Survival in the Wild West, 1979

BM MSG 1980

Music and curation courtesy of Dubwise Garage

The California leg

of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1979 Survival tour kicked off on November 23, 1979 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. By all accounts, it was an underwhelming performance in which Marley had trouble connecting with the audience because of the poor acoustics and design of the university arena.

As one reviewer described in his review of the show:

“The reason can only be guessed at, but for some reason, things just did not jell with either Marley or the audience. Although things may have been real different up front, the feeling I generally got from where I was, is that nobody was up for the gig. There was that horrible Devil wind outside that gets people in strange moods. The Pauley Pavilion itself resembled some kind of giant clinic and is certainly no place for a dance-party. Bad lighting. Bad sound. And visibility pretty limited to the first thirty rows. The rhythm section sounded better than ever, and I’m beginning to think that Carly Barrett may be the finest drummer in reggae.”

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Bob hosts a rare signing session at Tower Records in Los Angeles to help promote ‘Survival’.
(Photo by Chris Walter)

Marley archivist and biographer Roger Steffens documented Marley’s 1979 tour through California in Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer, a book he co-authored with photographer Bruce Talamon. Steffens recalls the UCLA show:

“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 disappointment. Stuck in the upper tiers of the cavernous, echo-ey Pauley Pavilion, 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.”

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The band is interviewed by a UCLA professor backstage before their show.
(Photographer Unknown)

As Bob himself described in an interview with the LA punk zine Slash during his stint in California, his performance on stage during the Survival tour was more subdued than on previous tours.

“This tour is really different from the previous one. I think I stand at the mic a likkle more. This tour is really significant for I and I…the struggle …We’re trying to reach the people who deal with life, who deal with the fulfillment of the prophecy, who respect life.”

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Live at the UCLA Paul Pavilion – November 23, 1979
(Photographer Unknown)

His shows at the San Diego Sports Arena, Santa Barbara County Bowl, Roxy Theatre, and Oakland Coliseum received great reviews. Steffens recalls the San Diego show:

“The next show was in San Diego, and Hank and I rode the bus through Babylon with Bob down the coast. 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. When we got back to L.A. the straight-looking middle-aged bus driver told me that he loved driving Marley ‘because every time the band gets off the bus, I get to sweep up, and they leave behind about a half a pound of roaches!'”

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Live at the Santa Barbara County Bowl – November 25, 1979
(Photo by Chris Walter)

The shows at the Santa Barbara County Bowl and Oakland Coliseum were captured on video. Guitarist Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones even made an appearance on-stage during the Oakland show.

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Backstage at the Oakland Auditorium – November 30, 1979
(Photographer Unknown)

One thing that Bob really took note of on this tour through California was the number and location of liquor stores, many of which were located in low-income neighborhoods. He spoke about it with Slash:

“Poor people are conscious all the while … but, it’s like in America, I wanna record how much liquor stores in America, I wanna check how much liquor stores in America. Seen? And then, they will call the President and tell him “drink”, and when him drink, you tell him go out and represent you. You hear me? So, h1m, them drink and are drunk, he can’t represent you, because h1m drunk. So, I find no use for alcohol, because like man get, smoke shit, and can get good vibration, good meditation so (waving his spliff) them ban this. Man can no get “up there” so the most immediate thing is to use alcohol. People use alcohol for escape. Say ‘Oh man, fuck it, I can’t take it’ and then drink. With drink, can forget it. Because frustration.

But its not say ‘the people’ because the people have this forced upon them. The people know that there’s something they can use. To get this meditation. Like there is something like a problem, and you can’t get the thing straight, well you take a drug and you go right into meditation. If you drink, then, you leave it, the most immediate thing, them think, is get the mind off that problem, is to drink. So, them ban the herb. So, l listen to the people, I know what is happening to the people. The liquor store is unlimited alcohol, unlimited.”

