I Shot the Sheriff

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"I Shot the Sheriff"
Single by The Wailers
from the album Burnin'
Released 1973
Format 12" single
Recorded April 1973, Harry J. Studios, Kingston, Jamaica
Genre Reggae
Length 4:41
Writer(s) Bob Marley

"I Shot the Sheriff" is a song written by Bob Marley and released in 1973. It has been covered by Eric Clapton and Warren G.


The story is told from the point of view of a narrator who admits to having killed the local sheriff, and claims to be falsely accused of having killed the deputy sheriff. The narrator also claims to have acted in self-defense when the sheriff tried to shoot him. The song was first released in 1973 on The Wailers' album Burnin'. Marley explained his intention as follows: "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."[1]

In 1992, with the controversy surrounding the Ice-T song "Cop Killer", Marley's song was often cited by Ice-T's supporters as evidence of his detractors' hypocrisy considering the older song was never similarly criticized despite having much the same theme.[2]

In 2012, Bob Marley's former girlfriend Esther Anderson claimed that 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" are actually about Marley being very opposed to her use of birth control pills; Marley supposedly substituted the word "doctor" with sheriff.[3]

Eric Clapton version[edit]

"I Shot the Sheriff"
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album 461 Ocean Boulevard
Released 1974
Format 12" single
  • 4:26 (album version)
  • 3:30 (single version)
Label RSO
Writer(s) Bob Marley
Producer(s) Tom Dowd

Eric Clapton recorded a cover version that was included on his 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard. His take on the song belongs to the musical genres of soft rock[4] and reggae.[5] It is the most successful cover version of the song, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2003, Clapton's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[6]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]