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I Shot The Sheriff

by

Bob Marley & the Wailers



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song tells the story of a man who shoots a sheriff who is harassing him, but is wrongly accused of killing the deputy. Marley said that some of the song is true, but would not say what parts.
This was the last single Marley released with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, who left to go solo.
Eric Clapton recorded this in 1974. His version was a #1 hit in the US, the only #1 of his career. Clapton's recording gave Marley a big boost, as it exposed him to a Rock audience.
On the 2001 documentary The Life Of Bob Marley, Esther Anderson, who was Marley's girlfriend, claims she helped write this and that it is about birth control.
The sheriff's name in the song is John Brown. In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote a song called "John Brown" about a boy who goes to war and comes back badly wounded.
Bruce Springsteen used the name "John Brown" as the name of a judge in his 1981 song "Johnny 99."
Marley later wrote a song called "Mr. Brown," which was probably about the same character. (thanks, Brad Nash - Rochester Hills, MI)
Bob Marley & the Wailers
More Bob Marley & the Wailers songs
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Comments (44):

This song is reflects how Bob viewed oppression of marijuana being a controlled substance and his ordeal with the law in trenchtown. When Bob joined his mom in USA, he was said to have a garden of weed and ohe only smoked his weed. This was also the case in trecnchtown, he and the boys planted and smoked theirs. There were recorded incidents when he was answereable to the law cos of planting and smoking his weed, refering to the line "Everytime i plant a seed, he said kill it before it grows....."

Bob was not really Black cos his father was a German soldier and he was constantly teased and rejected because of his color up until when he started his music career and joined the rasterfari movement - this was where he believed he had found his calling and fatherly love, which he never really had as the time with his father was very short lived.

His father had other children, Bob later found out when Rita took her laundry to a shop owned by one of the marleys. Bob eventually wanted to borrow some moneys from them as there were well off and they rejected him cos he was rastafari, leading to his song, "The stone that the builder refuse shall be the head corner stone"
- ike, lagos, Nigeria
While I like the angle that Marley's girlfriend suggested about the song being about birth control. I had always envisioned that the Sheriff ordered his deputy to shoot Marley, and when the deputy wouldn't, the sheriff shot the deputy and then was going to kill Marley himself and frame Marley for the killing of the deputy. But when the sheriff tried to then kill Marley, Marley actually killed the sheriff instead... but, of course, it was in fact in self defense.
- kip, Darien, CT
Ok I appreciate everyones interpratations of what Marley meant, but could it be more simple that that? I seem to remember a movie from the 1960's starring Dennis Hopper as a reformed outlaw. The story line follows this song exactly. Hopper's character has returned to society and trying to make an honest living, but the local sheriff won't leave him alone. He eventually frames him for killing his deputy and a search for Hopper begins. The story ends with Hopper being exonerated after shooting the sheriff in a self-defense showdown. Coincidence? I would not be the first time song writers were influenced by other media. This is not to say that Marley didn't have some local motivation in civil unrest, but It's just way to close to the movie storyline not to consider it as a possible inspiration.
- Mike, Tulsa, OK
This song is definatly about racial profiling first off, they dont believe him that it was self defence, although they well knew it was. Also it is about corruption, "everytime i plant a seed he say kill it before it grow, he said kill them before they grow" "i shot the sheriff but i did not shood the deputy" the sheriff, in higher power is corrupt unlike the weak, young deputy
- Michael, Chicago, IL
i luv bob's songs like no woman no cry and i shot the sheriff but mi fav song was...
wait wat was i talkin about?
- aalia, sydney , Austria
for one song, by one (at the time an obscure) artist to mean so many different things and evoke so many different passionate responses from so many different people is what makes me feel the need to post. It's the only thing that makes any of your opinions noteworthy. so, go ahead and keep posting, it only adds to the legend of the artist.
- Barry, Twin Falls, ID
I shot the sherriff, but I did not shoot the deputy, too -- this guy better lawyer up, cuz no Way that's gonna fly as ameliorating circumstances!
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
The thing I think is ironic about this song is there was a real John Brown, but he was an abolitionist who gave many lives, including his two sons, for black freedom before the Civil War.
- Billy, Nederland , TX
The beauty of this song along with so many others, is that the lyrics can be looked at it many different ways, and can also be interpreted differently depending on the person who is interpreting it.
- ricka, rochester, NY
Like most of Bob Marley and the Wailers songs, it consists of a political message. Bob Marley was blamed for a murder that he didn't intentionally commit, andthe fact that hey didn't believe him when he "swore that it was in self-defense" shows the racists acts and discriminations toward black people. When Marley says "Everytime I plant a seed, they say kill it before it grows" shows how black people and their hopes and dreams are oppressed. It is ironic how the white people don't like the blacks in America but they were the ones who brought them to America in the first place. Up until today African Americans still comtinue to be oppressed by the American society and a majority of them remain in the lower class.
oh yeah i'm finished Ms. Lee!!!
- Tasha, Kaneohe, HI
do we have to yell,more apples, we're tired of this hell,more apples,do we have to shout,more apples,the bottom is dropping out!!!
- robert, yakutat, Antigua and Barbuda
this song tells a story about a persecution between a sheriff, john brown and bob marley. brown was a white racist who felt that bob should not be given an opportunity to succeed in life because he is more or less black. one day bob decided to shot brown after realizing that brown is about to shoot him but he ended up being framed for killing the deputy.
- Fulu Thompho, limpopo, South Africa
I personally think when he says "but I did not shoot a deputy" he means the sherrif was crooked and wasn't a man of law
- Voodoo, Badvoodoo USA, FL
He didn't shoot the deputy because the deputy didn't try to take his weed away.
- Gene, San Diego, CA
this song is about being framed and the propaganda dished out by newspapers reporting on local crime in jamaica .The police being the ultimate representation of Babylon oppression.To Rasta like myself anyone called Mr Brown is a send up of someone tightly wrapped up in the system,usualy a black man who has sold himself into Babylon ways.Bobs mention of his seed being killed off tells of the pressures Rastafarians had to face by a scornful police force and society
- terry, london, England
it is about weed, read it in a bob marley interview trasnscript. so "tokie" is right on
- Erik, Royal Oak, MI
I disagree with you "Tokie" - I don't think that the song is about weed & taken literally as you suggest.
I think that Bob meant his "seed" to be the thoughts and ideas that he planted in the heads of those that listen to his music.
The lyrics:
"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 He said kill them before they grow"

