Arlington’s Hottest Musicians

Meet the biggest names in local music, from rising stars and Grammy nominees to legends of blues, bluegrass and reggae.

Junior Marvin

Courtesy Photo

How did you end up in Northern Virginia?

Julian “Junior” Marvin, who has traveled all over the world, says he gets that question often. This morning he’s at the Village Sweet bakery in Westover, eating an orange scone after picking up his mail from a P.O. Box across the street. Though his job is nomadic, Marvin, 58, has called Virginia home for the past 14 years, ever since he and his wife, Emebet, who is from Ethiopia, moved to the area to be near its large Ethiopian community.

Even if you don’t know his name, chances are you’ve heard Marvin’s work. Those are his guitar licks on Exodus, the collection of songs by Bob Marley & the Wailers (including “Jamming,” and “Waiting in Vain”) named “Album of the Century” by Time magazine in 1999. As the band’s lead guitarist, Marvin toured and recorded with Marley for nearly five years until Marley’s death from cancer in 1981.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Marvin spent his formative years with his family in London, where he was exposed to jazz, Elvis, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, in addition to the music of his birthplace. His musical education began with the piano and a very strict great-aunt, who taught Marvin and his six siblings. “She had one of those long canes, you know, with the hook on the end? Every time we hit a wrong note: Bang.”

But as a teen, Marvin met Jimi Hendrix through friends in the English rock band Traffic. “I said, ‘Okay. That’s it. No more piano. I’m going to play guitar.’ ”

He took a morning paper route to earn the money and formed a band, practicing in a friend’s barbershop. Over the next few years, he joined other bands and dreamed of being part of the British invasion to America. He began recording—rock, blues and a little funk—and doing session work.

Then, one Valentine’s Day, he got a call from Stevie Wonder, who was seeking a new touring guitarist. That same day, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell told him to grab his guitar; there was someone he needed to meet. “We went to this big, seven-story house, and there was this guy with his back to me, and these big dreadlocks, and this big aura around his head,” Marvin recounts. “And I thought: It’s got to be Bob Marley. We played three songs together…each song was about 45 minutes long. After we finished playing, he said, ‘Welcome to the Wailers.’ ”

Marvin has been steeped in reggae ever since and continues to tour with his band, Junior Marvin’s Wailers. He lived in Arlington for several years with blues musician Bobby Thompson after separating from his wife, but this spring moved to Alexandria where his daughter, Nilee, attends middle school. As a musician, “you can be anywhere as long as there’s an airport or a train station,” he says. “I’d rather bring up a kid in Virginia; they don’t grow up so fast here.” Most days, he says, they drive to school with One Direction crooning from the car stereo.
—Madelyn Rosenberg

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, People