(of The Original Wailers)
Interviewer – Jesse Tyssen
In 1974 when Bob Marley went solo, on the brink of international stardom, he surprised the music community by choosing as his lead guitarist the soft spoken, American-born Al Anderson. It was Anderson’s stunning lead work on such classics as No Woman, No Cry, Dem Belly Full and Curfew (Three O’ Clock Road Block) that first alerted rock fans to the Wailers’ music. Over a billion dollars worth of Marley’s music featuring Al Anderson’s evocative guitar work has been sold worldwide. Al has also played with the Peter Tosh, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Steel Pulse, Aswad, Inner Circle, Traffic and Ben Harper.
Al Anderson is the sole member of the Wailers mid-1970s line-up in The Original Wailers. The reformed configuration includes Chet Samuel (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Omar Lopez (Bass Guitar), Dyrol Randall (Drums) and Dane Cole (Keyboards and Organ) that carry forward the true spirit and realities of the original music and the message of “One Love”.
Jesse Tyssen caught up with Al and this searching interview was the result.
Are you excited about coming to Australia?
Man we can’t wait to get there, we love that place. It was one of the first places that embraced Bob Marley and The Wailers music and it’s just a beautiful place. New Zealand and Australia is truly our favourite place, and the Winter of… our Winter and your summer, it’s our favourite place.
Have you toured with The Original Wailers in Australia before?
Yes I have, I’ve done ‘One Love’ about a year and a half ago, no 2 years ago! Shit.. and it was amazing. Castle, from South Shore Island put a big ‘One Love’ show in New Zealand and in Australia, we usually come to Australia first before we come to New Zealand. But it’s been a good while.
Anything memorable from the last trip?
A lot of good beer in your place down there! God bless man.. some wicked rugby and beautiful women, you guys are blessed man.
You come to Sydney on the 23rd of December, are you expecting something from the up and coming tours?
Just hopefully, people will come out and bless Bob Marley and The Wailers music along with some original song writing from Chet Samuel who’s our lead singer of The Original Wailers. Hopefully the crowd will be happy with production, we are going to be on our best behaviour and I’m bringing world class musicians from Jamaica, that have played with, you know Burning Spear, Twitch, Third world you know, they’ve played with everybody. So we’re bringing a world class band and we’re looking forward to it. We’re planning on coming down under to rock the place.
So you guys are planning to play original material from the Miracle EP or is it strictly from Legend?
Um..no, we are not a tribute band like, there is another Wailers, Family man’s version of it. They’re are more of a tribute to Bob Marley, they play all the Bob Marley catalogue, and all of that stuff. But, we don’t do that. We have a singer/songwriter from Puerto Rico who has a an album called ‘Say my name’ and we do his material from the ‘Say my Name’ album and we do stuff off of Legend and the iconic catalogue that we have so.
We want to keep everybody pleased but at the same time, I don’t want to come to Australia and just sing Bob Marley songs. That’s not really what my career is about. My career is honouring Bob, and The Original Wailers, Peter and Bunny and then playing my songs that I produce and have some affiliation with as well, which is writing and producing on our own.
You have real emotion in your guitar, it’s really influencing as a guitar player myself. I’m curious who your influences were growing up?
(laughs) why thank you… well, Albert King for sure. You could say guys like Clapton, Hendrix and Beck. Their sound is so pronounced, you couldn’t get away from hearing Jeff Beck or Hendrix. The sound of their guitar was kinda influential but I was never a guitar player that did covers. I was always in a band that had an amazing singer/songwriter. Even when I was a kid, you know, we were writing our own songs when I started, 16/17. But at the same time we played cover songs at clubs and stuff for school, and we also had a lot of talent shows and stuff where we did covers, but I was always lucky to have the opportunity to work with really good singer/songwriters throughout my whole career, and I’d kinda like to stay there.
I always was able to discover amazing singer/songwriters, like, Bob, you know, we found each other and Tosh and Lauren Hill, and Ben Harper so I’ve been really lucky, and it was because of Bob, that I was able to work with these people. That’s all it really was. There were hundreds of guitar players that were better than me, so I guess I was in the right.. I was in front of them when they needed a guitar player… So I guess I was lucky.
It’s always rewarding playing your own stuff..
It really is because, the way to get to people is open up their ears to what you’re capable of which is nice playing the songs off of Legend, but I think they would appreciate much more if they heard a song that was originally a composition from us so they could take that in as well as everything else. We want to play you know, a smoreges board of music and really enjoy it.
Do you feel like you have a greater freedom with your musical presence in this band?
