What does I Shot The Sheriff mean?

Bob Marley: I Shot The Sheriff Meaning

Album cover for I Shot The Sheriff album cover

Song Released: 1973

Covered By: Eric Clapton (1974)

I Shot The Sheriff Lyrics

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, ooh Yeah

All around in my hometown
They're tryin' to track me down, yeah
They say they want to bring me in guilty


    #1 top rated interpretation:
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    Feb 22nd 2012 !⃝

    I would like to clear up what the song is about because the way it is currently thought to be doesn't make sense, and I'll explain why.
    So to start, the first and last chorus of this song states that the story teller has shot the sheriff, but has not shot the deputy. In between these chorus's are lines that tell the story of how the sheriff was killed, but absolutely no mention of there being a "deputy sheriff" or how the "deputy" was killed, only that they are charging him for killing a "deputy". Reading this chorus as "I shot the sheriff, but not the deputy sheriff, who has also been shot and killed" must be incorrect, otherwise this song does not make logical sense. Why would Marley state that the story teller has not shot the deputy and make no attempt to explain why he did not?

    To further point out current interpretation flaws, Marley does not state that the story teller is being charged or questioned about the death of the sheriff. Yes he is telling us about how he has shot the sheriff, but why? Why does it matter that he shot the sheriff in self defense when they are looking for the killer of a deputy? And if they are just trying to pin the death of the deputy on him, why hasn't made a case against this charge in the song if that is really what it is about? Furthermore if shooting the sheriff is his alibi to not shooting the deputy, why hasn't he stated this? And how does telling us that he has shot the sheriff make him not guilty in shooting the deputy?

    Before I make my point I will first define the term deputy. A deputy (from the dictionary) is a person appointed or authorized to act as a substitute for another or others. So if you read this definition literally it seems to clearly point out that there are indeed two people who have been shot in this song, however the flaws in thinking this are still present. A deputy can be anybody acting on behalf of another person; "deputy" does not necessarily refer to police, but in this case probably does, which makes sense because killing an officer of the law is a very serious crime.

    So who is the deputy? To answer this lets look at the role of the police in society; Police enforce laws that have been written by lawmakers. In the US, this would be the legislators who have been put in place by the people of the United States; in other countries these may be laws put in place by a monarch or other authority figures.

    Next question; Do we see legislators out and about on the streets enforcing these laws? Do we see kings and queens arresting individuals for breaking the law? Not usually, although they could if they so desired (in the US we can think of this as citizen's arrest). Instead individuals are paid to enforce these laws for them, and are therefore authorized by these people to do the job that they could be doing themselves. These people are the police and the sheriffs.
    To bring my point together, does this not make the police deputies? They are acting on behalf of others (others being the people who have put these laws in place) as substitutes. By definition this makes EVERY police officer or enforcer of the law a deputy of those law makers. I therefore submit that the sheriff in this song is also the deputy that Marley has referred to.
    To explain this more, putting this context of the word "deputy" into the song finally makes it logical. The story teller is admitting to shooting and killing the man who is in the office of sheriff, which is why he is explaining how it happened. John Brown, the sheriff, always hated the story teller, so when he went free John took it upon himself to bring this man "justice". However, the law did not permit him to shoot the story teller like he wanted to; the sheriff was going against the law to "gun him down". Therefore John Brown revoked his position as a deputy of the law and was no longer an enforcer, just a civilian going to kill another man. So the story teller, in self defense, shoots John Brown to protect himself. This is him making the case that he did NOT kill an officer of the law, but he did kill a person who was looking to murder him (this person who happened to hold the position of sheriff) and should not be charged with murdering a deputy of the law. Listen to the song and think about this; It will make much more sense.
    I rest my case.


