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.”

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