zaterdag 4 mei 2013

Buddy sung but unsung

I gathered my early knowledge about reggae music when I was about 10 years old, if I recall well. Quite predictably, it was a tape of a Bob Marley album - given by my brother’s friend - that led to deeper knowledge about reggae. Bob Marley’s album Kaya and soon after Burning, Confrontation and other albums. This knowledge became connected with a love for it. As with all true love, increased knowledge also increased the love.

In my mind I never set Bob Marley apart from the wider reggae genre. A recurring critique throughout this blog, as some may have noticed, is that I find that Bob Marley is too often set apart at a supposedly higher level as presumably better, than other reggae. Like it is the cream of the crop, and the rest to be ignored or at least of lesser value. Maybe Chris Blackwell would not mind this wrong idea too much, but I do.

I repeat again that there are several equally talented and great artists within reggae and Jamaican music: before, during, and after Bob. This is not to deny that Bob was a great artist - because he was - and an important one in spreading reggae internationally! I just do not like that particular commercial interests, or subtle forms of racism (since Bob was half-white, and most other reggae artists black), lead to misconceptions among eventual fans.

Therefore I would like to “honour”, if you will, another reggae act in this post, a group/artist that in my personal history helped to strengthen my love for reggae not less than Bob. A group that actually increased my broader love for reggae, especially roots reggae. I am talking about the Wailing Souls.


Not long after I began to listen to Bob Marley albums (when I was about 10 years old, so around 1984) – within the same year - my brother bought the then recently released (vinyl) album On The Rocks (1983) by the Wailing Souls. I was soon intrigued by it, and liked the sound. Especially the “super catchy” ‘Stop Red Eye’ was a tune on that album that caught me immediately. It is not too exaggerated to say that this album eventually changed my life.

For not just that song I liked, but in fact most on the album. It overall appealed to me even more than the Bob Marley albums I listened before. Maybe it was the somewhat rawer, less-polished harmony sound of the Wailing Souls that attracted me. It sounded more authentic, somehow. Again knowledge and love interrelated: I read all the lyrics on the album sleeve, improved my English and even Jamaican Patois.

I read on the sleeve of On The Rocks not only the lyrics, but also the names of the members and of the musicians, and of the song writers. All this betrayed my curiosity for the world and (often Rastafari-inspired) people behind the album on that Caribbean island. This song was written by member Winston “Pipe” Matthews, the other by Lloyd “Bread” McDonald, others by George “Buddy” Haye. Even these nicknames intrigued me in a way. Each Wailing Souls member sang their own song, and I noticed vocal differences between these singers.

In the early cementing of my love for reggae music this album On The Rocks was thus crucial. Still, along with my brother and friend, I began to explore several other artist in the broad reggae realm: Eek-A-Mouse, Yellowman, Burning Spear, Culture, Israel Vibration, Lee Perry, Ini Kamoze. I remember there was a more or less intense Gregory Isaacs-listening period as well .. So much to keep up to within reggae, and so we – and I - forgot a bit about the Wailing Souls.


Forgot not really: some years later: a record collection (still the vinyl days, around 1988) at the house of a well-travelled Spanish friend of my mother was broad and international qua genres, but had quite a lot of reggae. Just looking through the records I saw names I often knew, but albums I did not have/know. It was there that I encountered another Wailing Souls album that I did not really know yet: Fire House Rock (from 1981). I copied it on cassette (relax, I know it is illegal: later I bought it, so..), and soon fell in love with it. Again the names Pipe, Bread and Buddy, with also Garth Dennis (as on On The Rocks) for important harmony vocals. I liked most songs on Fire House Rock… I was then about 15 years old, and after years this album got me since then again listening intensively to the Wailing Souls.


