Early Wailers: Pre-Island Years

Thanks to the local public library, I am no longer the same person I once was after reading Roger Steffens‘ comprehensive and thoughtfully organized oral history of Bob Marley and, by extension, The Wailers, from their earliest days.  Halfway through the book I felt compelled to take notes about a number of the more obscure early Wailers tracks.

What got me off the couch was the reminder that Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins, and Danny Sims (i.e., the JAD production team, featured late last December) brought in top NYC session players to “sweeten” the tracks for American ears – including Bernard Purdie (subject of a recent King history piece).  However, when you check the credits on disc one (1968) of the three-disc JAD box set, it says musicians “probably include” Eric Gale, Bernard Purdie, et al.  If not Purdie on tracks 1 through 14, asks Zero to 180, then what other drummer?   Check out “Love” – a surprisingly tender ballad from the Wailer with the most militant reputation – and decide whether Bernard Purdie provides the drum part on this JAD production from 1968:

“Love”     The Wailers     1968

Speaking of Peter Tosh, Steffens notes that the original Studio One ska version of “Maga Dog” includes little-known female Wailer, Cherry Green:

“Maga Dog”     The Wailers (backed by The Skatalites)    1965

Cherry Green can also be heard on “Lonesome Feeling,” as well as “There She Goes” – The Wailers backed by The Mighty Vikingsa rare 45 from 1964.

JAMAICA’S NO. 1 BAND
(Photo courtesy of Discogs)

It Hurts to Be Alone” features vocalist, Junior Braithwaite, another early member.  Check out the opening guitar line and instrumental solo break – who else could it be?  Answer:  Ernest Ranglin.

“It Hurts To Be Alone”     The Wailers     1964

Bunny Wailer affirms that “It Hurts to Be Alone” — a “smash” when performed live in the early days – was a song directly inspired by Curtis Mayfield‘s “I’m So Proud,” as recorded by The Impressions:

“I’m So Proud”     The Impressions     1964

Beverley Kelso, another member from the earliest days [who can be heard on early hit, “Simmer Down“], tells The Jamaica Observer in 2012 that she provided harmony on the original recording of “It Hurts To Be Alone“.  This song, notes Steffens — “the group’s first ballad to make a big impression” (get it?) — was written by “the teenaged Junior Braithwaite and recorded on August 28, 1964, the day before he left the island for Chicago” to join his family in the States.

Kelso sang on Wailers recordings sessions throughout 1964 and into the beginning of 1965 — including “Habits” from the group’s sixth recording session in mid-July 1964:

“Habits”     The Wailers     1965

Dreamland” (Steffens points out) is not a Bunny Wailer original but rather an adaptation of a relatively obscure A-side – “My Dream Island” by El Tempos – that had been suggested to the group by Studio One owner, Coxson(e) Dodd:

As Discogs notes:

Originally (but never officially credited on Wailers-related records), it was an adaptation of a song “My Dream Island” by El Tempos on a Vee Jay Records 7-inch (VJ 580, 1963).  Composed by AlBunkJohnson, lead singer of El Tempos.

Constantine “Dream” (a.k.a., ”Vision”) Walker – Rita (Anderson) Marley’s cousin – filled in for Bob when he was in Delaware and can be heard on “Sunday Morning”; “Let Him Go”; “Rock Sweet Rock”; “Dancing Shoes”; “I Need You”; “I Stand Predominate” (←fast forward to 24:51); and “I’m the Toughest”:

“I’m the Toughest”     The Wailers     1966

Wailers in the JA Pop Charts:  What Constitutes a “Hit”

Steffens states (on pgs. 56-7) that in 1965, “the Wailers had the number one [“Simmer Down”], two [“It Hurts To Be Alone“], three [“Rude Boy“], five [“Jailhouse“], and seven [“Put It On“] songs in the Top Ten at once.”  Earlier in the book, Dodd helps give some context as to what constitutes a “hit”:  “When ‘Simmer Down’ come out, in those days, anything from five thousand was a hit.  I would say twenty thousand would be a strong hit.”  Steffens adds, “At the height of the success of ‘Simmer Down’ it kept four pressing plants going and sold a reported eighty thousand copies on an island with only about two million inhabitants.”

