220428ind JulianMarvin

Julian “Junior” Marvin, a former guitarist with Bob Marley, will bring his version of Marley’s iconic Wailers band to the Greenwich Odeum for a set with special guests Dudemanbro this Saturday evening at 8 p.m. in East Greenwich.

You can’t mention reggae music without including Bob Marley & The Wailers. Along with founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Marley is considered a pioneer of the musical style and the band as a whole is responsible for the growth of reggae resulting in it becoming a true worldwide sound. Since Marley’s passing in 1981, the band has had numerous incarnations with numerous bands performing under variations of the same name. One of those bands is The Legendary Wailers headed by guitarist and vocalist Julian “Junior” Marvin, who got his start with Marley while playing on his legendary 1977 album Exodus. This version of the group will be taking the stage at the Greenwich Odeum on 59 Main Street in East Greenwich Saturday evening at 8 p.m. while playing and singing Marley’s songs the way he intended them to be heard.

Marvin and I had a talk ahead of the show about him playing a part in a Beatles film during the mid-60s, being an apprentice for a couple blues and soul legends, how he met Bob Marley and a few projects he has going on this year.

Rob Duguay: As a teenager, you played a bit part in The Beatles’ film “Help!” back in 1965. Who approached you about being in the film and what was the experience like acting in it?

Julian “Junior” Marvin: Well, my mother was one of those mothers who took us to every audition that she possibly could for everything because my sister and I were both child actors. Back in London at that time, there weren’t many black kids that were doing acting so my mom took us to every audition that was looking for black kids. Apparently, they shot some film in the Bahamas with a bunch of policemen chasing Ringo [Starr] on the beach and none of it came out any good so they had to use a studio in the United Kingdom to reshoot it. They simulated a beach and we basically spent two days just chasing Ringo around in police uniforms. The Beatles were pretty small, at least from what I saw. I was about 14 and I was tall for my age.

In the movie, you’ll see me running around in a policeman’s uniform chasing Ringo on the beach. I got to meet them and they were having fun, they were having a ball, sharing jokes, hanging out and just having fun. It seemed like they weren’t taking it seriously, but they were taking it seriously. They were just really happy guys.

RD: That’s awesome. A few years later, you were a musical apprentice for the blues legend T-Bone Walker and you also performed with Ike & Tina Turner. What was it like learning from those two musical acts?

JJM: My parents, especially my father, and my uncle listen to a lot of music. My uncle had a sound system— which is like a DJ but a Jamaican DJ — and they had parties every weekend, so I got into Jamaican music through that. My dad played jazz like Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and Miles Davis, all that type of stuff. My mom liked Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Elvis Presley, so I got a really varied background of music history that was playing in our house. For me, it was pretty easy to get into different styles of music.

When I started playing, I was about one and a half years old. My grandma was a piano teacher, and she made sure everyone in the family could play piano before we could even talk so I played gospel music and classical music. When I moved to the United Kingdom, I was nine and it was more classical music but then it was like Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, James Brown and music from so many blues artists. T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, B.B. King and Eric Clapton and all that stuff, so I was very much into blues, jazz, funk, rock, gospel, reggae ... you name it. Learning from T-Bone was almost like a dream come true because he was really such a gentleman, so immaculately dressed all the time and a really nice man.  

He allowed me to take solos when he was singing, so he really gave me the push that I needed at that age. My initial idea of going to America was to go to the Berklee College Of Music in Boston, but I got offered a job to play with T-Bone I went with him instead.

RD: It’s pretty cool that he let you grow like that. How did you meet Bob Marley when you eventually joined The Wailers in 1977?

JJM: I was doing sessions with a British band called Traffic with Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. I also was working with Steve on his solo album Arc of a Diver and Chris Blackwell from Island Records heard the album that had me playing guitar. Blackwell wanted to meet me, so we met and he had me go on tour with a Jamaican reggae band called The Heptones and then I did the album Reggae Got Soul with Toots and the Maytals. He liked the way I leaned with the reggae. I’m not your traditional reggae guitar player because of my background and growing up in the United Kingdom, American and stuff like that. I had a little twist that was a little bit different, sometimes rocky, sometimes bluesy, sometimes jazzy.

Chris said that he wanted me to meet him on Valentine’s Day, which was February 14, 1977. I thought he was going to take me into the studio for a session, but I had no idea what was going to happen. I figured I would bring my guitar and we would have a session and before I did that, I got a phone call in the United States from Stevie Wonder on the very same day. I thought it was a joke, you don’t usually get phone calls from Stevie Wonder, you know? I asked, “Who are you and how did you get my number?” and he said “I’m Stevie Wonder, Marlo Henderson gave me your number.”

Marlo was Stevie’s main guitar player, his wife was expecting a baby and she had complications so he couldn’t go on tour, so he recommended me to Stevie Wonder. After I realized that it was in fact Stevie Wonder, he told me that he really wanted me to join his band,  sign a 10 year contract and I was getting goosebumps. Then Chris Blackwell rang my doorbell, so I totally forgot about him. I told Stevie that I would call him back because I had a previous engagement to go to but I wanted to talk about his offer some more. Then I jumped into Blackwell’s Rolls-Royce and we went to a very fashionable part of London called the King’s Road Chelsea.

