This week (April 13th to be exact)marks the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley And The Wailers “Catch A Fire.” Often credited as one of the first reggae albums to gain international acclaim as well as to many one of the greatest albums of all time in any genre, but most importantly the one that propelled Bob Marley into stardom. Already with three studio albums under their belt Bob Marley And The Wailers signed with CBS Records and hopped on a plane and headed to the UK to work with Johnny Cash on the soundtrack for the film Want So Much To Believe. Bob and friends encountered an obstacle when financing for the film ran short, they now found themselves stranded in the UK without money and worse, a way back to Jamaica. As fate would have it Jah smiled on Bob and the Wailers through Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, a fan of the group, connected through a mutual friend and subsequently signed Bob Marley and the Wailers to the then indie label Island Records. On the occasion of Catch a Fire’s 40th anniversary, The Boom Box sat down with the man largely credited as the one who “discovered’ Bob Marley” about the making of the record.
What is the story behind meeting Bob, Bunny, and Peter?
They were in town to do music for a film, but the film didn’t receive its financing. So the person who had taken them over — his name was Danny Sims — hadn’t gotten them a ticket back to Jamaica from London, so they were stranded there. He said, ‘Well, I’d like you to meet with them.’ And literally, this was ten days before Jimmy Cliff had decided to leave Island [Records] to go to another label. I was kind of devastated about that… When they came in, it was like the real life character from the movie, The Harder They Come. They weren’t actors, they were real rebels trying to get a fair deal in a rotten system.
How did you become involved with making Catch A Fire?
I asked them if they were signed to anyone and they said they weren’t. I suggested that the way I would like to present them would be as a black rock group. Bob was intrigued a little bit, but Peter and Bunny were less so. They were really trying to break into the American R&B market.
I told them that I didn’t think they wouldn’t be able to do that with their material and the sound of their records because at that time black America wasn’t really interested in anything coming from the islands or Jamaica. The music was much more polished and smooth than reggae music. It didn’t have all the social lyrics or the tracks like Sam Cooke or somebody of his ilk might have done –- so I felt that their best shot would be as a black rock group.
Read the entire interview here and be sure to check out the video below.
Via The Boom Box