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TopFeature ArchivesLabel Hall of FameSolomonic
Featured Label
SolomonicText by Harry Hawks
"The music is a river of conviction, flowing past sadness, pain, oppression and rejection into the hope of the glorious kingdom of Jah Jah." Jean Fairweather
Founded 1974
Place of Establishment Kingston Jamaica
Main Studio(s)
Channel One
Harry J
Mixing Lab
Neville O'Riley Livingston
Carl Pittersson
Chris Blackwell
David Hamilton
David Rowe
Junior Edwards
Karl Toppin
Lancelot McKenzie
Sylvan Morris
Related Artist(s)
Related Label(s)
The incredible global success of Bob Marley & The Wailers is not only a reggae phenomenon but also a phenomenon without precedent and to trod the potholed zinc fenced streets and yards of Trench Town is to fully appreciate The Wailers' incredible advancement from harsh, unrelenting poverty to worldwide recognition. The last surviving member of the original Wailing Wailers, Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingston, is not only the sole keeper of The Wailers' history but is also rightly regarded as the guardian of their place in history and the importance maintaining their enduring legacy.

In 1964 The Wailers came together as a five piece harmony group comprising Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingston, Winston 'Peter Tosh' Mackintosh, Robert 'Bob' Marley, Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso who had replaced Cherry Green aka Ermine Bramwell. The group were thoroughly tutored in voice control, harmonies and stagecraft in the "government yards in Trench Town" by singer and songwriter Joe Higgs, of Higgs & Wilson, before voicing their first records including 'Simmer Down' for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) at Studio One on Brentford Road.

"That was our first song that we did under that tutorship of Joe Higgs and 'Simmer Down' was a hit record for The Wailers... and still is a hit record for The Wailers! "Bunny Wailer

Beverly Kelso left The Wailers the following year and Junior Braithwaite then left the group when he emigrated to America. The remaining three members now took turns on lead vocals: Peter Tosh (or Touch) led on 'Maga Dog', 'Sinner Man', 'I'm The Toughest' and the authority baiting 'Rasta Put It On' (also known as 'Rasta Shook Them Up'). Bob Marley handled the lead vocals on 'Jailhouse', 'Rude Boy', 'I'm Still Waiting' and 'Put It On' and, as the music began to slow down from ska to rock steady, Bunny Livingston took the lead on 'Dancing Shoes', 'What Am I Supposed To Do', 'Let Him Go', 'Who Feels It Knows It' and 'Dreamland'. A number of these songs would be returned to at later stages in the group's career.

The group established their own Wail N Soul M label in 1966 after parting company with Studio One although the first release on the label, 'Bend Down Low' backed with 'Freedom Time', employed the talents of Studio One's house band The Soul Brothers and was distributed by Coxsone. The Wailers were among the first wave of Jamaican artists to take charge of their own destiny and work in this way as they knew it was the only way they could get their message across.

"We had to be very serious about what we were doing and we knew that there was no other way to go. No other way! We could have tried out other ways... or we might have tried other ways... but The Wailers... Bob, Robert Marley, Winston Mackintosh, Peter and myself Bunny Wailer... we knew that there was a responsibility that was ours... that we couldn't avoid doing and out of that it made all that came out of The Wailers..."Bunny Wailer

In July 1967 Bunny Wailer was imprisoned, initially in Kingston's notorious General Penitentiary, following a conviction for possession of marijuana. He is still "fighting against conviction" and working on clearing his name but was able to gain a measure of knowledge and understanding from this harsh episode of incarceration.

"Well... jail was an experience. What I learned in jail was something that I couldn't learn anywhere else... and I wanted to know what I know from jail... I wanted to be wise. So I went to jail." Bunny Wailer

The Wail N Soul M label continued to release classic rock steady records in Bunny's absence including 'Funeral' with Peter on lead vocal, 'I'm Hurting Inside' with Bob on lead and Bob's wife, Rita, on harmony while Rita sang lead vocal on 'Play, Play'. Bunny returned to the group in September of the following year but the pressures of running their own label eventually proved too much and, after a superb series of releases that number among the finest music ever recorded, Wail N Soul M ceased operating in 1969. Bunny's 'Tread Along' was one of the last releases on the label and was the first Wailers' release to acknowledge the new style of a b side instrumental 'version'.

