So sad to hear Bunny Wailer passed away this morning having been in and out of hospital since his second stroke in July 2020. As another one of our celebrated reggae icons and founders leaves, he will not be forgotten and he will continue to rise and shine.
The young Neville Livingston spent his earliest years in the village of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish and where he built his friendship with Bob Marley. Bunny had originally gone to audition for Leslie Kong at Beverley’s Records in 1962, around the same time Bob Marley was cutting “Judge Not”.
Bunny had intended to sing his first composition, “Pass It On”, which at the time was more Ska orientated. However, Bunny was late getting out of school, missed his audition, and was told he was not needed. A few months later, in 1963; he formed “The Wailing Wailers” with his stepbrother Bob Marley and friend Peter Tosh, and the short-lived members Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso. As he was by some way the least forceful of the group, he tended to sing lead vocals less often than Marley and Tosh in the early years, but when Bob Marley left Jamaica in 1966 for Delaware, U.S. replacing Bunny with Constantine “Vision” Walker, he began to record and sing lead vocals on some of his own compositions, such as “Who Feels It Knows It”, “I Stand Predominant” and “Sunday Morning”. His music was very influenced by gospel and the soul of Curtis Mayfield. In 1967, he recorded “This Train”, based on a gospel standard, for the first time, at Studio One.
By 1973, each of the three founding Wailers operated their own label, Marley with Tuff Gong, Tosh with H.I.M. Intel Diplo, and Bunny Wailer with Solomonic. He sang lead vocals on “Reincarnated Souls”, the B-side of the Wailers first Island single of the new era, and on two tracks on the Wailers last trio LP, “Burnin'”, “Pass it On” (which had been cut as a sound-system only dub plate five years earlier) and “Hallelujah Time”. By now he was recording singles in his own right, cutting “Searching For Love”, “Life Line”, “Bide Up”, “Arab Oil Weapon” and “Pass It On” (a new recording of the Wailers song) for his own label.
After leaving the Wailers, Bunny Wailer experimented with disco on his album Hook Line & Sinker while Sings the Wailers successfully reworks many of The Wailers songs with the backing of top Jamaican musicians, Sly and Robbie. He has also had success recording in the typically apolitical, more pop, dancehall style.
Bunny later shared a dancehall/Rockers edge that was best exemplified by the album Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers in which he re-interprets some of the Wailers material as a solo Roots singer backed by a solid Sly and Robbie based Roots reggae grouping. The album produced by Bunny Wailer, was recorded at Harry J Studio. Some of these tracks are re-worked classic Wailers tracks such as “Dreamland” (a cover of El Tempos’ “My Dream Island” with slightly reworked lyrics that became Bunny’s signature song. This was recorded in 1966 by Clement Coxsone Dodd, and in 1970 with Lee “Scratch” Perry, then, released as a 7″ in 1971 with a U-Roy version on the B-side). Another classic is “Dancing Shoes”, first recorded in the mid-1960s as a driving ska/soul classic with Bunny Wailer as lead vocal.
In 2017, the Jamaican Government awarded Bunny Wailer an Order of Merit, the country’s fourth highest honour. The Government again recognised his contribution to Jamaican music in February 2019 with a Reggae Gold Award.
Bunny Wailer has won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1991 for the album Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, 1995 for Crucial! Roots Classics, and 1997 for Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary. He was also featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album, and showcased many notable musicians including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani / No Doubt, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, The Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Ken Boothe, and The Skatalites