Man this is… it’s never been better for me. The worst thing is we lost our drummer, Peter Tosh and Bob. You know, I think if Peter Tosh had lived, I’d be probably be playing with him because he could write and we were really good friends, and I left Bob Marley in 77’, 78’ only because financial and managerial problems. The management was greedy. There was a lot to go over. Just really, really greedy, and Bob was a guy just so hard working he didn’t know what was going on. He was spending so much time on his music, he really didn’t know this, his manager wasn’t really being correct to the band members.
Are you still being hustled by any legal pursuits?
All the time man, you know, we were so loyal and we never expected to be illegally recorded. A lot of the time we were being illegally recorded live, we didn’t know there was going to be a live album and I didn’t think they would put it out, I thought they were going to sue it for promotional reasons, that’s what they always said. Nobody ever got paid for those live albums. Only the record company that managed and I think that Bob didn’t even realise that we were being illegally recorded by the record company, but I suspected to get royalties from live recordings and all the material. But it was very complicated in the 70’s and 80’s Jamaica.
The Jamaican publishing rights were very minuscule in Jamaica. Small. They had no rights. You could take the publishing, you could take the merchandise to Europe and sell it. Nobody in Jamaica would even think about retaliation on such an assault on the artist because of the artist. If I was to do it all again, I would do it exactly the way I did. It’s not about the money, it’s about honouring you know, loyalty and honouring a great singer/ songwriter like Bob Marley who dedicated his life to his family, his faith and his country. He was an amazing individual.
It’s seems infuriating with all that drama..
You know it’s always spies, lawyers.. a lot of the Island record people were, Denise Mills was beautiful but a lot of the people just told you what you wanted to here. They always gave you the A,B,C,D and you’d would never get an X,Y,Z because it was always the record distributor. They were selling so many albums and, and why would they want to share a royalty with all the band members. That was the worst of it. But the creativity and all the creation of the songs by Bob and Jamaica, thats like, it’s speaking for itself, it’s in the music. So it’s not about the money, but when you get older and have children, you have responsibilities. Those royalties from all those live albums we did, would really do us well now but unfortunately because of Island records and Universal and all these lawsuits, it’s really difficult to get some satisfaction from these CEOs and record company distribution.
It’s just part of the music history, it’s history in black music that has been going for a long time and it really needs to stop. Jamaican artists need rights. They need their publishing, merchandise, rights to the individual. The record companies don’t deserve all the rights of the artist. They deserve for their promotion and their distribution and then the rest, you know. If an artist can get 80 percent out of the record company, then you’re doing really good. It’s usually like 70/30. 30 to the artist and 70 to the record company. And after like 40 years of that it really gets on your ass. I’m really not looking for anything for what I’ve done, it’s just that they didn’t respect what Bob Marley and The Wailers put into the music.
It’s all about the music, it’s not about the money. But it always helps when you get older and your kids need to go to college and school that if, you had respected the performing rights signed, legally, then everyone would be happy. Truthfully.
Has anything been done since for the rights of Jamaican artists?
It’s gotten a lot better because there is a lawyer from France, his name was André Bertrand and he made a land mine settlement for all the artists in Jamaica that didn’t get.. like they were using Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Third World, they were using everybody.. music on television, radio and they weren’t paying a royalty for it. Steady Dam and Zefam was a collection agency and they were collecting all the money for songwriter’s rights but they weren’t distributing because, they didn’t know how to get to these artists in Jamaica, so André Bertrand, a property expert in five different languages decided to take on the case against Universal, ADAMI and Enzo Hamilton and he won for the artists of Jamaica, and I think he paid back like 40 million Euros to the artists that never got paid, which is fabulous. But they’re really old, a lot of the artists that got paid are like in their 70’s and late 60s.
Like you said, the money helps when you’re trying to raise a family and things..
Oh man you just raise the bar for the artists because you know, a lot of these guys are really old and they’re in Jamaica. They should be living well from the royalties that what they worked their whole lives for. It’s like anything that belongs to you, there should always be a contribution to you and whoever you cut your deal with. It shouldn’t be the record company. But the record companies and management agencies tend to be very greedy sometimes. Some guys are really lucky that they’ve made good times, like Robbie and Fly.. they’ve made good deals.
Well you’ve lived in Jamaica, what are the living conditions like in Jamaica?