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Bob Marley, The Wailers and Friends in Los Angeles
(Source: The Watts Prophets)

The grinding tour took its toll on Marley and it really began to show during the California leg. Bob appeared exhausted on-stage. He was sick and it was beginning to show, not just in his stage persona but in his thoughts and meditations as well. In his interview with Slash he spoke about judgement time:

“We are living in the judgement times, you know. Everyone know. Check what is happening from, what do you call it. Iran. The Ayatollah. It’s judgement, that, you know. Judgement, and must understand that, if it were original, really the reeeeaaaallllll thing! Which, the real thing, when come, earthquake, lightning and thunder mixed with it, ya know. Do you hear me? The earth shall take back its place. Everything that what was in the beginning shall come back again. That means, If a river used to run here, and them use concrete and block it up , then the river is coming back. That means them dig up graves or a hole in the earth, and hide lots of nuclear thing, five minutes of the earthquake and all of that gone. So that is the judgement that I can, because God’s judgement is sure enough! We are living in the judgement times, mon. It sounds strange, but we are living in the judgement times.

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Bob Marley & Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett backstage in San Diego – November 24, 1979
(Photo by Roger Steffens)

“…My feelings are my feelings. You can’t know why I do it but there is a war going on that the people don’t know about, that only I know about. and that isn’t a political war, it is an international war between Rasta and Pope, ever since Mussolini attacked Ethiopia and His Majesty. If there were no Rome there would be no sin.”

By 1983 Africa mus’ be free. The only thing I and I can do Is follow Rastafari and it’s culture Other than that, what is needed is unity. If you have two hundred thousand people who say ‘Hey, we don’t want that’ then you don’t get that. That’s what His Majesty said, Unity. And the only way you can unite is with Rastafari, because check it, there’s nothing else going on as far a unity is concerned.”

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Los Angeles declares “Bob Marley Day” (Aug 7) – November 27, 1979
(Photographer Unknown)

During his stint in California Bob viewed Jeff Walker’s film of the historic Smile Jamaica concert for the very first time, and an unreleased documentary that Walker had made of the assassination attempt on Bob’s life the weekend of 3-5 December 1976. Walker was Bob’s publicist at Island Records at the time, and Bob had yet to see any of the footage. Bob also viewed Heartland Reggae, a film which documented Bob’s legendary performance at 1978’s One Love Peace Concert. According to Roger Steffens, as Bob watched the climactic moment when he invited Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, sworn political enemies, onstage to shake hands, journalist John Sutton-Smith asked Bob what was going through his mind at that moment. Bob replied “Well, I man no politician. But if I-man a politician, only one t’ing to do at that moment…Kill them both!”

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Live at the Civic Auditorium in Santa Cruz, CA – December 2, 1979
(Photo by Neal Preston)

Bob played his very last show in Los Angeles on November 27, 1979. It was a benefit show at the Roxy for Sugar Ray Robinson’s foundation. Steffens recalls seeing Bob for the very last time:

“Bob played what would prove to be his final show in L.A., a benefit for the Sugar Ray Robinson Foundation at the Roxy. We were invited along for the sound check, and Hank and I and our wives sat virtually alone in the club for three hours, while Bob played all the instruments, and Fams went up into the little sound booth just above the stage, and balanced everything. I was impressed by some new tune that he was working on, something about “redemption songs” which he sang over and over and over again that day. Think of it: five months into a world tour, assuredly a superstar by this time, Bob still managed the sound check almost all by himself, painstakingly assuring that everything would be perfect for this important Hollywood audience of music business heavies. It would be the last time I ever saw him.”

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Bob Marley & Sugar Ray Robinson at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles – November 27, 1979
(Photographer Unknown)

Story by Michael Watson (midnightraverblog.com)
Music from Dubwise Garage (bobmarleyconcerts.com)
Photo Curation by Manu Morales and Marco Virgona
Archival Materials Courtesy of Marco Virgona (bobmarleymagazine.com)

The Neville Tapes

In an exclusive interview with Neville Garrick – Bob’s art director and former director of the Bob Marley Foundation in Jamaica – we hear his first-hand account of the California leg of the Survival tour! As always, a great listen….

The Archives

Concert tickets & backstage passes


Posters


In The Press


Interview backstage at Pauley Pavilion – November 23, 1979


Live at the Santa Barbara County Bowl – November 25, 1979


Live at the Oakland Auditorium – November 30, 1979