The tale of my musical history commences and is developed through the life history of my father Thaddeus Livingston in West Kingston and Nine Miles. He is considered the Father of “The Wailers’ based on his seminal role both in my and Robert Marley’s life. Our home in Trench Town was recently acknowledged as a National Heritage Site identifying as the birthplace of ‘The Wailers”. I was born at Kingston Jubilee Hospital on April 10, 1947. Upon my birth my father fell into a coma/trance for three weeks and awoke proclaiming the Revival Faith with a militant Khaki dress code. I grew up in the home church playing the Revival drums from 4 years old. My siblings would hide and take me to various soundsystem dances where I became knowledgable of the equipment, music and dance moves. Thaddeus “Shut” as he was affectionately known was a major figure in the nascent Ganja (marijuana) industry as a trader and as a cultivator led us to the beautiful and fertile hills of Nine Miles, St.Ann in 1954, where the foundation of my relationship with Robert Nesta Marley began. Robert and I grew from fast friends attended Stepney All-Age school together and was known and loved as close friends at that time in the community. It was in Nine Miles where I gained my first experience on my home verandah as a stage where performed with my self-made bamboo guitar singing folk classics to the delight of the farming community after workday. I was also the only person allowed to operate the Gramaphone at my father’s friend’s shop. My father and Robbie’s mother Cedella Malcolm Booker had a relationship leading to the birth of our sister Pearl Livingston leading to Robert and I becoming extended family moving to Kingston and then Trench Town sharing and establishing “The Wailers” together at 19 Second Street in Trench Town. Thaddeus was a major social and financial contributor to ‘The Wailers’ where we got the respect of many of the leaders of the Community, particularly Joe Higgs.
As teenagers at this time, West Kingston was buzzing with musicality and I as a Camperdown H.S student was often in the music room where The Gaylads rehearsed and passed John Holt rehearsing at Kings Theatre nearby after school. Robbie had a welding apprenticeship with Desmond Dekker which led to him being introduced to Beverly’s/Leslie Kong who produced his first song “Judge Not”. With this experience he encouraged me to audition and record where I write my first composition “Pass It On”. I was late getting out of school and running errands for my father and missed the Beverly’s audition. As singing groups were the rage, Robbie and I merged our talents and within a few months formed ‘The Teenagers’ with Junior Braithwaite and my recruiting Peter Tosh who was my gambling partner at the Stagalag 13 Bar at 3rd Street.. One day in the middle of a game a colleague passed by with a guitar missing a string and Peter took the guitar from him and started playing, having seen him handling the guitar I immediately invited him to meet Robbie who was also very impressed and keen on learning himself. Beverley Kelso, who used to visit a friend at our home started singing along whichestablished us first as a Quintet under the tutelage of Joe Higgs of the established singing duo Higgs & Wilson. Junior Braithwaite and Beverly eventually left, also there was a replacement with Cherry, but it was the Trio of Robert, Peter and I that emerged and where we were also inspired by our Rastafari Community elders to change our name to The Wailing Wailers.
In 1963 we auditioned for Coxsone Dodd founder of Studio One whom instantly produced our first #1 hit record Simmer Down which was an effective social commentary urging Jamaica’s “Rudeboys” to calm down and end the violence in our communities. Vocal harmony was the lead and most distinctive and competitive feature in musical groups, we as others were greatly inspired greatly by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, and this bonded with our message of brotherhood and us being a three man vocalalternatively leading the group.
Our many hit singles for Studio One were compiled in our classic debut album “The Wailing Wailers” in 1965 accompanied by the ska supergroup The Skatalites. Our songs became household favorites including the international anthem “One Love” written by myself and Robbie influenced by the gospel and the soul of Curtis Mayfield/The Impressions.
Our popularity also grew publicly as a group and became established as a Trio with Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith no longer associated.
The community and fans bestowed the name “Bunny Wailer” on me instead of “Bunny Livingston” because they saw me as the one carrying the ‘group’ torch. With Coxsone Dodd we never benefitted monetarily for our works which led to Robbie taking a warehouse job in Delaware with my brother Carl Livingston in 1966. He wanted me to come also but I remained in Jamaica and began to compose more with Peter and we both led the group with Constantine “Vision” Walker fulfilling the group trio. Some of my compositions at this time were “Who Feels It Knows It”, “I Stand Predominant” and “Sunday Morning”.
We all loved the creative musical process and our songwriting was credited and allocated equally as a family, everyone in the band felt valued for their hard work and I worked hard for the interests of the group to prevailed over personal solo ideas. We started the first artist-owned label ‘Wail N Soul M’ in 1966 on Robbie’s return and later founded the Tuff Gong label to distinguish our export releases. We owned and operated several business establishments and operated joint business accounts until we formed Tuff Gong Records Ltd. in 1972. We believed in ownership and was keen on learning the business. I was wrongfully accused and arrested on charges of possession of cannabis in June 1967 and served a 14-month prison sentence. The case was apparently dismissed yet due to the slack judicial system of Jamaica I still served the time though there was no record of a conviction; I have no prison record. This is where I wrote the song “Battering Down Sentence” and got acquainted with the 1895 bestseller book ‘The Sorrows Of Satan’ that was to mirror “The Wailers” lives predictively with Chris Blackwell/Island Records.
“The Wailers” were stars in the UK by virtue our success in Jamaica since ‘Simmer Down’ and consistent recordings for almost a decade up to and through Catch A Fire/Burnin.
“The Wailers” had been introduced by Mortimer Planno to Danny Simms, whose partner Johnny Nash was looking to establish some Reggae hits. This happened as I was incarcerated, so for those 18 months, Robbie and Peter were signed as writers and our music became ‘demos’ for Nash where Rita had been added in as my replacement. When I was released from prison we restarted our grassroots recordings, releases and our record shop, where we linked up with producer Leslie Kong to do an album “The Best Of The Wailers” and with Lee Perry to co-produce ‘Soul Rebel & Soul Revolution albums, meeting up with The Barrett Brothers, aiming for the UK market in 1970.
Robbie had gotten an opportunity to do a solo run with Johnny Nash and in the midst returned home to regroup and go as ‘The Wailers’ as he wasn’t received well, with us being a known and expected group as The Wailers since Simmer Down since 1963. We were accompanied now by Carlton Barrett and Aston Barrett and Wire Lindo, who were themselves abandoned by Lee Perry on their recent Upsetters Tour in London, to open for Johnny Nash, however we were never allowed to perform with some excuse about work permits and our passports being held at the Home Office; an obvious delay tactic. We were then informed about a potential deal with CBS under the JAD label, and began laying the tracks that would eventually become ‘Catch A Fire’. The pressure to have us perform grew on Danny Simms with our fans hearing that we were actually in the UK. He was forced to let us perform on a subsequent show where the success of our appearance upstaged, Johnny Nash’s ‘King of Reggae’ tag that hecoined from the successful covers of Stir It Up and Guava Jelly! The tour was immediately cancelled, also our CBS recording sessions with the group abandoned and stranded in UK by them.
Our road manager, Brent Clarke was an acquaintance of Chris Blackwell of Island Records arranged a meeting with him, who coincidentally was just left high and dry by his star perfomer Jimmy Cliff. We had already heard of Chris Blackwell through our business relations with Coxsone Dodd/Studio One, where he always mentioned Chris as the distributor/person in England who was holding out on payment ending in our low payments. We accepted the meeting and I immediately confronted Blackwell about our earlier works and he replied “I gave Coxsone Thousands of Pound! However in our then position that could not be followed up. We entered into a verbal production arrangement with him in which we received £4000 to make an album, which he has gone on record to say he never expected to either get back or even an album, and I similarly theorized it was some of the Coxsone money. However due to our ongoing intent to establish an international career, we looked to complete the “Catch A Fire” project abandoned by Danny Simms, which we completed with additional resources. He Blackwell was pleasantly surprised to have received the album and had us sign a bogus ‘Work For Hire’ agreement that he recanted as not being so before the US Courts in New York in 2010.
After some over dubbing sessions with guitarist Wayne Perkins in the UK ”Catch A Fire” was released in 1973 to international acclaim. While doing the “Catch A Fire” Tour we recorded our sixth studio album “Burnin” released in October 1973. It was certified Gold and later added to the National Recording Registry, with the Library of Congress deeming it historically and culturally significant. I increased my writing/lead contributions on ‘Burnin’ and in fact the album was to be titled ‘Reincarnated Souls’ with other songs “Pass It on” and “Hallelujah Time” and “The Oppressed Song”. In this spotlight we were all expecting to have our leads incorporated but the reality was that Bob Marley was being soley focused on which led to increase underlying tensions.
After our successful 1st tour of England we were now in discussion with Blackwell about our upcoming “Burning” Tour. My refusal to play “freak clubs”, particularly the Vampire environment of Caskets, skeletons etc. I sincerely believed was in violation of my Rastafari faith, I decided to not do the USA leg of the Tour and in my stead we used our vocal trainer Joe Higgs. In their continuing on a UK leg of the tour Peter also decided to leave, cancelling the tour, amongst a general discontent of all three of us and the label about what this Record deal meant. We came to an appreciation that we should all do our Solo projects and that our collective efforts such as studio and record label/company would benefit.
