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Alive, Alert and Attacking: Bunny Wailer Coming Into 2015

Alive, Alert and Attacking: Bunny Wailer Coming Into 2015

Alive, Alert and Attacking: Bunny Wailer Coming Into 2015

By on - Photos by Gerard McMahon - 3 comments

"I can see that the reggae family is getting larger and stronger"

Though a superstar, Bunny Wailer once went 7 years without performing in public. That was after helping Bob Marley and Peter Tosh make reggae ‘international’. The good news is that Bunny plans a world tour with his star-spangled Solomonic Reggaestra in 2015. The bad news is that his partners Marley and Tosh will only join him in spirit.

Though approaching 70 years, Bunny Wailer/Jah B. is as lively and engaging as ever. On the back of a formidable reputation and massive musical output, in 2013 he released 50 new tracks in 3 CD cum double DVD format. In 2014 he completed a successful South American and European tour. In the course of the latter, he made his long awaited debut in Ireland. After a sensational sell-out performance at the Button Factory he brought United Reggae’s reporter to his room for some serious ‘reasoning’.

Bunny Wailer

Given that Bunny’s status is based on growing up in the same house as Bob Marley and the creation of a new (reggae) template for sound with Bob and Peter Tosh, I inquired as to whether he had a favourite recollection of his time with them:

"Oh boy! Our memories are family memories, because my Dad got Robert’s (Bob Marley’s) mother pregnant long before we started to sing as the Wailers. So Bob and I have got the same sister. Her name is Pearl. And then Peter Tosh got my sister pregnant, bringing Andrew Tosh into it. So I’m tied into this family as a member. All of that has come out of and gone into the Wailers. There is nothing that we can do about that to change it – so our children are our children’s children – all members of the great Wailers’ family."

Though not always welcomed as a prophet in his own land – having once been booed off stage by the Jamaican dancehall fraternity – one wonders if he is happy with the current reception to his music:

"Yes, because I can see that the reggae family is getting larger and stronger. The white folks are getting involved too in making and playing this music. And they’re making it in all the areas that it is supposed to be recognised and treated right. And I can see the white folks doing it. And I can remember when we got to England in the early 1970s – those were the first people – the English people – who really turned us up and took to the albums ‘Catch A Fire’ and ‘Burnin’."

As to his greatest musical influences, Bunny confirms: "The Skatalites – no hesitation. I can add Count Matchuki and of course my teacher Joe Higgs."

Asked about his greatest musical achievement (shortly after his 70th birthday), Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry told United Reggae that: "it don’t come yet"! In response to the same question Bunny doesn’t dwell on the Wailers’ era or his knock-out 1986 Madison Square Garden show in New York in front of 14,000 fans. Instead he opts for:

".. the Grammy Awards – I’ve got 3 Grammy awards – for albums in 1991 (‘Time Will Tell: A Tribute To Bob Marley’), 1995 (‘Crucial: Roots Classics’) and 1997 (‘Hall Of Fame: A Tribute To Bob Marley’s Anniversary’)."

My greatest achievement in music is the Grammy awards

This response is reiterated and embellished when the question is widened as to the greatest achievement in his whole life. Though again taking refuge in the gongs awarded by the Grammy establishment, it is tempered by his good fortune is linking with Tosh and Marley:

"Well my greatest achievement in music is the Grammy awards. But my greatest achievement in life, well it’s been a great life, so it’s hard to pick one achievement, because there have been so many great things relating to my life. The Robert Marley and Peter Tosh link up was the key – they were like the first people to come really - and what they have become in my life is major big. I can’t be a hypocrite about that because that’s the way it is – no mistaking that. They are my brothers. And although they are not still physically with us, they have left a legacy that is still with us and will be forever."

Snoop Dogg (or ‘Snoop Lion’ as he was temporarily relabelled) is the latest high profile personality to fall foul of this Wailer. Some speculate that Jah B.’s 14 months in prison (for ganja possession in 1967/68) irrevocably altered him for the worst. When asked about the impact – after which some found him (even more) difficult to deal with - he explains:

"Well, what I found is that my time in prison was false. The Jamaican Government now owes Bunny Wailer hundreds of millions of dollars for sending me to prison falsely. I’ve got documents to prove that the case against I Man was withdrawn, but I was sent to prison. And I did one year and two months in prison, although the case against I was withdrawn. And so that is now what I am concentrating my mind on, how do I get my justice. It is important to me, as I would like to get some kind of justice for being wrongly sent to prison."

