GRAND HAVEN, MI – For Donald Kinsey, timing is everything.
The former guitarist for Bob Marley’s band, The Wailers, has lived quite the life since his birth in Gary, Ind. in May of 1953.
On Thursday night, he was at the Loutit District Library in Grand Haven sharing some of those life experiences as part of the library’s inaugural Jamaican Day.
Kinsey spoke for more than an hour to more than 50 people who were in attendance, the whole time interspersing samples of music from his life. From his early days playing blues and gospel music in nightclubs and church with his father, Big Daddy Kinsey, to his times playing with Bob Marley in the 1970s.
“This was one of the more captivating things I’ve ever been to,” said Grand Haven resident Gary Knights. “He has had an amazing life. I like how he’s so approachable and comfortable in sharing his life.”
Kinsey began with his upbringing and his first big break touring with blues guitarist Albert King, who noticed the 16-year-old Kinsey while he was performing at a night club. The chance meeting led to Kinsey touring with King for three years.
Following that, Kinsey returned home and reunited with his brothers, forming the band White Lightning. Kinsey told the story of the trio's move to New York.
"We had enough money for a week in a hotel room," he said. "We went everywhere looking for a record deal."
After a stretch of having no luck, yet another chance meeting presented an opportunity.
In a visit to Island Records, Kinsey struck up a conversation in the elevator with a manager. This chance meeting would be the beginning of a long and successful career which began with the release of an album with White Lightning.
Following that, Kinsey returned home again. But, fate would not leave him alone.
“I got a call from Peter Tosh’s manager,” Kinsey said. “He asked me if I wanted to join Tosh on the Legalize It Tour. The timing was perfect.”
Following the tour, Kinsey began his relationship with Marley, who he had met just once before. He recalled the first time he heard his music.
“The first time I heard Bob’s music I was like, what, wow,” Kinsey said. “It gave me the chills because what I was hearing was the spirit of the music and that’s what touches you first. I honestly felt like I was in church.”
One of the most powerful moments of the night was when Kinsey recalled the night of Dec. 3, 1976 -- two nights before the “Smile Jamaica” Concert in Kingston. The night is better known for the assignation attempt on Marley, resulting in Marley, his wife and manager Don Taylor being wounded.
Kinsey said he was in the kitchen with Marley when they heard the first gun shot. He went on to explain the rest of the events of the evening in front of the captivated audience.
“It was like a war zone,” he said.
Kinsey continued on to tell the story of his involvement in one of the most historic moments of Marley's career.
Kinsey said that following the assassination attempt, Marley asked him if they should continue to play the concert in the wake of what had happened.
“I couldn’t believe what had happened,” Kinsey said. “But I told him, God had protected us through the ambush. He’s got our backs. He brought us this far, he’s not going to leave us now.”
The rest is history. Marley and all but one member of the Wailers took the stage in front of 80,000 people that night planning to play just one song. The result was a 90-minute concert with the wounded Marley performing the entire time.
Following his stories, Kinsey took questions, posed for pictures and signed autographs. He continues to make music in hopes that it will benefit others as it has for him.
“I love it,” Kinsey said. “I don’t want to have anything to do with music that might make someone do something negative with their life. I hope I can continue to make good music. This isn't over for me yet."
Larry Halverson, community communications director for the Loutit District Library, said he was thrilled with the reaction to Kinsey’s presentation and that he would love to have him back again for a full, musical performance.