Is not about pot seeds..:] Keep smoking that herb bro..lmao
- rich, Port Saint Lucie, FL
i think the abolitionist, john brown, should mentioned too. he was white and known as a friend to the black community for his anti-slavery views in a time where such beliefs put his life on the line. and he did die.his last words:"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood." and in a way his death did help his cause
- john, frederick, MD
Bob Marley probably wrote this song because he himself had met a sheriff who hated him for what? Growing hamp of course..."everytime I plant a seed he said kill it before it grows..."
- Gabriele, Århus, Denmark
i think that there probably was not an actual figure mr.brown but more a metaphorical figure. however, i think that bob marley probably encoutered some of the things that he sings about and i so passionate about.
stacey
- stacey, colarado, HI
Eric Clapton's version is good, but Bob Marley's original goes straight for the heart and gut. I've always heard this as a song about being trapped-- whether physically or by having one's life circumscribed by circumstances out of one's control--and the desperation and acts of desperation that follow. And once someone commits one of those acts of desperation, or merely is accused of doing so, he or she is doomed to life as "one of the usual suspects"--or death. Very haunting stuff. If you haven't read "Native Son" by Richard Wright or "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, read either of them while listening to, or under the influence, of Bob Marley's version of "I Shot the Sheriff."
- MusicMama, New York, NY
"It's a well known fact that in the US, black people who stole bread to feed their children were sentenced to the same amount of time as white people who commited murder."

