THE FORGOTTEN MUSIC LEGEND
by Daniel & Seth Nelson (April 1997)
Bunny Wailer is the forgotten Wailer. Bunny Wailer and music legend are never mentioned in the same sentence. Bunny, however, is a music legend, let alone a reggae legend. Having just received the 1997 Grammy award, Bunny still has not gotten his just deserves. This article is a written tribute to Bunny Wailer-music's finest.
Flashback to when the Wailers were formed in 1963, and became, what could arguably be, the best reggae group ever. Throughout the 1960's and early 1970's, the Wailers covered three distinct types of Jamaican music (ska, rocksteady, and finally reggae). And throughout these years, bandmembers came and went. But three members remained throughout; Robert Nesta Marley, Winston Hubert McIntosh, and Neville Livingston; better known as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer. The Wailers were responsible for such groundbreaking songs as, "Simmer Down", "Trenchtown Rock", "Nice Time", "Stir It Up", "Get Up Stand Up", and countless others.
The Wailers were finally broken up by 1974, each going on to pursue solo careers. Bob Marley of course went on to "conquer the world" as Bob Marley & The Wailers. Peter Tosh took on a more militantly driven reggae, but still managed to become world reknowned. Much has been written about Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, but Bunny Wailer has remained relatively unknown outside of Jamaica.
The question is why is this, why is he not as well known or liked as his fellow Wailers are? It's true that Bunny is somewhat of a recluse, rarely granting interviews, and performing concerts even less. But these are certainly no valid reasons to why he is relatively unknown.
Bunny's albums have been a constant source for political and social messages. Some examples include "Liberation", "Struggle", and "Protest". Bunny's first solo album release came in 1976 with his critically acclaimed roots reggae album, "Blackheart Man". This album proved that Bunny wasn't just a career backing singer, but an incredibly talented songwriter and vocalist. Every album after this were just as great. In 1981, the music world saw the death of fellow Wailer, Bob Marley, and from this point on, Bunny chose to devote his career to the life of Bob Marley, and continue his message. Then again in 1987, after the assassination of Peter Tosh, Bunny again devoted his career to both Peter and Bob's music to a wider audience.
The public's view on Bunny began to change, many fans saw his new mission in music as merely a copy of his fellow Wailers. This was further supported by the fact that of Bunny's three Grammy awards, two of them were given to albums which were tributes to Bob Marley (Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, in 1990, and Hall Of Fame: Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary, in 1995) featuring cover versions of Bob Marley songs. Fans also criticized Bunny for only doing Bob's songs and not putting out albums with original songs.
This is a shame! For the past 30 years, Bunny has always been on the leading edge of music and was with Bob and Peter in the beginning, and should have the right to pay fitting tribute to his fellow Wailers.
Bunny's first solo concert, outside of Jamaica, came on July 12, 1986 in Long Beach, California, nearly 10 years after he released his first album. This is where Bunny differed from Bob and Peter, because they toured extensively throughout the world during their careers, and were able to pick up fans worldwide. Whereas Bunny had to rely on his albums alone for many years to gain his fans. When Bunny did finally peform in the United States, his concerts were extraordinary and were not to be missed! Since then, Bunny's tours have been few and far between.
On one special performance in September 1994, in Aspen, Colorado, Bunny and the thousands of fans waiting to see him perform, were witnesses to see a double rainbow appear over Bunny's head. Bunny exclaimed after the song that, "what happened here today, NEVER happen to no Wailer, EVER. And it deep. And it mystic!" On another performance the fans were not happy to see this legend perform, and Bunny was booed off stage with objects being thrown at him, at a predominantly dancehall concert in Jamaica. This was definitely a performance Bunny and his true fans would like to forget. However, this never got in his way, and after 30 years in the music business, Bunny still puts out the music that he wants to put out, and music that his true fans will respect and love.
No matter what anyone says, Bunny Wailer shares with only a select few, the title, "The King of Reggae." Hopefully in the next few years, Bunny Wailer, along with Peter Tosh, can join Bob Marley in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. Some future developments for Bunny include a long overdue autobiography of his life, entitled "Old Fire Sticks", and a new album can't be too far off in the future as well. He has also been thinking about booking a North American tour, saying, "I think that I have finally found the true America." And hopefully, Bunny, music fans everywhere will find you too.
Also see our memorial article on Bunny Wailer
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