How Did Bob Marley & the Wailers Revolutionize Reggae Music?

by Roslyn Frenz
Marley shown sporting the traditional Rastafari dreadlocks.

Marley shown sporting the traditional Rastafari dreadlocks.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Bob Marley and his band Bob Marley & the Wailers are widely credited with introducing reggae music to the world in the 1960s and early 1970s. Before Bob Marley and the Wailers, reggae music was only popular in Marley's home nation of Jamaica. Reggae is a mix of Afro-Caribbean music and early American rhythm and blues, which progressed into ska and rocksteady music styles before becoming recognizable as modern reggae. Many early Marley music pieces were rocksteady style as he progressed toward reggae himself.

Early Marley and the Wailing Wailers

Marley was raised in the Jamaican ghettos, but he found musical inspiration from local ska performers and Americana rock and rhythm and blues music. In 1962, Marley released a few solo singles in rocksteady reggae style, but the solo pieces were not well-received. In 1963, Marley formed a reggae group called the Wailing Wailers, which included himself, Peter Tosh and "Bunny" O'Riley Livingston. The Wailing Wailers' first single, "Simmer Down," was released in 1964 and it shot to number one on the Jamaican music charts.

Marley and the Wailers Introduce Reggae to the World

In the late 1960s, Marley worked with singer Johnny Nash, creating a worldwide hit, the seminal reggae piece "Stir it Up." However, reggae music remained a novelty, not a well-know music style. In 1972, and the Wailers recorded their first full album, "Catch a Fire." The Wailers toured America and Britain to gain support for their first album, opening for rock legends such as Bruce Springsteen and Sly & the Family Stone. The same year they released another album, "Burnin," featuring the famous reggae song, "I Shot the Sheriff." The song was later covered by musician Eric Clapton, who made "I Shot the Sheriff" a number one hit in America.

International Reggae Stylie

The music Marley and the Wailers toured with was new reggae, a hybrid of Jamaican reggae, rock, R&B; and blues. Although this sound has become the standard of modern reggae, the Wailers were the pioneers of the breakthrough. The blend of styles helped raise reggae to its worldwide popularity because it appealed to so many different kinds of music fans. Reggae's steady beats and use of the ska guitar upstroke, also known as "skank," makes the music popular dance club fare.


Marley and the Wailers also introduced a spiritual element to reggae through their devotion to the Rastafarian religion. Rastafarian dogma includes growing hair into dreadlocks, smoking marijuana as a holy sacrament and worshiping an ambiguous god called Jah. Wailer's songs include numerous mentions of the principles of Rastafarianism. Marley and his songs have become an iconic symbol of Rastafari to many followers of the spiritual system.

About the Author

Roslyn Frenz started writing professionally in 2005, covering music, business ethics and philosophy. Her work has appeared in "Designing Wealth," "The Other Side," "Upstate Live" and many other publications. Frenz has a bachelor's degree in business marketing from the University of Phoenix. She is pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing.

Photo Credits

  • Chris Jackson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images