Part 1 ŠThe Wailers News

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Rock to The Rock - 1968 (Disc 1)

 It was midnight when a cry rang out at London's celebrated Abbey Road studios. Contacted urgently by phone at his Los Angeles home, the great collector Roger Steffens was called to the rescue. Who could it be singing on an unknown track discovered on an old tape tugged forcibly out of the CBS archives? Could it - it couldn't - be Bob Marley?

 The venerable specialist, accustomed to false alerts, listened closely to the mystery voice for all of three seconds. Then, suddenly: "That's Bob! That's Bob!" Steffens burst out. You could hear his disbelief. The man was coughing smoke there in those immeasurable archives. Steffens was insisting, as if he couldn't believe it himself, as he listened to that old track on the phone.

 And so the sumptuous and immaculate "Rock to the Rock" was saved from destruction. A track that displays that refusal of oppression which is typical of Bob Marley's best work, so deep and masterful it gave the album its name.

 These recordings celebrate the meeting of some of the best musicians of American and Jamaican soul: Atlantic Studios' finest, jazzman Hugh Masekela, Bob, golden-voiced Rita, and Peter Tosh himself. Like reggae, soon to come, their rock steady was a pure version of soul music, crafted just a few miles off the US coast, on the Caribbean's only big English-speaking island, where folks listen mostly to US radio.

 Jamaican music is inexplicably excluded from the Official Histories of English-speaking music. It's not there - not under soul, not under jazz, not under rock. American/British nationalism? Ignorance? Racism? All of the above? These ballads - "Love", "Chances Are" - or the first reggaes - "Soul Rebel" and "What Goes Around" - are musical pearls; they have an exotic accent but they're as American as fish stew is French.

 Bob Marley wanted to launch rock steady in America. He didn't make it. His producer, Johnny Nash, got there first, by stealing his style. And yet a surprising and magical Marley album was recorded - and then forgotten. Now, stocked with unforgettable, never-released sounds, it is reborn.

Selassie Is The Chapel - 1968-70 (Disc 2)

 A miracle given unto Bob Marley fans, this album includes no fewer than 12 rarer-than- rare recordings among its 17 tracks - recordings so rare that they were once untraceable. Only a few records were ever made of the fabulous "Feel Alright" and "Black Progress", which the Wailers bounced off James Brown and revised in reggae, or of their Rasta hymn "Selassie Is The Chapel", adapted from the Orioles' doo-wop ballad "Crying in The Chapel". Bob's best friend, the Jamaican soccer center-forward Alan "Skill" Cole, took the precious 45 rpm "Selassie Is The Chapel" to Ethiopia, as a gift for Selassie himself, but no-one knows if those dozen records ever got to the Emperor.

 Twenty-six less one dozen makes 14 records dispersed in Jamaica since 1968. Two were found in the collectors' market: one in a terrible state, the other ... almost new, owned by Jeremy Collingwood. Restored in London at the EMI studios in Abbey Road made famous by the Beatles, these venerable relics have been brought back to life. With the amazing "Tread Oh" sung by Bunny Wailer - or Marley's "Trouble On The Road Again" - or the impeccable rock steady first fine run-through of the future mega-platinum world hit "Satisfy My Soul" - the genius of the Wailers is captured at the precise moment when the rock steady rhythm shifted and was transformed into a new genre, reggae. Bob Marley's first reggaes are here. This is pure Jamaican sound, the old sound, already incredibly modern though it considerably pre-dates the glory and sound of the big English studios. The legendary 45 rpms of the Wail'n'Soul'm label, obscure but illuminating, are reborn at long last.

Best of the Wailers - 1970 (Disc 3)

 Hungry and obliged to hawk their music for any price, the Wailers auditioned with several producers. But except for a few 45 rpms like "Selassie Is The Chapel", registered by the Rasta guru Mortimer Planno, and some Bible-inspired tracks made for Ted Pouder, a passing Dutchman, they came up dry. So when Leslie Kong, the only Jamaican producer who'd ever really succeeded overseas (Millie Small, Desmond Dekker), said he'd record an album - the first reggae album that wasn't just a compilation of 45rpms - the Wailers accepted pronto. They stood to make a few dollars per song. It came out a conceptual album, with increasingly radical texts that focused on the Wailers' hope of making good; four tracks feature Peter Tosh's vocals. But Kong died soon after the summer 1971 release, and that buried the Wailers' hopes of success.

 As early as the 1970s, Marley's celebrity inspired pirate runs of the "Best of the Wailers" by hundreds of labels of dubious quality. Kong wasn't there any more to lead the fight and the supermarkets got their hands on slabs of cheap Marley. Most of the "Best Of" tracks have been re-released here for the first time with sound from the finest sources in existence - no comparison with any of the pirates that have flooded the market. For good measure, several tracks from the same era have been added to those produced by Kong: an astonishing, magnificent and previously never-released outside of Jamaica raunchy soul reggae version of the Archies' 1969 hit "Sugar Sugar" (a desperate but vain attempt to sell records), a reprise of a Junior Walker hit, "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling" (duet with Rita), and the excellent "Mr. Chatterbox", produced by Bunny Lee, a well-known reggae producer. But nothing helped. Despite the beauty of these sounds and the band's talent for transforming generic TV jingles like "Sugar Sugar" into flashes of soul energy - despite their more international sound - the Wailers kept stewing in their ghetto. How long oh Lord?

All texts written by and courtesy of Bruno Blum, and appear in the "Music Vibes" Complete Wailers issue.