Every last song

The definitive Wailers discography, plus other new books

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Bob Marley and The Wailers: The Definitive Discography

Roger Steffens and Leroy Jodie Pierson (LMH Publishing, ISBN 976-8184-75-2, 208 pp)

Wailers fans who’ve been wondering for years about the who, what, when, and where of some of their favourite tracks — as in who played what instruments, and when and where the tracks were recorded — need wonder no longer. One of the most monumental books in the history of reggae, Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Definitive Discography answers just about every question that’s ever been asked about every known track from the group’s prodigious output.

The book is the result of decades of painstaking research and assiduous collecting by co-authors Roger Steffens and Leroy Jodie Pierson. Starting with “Judge Not”, the first recording by a precociously talented teenage Marley, Wailers aficionados — and reggae fans in general — can immerse themselves in the most comprehensive compilation ever put together of arguably the most influential body of work in the history of popular music.

“Judge Not”, for example, was recorded in February 1962, with lead vocals by 17-year-old Robert Nesta Marley, Arkland “Drumbago” Parks on drums, Lloyd Brevett on bass, Jerome “Jah” Jerry Haines on guitar, Roland Alphonso on tenor sax, and Charlie Orgainaire on harmonica. This historic session took place at Federal Studios. Buddy Davidson was the engineer and the producer was Leslie Kong. The instrument players, by the way, were core members of the Skatalites, the legendary and hugely influential group who defined the ska era — and the fact that these seasoned veterans were backing a raw teenager is an early indication of Marley’s uncanny ability to get the very best to work with him.

Fascinating though they are, this book’s not all about lists. The nuts-and-bolts discography is prefaced with concise and informative bios of the three main Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer — along with intriguing first-person pieces by both authors on their respective reggae odysseys.

The book’s fun, too. Since it came my way, I’ve been constantly burrowing through my Wailers collection playing tracks I’ve just discovered something new about. For example, I’ve been intrigued for years by which numbers the South African flugelhorn maestro Hugh Masekela played on with the Wailers. I had hoped to find the answers when I read Masekela’s fascinating autobiography a couple of years back, but he was so drunk and stoned at the time (Masekela was a wild, wild man until very recent years), he had only a blurry recollection of spending a week in Jamaica in the late 60s, and while he could remember doing some recording there was no mention of the specific tracks. Turns out he played on “Rock to the Rock” and “Love”, produced by Danny Sims in mid-1968. I had the tracks disturbing my neighbours within seconds of this discovery — and sure enough, there’s a wonderful solo on “Love” that’s so obviously Masekela I’ve been kicking myself for not picking up on it years ago.

It’s that sort of book.

Further reading

Rupert Gray: A Tale in Black and White by Stephen N. Cobham, ed. Lise Winer with notes by Bridget Brereton, Rhonda Cobham, Mary Rimmer, and Lise Winer (UWI Press, ISBN 976-640-182-9, 171 pp), a novel, first published in 1907, that tackles head-on the question of race in colonial Trinidad through the story of an interracial couple; the latest in UWI Press’s Caribbean Heritage series, aimed at bringing historically significant works of fiction back into print.

Caribbean Artists Today by Mercia M.T. Grassi (ISBN 0-615-12954-4, 64 pp), the catalogue of a collection of paintings and sculptures by some of the Caribbean’s modern masters — including Karl Broodhagen, Leroy Clarke, James Isaiah Boodhoo, and Boscoe Holder — assembled by Grassi, an American academic, and now donated to institutions in Barbados, Cuba, and Pennsylvania.

“Look For Me All Around You”: Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Louis J. Parascandola (Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0-8143-2987-X, 469 pp), an anthology of essays, stories, and poems by New York-based Caribbean writers in the early twentieth century — from luminaries like Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay to lesser-known talents like Hubert H. Harrison and Eric D. Walrond.