Neville O' Riley Livingstone,
born on 10th of April 1947, and loved by
generations of Jamaican music lovers as Bunny
Wailer, remains one of reggae's most reclusive
and understated heroes.
He grew up alongside Bob Marley in the country,
his father, Thaddius "Taddy" Livingstone, moved
to Kingston at the same time as Bob's mother
Cedella, where he opened a rum bar. Both the
young boys were left behind to be looked after
by relatives until they were old enough to move
to the city themselves. Eventually a
relationship developed between Cedella and Taddy,
which led to the birth of a daughter Pearl.
Growing up together in Kingston, the boys
developed a strong desire to become musicians,
and along with another friend, Winston McIntosh
(Peter Tosh), began attending music lessons in
the yard of local recording artist Joe Higgs.
Beginning their recording career with Clement "Coxson"
Dodd in December 1963, the boys, under the name
of The Wailers, soon became local celebrities,
scoring a string of hits beginning with the rude
boy commentry "Simmer Down" recorded at their
very first session.
Although Bunny possesed one of the most
beautiful voices ever to be captured in a
Jamaican studio, he did not effectively step out
from the shadow cast by Bob until Marley left to
stay wth his mother in the US in 1966. During
Marley's sabbatical, Bunny mined a previously
untapped creative vein, recording his own
compositions such as "Dancing Shoes", "Who Feels
It Knows It", "Rock Sweet Rock" and the first
attempt at "Dreamland".
Unfortunately, this creativity was brought to a
halt early in 1967, when Bunny was arrested for
possesing marijuana. Even though no herb was
found, Bunny was convicted, and sent to Richmond
Farm prison for 14 months, in which time the
Wailers began a deal with Danny Sims and his JAD
Released in September 1968, Bunny returned to
the Wailers who continued their works with JAD,
as well as issuing recordings on their own Wail
'N' Soul' 'M label. Once again Bunny kept a
relatively low profile in the band, his only
major recording from this time being the amusing
"Tread Oh", which features the memorable line
"take it easy on my pony".
Following an albums worth of material recorded
for Leslie Kong in April 1970, the Wailers next
teamed up with Lee Perry, and Bunny sang lead on
"Rebel's Hop", "Riding High", and the memorable
"Brain Washing". In 1971 Bunny enjoyed huge
popularity with a Perry produced version of
"Dreamland", which remains one of his most
important and enduring recordings.
Under Perry's guidance , the Wailers finally
developed and settled on a sound that would
become the pillar for their future work. In 1972
work began on an album for Island Records,
during which time Bunny also began releasing
records on his own Solomonic label. Amongst the
earliets releases on this label were "Search For
Love", and "Bide Up".
The first Wailers album on Island, "Catch A
Fire" came out in April 1973, but it wasn't
until the second album in November that year
that Bunny contributed a lead vocal. In fact
that album, "Burnin'" featured two splendid
tracks from Bunny, "Hallelujah Time" and "Pass
It On", both wonderfully uplifting tracks with
Bunny in fine voice. A third Bunny track
"Reincarnated Souls" was originally slated as
the title track, but was eventually relegated to
the B side of the "Concrete Jungle" single.
With the Wailers picking up rave reviews, both
for their records and live shows, the future
looked bright for the band, but at the end of
1973, Bunny refused to tour any longer, and his
place on the American leg of the tour was taken
by mentor Joe Higgs.
Back in Jamaica with the tour complete, the
original trio of the Wailers fell apart. Bunny
continued his refusal to tour, and Peter Tosh
was unhappy at the limited outlets for his own
compositions within the band. By 1974, Bunny and
Peter were no longer in the Wailers, but Bob
retained the name for his backing musicians, and
both Peter and Bunny issued singles crediting
Bunny continued with his
Solomonic label, issuing "Battering Down Sentence" and "Rastaman"
in '74, and "Arabs Oil Weapon" in 1975. 1975 also saw a reunion
of the Wailers trio at the National Sports Stadium on October
4th, where Bunny sung lead on "Dreamland" and "Battering Down
Bunny's first solo album "Blackheart Man" followed in 1976, and
was an astounding collection, featuring re-workings of older
tracks and fresh material of exceptional quality. The album is
rightly regarded as one of the finest reggae works of all time,
and still retains the impact it originally had all these years
"Protest" followed in 1977, and in 1978 Bunny recorded the main
theme for the film "Rockers", as well as enjoying success with
the hits "Love Fire" and "Roots Radics Rockers Reggae" before
releasing his third album "Struggle" in 1979.
In 1980 Bunny recorded an album full of Wailers recuts for
Island, and following Bob's untimely passing in 1981, he
recorded the "Tribute" album in honour of his life long friend.
Also issued in 1981 was the dancehall influenced "Rock 'N'
Groove" album, and it was from these cover versions and dance
tunes that led to criticism of Bunny's output over the next
Many people considered Bunny's dance tunes to be trivial, and
below what he was capable of producing, but he ignored the
criticism and continued in a similar vein throughout the '80s.
Whatever the level of seriousness in his music, it remained
enjoyable, and his releases were eagerly anticipated by his
Further hampering his career outside of the reggae buying public
was his continued reclusivness and refusal to tour outside of
Jamaica. Bunny's first live performance as a solo artist outside
of Jamaica didn't come until 1986, when he appeared at Long
Beach in California, since when he has appeared rarely on stage.
The changing musical climate in Jamaica was also a problem, and
on one infamous occasion he was booed off stage, with the crowd
throwing objects as well as insults.
In 1985, Bunny began work on a Wailers re-union album, in which
he took tapes recorded for JAD in 1967 and added contemporary
overdubs and additional vocals. With Bunny in the production
chair, he was joined by Peter Tosh, Constantine Walker and
Junior Braithwaite for the project, and the idea was to package
the set as a double album with the original versions on one
record and the overdubbed cuts on the other.
The project started well enough, and a single, "Music
Lesson/Nice Time" was issued in 1986 and sold extremely well.
Unfortunately progress was eventually hampered by fallings out
with Rita Marley, continuing legal wrangles, and ultimately the
tragic loss of Peter Tosh, who was murdered in his home on
September 11th 1987.
The project lay dormant for years, until it was finally issued
in the US by RAS records in 1994, with Peter Tosh's son Andrew
inducted into the Wailers for the release. Sadly the album
failed to live up to it's potential, the original versions of
the songs failed to appear as hoped, and the overdubbed versions
already sounded dated 8 or 9 years after their recording.
Another tribute to Bob Marley came in 1995 when Bunny released
the collection "Hall Of Fame", on which he recorded 50 of Bob's
songs, including the unrecorded "Fancy Curls", which is
reputedly the first song Bob ever wrote.
Bunny Wailer's output has divided some Wailers followers. Many
love his lighthearted dance tunes and cover versions for which
he has won 3 Grammy's, while other yearn for the day he commits
himself to more serious reasonings, such as those that have
appeared sporadically on his albums. He undoubtedly has the
talent, and his releases will continue to be of interest, even
if they do occasionally fail to fulfil their full potential to
With Bunny Wailer you get the feeling that something special is
just waiting to happen, hopefully that something special will
manifest itself very soon.