Since Sunday, February 6 would be Bob Marley's 66th birthday, today's Old Stuff post will focus on Marley's early career with the Wailers. Marley not only is a legendary reggae star, but may have been the most charismatic pop performer in history. But while known for the themes of freedom, militant advocacy for the downtrodden and universal love conveyed in the songs that made him world famous, the Wailers started down a different path. And until recently, the early Wailers' material wasn't well known because it wasn't released outside of Jamaica.
Click on this link to listen to one of their earliest recordings while you continue to read:
If you didn't know it was the Wailers, you'd probably guess that it was a Motown act.
The group was formed in '63 by Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer), Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith. Originally they called themselves the Teenagers, then the Wailing Rudeboys, and then the Wailers. Initially, the lead vocals belonged to Braithwaite (who had a smoother voice than Marley). But Braithwaite and Smith left the group in '64 and Marley became the lead. The group recorded for Dodd's Studio One until '66, then disbanded. After a brief stint working in a factory in America, Marley returned to Jamaica and reformed the Wailers with Tosh and Livingston.
Here is an early song with Braithwaite on vocals. An added bonus is the great Ernest Ranklin is playing guitar:
The music of the Wailers in the Studio One period was vastly different from the later music performed by the Wailers or any of Marley, Tosh and Livingston in their solo careers. As noted in last week's reggae post, that time period of Jamaican music was dominated by local acts putting their own spin on American R&B and soul, and the Wailers were no exception. Some of the songs reflected the ska beat and instrumentation, and some reflected the transition to rocksteady. At that point, they would have been happy to be scooped up by a Motown or Stax talent scout. And the band dressed the part, in matching suits and short haircuts.
Here is one of Bob's earlier compositions. It appeared on several later albums, but this version reflects the ska beat of the pre-rocksteady period:
The reformed Wailers became interested in the Rastafari faith. That faith, the political and social climate in Jamaica, shifting personal dynamics and other musical influences influenced the change in their musical approach. But that music, and the story about how Joe Higgs taught the Wailers to be a band, is for another day.