Marcia Griffiths is a well-known and established reggae legend in her own right commonly referred to as the Queen of Reggae. She began her career as a solo singer, scored a British top 5 with “Young, Gifted and Black” alongside Bob Andy before becoming 1/3 of the I-Threes a.k.a. Bob Marley’s backing vocalists, or his three little birds as he preferred to call them. The Wailers were renamed Bob Marley & The Wailers when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left and replaced with the I-Threes, recorded what became the transitional album Natty Dread which featured Bob Marley’s breakout international hit “No Woman, No Cry” and the rest as they say is history. Well, we are talking Bob Marley where it has become legend.
Marvin Sparks had the pleasure of speaking to Marcia Griffiths to celebrate the 30th anniversary Bob Marley’s passing.
Marcia recalls her first time meeting Bob Marley at the legendary Studio One, how Bob kept a watchful eye over the females such as her 11 year-old self so they didn’t stray and experiencing nerves during their first collaboration. “I started out as a solo artist in 1964. I performed on stage with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires for the very first time on Easter Monday morning 1964 and the very same day I was taken down to Studio One. Of course, you know Studio One is Jamaica’s Motown. All of the great artists, that’s where we all graduated. When I went there I was 11 – going to be 12 in November – and when I went there that day I met Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. I knew Bunny Wailer from before because we went to kindergarten school together. All the great entertainers were there; Ken Boothe, The Heptones… That’s how I started out, as a solo singer. I started recording the first day I went there. The first song I recorded was the ‘Wall of Love’.
“All three brothers – Bob [Marley], Peter [Tosh] and Bunny [Wailer] – were three militant, revolutionary type of guys. They were serious and as a young girl going into a male dominated industry – I met sister Rita [Marley] there too as well. I was brought up very strict, so even to be going there like I’m working was something that was not allowed by my parents. I was very, very sceptical of certain environments because of how I was raised. Being in a male dominated business, I remember Bob Marley always had his eye on females. You had to make sure you walked in a straight line. If you slip, you know that his eyes are watching you. All three were like that, especially Bunny, but Bob and Bunny were very serious when it comes to – they didn’t want to see any girls being loose or careless, so you were forced to walk on a straight and narrow line, because their eyes were always watching you.
“I thought he was so militant and he was one of the persons that Mr. Dodd allowed me to do combination’s with, because at the time, he was seeking so badly for a hit song from me because he was overwhelmed with my talent. He had me doing combination’s with people like Tony Gregory, Bob Andy, Owen Boyce, including Bob Marley. Bob Marley wrote this song, a love song for both of us called ‘Oh My Darling’ which we recorded. Even to record a song with him, I was very nervous – it was so good when he broke the ice and started joking around with me. Even in that recording you will hear me say in the beginning ‘Cha man!’ because he was teasing me and he kept it on the recording. That was a very nice experience when I recorded that song with Bob because I thought he was so talented. Even at that time, they had songs bubbling on the charts, so that was my little experience when I went there – meeting all those great entertainers. I was 11, I was going to be 12 in November.”
Almost ten years later, in 1973, Marcia formed the I-Threes. Bob Marley selected them (Marcia along with Judy Mowatt and Bob’s wife Rita Marley) to replace founding members of The Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. “I met Rita from Studio One days, but Judy never started singing as yet. Couple years later she came out with a group called The Gaylettes and she started telling me that she used to come to The Sombrero club and peep through the fence to watch me perform and we became friends. Mr. [Coxsonne] Dodd from Studio One invited us individually, not knowing that we were all going to meet down there, to come and do some harmonies for some artists. I don’t remember who it was for, but that’s how we came together – the three of us one time doing some harmonies for Mr. Dodd.
“That particular night I was performing in Kingston [Jamaica] and I just, out-of-the-clear-blue, asked Judy and Rita if they’d like to do some harmonies and they said ‘Why not? Sure.’ They came, we didn’t even have a proper rehearsal and the songs were popular, so everybody knew the songs –sweet, inspiration songs. We had a jam at the end of the third night when I performed and [the audience] loved it. They said ‘Why don’t you form a group?’ Everybody encouraged us to form a group then we thought ok and decided to form a group. That’s how the group came about. I named the group the I-Threes.
“Right at that particular time, we were invited to the [Jamaica’s national] arena to do a gospel performance. Of course, Bob heard about the group and at that particular time Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny were having some dispute. I’m not sure what it was, but that was when they started having problems and because we were right there, Bob invited us to do [single] ‘Natty Dread’, ‘Jah Live’ and that was the beginning. Those two songs were number 1 songs. I was saying ‘From I start singing with Bob, everything is just green lights!’ Then we ended up doing the whole Natty Dread album and that was the beginning of the I-Threes and Bob Marley and then eventually we became his three little birds.”
“Before we came together to form the I-Threes, I was fortunate to have some international exposure because ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ [with Bob Andy] was already a hit in England, so I already toured London. I think Bob [Marley] toured London between 1971 and ’72 – I don’t remember which year. I remember he came back and kept saying how big we were in England. So, because of that exposure I had gotten previously, when we started recording and performing with Bob [Marley] it was just a different experience. Completely different from when I was out there.
“All my moments that I spent working with Bob were so special, because it was different – really different. There were some very special moments; going to England… I always felt so very much at ease, very comfortable travelling with Bob, because I just knew this man was definitely on a mission and there was a purpose. I never had any doubt about it – no doubt whatsoever. I just knew that he was chosen and he was on a mission, so I was just part of the whole experience. I usually looked forward to my trips travelling with him.”
Marcia explains that experiences in life inspired Bob Marley’s material, but has trouble selecting a favourite song. “Almost everything that he experienced in his life was his inspiration. Sometimes when a lot of people came down on him, sometimes in their hundreds, I would say ‘Bob, why you don’t just go and relax?’ and he would say ‘No! Let them come.’ He wrote things that happened in his life. I don’t know if he had any vision of what’s taking place now, but he must have had some kind of feeling inside of him that this is ordained by the almighty God, because for him to sing about some of the songs that he sang about, something must have been speaking to him and going on inside of him. He’s the voice of the people – he’s definitely the voice of the people.
“That’s the hardest question. Every song has a different vibe, a different message – I don’t think Bob Marley sing one song that was not good. That is impossible. That is still very impossible. I don’t have a favourite Bob Marley song because so many songs have a different vibe, a different message, different feeling, everything is just different. There is no one song where I can say is my favourite.”
“I couldn’t answer the question as to why, but I heard an interview a couple days ago and he was saying that he was born a Rastaman, then he got aware of the whole movement and that was his style that he chose. I don’t know why, but he was asked the same question and said he didn’t join or became – it was a part of him from creation otherwise he would have not adopted it.”
“All I know is he was not a part of no political movement,” says Marcia about the infamous shooting incident inside Bob’s Hope Road home in 1977. Insisting his motive was to “Spread love through music alone.”
“The biggest legacy and the greatest legacy that he left for the world is his music. There’s nothing greater than that. He left us a legacy and that’s his music and it will live forever, because he made sure the foundations that he laid and everything that he sang about, we see that they are being manifested today in this time and everything. It’s one of the greatest feelings for me to be a part of it. There’s nothing greater than having had the experience to share with someone as great as that and being a part of the whole history and that’s one of the reasons why I penned the song that the I-Threes did called ‘He’s A Legend.'”
Rest In Power Bob Marley (6/Feb/1945 – 11/May/1981)