I Shot the Sheriff

Album: Burnin' (1973)
Charted: 67


  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brad Nash - Rochester Hills, MI
  • The Wailers bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett nearly ruined the recording of "I Shot The Sheriff" because of one of his spliffs. Engineer Phil Brown recalled to Uncut magazine.

    "They were heavy guys but it was lots of fun. While we were mixing they were in the control room, smoking and dancing. I physically melted the 'I Shot The Sheriff' tape with the glowing debris from a joint while trying to do an edit. The spliff fell apart, and reached the tape before my hand! We called them 'baseball bats,' it was neat grass. Thankfully, there were three masters of that track, so I was able to steal the drum fill from the third take and splice it together. It saved my bacon. That was all down to Family Man. I blame him."

Comments: 52

  • Adam Bancy from Tema, GhanaMy icon love you to the max. Wish you are still alive but Almighty God knows best.
  • Anthony Goodwin from United KingdomSo why did Clapton do it...Any relevance other than a masterstoke of marketing trends?
  • AnonymousIt about two mob bosses and a cricked political figure in Kingston . Bob was keeping the peace local government tried to kill him , he went to London after . Came back to Kingston they killed himi think 1973 exodus was the last album Bob recorded.
  • Jeff from NcI would not say the song is "about birth control". It is not literally about killing a sheriff - Marley has said it's more generally about "elements of wickedness" in general. He was opposed to birth control, but this was just one small element - referred to in the line "Every time I plant a seed/He said kill it before it grow"
  • Confused from ScherervilleAbolitionist. John Brown helped slaves and was later hung for it.
    John Brown sparked the Civil War.
    Born May 9th 1800-December 2,1859
  • Ed from UsaThere is a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers called Mr Brown. I assume it's about the same Sheriff John Brown who is featured in I Shot The Sheriff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EREMO3W0mNM
  • Hero from Freedombird_10@yahoo.comWell here is the catch, I was travelling in Jamaica last month and met a journalist who was around in the 70s and had lots of rare images and interviews on his cell phone, to my surprise he mentioned that it was PETER TOSH that bob meant in his song!! He started reasoning and telling me how the conflict arose between the wailers back in 1973 and that bob had plans that peter completely rejected and sure you guys know how things developed after that!
  • Aidan from Chicago, IlI think that sheriff Brown has been frequently harassing Marley, until one day actually about to kill Marley. The deputy was the Sheriffs partner, together for life, so when he says he didn't kill the deputy, it isn't literal, but he wasn't the one who killed the deputy's spirit.
  • Ike from Lagos, NigeriaThis 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"
  • Kip from Darien, CtWhile 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.
  • Mike from Tulsa, OkOk 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.
  • Michael from Chicago, IlThis 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
  • Aalia from Sydney , Austriai 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?
  • Barry from Twin Falls, Idfor 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.
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaI 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!

  • Billy from Nederland , TxThe 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.
  • Ricka from Rochester, NyThe 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.
  • Tasha from Kaneohe, HiLike 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!!!
  • Robert from Yakutat, Antigua And Barbudado 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!!!
  • Fulu Thompho from Limpopo, South Africathis 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.
  • Voodoo from Badvoodoo Usa, FlI 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
  • Gene from San Diego, CaHe didn't shoot the deputy because the deputy didn't try to take his weed away.
  • Terry from London, Englandthis 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
  • Erik from Royal Oak, Miit is about weed, read it in a bob marley interview trasnscript. so "tokie" is right on
  • Rich from Port Saint Lucie, FlI 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
  • John from Frederick, Mdi 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
  • Gabriele from Århus, DenmarkBob 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..."
  • Stacey from Colarado, Hii 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.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyEric 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."
  • Stef from Nyc, 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?
  • Hitchhiker from Inmyroom, OtherI 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
  • Brian from Chicago, Ilthe 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?
  • Ethan from Etobicoke, CanadaSoooo 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.
  • Drew from Meridian, IdRobert 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!
  • Joe from Bellingham, WaIf 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?
  • Dawn from Kingston, OtherThere 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.
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlI 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.
  • Brittni from Chicago, Ilit 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.
  • Shelagh from Edmonton, CanadaI 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.
  • Neil from MiddlesbroughWarren G did a Rap Version in 1997
  • Andrew from Rochester, NyThe original title of the song was "I Shot the Police"
  • Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaWhen 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".
  • Jimoh from The Bronx Ny, NyGrowing 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 :)
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaGood 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........
  • Tokie from Mexico City, MexicoUh 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"
  • Ilikemusic. from This Isn't A City, MdI'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.
  • Gordo from Asdifhbiog, AzThe 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!
  • Steff from Melbourne, Singaporelike 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.
  • Garnett from A-land, New ZealandThese 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.
  • George from Hell, PaJohn 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.
  • Ben from New York, NyThis song was co-written by Lee Jaffe, who plays the harmonica on several of the Wailer's songs, including Rebel Music
  • Cornboy from Auburn, CaMarley 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.
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