On Anniversary Tour, Bunny Wailer Is Still A Blackheart Man The last living member of Bob Marley and the Wailers recently finished his first U.S. tour in more than 20 years. "That's my legacy: to sing for you people," says the 69-year-old musician.
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On Anniversary Tour, Bunny Wailer Is Still A Blackheart Man

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On Anniversary Tour, Bunny Wailer Is Still A Blackheart Man

On Anniversary Tour, Bunny Wailer Is Still A Blackheart Man

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The last living original member of the Wailers is still performing. The legendary reggae group was founded in the early '60s by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, also known as Neville Livingston.

Bunny Wailer recently finished his first U.S. tour in more than 20 years. He had to cancel the last few shows due to illness. Banning Eyre caught up with him at his performance in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUNNY WAILER SONG, "RASTAMAN CHANT")

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: The scene was electric at B.B. King nightclub in Time Square as Bunny Wailer, 69-years-old, took the stage before a capacity crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RASTAMAN CHANT")

BUNNY WAILER: (Singing) Rastaman say.

EYRE: From his signature composition, "Rastaman Chant" to other Wailers' classics and a few new songs as well, Bunny Wailer delivered a powerful trip down memory lane and showed that he's still very much in the reggae game. So what made him tour after all these years?

WAILER: Well, the time was calling, you know. It was a long time I haven't been out. And fans are calling, you know, promoters are calling. So what do I do (laughter)?

EYRE: Are you enjoying it?

WAILER: Yes. So far so good.

EYRE: The tour was billed as the 40th anniversary celebration of "BlackHeart Man," Bunny Wailer's first solo album released just after he and Peter Tosh left the Wailers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKHEART MAN")

WAILER: (Singing) Tikya the blackheart man, children. I say, don't go near him. Tikya the blackheart man, children, for even lions fear him.

Well, "Blackheart Man" is something that is related to our culture, custom and practice. There was a kind of nickname that was given to the Rastaman, the blackheart man. Parents used to tell us that, you know, you be careful where you go because you have to watch out for the blackheart man.

EYRE: Young Neville Livingston was clearly unimpressed by warnings to stay away from rastas.

WAILER: I've been a blackheart man since 4 years of age.

EYRE: Really?

WAILER: Yeah. I used to play in the gullies, you know? And one day we were there playing, and we just saw a foot come out of a manhole - just a foot. And every man, every youth run from the scene.

And when he came out and looked at me, he said, so why don't you run? And I said, for what? And he just laughed. And I became a rastaman from then on. Do you know my dreadlocks touches the ground when I stand?

EYRE: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMALL AXE")

WAILER: (Singing) Why boasteth thyself, oh, evil man.

EYRE: Listening back to early Bob Marley records like "Burning" and "Catch A Fire," you can't miss the vocal chemistry these guys had with Bunny taking the high tenor voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMALL AXE")

WAILER: (Singing) If a-so a-so, but the goodness of Jah, Jah. I dureth for I-ver. If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.

Bob, Peter and myself - we are totally responsible for the Wailers' sound and what the Wailers brought into the world and left as a legacy. The thing about the Wailers is that we are always rehearsing - always - until we parted.

EYRE: All of these years on, Bunny Wailer is still writing and recording. In 2013, he released an album called "Reincarnated Souls" with 50 tracks.

WAILER: Fifty tracks.

EYRE: All new songs full of rebel politics and old-time Rastafarian religion and set to classic ska, rocksteady and reggae beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REAL BADMAN")

WAILER: (Singing) Well, let me tell you about the real badman. The real badman...

EYRE: Onstage, Bunny Wailer wears a quasimilitary uniform - white to match his white beard. And he keeps his dreads coiled in a crown above his head. He cuts a mystic presence, but lest you imagine this a farewell tour, think again.

WAILER: I would just like to keep on singing ska, rocksteady and reggae music. That's my legacy - to sing for you people and to teach you people of what I'm known by singing this music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMLAND")

WAILER: (Singing) There's a land that I have heard about so far across the sea...

EYRE: For NPR News, I'm Banning Eyre.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMLAND")

WAILER: (Singing) There's a land that I have heard about so far across the sea. To have you on my dreamland would be like...

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