10 years. The life is simple. Beautiful food down there.. it’s hard to get a bad meal anywhere but at the same time you have to have money to buy food and a lot of the artists in their 50s and 60s, just don’t get royalties in Jamaica. So it’s very complicated. I’ve had humble beginning, I’ve was never homeless, and I’ve slept outside some nights outside on behalf of The Wailers but I didn’t care. I don’t think Bob could afford to put up a guitarist in the early 70s because he just didn’t have the money. So I knew the condition that he was in and I never asked him for anything, I just slept on the floor for a year and a half until that distributed ‘Natty Dread’ and there was a lot of success. So we just went along with everything that came along at the time. The food was good, beautiful women, beautiful place but unfortunately there’s not a lot of money to go around for everybody because the government is a little bit on the greedy side, like most governments. But it’s a beautiful place to be whether you have money or not because food is not expensive, it’s very healthy, metaphysical place, it’s great.
So you keep the music of Bob and The Wailers alive and you do your originals, what does performing..
That’s what he asked me to do! He asked me to do that. I spent the last week with him, I stayed in Germany, like he sent for the group to come over so he could have a big pow wow with the band members, so we went over there for three or four days and we sat down.
We got there with no lawyers and nobody that was official, it was all under the bridge because Bob wasn’t in the condition to mentally and physically take care of business in the condition of his cancer at the time. So, we went back, the rest of the guys went back to Jamaica and I stayed with him for 6 months and in the last 5 days of his life he said ‘Al, I’m going on my journey’ he says ‘please honour the music that we made together and make sure the band stays together. If the band doesn’t stay together, it’s just going to be scattered around the place.. people are going to be imitating me..’ He didn’t really want The Wailers to go out and find like, a Bob Marley Elvis impersonator. He didn’t want that. And all the guys that we did bring into the group, they got involved with Bob’s image, they got involved holding their hand on their head and stretching out their hands like him. And sometimes it was kinda annoying because I really wanted a songwriter to represent The Wailers after Bob’s journey. We really needed that.
His level was so high that it was really hard to find that, and I found that in Chet Samuels, a very fine singer/songwriter who is the lead singer for The Original Wailers and he will be travelling with us and will be leaving to Australia in our tour and I’m really looking forward to how people embrace his fabulous singing. He is a great singer, he sings the songs like he sings. We are not trying to copy Bob, we are trying to honour him and his music that he wrote, made and produced. I think that it’s better to honour him rather than be a carbon copy of him.
What does keeping it alive mean to you?
I will honour him to the day I die. I promised him. The same for Peter Tosh, these are guys that you know, I owe them because they aren’t here to represent themselves. I owe them to recreate some of their singing and songwriting because I was a part of it. At the same time we’re going to sing our stuff and original songs too. I feel more comfortable doing that.
Why have people aimed to harm musicians and artists in the past?
Because they are exceptionally vulnerable, uneducated to the business. It’s just really genuine singers and songwriters. You know there’s a lot of singers and songwriters from Jamaica that gave Bob songs. Bob didn’t write ‘No Woman No Cry’ Bob didn’t write ‘Buffalo Soldier’, but the guy that did write the songs got the publishing from Bob and Island records, but it wasn’t like that for hundreds and thousands of other artists, because Bob was somebody who had a lot of success after 74’, 75’. So he was doing good business, the thing is if you do good business with artists, they’ll always survive. If you do bad business.. why does it happen? Because they were greedy. It was very easy to take rights from them. Not giving them their rights.
Do you have a memorable gig?
Yeah, the first show I did at National Arena in 1974 with Peter, Bob and Bunny. They all sang at the same time and man I was scared. I was like so scared that.. I was scared because I didn’t want to make a mistake, I wanted to be as good as I possible could on their stage, it was like my first show so I was like ‘wow’, I was so tense. But after I heard them singing and seeing them doing what they normally do I was really happy.. I was honoured.
Could you describe that feeling? The energy bouncing back and forth between the crowd and yourself?
Man it was like 300 people, 400 people because at that time, The Wailers were rockstars. They were the real rock city, funky guys that you know, were hip. A lot of these other.. the population was more into to the Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye. They weren’t s crazy about their national heroes but, as Peter, Bob and Bunny started releasing more albums, they became more understood on the Island, the crowd started gathering when we did live performances. One of the most iconic performances I think was, for me was National Arena. Peter, Bob and Bunny. It was just great, and I was like wow.
That’s what I was hoping to be a part of, not just Bob Marley and The Wailers, I wanted to be in a band with Peter, Bob and Bunny and The Wailers, that’s the reason. Bob was great because he had to prove himself and his songwriting, and his production of music. But I really wanted to be in The Wailers, The Wailers for me was Peter, Bob and Bunny. And that happens for maybe two or three shows, and then Chris Blackwell and the record company decided to solely focus on Bob, so I kind’ve went along, the reason why I’m here.
Do you have a pre-gig ritual to get focused?
