Songs of Freedom corrections - Roger Steffens
I'm Still Waiting: Songs of Freedom Booklet Corrections Ignored By Its Producers
by Roger Steffens
In December of 1992, Vol. 11 #6 of The Beat, the reggae magazine which I co founded, published two pages' worth of corrections to a series of errors contained in the text of the then newly released "Songs of Freedom" Bob Marley box set. Copies of these emendations were also sent to Island Records, to Chris Blackwell, and to Tuff Gong.
In the summer of 1999, when the reissue of the box was announced, I mailed the same list of corrections to officials of Universal, now the owner of Island Records, who were about to reprint the booklet. I was phoned shortly after by an official of Universal in New York who said he would do the best he could to make all the required changes before the reconfigured booklet went to press.
Sadly, not one single error in the seven-year-old text has been corrected, resulting in wrong dates, false claims and misspelled names. In the interests of setting the historic record straight, I offer the following information. The page numbers referred to are those in the new "jewel box" sized booklet [with the 1992 edition of the box set in brackets].
On what basis do I feel I have the "right" to make these suggestions? I have been a student of the Wailers' works for 27 years. In preparing Bunny Wailer's autobiography, "Old Fire Sticks," my partner Leroy Pierson and I did over 75 hours of interviews with Bunny, eliciting exhaustive track-by-track information from him about every single song the group recorded. Back in '92, I also went over the box set's booklet with a fine tooth comb with Joe Higgs, the original tutor of the Wailers when they were still youngsters. Many of the following notes come directly from him, as well as from others who were involved directly in the production of the Wailers' music. I stand by everything that follows.
* On page seven [page nine in the 1992 box set edition], the text claims that Peter Tosh met Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston at a session in Joe Higgs' yard. I have been working with Higgs for the past several years on his autobiography, and this is the quote he gave me regarding his training of Bob and the Wailers: "A man named Errol originally asked me to tutor Bob Marley around 1960. I worked on him alone, without any of the other Wailers. After the unsuccessful Beverley's records, Bob came to me with Bunny and Peter. I did not introduce Peter to them."
* Also on the same page [also page nine in the 1992 box set edition] is the assertion that Bob's recording of "Terror" received no airplay and attracted little attention. Of course it didn't! The song was never pressed on record, nor has any tape of it ever surfaced to this day. Radio stations can't play what doesn't exist.
* The booklet claims on page ten [page 10 in the 1992 box set edition] that Coxson released "some thirty sides" by the Wailers. As the wealth of material released by Heartbeat Records in its historic Wailers at Studio One series reveals, no fewer than 85 and possibly as many as 100 Wailers songs were recorded by Mr. Dodd's label, three times the amount claimed by the notes.
* Page 11 [page 10 in the 1992 box set edition] drops an "m", misrepresenting the name of the Wailers' first self-owned label there, and thoughout the booklet. Its proper spelling is Wail'n Soul'm, (sometimes with capital Ns and Ms), meaning - according to Bunny Wailer himself - that the group "wanted to wail and soul" people, utilizing a combination of the Wailers and Rita Marley's group, the Soulettes. See the picture with the Wailers' own spelling on page 33.
* On page 14 [page 11 in the 1992 box set edition], the booklet asserts that Bob Marley "made his first moves with Island in 1971," when in fact it was a full year later that Chris Blackwell took over their contract from Danny Sims and Johnny Nash's JAD label.
* On page 17 [page 12 in the 1992 box set edition], the notes make an utterly insupportable claim about the Wailers' tour of America with Sly and the Family Stone, saying "The Wailers were taken off the bill. It seems they had been too good; support bands should not detract from the main attraction." The truth is quite the opposite. Let Joe Higgs, who replaced Bunny Wailer on the tour, have the final say: "We were fired by Sly Stone because we were not connecting with his audience, they couldn't relate to us. We had played five shows together - in Homestead and Tampa, Florida; Lexington, Kentucky; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas - when Sly left us and our luggage on the side of the road in Vegas. He said our music was too slow, people couldn't understand what we were saying, and that we didn't dress the way the audience expected to see us dress." In other words, the Wailers were dismissed because they were just not connecting with Sly's glam-oriented audience. Further, Bunny quit the group in the spring of 1973, and Peter left by the end of the same year.
* Regarding the events surrounding the assassination attempt on Bob's life prior to the "Smile Jamaica" concert in December of 1976, the booklet makes a pair of crucial errors, stating "on December 5, he [Bob] came on stage and played a brief set...It was to be Marley's last appearance in Jamaica for nearly eighteen months." False! Far from "brief," sound-board tapes of the event reveal it to have been nearly 90 minutes in length. And Bob returned from exile near the end of February 1978, making a public appearance the evening of his arrival before a huge throng of people in Kingston at a giant Nyahbinghi celebration, 14 months after he left. The "One Love Peace Concert" took place on April 21/22, 1978, 16 months after his exile began, not "nearly 18."
* The cancer diagnosis made in 1977 is mentioned on page 23 [page 16 in the 1992 box set edition], but gives a false impression, buoying the hideous rumors that a French footballer stepped on Bob's foot in a game in Paris and somehow gave him melanoma. The booklet states: "Three years earlier [meaning 1977], Bob hurt a toe while playing football. The wound became cancerous." In fact, the cancer was already present when he was injured, and it was diagnosed when he was taken to the doctor to be treated for the injury. Medical experts deny that melanoma arises from injuries, and insist that it cannot be injected or otherwise "given" to a person.
