Marley superfan has got ‘so much things to say’
Roger Steffens calls himself a “reggae Mormon”.
Wherever he goes, he tries to convert people to Bob Marley's music.
In Bermuda, he's found he's preaching to the converted.
“Since I got here two days ago, I've been asking everyone I meet if they're a Bob Marley fan,” said the 75-year-old. “I get responses like ‘Of course, who isn't?' I like that. I think it might be an island thing.”
The California resident has written several books on the internationally renowned artist. His latest, So Much Things To Say, comes out next month.
Mr Steffens interviewed many people close to the late singer for it.
“It took me 15 years to write,” he said. “After three years of writing, my computer crashed and I had to start again. Then I got a new editor and had to rewrite it again.”
He'll share some of his stories at the Ruth Seaton James Theatre tonight.
“I have one of the largest collections of Bob Marley memorabilia in the world,” said Mr Steffens. “It's all in six rooms in my house in Los Angeles. I've got hundreds of posters, T-shirts, buttons, photos and albums.
“My wife Mary and I used to live somewhere else, but the collection got so big we had to move. Now people visit me from all over to study Bob Marley.
“Once, I had a band from Papua New Guinea show up late at night. They wanted to see the collection. I invited them in and we stayed up to 2am talking.”
His most prized possession is a 1978 poster signed by Bob Marley and 40 of his associates over a 14-year period.
“I got it in 1978 at a concert in Santa Cruz, California,” said Mr Steffens. “Being a radio host, I was invited backstage to meet Bob Marley, but he was too high for much conversation.
“I did get him and the band to sign the poster. Then later over the years, I continued getting signatures.”
The poster is on loan to the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, insured for $75,000.
Until the 1970s, Mr Steffens was an avowed “first-generation” fan.
“I was an actor and radio host,” he said. “In June 1973 Rolling Stone did a big feature on reggae. It was the first time I'd ever heard that word.
“The author was a journalist from Australia, Michael Thomas. He wrote: ‘Reggae music crawls into your bloodstream like some vampire amoeba from the psychic rapids of upper Niger consciousness'. I said, I don't know what that means, but I have to find this music.”
That afternoon, he bought his first Bob Marley album Catch A Fire.
“Some of my friends, and especially my family, thought I'd lost my sanity,” he said.
Back then, reggae music was supposedly just “for blacks”.
“But the lyrics just blew my mind,” Mr Steffens said. “The lyrics were so incredible. In those days I had a one-man show called Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry.
“Bob Marley's poetry got me before the rhythm of the music did. The beat of reggae is the beat of the healthy human heart at rest, so it is irresistible.”
He and his wife visited Jamaica in 1976, during a national state of emergency.
“There were tanks across every crossroads,” Mr Steffens said. “People said, whatever you do don't go to Kingston; it's worth your life. We said, we have to, we want to buy records.”
The Steffenses had a great time at Bob Marley's record shack and were taken to singer and actor Jimmy Cliff's house nearby.
The following year, Mr Steffens started a radio show, The Reggae Beat. He'd been on the air only six weeks when Island Records called.
“They asked if I would mind going on the road with Bob Marley for two weeks,” he said. “That was an amazing time.
“I got to have a lot of private time with him and see him in different situations.”
He was amazed by how unpretentious Bob Marley seemed.
“I'd been on the radio doing broadcasting since 1961,” Mr Steffens said. “I'd met a lot of famous people and there was no one like Bob.
“He was so open to everyone. He was just so natural and ‘dreadly' serious. There were no casual conversations with him. He would ask you who you were, what is your belief and why do you believe that? He was always probing.
“He did smoke all the time, but all those great anthems he wrote, Redemption Song and Get Up, Stand Up, they were all inspired by his conscious use of herb.”
Mr Steffens was introduced to Bermuda by Bob Marley fans Brian Hetherington and Latoya Ahknanton.
His talk tonight runs from 7pm to 9.30pm.
Tickets are $30 in advance from 27th Century Boutique, Jamaican Grill and Sound Stage, or $35 at the door.
There will be an after-party at the Inferno Lounge from 10pm to 3am. Admission is $20, or $10 for people who go to the show.