The Wailers put reggae on the map. More so than any other set of musicians on the planet, The Wailers Band brought reggae to the attention of the world outside of Jamaica. Through the concerted musical support they supplied during the 1970s, The Wailers Band helped elevate Bob Marley to achieve the status of the first “Third World Superstar,” and in the process, brought the reggae of their native Jamaica to audiences on every continent. It is no overstatement to suggest that the incredible merging of musical minds that resulted in The Wailers Band was a unique moment in the history of our planet’s contemporary music. Yet, after Marley achieved an unparalleled degree of international success with their support, everything dissipated in the aftermath of his untimely death in 1981, the victim of cancer at the tragically young age of 36. The Wailers Band went their separate ways, never to perform again with any significant amount of the core membership that made them so exceptional. Never, that is, until now, when the Wailers Reunited project has at last come into being.
The story of The Wailers Band really begins during the 1960s. The original Wailers formed as a vocal harmony group in the Trench Town slum in 1963, initially as a quintet, but later slimming to the committed core of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer). Percussionist Alvin ‘Seeco’ Patterson brought them to an audition at Studio One, which resulted in their first hit recordings, and during the years when ska and rock steady were the rage, the group recorded and performed with an ever-changing cast of session musicians (with Seeco often part of the picture). But everything changed around 1969-70, when they began working with the maverick producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who had harnessed the skills of a pair of young brothers as his in-house rhythm section: bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and his drumming brother Carlton made such an impression on Marley that he convinced them to become the rhythm section of The Wailers Band, once The Wailers broke away from Perry to establish their own Tuff Gong label. They were soon joined by two very young and very talented keyboard players, Earl ‘Wya’ Lindo and Tyrone Downie, who had totally different styles from each other, and who performed alternate duties, depending on need. Once The Wailers signed to Island Records in 1972 for the Catch A Fire album, they needed a band to go on the road with them as well as to record, and Fams, Carly, Seeco and Wya were crucial parts of the team. The New York-born guitarist Al Anderson joined in 1974 for the Natty Dread album, bringing a blues-rock dimension to the sound (around the same time that Tyrone Downie took Wya’s place more permanently), only to be replaced by the time of the Rastaman Vibration album in ’76 by bluesman Donald Kinsey when Anderson shifted to Peter Tosh’s group. Junior Marvin became part of the band by the Exodus album, his rock lead lines helping to broaden the sound, and when Al Anderson returned to the fold in 1978 for the European tour that yielded Babylon By Bus, their dual-guitar format made things much more three-dimensional. Wya returned for the One Love Peace Concert in April 1978, and to do overdubs on the Kaya album, the twin-keyboard format added another element of musical complexity, as heard more clearly on Survival. This is the lineup that remained with Bob Marley right to the end, making the Wailers Reunion project a truly historic one.
For the first time since the death of Bob Marley, all of these players, except for Carlton Barrett, who was tragically murdered in 1987, shall come together again to make another display of musical unity. Family Man will be joined by his son, Aston Junior, on drums, along with Seeco, Wya, Tyrone, Al Anderson, Donald Kinsey and Junior Marvin. It is the moment so many reggae fans have always dreamt of, despite the many obstacles that might have been in the way. In a time when the world is in such dire straits politically, when the music industry has lost its way and reggae has been obliterated by gangsta rap, techno, and apolitical dancehall, the Wailers Reunited project will provide a huge amount of inspiration to reggae fans all over the world. Creating a Buena Vista-styled documentary that can capture the moment when these great friends and musical peers, separated for so many years by physical distance and the fallout generated by Marley’s death, will yield a document of great historic importance. The world needs to see what happens when these great musical icons join together again, and also needs to understand the incredible hardships each member has gone through in the interim; despite being responsible for the music on some of the most popular recordings of all time, many band members are destitute and each has what can be described at best as a precarious existence. Ultimately, the Wailers Reunited project shines a beacon of hope during these trying times. It shows the power of music to overcome obstacles, and highlights the close camaraderie and exceptional musical abilities that made The Wailers Band so legendary.