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.
The 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: