There are or have been - at least - two bands named The Wailers:
- The legendary Jamaican reggae band (founded as a ska group 1963, and became a Rastafarian reggae band in 1968), renamed Bob Marley & The Wailers in 1974, which are still active led by bassist Aston Barrett after Marley's death in 1981.
- The Fabulous Wailers, a rock and roll and garage band from the USA, active 1958-1969, first led by John Greek, replaced in 1960 by Rockin' Robin Roberts.
1) Bob Marley & The Wailers have together sold in excess of 255 million albums worldwide. Since they are extraordinary popular also in poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America with big markets for pirate copies the total amounts of albums sold has been estimated to over 1 billion. In England alone, they've notched up over 20 chart hits, including seven Top 10 entries. In USA on the other hand, Bob Marley & The Wailers reached superstar status only after Marley's death, with the album Legend , focusing on the person Bob Marley but not on the band. Outside of their groundbreaking work with Marley, the Wailers have also played or performed with international acts like Sting, the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, and Alpha Blondy, as well as reggae legends such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Burning Spear. As the greatest living exponents of Jamaica's reggae tradition, the Wailers have completed innumerable other tours, playing to an estimated 24 million people across the globe. They have also been the first reggae band to tour new territories on many occasions, including Africa and the Far East.
Their nucleus formed in 1969, when the vocalist group "The Wailers" (formed 1963 by Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh) requited the talented Barrett brothers: bassist Aston "Family Man" and drummer Carlton (writer of well-known Marley songs like "War" and "Talking Blues", 'sound-maker' of more Marley songs, developer of the one drop style in reggae music) played on hits such as Lively Up Yourself, Trenchtown Rock, Duppy Conqueror, and many more besides. Inspired by Rastafari and their ambitions of reaching an international audience, this is the line-up that pioneered roots rock reggae, and signed to Island Records in 1971. Bunny and Peter left two years later. It was at this point that the in-demand Barrett brothers - whose rhythms also underpinned innumerable seventies' reggae hits by other acts - assumed the title of Wailers, and backed Marley on the group's international breakthrough album, Natty Dread. Under Family Man's musical leadership, they then partnered Bob Marley on the succession of hit singles and albums that made him a global icon, winner of several Lifetime Achievement awards, and Jamaica's best-loved musical superstar.
Drummer Carlton "Carlie" Barrett was murdered 1987, leaving his brother as the main beneficiary of the Wailers' mantle. Subsequent line-ups have revolved around Family Man, who is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest bass players. Modest and unassuming, he was present on all of those unforgettable performances by Bob Marley & The Wailers from the seventies. Family Man continues to be the main axis of the current Wailers - a group that's one of the last, great reggae institutions, yet which refuses to live off past glories. That's because Family Man represents tried and trusted roots authenticity and, along with the Wailers, injects fresh excitement into a show that continues to attract enthusiastic audiences from around the world.
2) The Fabulous Wailers were an American rock band from Tacoma, Washington. Formed around 1958, they are often considered the first garage rock group. They performed a hybrid of saxophone-driven rhythm and blues and Chuck Berry rock and roll.
Five 45s (four released in 1959, including Tall Cool One, and one in 1960) and an LP release, The Fabulous Wailers (released December 1959 on Golden Crest Records), put the Wailers on the national scene. Their 1961 cover of Louie Louie, which they recorded as a backing band for singer Rockin' Roberts, was the first to use the trademark 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 riff. Their version inspired other groups from the Seattle area, most notably the The Kingsmen of Portland, Oregon, to record the same song. The Fabulous Wailers' influence established the Pacific Northwest area as a center for musical innovation and the home of a long string of regional favorites playing a kind of raunchy, amateur, yet passionate, form of rock and roll.
They became popular around the United States Pacific Northwest around the late 1950s and the start of the 1960s, performing saxophone-driven R&B and Chuck Berry rock and roll. Their biggest hit was "Tall Cool One", first released in 1959, and they have been credited as being "one of the very first, if not the first, of the American garage bands."
