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'Musically Speaking' offers untold Wailers stories

Published:Tuesday | April 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black

Amid the 70th birthday celebrations of the legendary surviving member of the Wailers, we are reminded of the enormous contribution made by the group to the development of Jamaica's popular music and the internationalisation of reggae.

And who else is better qualified to tell the true story than the legend himself - Jah B, as he is affectionately called. In a CD box set commemorating the 40th anniversary of the group and titled 'Musically Speaking', Jah B graphically and eloquently delved into several untold stories about the group's development and referred to what he called 'challenging times' during their journey to the top.

In his effort to protect the Wailers legacy from intruders, Bunny Wailer asks: "Is it the Wailers, their inheritors or successors who now inherit the first and last fruits of the Wailers' works and legacy, or that of piracy, which is cultivated by covetousness and greed who does?" Although not calling names directly, Jah B refers to "bootleggers and pirates, who, from the beginning of the Wailers' career, have been persistently and consistently been involved with the illegal and unlawful exploitation of the Wailers' works, without any respect to the Wailers, neither in the form of royalties or credits".




Coming from a tight-knit family structure in which Bunny and Bob Marley share a sister named Pearl Livingston, both boys became very close friends from their youthful days in an environment where music was the centre of all attractions, and Trench Town, fast becoming the Motown of Jamaica. Living in such an environment, it was difficult to escape the influence of music. According to Bunny, "Bob's first recording of Judge Not wasn't his real vision and desire to pursue a musical career, for he had often requested that we should both unite our talents, and recruit other members to form a group".

With consistent help and tutoring from Joe Higgs, the members - Nesta Marley, Neville Livingston, Hubert McIntosh, Franklin Delano Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso were chosen, after undergoing a strenuous training exercise. According to Bunny, from the CD Musically Speaking: "Higgs' strategy was in a slightly revolutionised manner - for the group to tour the communities outside of Trench Town, not only to introduce us to the populace, but to strengthen the group's confidence and study the response of the audiences." It worked.

After a Sunday audition session in late 1963, conducted by Studio 1 boss Clement Dodd, four songs - I Don't Need Your Love, How Many Times, Straight and Narrow Way and Simmer Down were chosen and recorded the following day. Accompanied by the Skatalites band, Simmer Down, sung by the quintet, became the group's first hit and stood at the top of the Jamaican record charts for weeks in early 1964. The other recordings also did fairly well.

Several other recordings were done by the quintet until the departure of Braithwaite and Kelso - the first via migration and the second for personal reasons. Efforts to find suitable replacements failed and they resorted to being a trio. Challenging times again seemed imminent with Marley's temporary migration to the United States in early 1966. Recruiting Constantine Walker as a replacement, Bunny kept the legacy alive with two magical pieces - Dancing Shoes and What Am I Supposed To Do - which was testament to the quality of his voice. Earlier, he sang lead on several commendable cuts with the trio, which has stood the test of time.

Bunny uncovered another untold story, when he revealed that: "It was decided by the wise and concerned brethrens of Trench Town that because the group originated from an environment where people were always weeping and wailing, the group should be named The Wailers."