Bob Marley’s Greatest Ballad Is Rope In Label Tug-Of-War

When reggae luminary Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981, he left the world greatly changed by the peaceful message of his still-blossoming and -lucrative legacy. But he didn’t leave a will.

That’s why his estate and principal labels have had to do so much sparring in court ever since. Next month, the Jamaica Observer reported Thursday, another round will go on the record.

In a trial set to get underway on May 12, the label that launched Marley’s music and controlled his catalog from 1967 to 1976, Cayman Music, will be the plaintiff in an effort to gain the rights to a handful of songs from the label that handled Marley’s discography from the mid-1970s and ever since, Blue Mountain Music. Among the song titles in dispute is the classic Marley ballad “No Woman, No Cry,”

At issue: Although Cayman was Marley’s label when “No Woman, No Cry” was written, the song was “misattributed” to songwriter Vincent Ford. But this “misattribution” was owned up to a few years ago, during an unrelated court case, when Blue Mountain Music’s founder, Chris Blackwell, the legendary Island Records founder who gave Marley his start, officially confirmed the oversight.

If remedied, Cayman Music stands to be paid a possible settlement in the millions for all these years of missed revenue. It has to help that, at least by now, both labels seem to agree that it was Bob Marley and not Ford who wrote “No Woman, No Cry” and a few other songs under dispute.

At least Marley’s widow, Rita, and the rest of his estate won’t have to endure the legal trenches this time around. After Bob Marley’s death and a litany of subsequent legal maneuvers, the estate was allowed to share in a modest portion of the singer’s $30 million estate. Then, according to LegalZoom, they had to spend millions to fight to actually claim ownership of Bob Marley’s name and image.

Lucky for Blackwell, his label is at least now the main overseer and sole publisher of much of Bob Marley’s most lauded albums, from Natty Dread, Catch a Fire, Kaya and Uprising to Burnin’, Rastaman Vibration, Survival and Exodus.

As Blackwell puts it in his label’s Marley bio, “You’d probably find it hard to go for 24 hours anywhere in the world without seeing his image or hearing one of his songs.” Translation: I can’t even count all the money that Bob Marley’s made me!

How much? The Marley vault that Blackwell oversees is worth an estimated $150 million; in fact, more than a decade ago, Forbes estimated that Bob Marley was still pulling in annual revenues of about $9 million. His sales and fame have shown no sign of waning since then.

And still, you had Bob Santelli, director of the Grammy Museum, whining just last week that Jamaica (not Blackwell, of course) was doing a lackluster job of promoting the Marley legend.

But maybe you don’t count yourself a Marley fan, per se, and never heard all that much reggae besides “I Shot the Sheriff,” and only then because you thought it was an Eric Clapton song. If so, do yourself a favor and let the tears well up with some Roots Reggae 101. And now, for your listening pleasure, “No Woman, No Cry.”

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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