It’s alleged that in 2000 Bunny got $2m. in backdated royalties for his Wailers’ work. Known to cut up rough on money matters – which have been a source of some bizarre encounters with his bankers and their agents - the financial focus from such scrapes surfaces when Jah B. is asked about his interests outside music:

"Yes, I’m a footballer you know. I still play a lot of the football. And now there’s a big issue with ADIDAS for taking my image off the internet and using it to advertise their produce. Afterwards they offered me meagre compensation for doing that. But that is something that is wrong – it’s not good for the sports or for the entertainment. Those two things go together – sports and entertainment. There’s no respect for I Man from the ADIDAS Corporation. But I’m still looking forward to see that ADIDAS come and deal with Bunny Wailer as they should have dealt with Bunny Wailer from that time until now."

I’m still looking forward to see that ADIDAS come and deal with Bunny Wailer as they should have dealt with Bunny Wailer

And so now Bunny is in legal pursuit of ADIDAS, claiming compensation of $100m. – which is a far cry from their €3,000 settlement offer! Of course, part of what makes this Wailer ‘great’ is that he has never been backwards about coming forwards. That is, Jah B. has been outspoken (and occasionally taken controversial positions) on a host of issues – from disarmament and discrimination to racism and righteousness. Such stances are frequently sourced in his commitment to Rastafarianism. For example, on the subject of his ‘favourite’ politician, he explains that there is: "None. Selassie I the first protect I. He is my politician." And when it comes to his least favourite politician:

Bunny Wailer"I don’t have none of them neither. Because if you’re going to say ‘least’ then you’re likely going to have a favourite – ‘least’ and ‘favourite’ is on the same kinda scale. But somehow I don’t have one, because the politics that I have experienced in Jamaica is not something that is welcoming. No – because the people hear Jamaican politicians, but those politicians don’t practise politics in the manner that it was taught to them by previous politicians of some note, like Bustamante and Norman Manley. Nowadays, the politicians are going in some directions that none of the original people did. That is something that scares me off."

Indeed Bunny’s political perspectives are the main legacy of Jamaica’s 2001 Sumfest, when (in a lengthy monologue) he firmly laid the blame for the country’s ills at the feet of the politicians.

Jah B.’s adaptability to different musical styles – from dancehall to disco and rocksteady to rap via roots – is frequently matched by his adaptability to good causes. However, the traditional Rasta still has some ‘out-of-step’ reservations. For example, his last release includes a jaunty track that dismisses the role of condoms in the fight against AIDS – arguing that good diet is a superior defence against the disease! And unlike his arch-enemy the Pope, Bunny is not open to re-assessing his position on the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender issue:

"Well, these things raise questions - there’s going to be a lot of questions – more questions than answers. But I - as a Rastafarian – focus mainly on what is righteous in the eyes of the Most High, Selassie I Jah Rastafari. In the beginning Jah created male and female to bring forth males and females on to this earth. And there is nothing to say that homosexuality does that. Because people are born as males and born as females and they should exercise those things that represent them and make them to be who and what they are. It is something that is questionable. There are a lot of people who don’t have an answer to the types of questions that are being asked on this matter. So if I can summarise on this issue, let me say that it is something that I would prefer to leave alone. Each to their own – but I am a Rastafarian."

Indeed some credit is due to Jah B. for sticking with his Biblically-influenced stance and avoiding the toxic territory of homophobia, which has seen some reggae artists barred by concert promoters.

Though Bible-driven, Bunny is not first in the ‘forgive and forget’ queue. When told that Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – whom Bunny allegedly assaulted over money matters many years ago - persistently inquires as to his welfare, Bunny responds:

"I want nothing to do with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is bad luck. He’s bad luck for the Wailers, bad luck for the whole enterprise of music. Lee Perry is not good. Now listen up - Lee Perry is not one of those people who worked to benefit the Wailers. He did what he did to benefit himself – with the albums ‘Soul Rebel’ and ‘Soul Revolution’ that we did for him."

Lee Perry is piracy, there is no respect

The Perry pain persists when asked what upsets him most in music:

"People like Lee Perry – it’s the truth. There is no point, it don’t make sense in going about it in another way when there is a truthful way about it. Listen now: those people are dangerous. Though the music has made some kind of progress, when you check how they have dealt with the music, it’s not progressive and doesn’t benefit the Wailers. Perry has the most pirated catalogue of the Wailers. Perry is piracy, there is no respect."