During their early years, The Wailers were a pretty volatile live act, you might be surprised to know, as Bunny Wailer makes clear:

Our first appearance was at the Palace.  Wailers were hot.  When we hit the stage it was just fire … When we came on, half the people left their seats and were down almost to the edge of the stage, ’cause Wailers were like gymnastics.  Flickings and splits and snap falls.  All Wailers split.  We did stuff where Bob would take me and throw me in the air and we’d split.  Bob would kneel down, I would go over his back — splits.  Peter would come there and bounce us like rubber balls, just comin’ up and goin’ down like that.  I would run to him, he catches me, and as my belly cross his arm he just flicks and split.

Bunny says that at the last show before Bob left for Delaware, it was a first-ever concert in the National Stadium, and the moment that made the crowd lose control happened during one particular Bob ballad, “I’m Still Waiting“:

We had a little plan for “I’m Still Waiting” where when Bob said ‘my feet’, his feet just feel from under him, and we caught him before him hit the ground and just bring him back on mic.

“I’m Still Waiting”     The Wailers & Soul Brothers Orchestra     1965

Steffens also notes that “Rasta Shook Them Up” — a Peter Tosh song recorded just a few days after Haile Selassie’s historic 1966 visit to Jamaica – is “the Wailers’ first record specifically mentioning Selassie” (and a 45 that does well at auction):

“Rasta Shook Them Up”     The Wailers     1966

Freedom Time” – 1966 song of liberation from Dodd, despite being recorded at Studio One with The Soul Brothers is the first Wail‘n’ Soul’m 45 b/w “Bend Down Low” (Bunny says it sold something like 50,000 copies):

Check out the loping rocksteady version of “Stepping Razor” from 1967 — augmented by heavy hand drums (note the flubbed chord by the band just seconds before fading):

More Nyabinghi hand drums on Tosh/Wailers “Burial (below) the flip side to “Pound Get a Blow,” almost certainly recorded during the time Bob was in Delaware (where part of his time was spent sweeping floors at the opulent Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington) –- great piano on this killer rocksteady Wail’n Soul’m 45 release from 1968:

Hotel Du Pont:  Where Jeff Nold once imbibed

Musical blooper:  bassist accidentally plays opening note too early (or does he?)

Wail’n Soul’m 45s (Thanks to Discogs)

Other Wailers Rarities

Jamaica 45 — 2003                                          Pre-release — 1969

Glad to be reminded that the ill-named Best of the Wailers album that was recorded at Leslie Kong’s studio (and released August, 1971) was intended as reggae’s first “concept” album — a “thematically structured collection of songs,” explain the liner notes to JAD’s 3-disc box set, “geared to the idea of giving themselves a pep talk:  we’re back in the business, we’re not afraid, and we’re moving forward to new heights, and the past be damned.”

  • A more appropriate album title, asserts Bunny Wailer, would’ve been “Cheer Up”:

“Cheer Up”     The Wailers     1970

Carlton + Family Man = “Hippy Boys”:  Trivia

Bunny Lee produced the first recording session to feature Carlton and Family Man on a song (“Bangarang” by Stranger Cole & Lester Sterling) “that marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae” (see earlier sidebar re:  “first reggae song“):

“Bangarang”     Lester Sterling & Stranger Cole     1968

Two songs recorded for Catch a Fire that got reissued in recent years as bonus tracks:

Three recorded for the Burnin album similarly released as bonus tracks on reissues:

Netherlands 45 — 1973                                       Pre-release — 1971

‘Sangie’ Davis Gets a Co-Write

According to Roger Steffens:

Survival featured a song written by [Anthony] Sangie Davis called ‘Wake Up and Live‘ … Sangie was given credit on the original Survival cover for co-writing ‘Wake Up and Live.’  He received a small payment upon the album’s release in 1979, but nothing since.  His name has been removed from the credits on all subsequent pressings.”

“In late summer of 2006, Sangie and reggae great JosephCultureHill visited the Reggae Archives.  Davis, who had been a staff producer at [Bob Marley’s studio] Tuff Gong, revealed that he was the composer of the unreleased gems “Babylon Feel This One,” a dub-plate commissioned for the Twelve Tribes Sound System, and “She Used to Call Me Dada.”

