The Original vs. The Cover – “I Shot the Sheriff”

For this time around on The Original vs. The Cover, we are going to discuss the classic song, “I Shot The Sheriff”. The original was by Bob Marley & the Wailers and the cover was by Eric Clapton. Two heavy hitting artists this time around, but which one will come out on top? The song was written by Bob Marley and released back in 1973 on the album ‘Burnin”. Eric released his cover only a year later in 1974 on his album 461 Ocean Boulevard. Marley’s version didn’t chart, but Clapton went all the way to #1 on the U.S. Charts.

The song is supposedly about a man who is harassed by the sheriff and he ends up shooting the officer, but claims it was really self-defense. According to Marly only parts of the song are true, but we don’t which ones. Now in 2012, Bob Marley’s old girlfriend, Esther Anderson, claims the song was about how Marley was opposed to her using birth control. She claimed if you switch the word sheriff with doctor on the 2nd verse, it would make sense. I have to say, I am not sure I believe her, but an interesting twist anyway.

Now, sit back and let’s discuss each song and pick a winner.


Bob Marley & the Wailers version is of course in the style of reggae and has a really cool vibe throughout. I love the whole beachy feel to the music with the drum sounds and that bass groove is so sweeet. And then there is a funky bass line and some 70’s R&B guitar thrown in for good measure. The Wailers have an organ in the mix that really shines near the end of the track. Musically it is a stellar track.

Vocally is where my issue is, but it isn’t Bob Marley. Marley’s vocals are smooth, rich and he has such a great tone to his voice. You can’t go wrong with his singing. My issue is the backing vocals on the chorus as the Wailers can’t seem to be on tune. Maybe it is supposed to be that way and I am missing something, but for me it is so distracting and off-putting. It is my biggest and only fault with the song.


Eric keeps the reggae feel to the song, but definitely turns it in to more of a rock song. He has added more guitar and brought the organ to the front and more in the mix which gives the song a totally different feel and vibe. And that organ is the highlight of the song musically. He keeps the percussion sounds of the original and the bass is thumping away a very nice groove. As far as the guitar, there is no real solo like you think you would get from the Slowhand, the organ takes over that part. He does shorten the song by around 20 seconds and gives you a more concise version.

Eric Clapton’s vocals are well, Clapton. He sounds great and gives a soft, gentle vocal that keeps the song laid back and relaxed like the music makes you feel. The two together are perfect. The backing vocals are handled by Yvonne Elliman and not only did she compliment Eric’s vocals on the chorus, she was actually in tune and has a lovely voice.


Now it is time to pick a winner and for me, it is an easy choice. I have to go with Eric Clapton’s version. His was the first version I have ever heard and knew for the longest time. Although I do enjoy Bob Marley’s version, it is the out-of-tune (at least to my ears) backing vocals that really lose me as I found those vocals to be very distracting. Eric’s version using the organ added a different texture to the song which I end up preferring in the end. Plus, I am more a rock guy than reggae although Bob is still great to listen to when I am in the mood.

I am really interested in hearing what everyone else thinks of these two songs.  Let me know which version you like the best and why.  Feel free to leave a comment and talk about the song and tell me how right or wrong I am on this one.  Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.


“I Shot The Sheriff”

(I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, oh no! Oh!
I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh, oo-ooh.)
Yeah! All around in my home town,
They’re tryin’ to track me down;
They say they want to bring me in guilty
For the killing of a deputy,
For the life of a deputy.
But I say:

Oh, now, now. Oh!
(I shot the sheriff.) – the sheriff.
(But I swear it was in selfdefence.)
Oh, no! (Ooh, ooh, oo-oh) Yeah!
I say: I shot the sheriff – Oh, Lord! –
(And they say it is a capital offence.)
Yeah! (Ooh, ooh, oo-oh) Yeah!

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.
And so:

Read it in the news:
(I shot the sheriff.) Oh, Lord!
(But I swear it was in self-defence.)
Where was the deputy? (Oo-oo-oh)
I say: I shot the sheriff,
But I swear it was in selfdefence. (Oo-oh) Yeah!

Freedom came my way one day
And I started out of town, yeah!
All of a sudden I saw sheriff John Brown
Aiming to shoot me down,
So I shot – I shot – I shot him down and I say:
If I am guilty I will pay.

(I shot the sheriff,)
But I say (But I didn’t shoot no deputy),
I didn’t shoot no deputy (oh, no-oh), oh no!
(I shot the sheriff.) I did!
But I didn’t shoot no deputy. Oh! (Oo-oo-ooh)

Reflexes had got the better of me
And what is to be must be:
Every day the bucket a-go a well,
One day the bottom a-go drop out,
One day the bottom a-go drop out.
I say:

I – I – I – I shot the sheriff.
Lord, I didn’t shot the deputy. Yeah!
I – I (shot the sheriff) –
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, yeah! No, yeah!

Written by Bob Marley

39 thoughts on “The Original vs. The Cover – “I Shot the Sheriff”

  1. I think the fact that the Wailers sound kind of like me singing out of key in the shower makes the song more appealing in some ways. Also, I believe Bob when he says he shot the sheriff. Amidst a cloud of ganja smoke, Bob cooly mowed down the corrupt sheriff in self defense. I don’t believe Eric as much. I think he had a coke-infused dream and is confused.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is the version I’m most familiar with, no out of tune backing vox there. Only Marley records I own are Natty Dread, Live!, Rastaman Vibration, and Exodus. Still, that’s a decent amount. More than most people who just stop at Legend.

    Liked by 2 people

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