Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Things blew hot and cold for The Wailers in 1971. They begun the year on a high following some outstanding recordings for producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry, but were in danger of losing ground after an ill-fated tour of England.
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny 'Wailer' Livingston had gone to Britain as opening act for American singer Johnny Nash, who was enjoying international acclaim with his album, I Can See Clearly Now.
In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Bunny Wailer dispelled a popular story that Nash and his manager, Danny Sims, had abandoned The Wailers in London. That led to a chance meeting with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell who, sympathetic to their plight, signed them.
Wailer, now 63, described the oft-reported tale as "fictitious garbage!".
What is accurate is that The Wailers met the England-born, Jamaica-reared Blackwell, for the first time, 40 years ago in his London office. At the time, Island was competing with American labels Motown and Stax for the unofficial title of "world's biggest independent record company".
Wailer said he, Marley and Tosh were introduced to Blackwell by Brent Clarke, their Trinidad-born road manager who had ties to the Island boss.
The initial meeting, he recalled, had nothing to do with a record deal.
"When we were recording for 'Coxson' (producer Clement Dodd) he used to mention a man named Blackwell who distributed our songs like Simmer Down and It Hurts To Be Alone in England," Wailer related. "So, when we heard about this same man in London, we said we wanted to meet him to talk about royalties."
Wailer remembers nothing fruitful coming out of their discussion regarding royalties, but Blackwell agreed to give them £4,000 to record their first album for Island.
The group, which formed with six members in 1964, had been reduced to a trio by the late 1960s when they began collaborating with Sims and Nash.
Around the same time, they did a series of inspirational sessions with Perry that produced the Soul Rebel and Soul Revolution albums.
Distributed by Trojan Records, both were minor hits in Britain which was home to a growing West Indian community, hungry for music from the Caribbean.
Blackwell's deposit helped The Wailers record Catch A Fire, an album that was released by Island in early 1973 to strong reviews. Recorded largely at Dynamic Sounds, Harry J and Randy's studios in Kingston, it included the infectious Concrete Jungle and the Tosh-penned 400 Years.
Wailer said when they returned to Britain that year, they toured 29 polytechnic colleges and did some club dates to promote the album. Along with bass player Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, his brother and drummer Carlton Barrett and keyboardist Earl 'Wire' Lindo, The Wailers recorded their second album, Burnin', at the Basin Street Studio in London.
Like Catch A Fire, Burnin' was hailed by the British underground but was not a commercial success. It contained the songs, Burnin' and Looting, I Shot The Sheriff, Rastaman Chant and Get Up, Stand Up which was co-written by Marley and Tosh.
Within one year, the three remaining members of the original Wailers separated. Wailer was the first to leave, saying he was uneasy with the type of venues Blackwell had selected for the group's American tour dates.
After touring the United States and Britain, Tosh departed in late 1973.
The following year, Island released Natty Dread, Marley's first solo album, it was an international sensation on the strength of No Woman, No Cry, So Jah Seh, Lively Up Yourself, Them Belly Full and the title track.
By 1976 when his Rastaman Vibration album hit record stores, Bob Marley was a bona fide superstar, befriended by celebrities such as Stevie Wonder and former Beatle George Harrison.
Some of his best work was done in Britain. The mighty Live! album was recorded at London's Lyceum Theatre in July 1975, while sessions for Exodus and Kaya were conducted in the British capital during 1977.
Bob Marley died from cancer at age 36 in May 1981, 30 years ago. Tosh was killed by gunmen at his St Andrew home in September 1987, aged 42.
Bunny Wailer is preparing a three-year world tour scheduled to start in August. He is expected to perform in Britain next year.