A look at the years when reggae music was still new, fresh, and exotic to the ears of listeners outside of Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae 1975 – 1976 (Titan Books) is a handsome coffee table book devoted to the pictures of photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker. A sharp music scene observer with a knack for catching her subjects at their most humane and least guarded, the lady photog fortuitously hooked up with Jeff Walker, publicity head for Island Records when that label was pursuing artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers. Their partnership provided the canny photog access to a musical world that was ripe for public exposure.
That she and Walker were able to charm their way into the circle of Marley and his colleagues is a tribute to their unabashed enthusiasm for their subject. Though the accompanying text lightly touches on this, reggae and its themes were considered dangerous stuff back in those days, so the duo had their work cut out for them on the gaining trust front. Peter Tosh, the pro-marijuana musician who split from the Wailers, was beaten by police on more than one occasion for his stance, while Marley himself was the target of an assassination attempt. Aside from a few photos of Tosh looking militant, however, you get little visual sense of the seriousness of things, however. Instead, Miz Gottlieb-Walker more typically captures these reggae giants at their most relaxed or contemplative.
Per its title, the prime focus of the book is on Marley, an admittedly dynamic subject for any music photog, though it also devotes space to other lights in the reggae movement. The most striking feature Marley’s former fellow Wailers: enigmatic mystic Bunny Wailer with his too wise eyes, militant yet boyish Tosh. Reggae buffs will be glad to see period shots of other luminaries from the era, though — Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Third World, et al — and the images don’t stint on providing a strong sense of shanty town place either. The accompanying text by Roger Steffens and spouse Walker provides context for the shots and a quick over each musicians place in the reggae world, along with a few fannish track recommendations for many of the bigger names. Though not really intended as such, the book provides a decent primer for newcomers to the music.
But it’s the Marley photographs that rightly remain the book’s big draw. These include shots from a famous High Times shoot (Marley happily posing with a mass of ganja spread before him), our hero at the Dream Concert in Kingston hoisting up a portrait of Haile Selassie, the man passionately performing at the Roxy. If you’d never heard a single note of his music (hard to imagine at this point in time), you still can get a sense of what a powerful artist he was from these photos.
Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae is a lavish document of an amazing musical moment.