Original Wailers' Al Anderson Went Through Legal Hell to Preserve the Legacy of Bob Marley's Backing Band

Al Anderson
Al Anderson

Original Wailers executive producer and guitarist Al Anderson (featured in the paper this week) joined Bob Marley and the Wailers in the wake of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer's departure from the band, working with Marley from 1974 until his death in 1981. For Anderson, a U.S.-born, Berklee-trained session player who'd previously worked with Stevie Winwood and Traffic, (Island Records label mates of Marley's) the Wailers helped him launch a successful career. However, it's also been marked by tumultuous legal wrangling and personal fallings out with former Wailers. He has faced multiple international lawsuits filed by the band's administrator Jennifer Miller, wife of longtime Marley bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett, over the use of the Wailers name, until incorporating as the Original Wailers in his own name a few years ago.

Anderson and his band -- led by Desi Hyson, a Dominican-born keyboardist, vocalist and the band's primary songwriter -- released an EP this year, Miracle, a collection of Hyson originals and a cover of the '60s bossa nova classic "Our Day WIll Come," and are currently on a short tour of the southwest and California in support.

Anderson speaks at length about the unfolding of his career as a Wailer before his show at Anaheim House of Blues 8 p.m. Sunday, November 18. Interview after the jump.

OC Weekly (Adam Lovinus): Tell me a little about your first rehearsal with Bob Marley back in '74.

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Al Anderson: I was in England visiting a friend of mine, the lead guitarist from Free, Paul Kossof. He had a substance problem, and they had called him for the session. He passed the session over to me, and I was just lucky. I went over to Island Records' studios not familiar with Bob Marley or the Wailers music -- at all. I mean, I had heard it before but wasn't to keen on what they did. So I asked them, what can I do for you guys? And they said, play for us. So I added blues, added funk elements, acoustic guitar, lead guitar with wah-wah, I played slide. At that time there wasn't a lot of that going on [versatility].

Back then, you were filling the shoes of Peter Tosh. Can you talk about how your styles compare?

Peter Tosh was a much more wicked rhythm guitar player than me. He had a style nobody could copy. Peter Tosh was the shit. The Malcolm X of Jamaica.

You would later record with Peter Tosh on his albums. DId you have a relationship with Bunny Wailer?

None whatsoever. Bunny was always an outsider, very independent. I spent more time with Bob and Peter Tosh.

Tell us about what happend in the wake of Marley's death in 1981?

When Bob passed everybody was running for the hills because Island Records decided that, "Oh, these guys aren't part of the picture any more, let's cut them out, let's not give them the royalties we gave them in the past." So it was very complicated for us to survive after Bob's journey.

What's your recollection of the court case that decided that the surviving Wailers would be cut out of most of the royalties?

Island Records lied in court and said that the band were just hanger-ons and it was all Bob and we had nothing to do with it. These guys signed their rights away years ago. But it was fraud -- the people that worked for [Island executive] Chris Blackwell were spies; they made themselves available to us as friends, but they were just picking our brains to see whether we would continue working with them or as a separate entity. When they found out we wanted to work on our own and go other places, it was OK, it's over, we're going to take everything from these guys that they worked for. We allowed it to happen because of bad communication, bad management.


After Bob died, you became disenchanted with the Wailers and how they were run?

I was expecting it to work the same way it did with Bob. The group was taken away from us by some girl -- her name is Jennifer Miller -- some girl that just came on the bus, fell in love with one of the guys in the group that had the name of the band. It's the same thing that happened to the Doors. It's one of those things... women are probably the most powerful thing in a man's life. I was lead to believe [the direction of the group] was all about [Wailers bassist and drummer, brothers] Family Man and Carly [Barrett]; they were the producers and heir apparent of the leadership of the group because they had been with Bob for so long. But then when Bob passed, Family Man and Carly were, like, a donkey and a cart -- they were just pulling the load and I couldn't believe it.

So you broke away and formed the Original Wailers?

I incorporated the Original Wailers worldwide. The Original Wailers is different from The Wailers. You got Bunny Wailer, you got the Wailin' Souls -- you got a whole bunch of Wailers. The Wailers are the Wailers. I incorporated the Original Wailers to give back to all the Wailers what Jennifer Miller had stolen.

Bob Marley and the Wailers was left to the Wailers. A Judge in Tacoma, Wash. decided that "The Wailers" belongs to the Fabulous Wailers that wrote "Louis, Louis" in 1957. This judge decided since nobody from the Fabulous Wailers ever contacted Marley, all the Wailers who worked with Bob Marley for a decade or less were eligible to use the name Wailers.

Longtime Wailers guitarist and singer Junior Marvin had been performing with the Original Wailers until a couple years ago -- what happened?

The first rehearsal he broke my guitar. He walked by it, and the next minute I know the neck is in half. So it got off to a bad start. He's had a long career doing the Marley repertoire. When Bob passed in 1981, he chose to be the one to do the lead vocals for the Wailers and sing Bob's songs and portray his character. And you know, if that's what you want to do as an artist, no one can tell you any different, and I just thought that making a career being a tribute to yourself wouldn't be elevating, to me anyway... Basically, he got tired of working with me and the group we put together and he left me in the middle of a tour in Europe. Dropped him off at Charles De Gaulle airport and I haven't heard a word from him since.

Tell me a little about the Original Wailers in their current form?

We are not a tribute to ourselves. We're a group that plays our originals along with some the golden oldies. We're working on getting more shows so we can get our merchandise in front of a buying crowd.

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