My one meeting with Bob Marley was memorable. I was sent by the Globe to interview him at the Essex Hotel in New York before his show at Boston’s Music Hall in 1978. I walked in to Marley’s room, which looked out over Central Park, at 11 a.m. It was a chaotic scene. Four or five members of his entourage were kicking a soccer ball that banged off the picture windows. Two king-size joints were being passed around. Bob sat on a couch, reading aloud from the Book of Revelation.
Realizing I was in over my head, I waited a while before daring to ask Marley about his music. He agreed to talk, shut the Bible, quelled the soccer noise, and stated his worldview: “Everything is going to be united now. Everything is going to be cool. Forget the past and unite.”
This was his first US tour since an attempt on his life in 1976 and he was here to talk about peace.
A few weeks later, Marley and the Wailers, who were then in their prime, came to Boston for an unforgettable night that will finally be heard again on the previously unreleased “Easy Skanking in Boston ’78,” issued Tuesday in recognition of what would have been Marley’s 70th birthday (Feb. 6). It captures the best of the three shows I heard him do here; the others were the Amandla — A Festival of Unity benefit the next year at Harvard Stadium — marred by viciously hot weather, though it was the only time I saw bongs being sold on the field at the stadium — and then a tough night at the Hynes Auditorium in 1980, when the gaunt, cancer-ravaged Marley was about to stop touring altogether.
But we have this charismatic performance at the Music Hall (now the Wang Theatre) to remember him by. The sound quality is superb, and the deluxe package is accompanied with a DVD offering 45 minutes of filmed footage, shot by a fan Marley allowed to sit up front with a hand-held camera. The fan is not identified and the footage is pretty static, but at least it’s not grainy. It’s marred, however, by some trite, hokey added animation, including a pulsating halo over Marley’s head at the end. Silly.
The CD can be purchased separately, and it’s a remarkable live recording. It’s a treat to hear Marley tirelessly belting out anthems such as “Slave Driver,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” The set is more fiery than expected; Marley was touring behind his chilled-out “Kaya,” but did only one song from it, “Easy Skanking.”
The crowd is enraptured throughout, really rising in pitch on the closing “Exodus,” and the night offered a perfect synthesis of reggae and rock because Marley’s featured guitarist was Junior Marvin, who had also played with Ike and Tina Turner and Steve Winwood. The concert was sponsored by Boston’s then-rock station WCOZ, and Marley actually played two shows at the Music Hall that night. This recording is from the first one, and should be more than enough for all true Marley lovers.