Now it’s about 23 years later and I went on on my trajectory of life. I have remained a reggae fan and always considered reggae broadly, with a focus on Roots Reggae: I had a sort of intensive “Culture period” between I believe 2001 and 2005 (focussing on/listening relatively more to the group Culture with Joseph Hill) – which was stimulated by several great concerts I visited of Culture in Amsterdam - , but mostly it was broadly oriented, and I variated between different roots icons: Burning Spear, Gladiators, Jacob Miller, Horace Andy, Israel Vibration, Mighty Diamonds, Hugh Mundell, Lee Perry, Culture, Black Uhuru, Augustus Pablo, and an occasional early dancehall... In time I added some artists we (that is: me and the people I then use to “hang” with) – and I personally – had not gotten around to listen so much before, like Alton Ellis, Sugar Minott, Abyssinians, even some older rocksteady, or early dancehall dee-jay’s. More recently I got into (some) modern dancehall and even more the New Roots (Capleton, Sizzla, Richie Spice).

And yes, between all this I also bought more albums of the Wailing Souls that I did not have yet, or that were released later..


The Wailing Souls had gone through changes over these years, though, as other groups have. I noticed on their albums from the late 1980s and 1990s, that some members had left the group and only two remained: Winston Matthews (or “Pipe”, the main songwriter historically) and Lloyd McDonald (or “Bread). Later I heard they had settled in California, USA. Apparently due to musical and social changes in Jamaica the members found unpleasant.

As a fan I followed news about the group. I read about what reggae historians had to say about the Wailing Souls. These writers/experts - like David Katz, Roger Steffens, Beth Lesser, or Steve Barrow - all describe how the Wailing Souls were formed in the poor, ghetto area of Trench Town in western Kingston. The place “where singers come from”. Some say it even is the place where reggae music actually was “born”, but some contest this as too simplistic. Trench Town had at least a strong influence on reggae’s formation.


The reason that singers came relatively more from Trench Town is, well, poverty. Poor people search a way out of the ghetto through music and by expressing themselves. That might seem self-evident. But also particularly singers, instead of instrument players: that also relates to poverty: Trench Town and other ghetto people could in most cases not afford musical instruments, beyond maybe a guitar, often even self-made. Buying modern instruments as used in music studios in Kingston, and being schooled in them, was often more affordable for people with more money, a steady income, and more or less a “middle class” position, living in wealthier “uptown”.

Trench Town and other ghetto (Waterhouse e.g.) people without such means instead specialized and improved their vocal skills and with that auditioned for the studios elsewhere in Kingston, hoping to be able to record a song with the musicians and producer there.

That is how the Wailing Souls began, having honed their vocal harmony skills with the influential musical and vocal teacher Joe Higgs, in the Trench Town part of Kingston. The same Joe Higgs who also assisted and taught Bob Marley, the Wailers, and other artists in this regard (harmony vocals) in Trench Town.

(A view of Trench Town. I took this photo in 2008)

This history is quite well explained by the reggae historians/experts I mentioned before. These historians also mention Winston Matthews as the main person and songwriter of the Wailing Souls, attributing the band’s successes - first they had big hits in Jamaica, later they became internationally known - to the songwriting talents of Winston Matthews. “Though also other members like Lloyd McDonald and George Haye provided strong songs”, or something along these lines, is often added to this.

The Wailing Souls much later, meanwhile having settled in California, had a lesser moment when they wrote songs for the in itself entertaining 1993 Hollywood movie ‘Cool Runnings’, on a Jamaican bobsled team. The songs for that movie were in my opinion too crossover and polished, and less “rootical” than their other works. Luckily they kept making “realer”, rootsy reggae soon after this (later 1990s and 2000s), so my respect for them overall remained intact. They “kept it real” or in this case maybe “returned to the real”.


Even some reggae historians who know that reggae is much more than just Bob Marley and the Wailers, compared the Wailing Souls to the Wailers. Not just because of similar band names or that they were also from Trench Town, but also musically. Some compared the singing voice of particularly (oft-lead singer) Winston Matthews to Bob Marley. The sophisticated harmony singing, taught by Joe Higgs - who also taught the Wailers - of the group was also compared to the Wailers.

Why these comparisons? Seemingly it was meant as a compliment. Yet I would rather say that Matthews sings good because he sings good, not because his singing sounds somewhat (not even so much) like Bob Marley’s . I think Matthews has a more “melancholic” quality to his singing than Marley’s. The harmony vocals are maybe in some ways comparable, but neither overly similar to the Wailers (Peter, Bunny and Bob). Personally, I liked the harmony vocals of the Wailing Souls overall more than those of the Wailers, actually, for being more melodically varied.