I have some good Australian beer! (laughs) It’s just music as usual for me. I’m more about the music and how it sounds, making sure I’m doing a good job in pleasing the people. I’m more interested in that than myself. I’m not self absorbed like a lot of guitar players and artists, it’s all about the music. I give my loyalties to singing and writing songs, that’s where it’s out. I’m comfortable there.
I’ve just started gigging and it’s a little bit nerve wrecking, at what point did you get past that?
As you start to get older, you just go by ‘yeah it’s what we do and I’m going to be as good as I possibly can’ as long as you keep the attitude of ‘I’m going to play the best I can in front of all these people’ coz’, there came a point where we were playing front of hundreds of thousands of people, and I was very comfortable.. and I was more uncomfortable playing in front of four or five hundred because people are right in front of you, when you’re in front of like 30,000you look down and you’re like wow. It’s actually less stress, truthfully.
I can’t even imagine or comprehend the feeling.
Oh man when we got to Australia there was like 90, 000 people and all the Aborigine came, it was like ‘holy fuck, people actually really like what you’re doing Bob. You know, people love you here.’ And he had to realise wow, Australia and New Zealand really embrace me and I’m going to give them everything. He performed at his best during those times, he really put a lot into it. He really sacrificed himself.
You’ve mentioned before that Bob would perform sick or healthy, holding his arms out in pain. How did that affect you and the band members?
We knew that he was struggling because the cancer was, the stress of performing and the cancer at his level… you know, he just clenched his fist and thought it to the end. Brave guy. Really didn’t want to go anywhere, he wanted to stay writing songs, and people loved the music and his dream came true. You know, he wanted all these people like Stevie Wonder, all these people doing reggae, Sublime, Board shorts, that’s exactly what he wanted to happen. He wanted the world to listen to his music and reggae music and be influenced by it. And a lot of people are loving reggae music now. His dreams came true. It really is a blessing.
Last year, you reunited with Family Man for a gig, how was that?
Yeah.. a bummer. They just chewed me up and spit me out. They used me and I’ll, never work with them again.
That’s an unexpected answer..
He’s got a lot of health problems, and his health problems became the focus of the music and our being with him. It’s all about him, it wasn’t about Bob Marley and The Wailer’s music, it was all about Family Man not being able to perform at 100% because he’s got heart problems. It’s unfortunate. I didn’t know that. I got a telephone call from his management saying that ‘hey lets put your faction together with his faction’, he was going through a lot of lawsuits with his wife.. He’s got a lot of problems and I didn’t want to carry.. it’s not about me, it’s not about everybody else, it’s about The Wailers coming together under a very spiritual manifestation and I didn’t feel like that was happening.
The booking agent lied to me and their management lied and I spent a lot of money on the reunion and they never paid me. So it’s kind’ve a, it’s something I’ll never get involved in. I’ll don’t want to work with that situation again and I’m very happy I gave the opportunity but it didn’t work. I don’t want to put a lot of bad breath on it but it was something that I wished I had never got involved in going back to work with Family Man. I am very very sad. A sad moment for me,to work with these guys because the way they wanna work Bob Marley’s legacy, I don’t want anything to do with it.
It really was man, I tried really hard but.. There’s not enough time. Life is too short. I suggested that he went to a physiotherapy hospital while we toured and we would cover the costs, knowing that he was physically strong enough, could not be on the road. He should be with good doctors, good health experts.. I’m just disappointed because he’s going to end up like the rest of them. A bombshell.
Well you’re kicking it really strong. Do you have any secrets?
Stay off the meat, good salmon, omega 3 from salmon, I eat that 2 or 3 times a week, lots of veg.. good juice and A LOT of martial art training, and swimming and running and biking. I’m very into the metaphysical health game, to get my bones moving and my brain active. Bob was very physical. He ate a magnitude of great juices and thats why he always kept his youth. I’ve just used his tradition of health and how he lives and applied it to my modern day living. So far so good.
All my interest is in is to perform and give people a real true feeling of how we express ourself on stage. He wanted it to be real, he didn’t want some guy just acting as Bob and you know, someone imitating the drummer. I don’t want that. I want to be as real and authentic as it was when I started working with Bob. The unfortunate thing is that Bob, Carly and Peter aren’t here so we’re going to honour their actions. We aren’t gonna’ use their performance just working for money, that doesn’t interest me.
Have you caught up with Marvin since he left in 2012?
