The White Album: For Bob Marley to become a household name, he needed to posthumously conquer the suburbs

The White Album: For Bob Marley to become a household name, he needed to posthumously conquer the suburbs
Yann LeGendre

At the time of his death, in May 1981, Bob Marley was 36 years old, reggae's biggest star and the father of at least eleven children. He was not, however, a big seller.

For Dave Robinson, this presented an opportunity.

Two years after Marley's passing, Chris Blackwell, the founder of Marley's label, Island Records, brought Robinson in to run his UK operation. Robinson's first assignment was to put out a compilation of Bob Marley's hits. He took one look at the artist's sales figures and was shocked.

Marley's best-selling album, 1977's Exodus, had only moved about 650,000 units in the U.S. and fewer than 200,000 in the UK. They were not shabby numbers, but they weren't in line with his profile.

"Marley was a labor of love for employees of Island Records," says Charly Prevost, who ran Island in the United States for a time in the '80s. "U2 and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Robert Palmer is what paid your salary."

Click here to read the rest of this week's Riverfront Times feature story, about how Bob Marley's Legend was sold to the 'burbs.

 
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