We entered this old colonial house kind of like seven stories tall running up from the ground floor. There was this short dread with these big dreadlocks with his back to me standing against a fireplace and I looked at his aura, which I had never seen before but I’ve read about. He turned around  and it was Bob Marley. He came up to me and said, “Welcome to The Wailers. We’ve been checking you out. We heard about you, people call you the young Jimi Hendrix in London”, and I was getting goosebumps again. Then we jammed a couple of songs, we jammed “Waiting In Vain”, “Exodus” and “Jamming” and each song was about 45 minutes long.

I’m jabbing away and then the bell in my head goes “Bing! What about Stevie Wonder? You have to call him back!” Of course, I never said anything to Blackwell or Bob Marley about Stevie Wonder because I still didn’t believe it. Anyway, I said to Bob, “I gotta go, I’ve got something I got to take care of.” He says “Well, I’ll see you at rehearsal in a couple of days time.” Then Blackwell told me that he wasn’t kidding, he really wanted me to join The Wailers, he was checking me out and he really loved what I do on guitar.

You know, I had to pinch myself. Of course, I didn’t give them an answer because I didn’t give Stevie Wonder an answer and I felt it was only fair. I told Bob I would call him back, and he asked if I was coming to the rehearsals which I replied with “maybe”. He gave me four albums and said “Check these out before you come to rehearsal”. I took the albums, I got a cab and then I called Stevie Wonder.

I told Stevie that I met Bob Marley and he just offered me a job and it’s kind of weird, you know, but it’s great. The only thing is, I don’t have to sign a contract but with Stevie I’m going to have to sign a 10-year contract and 10 years is a lot of time. Stevie then said “If you join me, you’ll become a household name.” I thought that was interesting but I also thought that 10 years is a long time so I told him I would have to think about it. He said, “Ok, think about it and let me know.”

Then I called my mom, my dad, my friends and fellow musicians to ask what they would do. They said, “You’re Jamaican, Bob Marley’s Jamaican, you gotta be patriotic.” Then I told Stevie that I was going to join up with Bob Marley & The Wailers because I didn’t have to sign a 10-year contract and he told me how he just did a concert with Bob in Jamaica. They were actually writing some songs together at the time, one of them being “Master Blaster”. He told me to see how things work out with Bob and if it doesn’t work out to give him a call.

It ended up working out with Bob and I didn’t meet Stevie until a few years later and he was very nice about the whole thing. He really enjoyed what I did with Exodus and we performed at a convention in Philadelphia. I was actually standing in between Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder during the convention so I asked the camera people to please take a lot of pictures.

RD: That’s an incredible story. Since Bob Marley’s passing, there’s many incarnations of The Wailers. What makes The Legendary Wailers, which is a band you’re in now, different than the prior incarnations of The Wailers that you’ve been in the past with The Original Wailers and the other Wailers bands?

JJM: After Bob passed, lawyers got involved and nobody wanted to honor Bob’s wishes in terms of paying royalties to the band. We recorded an album and we weren’t allowed to use it because the studio was paid for with our royalties. Bob was very happy that anyone wanted to contribute toward a studio and so when Bob passed, we recorded an album there but then we were told that the studio no longer belongs to us and we would have to pay for the studio time. Everybody had this kind of spaced out thinking of no, we paid for this studio and we’ve had it for years. It kind of split the band up and then we were having issues of getting royalties because with Bob, your word was your bond.

He said, “Listen, if you want to work with me, a handshake, I will pay you and you don’t have to sign anything.” We trusted him and he always paid us very well. I was always on time and everything was great, but when he passed, the paper trail became very difficult. To this day that was the main reason why the band thrived, but now it’s kind of crazy. There’s like three different Wailers out there, instead of trying to make it one some people just want to eat.

They don’t care how they go about it and I get sick about those kinds of practices, but as far as I’m concerned, the door’s always open to make it one Wailers but I can’t control other people’s way of thinking. I can only control my own.

RD: I totally understand that and it’s sad that it’s like that now with the band.

JJM: I always promised to Bob that we would keep the band together, so I’m keeping my part of the promise.

RD: That’s all you can do. Other than performing and touring this year, do you have any other plans for the coming months?

JJM: I’m involved in a tribute album to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It’s going to consist of two songs from each of those artists and it’s also going to have eight original songs. That will be out thanks to Bob, Peter and Bunny for what they started and how they got the whole world to know reggae. We just want to say thank you for creating that platform for us to continue playing reggae and for many other people. Have you heard that Robbie Shakespeare passed? From Sly & Robbie?

RD: Yeah, I did hear about that.

JJM: I’m taking over that, they started being a studio band and they’ve recorded with so many acts like Madonna, No Doubt, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and others. I formed a band with a bass player named Mikey Fletcher who is very famous in Jamaica and he’s actually a big fan of Robbie Shakespeare. We have a couple other members and with the four of us we’re creating a new version of Sly and Robbie to work with artists of various styles. I also have a solo album coming out on May 3, which is my birthday, and it’s called Happy Family. That’ll be available in another few days.

Rob Duguay is a Rhode Island-based music writer. Send him email at rob.c.duguay@gmail.com.

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