“She Used to Call Me Dada”      Bob Marley & the Wailers

“Babylon Feel This One”     Bob Marley & the Wailers

Roger Steffens Weighs In on the King Records Legacy!

Zero to 180 is delighted to report that Roger Steffens himself was kind enough to check out this history piece on the early Wailers recordings and respond to my query about Bernard Purdie and the King Records legacy:

“As far as Mr. Purdie’s contributions to the catalog, I don’t think there’s anything I could add to what is in Leroy Pierson and my Bob Marley and the Wailers:  The Definitive Discography.  (If you don’t have this book, it’s indispensable to your work, and still available on Amazon.)  I wouldn’t trust Danny [Sims]’s memory on any specific tracks, but Purdie himself has acknowledged being on several.  We acknowledge specifically “Nice Time”; “Soul Almighty” & “Bend Down Low,” and you can check the discog book for many others too.

In 1956, after my graduation from grade school in suburban NJ, my dad was transferred to Cincinnati.  We lived in North Norwood and I started high school at Purcell, working six afternoons a week delivering 356 copies of the Post and Times-Star.  I went back to Cincy many times in the ’60s and ’70s while reading poetry in the schools.  Saw REO Speedwagon in ’70 at the Ludlow Garage.  Have very fond memories of the city.

I have dinner every Tuesday night with a bunch of aging musos, and a frequent guest of late has been Seymour Stein.  He also moved from NY to Cincy in 1956, and we were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn, three months apart (he’s older).  Stein’s autobiography, Siren Song, is a great read, with much about his time as a youth mentored by the King Records head.”

‘Sticky’: “Guns Fever” Vocalist?

Thanks to Harry Hawks’ biographical portrait of master percussionist (& sometime vocalist) UzziahStickyThompson for Reggae Collector’s Artists Hall of Fame, we learn that (1) ‘Sticky’ gets a shout-out in the intro to Baba Brooks’ “Girls Town Ska” from 1965 [Q: “Hey Sticks, where you going tonight?”  A: “I’m going down by Girls Town”] and (2) Thompson firmly asserts that it is he – not Baba Brooks – who voiced the ’65 ska classic “Guns Fever”!

“Guns Fever”     Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson (?) & Baba Brooks Band     1965

Hawks writes that “[Thompson] recalled, ‘I also did a song for Duke Reid named “Gun Fever”‘… which was credited to the Baba Brooks Band.”

Guns Fever 45“A classical, highly influential deejay who was great at his job before there was ever a job description,” continues Hawks, “he was rarely credited on his releases and the only way the listener knows it’s Cool Sticky is by recognising his exciting, highly individual delivery.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-cKnockout!  14th piece tagged as a Musical Fight

“Sticky”: Mouth Percussionist

David Katz’s biography of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, People Funny Boy, provides some very useful biographical details about master percussionist, UzziahStickyThompson:

“For the rest of [1967], Perry worked closely with a variety of artists for [Joe] Gibbs, including future percussionist, Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson, then a popular deejay known as Cool Sticky.  Born on August 1, 1936, in the rural district of Mannings Mountain, Thompson was the third of five children born to a poor contractor.  The family’s poverty meant that Thompson was unable to complete his education, and at age 15 he moved to Western Kingston in search of work.

“As the ska era approached, Thompson was one of the many box lifters assisting Coxsone Dodd with the running of his sound, and his friendship with Lee Perry dates back to this period.  Gradually, King Stitt began passing the mike to Thompson at dances because of his ability to make certain sounds with his mouth, and when Coxsone heard these sounds, he recorded Thompson’s vocal oddities on the Skatalites’ hit ‘Guns of Navarone.’  The success of the song saw Duke Reid using Thompson for the exciting introduction of the Skatalites’ ‘Ball of Fire,’ and the lasting success of this rival hit saw Thompson toasting regularly on the Treasure Isle sound system”:

“Ball of Fire”     The Skatalites      1965

Katz also reveals the source behind Thompson’s distinctive stage name:

“It was while toasting on Duke Reid’s sound that his capacity to excite a packed audience led to his peculiar nickname:  ‘When I started to play Duke Reid’s sound, it always stuck up-stick up, so they just put the name on me, Sticky.’  In the late rocksteady period, Sticky provided Scratch and Joe Gibbs with a dynamic toasting style on songs such as ‘Train to Soulsville,’ an outlandish take on The Ethiopians’ ‘Train to Skaville’ given a James Brown workout.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-bUzziah himself would like to make an important clarification via Reggae Collector’s website:

“You have a Sticky named Count Sticky … I know him!  He always worked on the North Coast.  He played the congas, but he is a calypso man!  He used to live in Pink Lane … and I’d go and check him and he’d say, ‘Hi Sticky’ and I’d say, ‘Hi Sticky!’  The two of us used to live nice, but we do a different work … totally!”

