The Inside Story Of How Bob Marley Became Famous

The Inside Story Of How Bob Marley Became Famous

Bob Marley
Bob Marley

Bob Marley has been a big part of pop culture for a number of decades now. Even almost forty years after his death, he continues to be a huge part of pop culture history.

But how did Bob Marley become as famous as he is now?

Musical Beginnings

Bob Marley, born Robert Nesta Marley, was born on February 6, 1945, in Nine Mile, British Jamaica to parents Norval Sinclair Marley and Cedella Malcolm.

At the age of nine, Marley moved to Trench Town, one of the rougher towns in Kingston. That is where he would meet and become friends with future band mates, Neville Livingston (who would later become known as Bunny Wailer) and Peter McIntosh. (who would later become known as Peter Tosh.)Continue Scrolling To Keep ReadingClick the button below to start this article in quick view.START NOW

At the age of 14, Marley dropped out of high school that way he can get a starting point in music.

The Wailers

In 1963, The Wailers was formed. The group consisted of Marley,  Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, Bunny Livingston, Peter McIntosh, and Cherry Smith.

Prior to calling themselves The Wailers, they went through a variety of band names before officially settling on The Wailers. Those names were: The Wailing Rudeboys, The Teenagers, and The Wailing Wailers before finally deciding on The Wailers.

In 1966, Braithwaite, Smith, and Kelso left the band, which turned the band into a trio. In the early 70s, they added two brothers as a part of their rhythm section. The Barrett Brothers. Aston Barrett played bass, while Carlton Barrett played drums.

In 1972, The Wailers were officially signed to Island Records. The very next year in April was when their first album through Island Records was released, Catch a Fire. Though, in total, that would mark their fifth album.

The album itself received positive reception, with critics even calling the album the best Reggae album of all time.


The 70s was when Marley became a household name. After the release of  Catch a Fire, The Wailers embarked on a three-month tour, which started on April 1973 in Nottingham, England and ended in New York City.

When the US leg of their tour started, Bunny refused to be a part of the tour, which resulted in their mentor, Joe Higgs replacing him throughout that leg of the tour. Not only that, their concerts brought out one opening act that we would later recognize as Bruce Springsteen, who was unknown at the time.

After the success of the Catch A Fire tour, the band recorded their second album at Island Records, Burnin’, which was released in October 1973, just six months after the release of Catch a Fire. This record itself has become known for two of their most memorable songs, I Shot The Sheriff  and Get Up Stand Up. The record became a critical and commercial success in the United States, and it was even certified gold and was added to the National Recording Registry, where the Library of Congress has deemed it historically and culturally significant.

In music journalist and essayist Robert Christgau’s book, Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies, he had this to say about the album.

“This is as perplexing as it is jubilant–sometimes gripping, sometimes slippery. It’s reggae, obviously, but it’s not mainstream reggae, certainly not rock or soul, maybe some kind of futuristic slow funk, War without the pseudo-jazz. What’s inescapable is Bob Marley’s ferocious gift for melodic propaganda. It’s one thing to come up with four consecutive title hooks, another to make the titles “Get Up Stand Up,” “Hallelujah Time,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’.”

Although, despite the success, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh left the group in 1974. After their departure, the band became Bob Marley and The Wailers.

The very next year, Eric Clapton covered I Shot The Sheriff on his 461 Ocean Boulevard album. His version went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and is considered to be the most successful version of that song. In fact, in 2003, Clapton’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In October 1974, the first album under the name, Bob Marley and The Wailers was released, Natty Dread. The record would go on to reach the top half of the Billboard 200, reaching at 92.

Bob Marley and The Wailers would go on to release six more albums, even releasing one final record, Confrontation, in 1983, two years after Marley’s death.

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