Ask any music lover about the Wailers and you’ll likely get a Bob Marley lecture, but ask that same question in the Pacific Northwest and you may hear the legend of the Fabulous Wailers.
During the late 1950s and early ’60s, the Wailers were the band in the Tacoma, Washington area. Their success on the local circuit earned them a deal with Golden Crest records, who in 1959 released the band’s “Tall Cool One.” The instrumental hit the top 40, peaking at #36 on the Billboard chart.
That was enough to earn the Wailers an appearance on American Bandstand, and a second single, “Mau Mau,” cracked the Hot 100, but in terms of national success that was pretty much the end of the band’s run. The Wailers returned to Tacoma, where they added a new lead singer, Rockin’ Robin Roberts, and formed their own indie label, Etiquette Records.
In 1961, Etiquette released its first single, a cover of “Louie Louie” by the Wailers but originally attributed solely to Rockin’ Robin Roberts. Their arrangement became the template for every version that followed, including the Kingsmen’s version that became the massive hit that the Wailers deserved.
Perhaps there was no more transformative decade in music than the ’60s–ten years bookended by “Louie Louie” and Woodstock. Wailers-style music was “oldies” by the dawn of the seventies, displaced by myriad genres, among them the singer-songwriter movement. This was an artistic and/or career reinvention tried successfully by many musicians (some of who weren’t songwriters, but let’s not get picky) whose fame peaked in the late ’50s/early ’60s: Carole King’s Tapestry, Dion with “Abraham, Martin, and John,” Bobby Darin with “If I Were A Carpenter,” Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party,” Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby.” Heck, even Elvis’s “In the Ghetto” fits the mold. In 1971 Wailers singer/keyboardist Kent Morrill took his stab at chambray, acoustic guitar, and thoughtful lyrics.
Morrill’s shot was an album entitled The Dream Maker, peppered with Biblical references and featuring the former Wailers’ Orbison-like falsetto. It’s a strange record, with a musical foot in the hippy-dippy youth movement of the period and a lyrical foot firmly planted on the terra firma of responsible adulthood–lyrics by Archie Bunker and music by his meathead son-in-law. Take “Spoiled Child,” for example: “You’re a spoiled child / You’ve been overfed with candy! / A spoiled child / There were none too good for you: / But now you’ve grown wild / There are none who understand you / For they say that you have now become rebellious Youth / ‘Cause now you’re trying to find yourself / A little truth!”
Kent Morrill continued releasing music in the four decades separating The Dream Maker and his death from cancer in 2011. His discography is a hodge podge of country, blues, novelty, and Christian rock, but until the end it was the Wailers-era music that resonated the most, as this beautiful 2009 version of the band’s “It’s You Alone” exemplifies:
The Dream Maker will run you $10-$15 online or in a record store, but expect to pay 2-3 bucks in a charity shop. Happy hunting.
Categories: From the Stacks