The Wailers were among the first American Garage bands. They were the first Reggae act to be signed to an international record label: Chris Blackwell and Island Records, in 1972. It was the Wailers who created the path which led to the development of Seattle’s grunge rock sound through their pioneering work with the rock ‘n’ roll and r’n’b combo. They are attributed with having created the framework for the sixties rock explosion in the Northwest. Acts such as Paul Revere and the Raiders aspired to be as big as The Wailers were.

The sound and energy of The Wailers grew out of their artistic and spiritual integrity and was developed during their teenage years. Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh together formed the nucleus of the band. These three artists were brought together by their common humble beginnings and the tutelage provided by Joe Higgs, a devout Rasta, at his home on Third Street. Higgs held a free musical clinic and taught the youths in the area about the art of musical performance. Everything including harmony techniques, breath control, music theory and song writing were on the syllabus, which was aimed at motivating the youngsters and keeping them out of trouble.

At just 16-years-old, Bob’s first taste of the industry was marred by his 1961 disassociation from Leslie Kong and his Beverley label, due to the producer’s failure to pay him money for songs he recorded. Undeterred, Bob formed a group with Bunny and Peter; along with Junior Braithwaite and back up singers Beverley Kelson and Cherry Smith. They called themselves “The Teenagers”, which later became “The Wailing Rudeboys”; “The Wailing Wailers”; and eventually “The Wailers” (the name that resonated).

The group’s name, “The Wailers,” evoked not only their style of singing but also the hardships they endured growing up in Trench Town Kingston, Jamaica. The group earned a contract with Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label and, after recording “I’m Still Waiting” and “It Hurts to Be Alone”, Cherry and Junior left the group. Consequently, Bob Marley’s career as a lead vocalist was born. He sang lead when the group recorded their hit song “Simmer Down” and the hits continued to proliferate from Studio One.

Bob stood out front when the band performed, but there was no real defined leadership position; instead all the members functioned not as individuals, but as The Wailers. When Bob left for Delaware to earn money for his own record label, the Wailers made few attempts to work without him. In his absence, when they did perform, Bunny Wailer sang lead and Bob’s wife Rita filled in for Beverley Kelson.   In addition, Rita’s cousin, named Dream, filled in with harmony.

Bob attempted to launch his own label the Wail ‘n’ Soul ‘M and had the Wailers and the Soulettes (with Rita) as its first acts. Unfortunately, it was not financially lucrative and had to be closed down.

The Wailers were propelled into the international arena in 1972 through their involvement with Chris Blackwell and Island Records. They now had access to the best recording facilities and were marketed and promoted extensively. This merger marked the departures of Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, as well as the addition of the “I Threes” (with Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt) and Al Anderson (an American guitarist).  Notably, there was also a name change: to “Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

Some members of the Wailers remained with the band throughout their careers and have even recorded with Bob’s son Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.  These members include Tyrone Downie (keyboards), Junior Marvin (guitar), and Earl “Wire” Lindo (also on guitar).


The contribution of the Wailers to the development of music is undeniable. They were not only responsible for changes in the very perception of reggae, but also managed to transform the industry on a mammoth scale. For the band, music was not just about making money, it was a missionary work; a means of touching the very souls of their audience. They pushed the envelope by expanding the sound to include both R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, setting off an electric reaction throughout the music world.