So let’s please stop the nonsensical “it’s good reggae because it sounds like Bob Marley & the Wailers” dogma. The same dogma that made Grammy or even specialized reggae awards recently go relatively most to Marley’s sons, and rarely to equally talented Jamaican reggae artists toiling for years (though Black Uhuru and Burning Spear were positive exceptions).

Maybe this shows that the Spanish expression: “las comparaciones son odiosas” (meaning: comparisons are hateful) has some truth in it. Comparisons are often hateful indeed. Also because it fits with my earlier mentioning of the interrelation between knowledge and love: if you compare something away, you no further have to know more about it, let alone love it..

Okay, Matthews’s aching, slightly hoarse but nice voice does have some similarities with Marley’s singing. McDonald’s singing voice is “clearer” and “mellower” by comparison. The other who sang regularly, George Haye, had also an aching, slighty hoarse voice (like Matthews), but tending more toward a “chanting” Burning Spear or Joseph Hilll-like voice and a bit more “rasping”, when compared to Matthews. Interesting how the members of the vocal groups complement each other.


Researching the Wailing Souls I found that there was much attention to the central role in the Wailing Souls of founding member Winston Matthews: indeed he wrote and sang most songs after all. But “most” here means about 50% of all songs (sometimes he wrote songs with Bread). The other songs were in most cases either written and/or sung by mostly Lloyd “Bread” McDonald or George “Buddy” Haye. The strong songwriting skills of Matthews are also heralded in several publications by different reggae experts (from the extensive ‘Rough Guide To Reggae’ to works by David Katz, Roger Steffens, Beth Lesser and others). In itself I agree with this: Matthews wrote several great songs (e.g. ‘Busnah’, ‘Bredda Gravalicious’ a.o.), among my all-time favourites.

Lloyd “Bread” McDonald wrote good songs and sings well. Bread would by the way appear on the much-promoted documentary ‘Marley’ (2012), directed by his namesake Kevin McDonald (did the latter’s foreparents own slaves in Jamaica perhaps?). Bread got thus some exposure, though degraded to serving Marley’s story. With Pipe and Bread as remaining Wailing Souls since the 1990s several interviews were held with them, especially in the last 10 years, also to be found online.


Further following reggae news, I heard that the Wailing Souls reunited again in 2007: older member Garth Dennis rejoined with the remaining two members then for concerts, after last having worked and sang together in the early 1980s. Rudolph “Garth” Dennis was long a harmony singer in the Wailing Souls (since the 1970s) – not unimportant for the total sound of course - , but he did not write too much songs: mainly the good tune ‘Slow Coach’ on the 1979 album Wild Suspense, which he also sang. Garth Dennis received more media attention also because he released a solo album around that period (2007). I am quite curious about it.

The other early member of the foursome that was Wailing Souls in those earlier days, George “Buddy” Haye, did not really join this 2007 reunion (he was still alive then to my knowledge), and somewhere remained “out of the picture”, or kept a lower profile. I did not find out if he was still musically active somehow from 2007 onward.


Haye was already with Matthews and McDonald in a precursor to the Wailing Souls under the name the Renegades, recording since the 1960s, Ska and Rocksteady days. He was there when the Renegades (with Pipe and Bread) recorded their very first single ‘You’ve Lost The Love’ (around 1965).

Reggae historians and experts, such as those I mentioned before, seem to have less to say about Haye than about the other band members. They do tell how Haye went to art school in Jamaica, and began in time to focus on his art, indicating at times that he had therefore less time for rehearsals in the band. His stay with the Wailing Souls was probably for that reason (other art activities?) interrupted between 1968 and 1974, but he rejoined in 1974, and stayed with the Wailing Souls up to 1984, contributing to a number of albums. The last album he worked on for the Wailing Souls was the strong Stranded album from 1984 (contributing three songs, besides of course crucial harmony vocals).

