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As a founding member of the Wailers, and the trio's only surviving member, Bunny Wailer, has become a respected elder statesmen of the Jamaican music scene. His vocal and composing contributions to the Wailers had helped seen to that, while over the years Wailer has endeavored to keep the group's memory alive. But beyond the Wailers' legacy, and his own solo career, the artist has also made a significant mark beyond the music scene. Born Neville O'Riley Livingston on April 10, 1947, in Kingston, Jamaica, the young Livingston actually spent his earliest years in the village of Nine Miles in St. Ann's. It was there that he first met Bob Marley, and the two toddlers became fast friends. The boys both came from one parent families; Livingston was being brought up by his father, Marley by his mother. The two lone parents then had much in common, and together moved their families to Kingston in 1952. Around their corner lived singer Joe Higgs, who rose to stardom in the late '50s, both as a solo artist and as one half of the popular vocal duo Higgs & Wilson in partnership with Delroy Wilson. Only in his early twenties, Higgs was keen to help other young talent around the neighborhood, and gave singing lessons in his tenement yard on Third Street. There the two boys met up with another pair of equally keen youngsters, Peter Tosh and Junior Braithwaite. Initially, Marley intended on a solo career, but his hopes were dashed by a failed audition for producer Leslie Kong. The upshot was the four boys now joined forces, along with backing singers Cherry Green and Beverly Kelso, as the Teenagers. The band's name would change several times before they finally settled on the Wailers.
After a successful audition for Coxsone Dodd, their career took off immediately with their first single, the classic "Simmer Down." Early on, all four of the boys contributed songs to the group, which enabled the Wailers to continue without Marley after he left Jamaica in 1966, to seek work for a time in the U.S. By then, the group had been reduced to a trio with the departure of Braithwaite, Green, and Kelso, but the core unit was so talented, that the temporary loss of one member never threatened their ascendancy. Over time, however, Livingston's songwriting contributions to the group had lessened, although when he did turn his hand to composing, the results were never less than scintillating. Marley, of course, was more than happy to pick up the slack. By 1973, the Wailers were untouchable, the biggest reggae band in Jamaica, and on the verge of an international breakthrough. Which is when it all went to hell. Life on the road is tough at the best of times, but the group were used to traveling the tiny distances between Jamaican (mostly Kingston) clubs. Now they were off on their first headlining tour outside the island. The first leg was a three month jaunt across the U.K., followed by an outing to the U.S. Livingston would never make that second leg, he barely made it through the first. Tensions were rising within the Wailers, a situation exasperated by the tour. Livingston had enough, and upon the group's return to Jamaica, he announced that he would not accompany the band to the U.S. His real reasons remain unknowable, the one ofttimes given, that his religious beliefs did not permit the eating of processed food, and what else could one eat on the road, doesn't hold much water.
Certainly the Wailers had somehow managed to obtain appropriate foodstuffs during the group's tour opening for Johnny Nash two years earlier. Whatever his true rationale, Livingston wanted off the road, at least outside the island, he intended to continue touring with the band in Jamaica. How this would have actually worked in the long run remains a moot point, before the year was out, Tosh had come to blows with Marley and quit the band. The Wailers were no more. (They would however make two final live appearances at benefit concerts after their official demise.) Livingston now began pursuing a solo career. He launched his own label, Solomonic, with his debut solo single "Searching for Love," in 1973. The next year saw four more join it, "Trod On," "Lifeline," "Arabs Oil Weapon" (which was actually released credited to the Wailers), and "Pass It On" (an alternate version to the one found on the Wailers' Burnin' album). In 1976, these releases were finally joined by Livingston's first solo album, the phenomenal Blackheart Man. The singer was accompanied by Tosh and the Barrett brothers -- the Wailers' own rhythm section, as well as Marley who joins in on a new version of the Wailers old number "Dreamland." Filled with a clutch of crucial songs, the album spun off two seminal singles, "Battering Down Sentence" and "Rasta Man." Protest and Struggle proved quick follow-ups over the next two years, and together with Livingston's debut, the trio of albums made for a militant manifesto of his deepest held political and religious convictions. Even though all three albums were released by the Island label, which had early on struck a distribution deal for Livingston's Solomonic label, and were well received by the press, none would have the impact that Tosh and Marley's releases were garnering.
Remaining in Jamaica, Livingston's profile would be forever overshadowed by his globe-trotting former bandmates. 1980's In I Father's House, did nothing to change this situation, nor did the singles which had appeared across this period. "Bright Soul," "Rise and Shine," and "Free Jah Children," amongst others, all barely registered outside the island. This same year, Livingston recorded Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers, a tribute to his former group, lovingly revisiting his own favorites, accompanied by the Sly & Robbie led Roots Radics. By the time the album was released later in 1980, Marley's cancer had been diagnosed, the following spring he was gone. If that album had been a tribute to the band, the next was meant to honor his late friend. Tribute to the Hon Nesta Marley was drawn from the same sessions as had produced Bunny Wailer Sings, and again was determined to help keep the Wailers' legacy alive. Of course, in the end there was no need for Livingston to fear, since Marley's death, shelves have been warped under the weight of Wailers' reissues, but in the early '80s, it's understandable that Livingston was concerned that the group's music might have disappeared forever into the archives. However, the singer wasn't content to merely look to the past, and his second release for 1981, Rock'n'Groove, turned to the dancehalls for inspiration. Unfortunately, Livingston hadn't quite come to the grips with the new rhythms flooding from their, while sadly, 1982's Hook Line & Sinker didn't make a much better impression. In fact, the artist's best performance that year wasn't in the studio at all, but onstage. In December that year, Livingston finally stood on a stage again, for the first time since the Wailers had reunited way back in November 1975, as co-headliners with Stevie Wonder of a benefit concert for the Jamaican Institute for the Blind. Anyone witnessing this show was left dumbfounded on why the singer had stayed away so long. His ferocious performance took place in Kingston, of course, and was captured on tape for 1983's Live album. Again Livingston was accompanied by the Roots Radics, who had been acting as his backing band over the last few years, ever since they'd initially joined the singer for Bunny Wailer Sings... In 1985, the entrancing Roots Radics Rockers Reggae released, with the band now gaining equal billing to the singer. This same year, Livingston inked a distribution deal with the U.S. label Shanachie, which was inaugurated with the Marketplace album. It wasn't the best of debuts, and the singer sounds decidedly discomforted by the slick electronics and glossy production that steam across the record. Still, Livingston was determined to at least attempt to keep up with Jamaica's ever shifting musical styles and fashions.
Although not always successful, the singer was never tempted to wallow in the past, and has consistently given a sympathetic ear to the latest innovations in production and rhythms. Then, in 1986, Livingston broke with past tradition entirely, and finally undertook his first tour outside of Jamaica since the debacle with the Wailers back in 1973. His American debut took place in Long Beach, CA, that July, with his later appearance in New York recorded for the In Concert video. The next year, the singer unleashed two new albums, Rootsman Skanking and Rule Dance Hall, both boasting a strong and confident dancehall flavor. It had taken a few goes, but Livingston had finally come to grips with the dancehalls, and a pair of singles, "Cool Runnings" and a recut "Rock'n'Groove," proved the point, both soaring up the Jamaican charts. Having accomplished that, Livingston now, almost perversely, returned to an older sound for 1989's equally wonderful Liberation, eschewing the dancehall flavors for a return to a rootsier past. This turned out to be his most acclaimed album of the decade, and in response the singer set off on a world tour, with backing now provided by the recently reformed Skatalites. The singer opened the new decade with another heartfelt album in honor of his late friend, Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley. The disc would garner Livingston a Grammy. And 1990 really was a stellar year, with the singer also making his debut appearance at the Reggae Sunsplash Festival. 1991 brought the Gumption album, another covers' set, but this time from a variety of artists, including Toots Hibbert and Johnny Clarke. The following year, Livingston returned to the present with a vengeance with Dance Massive, a joyous dancehall album, where the taut rhythms virtually overwhelm the songs. Just Be Nice followed hot on its heels in 1993. It was another two years before a new album arrived. Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary was a double album, featuring 52 songs, all loving recreations of Marley's Wailers' and solo compositions. Accompanied by a phenomenal aggregation of Jamaican sessionmen, the set would garner the singer another well deserved Grammy.
Meanwhile, Livingston was beginning to turn more of his attention towards politics. He has shown an especial interest in youth issues, and eventually formed his own political party, the United Progressive Party. The U.P.P. platform calls for the decriminalization of marijuana, but of equal importance, also offers up numerous educational reforms. The artist's heavy involvement in politics kept him out of the studio for much of the rest of the decade, but he finally returned in the new millennium with an exciting album, Communication.
Bunny Wailer (born Neville O'Riley Livingston, 10 April 1947), also known as Bunny Livingston and affectionately as Jah B, is a singer songwriter and percussionist and was an original member of reggae group The Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. A three-time Grammy award winner, he is considered one of the longtime standard-bearers of reggae music. He has been named by Newsweek as one of the three most important musicians in the world of music."Bunny Wailer chants support for Rasta Millennium Council - News". JamaicaObserver.com. 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2014-07-03. "Music - Bunny Wailer". BBC. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
Early life and the Wailers
The young Livingston actually spent his earliest years in the village of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish. It was there that he first met Bob Marley, and the two toddlers became fast friends. The boys both came from one parent families; Livingston was being brought up by his father, Marley by his mother. Later, Bunny's father Thaddeus "Toddy" Livingston lived with Bob Marley's mother Cedella Booker and had a daughter with her named Pearl Livingston. Peter Tosh had a son, Andrew Tosh, with another of Bunny's sisters, Shirley, making Andrew his nephew.
Bunny had originally gone to audition for Leslie Kong at Beverley's Records in 1962, around the same time Bob Marley was cutting "Judge Not". Bunny had intended to sing his first composition, "Pass It On", which at the time was more ska-oriented. However, Bunny was late getting out of school, missed his audition, and was told he wasn't needed. A few months later, in 1963, he formed The Wailing Wailers with his stepbrother Bob Marley and friend Peter Tosh, and the short-lived members Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso. As he was by some way the least forceful of the group, he tended to sing lead vocals less often than Marley and Tosh in the early years, but when Bob Marley left Jamaica in 1966 for Delaware, replacing Bunny with Constantine "Vision" Walker, he began to record and sing lead on some of his own compositions, such as "Who Feels It Knows It", "I Stand Predominant" and "Sunday Morning". His music was very influenced by gospel and the soul of Curtis Mayfield. In 1967, he recorded "This Train", based on a gospel standard for the first time at Studio One.
He was arrested on charges of possession of cannabis in June 1967 and served a 14-month prison sentence.
As the Wailers regularly changed producers in the late 1960s he continued to be underused as a writer and lead vocalist, though was a key part of the group's distinctive harmonies. He sang lead on "Dreamland" (a cover of El Tempos' My Dream Island, which soon became Bunny's signature song), "Riding High", "Brainwashing" and on one verse of the Wailers' Impressions-like "Keep On Moving", both produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry. In 1971, he recorded the original version of "Pass It On" which was released on dubplate and wasn't widely known until it appeared on JAD's "Original Cuts" compilation many years later - this version of the song features different lyrics and music in the verses to the later versions of "Pass It On" - Bunny would later reuse these in "Innocent Blood". By 1973, each of the three founding Wailers operated their own label, Marley with Tuff Gong, Tosh with H.I.M. Intel Diplo, and Bunny Wailer with Solomonic. He sang lead vocals on "Reincarnated Souls", the B-side of the Wailers first Island single of the new era, and on two tracks on the Wailers last trio LP, "Burnin'", "Pass it On" (which had been cut as a sound-system only dub plate five years earlier) and "Hallelujah Time". By now he was recording singles in his own right, cutting "Searching For Love", "Life Line", "Bide Up", "Arab Oil Weapon" and "Pass It On" (a new recording of the Wailers song) for his own label.
Bunny Wailer toured with the Wailers in England and the United States, but soon became reluctant to leave Jamaica. He and Tosh became more marginalized in the group as the Wailers became an international success, and attention was increasingly focused on Marley. Bunny subsequently left the Wailers to pursue a solo career after refusing to tour when Chris Blackwell wanted the Wailers to tour freak clubs in the United States, stating that it was against his Rastafari movement principles."BUNNY WAILER (bunnywailer1) on Myspace". Myspace.com. 1947-04-10. Retrieved 2014-07-03.  "Singing the jailhouse rock", Jamaica Observer, 25 November 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012 Bunny quoted directly in the documentary, Marley
After leaving the Wailers, Bunny became more focused on his spiritual faith. He identified with the Rastafari movement, as did the other Wailers. He has also written much of his own material as well as re-recording a number of cuts from the Wailers catalogue. Bunny Wailer has recorded primarily in the roots style, in keeping with his often political and spiritual messages. The album Blackheart Man is a good example of his roots reggae style, while Sings the Wailers successfully reworks many of The Wailers songs with the backing of top Jamaican musicians, Sly and Robbie. He experimented with disco on his album Hook Line & Sinker. He has also had success recording in the typically apolitical, more pop, dancehall style. He has outlived his contemporaries in a culture where death by violence is commonplace.
However, he also had a dancehall/Rockers edge that was best exemplified by the album Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers in which he re-interprets some of the Wailers material as a solo Roots singer backed by a solid Sly & Robbie based Roots reggae grouping. The album produced by Bunny Wailer, was recorded at Harry J Studio. Some of these tracks are re-worked classic Wailers tracks (e.g. "Dreamland" — a cover of El Tempos' "My Dream Island" with slightly reworked lyrics that became Bunny's signature song. This was first recorded in 1966 by Clement Coxsone Dodd, and later in 1970 with Lee "Scratch" Perry, then, released as a 7" in 1971 with a U-Roy version on the B -Side). Another classic is "Dancing Shoes", first recorded in the mid-1960s as a driving ska/soul classic with Bunny Wailer as lead vocal.
Bunny Wailer has won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1991, 1995 and 1997.
Today, Bunny resides in Kingston and on a farm located in the interior of Jamaica (Saint Thomas), according to Bob Marley's official website. Bunny Wailer and Beverley Kelso are the only surviving members of the original Wailers.
In August 2012 it was announced that Bunny Wailer would receive Jamaica's fifth highest honour, the Order of Jamaica.Bonitto, Brian (2012) "Tosh gets OM", Jamaica Observer, 7 August 2012, retrieved 7 August 2012