    #2 top rated interpretation:
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    Apr 25th 2013 !⃝

    The song is about the true story depicted in the movie "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez", where a Mexican farmer, falsely accused of horsetheft, shoots and kills a sherriff in self-defense because of a language misunderstanding between the English and Spanish definition of "horse" or "caballo". Gregorio Cortez's brother is also shot and killed in the interchange, but not before he shots and kills the deputy. Gregorio is chased for ten days by hundreds of Texans, but manages to elude them until he is betrayed by a fellow Mexican. This is a true story that happened around 1900 in Texas. Google Gregorio Cortez. A movie by the same name was made by political activists in California but never received wide distribution.


    #3 top rated interpretation:
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    Sep 11th 2007 !⃝

    The song, like many Mr. Marley and the Wailers made is about Justice & Redemption. Or at aimes, the lack thereof (Get up-Stand Up). Take the verse literally. . .

    He had just been freed from jail, The sheriff thought he was trouble and decided to take the law into his own hands. In attempting to kill the storyteller, the storyteller killed the Sheriff. Evidently, a deputy was killed, but not by the story teller. A allusion to nefarious activities on the PO PO. They were trying to frame him for a murder he didn't commit, instead of the one he committed in self defense. At the end of the song, he indicates this type of injustice will no be tolerated forever.


  4. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 30th 2020 !⃝

    Marajuana vs. harder drugs cocaine/haroin.

    Cool, I never shot the deputy either, just the Sheriff.

  5. anonymous
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    Dec 22nd 2019 !⃝

    I was thinking Sheriff John Brown killed the deputy and had put the blame on the person singing the song. He, Sheriff John Brown, was going to shoot him down and be hailed as a hero for killing the murderer of the deputy, but found the story-teller uncooperative in this regard.
    The story-teller continues on his way out of town and eventually hears that back in his own town they're trying to track him down. He's surprised they want him for killing the deputy because he thought they'd want him for killing the Sheriff, whose body I suppose hadn't been found yet or if it was, he wasn't blamed for that killing.

  6. anonymous
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    Dec 7th 2019 !⃝

    It’s in a documentary about Bob Marley. The song is about Bob and an actual currupt Sherriff John Brown in Jamaica that tried to move in on the Marley complex at night and was killed.

  7. anonymous
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    Jan 7th 2019 !⃝

    The Sherrif and the Deputy are exactly the same person - Deputy Sheriff John Brown.

    Marley is using an unreliable and clearly not well educated narrator who is relying on a limited knowledge of the inner workings of the police organization. He and his associates refer to Deputy Sherrif John Brown as “the Sheriff” because he works as a Deputy for the Sheriff’s Department in the same manner many criminals refer to Assistant District Attorneys as “the District Attorney” (the Sheriff or District Attorney being normally relatively important elected officials who administer large agencies and rarely if ever personally enforce laws).

    This is why the narrator protests that he killed the Sheriff (a crime he is not charged with) but not the Deputy (the crime he is charged with). While they are one in the same person and one in the same crime, the charges against him give a title to his victim he has not heard of and doesn’t understand.

    He claims that Deputy Sheriff Brown always had it in for him, as many criminals will claim of law enforcement officers they routinely run afoul of. So, when push comes to shove, he kills him, and when it becomes known that he did, he claims the killing was in self-defense.

  8. anonymous
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    Jun 1st 2018 !⃝

    How about Bob Marley's own words people?

    "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." Bob Marley

    Enough with the pro-life false flag.

  9. anonymous
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    Mar 16th 2018 !⃝

    Abortion. When it says “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”. This makes me think that “sheriff John Brown” is a doctor who wants the woman to have an abortion but the story teller disagrees because he want to be a father. That’s what I think at least.

  10. anonymous
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    Jun 20th 2017 !⃝

    Ask Esther Anderson, one of Bob Marley's women he loved. She was on birth control at the time of sexual relations with Bob. Bob who was a rastafarian did not want his women on birth control (Rastafarian beliefs). The song "I shot the sheriff" was about this.

