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Bunny ECRAs the sole surviving member of the original Wailers and a three-time grammy award-winning artist in his own right, Bunny Wailer, aka Jah B, is a living legend who continues to promote and perform reggae music to audiences around the world. Born Neville O’Riley Livingston on April 10, 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica, Wailer was raised in the village of Nine Miles in St. Anns, where he and fellow youngster, Bob Marley, grew up as brothers. In 1952, both boys’ families moved to Trenchtown, where they soon discovered Joe Higgs, a popular singer who held informal singing lessons in his tenement yard on Third Street. It was in Higgs’ tutorship that Marley and Wailer met another talented youngster, Peter Tosh. Together, the threesome formed the nucleus of what would later become The Wailers.

In 1963, the Wailers auditioned for legendary producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, who agreed to take them into the studio. Their first single, “Simmer Down,” was an instant success, played eighteen times straight in the dancehall and topped the Jamaican charts for two months. The era of the “rude boy” counter-culture had begun, emerging from the ghettos of Kingston and claiming rocksteady and ska music as its soundtrack. Over the next three years, the Wailers recorded over thirty rocksteady and ska-influenced sides, flooding the dancehalls with fans and establishing themselves as the biggest band in Jamaica.

But by 1966, the cultural climate was changing. Poverty and discrimination plagued the ghettos of Kingston, and many working-class Jamaicans turned to religion for solace. An interpretation of the Biblical prophecy in Revelation 5:5, which details the naming of the Messiah, led many to believe that the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, was God incarnate, or Jah, the savior who would lead them to the promised land of emancipation and divine justice. Haile Selassie made a state visit to Jamaica that year, and the movement that he inspired, called Rastafari (based on Selassie’s pre-coronation name, Ras Tafari Makonnen), was beginning to attract a substantial following.

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Bunny and The Wailers were instantly drawn to the Rastafari culture, and their new-found spirituality soon found its way into their music. Gone were the bouncy ska beats that backed their first recordings, and in their place were the socially-charged anthems that came to characterize the Wailer’s sound. A new partnership was formed with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who allowed the Wailer’s beliefs to shape their music both stylistically and lyrically. Their acclaimed work with Perry brought them to the attention of Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records in London, who began his career by importing records for the Jamaican community in Britain. Blackwell signed the Wailers immediatley, and their major label debut, Catch A Fire, was released in 1973. The album was an international success, bringing reggae music to new audiences around the world. The Wailers were booked to tour the UK and US.

But just as his career with the Wailers was beginning to take off, Bunny decided that life on the road was not what he had envisioned. Before the US leg of the tour, he left the band, opting to remain in Jamaica to start a solo career. In 1973, he started his own label, Solomonic, and began releasing his own singles. His debut solo album, Blackheart Man, met with international critical acclaim and is universally regarded as a masterpiece of the roots reggae genre. The album’s highlights include Bunny’s signature track, “Dreamland,” as well as “Battering Down Sentence,” a personal favorite of many reggae fans, written about his one-year term of wrongful imprisonment.

Despite leaving the Wailers, his relationships with Marley and Tosh remained strong, and he went to great efforts to keep their music alive. In 1980 he recorded Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers, an album which revisited many of his favorite Wailers songs. But by the time of the album’s release, Marley’s cancer had been diagnosed. Only a few months later, Marley lost his struggle, succumbing to the disease at the age of 36. Devastated by the untimely loss of his friend, Wailer went back into the studio, releasing the album Tribute to the Hon Nesta Marley in Marley’s memory. He has since recorded a number of powerful tributes, including two grammy award-winning albums, 1990’s Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, and 1995’s Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary.

Wailer’s solo career has included hit albums and songs in a number of different styles. 1981’s Rock ‘n’ Groove departed from roots reggae and showcased his talents as a dancehall artist. His songwriting credits include “The Electric Slide (Boogie),” originally performed by Marcia Griffiths. The song provided the soundtrack to what became a dance craze in the late 80s and remains popular today.

Wailer is also known for his powerful live performances. His 1982 performance at the benefit for the Jamaican Institute for the Blind was recorded and released as a critically acclaimed live album. In 1986, he broke with tradition entirely and embarked on a world tour. His first appearance in the United States, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, drew a sell-out crowd and won acclaim from the American press. He has since performed at venues and festivals all over the world, and continues to draw capacity crowds to this day.

As the only remaining member of the Wailers, Bunny constantly endevours to uphold and promote their musical legacy. As any music enthusiast can attest, his efforts have not gone unnoticed—The Wailers’ recordings are widely available all over the world, and their music is regarded as some of the most influential material in recent history. His dynamic contributions as both a promoter and a performer have helped the reggae genre gain international popularity, earning him a spot amongst his peers as a timeless proponent of reggae music.


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