Vincent Ford Dies at 68; Inspired Classic Bob Marley Songs
On one of Bob Marley’s greatest records, a 1975 live version of “No Woman, No Cry,” he sang of “good friends we have lost, along the way.” One of the best and oldest of Marley’s friends was Vincent Ford, known as Tata, who died Dec. 28 in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 68.
Writing credit and royalties for “No Woman, No Cry” and three other Marley classics, “Positive Vibration,” “Roots Rock Reggae” and “Crazy Baldheads,” went to Mr. Ford, inspiring much critical debate as well as a long court battle between Marley’s former manager and publisher, Danny Sims, and his widow, Rita Marley. Mr. Sims claimed that Marley registered his own compositions pseudonymously to evade contractual obligations. In 1987 a jury ruled in favor of the Marley estate, which retained control over the disputed songs.
Lost amid the hue and cry over the music was any sense of Mr. Ford himself, who died of complications of diabetes and hypertension, according to Paul Kelly, a spokesman for the Bob Marley Foundation.
Mr. Ford’s own story was dramatic, and was long entwined with Marley’s. He used a wheelchair for decades after losing his legs to diabetes, but according to a Jamaican newspaper, he saved another youth from drowning when he was 14. He was also responsible for saving Marley from starvation as a teenager. The “government yard in Trenchtown” described in “No Woman, No Cry” was No. 3 First Street, where Mr. Ford operated a simple kitchen, known as the Casbah, in one of several communal concrete dwellings built around courtyards in the public housing development there.
All-night rehearsals with the future reggae stars Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh were routine at the Casbah, where Mr. Marley lived for a time and romanced Rita Anderson before their 1966 wedding. Today it is a museum, the Trenchtown Culture Yard, one of the few attractions that draws tourists into Kingston’s troubled inner city. The wooden table on which Mr. Marley slept and his Volkswagen bus were even visited by Prince Charles.
“Tata was an unbroken link to a generation, many of whom are now gone,” said Vivien Goldman, author of the groundbreaking Marley study “The Book of Exodus” (Three Rivers Press, 2006). “The last time I saw him he was going into a Marley family gig in Kingston, and he was just borne along on a wave of youth, all admiring him and understanding what he’d come to represent.”
Bernard Harvey, known as Touter, who played keyboards on the original recording of “No Woman, No Cry” and the rest of Marley’s 1974 album “Natty Dread,” said: “I could not tell you anything about the writing process. What people have to realize is that Bob was singing his life.”
The Marley historian Roger Steffens said that in a little-known 1975 interview for the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation, Marley “basically admits that he really wrote the song” while tuning a guitar at Tata’s yard.
On the other hand, reggae is, essentially, a collaborative art form.
“Bob was a people’s poet who was very receptive to deft turns of phrase,” Ms. Goldman said. “Tata was a man whose mouth spouted founts of wisdom. That song may very well have been a conversation that they had sitting around one night. That’s the way Bob’s creativity worked. In the end it didn’t matter. The point is Bob wanted him to have the money.”
In the late 1970s, when Ms. Goldman sometimes stayed in Trenchtown, she had occasion to ask Mr. Ford point-blank: “Was it you?” She never got a straight answer.
“He was very mysterious,” she said. “He looked at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ ”