R.I.P. Bunny Wailer, reggae icon and founding member of The Wailers

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Sam Barsanti
·2 min read
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Bunny Wailer
Bunny Wailer

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Bunny Wailer—a reggae music icon and founding member of The Wailers—has died. A cause of death has not been given, but the LA Times says that he did have a stroke “about a year ago.” Wailer was 73.

Born Neville O’Riley Livingston in Jamaica in 1947, young Wailer happened to meet a young Bob Marley when they moved into the same apartment complex, leading to the two of them eventually starting The Wailers with Peter Tosh (and temporary members Junior Braithwaite and Beverly Kelso). Wailer was a songwriter with a heavy ska influence, and with Marley and Tosh he helped develop the sound for what would eventually become reggae.

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The group released hits like “Simmer Down,” “Rude Boy,” and “Downpresser,” but from the beginning, Wailer tended to be more utilized as a songwriter than a vocalist (despite the group’s emphasis on multi-part harmonies). After returning from a prison sentence for possession of marijuana, Wailer’s contributions to the group started to be more and more diminished in favor of Marley’s writing and vocals, leading to him becoming frustrated with the direction of The Wailers. He ultimately left the band in the early ‘70s over his frustrations about Marley’s increasing prominence and his concerns that a planned tour of the U.S. would interfere with his Rastafarian faith.

Wailer then embarked on a solo career, taking in more disco and pop influences while also promoting the reggae and ska movements. He won multiple Grammys over the course of his career, including one in 1991 for Time Will Tell, a tribute to Bob Marley, who died in 1981. Peter Tosh was murdered in 1987, which left Wailer as the last surviving member of the original Wailers trio.