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

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.

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.

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