Bunny Wailer, Co-Founder of Bob Marley’s Wailers, Dies at 73

Jem Aswad
·3 min read

Bunny Wailer, a founding member of Bob Marley’s Wailers and a legendary reggae singer whose career reached across seven decades, died early Tuesday, his manager confirmed to the Jamaica Observer; a rep for the Wailers’ longtime U.S. label did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment. He was 73.

“He died about 8:00 this morning. I’m still right here with him,” his manager, Maxine Stowe, told the Observer from the Medical Associates Hospital in Kingston. No cause of death was cited, but Wailer had been in poor health since suffering a second stroke last July.

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Born Neville Livingston, Wailer was the sole surviving member of the Wailers, which he founded in the early 1960s with Marley, who died of cancer in 1981, and Peter Tosh, who was murdered in 1987. After leaving the group in the early 1970s, he went on to a solo career that included such albums as 1976’s “Blackheart Man,” and 1981’s “Rock ‘n’ Groove.”

Raised in the village of Nine Mile, Wailer met Bob Marley when the two were children and Marley’s mother later moved in with Wailer’s father, making the two friends step-brothers.

The two began singing at an early age and formed the Wailing Wailers with friend Peter Tosh in 1963. The group joined forced with producer Coxsone Dodd and the Studio One label and released Marley’s classic “Simmer Down,” which topped the charts in Jamaica in February of 1964. The group released several more singles and its debut album the following year before going on extended hiatus, during which time Marley moved to the U.S. and Wailer served a year in prison for marijuana possession. The group reunited later in the decade when Marley returned to Jamaica.

While Marley quickly emerged as the leader of the group and he and Tosh wrote and sang much of their material, Wailer sang his own compositions, including “Who Feels It Knows It” and “Sunday Morning.” While the group’s early material was a pivotal influence on the evolution of reggae, the genre’s impact truly began to be felt with their 1973 album “Catch a Fire,” their debut for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. Powered by the West Indian communities in the U.K. and the U.S., Marley and the Wailers’ sound spread from the Caribbean to the world, and was championed by the Rolling Stones — who would sign Tosh to their label in the late 1970s — and many other artists. However, Wailer left the group, which Blackwell had largely rebranded into a backing band for Marley, shortly after the release of “Catch a Fire.”

While his solo career was less lucrative and celebrated than Marley’s, Wailer issued a vast number of albums over the following years and toured regularly, widely acknowledged as one of reggae music’s O.G.s. He won three Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album, two of which were tributes to Marley.

In 2017, Wailer was awarded the prestigious Order of Merit by the Jamaican Government for his contributions to the country’s music.

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