Though three decades have passed, the memory of sitting bedside with friend and reggae legend Bob Marley in a German hospital as he lay battling the cancer that would end his life is etched on the memory and soul of guitarist Al Anderson.
Despite his weakened condition, Marley’s spirit remained unbroken.
“He said, ‘Please don’t forget my own contribution, but also write your own music.’
“I was the last musician to leave him in the hospital in Bavaria before he took his journey. He told me to ‘keep the band together’ because he thought I had some sort of idea of how to keep a band together, and I do. It takes a lot of love, a lot of herb and a lot of gigs. The Wailers love to smoke herb and play music live for people.”
Today, Marley’s enigmatic presence is more popular than ever via the singer’s rich discography, a fiercely guarded estate, and appearances by his sidemen, like Anderson, who appears at Narducci’s Cafe on Tuesday, November 20th, with his group, The Original Wailers, to promote their five-song EP, “Miracle.”
Above: 2011's "Miracle"
Anderson joined The Wailers in 1974 just before Marley entered the studio to record his third album, “Natty Dread,” and worked extensively with the singer, touring, recording and performing. In the years following Marley’s death, Anderson has continued working steadily, performing under the Wailers name and — due to legal concerns — treading carefully in how he promotes the show, never using the singer’s likeness or name in advertisements.
Above left: Bob Marley & The Wailers in '79. Al Anderson (top far right.)
“We’re not a tribute to ourselves,” said Anderson during a recent phone interview. “What we’re trying to do is portray ourselves as a group that produces, writes and arranges their own music and at the same time had a huge affiliation with Bob Marley. The name belongs to Bob, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, the three who formed the group, and all the musicians who put a decade of their life into touring and the agony into making The Wailers a success.”
Above: The Original Wailers. Al Anderson (seated at far left)
The partnership between Anderson and Marley happened by accident. Working as a studio musician and studio operator in New York, Anderson moved to England in the ’70s on the recommendation of various colleagues who’d already found success as session players across the ocean. Soon after arriving, he got the opportunity to rub elbows with just about everyone in the rock elite back then, like members of Traffic, the Rolling Stones, and drummer Keith Moon of The Who. One day, Anderson was summoned by Island Records owner Chris Blackwell to lay down bass tracks for rising musician Bob Marley, who at that point had released two albums that met with moderate success, though not in the U.S.
Anderson recalls their initial meeting.
“I went over to the studio and there’s this real small guy with a lot of hair. He had a really heavy accent. I had no idea what he was saying. First thing he says is, ‘Yeah mon, we play some music, here’s a spliff (marijuana.)’ So, I asked him, ‘What do you want me to play?’ He asked if I’d heard his albums, ‘Catch a Fire,’ and Burnin’. I knew who he was and that I knew who played on the record, but I didn’t know about ‘Simmer Down,’ ‘African Herbsman,’ ‘One Cup of Coffee’ and all the old songs. I wasn’t familiar with him as a guitarist and a songwriter. So he basically asked me, ‘What do you hear?’ I told him, ‘acoustic guitar, slide guitar, and lead guitar.’ And he goes, ‘Go ahead, you’re on your own.’”
Anderson said Marley gave him a chance to expand on ideas, but within hours had other plans.
“I played really hard rock with a big amp. He didn’t like that, so we scrubbed that. We kept some tracks, but most never made the album. I thought I played better a lot louder and more aggressively for his music. He didn’t want that. He wanted something that was just like how the ‘Natty Dread’ album was. It was very conscious. He was like the Martin Luther King of reggae. He wanted that type of backing behind his lyrics, not too cutting as a lead in his sound. So I gave him that on ‘No Woman, No Cry,’ ‘Rebel Music,’ ‘So Jah S'eh,’ ‘Talkin’ Blues.’ These are the songs I remember very well. He was very happy and most of the songs that I did for ‘Natty Dread’ took about an hour.”
Above: 1974's "Natty Dread
Following the release of “Natty Dread,” Marley’s career soared, with Anderson alongside for much of the ride.
“I just came in and I was just lucky. I threw dice and he loved everything I did.”
In later year, Anderson toured and recorded with singer Peter Tosh, Ben Harper, Lauryn Hill and others.
“I’m just an American musician who got lucky to work with fabulous songwriters. I took my whole world off jazz, rock and blues and put it on the backburner to make reggae music heard in America like Stevie Wonder, Johnny Nash, and Jimmy Cliff had done.”
Also appearing Tuesday will be bands Amity Flow, The Easy In, Mah Op, Acapulco Sunrise, and Kaptain Krunch and the Cereal Killers.
The Original Wailers official website
The Original Wailers
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Where: Narducci’s Cafe, 622 E. 21st St.
Admission: $20 All Ages
Information: 661-324-2961 or timgardeapresents.com
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Also printed in the 11-15-12 issue of The Bakersfield Californian