Deciding to continue our works as solo artists while promoting our Tuff Gong Records company where the studio that we envisioned at 56 Hope Road was our main goal. Robbie being the main focus of Island was the first to go towards working on his Natty Dread album continuing on the Island label. I designed two labels, Intel Diplo and Solomonic and asked Peter to choose. He chose Intel Diplo and we began putting out singles through Tuff Gong Records. The main and continuing dispute of this period is Island’s use of the group title ‘Bob Marley & The Wailers’ while divesting our image and likeness, for Robbie’s solo career, which became a central feature within my solo career to defend and restore this right.
The Wailers transition to solo careers and companies remained alongside our interest in Tuff Gong Records. After Natty Dread release we performed together with Robbie on two major concerts in March and October 1975 concert featuring The Jackson5 & Stevie Wonder. In producing my debut solo album “Blackheart Man” in 1975 I continued to work with all the group members and musicians, Robbie, Peter, Aston & Carlton Barrett, along with many of the leading musicians. It was released in 1976 on Island Records.
I remained on Island until Robbie’s passing in 1981, with my last album being ‘” Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers”. My last memory of Robert is our last conversation while he was ill in Germany when I said “if you don’t feel its working out, come home and let’s do what our livity requires” and he said when he gets better we are going to be “The Wailers” again. After Robbie died, Blackwell conspired to remove our involvement with Tuff Gong’s name, image and likeness, stole and redesigned Tuff Gong logo from our ‘three fisted’ partnership to Robbie’s solo image and attempted to fraudulently convert our company Tuff Gong Records into Tuff Gong International. Due to my taking to to the Supreme Court in Jamaica and the High Court in London, all this was attempted to be settled in a 1999 Tuff Gong Settlement Agreement between “The Wailers”, but Blackwell’s continued ownership interest in the Estate through Blue Mountain Music and machinations with Island have prevented this.
It is a creative impossibility for any of us to leave and not be associated with “The Wailers” as our identity and the catalog of our work is a living and integrated testimony. I have been blessed to be a Surviving Member for almost 4 decades and like all other great artists and groups in popular music, my legacy preserves our history and experiences, sealed as namesake; Bunny Wailer.
After leaving Island Records 1n 1981 I decided to fully chart my own independent path and went fully into building up the Solomonic Productions machine where I produced over 30 albums, several artists and several major local and international show events. I vowed to chart my own path and own my material which although I never got the promotion associated with the major label machine, I did it my way. I licensed for distribution with independent labels such as RAS Records & Shanachie and now have the value of the ownership of my full solo catalog & publishing to exploit in the new digital era.
My musical message is always grounded in my Rastafari faith, I write spiritually charged material inspired by the teaching of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie 1, and the Pan African leader, Marcus Mosiah Garvey. My love of dancing and making people dance and having a “nice time” is seamlessly integrated in my productions. Albums such as Rock N Groove, Dubd’sco,, Hook Line & Sinker, Rule Dancehall, and Rootsman Skanking, a featured artist in the competitive Dubplate sound system world, not to mention writing the song that became a world dance craze Electric Boogie with Marcia Griffiths.
I am an ultimate music lover and during my long career in the music industry I have been successful with all the genres of Jamaican music. I toured extensively with Jamaica’s greatest musicians including but not limited to: Sly and Robbie, Roots Radics, Dean Fraser, Earl Chinna Smith, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Bopee, Dwight Pickney, and Danny Axeman to name a few who forms the ‘Solomonic Reggaestra”. Some of my well known classic singles over the years include Ballroom Floor, Another Dance, Rise and Shine, Cool Runnings, Ram Dancehall, Rock and Groove, Crucial, Mellow Mood, Back to School, and not to mention Dreamland. I’ve been blessed to receive 3 Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album in 1991 for the album “Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley”, 1995 for “Crucial! Roots Classics”, and 1997 for “Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley ‘s 50th Anniversary (RAS)”. I was also featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album. I have and continue to receive numerous local and international honors, keys to cities of America &UNESCO Certificate., In August 2012 I received Jamaica’s fifth highest honor the Order of Jamaica and in 2017 Jamaica’s highest Civilian award, the Order of Merit that I share with Bob Marley & Peter Tosh who received theirs posthumously.
I humbly remain an active torch bearer for the Rastafari movement as a Nyahbinghi Elder for over 50 years. The Wailer’s Museum has been launched to incorporate sites in Washington Gardens, Trench Town, Nine Miles and Dreamland Farm in St. Thomas. YUUU HEEAAAARR!!!