Bob Marley and the Wailers:One Of The Greatest Bands The World Has Ever Seen!

Bob Marley and the Wailers

In the last thirty years Jamaica’s popular music reggae, has resonated with audiences both at home as well as abroad. It is a phenomenon whose impact cannot be challenged even by its staunchest critic.

It has, and is still able to act as social commentary, political agitator and used as cultural expression. It has challenged the status quo of the Jamaican society from its own confines of the inner city to which they are physically confined.

The music has challenged both, racism as well as classism in Jamaica by forcing the issue to the fore of Jamaica’s consciousness.

Few have been as successful in doing this as Bob Marley and the Wailers. All the members of Wailers group experienced the forms of repression and discrimination as well as dire poverty they have written about in their music and have therefore been able to remain legitimate in this to both their audience as well as themselves.

The Original Wailers

The Wailers originally comprised of Robert ’Nesta’ Marley, Neville ’Bunny’ Livingston, Hubert ‘Tosh’ McIntosh, Junior Braithwaite and two female backing vocalists.

For all these youths poverty was the only reality they knew and therefore music would have to be their way out.

They met Joe Higgs who was a Trench Town artist and one that was willing to work with young talent once they were serious and focused.

He convinced Marley and company to audition for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, they passed the audition and soon released ‘Simmer Down’.

This song was an immediate hit in Jamaica particularly among the impoverished youths. Nonetheless, long term success was hard to come by.

Over the next two years they did covers for some of the biggest songs such as Tom Jones’s ’What’s New Pussycat?.’

However, Bob Marley and the Wailers would soon have problems convincing radio stations to play their music as the popular music turned toward a darker though existing reality.

Their own plight as poor inner city youth found itself in their music and they quickly developed a reputation as rebels and rude boys which made for a captive audience in the inner cities.

Bob Marley in Delaware

Despite having recorded as many as one hundred songs,Bob Marley and the Wailers were not earning any money.

In 1966 Bob left Jamaica and migrated to Delaware where he stayed with his mother worked and saved money to start his own record shop.

During this period the defiant stance for which the Wailers had became infamous for was gradually getting stronger.

The visit of his Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I had strengthened the resolve of Rita, Bunny as well as Tosh who by now were immersing themselves in the teachings of Rastafari as well as Garveyism, these teachings would later be embraced by Marley on his own quest for self discovery.

Bob Marley and the Wailers The First Popular Jamaican Group to Completely Embrace The Doctrine of Rastafari

Upon the return of Bob Marley their music would begin to reflect even more social commentary, political protest and now it was beginning to reflect a spiritual belief.

During the 1960’s the Wailers became the first popular Jamaican group to completely embrace the doctrines of Rastafari and display it in their music and life. As the conditions of the inner city got harder so did they.

They became synonymous with the rude boy culture and became popular among the sound selectors (DJ’s) and released songs such as ‘Rudie get bail’ and ‘Rude Boy’.

They now became consumate observers of the system of oppression to which they were being subjugated and which was termed as ‘Babylon’.

This system they argue ‘…is sucking the blood of the sufferers building church and university deceiving people continually…’ many have speculated that this was just as related to the government as well as to Coxsone who was not paying them but rather collecting all the profits for himself.

By late 1965 the Wailing Wailers were reduced to the original trio of Bob, Bunny, Tosh as members migrated to the United States or just lost interest.

Soon they would once again be looking for members to join, in came Rita Anderson who not only fit into the group but who would in the long term would play a pivotal role in Bob Marley and the Wailers as well as ensuring the preservation of her husband’s legacy after his death.

By 1967 the Wailers new faith which was an unapologetic one that made no attempts to be a part of the system termed as the Babylon system.

It was this new faith and attitude that brought them into conflict with Coxsone, who they soon left to form their own label.

Before they finally did so they recorded ‘Bend down low’ which was also a hit despite this they were not paid by Coxsone.

Wailin’ Soul Records Label

The name of the new label was Wailin’ Soul Records. This new venture seemed as if it would work as they were at the time one of the more popular bands around.

They released ‘This man is back’, ‘Selassie is the chapel’, ‘Bus dem shut’ which was dedicated to the inner city youth who continued to struggle.

About this time there was a great fervor that was taking over the United States. Black consciousness was been preached by Malcolm X and others. This followed the teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Marley cut off his dreads and started to wear an afro, Bunny was imprisoned for possession of marijuana and Tosh became a comb carver. For the time whatever aspirations the Wailers had had were put on hold.

In 1968 the Wailers were given another opportunity, they would record with Danny Simms an American producer.

The music they produced was indicative of a commercial sound and did not resonate with Jamaican audience’s particularly Jamaican youth who were used to songs that mirrored their pain and frustration.

The relationship with Sims and his company was cut off and the Wailers were allowed to record with other producers with the stipulation that these recordings remain local to which they grudgingly agreed.

Bob Marley and the Wailers and Leslie Kong

They began working with Leslie Kong who released some nine songs for them.

Though the recordings were not successful commercially Kong agreed to compile an album entitled the best of the Wailers which created tension between members of the group who argued that it was impossible to have a greatest hits album when they had just begun.

Kong was later threatened that if he released the album he would die, the threat was shrugged off and the album released in Jamaica, a year later he died from a massive heart attack, many have speculated that Bunny Wailer used his knowledge of black magic on him.

Once again the Wailers career was on hold as Bob left again for the United States.

Peter Tosh changed his name to Peter Touch and released some songs including ‘Selassie Serenade’ and ‘Sun Valley’.

