06.16.11

Ziggy Marley on Legend Bob Marley's Tough Love

For Father’s Day, Bob Marley's eldest son, Ziggy Marley—whose new album, 'Wild and Free,' was released June 14—reflects on their boxing matches, his father’s aggressive, tough-love approach, and his last words.

"Bob was a very active person and, as kids, whether it would be a pickup soccer game or on the beach to run, he would take us with him. But Bob also grew up tough, in the ghetto, so he was a fighter. He had to fight and was capable of defending himself.

"I remember me and him boxing, and he hit very hard when he boxed. He just loved sports. So one day, me and him went a round. There was no ring, it was outside on the concrete at Hope Road, Bob’s headquarters. He was just boxing with his friends and everybody was there. I don’t remember how I ended up having gloves on my hands. He gave me a few body blows. For me, it was bad, but I’m sure it could have been harder. It didn’t knock me down, but you feel it, and you get more scared at that point because you know you’ll get more. I didn’t get any hits on Bob because he was fast. He was known for speed and footwork.  Of course, he won. He didn’t cut you no slack. No headgear, just gloves. He toughened us up, you know? He always wanted us to be tough, so he gave us that tough treatment.

"You’d get a spanking or a good whipping with the belt if you didn’t listen carefully. I used to jump my fence and go check my friends across the street. I remember one time he told me, 'Don’t leave the yard.' As soon as he drove out, I left the yard and went over to my friend’s. On his way back down, he saw me in one of the yards, he caught me, and gave me a nice belt beating. It’s nothing to cry about, either. That’s how we do it in Jamaica. It’s no big deal. He taught us discipline, ruggedness, and survivability. We have that makeup. We have to protect ourselves and do what we have to do.

"During school days, I used to get in some fights. Because of that upbringing, my father’s style, I wouldn’t back down. I wouldn’t be disrespected. So that toughness wore off on me. The last fight I had was when I decided I didn’t want to fight no more, unless it was something I had to really fight for. It was in Kingston, and I was in my early 20s, around 23 or 24, and it was over a soccer game. It was getting a little rough. But then this guy was trying to deliberately hurt me. He was just kicking me over and over again on my foot—not for the ball, just trying to break my leg or something—so I had to take some action to stop that. It happened during a pickup game, and I knew of him from the community, but he wasn’t a friend of mine. And what I realized is that when I’m fighting, in those days, I would fight to stop fighting. But some people are fighting to really hurt you. During that fight I realized that I was thinking the same thing—I have to really hurt this person—and realized that not everyone thinks the same as you do during a fight, so if you’re going to get in a fight, make sure it’s for the right reasons.

The last time we spoke, he called me and he said, “What’s up Young Bob. I have a song for you.” And his song was, “On your way up / Take me up / On your way down / Don’t let me down.”

"One time, we went to Zimbabwe, and it was guerrilla warfare at the time because they were still under colonial British rule. When Bob went over there to play for the independence concert, he took me and my brother Stephen with him. I was about 11. The guerrillas came to visit him because Bob was a revolutionary, and his music was used for revolution. So, the guerrillas came and they started talking, and then one of the guerrillas took out one of these old World War II grenades, and he was showing Bob how to use it. As a kid it was like, 'Wow! A grenade!' It didn’t scare me, but it tested me.

"I was 12 when my father passed, so I didn’t have a father during my teenage years. I grew up doing stuff on my own, learning from my mistakes. But Bob was a strong person even in the hospital when I saw him a few days before he passed away. I was staring at him through the window of the door at the ICU, and I don’t think he liked me seeing him that way. He told me, 'Move from the window. The last time we spoke, he called me and he said, 'What’s up Young Bob. I have a song for you.' And his song was, 'On your way up / Take me up / On your way down / Don’t let me down.' That’s all he said. And then I used that for a song called, 'Won’t Let You Down.' "