Texan Johnny Nash, backed by Lyn Taitt & The Jets, had enjoyed a major international crossover hit in the summer of 1968 with the beautiful 'Hold Me Tight' produced at Kingston's Federal studios and The Wailers now signed a deal with JAD (Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins and Danny Sims). They recorded a number of demos but the only vinyl release at the time was a seven inch single featuring back to back re-recorded versions of 'Mellow Mood' and 'Bend Down Low' credited to Bob, Rita & Peter on JAD in the USA and Bob Marley Plus Two on the Jamaican WIRL release.
Throughout the sixties and early seventies Leslie Kong was one of the most consistently successful Jamaican record producers and one of the first to make meaningful inroads into the international market. Bob Marley had cut his first three solo recordings in 1962 for the Beverley's(Beverleys) label and, eight years later now alongside Peter and Bunny, he began recording again for Beverley's. Leslie Kong had already achieved international crossover hits for Desmond Dekker with '007', 'Poor Me Israelites'/'Israelites' and 'A It Mek' and with The Pioneers on 'Long Shot Kick De/The Bucket'. The Maytals' 'Monkey Man' and The Melodians' 'Sweet Sensation' were also huge sellers for Leslie Kong when Trojan Records licensed them for release in London. The Wailers wanted their message to reach an international audience, a message has to be delivered, and Beverley's was the obvious route. The 'Best Of The Wailers' album that group recorded for Leslie Kong was in the same bright, commercial reggae style as the aforementioned crossover successes and records such as 'Caution' and the joyful 'Soul Shake Down Party', where both The Wailers and The Dynamites give it their all, were classic releases. The Wailers tried the uptown route again and recorded four songs for Dutch producer, Ted Pouder, who was then working at Dynamic Sounds and the mesmerising 'Wisdom', straight from the Holy Bible was one of the group's best ever songs.

"The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die from want of wisdom." Proverbs Chapter 10, Verse 21

But it was becoming obvious that neither Leslie Kong's Beverley's nor Byron Lee's Dynamic's polished production techniques were suitable for The Wailers' rebellious compositions. They began working with Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry) and The Upsetters in 1970 who amplified their uncompromising stance and the group finally began to fight their way out of the ghetto, completely bypassing uptown Kingston, and going straight to the rest of the world.

Well... make I tell you now. Family Man, Carlie Barrett, Reggie, Glen Adams they are The Upsetters. We began our real establishment internationally with these brothers playing the music." Bunny Wailer

Scratch had reached Number Five in the UK National Charts in the Autumn of 1969 with 'Return Of Django', credited to The Upsetters and starring Val Bennett's scorching tenor saxophone, and both Trojan Records and the Palmer Brothers were now regularly releasing his productions in London. His production techniques were more adventurous than Leslie Kong's, JAD's and Ted Pouder's overtly crossover emphasis and were already moving towards the eccentricities that would later define his signature sound. Bunny recalled that the financial aspects of their arrangement were nowhere near as satisfying as the musical side, however, The Wailers were able to appreciate that Scratch's international reputation would enable the group to make their mark globally.

"But the records really got out into the reggae family... and everybody got to have these records and make themselves more firmer about the music and about The Wailers and all of that kind of stuff. I'll live with that because it worked for us... you know there wasn't any economics that were really made in a manner that should have been made. We still can address it... to make money... but what it has done so far in making the people aware to me is more than money. And that is what's been done." Bunny Wailer

That same year Bob, Bunny and Peter started their own Tuff Gong Records label and record shop at 127 King Street and their 1971 Jamaican Number One hit on Tuff Gong, 'Trench Town Rock', was an invitation to "give the slum a try". Their celebration of life in the Kingston 12 ghetto, where there were "no stocks on our shelves", paradoxically started to lead them out of its confines.

Island Records in London advanced The Wailers £4000 to record an album in Jamaica in late 1972. Providing advances to finance the recording of an album was standard music business procedure but placing this level of financial commitment in a Jamaican group was completely unprecedented. However, 'Catch A Fire' proved to be the surprise hit of 1973 with 'progressive music' audiences in the UK where the album was regarded as "as an alternative to mainstream rock music" and The Wailers became the toast of the then influential UK rock press. The album proved to be the international critical breakthrough that Jamaican music had been waiting for and the follow up, 'Burnin'' "one of the most uncompromised reggae sets ever to appear on a major label" , released later that year helped to further consolidate their standing.