Similar treatment is reserved for Chris Blackwell – another personality (like Perry) who played a consequential role in bringing the original Wailers ‘mainstream’, exposing them to an international audience. When asked about his ‘greatest disappointment’ in life, Jah B. responds:

"My greatest disappointment is Chris Blackwell – as I publicly stated at the 2009 ROTOTOM Reggae University debate, when we shared the stage. To tell you the truth, Chris Blackwell should not have been there, because he sold out his company to the Universal Music Group Conglomerate (U.M.G.). And so at that presentation he should have given U.M.G. some chance to say something on this matter. But he was going on as if he didn’t sell it – but that is another part of his ‘blackness’ that I don’t like. I just don’t like when someone goes on like that. If he got rid of his (Island Records) company, then he got rid of it. But if he’s going to appear and be part of a reggae presentation, then he needs to bring the people that he sold our material to to answer some serious questions. He must do that – bring U.M.G. in. You can’t be talking about the Wailers – Bob, Peter and Bunny – and going on as if you are still Island Records. Anyway, who is Island Records? Really? I just don’t like Chris Blackwell for a lot of the things he’s done and is doing. Why he does it? I don’t know. Sometimes people do things wrong. They make agreements but then they don’t live up to the agreements that they make. Chris Blackwell seems to be one of them kind of ‘slave mentality’ kind of guys. Listen up now: I did the ‘Blackheart Man’ album. This is one of the greatest albums that has ever come out of the reggae bunch or stable. And all I can get from Chris Blackwell is £45,000 – what kind of insult is that? That’s not good for the music, that’s not good for the kind of efforts that have been put into making this great music what it is, when Chris Blackwell treat Bunny Wailer in that kind of manner. And I am aiming, with every muscle and ounce of strength that is within me to get what is my justice from the ‘Blackheart Man’, ‘Protest’ to the ‘Bunny Wailer Sings The Wailers’ albums – albums that I did on Blackwell’s Island Records."

My greatest disappointment is Chris Blackwell

Those interested in the now infamous Bunny Wailer-Chris Blackwell clash at the ROTOTOM Sunsplash festival can find it in DVD format on Jah B.’s recent bumper ‘Reincarnated Souls’ release. Notably, their lively exchange precedes Bunny’s curious allegation that Blackwell, lawyer Diane Jobson and Rita Marley were responsible for the murder of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Cedella Booker (i.e. Bob’s mother).

At the same 2009 ROTOTOM festival (where Bunny generously donated €10,000 from his appearance fee to Italian earthquake tragedy victims) he claimed that his biography ‘Old Fire Sticks’ (written by Wailers’ guru Roger Steffens) was en route. Unfortunately, when asked when we would see it, his tune had changed:

"What do you mean by ‘see’? Well the thing about it is that I am still deeply involved in the making of my own life story – it’s my life and Praise Jah, it’s good and still ongoing, here and focusing. At one time Roger Steffens was interested in the book, but he didn’t have what I would have wanted him to have had that I have had up until now. I am not yet ready for him to put out some or any kind of a book that is saying those things about myself and about those things that myself and Roger Steffens reasoned about. So, I am still aiming on putting that book together in a manner so that it holds all of the history that is relevant. Well, I don’t know what Roger Steffens thinks, but he has had a serious role to play in the putting together of this Bunny Wailer history of the Wailers. I’m still hoping to getting the right stuff into the marketplace for the fans to have, to focus on and enjoy relating to what really happened with the Wailers – coming from Bunny Wailer."

Bunny Wailer

However, Steffens disagrees – pointing out that Bunny’s biography is the most disturbing experience in his (illustrious) 41 year history in reggae. Venting his fury to United Reggae he explains that:

"It’s difficult to understand what Bunny is actually saying, just more doubletalk that fails to acknowledge the 10 years of work my partner and I put into his now aborted book. I gave him 3 completed chapters to read in 1998, and he never read them … he's just ignored us inexplicably after all our labours … I consider it a crime against history. He’s letting the distorted views of people like Timothy White tell his story for future generations. His hijacking the credit for ‘Dreamland’ from its composer Al Johnson, and his failure to appear at shows for which he has accepted (and kept) advances, are further blots on his increasingly damaged reputation."