When Bob returned they once again tried to make it big. This time with someone familiar an old friend and former apprentice of Clement Dodd, his name, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

Bob Marley and the Wailers and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Perry would reshape both the sound of the Wailers as well as detach them from the compromising stance they had taken in their music.

Gone were the doo-wop melodies and instead a return to a rawness and hunger that had given popularity to their music in the early days.

The Wailers music, according to Stephen Davis became evil again, tough as nails, as in the days of ‘Rude boy’ as well as ‘Rule this land’.

This without question was as a result of the tremendous talent of their backing band, the Upsetters.

Two of its members would later join the Wailers, Aston ’family man’ Barrett and Carlton Barrett. The sessions lasted from late 1969 through to 1970; the Wailers were back or were they?

Perry wanted Bob Marley and the Wailers to work exclusively for him, and so they did until 1978.During this period they recorded songs such as ‘Duppy Conquerer’, ‘Small Axe’, ‘Don’t Rock My Boat’,and ’400 Years’

They also re-worked songs such as ‘Soul Rebel’ ‘Rebel’s Hop’ and from the early 70’s ‘Kaya’, ‘Lively Up Yourself’ and most importantly ‘Trench Town Rock’.

Trench Town Rock in particular resonated with the inner city youth who once again felt as if they had a voice.

As a result of the immense success of the single the Wailers were really beginning to receive the big break they deserved. Once again they were making their music creating their own sound and audience.

They were once again swindled out of money, this time by Perry who distributed their music and kept all the royalties.

Bob Marley and the Wailers and Tuff Gong Records

At this point Bob Marley had enough money for the establishment Tuff Gong Records which had always been a dream of his. In 1970 the Wailers cranked out as many records as they could, their days were filled with recording sessions and nights left for even more rehearsals.

Though there was enormous progress being made there was still very little to show for it and tensions were high. Bunny and Bob would not talk to each other for long periods and it was usually Bob’s songs that were rehearsed and recorded over Tosh’s which would later aid in the demise of the Wailers.

All of this was taking place at a time when the political atmosphere in Jamaica was changing.

The vast majority of the poor and uneducated were black; the aims of the middle class was supported by the politicians who continued to allow these few to get rich off cheap black labor; corruption was on the rise; and the poor continued to suffer.

In 1971 Bob Marley and the Wailers went to London to provide backup for Johnny Nash and were instrumental in getting CBS to finance an 8 week tour with Nash and Marley.

In 1971 after Nash returned to the U.S. Bob approached Chris Blackwell, a London based record producer with Jamaican roots, and summated the group’s goals.

Blackwell who had been following the careers of Bob Marley and the Wailers had some trepidation about the group which soon subsided after speaking with Marley. Blackwell agreed to give them financial backing of just 1000 pounds.

The process of recording an album began to take shape entitled ‘Catch a fire’ in early 1972 and released in 1973. This time the Wailers would be packaged in a way that would ensure that the records were marketable to both local [Jamaican] audiences as well as foreign ones. Marley soon negotiated for the release of the Wailers from their contract with Nash and Catch a Fire was released.

Bob Marley and the Wailers Wailers Broke Up!

After three months of touring, the tension among the band mates soon started to emerge and as soon as the plane landed in Jamaica Bunny Wailer left the band and relegated his recordings and performances with the Wailers to only Jamaica.

The tensions in the group seemed insurmountable and in January 1975 Bob Marley and the Wailers officially broke up due to the distrust between Tosh and Blackwell. There were also creative differences between them and the fact that Marley was given most if not all the credit for Wailer material.

So it was over and they went their separate ways, with Tosh doing songs such as `Mark of the Beast’, ’Legalise it’ and Bunny released Blackheart man in 1976 on Island Records.

Natty Dread which included ’No woman no cry’ was released in 1974 and Rastaman Vibration in 1975. They continued to tour America as well as Europe and finally began to reap the rewards of their hard work.

As Bob emerged as Reggae’s superstar it was clear that the situation was not going to change in Jamaica as the message which was preached by the Rasta seemed to be lost on the desperate poor blacks. The tension in Jamaica was high when there was an assassination attempt on the life of Bob Marley and the Wailers who had been rehearsing for the peace concert to be held at the National Stadium. Despite being grazed by a bullet and other members of the party being shot, the concert still went ahead as scheduled.

In 1977 the preparations for Exodus had begun they would end up with enough to make both Exodus as well as Kaya.

The final of the Wailers albums were- Survival 1979, Uprising 1980, Confrontation 1983, Natural Mystic 1995.

Though the members of the Wailers have since either died or are creating their own paths, one is able to truly examine the significant contribution of this band to the cultural as well as political and social climate of Jamaica.

Peter Tosh created - ‘Legalize it’ [1976], ‘Equal Rights’ [1977], ‘Bush Doctor’ [1978], ‘Mystic Man’ [1979] and ‘Wanted Dread or Alive’ [1981].

After leaving the Wailers he released ‘Blackheart Man’ [1976], ‘Protest’ [1977], ‘Mango’ [1980] among others and continues today as the only surviving original Wailer.

Though there was an ultimate demise of one of the greatest bands the world has ever seen, it will never be possible to take for granted the contribution that they have made to the music and the tremendous voice that they gave to the youths of the inner city as well as the downtrodden around the world. The legacy therefore cannot be confined to just Jamaica but anywhere there was repression and exploitation of the lower classes.

The music of the Wailers continue to cry out from the ghettos from whence they came, still wailing for justice, as said by Stephen Davis, reggae is created by people who have known suffering who are disenfranchised, torn from their past and yet whose music is constantly redeemed by hope, which is what the Wailers have been able to do for and with reggae music.

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