When the news that Bunny Wailer, born Neville O’Riley Livingston had died on Tuesday at Andrew’s Memorial Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, the world reacted in shock.
The last member of the legendary trio The Wailers, comprising Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer himself was gone. His death marked the end of it all.
But who was Bunny Wailer?
According to the BBC, Bunny Wailer, a musician from Kingston, Jamaica was born on April 10 1947. He spent his early life in the village of Nine Miles, where he was raised by his father, Thaddeus, who had a grocery store.
He met Bob Marley as toddlers and became close friends. They went to school together at Steney Primary and Junior High School where they made their first music together.
In 1955, Marley’s father died and his mother Cedella, moved in with Bunny Wailer’s father and the two boys were raised as step-brothers. Their parents eventually had a daughter Pearl together.
The musical journey
After moving to Trenchtown in Kingston, they met Peter Tosh and formed what would be one of the biggest reggae groups called The Wailing Wailers.
Bunny Wailer told The Washingston Post that singer Joe Higgs, also known as the Godfather of Reggae lived nearby and took the boys under his wing. Under his guidance, they refined their sound, adding vocalist Junior Braithwaite and backing singers Beverly Kelso and Cherry Green before shortening their name to The Wailers.
The group achieved great success after they entered the Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One and recorded a song titled Simmer Down in 1963.
The song was an immediate hit reaching number one in Jamaica. The Wailers debut album was released in 1965 titled The Wailing Wailers.
Soon after the album was released, the band went into hiatus as Marley got married and moved to the United States of America (USA). Bunny Wailer, on the other hand, was convicted for marijuana possession and served a year in jail. Despite these challenges, they still released 28 singles between 1966 and 1970 before releasing their second album Soul Rebels.
They released other albums such as Catch a Fire and Burnin. Their last album as The Wailers brought tensions in the group as the group had been renamed Bob Marley and The Wailers following the solo success of Bob Marley.
Bunny Wailer then left the group in 1973, stating that the touring lifestyle clashed with his Rastafarian beliefs.
“Music is based on inspiration and if you are in an environment where you are up and down, here and there, that’s how your music is going to sound,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1986.
As a solo artist, he released a solo album Blackheart Man, which included songs like Dreamland and Fighting Against Conviction, which was inspired by his stint in jail.
Over the years, he released several albums. In the 1990s, he won three Grammy awards for best reggae album.
In 2006, he told The Washington Post: “I am satisfied with knowing that I’m serving the purpose of getting reggae music to be where it’s at.”
Following his death, several reggae music lovers, fellow artists and world leaders paid their respects.
Jamaican Prime Minister tweeted: “This is a great loss for Jamaica, and for reggae music.”
Gramps Morgan of the reggae group Morgan Heritage said: “A very sad day for our reggae world. Our legendary reggae icon has passed away.”
Bunny Wailer was married to Jean Watt for over 50 years who mysteriously disappeared on May 23 last year aged 70. She has not yet been found. n