BM MSG 1980

Music and curation courtesy of Dubwise Garage

Bob Marley & the Wailers

played on the same bill with The Commodores at Madison Square Garden in New York City on September 19 and 20, 1980. It is the end of a long, arduous international tour which began on May 30, 1980 in Zurich, Switzerland, a month after playing live to massive crowds in Zimbabwe to mark the country’s independence from Rhodesia. On the European leg of the tour, Bob Marley played to his largest crowds ever in Barcelona and Milan, where he attracted a staggering 120,000 fans to San Siro Stadium.

Bob’s first show at MSG on June 17, 1978

Bob first played Madison Square Garden in 1978 while on tour in support of the Kaya album. This Madison Square Garden show is an important one for Bob. Having released his most defiant and politically charged album Survival in October 1979, Marley’s music and message has not yet connected with the black audience in North America. By signing on to play with the Commodores, who were hugely popular among the US black audience, Marley hoped to finally reach the hearts and minds of African American music fans. These NYC shows are noteworthy because Marley had the unique opportunity to communicate his message to a captive black audience for the first time.

Bob Marley & The Commodores

Bob Marley & NYC Radio DJ Frankie Crocker
backstage at the Garden with The Commodores

Marley tirelessly promoted the show, participating in a number of interviews with black press journalists at the Essex House, his hotel on Central Park South, at the Jamaican Progressive League, and backstage at Madison Square Garden. However, Marley was exhausted. The summer tour through Europe was grueling, even for Bob whose physical conditioning was legendary. Jamaican broadcaster and Marley associate Dermot Hussey once told me about how Bob prepared for a tour:

“Bob was highly disciplined, highly motivated, and highly driven. I saw him prepare for the Natty Dread tour, rather like how a prizefighter prepares, eating right, playing a lot of soccer every afternoon in the yard of 56 [Hope Road], as a conditioning for his wind and stamina. Then at dusk, the game would end, and Bob would shower and by 8pm or so he would come into a little kind of outhouse, then at the back of 56. He would rehearse and rehearse, sometimes until 2am, night after night. The same ritual, a pickup game of football, which Bob played vigorously, and if you tackled him badly, he would reciprocate immediately.”

Bob is interviewed to help promote the MSG shows
(click < > to scroll)

Bob looked exhausted, having dropped some weight over the previous few months, the singer’s features were noticeably drawn and gaunt. Bob and the band chalked it up to the busy European tour schedule. However, on a Sunday morning run through Central Park with Skill Cole and several friends, Bob collapsed and had to be helped back to the Essex House by Cole. Bob complained of terrible pain in his neck, throat, and stomach. Despite his illness, Bob’s shows at Madison Square Garden were extraordinary. The shows were actually opened by a young rapper by the name of Kurtis Blow, who astounded the crowd by rhyming over different instrumentals. Rap was still a fairly new phenomenon and many in the audience were hearing this style of performing for the very first time. As a fan who attended the show once related to me:

“I remember just sitting back and listening when Marley was on, pure music. It changed to a more commercial feeling when the Commodores played. It was like the stage transformed from a mellow living room to a glitzy stage set — strange transition. But I also really remember Kurtis Blow rapping at the beginning of the show — had never heard anything like that before. It was so wild!”

Bob Marley live at Madison Square Garden – Sept. 19 & 20, 1980

In his review of the show from the New York Times, Robert Palmer described Marley’s stellar performance:

“The Jamaicans were dressed in street clothes, used no props, avoided choreography, and gave a spellbinding performance of smoldering minor-key dance music that was heavily weighted with political and religious messages. Mr. Marley’s pre-encore set seemed loosely organized. In fact, it was exactly 55 minutes long and brilliantly paced, from its apparently haphazard beginning right up to its powerful ending minutes, which found the Wailers creating a mesmerizing atmosphere with their crisp interlocking polyrhythms. After this show of strength, and Mr. Marley’s intense singing and electric stage presence, the Commodores were a letdown. The band has made some first-rate dance records and written and recorded some lovely pop ballads as well, but in trying to reach the broadest possible audience they’ve diluted their style by also writing and performing second-rate country-rock and ballads with bland melodies and blander lyrics.”

Story by Michael Watson (
Music from Dubwise Garage (
Photo Curation by Manu Morales
Photos by Lynn Goldsmith & Adrian Boot © Fifty-Six Hope Road Music Ltd.
Archival Materials Courtesy of Marco Virgona (

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 shows! A great listen….

The Archives

Preview of the shows – September, 1980


Interview with Earl Chin for “Rockers TV”, from the Essex House Hotel – September 2, 1980

Transcript of interview with Anita Waters, a graduate student at Columbia University, at the Essex House Hotel – September 18, 1980

Anita Waters Interview

Original concert ticket – September 19, 1980


Interview with Gil Noble for “Like It Is” (ABC), from New York’s Essex House Hotel – September 19, 1980

The New York Times’ review of the shows – September 23, 1980 (click/tap to zoom)

NY Times  09:23:80 Bob Marley

Bob Marley

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