Blackheart Man  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Neville O'Riley Livingston, OM (10 April 1947 – 2 March 2021) best known as Bunny Wailer, was a Jamaican singer songwriter and percussionist. He was an original member of reggae group The Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. A three-time Grammy award winner, he is considered one of the longtime standard-bearers of reggae music. He was also known as Bunny Livingston and affectionately Jah B.


Early life and the Wailers

The young Neville Livingston spent his earliest years in the village of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish. It was there that he first met Bob Marley, and the two toddlers befriended each other quickly. The boys both came from single-parent families; Livingston was brought up by his father, Marley by his mother. Later, Wailer's father Thaddeus "Toddy" Livingston lived with Bob Marley's mother Cedella Booker and had a daughter with her named Pearl Livingston. Peter Tosh had a son, Andrew Tosh, with another of Wailer's sisters, Shirley, making Andrew his nephew.

Wailer had originally gone to audition for Leslie Kong at Beverley's Records in 1962, around the same time his step-brother Bob Marley was cutting "Judge Not". Wailer had intended to sing his first composition, "Pass It On", which at the time was more ska-oriented. However, Wailer was late getting out of school, missed his audition, and was told he was not needed. A few months later, in 1963, he formed "The Wailing Wailers" with Marley and friend Peter Tosh, and the short-term members Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso. Wailer tended to sing lead vocals less often than Marley and Tosh in the early years, but when Bob Marley left Jamaica in 1966 for Delaware in the US, and was briefly replaced by Constantine "Vision" Walker, Wailer began to record and sing lead vocals on some of his own compositions, such as "Who Feels It Knows It", "I Stand Predominant" and "Sunday Morning". Wailer's style of music was strongly influenced by gospel music and the soul singer Curtis Mayfield. In 1967, he recorded "This Train", based on a gospel standard, for the first time, at Studio One.

Wailer was arrested on charges of possession of cannabis in June 1967 and served a 14-month prison sentence. Around this time he, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh signed an exclusive recording agreement with Danny Sim's JAD Records and an exclusive publishing agreement with Sim's music publishing company Cayman Music.

As the Wailers regularly changed producers in the late 1960s, Bunny Wailer continued to be underused as a writer and lead vocalist, although he was a key part of the group's distinctive harmonies. He sang lead on "Dreamland" (a cover of El Tempos' "My Dream Island", which soon became his signature song), "Riding High", "Brainwashing" and on one verse of the Wailers' Impressions-like song, "Keep On Moving", both produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry. In 1971, he recorded the original version of "Pass It On" which was released on dubplate and wasn't widely known until it appeared on JAD's "Original Cuts" compilation many years later – this version of the song features different lyrics and music in the verses to the later versions of "Pass It On" – Wailer would later reuse these in "Innocent Blood". By 1973, each of the three founding Wailers operated his own label, Marley with Tuff Gong, Tosh with H.I.M. Intel Diplo, and Bunny Wailer with Solomonic. He sang lead vocals on "Reincarnated Souls", the B-side of the Wailers first Island single of the new era, and on two tracks on the Wailers last trio LP, "Burnin'", "Pass it On" (which had been cut as a sound-system only dub plate five years earlier) and "Hallelujah Time". By now he was recording singles in his own right, cutting "Searching For Love", "Life Line", "Bide Up", "Arab Oil Weapon" and "Pass It On" (a new recording of the Wailers song) for his own label.

Bunny Wailer toured with the Wailers in England and the United States, but soon became reluctant to leave Jamaica. He and Tosh became more marginalised in the group as the Wailers attained international success, and attention was increasingly focused on Marley. Wailer subsequently left the Wailers in 1973 to pursue a solo career after refusing to tour when Chris Blackwell wanted the Wailers to tour freak clubs in the United States, stating that it was against his Rastafari principles. Before leaving the Wailers, Wailer became more focused on his spiritual faith. He identified with the Rastafari movement, as did the other Wailers. He has also written much of his own material as well as re-recording a number of cuts from the Wailers' catalogue. Wailer has recorded primarily in the roots style, in keeping with his often political and spiritual messages. He and Tosh would frequently sing each other's background vocals in the start of their solo careers. The album Blackheart Man is a good example of his roots reggae style.

Solo career

After leaving the Wailers, Wailer experimented with disco on his album Hook Line & Sinker, while Sings the Wailers reworks many of The Wailers songs with the backing of Jamaican session musicians, Sly and Robbie. He also had success recording in the typically apolitical, more pop, dancehall style. He outlived many of his contemporaries in a culture where death by violence is commonplace.