Are you serious?
- Stef, NYC, NY
I like impression i get when listening to this song.
I like the images i get from it
also the idea of a depressed man who was under pressure all the time and finally exploded (!) could be also an inspiration
- Hitchhiker, Inmyroom, Other
the song "COPS' said whattcha ganna go when sherif john brown come for you... which in jamica taht was an old saying that moms siad to there kids when thay did bad things.coming from the old cop john brown.. and to the song. but about someone kiling a cop..... i really dont know?
- Brian, chicago, IL
Soooo much misinformation here... people, Google and Wikipeadia are NOT authoritative. Please don't copy+paste answers from there. --Drew from Meridian, ID: your post is not only inaccurate, it was from a site that is a JOKE! Seriously people, post -verifiable- facts, personal opinons, or not at all.
- Ethan, Etobicoke, Canada
Robert Marlin was arrested in 1973 for the murder of Sheriff John Brown in Jamaica. A quote from the trial transcript reads: ?Sheriff John Brown always hated me. For what I don?t know. Every time that I plant a seed He said, ?kill it before it grows.?? Marlin claimed that he killed Brown in self defense. He also claimed that he didn't kill Brown's deputy, who was later found dead. In fact, it appears (from news reports in early 2006) that Brown and his deputy were lovers and that the deputy took his own life out of grief over the death of Brown. Even Brown's widow agrees!
- Drew, Meridian, ID
If you listen to the whole theme song from cops (Bad boys by Inner Circle) they also mention a "sherrif John Brown" Inner Circle is also a reggea group. Weird huh?
- Joe, Bellingham, WA
There are two John Browns in America's History, the other one owned slaves and was notorious for his cruel and murderous treatment of people of african descent. I was born in Kingston but riased here in US, growing up learning about the evil John Brown and hearing Bob's music at home everyday I always thought he was using the name of John Brown to symbolize a system of opression black people were forced to live under. In the song John Brown he asks if he (Mr. Brown) is a clown controlled by remote...? Further proof that Brown was just a tool of the system. Back to Sheriff lyrics, Bob says "every day, bucket a go a well, one day the bottom have to drop out..." meaning that the peoples longsuffering under this system eventually resulted in the symbolic shooting Sheriff Brown.
- Dawn, Kingston, Other
I think the name John Brown is an ambiguous name. It is a very "white" sounding name. I think sherrif John Brown represents the predjudice of the white man at the time of the release of the song, i don't think he is/was a real person. Remember, Marley's stuff was very political and social in nature. To think that this song was simply about shooting a lawman is absurd. There is a deeper meaning pertaining to racism and inequality. Just my opinion.
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
it is to my understanding that back then, most sherriffs were white, and the deputy was usually black, so when he states i shot the sherriff but not the deputy is saying I shot that racist john brown, but i did not shoot my brother, the deputy. Since he clearly states how much John Brown hates him, he states when he plants a seed, kill it, then kill them before they grow. He has to be talking about Black People. Black people are the seeds, that these John Browns don't want to grow. When the girlfriend said the song was about birth control, she probaly meant don't abort your seeds, your children.
- Brittni, Chicago, IL
I think that everyone is trying too hard to read into the song things that really aren't there. I think the seed being marijuana is way to obvoius. I agree that it is about dreams or a movement for freedom and that they are being stopped before they have a chance to grow or spread the word. I think that "I shot the sherriff, but I did not shoot the deputy" is just a way of expressing that black people were always being punished for crimes more serverly then necessary. It's like he is saying, "I did the crime, but you are punishing me for something much more serious". It's a well known fact that in the US, black people who stole bread to feed their children were sentenced to the same amount of time as white people who commited murder.
- Shelagh, Edmonton, Canada
Warren G did a Rap Version in 1997
- neil, middlesbrough
The original title of the song was "I Shot the Police"
- Andrew, Rochester, NY
When Dekalb County, GA sheriff-elect Derwin Brown was shot outside of his home December 15, 2000, and after Sidney Dorsey, who was the former sheriff, was found guilty of the murder, a local radio station did a parody of this song, replacing "John Brown" with "Derwin Brown".
- Patrick, Tallapoosa, GA
Growing up in the US, I heard the Eric Clapton version of this song, and I had no idea it was a remake until I went to Africa and heard Bob Marley's original...boy did I feel like a fool :) Both versions are great, though, so I don't feel so bad any more :)
- Jimoh, The Bronx NY, NY
Good thing there are a lot of comments here. Cornboy, who would he murder? The Cops thing has nothing to do with it Gordo. Tokie's idea is possible, but then again your name here is Tokie, so i dunno........
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
Uh the song is about a Pot farmer who is being harrassed by the pigs hence the lyrics "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 He said kill them before they grow"
- Tokie, Mexico City, Mexico
I'd like to let steff of Melbourne, Singapore know that Marley openly admits to shooting the sherriff in the song. It is the deputy he did not shoot.
- ILikeMusic., This Isn't A City, MD
The theme song for the show " COPS," ... Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatya ya gonna do... Contains the line What ya gonna do when "Sherrif Brown" comes for you!

In Bob's song, he killed Sherrif Brown when he came for him!
- Gordo, asdifhbiog, AZ
like most of bob marley and the wailers songs, it is political and has a message behind it. the fact that they are trying to blame him for a murder shows the discrimination that the black people get. even though he didnt shoot the sherrif he is being blamed for it. and the line "every time i plant a seed they say kill it before it grows." this is the oppression against the black people that every time they have a dream to do something or a goal just to forget about because american society is bullsit towards the black people 'that the brang to there country in the first place.' and keeps the majority of african americans at a lower class leval.
- steff, melbourne, Singapore
These fact seem plausible, and I am interested in the birth control and Mike Bennett theories of this song's meaning, but I have to make one correction: The song "Mr Brown" is definetly not related, it is about a crow that people felt was haunting Kingston at the time.
- Garnett, A-Land, New Zealand
John Brown was an Abolitionist Zealot who, along with a gang of black and white men, killed people for their belief in slavery, and nearly hijacked the arsenals at Harpers Ferry. He was caught and hung, and added tensions between the North and the South that erupted into the Civil War.
- George, Hell, PA
This song was co-written by Lee Jaffe, who plays the harmonica on several of the Wailer's songs, including Rebel Music
- Ben, New York, NY
Marley wrote the song about his friend, Mike Bennett, who died in Viet Nam in March of 1965.
Marley was so upset that he contemplated murder or suicide.
- Cornboy, Auburn, CA
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