I understood he later went to live in Los Angeles.


Does this matter? Maybe the strength of the Wailing Souls was their unity (as in the word “harmony” of harmony vocals), and strong personalities combined into one strength: no competition. Mind you: we are talking about a “harmony vocal” group: the combined voices is what makes this group’s material strong, not just one voice.

This unity among the Wailing Souls seemed so strong that on some albums it was not even mentioned if specific individuals sang or wrote songs. On the early 1980s albums Inchpinchers and Face The Devil, for instance, all songs were credited to be written by ‘the (all?) Wailing Souls’ (also on discographical websites giving credits info). More than disregard, this might be a refreshing lack of ego competition: “I an I is equal”.

On other albums individual credits were however mentioned, so this seems inconsistent.


Either way, it nonetheless surprises me a bit that nowadays George "Buddy" Haye gets less media and scholarly/journalistic attention in the “reggae world” than Garth Dennis (who in the earlier Wailing Souls wrote less songs and sung less lead vocal than Haye), but that is partly because Dennis was also involved in the formation of another legendary Jamaican group, Black Uhuru, and because he recently has released a solo album. (And because he unlike Haye rejoined the two remaining Wailing Souls in 2007, as I already mentioned).

I think, however, that Haye was in fact also quite important for the Wailing Souls, but also for my love of reggae personally. This because the song ‘A Fool Will Fall’, on Wailing Souls’ Fire House Rock album was written and sung by him. Other songs of him I heard before are also among my favourites: ‘Baga Trouble’,’ Jah Is Watching You’, and ‘Wild Suspense’ (interesting fact: ‘Wild Suspense’ takes its lyrics from a Marcus Garvey poem, ‘The tragedy of white injustice’). On the album Stranded especially Haye’s song ‘From Sunrise To Sunset’ is a good, melancholic (in the good sense of the word) tune. Also other songs he penned on other albums were mostly good, though it is often hard to find out if he wrote the songs, due to the combined credit info I mentioned.

A problem with the latter is that less-seasoned Wailing Souls’ listeners might not recognize Haye’s voice (when not mentioned in the credits/info): his vocals are like I earlier said a bit similar to Matthews’ singing voice though somewhat more…how do I put it.. “rasping”. I’m curious if someone who knows something about the Wailing Souls’ reading this might recognize Haye’s lead vocals on specific songs of the early Studio One recordings and on the albums Face The Devil and Inchpinchers..

I can understand that you also might say ”it does not matter: I & I live in one Inity… Rasta bredren a one"…, but the beauty of such Inity lies in respect for the constituting “I’s” or I-ses (Rasta term for personalities), that then came together in I and I.

Therefore I think it’s a pity that Haye/Buddy got and gets less attention than the other members of the Wailing Souls.

Maybe he himself chose to withdraw from the active music scene. Yet, when a person had made such good songs, with also strong lyrics, I automatically get more intrigued about the person behind the singer/songwriter. This is not just me, of course: as other art, music is a human-to-human interaction, is about connecting souls, and others might have it with other artists they feel somehow connected to.

Like I said I’ve searched on the Internet and read. I even e-mailed known reggae historian David Katz. I was glad he answered me, but unfortunately he did not know too much about George “Buddy” Haye either.

Buddy apparently lives now in Los Angeles, and I further gathered through writings some knowledge about his general biography, unfortunately without much details. I did not find anything on the Internet about the (visual?) art he was said to be involved in for decades. Perhaps I hoped to find an enthralling painting with Rastafari imagery by Haye, haha: from sonic to visual art, so to speak. Or a sculpture or installation by him, who knows.

On YouTube I found only one, short film of Buddy alone when he had become older (without knowing for sure if he was still musically active then), and a few older films of him as part of the Wailing Souls when still a foursome, and filmed before 1984, when he was still part of them. An example is from a BBC documentary, presented by Jools Holland (Wailing Souls performing on the Jamaican streets the Haye-penned song ‘Peace and Love Shall Reign’).