Wailer also had a dancehall/rockers edge that was best exemplified by the album Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers in which he reinterprets some of the Wailers material as a solo roots singer backed by a Sly and Robbie based roots reggae grouping. The album, produced by Bunny Wailer, was recorded at Harry J Studio. Some of these tracks are reworked classic Wailers tracks such as "Dreamland" (a cover of El Tempos' "My Dream Island" with slightly reworked lyrics that became Bunny's signature song. This was recorded in 1966 by Clement Coxsone Dodd, and in 1970 with Lee "Scratch" Perry; it was released as a 7" in 1971 with a U-Roy version on the B-side). Another classic is "Dancing Shoes", first recorded in the mid-1960s as a driving ska/soul classic with Bunny Wailer on lead vocal.

Bunny Wailer had won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1991 for the album Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, 1995 for Crucial! Roots Classics, and 1997 for Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary. He was also featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album, and showcased many notable musicians including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani / No Doubt, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, The Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Ken Boothe, and The Skatalites.

In August 2012, it was announced that Bunny Wailer would receive Jamaica's fifth highest honour, the Order of Jamaica.

In 2016, he played a month-long 'Blackheart Man' tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his 1976 album.

In October 2017, he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government, the nation's fourth-highest honour.

In November 2019, Wailer received a Pinnacle Award in New York from the Coalition to Preserve Reggae.

Health issues in later life, and death

In October 2018, Wailer suffered a minor stroke, resulting in speech problems.

Wailer died in Jamaica on 2 March 2021, at the age 73.

Solo discography


  • Blackheart Man (1976) Island/Tuff Gong (2 extra albums with Blackheart Man: Dubd'sco vol.1 (1976) Island/Tuff Gong and Blackheart Man (Remastered & Extended) (1976) Island/Tuff Gong)
  • Protest (1977) Solomonic
  • Struggle (1978) Solomonic
  • In I Father's House (1979) Solomonic
  • Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers (1980) Solomonic
  • Dubd'sco vol.2 (1981) Solomonic
  • Rock 'n' Groove (1981) Solomonic
  • Tribute (1981) Solomonic
  • Hook Line & Sinker (1982) Solomonic
  • Roots Radics Rockers Reggae (1983) Shanachie (international re-release of In I Father's House + 2 extra tracks)
  • Live! (1983) Solomonic
  • Marketplace (1985) Solomonic
  • Roots Of Jamaica (1986) Clintion
  • Rootsman Skanking (1987) Shanachie (international re-release of Rock And Groove edited version plus 3 extra tracks)
  • Rule Dance Hall (1987) Shanachie
  • Liberation (1989) Shanachie
  • Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley (1990) Shanachie (international re-release of Tribute + 2 extra tracks)
  • Gumption (1990) Shanachie
  • The Never Ending Wailers (1991) RAS
  • Dance Massive (1992) Solomonic
  • Just Be Nice (1993) RAS
  • Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary (1996) RAS
  • Communication (2000) Solomonic
  • World Peace (2003) Solomonic
  • Bunny Wailer's Sound Clash (2006) Charly Records
  • Rub A Dub (2007) Solomonic
  • Cross Culture (2009) Solomonic
  • Combinations Vol.1 (2009) Solomonic
  • Reincarnated Souls (2013), VP – 3CD + 2DVD set Solomonic
  • Dub Fi Dub (2018) R.O.K./The Original Genesis


  • Retrospective (1995) Solomonic/Shanachie
  • Dubd'sco Volumes 1 & 2 (1999) RAS
  • Bob Marley & The Wailers Vol 2: Bunny Wailer & Johnny Lover (2002) Saludos Amigos (with Johnny Lover)
  • Winning Combinations: Bunny Wailer & Dennis Brown (2002) Universal Special Products (with Dennis Brown)
  • Crucial! Roots Classics (2005) RAS
  • The Wailers Legacy (2006) Solomonic (Bunny Wailer & The Wailers)
  • Tuff Gong/Island Singles 1: Tread Along: 1969–1976 (2016) Dub Store Records/Tuff Gong/Island
  • Solomonic Singles 2: Rise and Shine: 1977–1986 (2016) Dub Store Records/Solomonic


  • Live (2005) Video Music, Inc.

Appearances on DVD compilations

  • A Reggae Session (1988) Sony BMG, features "Roots, Radics, Rockers and Reggae" and "Rise and Shine"

Discography overview

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Blackheart Man" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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