Bunny Wailer 1947-2021
In 1966 I bought two Wailers singles, issued in the UK on the Island label. The first, WI-268, was the beautiful original up-tempo take of “Put It On”, b/w “Love Won’t Be Mine”. It would be five or six years before I knew that the song and the preaching vocal on the A-side were by a man called Bob Marley. The second, WI-3001, was even better. “Sunday Morning” was the B-side to “He Who Feels It Knows It” but it is one of the loveliest ballads of that whole decade. It was written and sung by Neville Livingston, who became better known as Bunny Wailer.
Marley wasn’t even on this record. It was cut during his time away in the United States, working at factory jobs in Wilmington, Delaware, where his mother had gone to live. His replacement at the session, joining Peter Tosh as one of the harmony voices supporting Bunny’s gentle lead, was Constantine “Vision” Walker, a cousin of Rita Marley, Bob’s wife.
For me, the Wailers were always Bob, Bunny and Tosh. It was obvious why Bob turned into the focal point and became one of the most famous and charismatic singers on the planet. But that leaderless era, from 1962-1973, produced some wonderful music, none of it better than “Sunday Morning”, made by a bunch of Jamaican teenagers and standing alongside the Impressions’ “I Made a Mistake”, “I’ve Been Trying” and “I’m So Proud” as a classic of mid-’60s soul balladry.
History says that Bunny harboured a bitterness about what happened to the group he had helped to form. There are rights and wrongs about that, things to be said on both sides, and no doubt they’ll be analysed in the obituaries that will follow today’s announcement of his death at the age of 73, following a stroke last year. But at the moment I’d rather listen to these three minutes of concentrated, unspoilt, imperishable beauty.
* If you want another dose of Bunny’s exquisite singing from that era, try the Wailers’ version of the Moonglows’ “Ten Commandments of Love”.