The group was formed – originally as The Nitecaps – in 1958, by five high school friends:
John Greek (27 October 1940 – 6 October 2006) – rhythm guitar, trumpet
Richard Dangel (1 December 1942 – 2 December 2002) – lead guitar
Kent Morrill (2 April 1941 – 15 April 2011) – keyboards, vocals
Mark Marush (15 August 1940 – 9 August 2007) – tenor sax
Mike Burk (b. 1942) – drums
In late 1958, the group recorded a demo of an instrumental written by Dangel, Morrill and Greek, which found its way to Clark Galehouse of New York based Golden Crest Records. He liked the track and had it re-recorded by the band in Lakewood in February 1959; its title "Tall Cool One" was apparently suggested by Morrill's mother. Released as a single, it reached # 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and # 24 on the R&B chart. The band made the cross-country trip to New York to record an LP, The Fabulous Wailers, which was released in December 1959 and featured two vocals by Morrill as well as instrumentals. They also appeared on Dick Clark's nationally televised American Bandstand, and toured the east coast. A second instrumental from their first recording session, "Mau-Mau", made # 68 on the Billboard pop chart, but their third single, "Wailin'", failed to make the chart.
The band decided to return to the Northwest, rather than staying in New York as their record label wished, and they were dropped from their contract. Around the same time, they added lead vocalist "Rockin' Robin" Roberts (Lawrence Fewell Roberts II), a charismatic frontman who had previously been the singer with rival Tacoma band the Bluenotes. John Greek left the group in acrimonious circumstances, and was replaced by bassist John "Buck" Ormsby (Seattle, October 29, 1941 - October 29, 2016). Ormsby, Morrill and Roberts then formed Etiquette Records and, in 1961, the label released its first single, a cover version of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie". For contractual reasons the single was credited to Roberts, but was performed by the whole band. Their recording became a local hit and was distributed nationally by Imperial Records, but did not make the national chart. However, its style, with its trademark 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 riff, inspired other groups from the Seattle area, most notably the Kingsmen of Portland, Oregon, to record the same song.
The Wailers continued to perform locally and, according to Morrill, one of their biggest fans was the young Jimi Hendrix, then starting to perform guitar. The band performed both with and without Roberts, who studied at the University of Washington, the University of Puget Sound, and Oregon State University, eventually achieving a masters degree in biochemistry. They also occasionally featured teenage girl singer Gail Harris, notably on the live album The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle, recorded in 1961, which has been described as "undoubtedly one of the most influential albums in Seattle rock & roll history." In all, the band recorded and released four albums on their own Etiquette label between 1962 and 1966, as well as a succession of singles. They also helped instigate the recording career of The Sonics, whose first two albums were issued by the label, and helped begin Jini Dellaccio's career as a rock'n'roll photographer when they hired her to shoot cover photos for their album Wailers, Wailers, Everywhere.
Mark Marush left The Wailers in 1962 and was replaced by Ron Gardner, who also handled lead vocals; Dangel and Burk left in 1964 and were replaced by guitarist Neil Andersson and drummer Dave Roland respectively. Continuing to perform live as well as recording, the band added a trio of girl backing singers, known as the Marshans. Also in 1964, "Tall Cool One" was re-promoted by the Golden Crest label, and again made the Billboard pop chart, this time peaking at # 38. In 1965 Roberts made his final recordings with the group, and, in 1967, guitarist Neil Andersson was replaced by Denny Weaver. Roberts was killed, aged 27, in a car crash in late 1967.
The band split up in 1969, by which time Kent Morrill was the only remaining original member. Morrill, Dangel and Ormsby, with other musicians, reunited as The Wailers for occasional concerts from the 1970s onwards. In 1979, they joined with Burk, Gardner, and Gail Harris to play a reunion show.
Ormsby re-established the Etiquette label in the mid-1980s, and issued a Wailers compilation, The Boys from Tacoma, in 1993. The Wailers' song, "Out of Our Tree", was featured in the 1998 CD version of the Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era collection. Several of the Wailers' tunes were also covered by The Ventures, and the two bands released an album together, Two Car Garage, in 2009 to celebrate their 50 years in existence.
Ron Gardner died in 1992. Richard Dangel died of an aneurysm in 2002. John Greek died in 2006, Mark Marush in 2007, and Kent Morrill died of cancer on 15 April 2011. Buck Ormsby died in 2016.
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