This is the first in what I hope will be many photograph highlights, where Fred ‘Reggaelover’ P selects a photo to share, and the photographer describes the circumstances and context within which the photo was taken.

Our first selection is a black and white of Bob Marley backstage at the San Diego Sports Arena, November 24, 1979. 

Photographer:  Roger Steffens

Words by Roger Rojah Steffens

“In our book, Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer, photographer Bruce Talamon and I document the reggae prophet’s final two tours of California in 1978 and 1979. California was a very special place for Bob, especially the south,whose climate and flora Marley felt were similar to Jamaica. According to several of his closest associates, Marley’s favorite concert in North America took place on Haile Selassie’s birthday, July 23, 1978, at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. He did three sets of encores on a sizzlingly hot afternoon.

I was lucky enough to catch a half-dozen of Bob’s California shows from 75-79. Back in 75 Bob had a series of sold-out dates in San Francisco’s tiny Boarding House club, and so great was the demand that promoter Bill Graham, on just a few day’s notice, booked the giant Oakland Paramount for a show that was almost completely sold out on word of mouth. It was my initial exposure to a man whose music I had become enamored with two years earlier.

At the end of 1979, my new partner Hank Holmes and I had just begun our “Reggae Beat” show on KCRW, the National Public Radio station in Santa Monica, and Bob Marley was our first guest. On the air a mere six weeks, we were the only show in L.A., and so Bob’s publicists asked if Hank and I would like to go “on the road with Bob” during the next two weeks. I was beside myself with excitement.

The first show, however, turned out to be a dissappointment. Stuck in the upper tiers of the cavernous, echoey Pauley Pavillion,
UCLA’s cavernous basketball arena, we couldn’t even make out the songs that Bob was playing, so distorted was the sound.
He still had the presence, though, that was obvious – especially when a huge, burly man jumped onstage from the audience and fell on his belly, holding tightly to Bob’s legs. For what seemed the longest time, no one did anything, until finally security guards pulled him off and hustled him outside.

The next show was in San Diego, and Hank and I rode the bus through Babylon with Bob down the coast. Don Taylor, Marley’s manager (with whom he seemed to be in constant argument) told all the reporters present not to talk to Bob because “He needs to rest.” That was readily apparent, and you can see the stress on his face in many of the pictures in “Spirit Dancer.” The cancer was coursing, unchecked, through his bloodstream, eventually finding new homes in his lungs and brains, and he seemed a shell of the man we had met the year before.

I remember we drove by San Clemente, and I pointed out Nixon’s house out on the bluff. Bob’s only comment was, “What year him president?”

That evening, the venue proved to be another disappointment, as the bass bounced off the boards of the San Diego Sports Arena, and I despaired of ever hearing Bob in decent surroundings. It was the problem of his becoming so big – small clubs were mostly out of the question now. But the audience seemed pleased with the show. On the way home, the band jammed in the back of the bus, guitarist Al Anderson beating time with drumsticks on the bathroom door.

I remember writing an article for the new L.A. Weekly about the trip, and commenting that the band members and touring party all seemed a surprisingly healthy lot by rock and roll standards, eating only Ital food, and pausing often, mid-puff, to give thanks and praises to Selassie I. But those memories are as strong as yesterday for me, as I imagine they are for most everyone in California who saw him. As he predicted, “the music will just get bigger and bigger.” He could just as surely be speaking of himself, for no artist has sold so many records after his passing than Bob Marley, the shimmering spirit dancer who knew his time on earth was limited, and made the perfect most of it.

One Love”


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