own estimation would be somewhere around FIVE LPS OF EXCELLENT MATERIAL, recorded at the height of his powers. Included should be the Survival out-take “She Used To Call Me Dada,” written about the betrayal of a protégé: “I know she’s got lots of potential/but I heard she’s commercial”; “Jingling Keys,” a jailhouse story written for Bob by producer Sangie Davis and the favorite unreleased track of Bob’s lawyer Diane Jobson; “I’m A Do You,” a sexy, playful romp in the “Kinky Reggae” style from 1974; “Jailbreaker” and “Jump Them Out of Babylon,” recorded in his mother’s home in Miami on acoustic guitar.

Other favorites of mine come from Bob’s renewed collaboration with Lee Perry in 1978. World domination is the theme of ”Who Colt the Game,” recently recorded by Rita Marley. Another is a haunting tale of betrayal called ”I Know a Place Where We Can Carry On”: “When the whole world lets you down/and there’s nowhere for you to turn/and all of your best friends let you down/and you tried to accumulate/but the world is full of hate… I know a place where we can carry on.


Shortly after Bob passed, Dennis Thompson went into the vault and made his own private dub mixes of some of Marley’s best-known Island material. The results are astonishing and deeply satisfying, especially a searing version-style workout of ”Running Away” and a scat-singing-outro on “One Drop.” Dennis was Bob’s favorite mixer, the man he chose to give him his stage sound on virtually all of his world tours. No one knows what Bob would have wanted better than Dennis Thompson, and if there is any justice in this world, he will be allowed to remix the eight Island LPs of original material into the long-requested official Wailers Dub albums. EIGHT DREAMED OF RECORDS.

With the establishment of the Bob Marley Foundation nearing reality, the time is right for work to begin releasing all of this material, plus the great live recordings from the Roxy in 1976, chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the best live shows of the past 25 years; the final concert, at once strong and sad from Pittsburgh; the Record Plant, Sausalito, 1973 sessions with Tosh, Marley, and Joe Higgs; the Beacon New York 1976 shows, and many more.

Then there are the wonderful, unseen videos of Bob at Harvard Stadium at the Amandla Benefit for African Freedom Fighters in the summer of ‘79; Zimbabwe’s Independence celebrations; the other half of Bob’s set at the One Love Peace Concert; and concerts in Dortmund, Germany and Tokyo that show Bob at his best.

With the heirs scheduled to finally reap some of the benefits from what Bob left them, now is certainly the right time to introduce a whole new generation to the wonders and works of the Prophet Bob Marley. favicon R AVATAR- Elliot

Roger Steffens is the foremost authority Reggae authority on Bob Marley, a Reggae historian & archivist, former host of LA’s Reggae Beat radio program & co-founder of Reggae Beat magazine.