21 December 2011
Interview: Junior Marvin of The Original Wailers
"When you make a promise to Bob Marley you try to keep it!" says Junior Marvin, the singer and guitarist most widely known for his work in the late '70s with Bob Marley and The Wailers. He had plenty of stories to share with VOLUME magazine recently, about working with The Beatles and saying "no" to Stevie Wonder, as well as life after Bob.
Born in Jamaica, Donald Hanson Marvin Kerr Richards Jr. (variously known as Junior Marvin, Junior Kerr and Junior Hanson) moved to London when he was nine years old. Already a musical child, he landed a role in the Beatles' movie Help: "The Beatles were all pretty short and I was tall for my age," Marvin remembers, "We were at Pinewood Studios, and it was made up to look like the Bahamas, and I was the police, chasing Ringo."
"I was playing keyboards and singing then, but when I was sixteen years old I saw Jimi Hendrix and thought I had to play guitar!" enthuses Marvin, "And later, my friends in England were in bands which were part of what was known as the 'British Invasion', going to the US and touring with Jeff Beck and with Traffic - and I thought 'I gotta go!' because that's where everyone else is going!"
Marvin continues: "My original plan was to go to a music school in Boston, but I met a manager who had heard me playing and he said 'Look, T-Bone Walker needs a guitar player and I think you're good enough.' Of course I thought I was nowhere near good enough!" he laughs, "But I spent a year with T-Bone Walker, and I met Billy Preston, Ike and Tina Turner and Sly Stone."
When Marvin moved back to the UK, he worked with Steve Winwood, Toots and the Maytals and the Keef Hartley Band - and was a member of the London cast for the stage musical Hair - before forming his own group, blues-rockers Hanson.
And in February 1977, one of those right-place right-time moments.
"I met Chris Blackwell, and he says 'Hey, come to this hotel and meet a friend of mine' - he didn't tell me who it was," Marvin chuckles, "So on that day, just as I was walking out the door my phone rings - and it's Stevie Wonder offering me a job in his band. I said I would think about it and get back to him, as I had this meeting to go to. So I meet with Chris Blackwell and walk into this hotel room, and there's Bob Marley sitting there, and he says 'Junior, I want you to join my band'."
Marvin laughs again at the memory: "I got home and I had to call my friends and family and decide whose offer to accept! I went with Bob because he was Jamaican, and there was more encouragement to do it."
Junior Marvin appeared on four albums alongside Bob Marley, including Exodus, which Time magazine labelled the 'Best Album of the 20th Century'. After Bob's untimely death in 1981, Marvin continued with The Wailers, recording four more albums and performing across the globe.
"We were in Germany when Bob was ill," says Marvin, quietly, "And he said to us, 'Listen, if anything happens you should stick together', so we felt we owed him. We made a promise to him and it felt right, you know, everyone had the same vibe. Bob had a unique message, and I was very honoured to be able to continue to spread that message. I still think it was the right thing to do."
In the late '90s, Marvin decided to leave The Wailers, moving to Brazil (where he hung out with Gilberto Gil for a few years), before heading back to the US and joining with fellow guitarist Al Anderson to tour as The Original Wailers.
Junior Marvin released his long-overdue debut solo album, Wailin' For Love, in 2007, and songs from that album - alongside Bob Marley classics - are what New Zealand audiences will hear when Marvin brings his touring band with him to perform at Ragamuffin.
"I can't wait to get back to your beautiful country," Marvin says excitedly, "I was there with Bob, and again shortly after his passing. It's going to be an exciting, extremely lively show with audience participation encouraged. One Love!"
Top Ten Junior Marvin Musical Moments (in chronological order):
(1972) What It Is (from the Keef Hartley Band album Seventy Second Brave)
A foot-stompin' blues-rock bar brawler
(1973) Rain (from the Hanson album Now Hear This)
Funky psych-tinged blues rock
(1977) Three Little Birds (from Exodus) / (1978) Is This Love? (from Kaya) / (1979) One Drop (from Survival), all with Bob Marley and The Wailers
...we'll just call it a three-way tie...
(1980) Hail H.I.M. (from the Burning Spear album Hail H.I.M.)
Deep Rasta vibes
(1980) Spanish Dancer (from the Steve Winwood album Arc Of A Diver)
Gorgeous guitar-work for the blue-eyed soulman
(1982) Dub Softly (from the Sly and Robbie album Dub Rockers Delight)
Beautifully mellow guitar playing
(1989) Reggae Got Soul (from the Toots and The Maytals album Reggae Got Soul)
A storming stepper with a classic guitar line
(1990) One Draw (from the Rita Marley album Who Feels It Knows It)
An hilariously controversial ode to sinsemilla
(2005) Give Them The Rights (from the Congos album Give Them The Rights)
Righteous reggae and the characteristic falsetto of founding member Cedric Myton
(2008) Stillness Of Heart (live at the Nuke Festival, Austria)
A scorching guitar solo playing with Lenny Kravitz
(2011) Where Is Love? (from the Junior Marvin album Wailin' For Love)
Classic good-times reggae vibes
Nb. We at VOLUME highly recommend tracking down and listening to all of these songs listed above.
Interview and sidebar originally appeared in VOLUME magazine issue #016