It has been noted that Al Anderson recently reflected on the financial difficulties of his early days with Bob Marley, and argued that the late reggae icon and his bandmates were “ripped off” by the lawyers and management, which, he added, not many people know.
The NYC-born guitarist was surrounded by music from a very young age:
“My father was a bassist, and my mother played piano”, he tells Guitar World in a new interview, noting how it didn’t take long before his talent became apparent to those in his vicinity.
Having trained his “good ears” in Berklee, Anderson soon realized he could make a comfortable living by playing music — “I was young, like 17, and snuck into these places. But it was cool because I got about $500 a week to play cover songs, like ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘My Girl.'”
A few years later, he joined Bob Marley’s producer Chris Blackwell invited him to join Bob Marley for the “Natty Dread” sessions. It took a lot of trial-and-error before Anderson and Marley clicked musically, since, the guitarist admits, reggae felt completely “alien” to him:
“I had to start all over again; I needed to play much slower and add more feeling. Once I did, I said, ‘Yeah, this is what they want,’ and Bob told me, ‘Yeah, cool. That’s it, man!’ A big help was listening to ‘No Woman, No Cry’; I came up with the first solo, where it’s quiet and has interesting chord changes.”
And while joining The Wailers meant that his name would eventually go down in music history, Anderson says he saw even less money during those early days than when he was playing clubs fresh out of Berklee:
“They promised me that if I went to Jamaica, they’d get me a hotel and a car – but that never happened. I didn’t have any money, but the thing was, Bob didn’t have any money either. He spent all his money on recording and traveling, and his expenses were very high.”
“When I first got down from London I was knocking on hotel doors, but there was no room for me. I got there with almost no money, a guitar, and one suitcase, and I ended up sleeping outside on a lawn chair with my guitar on the beach. It was rough, and the mosquitos fucking destroyed me.”
“I didn’t see Bob for the first few weeks in Jamaica. And honestly, the whole first year was a nightmare. There was no food, no money – but I stayed. We didn’t rehearse much; we just hung out, drank juice, and ate porridge and fish.”
“Before we even went out and played shows, I got sick. There was a lot of sleeping on pieces of cardboard with a blanket. Like you said, this was before ‘Natty Dread’ came out, so there was no money.”