Skatalites 45

Won’t Someone Play This Record?

One of the original “fully fledged” 1960s mod ska participants, Arthur Kay, would play on a number of reggae hits for the Trojan label at London’s Chalk Farm Recording Studios, founded by his manager, Vic Keary, and Bluebeat label head, Emil Shallet, in 1968.     Chalk Farm would gain renown for being “the only UK studio that could properly replicate the Jamaican ska/rocksteady [and early reggae] sound” — Bob & Marcia’s classic take on “Young, Gifted & Black,” for example, would be laid down there, along with recordings by Junior Byles, Dillinger, Desmond Dekker, The Cimarons, and many others.

Ska Wars 45Kay would be invited in 1978 to record his song “Ska Wars” to test out Europa Sound’s new recording facilities in Kent.  Although virtually ignored by radio and mainstream media, the indie single’s 10,000 pressings would sell out quickly and thus, as Arthur Kay points out on his website, help galvanize a homegrown UK ska scene.  Kay would put together a backing band – The Originals – who would bring to life his second single “Play My Record,” a wry though rather pointed comment about “the way radio play-lists were (and still are) rigged by a few wealthy record labels”:

“Play My Record”     Arthur Kay & the Originals     1980

45Cat, puzzlingly, identifies the song as the B-side to “Sooty Is a Rudie” – despite the top billing accorded “Play My Record” on the 45’s own picture sleeve.

Arthur Kay 45Arthur Kay & the Originals would issue a compilation – Ska Wars 1979-1999, Featuring Judge Dread – whose reissue, Kay’s website announces, has sold out!

“I Command Thee”:  Honorable Mentions

♦   “Don’t Play This Record”     Morris Mills     1950

♦   “Please Play Our Song (Mr. Record Man)”     The Fontane Sisters     1953

♦   “Mr. D.J. (Please Play a Song for Me)”     Somethin’ Smith & the Redheads     1959

♦   “D.J. Play a Sad Song”     Jack Campbell     1965

♦   “Play That Lonely Record”     Gene Thomas     196?

♦   “Play Me a Happy Song (Mr. D.J.)”     Russ Allison     1967

♦   “Mr. D.J. Play Me a Sad Song”     Barry Mason     1969

♦   “Play the Saddest Song on the Jukebox”     Carmol Taylor     1976

♦   “Won’t Somebody Play My Record”     The Egton Runners     1979

1960s Ska in the US Market

Thousands of thanks to 45Cat chatboard contributor, OldOak, who freely offered up this bit of research related to the topic of U.S. Reggae 45s — I have simply added links to audio recordings on YouTube and/or filmed performances of the artist and song in action:

“Ska was one of the dance crazes of the summer of 1964, inspiring a fair number of records in the US — all 45 releases below are from ’64:

Jamaica Joe 45Pussycats Ska 45Coffee St. Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  “Come On and Ska” written by “Tommy” Dowd, former Manhattan Project participant who would later become audio engineer extraordinaire for the Atlantic label.]

“Here are a few more non-Jamaicans joining in on the very brief ska craze in the US. I add them only because I think we’re getting near to exhausting the ’64 US ska records.

