Although their musical career extended right through until the late 60s, the Wailers were originally very much a product of the 50s. Formed in the north-west corner of America in 1958, they spent 18 hectic months learning the basics of their trade, scrambled a recording contract with New York label Golden Crest, and by May 1959 had scored a Top 40 hit with Tall Cool One. The sad fact is though, mention the name the Wailers to most mainstream musical types and the chances are that the name of reggae king Bob Marley will come back to you. For rock'n'roll folk, however, the real Wailers will always be the boys from Tacoma, who stirred it up real good many years before Bob had even arrived.
Think about the crop of top rock instrumentalists of 1959 and your mind automatically goes to people like Duane Eddy, Johnny & the Hurricanes and the Champs. The Wailers had a rather different character to their more sound-of-the-moment rivals. The sound they seemed to be striving for was that which had regularly featured on the Specialty label circa 1956-58, and their big idol was Little Richard. The absence of a pukka electric bass on their Golden Crest recordings and the inclusion of pumping piano and raucous sax also serves to strengthen the comparison. Listen to Dirty Robber, the sole vocal track from their debut album, and the influence of the Georgia Peach is immediately obvious. Lyrically the track provides an interesting contrast too. Whilst songwriters in the encroaching world of pop were dreaming up female fantasy figures in the shape of teenage princesses, vocalist Kent Morrill was referring to his female companion as a dirty robber - who even stole my guitar! Fabian would have no doubt choked on the words.
The Wailers were not a one trick band either. Their other major source of inspiration, which greatly served to increase their unique-ness, was modern jazz. In fact the band's leader, Johnny Greek, was a trained trumpeter and had then only recently switched to guitar. Listen to Driftwood from their album and you are suddenly transported to a smoky Greenwich Village jazz club as Greek does his best to out-cool stylists such as Miles Davis and Chet Baker with his own low-down haunting trumpet blues.
Their talent did not stop there, as not only did they compose Tall Cool One themselves, but they also wrote their entire first album! This was extremely unusual at the time, especially from a band still in their teens. It was high quality material too, good enough to attract the attention of the Ventures who recorded no less than three of their compositions. Their #68 follow-up Mau-Mau was also an original composition and features John Greek on flugelhorn, surely a rare chart appearance by the instrument in a lead role. The band's final chart placing came in April 1964 when, with the second bite of the cherry, they re-ascended to an almost identical #38 position with the re-release of Tall Cool One.
Down the intervening years the Wailers have been appallingly treated by the bootleggers. The real sound of genuine Golden Crest masters is magic, but you would never know that by listening to the distorted, shrill junk that they have provided. Now, thanks to Ace's legendary care, we can all enjoy the true magnificence of the Wailers' sound as it was meant to be heard. Not only have Ace succeeded in locating the original master tapes, but there are also a further four never-before-issued tracks to enjoy! This high-class release deservedly puts the name of the Wailers back in the hands of its true originators.
by David Burke of Pipeline Magazine