Editors' pick

Bob Marley's Birthday Bash


Editorial Review

Junior Marvin, who played guitar with Bob Marley on classic Wailers albums like "Exodus," headlines this show. Wailin' Love and Lionize also perform.

Junior Marvin: Rooted in Reggae
By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2000

As '99 rolled toward '00, the urge to make lists overcame most of the media. Time magazine weighed in, declaring "Exodus" by Bob Marley and the Wailers the "Album of the Century."

Solid arguments could be made for other recordings to top that list (works by the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin come to mind), but you can't fault Time's taste. "Exodus" contains as many shimmering, transcendent moments as any work in recorded pop music. When it came out in 1977, "Exodus" made Marley an international superstar and busted the world wide open for reggae. And who played most of the electric guitar on that electrifying record? None other than Junior Marvin.

Junior Marvin is calling Washington home these days, having moved here four months ago following his heart. He met his fiancee Emebet Bahta 11 years ago at the Kilimanjaro club and finally decided that a long-distance relationship was not the ticket to happiness. "You're going to be stuck with me for a while," he says, laughing. "We're trying to buy a house here."

Junior was born Donald Hanson Marvin Kerr Richards Jr. in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1947. But as a boy, his family moved to London, so he didn't grow up with that island's rhythms. Instead, he discovered bands like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. He wanted to be like Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton and devoted himself to his electric guitar.

Steve Winwood and the rest of his band Traffic took Junior under their collective wing, helping him put together his own band, Hanson. (He has no problem with those three brothers from Oklahoma using the same band name: "I like those guys. They've got a good vibe.") After releasing two records, Hanson folded and Junior became a sought-after sideman and session player for the likes of Toots & the Maytals, Ike & Tina Turner, Billy Preston and T-Bone Walker.

In early 1977, the head of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, introduced Junior to Bob Marley. "When I met Bob, we jammed and he liked what I was doing and gave me the job right away," Junior says. "Funny thing though: The very next day, I got a call from Stevie Wonder, my absolute favorite singer, who wanted me in his band. I couldn't believe it, but I had to go with Bob because we were both from Jamaica and I really liked Bob. His message was so new, so different. In those times everyone was singing 'Ooh, baby, baby,' but Bob was singing 'Get Up, Stand Up for Your Rights' and 'Slave Driver.' It was important stuff, you know? I wanted to be part of it."

It's an understatement when Junior says, "When I got offered that job, my life changed." For the next four years, until Marley died, Junior played with him on hundreds of concert stages. "Before he passed, Bob said, 'Keep the band together as long as you can because the music is bigger than all of us.' And I stayed with the Wailers for 16 years after that, so I feel I kept my promise to Bob."