Bob Marley, from Santa Cruz to Soledad Prison Monterey Rocks #8


By Paul Hersh

Just about everyone’s heard of Bob Marley. Just about everyone knows what he looks like and just about everyone’s heard his music. Marley remains among the most recognized humans on the planet, and it’s safe to say he’s the world’s most recognized musician.

If you doubt this, ask people who’ve visited cities or rural communities in Africa, South Asia or Australia; or people who’ve traveled to Central or South America, the Philippines or the Mideast. They’ll tell you he’s there — in cafes and resorts, on street corners and beaches, in nightclubs and churches.

On the Central Coast, former KUSP radio programmer Lance Linares is credited as one of the handful of figures who introduced Marley and reggae music to West Coast airwaves. And it was Linares who persuaded Marley to simulcast a legendary Santa Cruz show on the station.

It’s hard to overstate the global reach of reggae, and Marley was the idiom’s first song poet, a soul healer and firebrand for racial equality. He was the real deal. In the crucible of his music he resolved the contradictions of his life.

Bob Marley and the Wailers gave us “Get Up Stand Up,” perhaps the definitive Rastafari anthem. They also gave us “Positive Vibration,” a laid-back call for humankindness and Jah love in a world of trouble and worry. Then there’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” another classic heard around the world, as are “One Love/People Get Ready” and “Lively Up Yourself.”

Born mixed-race in Nine Mile, Jamaica, Marley grew up tough, ambitious and inspired. Forging his vocal and songwriting talents in a culture wracked by poverty, violence and oppression, he emerged as a voice for unity.

On Dec. 3, 1976, gunmen entered his home in Kingston and tried to kill him, his wife and his manager. Two days later, despite wounds to his chest and arm, Marley performed as scheduled before 80,000 people in Kingston at a festival dedicated to soothing tensions between warring political groups.

Sixteen months later, in April of 1978, he headlined the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, which was also devoted to calming hostilities between the People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party. It was here Marley got the two party leaders, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, to come onstage and shake hands.

All killer, no filler

Bob Marley and the Wailers began their “Survival” tour in Boston in October 1979. They performed two shows on Dec. 2 at the Santa Cruz Civic. The second show was broadcast live on KUSP radio — likely the only one on the tour to be so privileged.

How did this happen?

In early 1974, Linares discovered San Francisco’s Trenchtown Records and soon found himself “completely immersed.” In October of that year, he launched KUSP’s “Roots Rock Reggae” program. The Friday night show quickly became popular for its all-killer-no-filler programming. He hosted it for 34 years.

Linares, who retired in 2017 after 22 years as CEO for the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, said he may never even once have mentioned his own name on the show.

Linares and his radio colleagues Doug Wendt in the Bay Area and Roger Steffens in Los Angeles found the field wide open. They filled their air time with music they traded among themselves: singles, LPs and cassettes of rare studio and live recordings. Reggae, dub, rocksteady, and ska were explored in depth. Because they were serious collectors there was no shortage of material. And listeners loved it.

Linares noted that the rise of KUSP was concurrent with the breakthrough of reggae in the U.S. He was receiving a steady stream of promotional albums and eventually became acquainted with concert promoters bringing reggae music to California. Those contacts enabled KUSP to broadcast many concerts over the years, not only reggae acts.

By Dec. 2, 1979, Linares had the system down. He conducted a 45-minute interview with Marley that afternoon.

According to internet legend, he convinced Marley to allow a live broadcast by telling him it would reach the men incarcerated at Soledad Prison. “I brought him a huge bag of weed,” he said, “and that probably helped. I probably did tell him the broadcast would be heard at Soledad. But he knew it would be a good crowd, he knew Santa Cruz was a hotbed for reggae.”

The gig

At the Santa Cruz shows, Marley was “truly gone, in a trance state,” Linares said.

In addition to Marley (vocals, rhythm guitar), performers on that date were Aston “Family Man” Barrett (bass), Carlton “Carly” Barrett (drums), Al Anderson (lead guitar), Junior Marvin (lead guitar), Earl Lindo (organ, clavinet), Tyrone Downie (keyboards), Alvin Patterson (percussion), Devon Evans (percussion), David Madden (trumpet), Glen DaCosta (saxophone), Rita Marley (background vocals) and Judy Mowatt (background vocals).

Linares saw Marley perform about eight times, including his 1974 Bay Area debut at San Francisco’s Boarding House. He was also in Kingston for the One Love Peace Concert, close to the stage. “This was Marley’s ‘comeback’ show (he’d been exiled in England since the shooting). He was playing with a 22-piece band, and the scene was tense. Everyone in the first two rows was packing heat.”

Linares characterized Marley as “a moody guy.” As a musician, “he was a perfectionist, a hard worker and a hard ass. He would drill with the band, going over riffs and changes and vocal phrases for hours to get them right.”

  • Listen to a broadcast feed recording of the show here

In addition to Marley and the Wailers, KUSP did live broadcasts of Santa Cruz performances by Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Gregory Issacs, The Mighty Diamonds and The Itals—about a dozen concerts total between 1978 and 1984, during what Linares called “the golden age of reggae.”

“The immediacy of live broadcast is huge,” he said.

Out of his head

On the afternoon of Dec. 2, 1979, Santa Cruz drummer and multi-instrumentalist Rick Walker was at his day job giving lessons and working behind the counter at a music store on Pacific Avenue. In walked Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett with a road crew member carrying a broken snare drum head.

“On the ‘Natty Dread’ and ‘Rastaman Vibration’ albums, you hear what became an iconic snare drum sound and playing style,” said Walker. “It’s very high-pitched. Carly was an amazing, unique drummer (he died in 1987). He along with Sly and Robbie were my heroes.”

A longtime ambient music artist, Walker is one of the founders of the Santa Cruz-based Y2K International Live Looping Festival, now in its 19th year. The fest has satellite events in 100 cities and 30 countries. This winter he’s booked a two-month live looping tour of Europe.

Walker was delighted to serve Barrett and company, but the transaction did not go well.

“The problem was that his drum head was quite old. It was a very thick mylar, which you simply couldn’t get anymore.” And it was that thickness which accounted for Barrett’s signature snare drum tone.

Walker sold Barrett “the thickest head available.” Barrett and the roadie discussed the matter in Jamaican patois, a sure sign they didn’t trust what Walker was saying.

“He left very unhappy, sure I was full of shit.”

Walker attended the shows a few hours later. He said Barrett never got that sound again.

He recalled Marley’s performance this way: “I knew his music. He was so stoned, like he was fall-over drunk. Then he’d do some soccer moves. Then, all of the sudden he’d get on the mic and sing perfectly, like a god.”

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

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