Being a “fan” of an artist is by definition personal and subjective. I think Haye wrote the kind of roots reggae songs that I loved, and sang in a way I liked too. Songs that connected to me, and that “spoke to my heart”, to use an appropriate cliché. I also find his conscious, Rastafari-inspired and philosophical lyrics intelligent: “The world has been uneven yeah, save the massive poor people oh yeah” (from the song 'Baga Trouble'), and the effective “It was the act of affection that puts my love into motion”: seemingly simple yet conveying a deeper, human wisdom. Or the strong, philosophical opening line of the classic song 'A Fool Will Fall':

A lying tongue is just for a moment. And Righteousness is an everlasting foundation”..

(George “Buddy” Haye, ‘A Fool Will Fall’, 1981)

This line, maybe along with the opening line of Bob Marley’s song 'Rebel Music' (“Oh why can’t we row this open country..Why can’t we be what we want to be? We want to be free”) more or less summarizes also my own life philosophy. It speaks to me that much..

Also the line “It’s true we have been misled..knowing right from wrong” (from the song 'Peace and Love Shall Reign') intrigues me. These are the kind of lyrics I like so much in much roots reggae: Rastafari-inspired, which consists of a spirituality, but still connected with humanity and critical of social reality and injustice..


'A Fool Will Fall', from the Fire House Rock album, is my favourite George Haye song. It is not just my favourite Buddy tune, it is my favourite Wailing Souls tune (though there are close contenders like ‘Busnah’, ‘Mr Big More’ , ‘Bredda Gravalicious’ a.o.). I can even say that it was, and still is!, actually one of my favourite reggae songs ever. And of all genres, for that matter…

What makes this song so excellent, in my opinion? It's also interesting to analyze this in light of the fact that I also write songs myself for quite some time (this way I can learn too). I think it is the combination of a slow “rockers” riddim by the Roots Radics band – who had a sort of “sparse” sound -, the strength of the lyrics, the well-placed and creative harmony and call-and-response vocals (as on many Wailing Souls’ songs), and the engaging, emotive voice of Buddy.

But a good song is also determined by a good general structure, as experienced songwriters can tell you. A basic “verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus” structure is only part of the story. A good song is not a purely rational – or objective – thing of course. Nonetheless some objective “guidelines” can be gleaned: a dramatic development toward the chorus (as climactic/high-point), which synthesizes the central lyrical message, and often this chorus is in higher notes (an higher octave), parallel with the symbolic “high-point” it represents. And with more harmony vocals at the chorus.

The Wailing Souls often make good use of “bridges” in the song structure (between verse and chorus). This is good to point out, because in the later 1980s and 1990s experienced Jamaican musicians began complaining how some new dee-jay’s and singers came with simpler songs to the studio than before: just one- or two-chord tunes, lacking a bridge, and built around perhaps a catchy hook or two. This type of song often is less enduring, gets old sooner, and speaks less to the soul and heart than more complex songs (as in roots reggae was more common up to then), although the simple melodic structure is sometimes compensated well with rhythmic complexity and power (changing the balance).

Other aspects that can make a song good relate to technical musical details like chord progression and a returning ”tonic note” in the main chord (e.g. G-minor), that returns throughout the song at the right moments, providing rest-points or anchors. Technical details, but for the musical feel often important.

All these aspects seem present in most Wailing Souls’ songs, reason why their songs are often outstanding and enduring, while the Wailing Souls' well-chosen harmonies, personal vocals, and distinct reggae rhythms gives them at the same time unique qualities.

The song ‘A Fool Will Fall’ has in my opinion all these good, enduring characteristics of a classic. It is “outstanding among the outstanding”, so to speak, and George “Buddy” Haye’s voice singing on ‘A Fool Will Fall’ has some qualities making the song a bit more “mystic”, or “dreader”, when compared to the tunes by Matthews or McDonald on Fire House Rock, that are nonetheless good in other ways.

Therefore: ”Buddy” will, whatever he is doing now, always remain my “soul buddy”. Music - and the fact that it is recorded - can be such a beautiful, connecting thing..

(What I have found of George "Buddy" Haye on YouTube I have assembled in this Playlist on YouTube: