Bob Marley’s “I shot the sheriff” is about birth control.

Bob Marley and Esther Anderson
Bob Marley and Esther Anderson

Many are of the belief that Bob Marley’s song “I shot the sheriff” has to do with the fight against Babylon’s oppressive system. However, Esther Anderson, who was a girlfriend of Bob, revealed in her film, “Bob Marley: The Making of a legend”, that all along we have been interpreting the song wrongly.

Esther Anderson was a native Jamaican who helped build Island Records in the early 1960s. She was an actress and a photographer and co-wrote songs and lyrics for the Island Records label. Anderson was in New York City in 1972 when she met Bob Marley at a hotel party

They began dating, and Anderson, almost from the start, collaborated with Marley on his songs. For Marley and the Wailers’ next album, Burnin’, Marley and Anderson wrote “I Shot the Sheriff.” Afterward, Marley claimed that part of the song was based on actual events but would not elaborate. For years, fans speculated on the song’s origins and perused newspapers looking for shootings of sheriffs and deputies. Then, in 2001, Anderson wrote a biography of Marley where she revealed what sparked the song.

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Marley grew up in a Catholic household, but by the time he met Anderson, he was a Rastafarian. His deeply held beliefs forbade the use of birth control, and he frequently argued with Anderson over her use of the pill. Marley wanted Anderson to have his baby and considered birth control the killing of his “seed.” Anderson refused, especially when she discovered that Marley was married and already had several children.

A specific verse of “I Shot the Sheriff” was the result. According to Anderson, Sheriff John Brown was actually the doctor who prescribed her birth control pills, and the deputy, presumably, was Anderson herself. With this revelation, the lyrics now become clearer:

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Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I don’t know:
Every time I plant a seed,
He said kill it before it grow.

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