Bunny Whaler, co-founder and last living member of the Jamaican reggae band Whalers, who led Bob Marley to world fame, has died at the age of 73.
His manager, Maxine Stowe, confirmed his death to a Jamaican observer. Weiler was frequently hospitalized for a stroke in July 2020.
Andrew Holnes, Jamaica’s prime minister, was among those who paid tribute, expressing “deep condolences”
Born in Neville Livingston in 1947 in Kingston, he and Marley became friends as young children and formed the Wailers in 1963, who settled in the couple’s main trio with Peter Tosh. They released their debut album, The Wailing Wailers, in 1965 (which included their Jamaican top Simmer Down), before interrupting when Marley moved to Delaware, USA. Weiler was convicted of possession of marijuana in 1967 and served a 14-month sentence.
They reunited after Marley’s return and Weiler’s release, teaming up with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his band Upsetters, and began recording tracks in the new, slower reggae style that emerged from ska. Weiler has written a number of songs for the band, including what will become his song Dreamland.
By the early 1970s, Whalers added new members and signed to Island Records, which – aided by the popularity of other new reggae stars such as Jimmy Cliff – helped attract them to an international audience. They achieved a global breakthrough with their fifth album, Catch a Fire (1973), and his subsequent Burnin ‘, which included what would become one of Marley’s signed songs, I Shot the Sheriff.
The original trio split in 1974 when Weiler left with Tosh. He began his solo career, starting with the acclaimed Blackheart Man in 1976, and maintained a stable release schedule for 40 years. He won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album three times, in 1991, 1995 and 1997.