|Neville O' Riley Livingstone,
born on 10th of April 1947, and loved by generations of Jamaican music
lovers as Bunny Wailer, remains one of reggae's most reclusive and understated
He grew up alongside Bob Marley in the country, his father, Thaddius "Taddy" Livingstone, moved to Kingston at the same time as Bob's mother Cedella, where he opened a rum bar. Both the young boys were left behind to be looked after by relatives until they were old enough to move to the city themselves. Eventually a relationship developed between Cedella and Taddy, which led to the birth of a daughter Pearl.
Growing up together in Kingston, the boys developed a strong desire to become musicians, and along with another friend, Winston McIntosh (Peter Tosh), began attending music lessons in the yard of local recording artist Joe Higgs.
Beginning their recording career with Clement "Coxson" Dodd in December 1963, the boys, under the name of The Wailers, soon became local celebrities, scoring a string of hits beginning with the rude boy commentry "Simmer Down" recorded at their very first session.
Although Bunny possesed one of the most beautiful voices ever to be captured in a Jamaican studio, he did not effectively step out from the shadow cast by Bob until Marley left to stay wth his mother in the US in 1966. During Marley's sabbatical, Bunny mined a previously untapped creative vein, recording his own compositions such as "Dancing Shoes", "Who Feels It Knows It", "Rock Sweet Rock" and the first attempt at "Dreamland".
Unfortunately, this creativity was brought to a halt early in 1967, when Bunny was arrested for possesing marijuana. Even though no herb was found, Bunny was convicted, and sent to Richmond Farm prison for 14 months, in which time the Wailers began a deal with Danny Sims and his JAD organisation.
Released in September 1968, Bunny returned to the Wailers who continued their works with JAD, as well as issuing recordings on their own Wail 'N' Soul' 'M label. Once again Bunny kept a relatively low profile in the band, his only major recording from this time being the amusing "Tread Oh", which features the memorable line "take it easy on my pony".
Following an albums worth of material recorded for Leslie Kong in April 1970, the Wailers next teamed up with Lee Perry, and Bunny sang lead on "Rebel's Hop", "Riding High", and the memorable "Brain Washing". In 1971 Bunny enjoyed huge popularity with a Perry produced version of "Dreamland", which remains one of his most important and enduring recordings.
Under Perry's guidance , the Wailers finally developed and settled on a sound that would become the pillar for their future work. In 1972 work began on an album for Island Records, during which time Bunny also began releasing records on his own Solomonic label. Amongst the earliets releases on this label were "Search For Love", and "Bide Up".
The first Wailers album on Island, "Catch A Fire" came out in April 1973, but it wasn't until the second album in November that year that Bunny contributed a lead vocal. In fact that album, "Burnin'" featured two splendid tracks from Bunny, "Hallelujah Time" and "Pass It On", both wonderfully uplifting tracks with Bunny in fine voice. A third Bunny track "Reincarnated Souls" was originally slated as the title track, but was eventually relegated to the B side of the "Concrete Jungle" single.
With the Wailers picking up rave reviews, both for their records and live shows, the future looked bright for the band, but at the end of 1973, Bunny refused to tour any longer, and his place on the American leg of the tour was taken by mentor Joe Higgs.
Back in Jamaica with the tour complete, the original trio of the Wailers fell apart. Bunny continued his refusal to tour, and Peter Tosh was unhappy at the limited outlets for his own compositions within the band. By 1974, Bunny and Peter were no longer in the Wailers, but Bob retained the name for his backing musicians, and both Peter and Bunny issued singles crediting the Wailers.
Bunny continued with his Solomonic label, issuing "Battering Down Sentence" and "Rastaman" in '74, and "Arabs Oil Weapon" in 1975. 1975 also saw a reunion of the Wailers trio at the National Sports Stadium on October 4th, where Bunny sung lead on "Dreamland" and "Battering Down Sentence".
Bunny's first solo album "Blackheart Man" followed in 1976, and was an astounding collection, featuring re-workings of older tracks and fresh material of exceptional quality. The album is rightly regarded as one of the finest reggae works of all time, and still retains the impact it originally had all these years later.
"Protest" followed in 1977, and in 1978 Bunny recorded the main theme for the film "Rockers", as well as enjoying success with the hits "Love Fire" and "Roots Radics Rockers Reggae" before releasing his third album "Struggle" in 1979.
In 1980 Bunny recorded an album full of Wailers recuts for Island, and following Bob's untimely passing in 1981, he recorded the "Tribute" album in honour of his life long friend. Also issued in 1981 was the dancehall influenced "Rock 'N' Groove" album, and it was from these cover versions and dance tunes that led to criticism of Bunny's output over the next decade.
Many people considered Bunny's dance tunes to be trivial, and below what he was capable of producing, but he ignored the criticism and continued in a similar vein throughout the '80s. Whatever the level of seriousness in his music, it remained enjoyable, and his releases were eagerly anticipated by his loyal following.
Further hampering his career outside of the reggae buying public was his continued reclusivness and refusal to tour outside of Jamaica. Bunny's first live performance as a solo artist outside of Jamaica didn't come until 1986, when he appeared at Long Beach in California, since when he has appeared rarely on stage. The changing musical climate in Jamaica was also a problem, and on one infamous occasion he was booed off stage, with the crowd throwing objects as well as insults.
In 1985, Bunny began work on a Wailers re-union album, in which he took tapes recorded for JAD in 1967 and added contemporary overdubs and additional vocals. With Bunny in the production chair, he was joined by Peter Tosh, Constantine Walker and Junior Braithwaite for the project, and the idea was to package the set as a double album with the original versions on one record and the overdubbed cuts on the other.
The project started well enough, and a single, "Music Lesson/Nice Time" was issued in 1986 and sold extremely well. Unfortunately progress was eventually hampered by fallings out with Rita Marley, continuing legal wrangles, and ultimately the tragic loss of Peter Tosh, who was murdered in his home on September 11th 1987.
The project lay dormant for years, until it was finally issued in the US by RAS records in 1994, with Peter Tosh's son Andrew inducted into the Wailers for the release. Sadly the album failed to live up to it's potential, the original versions of the songs failed to appear as hoped, and the overdubbed versions already sounded dated 8 or 9 years after their recording.
Another tribute to Bob Marley came in 1995 when Bunny released the collection "Hall Of Fame", on which he recorded 50 of Bob's songs, including the unrecorded "Fancy Curls", which is reputedly the first song Bob ever wrote.
Bunny Wailer's output has divided some Wailers followers. Many love his lighthearted dance tunes and cover versions for which he has won 3 Grammy's, while other yearn for the day he commits himself to more serious reasonings, such as those that have appeared sporadically on his albums. He undoubtedly has the talent, and his releases will continue to be of interest, even if they do occasionally fail to fulfil their full potential to some.
With Bunny Wailer you get the feeling that something special is just
waiting to happen, hopefully that something special will manifest itself