Saturday, October 25, 2014

40 Year Itch: Dreadlock Congo Bongo I

   On October 25, 1974 Bob Marley and the Wailers released Natty Dread. This was the first album by Marley since the original Wailers broke up. Their final concerts in England were met with poor attendance and Peter Tosh and Marley came to blows during one argument. ( It has been written that Tosh referred to the bi-racial Marley as a "white man's son"). They played one more gig together, opening for Marvin Gaye at Jamaica's Carib Club in May of 1974. After that both Tosh and Bunny Wailer set off on solo careers.

     Tony Wright, who did the cover art of Traffic's best albums, captured the new Wailers perfectly with his airbrushed portrait of Marley. Natty Dread's cover seems to say Bob Marley IS The Wailers. 

   To make up for the lost harmonies of Bunny and Tosh, Bob Marley is joined by the I-Threes, a vocal trio made up of his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Their contributions , especially on  "Them Belly Full",, "Bend Down Low" and "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)",  are what give Natty Dread that classic sound to these ears.

   The studio version of "No Woman No Cry" doesn't hold up to the Live! version that came out a year later and the album loses some steam on Side Two. But Natty Dread is a great album.

   Recorded at Harry J's studio in Kingston and mixed in London, Natty Dread was also Marley's breakthrough album. Some of the credit may have to go to Eric Clapton who made Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" a worldwide hit ( and even to Barbra Streisand for her cover of "Guava Jelly" on ButterFly)

   Co-producer Chris Blackwell, who mis-named an album that was supposed to be called Knotty Dread, has nothing but praise for Marley :

   The first two records Catch a Fire and Burnin' didn't do too well in Jamaica, but Natty Dread was a hit there and outside. Natty Dread was a killer record. It really delivered the goods. But it was a very different sound from the first two , with Peter and Bunny's harmonies...Natty Dread got everybody talking, and then Catch a Fire and Burnin' start to sell like never before, because it was Natty Dread that made these records popular.

      At the time of the Natty Dread's release, Bob Marley was not the most popular performer in Jamaica. That distinction belonged to Jimmy Cliff, U-Roy or  possibly Marley's rival Peter Tosh. Missing two out of the three co-founders of his band, Marley had a lot to prove and he delivered a home run that would forever make him the King of reggae royalty.

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