Marco Virgona for BobMarleyMagazine– What are your musical roots? What types of music most influenced you as a youth?
RAB-My musical roots are country and western, soul music, blues music, classical music, and rock music. I listened to eveything I could get my hands on when I began, a variety of sources is what I was after. I listened a lot to Billy Preston, Jimmy Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Traffic, Vanilla Fudge, and the Young Rascals a lot. Plus most classical composers, and Sam and Dave and all the motown stuff, plus an enormous amount of country and western music..
Marco – When did reggae music first get your attention?
RAB-It was in 1971 when Johnny Nash brought Bob oveer to Stockholm to work with us on a film we were doing, starring Nash. Bob was brought in to show us all how to play ‘reggae’ music
Marco – Did you see that film? Did Bob Marley see the film with you?
I saw the film, but Bob wasn’t there, as far as I can remember. They were ‘heady’ days, so it’s hard to know for sure. I do know that there was one scene in the film, a ‘party’ scene, where Nash was wooing ‘the swedish girlfriend’, and got up and sang a tune for her, that the director invited us all, me, Bob, Fred Jordan-our musical director, Danny Sims, and all our girlfriends and friends, to come to the film studio and take part in the filming of the ‘party’ scene, as ‘extras’. Bob was there then. We all went. Free party, booze and women. why not?
Marco- Can you tell us how and where you and Bob met first time?
RAB- It was Stockholm, summer of 1971 actually. I got to Sweden in november 1970, and Bob followed on in the early summer.
Marco- Please, describe a typical day with Bob, what would Bob eat, drink……..
RAB-Bob ate lot’s of ‘fish head soup’, and stayed in his room a lot smoking pot. I never once saw him drunk. He did drink a drink made out of honey and something, but I don’t know what it was. Bob was always ‘cool’ and didn’t let things get on top of him. He seemed to take life in his stride. Ready to tackle anything that came his way. Bob was a very strong man.
Marco- Did you get a chance to talk with Marley?
RAB-Oh yeah, daily ! We lived in the same house, ate at the same dinner table, and made music together every day. It was a great privilege for me.
Marco – We suppose that Bob often talked to you about his relationship with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer: what can you tell us about it?
RAB-I must admit, that in all the time I lived with and worked with Bob, that he never mentioned those 2 guys to me, not once ! That’s why I didn’t know them when we did ‘catch a fire’. they were strangers to me.
Marco – I know that Bob Marley, in Sweden, flirted with a swedish girl: is it true? Do you remember her name?
RAB- We all did. Bob was no exception. Those were very lonely times for us all. We were away from home for months on end. A house full of blokes, come on, there’s got to be women around. He wasn’t the sort who flaunted, or took advantage of it though. I don’t remember her name, but it was nothing that serious. Just some company to pass away the days and months.
Marco – Which is the memory that you cherish most?
RAB-Bob’s nerve. He wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody, at least that was the image he projected. I loved the way he stood up for himself, no matter what. He was right, and everybody else was wrong. What confidence that guy had. I always wish his strength would have rubbed off on me, but it didn’t. I’m still afraid of my own shadow.
Marco – You performed with Bob Marley for the “catch a fire” sessions: how did you live that experience?
RAB-With ease. I already knew Bob when Chris Blackwell asked me to work on ‘catch a fire’, so we were already friends. I didn’t know the other guys, but Bob was the real reason I was there anyway. It was an exciting musical adventure doing that album. New sounds, new instruments.Did you know that ‘ I ‘ invented the use of the clavinet in reggae music?
Marco: -Oh, it’s fantastic
RAB- The first time the wah-wah clavinet and synthesizer were ever used on reggae music was when I introduced them to the Wailers during the making of ‘catch a fire’. They loved it
Marco- Have you ever had any further contacts with Bob Marley?
RAB-once Bob was established as a famous musician, I did run into him a few times, usually in the studio, when he was working, and I happened to be there too, working on something as well, I would pop in and say hello to him. He was always friendly to me. He knew what I was about, and we had a short history together with Johnny Nash, so he was always nice. I went to see Bob and the Wailers at the ‘in-famous’ “lyceum” concert, in London. You know, the one where ‘no woman no cry’ single came from. It was awesome to see bob in his element, away from Nash and Danny Simms. Bob was in full flight on that gig.
Marco– Have you ever performed with Bob Marley live on stage?
RAB – Yes, once, at a club called the ‘Speak-easy’, which has been closed for years. We did a record with Bob, (me, Nash, Sons of the Jungles, and various session guys), for ‘CBS’ records, called ‘reggae on broadway’. It was Johnny Nash’s team trying to get Bob in on the ‘NASH-CBS’ recording and publishing deal, way before Bob went to Island records. As a promotional gig, we all booked a ‘night’ at the Speak-easy club, to show Bob off to the audience, and to get a reaction on his record-‘reggae on broadway’. It was great fun, and it was like a ‘family’ going out on the town together, to do a ‘gig’, have some fun, chase some women, get hi, drunk, and so on. Just a night out. The gig went great. It was hot and sweaty, and the audience had a great time, judging by their applause. I must clarify, however, that Bob was never part of the ‘Johnny Nash-Sons of the jungle’ tour, or gigging band. That was all Nash’s deal. While we toured, Bob was off doing his own thing, with the Wailers, meetings with Chris Blackwell, rehearsing with the Wailer’s, etc. I don’t know what they got up to, cause I was out on the road with Johnny. Bob ‘freely’ came and went.
Marco – What is your favourite Bob Marley song and why?
RAB-I think it must be ‘concrete jungle’ and ‘400 years’, and most of the stuff from ‘catch a fire’, cause they were so experimental for the day. We were like mad scientists on those sessions.
Marco: Can you tell us how Bob was as a man?
RAB-To me, in my eyes, Bob was down to earth, took no **** from anyone, and always stood his ground. For a small guy, he was as solid as a brick wall, not in his pysical strength so much, but in his mind. He wouldn’t budge, or take no for an answer, if he knew he was right. Like he said, “stand up for your rights
Marco: What is the most beautiful thing he taught to you? And the worst?
RAB-The most beautiful thing has to be ‘how to play the “cjink-a-chink-a” reggae organ pattern. It’s so much fun to do. I actually use that style even while playing on stage with the ‘WHO’. They don’t know it, but when I’m playing along with them, there is a hint of reggae rythm on the organ going on subtley underneath Pete Townshend’s raging guitar. The worst thing he taught me was ‘ nothing ‘ , there was no worse thing.
Marco – How rightousness do you think Bob was?
RAB-It is a well known fact by now that Bob was on the road to righteousness. He touched so many people with his message, that it’s a bit hard to ignore him and the things he believed in. I guess he was right about most things, all the time.
Marco – Is there anything in conclusion here that you would like people to know, anything you would like to comment on regarding you and Bob Marley?
RAB-Bob Marley was my friend, never mind the fact that I am white. I know he appreciated me and where I was coming from. He knew that I was in a new world, and didn’t have the roots for the same music that he did, but Bob made surely, personally, that he kept me up to scratch with it, and that I learned everything he thought I should know about reggae music and how to play it.
Thank you very much John, we love you.