Building bridges between Jamaica and the USA
By Sergio Ariza
It is not strange that the album has this title, Exodus is Bob Marley’s exile record, one that he recorded in London after surviving an assassination attempt in Jamaica, which led him to become the biggest star in history to have ever come from the 3rd world . An album divided in two parts, the first more political and religious, and the second centered around sex and his love life, it’s one of the most soulful and funky in Marley’s career, with bassman Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett in the foreground. The first part is truly a delight, going from the slow the tones of Natural Mystic, to the lush in So Much Things to Say and then on to the darkest tones of Guiltiness and The Heathen to finish with the funky cooking on the slow fire of the title song.
Yet the second part is the most remembered, with 4 of 5 songs (Jamming, Waiting in Vain, Three Little Birds, and One Love/People get Ready, with a homage to one of his idols, Curtis Mayfield) becoming part of the legendary compilation Legend (one of the most sold records in history) The 5th track is the marvelous love song Turn Your Lights Down Low, dedicated to Cindy Breakspeare, his girlfriend at the time, who had just been named Miss World. As in the rest of the record, this song has some lovely harmonies by his wife Rita and the rest of the I-Three.
Let’s focus on Junior Marvin though (not to be confused with the Junior Murvin behind the Police & Thieves), the young guitarist who replaced Al Anderson as the band’s main axe man together with Marley’s accompaniment on his Gibson Les Paul Special. At the start of the 1977 he got a call to work with Bob Marley & the Wailers, the very same day he got the same offer from Steve Winwood. Two of the biggest musical geniuses of the 20th century had their eyes on him and Marvin faced an impossible choice. But his Jamaican roots and advice from his family led him to Marley. It turned out to be the right choice for his guitar became a fixture on records by the author of Catch a Fire until his early death, starting with this Exodus.
His contribution was memorable, beginning with his blues/rock solo on Waiting in Vain, inspired by what one of his guitar teachers had told him, “always go with the singer, pick two notes that he sings and put them in your solo so there is a connection between him, the song, and your solo”. That is precisely what Marvin did resulting in a melodic solo, easy to hum, but with so much feeling. With his blues/jazz touch, Marvin gave something Marley had always wanted, to build bridges between Jamaica and the USA, mainly to the black community, one of the musical fountains from which he drank. He got this by plugging his Stratocaster into a Cry Baby, and 2 Fender Twin-Reverb amps, yielding a sound halfway between Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield on songs such as the title cut or Jamming.
All of that to the great glory of one of the best collection of songs in the history of a myth like Marley. A collection that helped strengthen ties between Jamaican reggae and afro-American music, rock, soul or blues, making him the greatest music ambassador this small Caribbean island ever had.