In 1979, Prince was a rising star that looked set to dominate for decades. Bob Marley, meanwhile, was a walking enigma. A collaboration between the two was even on the cards, albeit briefly, but Marley would have a sinister reason for refusing the project.
The meeting between the two herculean figures came just weeks after the release of Prince’s now-iconic eponymous sophomore album. However, he was still far from the finished article and had never even played a headline show outside of Minneapolis.
Warner Brothers had deliberately attempted to protect Prince by keeping him off the road, but the time had finally come to unleash him to an audience in Los Angeles on November 26th, 1979. Marley was among those in the crowd Prince was tasked with impressing and, afterwards, they would also meet in person. However, an unbreakable cultural divide between the two artists would prove to be an insurmountable stumbling block for any potential collaboration.
The meeting could have proven to be the golden ticket for ‘His Royal Badness’, and most artists in his position would have bent over backwards to make it happen. However, Prince wasn’t prepared to hide who he was for anybody, not even Bob Marley.
The meeting came due to a precarious managerial position that Prince had found himself in following the departure of Owen Robert Husney. The latter discovered him and brokered his deal with Warner, but they soon fell out. For a brief period, Don Taylor was tasked with guiding his career as he sought permanent management, and as it happened, one of his other clients was Marley.
It made perfect sense, in Taylor’s mind, to pair the two musicians together, and he perceived it to be a mutually beneficial scenario. Marley was interested enough in the idea to head to The Roxy to meet Prince with plans of discussing a potential collaboration, but it didn’t go how Taylor had envisioned.
At this moment in time, Prince had started to flirt with androgyny, dressing in ways that diverted from gender norms. While it was a groundbreaking move that made ‘The Purple One’ stand out from his peers, not everybody was impressed. Marley was not only over a decade older, but his Jamaican background had also given him a more conservative worldview, and gender, in his mind, wasn’t a fluid construct.
The meeting was nothing short of a disaster, and Taylor later remembered it vividly: “What the result of this might have been, however, I will never know,” he said. “When we called on Prince he met us in this skimpy leopard g-string undergarment, which immediately aroused Bob’s Jamaican macho feelings and so our stay was brief as Prince’s G-string and Bob’s discomfort was shown all over his face”.
Tragically, any hope left that the two would fraternise in the studio would end 18 months later when Marley lost his life. While there’s no guarantee that the collaboration would have worked, the thought of them combining is enough to make the imagination run wild and envisage what could have been.