As well as working with Bob as The Wailers both Bunny and Peter began to release their own productions using the Tuff Gong shop and distribution for their Solomonic and Intel Diplo H.I.M. labels respectively. They had the choice of either Solomonic or Intel Diplo H.I.M. (Intelligent Diplomat For His Imperial Majesty) for their self productions and Peter had decided upon Intel Diplo H.I.M..

'Searching For Love', credited to Heat, Air & Water, was the inaugural release on Bunny's Solomonic label in 1972 and this intensely spiritual, transcendentally beautiful record set the tone and the template for all that followed. The early Solomonic releases were credited to The Wailers but they officially 'broke up' in January 1975 when Bunny and Peter both left the group and, although three separate solo careers were a highly logical step forward, Bunny recalled it was not an easy choice to make.

"Well... I wouldn't say I was happy. But I couldn't say that I was sad! Because I did a lot of work that I would not get done only in The Wailers. You know you're limited as a group... you can only do so much albums... but when you're a solo artist you limit yourself. You want to put out twenty five albums you put it out. If you want to put out one... you put it out." Bunny Wailer

The records released on Bunny's Solomonic label were few in number but each one was a certified classic in its own right. 'Searching For Love' was re-released as 'Search For I' backed with 'Bide Up' and Bunny Wailerdeejayed this rhythm twice as 'Bide' and 'Black On Black' released back to back as 1974 drew to a close. Further seven inch releases, including a radical reworking of 'Pass It On', 'Life Line' and Bunny's prophetic 'Arabs Oil Weapon', kept the pressure on as Bunny began outlining his flawless 'Blackheart Man' album.

"This was a reggae album on which considerable time and thought had obviously been spent and was aimed far beyond the dance hall. The effort was more than justified by the strongest songs Bunny ever wrote..."
Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton

The album featured re-cuts of 'Reincarnated Souls', 'This Train' and 'Bide Up' alongside brand new originals such as 'Rasta Man' and 'Amagideon (Armagedon)'.... one of Bunny's most enduring rhythms. Released internationally through Island Records 'Blackheart Man' established Bunny Wailer as a highly respected, world renowned artist in his own right and, in addition to countless classic singles, he would go on to release a stunning series of albums on Solomonic. 'Protest' was followed by 'Struggle' which included the superb 'Bright Soul'. 'In I Father's House' included a reworking of the Wail N Soul M track 'Fire Fire' entitled 'Love Fire' which was released on a separate twelve inch release. Bunny continued to regularly release singles and albums on Solomonic and now began to tour internationally. 'Dub D'sco Volume One' proved to be one of the best dub albums of the late seventies and, towards the end of 1980, his long playing release 'Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers', comprising Bunny's interpretations of a selection of The Wailers back catalogue backed by the Rhythm Twins: Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar and Robert 'Robbie' Shakespeare(Sly & Robbie), was a huge seller.

"...and then 'Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers'... I got a Grammy for the 'Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers'. Yeah! A Grammy Award for that album." Bunny Wailer

'Riding', an update of 'Riding High' a tune that Bunny had originally recorded for Scratch with The Wailers, was a big hit on London's reggae market in 1981. It was followed by one of the deepest roots recordings ever, 'Rise And Shine', which gave Bunny another massive UK hit. The arrival of the dance hall style left many established reggae stars behind but Bunny's album and single, both entitled 'Rule Dance Hall', were no idle boast. Bunny also occasionally produced other artists for Solomonic including Marcia Griffiths, initially on 'Tribulation', and then with 'Electric Boogie' which "metamorphosed into a gigantic international smash" as 'The Electric Slide' in the USA where it reached Number 51 in the Billboard Hot One Hundred in 1989. In August 2012 it was announced that Bunny Wailer would receive Jamaica's fifth highest honour, the Order of Jamaica.

"And Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle, Nanny Maroon, Norman Manley, Alexander Bustamante... and all of these people before in all developing stages of politicality and otherwise... they made us to know that we stand up and fight with all our might for that we know which is good. And after having those people doing what they did and they have left us with that legacy I see The Wailers as those people who improved on those messages..."
Bunny Wailer

Bunny Wailer continues to tour internationally and he has never lost sight of the original aim of The Wailers, continually striving to preserve the group's legacy, making music not only as a medium for change and protest but also to elucidate and educate.

Naoki Ienaga: Interview with Bunny Wailer Kingston, Jamaica 19th October 2012
Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton: Reggae The Rough Guide Rough Guides Ltd. 1997

Date Added: Apr 25, 2016 / Date Updated: May 17, 2016
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