  11. anonymous
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    Mar 25th 2017 !⃝

    Bob was prolife just like me he was speaking in parables and voicing his opinion about abortion. So the sheriff is basically the abortion doctorthat carried out these vicious killing of unborn fetus/ children. The deputy was the baby killer assistant like nurse etc so once him get the doctor to stop killing these kids then the deputy will not be needed. So Bob was not talking about really killing anyone he was just voicing and showing his outrage of these murders while the government sit by and watch.even in the Bible there are lots of parables and words that looks as if they can't be pronounced.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  12. anonymous
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    Oct 2nd 2013 !⃝

    Marley points out injustice done by authorities who are not used to different ideologies. His "bucket theory" explains that there is a limit for pushing a guy down. After that he is bound to react. Shooting down a guy can not eliminate the problem. In a democratic country there are other superior ways to tackle regulated activities. Marijuana is a banned substance, but for Rastafarian's its 'holy weed'. If he is guilty he will pay....don't hate him for that!

  13. BillyZbang
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    Jul 26th 2013 !⃝

    In my point of view, the sheriff is the sell out fellow that runs the town for the real owners. They are enemies because Bob can see clearly what kind of games M.Brown was playing and who was his coach.
    He killed the "brother working for another family" and they blame him for a bigger crime he didn't commit in order to kill his name and honor more than putting him in jail.
    In facts, he fights false prosecution with an honnest truth that don't wash him from what he really did and will be countable in front of his Lord.
    The truth don't have to be beautiful, it just has to be.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  14. anonymous
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    Apr 13th 2013 !⃝

    I don't know why sometimes people tend to make things harder than they have to be, especially that the true genius of Bob Marley was in the simplicity of his message via his eloquent lyrics and enchanting music.

    "I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot no deputy."

    A Sheriff by definition is a deputy right? if you look at the context of the story, obviously he shot a corrupt sheriff who by being the criminal that he was didn't deserve to be called a deputy. Hence I admit that I shot the sheriff but that SOB was no deputy in my book.
    Read the whole story and this will make a lot of sense, much more than this extra mysterious character "the deputy" that was mentioned twice in the song without much elaboration and nobody knows who he is.

  15. anonymous
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    Jan 28th 2013 !⃝

    No he is saying I shot the sheriff, but not the deputy who is just a normal joe who works as a deputy... I shot the sheriff because he is the one who is the offender because he is in the highest place, the deputy is just trying to make ends meet and he's not the criminal.... That's how I interpret it the first time I heard it

  16. anonymous
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    Jul 15th 2012 !⃝

    The song is a true story of an encounter bob marely had. The song is not about an actual sheriff and.deputy, but a father and son. It was a familt feud that started with marijuana plants. Bob marley lived in the hills of jamaica where if you didn't bother anyone.below, they didn't.bother you
    Well bob had a caretaker for his plants who kept plucking them up, bobs plants up but.never anyone elses. Bob got tired of it and when he confronted the man, he attempted to shoot mr.marley. bob.then.shot the.man in.self.defense. the deputy, or the.man's son.was plotting.revenge.on.bob.and.his.family and later the son was found dead in a ditch. Many tried to frame bob for the death of the son, so he.wrote the song in.attempts to.gain his.innocence.

  17. anonymous
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    May 30th 2012 !⃝

    Studio version will pop up some time sulrey!!!! for FNM to release a new record Patton has to do away with all his other projects for at least 18 months or so cuz the FNM juggernaut is quite a big one and i believe that's why there's so much tip toeing atound the situation by the band themselves. i mean i don't want them to go through what they did with King For A Day..cuz that was their shortest tour and promotion they has and it didn't quite work out all that well..so i say either All in or nothing ..

  18. anonymous
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    May 26th 2009 !⃝

    This was written by Bob Marley. When Clapton was in Jamaica getting stuff for his album 361 Ocean Boulevard one of his buddies came across Marley's album and played him the song. He liked it so much that he recorded it for fun and turned out sounding so well that everyone convinced him to put it on his album. It was by his decision that Marley was launched into the major music industry. So we owe Clapton for the gift of Bob Marley :)

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