I Shot The Sheriff Meaning (What Is Bob Marley Singing About?) Saturday August 20 2022, 3:30 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
I Shot The Sheriff Meaning (What Is Bob Marley Singing About?)

I Shot The Sheriff Meaning

Who is this sheriff and deputy that this song speaks of? Is it a true crime tell or more of a metaphor? What about those rumors that the song talks about birth control?

Many people know this famous song from the legendary musician Bob Marley and his group The Wailers, released in 1973, but 90% of people have no idea what the song is saying.

I, for one, love the song and always thought that it really didn't matter what the song was saying since it was catchy enough for me, but I finally decided to put some time into researching what the story behind the lyrics really is. 

The Overall Story

The verses in the lyrics explain a common story of authority taking advantage of someone time after time and then the victim finally deciding that they can't take it anymore to the point where they explode, like the gun Bob Marley mentions in the catchy hook does.

The first verse hooks you in with the aftermath of the shooting being told first, as Bob is on the run after shooting a man of the law. The second verse heavily features the authority in this case as the sheriff, who seems like he was always out to get him for no good reason. 

By the third verse, we get details on how Bob was in high spirits, on his way out of town to what he called freedom, and that was the actual last moment the sheriff came to harass him.

Then he relates the meeting as something similar to the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

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The Identity Of The Sheriff And The Deputy 

While this obviously ties to the fact that police can sometimes get out of control by wielding their power and mistreating people, it can really fit any person who is abusing their power.

The sheriff, in this case, is the lawman, but it could be a teacher, a parent, a judge, or anyone in a similar position who has the ability to control your life. 

So who is the deputy? Many people are still scratching their heads on this, but I came across an interview with Bob Marley, who briefly described who the sheriff and the deputy are in this case.

The deputy is the type of person who you may see alongside a sheriff, but there is still some good in them, and you take a moment to show mercy, even if it's to your own demise. Bob wanted to show that even in the act of justice, he is the type of man to show compassion. 

Relation To Racism

Most people directly connect police brutality against black people to this song since Bob Marley is a black man.

I'm sure Bob is aware of this, and he even said in an interview, "I want to say I shot the police, but the government would have made a fuss, so I said, ‘I shot the sheriff’ instead…, but it’s the same idea: justice.”

He knows how hot the topic was in the 70s, and it is unfortunately still very relevant today. 

Relation To Birth Control 

So what does this all have to do with birth control? Yes, I am going to stir the pot here, but just a little. According to a former girlfriend of Bob Marley, the song came from a disagreement about giving birth to a child of their own.

Esther Anderson, who co-directed the 2011 documentary "Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend," says that the doctor who prescribed the pills was like a sheriff.

The lyrics in the second verse read, "Every time I plant a seed, he said kill it before it grow", and the claims are that Marley believes that this type of contraceptive is a sin in the eyes of God. 

What Is The Takeaway Of The Song?

As Bob Marley said in the interview, the sheriff is a representation of someone or something that is wicked and causing injustice in the world.

It's a very relatable tale that is meant to shine a light on the fact that we as people can all feel slighted by the authority at some point, and on the other end, it can be a cautionary tale about what being unfair with your power can do to you in the end.

The last lyric presented in the final verse is, "Every day the bucket a-go a well, one day the bottom a-go drop out."

This means that the last in a series of bad things that upset someone will be huge and potentially life-threatening. Don't push people like that, and expect no consequences! 


Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

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