* The note for "Simmer Down" on page 30 [page 18 in the 1992 box set edition] completely ignores the existence of founding Wailers' member, Junior Braithwaite, whom Mr. Dodd said, "had the best voice in the group," and who sings on this first recording of the Wailers.
* "Back Out," on page 33 [page 23 in the 1992 box set edition], misstates the song's lyrical intent. It is, according to Bunny, who co-wrote it, actually a bawdy takeoff on a children's song sung by students about their teacher, "Mistress Martin," and alluding to her private parts.
* On page 34 [page 23 in the 1992 box set edition], the notes claim incorrectly that "[Soul Shakedown Party] had already been released a single [sic] several times when Leslie Kong, who had no legal rights to this Wailers production, announced he would be including it on a forthcoming Best of the Wailers compilation." "Soul Shakedown Party" had never been released as a single by anyone before Kong's totally legitimate and legal production. In fact, the album was not a compilation at all, but in the view of many critics, the first true reggae album project - as opposed to a collection of singles - ever made in Jamaica. Conceived as a joint project between the Wailers and producer Leslie Kong, it was completed in less than a month from start to finish. The songs were sort of pep talks by the Wailers to themselves, as they struggled to re-establish themselves in the business. Bunny did however object strenuously to the proposed title, maintaining that "one's best is never known until the career is finished, and we have a long career still ahead of us."
* Regarding the November 1970 recording with Lee Perry of "Soul Rebel," the booklet places the Silver Slipper Club "on Forest Roads," when, according to Joe Higgs, it was actually "on Old Hope Road at the junction of Crossroads." The booklet also states that "The Wailers made their first steps from Trenchtown to uptown with this song...Playing at such clubs as the Glass Bucket at Crossroads." Again, according to Higgs, "The Glass Bucket had changed its name by 1969 to the VIP, where the Wailers did play."
* "Small Axe" on page 35 [page 24 in the 1992 box set edition] has as its complete liner note: "A big dancehall hit." The information regarding this song should include the fact that this Lee Perry production is Perry and the Wailers' challenge to the Big Three powers in the Jamaican music business at the time: Federal, Dynamics and Studio One: "If you are the big t'ree, we are the small axe, coming to chop you down."
* Perhaps the most egregious misapprehension in the booklet comes on page 40 [page 26 in the 1992 box set edition], with this mean-spirited note about Bob's "High Tide Or Low Tide," which says " 'Bunny and Peter were giving Bob a lot of trouble at this time.' says Rita." In fact, an objective listening to the song reveals that this is a hymn to Bob's mother, who figures in several of its verses, and has literally nothing to do with Bob's partners in the Wailers.
* Timothy White is made to look like a fool by giving the wrong date of 1976 in the first line of his piece on page 57 [page 39 in the 1992 box set edition]. He describes being at the session at Tuff Gong that produced Bob's chilling classic, "Jah Live," written to counteract reports that His Imperial Majesty had died in Ethiopia. Obviously, it should read "September 1975."
* On page 66 [page 48 in the 1992 box set edition] the picture caption identifies the man on the left as Bucky Marshall, when in fact he is the person known as Tek-Life, another ghetto gunman involved in the equally misnamed "peace truce" of 1978.
* "War," whose words are attributed on page 67 [page 44 in the 1992 box set edition] to a speech given by Haile Selassie "in California on Feb. 28, 1968," was actually based on the speech His Majesty delivered on October 4, 1963 to the United Nations in New York.
* "Johnny Was" is a song Bob wrote about Delroy Wilson's brother, Trevor, mistakenly called Carlton in the notes on page 67 [page 46 in the 1992 box set edition]. The booklet also gets Trevor's fate wrong, saying that he "was gunned down in a bar...eventually recovered...and left Kingston for the safer climes of Brooklyn." In fact, according to an interview I did with Delroy years ago, Trevor was indeed killed in Kingston, and remains quite dead, no matter how brightly Brooklyn beckons.
* In the note on page 79 [page 54 in the 1992 box set edition] for the anthem "Zimbabwe," the notes wrongly allege that "Bob was the only artist to be invited by the new Zimbabwean government to this celebration..." According to Bob's unofficial host during his time in Harare, Dera Tompkins, Bob was the "only non-African-based artist to appear. Many others performed on the infield of the stadium, but Bob was the only one to appear onstage," perhaps because he brought the stage with him from Europe and paid for its construction.
* In the caption to Adrian Boot's famous picture of the Wailers in the elevator at Island Records, two of their nick-names are misspelled: Wire Lindo should be Wya, his personal preference for its spelling, and Seeko Patterson should be Seeco.
* At the end of the booklet, as cover photos of Bob's Island catalog are printed in chronological order, the "Talking Blues" and "Babylon by Bus" albums have their places exchanged, so that it appears the latter album was released posthumously, instead of in 1978.
It is sad and astonishing that so little respect is being shown to Bob Marley by the people who are responsible for reissuing this box set. Surely, one of the acknowledged "artists of the century" should be given at least the same amount of meticulous attention that record companies routinely demonstrate for even the most mindless of today's rock stars. Yet, despite ample warnings and seven years' time to make these corrections, not a single one was made.
Doesn't anybody care?
Wailers Archivist Roger Steffens is the co-author of Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer (Norton) and the forthcoming books Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Definitive Discography and Old Fire Sticks: The Autobiography of Bunny Wailer.
Posted: Fri - February 7, 2003 at 04:58 PM