Bob Goes to Sweden: Marley's Legacy
Songwriter John "Rabbit" Bundrick worked with Bob Marley in the early 1970s, when Marley was a songwriter for Johnny Nash and Danny Sims.
As if by magic, Bob arrived at our house in Sweden in the summer of 1971. He came to write songs with and for Johnny Nash and to help in the recording of the soundtrack for a film in which Johnny was starring with Christina Schollin. Bob and I were brought in as songwriters since Johnny had the music rights to the film. We also published everything we turned out, whether it was used or not. We lucked out and wrote the film theme song. Sadly, nobody has ever heard it, or seen the film. We had the big premiere in Stockholm, and the next night the film closed.
I had never heard of Bob or reggae before, so obviously I thought, "What the hell is this?!" I have often eaten those very words since then. One minute Bob wasn't there, and the next minute Bob was there. We all worked hard and played hard.
Bob was shy of, or didn't like, the Swedish musicians Johnny had hired, and he usually stayed away from them. When they did approach him he mumbled and stared at them with a far distant glare. Then he would coyly move away to escape from them, grumbling something that sounded a lot like "Rass-Claat", or "Blood-Claat", or something that I'm sure nobody could quite make out.
In the studio and at home Bob taught me how to follow him with a reggae feel that I never knew existed. He would play the "Chink-A" rhythm on the guitar, then yell out to me, "Hey, Rab, mon. On de organ you play dis, mon; Chu wah ka cha ka cha ka Chu wah ka cha ka cha ka."
At our house in Sweden we each had a bedroom where we would do our own songwriting and generally live out our egos. It was like a songwriting factory. As you walked through the house you would hear a conglomeration of different types of music all fighting for the same ear space.
Johnny's room came soft, sweet, dulcet vocal tones working on a ballad, often with a hint of a reggae feel, probably because it was usually one of Bob's tunes. "Stir It Up" (dreamily) or "Comma comma comma come back here, my lady" (romance was oozing, and so were the girls).
Out of Bob's room came the rawest guitar and vocal sounds my ears have ever heard. We rarely ever saw each other when shut away in our own rooms, writing and playing to heaven and earth, and occasionally hell. Although Bob was such a tremendous songwriter, singer, performer, and artist, I did occasionally wonder if he was ever going to tune his guitar, or just leave it like it was, because with all the harmonics flying around the house, maybe he thought I was out of tune, or Johnny. Well, naw!, never Johnny. That boy can sing his "rass" off, no problem!
Bankrupt in Sweden
Anyway, there we all were, smoking, drinking, girl-y-ing, and generally causing an uproar with the neighbours for absconding with their Swedish daughters when suddenly everyone was issued a formal, in writing, notice that all salaries from then on were canceled. We were working for free. The whole she-bang had gone bankrupt! Danny Sims, Johnny's manager, had this brilliant idea to gain money by locating the best poker player in Stockholm and bringing him to the house for a few hands of cards. Danny said, "No problem guys, when I'm through with this dude we will be rolling in Swedish kronas."
So Danny sent for this hood from America. With him he brought more money than I had ever seen, or will probably ever see, and a gun. I thought, uh-oh! Anyway if we're bankrupt then where did all of this money come from? (A bank, no doubt). And why not use this money to get us out of bankruptcy. No way! Danny wanted to play poker.
A Poker Game
The Swedish card sharp arrived and the game was on. Just the two of them. Bob, me and Fred were sitting around the table in the kitchen, while Johnny, Danny and the Swede, who I never actually saw, and the hood from America were at it in the living room. I can tell you now, Danny had the Swede figured wrong. Me, Bob, and Fred would moan, bitch, and swear every time we would hear Danny take a loss and hear the Swede shuffling the money to his side of the table saying something in Swedish, which probably meant, "better luck next hand."
Then we would hear Danny yell something in very plain English - "Motherfucker, he's winning all the fucking money!" he said to the hood (who was actually quite a nice guy, for a hood). "Go and get some more cash!" We heard the hood say, "Danny, there ain't no more. This bastard has won it all!"
Bob Stands Strong
Well, when we heard that you can imagine the guffaws, assholes, and even "rass's" coming from us three in the kitchen. Danny blew it big time. Danny certainly heard us, because in he bursts, ready to kill because he could hear us swearing at him every time he lost a hand. He yelled at the hood, "Go and get the gun! If you guys ain't paying, I'm fixing to pay all three of you right now!"
I was already white, Fred Jordan turned white, but Bob sat there cool as a cucumber. Danny is a big guy, so it doesn't take much for him to hurt someone. He only hit me once. I woke up to see him break a kitchen table over Fred in the corner. I looked at Bob. He was still sitting in his chair. I heard him say to Danny, "Yuh rass, yuh naa rass wit I, mon, claat!" I wanted to laugh, but my jaw hurt too much. Danny left the room. Bob sat there with a smile on his face. I thought, "Why can't I have guts like that?!"
Bob Leaves Sweden with Johhny's Guitar
I really don't know what happened to Bob. All I do know is that his air ticket, Johnny's guitar, and Johnny's tape recorder all disappeared, along with Bob. Johnny never forgave him for taking his guitar. Bob disappeared as magically as he had arrived.
The next time I saw Bob was when Johnny, Danny and I moved to England. We lived in Chelsea for a while, then moved to Tottenham Court Road. It happened again. Bob appeared out of nowhere. We all continued on our way as before, as if nothing ever happened. We worked and recorded Nash's "I Can See Clearly" album and recorded Bob singing his song "Reggae On Broadway".
Fish Head Soup
Then Danny and Bob had another ruckus over Bob's fish head soup. Bob had bought his fish heads and put them in the kitchen for later use. Then he went out for a while. When he came back he found that his fish heads had been shot down the garbage chute, and were gone for good.
For some reason he assumed that Danny was the culprit and tore into him with the verbal abuse of someone who had just caught a burglar in the act of lifting his Jamaican weed. Before it got very far, my then wife, Marlene of Sweden, entered to explain to Bob that she was the one who sent the fish heads to the dungeon, explaining that she had no idea that they were to be used for cooking. She had never heard of fish head soup (nor I), and thought they were left there to be trashed.
Bob immediately let up on Danny and turned to Marlene and started sweet-talking her, saying "Oh, Marlene, don't yuh worry. It's alright." According to Marlene he was always trying to make her anyway. She said he told her, every chance he got, when I wasn't around, "Hey, Marlene, when Rabbit, mon, ain't around, why don't we do it, huh?"
After the Tottenham Court Road escapade we moved to Queensborough Terrace. This was to be the last stop for Bob and my co-existence together. We did various Sons of the Jungle gigs all over England with Johnny, and if I'm not mistaken, Bob was on the brink of becoming the legend we all know and miss today.
I heard my last and final argument between him and Danny in a hotel room in the Grosvenor House Hotel. From what I could figure out, it was all about Danny letting Bob free to be taken under the wings of Chris Blackwell, at Island Records. This was a very loud argument. I think Bob had had enough of Sims, and was determined to put a stop to merely being a songwriter for the use of Nash and Sims' publishing company.
As far as I know, the result went two ways. Bob went with Chris Blackwell and became a legend, Johnny lives in Texas on a ranch, and Danny, who knows where Danny is? Somewhere in New York, you can bet! And Bob's song publishing? Now we all know it's not in heaven with Bob! And me? I'm still here.
Thanks to Chris Blackwell and all at Island. John 'Rabbit' Bundrick was the Texan keyboards player with Johnny Nash's band, Sons of the Jungle.