A memoir by the woman who knew Bob Marley best -- his wife, Rita.
Editors Note: Rita Marley grew up in the slums of Trench Town, Jamaica. Abandoned by her mother at a very young age, she was raised by her aunt. Music ran in Rita's family, and even as a child her talent for singing was pronounced. By the age of 18, Rita was an unwed mother, and it was then that she met Bob Marley at a recording studio in Trench Town. Bob and Rita became close friends, fell in love, and soon, she and her girlfriends were singing backup for the Wailers. At the ages of 21 and 19, Bob and Rita were married.
The rest is history: Bob Marley and the Wailers set Jamaica and the world on fire. But while Rita displayed blazing courage, joy, and an indisputable devotion to her husband, life with Bob was not easy. There were his liaisons with other women -- some of which produced children and were conducted under Rita's roof. The press repeatedly reported that Bob was unmarried to preserve his image. But Rita kept her self-respect, and when Bob succumbed to cancer in 1981, she was at his side. In the years that followed, she became a force in her own right -- as the Bob Marley Foundation's spokesperson and a performer in her reggae group, the I-Three. Written with author Hettie Jones, No Woman No Cry is a no-holds-barred account of life with one of the most famous musicians of all time. Enjoy this extract from her book NO WOMAN NO CRY .
Some footage of me appears in one of the documentaries about Bob that have come out in recent years. You see it right after a shot of him in the back of the bus, surrounded by a group of people laughing and talking. Then there's this cut to me - the sun shining on a small dark woman with a scarf around her hair, alone and leaning against a window. I think I look cool, in terms of my mood in an environment. Something must have been going on that I was thinking about, or more likely I was in a meditative, way-out state. I can be very quiet at times, and when you're on the road - Babylon By Bus (that's the name of one album) sometimes you really need to just hold a meditation for positive guidance and protection, because the work that we have been doing with Bob, I know the Devil didn't like it! It was like musical warfare - good against evil!
For seven years we traveled like that. I sang backup for him because I loved him, and believed in his work, and felt that what he was doing was... there's no other word for it but great. It must be true, this greatness, that's how Ive analyzed it, it was more than the flesh, it was something more like fate. Still, like Marcia and Judy, I was, in a way, invisible. Typically of that time, background vocalists weren't put on the billing, not mentioned in any promotions or publicity anywhere. The billing remained "Bob Marley and the Wailers," and we were just there, although sometimes the publicists might say, "Oh, the voices of the I-Threes are so good," or something equally inconsequential. Though we always performed with Bob and the band, and even were featured later on as an opening act, our group never became Bob Marley and the I-Threes.
Still, if we didn't go on, Bob wouldn't go on, because we were the light for his stage, the icing on the cake for each nights performance. And that had to happen, even though he and I might have quarreled beforehand. (As the song says, "One good thing about music, when it hits you you feel no pain.") The I-Threes were very important where Bob and his music were concerned, because his position was, There is the picture as is, this is what makes it sound this way, this is how we create character. We were also dancing, and creating inspiration for him, and he depended on that energy to boost his individuality just as it happened. Whatever we did, we did it naturally, and often spontaneously. We didn't rehearse steps, deciding, "We're all gonna do this," and so on. We might work on something, for example turn left or right you in the middle, you can do something there. But our emphasis was not on dance moves, we focused on singing and making sure the harmonies worked or else we were in big trouble. I was the one in charge of that, always seen as the leader of the group, and if anything went wrong I was expected to know why, or who was at fault. When it came to the I-Threes it was showtime, and since he relied on me to make sure that aspect was taken care of, I was always there for it. Rita the responsible.
So of course he would get on me at times when things went wrong. I would always get the blame. He'd say, "You didn't hear? The harmony wasn't right tonight. What happened?"
"I dont know, I sang right, you didnt hear me?"
"You, Rita You should come to my room for rehearsal after the show, okay?"
And that would start an argument, with the pressure on me. So we always tried to give him our best, and work out the problem, and then he'd be satisfied, "Oh, it's right, or "That's how it must sound, that's it, now it's happening," or "Oh you girls is nice." But he was very keen on his stage work with the sound. As I've said, everyone was led by his musical instincts. We all gave him that respect.
Offstage, as time went on, I sometimes felt that Bob had begun to resent me, as if I might be telling him something he didn't want to hear, or acting a certain way, out of revenge. He didn't say things directly but I could feel what was happening, because these other women came around and they'd stay up to talk or whatever. For a time he had Pascalene, a princess from Gabon traveling with us. She followed the bus in her limousine, and sometimes he rode with her. And there I'd be in the bus. The things he did in private did less harm, but when everything was out in the open, that was really hurtful. Sometimes Pascalene and her entourage would arrive in Jamaica on her private jet and spend days. And Id wonder, what is Bob doing with his life? What should I do? What can I do? I did what I could.
As for Marcia and Judy, we were sisters, oh yes. Always ready with girlfriend talk, and not always about me, because we all had our problems as young women. As far as my situation went, they were always in sympathy. They were so sweet, they'd say, "Oh no, you don't deserve some of this shit." And, "How you really stand this?" But then I was made for the job, I think.
Excerpted from NO WOMAN NO CRY by Rita Marley with Hettie Jones.Copyright (c) 2004 by Rita Marley Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. To be published by Hyperion on May 5, 2004. Available wherever books are sold.