Bunny Wailer, the co-founder and last surviving member of the Wailers, has died at the age of 73. According to The Jamaica Observer, the reggae legend suffered a stroke in 2020 and had been in and out of the hospital since then.
Born Neville Livingston in 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica, he and Marley became friends when they were children in the Nine Mile village of St. Ann Parrish. After meeting Peter Tosh, the three teenagers formed the Wailers and enlisted vocalists Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso to join the band. They released their debut album, The Wailing Wailers, in 1965, featuring the ska classic ‘Simmer Down’. The group went on hiatus in the mid-60s when Marley moved to Delaware in the US and Wailer was sentenced to 14 months in prison for marijuana possession. After Wailer’s release and Marley’s return, the band reunited, collaborating with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his group the Upsetters for a series of records.
Wailer wrote a number of the group’s songs, including what would become his signature song, ‘Dreamland’. He played drums and sang on classic Wailers albums like Catch a Fire and Burnin’, both of which came out in 1973. As Bob Marley and The Wailers became an international sensation, however, Wailer was reluctant to leave Jamaica and departed the group in 1974 to launch a successful solo career. He won three Grammy awards in the 1990s: Best Reggae Recording in 1991 (Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley), Best Reggae Album in 1995 (Crucial! Roots Classics), and Best Reggae Album in 1997 (Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary). In 2017, he received the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government, the nation’s fourth-highest honour.