  • Toni Fisher = “The Train Of Love/ The Springtime Of Life” (Signet 664)
  • Jimmy Griffin = “Try/ You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Reprise 0304)
  • Cambridge Strings = “Charmaine” (London 9683)
  • The Rhythm Kings = “Latin Ska” (Tollie 9014)
  • Frederick Fennell and His Symphonic Winds = “76 Trombones Ska” (Mercury)
  • Toni Wine = “A Boy Like You/ Funny Little Heart” (Colpix 742)
  • Lester Lanin = “West Indies Ska” (Philips 40217)
  • Baja Marimba Band = “Baja Ska/ Samba De Orfeu” (Almo 211)
  • Jerry Kennedy = “Blue Beat” (Smash 1907)
  • Woody Herman Orchestra = “C’mon And Ska” (Philips 40213)

76 Trombones Ska 45Baja Ska 45Blue Beat - Jerry Kennedy 45Toni Fisher 45

“Apparently, at this time, in addition to Prince Buster and Byron Lee & The Ska Kings, Atlantic signed the Blues Busters (who had already released a single on Capitol in 1962), Stranger and Patsy, The Charmers, and The Maytals.  Ahmet Ertegun went to Jamaica and made some recordings, intending to release a dozen or more singles (see Billboard, May 23, 1964).  I think they ended up releasing only one album with these artists, “Jamaica Ska” (SD 8098), and three singles, plus a couple by Millie Small.  Too bad.  Also, I’m pretty sure it’s The Maytals you hear near the end of “Oil In My Lamp” by The Ska Kings.

“As far as US releases of Jamaican artists go, up through 1965 there was only:

My Boy Lollipop - Millie SmallBlues Busters 45Lucky Old Sun 45Watermelon Man Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  Guitar army commando, Billy Mure, is the arranger on the last 45 listed, as well as composer of “Ska Dee Wah”]

“It turns out there were more ska records released in the US than I ever suspected.  Why then no Maytals or Jimmy Cliff?  Monty Morris [of the Ska Kings] got two!  I guess the whole thing just didn’t last long enough.  It really rode the popularity of only one record, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop.”   The Ska Kings got to #98 in Billboard with “Jamaica Ska,” Millie’s next record didn’t break into the Top 40, and it was over.  But it’s amazing how many records were made and released within a few weeks of Millie’s brief success.  This also coincided with the top Jamaican artists performing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.  Official embassies of dancers were also sent by the Jamaican government to New Jersey and Philadelphia to teach and promote the new dance.  Prince Buster tells what this meant for Jamaica in “Everybody Ska” (Amy 906).

“Here are a few from 1967:

Prince Buster RCA LPBlues Busters UA 45

Old Oak adds:
“‘Ten Commandments’ was actually a hit, reaching Billboard #81 (Pop), #17 (R&B).  RCA and King competed with two versions of the follow-up answer song (same lyrics, different singers), but neither charted.  As with all novelty songs, you might enjoy it the first time, but you never want to hear it again.”

King Records Goes Ska

Previous Zero to 180 posts have highlighted the strong cultural connections between Kingston Jamaica and Cincinnati, Ohio, as evidenced by (1) the radical rocksteady funk of Prince Buster‘s 1966 tip of the hat to “The Cincinnati Kid” himself, James Brown, as well as (2) the Jamaican LP from eight years prior – The Wrigglers Sing Calypso at the Arawak Hotel – in which the band (led by Ernest Ranglin) covers groundbreaking King Records composition, “Bloodshot Eyes,” a Top 10 hit for both Hank Penny (C&W chart) and Wynonie Harris (R&B chart) in the early 1950s and thus an “early landmark in racial integration” (Wiki).

But then I learned of an even more direct connection between these two unlikely cities:  Prince Buster’s 1967 single on King Records:

“Ten Commandments (from Woman to Man)”     Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans

In 1967, Prince Buster was touring the UK (where “Al Capone” was a Top 20 hit), as well as the US to promote his RCA Victor LP Sings His Hit Song Ten Commandments.  How fascinating then to discover that the “Cincinnati Kid” singer himself would end up seeing one of his productions being released on James Brown’s label, ultimately.  

This 45, interestingly, was a split single, with Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires on the flip side:

“Papa Jack”     Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires

These two songs, of course, were not recorded in Cincinnati’s King studios but leased from at least one other label.  This 45, as far as I can tell, was King‘s sole venture into Jamaican pop music.

Truth & Accuracy Dept.

Funny how one additional letter added to a song’s title can so profoundly impact the meaning of the song itself.  Imagine Spain’s citizenry in 1968, for instance, trying to make sense of Prince Buster’s 7-inch release, “Madness,” with its flip side, “Cincinnati Kids!

Cincinnnati Kids [sic] - Prince Buster 45