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The Last Wailer

The relationship of the three reggae giants who emerged from The Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer — predate the formation of the band by years.

The ties were particularly close between Wailer and Marley. Wailer – actually, Neville O’Riley Livingston (also known as Bunny Livingston and Jah B) – was born in 1947 in Nine Mile, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. He met Marley in elementary school and the boys’ parents, both single, lived together and had a daughter, according to Wikipedia.

bunny_wailerThe history is complex and shrouded in a tremendous amount of smoke (if you get my drift). The small world of Kingston music blossomed, ska evolved and reggae exploded around the world. Some of the other giants of the early days included producer Leslie Kong, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and Toots Hibbert.

In 1963, Wailer formed a band – The Wailing Wailers – with Tosh and Marley. Our conception today is that the Wailers were more or less Marley’s backup band. That may have been true later on, but it wasn’t always the case. The Wikipedia profile says that Wailer and Tosh gradually “became more marginalized” as the Wailers became a super band and attention shifted to the talented and charismatic Marley. Bunny Wailer also didn’t like leaving Jamaica. He left the Wailers and became a solo act in 1973.

The profile says that Wailer became more dedicated to Rastafarianism from this point on. At the start of his solo career, he and Tosh would sing each other’s backup vocals. He has won several Grammy awards and lives on a farm in Jamaica.

Wailer tells of how he became a Rastafarian in this NPR piece. Above is “Predominate. Below is “Dreamland,” which the Wikipedia profile says is his signature song.

The Daily Music Break has posted music by Marley, Dekker, Tosh, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, The Skatalites and from the movie “The Harder They Fall.” Not all reggae is Jamaican. Kultiration is from Sweden, not known as a hotbed of reggae. The Slovakian band Polemic produced a really terrific video.

Finally, here is an interesting feature from Public Radio International recorded during an appearance by Bunny Wailer in Boston last spring. What comes through is that to Bunny The Wailers are as much family — in a very real sense — as a band:

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The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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