Man I don’t wanna have anything to do with that guy, I never want to see him again and i don’t mean that gravalitiously. That guy doesn’t like me, he never liked me. And I think he could’ve gotten rid of me earlier he would’ve. Because when I joined Bob Marley and The Wailers he was always coming around and wanting to play with us and he also suggested to Bob that, he needed another lead guitarist and I felt that was kind’ve raw. He just always had rotten things for me, we could never get along and it was hard. He had his style, I had my style. I worked with Marley first and he wanted to jump in on me, The Wailers and he did. Because I left in 77’,78’ because I couldn’t take it anymore. All the management, and all the robbery and all the politics. It was too much for me..
Peter Tosh and The Rolling Stones was, really a cool venture. So I felt very comfortable with Peter in 77’ and 78’ and 79’ comes around and he’s a big star. Now he’s got a bad manager. You see the record company and the managers are going to be the tell tale of how long things would going to last. If you’ve got a shitty record company and a shitty manager, things are going to go to shit, for sure. If you’ve got good people thinking on your behalf, logical! And making sure your money and metaphysically adapt while you’re on the road and everything is working for you then it’s worth the struggle.
But Junior Marvin was just too complicated to be in a band for me, and Junior wasn’t in the band at that time because Don Taylor and the record company would not share what band would deem rightfully, their rights.. their god given rights on earth. You’re supposed to have food, shelter and be respected as a man, and thats a while when you’re in the studio and on the road and manager grabs hold of everything so when you get home, you’re struggling. And when I left the band, they asked Junior marvin to came along, I saw Bob later on during Exodus, we met at the airport in Miami and he was said ‘look man, we’ve got this new guitar player and I’m fed up with this guy, can you come back to the band, I need you, we’re not going to get rid of him but I need you to come back to the band, we’ll work out everything that didn’t work’ and we did. But Junior Marvin for me was, I mean, he didn’t like me, he did a lot of shitty things, he broke my guitar purposely…
When you say that what do you actually mean? Like he actually got it and smashed it?
We were rehearsing and we put The Original Wailers together which I asked him to join because one of the directors suggested that we use Junior Marvin and I was like ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea’, but he said you need another Wailer. He was adamant at getting Marvin to play with me.
Then what happened, during the first rehearsal I bought a guitar.. a custom shop Gibson, one of their limited runs, Gary Moore.. beautiful guitar. He walks past my guitar, which was on a sling on a stand and he purposely, I saw him, knock my guitar over, and the neck just broke in half. And I knew that I would never have a relationship with him again, he’s too way out, too old.
Everyone else in the Wailers God bless you, Junior Marvin, I hope he reaches exactly where he needs to be without me. I’ll never work with him or Aston Barrett again. Fact.There’s no money, there’s no reason, there’s nothing. These are people you can’t have a future with if you’re serious about real music, and I don’t know what it is anymore. Carly and Family Man weren’t like this in the 70s. When we lost Carly in the 70s, if Carly Barrett the drummer, the most perfect thing The Wailer’s had, if he was alive today, the band would be alive. He was a leader, and we’re trying to find someone to lead this group here. But Junior Marvin’s just, wow.
I can’t explain how complicated. I took him on the road and he just left me. There wasn’t enough money for me, he didn’t like it. He didn’t like the songs we were playing and we had another singer. He wanted to be the lead singer and things just weren’t working out for him. So I think in France, he just left, and we continued without him. It’s unfortunate to mention, it’s very dulling to this great interview.
Do you have a motto/ philosophy in life?
Yeah, a buddhist monk. You send out all negativity and you pray to the lord for peace internally and everything that you’re connected to. I’m buddhist, mahayana. I celebrate and love the Dali Lama and he’s my leader and all the words he’s said I put into practice. Compassion, love for everybody, but evil is what it is. There is no gratification when you’ve got bad thoughts, a bad mind, so I vent it out. I use buddhist philosophy of subordinating my flesh from my spirit, and I truly believe I am going to die by that.
What’s next for The Original Wailers after the tours?
A new album. We are working on it now
Have you got any tracks on it so far?
Yes we do. We have one song “Y tú bello taus” it’s actually in Spanish. We’re doing a version in English and Spanish, we’re simultaneously releasing our single in English and Spanish.
Lastly is there anything you would like to say to your Australian fans?
We love you and we are really grateful and appreciate all the energy from Australia and New Zealand that that part of the world has added to our success. If it wasn’t for New Zealand and Australia we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m looking forward to all our friends and family to come out and just really enjoy a great night, honouring Bob, Peter and Bunny, their music and our catalogue and playing as punctual as I can for you.
Thank you Al, a pleasure, much love from Australia.
Looking forward to seeing everybody, God bless you man and let’s make this a great night.
The Original Wailers
featuring Al Anderson
Tickets Available NOW!