Who broke up the original Wailers?
Miguel Lorne answers, Chris BlackwellSunday, October 24, 2010
BY BASIL WALTERS Observer Staff Reporter
WHAT was the major reason for the break-up of one of Jamaica's most celebrated trios — The Wailers?
What started out as a sextet back in 1963, was to morph into the trio of Bob, Peter and Bunny — The Wailers in 1966. These three would take Jamaica's burgeoning music to the world with hits including, Simmer Down, Trench Town Rock, Nice Time, Stir It Up and Get Up, Stand Up. However, by 1974 the trio was to be no more as each began their solo careers.
Many have put their own spin on the break-up. However, at last Tuesday's Peter Tosh Symposium held at the University of the West Indies, attorney-at-law Miguel Lorne added his voice to the list, offering his take on the issue.
At the well-attended event, the Rastafarian focused on the separation of the original Wailers consisting of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Lorne laid the blame for the breaking up of reggae's most brilliant triumvirate, squarely at the feet of Chris Blackwell's approach in handling the group.
He argued that because of Bob's Caucasian father, Blackwell found it more easier to package and promote Bob to an European market. "Blackwell helped to break-up the group," he noted, "on the basis that Blackwell felt that he could market Bob Marley to the world. But when he said the world, he really meant the white world."
The prominent attorney noted that the break-up of The Wailers in the sense of division among Bob, Peter and Bunny, really hurt Peter Tosh. He went on to state that Peter Tosh was so upset with the affair to the point where he began referring to Bob as "the white man son".
Lorne further noted that when he asked Tosh why was he so bitter against Marley, Tosh told him that Marley should not have agreed to the deal with Blackwell — whom Lorne claims Tosh referred to as "Whitewell".
"He said from where they were coming from, the struggles that they had gone through, that there was no way when 'Blackwell' or 'Whitewell' come with this trick, that Bob should not have agreed."
Island Records celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009,
and is arguably the most prestigious record label in the history of British music. Island Records was founded by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall in Jamaica. Based in the United Kingdom for many years, it is now owned by the Universal Music Group.
Blackwell nurtured and promoted not only the career of Bob Marley, whose death some pundits argued was detrimental to Island Records, but a diverse group of Jamaican artistes.
Before Bob Marley, Blackwell discovered 15-year-old Jamaican singer Millie Small and took her to England in 1963 to record My Boy Lollipop, and successfully marketed her in Europe to become the first million seller in modern Jamaican music.
Blackwell felt that the popularity this record would generate would far outpace the fledgling company's ability to keep up with sales. Thus, he licensed the song to Fontana and sure enough, six million records were sold worldwide in 1964, marking his entry into the mainstream pop music business.
He was attracted to other Jamaican reggae groups including Toots and the May-tals, Burning Spear, and Inner Circle. After Marley, the 1980s were no different than the 1970s for Blackwell. Island signed new artists who were continually reaching new heights of popularity while simultaneously producing great music. These included recordings by Gregory Isaacs, Sly & Robbie, and Black Uhuru.
However, the story of Blackwell's relationship with Marley was one of twists and turns with its fare share of disagreements. "Bob Marley was a gamble," Blackwell is reported to have told a reporter of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. "I gave him £4,000 upfront to make the first album. Everybody said I was mad and I'd never see the money again. I took the risk and trusted him and it paid off many times over."
And Bob is reported to have told another publication, "Chris Blackwell didn't help me. I had to work hard while Blackwell flew out and enjoyed himself. But he had the contacts at the time that we felt we needed, and perhaps we did. But Blackwell did a lot for himself. I remember a time when he had 19 Jamaican acts signed, and before my days he wouldn't touch one." Marley recorded 10 albums with Island Records, each one of them gold.