I’m still here and wide open for any member of the Wailers who would want to become involved in this great music

Asked about remaining ambitions, he reflects:

"Well, I’ve got some children, and Bob’s got some children and the late Junior Braithwaite got some children and to the Wailers our children will be the ones to take this legacy that we have left into the future, to the benefit of all the other children too. So ‘give thanks’ I am still here, Robert (Bob Marley) is not, Peter (Tosh) is not, Junior Braithwaite also is gone, as is Carly Barrett – all members of the Wailers. But I’m still here and wide open for any member of the Wailers who would want to become involved in this great music that we are still focusing on, with me again. These are the people who made it possible for the music to be their child. I am still open to people like Family Man, Earl ‘Wire’ Lindo, Tyrone Downie and so on - as brothers who were involved in this great music. And I am sure that they still are somehow involved. Along with the musicians that I am still playing with – who are junior to those brothers from the Wailers era – but they are just as involved in the music. And so I am welcoming every aspect of this music, from Family Man to Lindo and so on and such like. It may not be a lot in terms of numbers, but they are a lot in terms of history and the amount of work that they have put in and their potential – what they still could put in if they want to focus on doing so. So I give thanks for all the people that have been playing this music – all, from the Skatalites right up to these brothers that I have just mentioned and those you have just seen with me on stage (as the 10-piece Solomonic Reggaestra). They make it work. And all of the younger folks that have been involved in the music that is now penetrating in such a manner so that they are not going to be letting it go for anything in the world. Because reggae music is the greatest music that has ever hit earth.

Reggae music is the greatest music that has ever hit earth

And the other big ambition is the legalisation of ganja. It is a different issue, but it is something that we are also focusing on because ganja’s legalisation is happening all over the world. And as one who was sent to prison for ganja I say so. For me, it goes back to my Daddy - Toddy, who was one of the first people who was really involved in the distribution and sale of marijuana in the form of what was called ‘donkey weed’ – before it was a really high grade marijuana. Of course, marijuana has taken over and left no space or place for the old ‘donkey weed’. That’s because ‘high grade’ marijuana is getting ‘higher and higher’. Only one or two still have reason to go for the ‘donkey weed’. Give thanks."

The other big ambition is the legalisation of ganja

When asked if he will live out his life in Jamaica, the old Rastafarian mantra is resurrected:

"No. My head is still focused on Ethiopia – as that is our tradition, our focus, our direction. And I pray that I am given the necessary strength to go to Ethiopia and to be in Ethiopia and to be able to invite others to Ethiopia."

Like too many Rastas before him, it’s hard to see Bunny realising this ambition and taking the trip. But who can tell?

Bringing the exchange to a close, United Reggae couldn’t resist asking the legend what is ‘Kotchie Coo’ – as namechecked in the classic ‘Mr. Collyman’ track on the wonderful ‘Rootsman Skankin’ album. As Bunny ganja-packed his hollowed out carrot (yes, carrot!) shaped in a chillum pipe style, he explained that:

"Well, there is ‘Kotchie Cum’, that means the ‘Kotch’, which is the ganja pipe. In fact, the ‘kotchie’ which is a kind of nickname, is not the whole pipe, it is that part of the pipe that holds the herb that is pushed deep for inhalation for the individual through the pipe stem. And so we say ‘pass the kotchie’, because you can’t be smoking the pipe without the ‘kotchie’ because the herb has got to go into the ‘kotchie’."

I pray that I am given the necessary strength to go to Ethiopia

Some years ago the renowned music journalist Chris Salewicz concluded that as reggae legends go, Bunny Wailer was "always second to the more congenial Burning Spear". This conclusion may now warrant revision. In the company of the pleasant and purposeful Maxine Stowe (industry expert and widow of the late Sugar Minott) Bunny seems at ease. And he puts on a sizzling live show, augmented by a full brass suite, backing vocals and the legendary Dwight Pinkney and ‘Papa’ Keith Francis on guitars.

Bunny Wailer’s 2015 world tour is coming to a town near you. Don’t miss it. You may not get a second chance.

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Read comments (3)


Posted by Kodwo Ansah on 12.29.2014
I love this piece on the legendary Bunny Wailer, please tell him, if you can, that it would be nice to see him play music in Ghana one day

Posted by Gerry McMahon on 12.29.2014
For sure. As a man with a 'big time' connection to Africa, performing in Ghana would be a real treat for this warrior. Hopefully the Ghana massive can extend a formal invitation.....

Posted by Chiwama Musonda on 12.29.2014
Indeed, the time for Jah B to perform in Africa is now. It has been long overdue for such a length of time. His peers, Peter and Bob, fulfilled their message by coming to the motherland. Bunny's mission will not be attained if he does not heed his African fans' calls to come. Zambia has been equally waiting.

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