A WORLD-A-REGGAE EXCLUSIVE!
I spoke recently with Wailers historian and “U.S. Reggae Ambassador to the World” Roger Steffens regarding his recent tour of North America with The Wailers – a tour in which the band is showcasing the classic album Survival to a whole new generation of reggae fans. Roger opened each show with his wildly popular and informative Bob Marley and the Wailers multimedia presentation, which includes rare interviews, unreleased audio tracks, and even a video of Bob Marley’s impressive performance at the Amandla Festival in Boston, 1979. Fortunately I was able to sit down with RoJah at the end of the tour for a short chat about his experiences on the road with the most legendary reggae band on the planet.
So Roger, it’s always great when you can get out and show your Bob Marley and the Wailers multi-media presentation to the fans. It’s a hit everywhere. So what’s it been like to hit the road one more time with the Wailers (Roger was invited to tour with the band during the summer of 1979 during the west coast leg of the Survival tour)?
“Being on the road with the Wailers Band for nearly two months gave me a new appreciation for the back-breaking work of reggae’s touring musicians and crews. For my own part, I spent many post-show nights sleeping on a floor-level bunk, under Keith Sterling and another person, in a coffin-like confinement, bouncing to our next destination. At 70, it was a challenge.”
How was your multimedia presentation received by fans?
“Most of my shows went very well, but in the venues where they had booked one or two opening acts in addition to me and the Wailers, it became difficult to get my messages across due to a combination of bad sound systems and rude audiences, often drunk, who talked through my presentation. But a majority of good nights more than made up for that, especially in places like Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, Agoura Hills, California’s Canyon Club and the Neptune Theater in Seattle, our final gig together, where the rapt attention of the audiences was a gift.”
Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved with this tour?
“I was asked by Family Man to provide a background to the critically important “Survival” album which the group performed live – all tracks except for “Babylon System,” which depended on Nyabinghi instruments that they were unable to carry with them. I researched the album for several weeks, and found especial help in Kwame Dawes’ wonderful book, “Bob Marley, Lyrical Genius.” Many people came up afterwards to tell me they would never listen to the album the same way again. It was particularly gratifying to see so many young people at the shows, most born after Bob passed in 1981, willing to carry his message on to their own generation, and hungry for my first-person tales of being with Bob on the original “Survival” tour.”
How about Family Man? He is still keeping the riddims as tight as ever. He’s such a legendary musician, yet he makes himself almost invisible on stage. How did he fare on such a rigorous schedule?
“Family Man is the backbone of the band, of course, the only remaining Wailer in it. Last year he did 180 shows, and I don’t know where he finds the strength (in his late 60s) to keep on night after night. His multi-talented 20 year old son, the keyboardist/bassist Aston Jr. is constantly at his side to assist him in a wide variety of ways. Fams often meets fans after the show, and willingly signs things and poses for pictures, which is a mark of his beneficent generosity.”
Yes, when you guys cam to the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, you graciously took me back to meet him and he was as nice as anyone could be, even though he was in the middle of playing a show. I told him that the band sounded so tight that night and he replied “Wailers like de moon that neva set.”
Is there anything else that stands out in your mind about the tour?
“The tour also enabled me to meet up with many old and cherished friends whom I hadn’t seen (in some cases) for as many as 44 years, like my Army room-mates from Saigon who came to the Chicago show. I felt honored to be invited to share the tour and hope we can do more of the same in years to come. However, I think I will limit my participation only to venues where people are seated, and only when there are no loud bands preceding me.”
In dedicating your life to spreading the message about this music, what is the state of “BOB” nowadays? Is he still revered the world over as the “King of Reggae” and a man who spread the universal message of “One Love”?
“Nearly everyone in the audiences admitted being drawn to reggae initially by Bob Marley, fulfilling Bob’s own prophecies that the music (and he himself and his immortal works) would just get ‘bigger and bigger.’ Bob Lives!”
Visit Roger Steffens’ Reggae Supersite and the Roger Steffens Reggae Archives HERE!
To read more from the Midnight Raver please visit http://midnightraverblog.com.