Bunny Wailer, last surviving founder member of the Wailers, dies aged 73

Reggae artist and three-time Grammy winner found worldwide fame alongside Bob Marley in the early 1970s

Bunny Wailer, the co-founder and last living member of Jamaican reggae group the Wailers, who took Bob Marley to global stardom, has died aged 73.

His manager Maxine Stowe confirmed his death to the Jamaica Observer. Wailer had been frequently hospitalised since suffering a stroke in July 2020.

Andrew Holness, Jamaica’s prime minister, was among those paying tribute, offering “deep condolences” to his family, friends and fans, and calling his death “a great loss for Jamaica and for reggae”.

Born Neville Livingston in 1947 in Kingston, he and Marley became friends as toddlers, and formed the Wailers in 1963, which settled into a core trio of the pair alongside Peter Tosh. They released their debut album, The Wailing Wailers, in 1965 (which included their Jamaican chart-topper Simmer Down), before going on hiatus when Marley moved to Delaware in the US. Wailer was convicted for marijuana possession in 1967, ​and served a 14 month sentence.

Bunny Wailer, right, with Bob Marley and the Wailers in London, 1973.
Bunny Wailer, right, with Bob Marley and the Wailers in London, 1973. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

They reconvened after Marley’s return and Wailer’s release, teaming with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his group the Upsetters, and began recording tracks in the new, slower reggae style that had emerged out of ska. Wailer penned a number of the group’s songs, including what would become his signature song, Dreamland.

By the early 70s, the Wailers had added new members and signed to Island Records, which – aided by the popularity of other new reggae stars such as Jimmy Cliff – helped bring them to international audiences. They had a global breakthrough with fifth album Catch a Fire (1973) and its follow-up, Burnin’, which featured what would become one of Marley’s signature songs, I Shot the Sheriff.

The original trio split in 1974, when Wailer left alongside Tosh. He began a solo career, beginning with 1976’s acclaimed Blackheart Man, and maintained a steady release schedule for 40 years. He won the Grammy award for best reggae album three times, in 1991, 1995, and 1997.

Contributor

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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