Interview: Al Anderson
by Larson Sutton
On the day his band, The Original Wailers, released its debut EP Miracle, available at most internet music outlets and as a CD at its live shows, guitarist and executive producer Al Anderson continues to be a central figure in the history of the revolving and evolving band designed by the genre’s trio of architects, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and Bob Marley. Fortunately for reggae fans everywhere, with a new album and supporting world tour in motion, Anderson remains passionate and committed to the helm of one of its most venerable institutions.
In 2010 we spoke about The Original Wailers going into the studio. Now two years later, you are releasing Miracle. How do you feel?
Well, finally. It’s been a long journey. It’s taken two years to complete because we ran into a lot of adversity. We had friends that are now enemies, unfortunately, because of the record. That happens in every band situation where people change their attitudes and their ways. When you are finalizing a record, that means there is work involved, and profit. People always want more than they can chew. So, I’m really just extremely happy and overjoyed that it is completed.
Did you enjoy being an executive producer of the album?
For me, it’s something I think I’ll never do again; be involved with executive production with a record on a shoestring budget. You have got to have a lot of paper to handle executive production because you are responsible for everything after the record is finished. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was always told that if you want something really badly, you work as hard as you can to make it happen. I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can to finalize the record and get it out to the fans so that they can enjoy something fresh and new from The Original Wailers.
You’ve worked with legendary reggae engineer Karl Pitterson on recordings with Peter Tosh. What was it like to work with him again on Miracle?
Karl Pitterson brings a lot of harmony and melody to everything he does. He’s also flexible working with parts. He knows how to bring the best out of you, one-on-one, when it is your turn. It’s really good to have somebody that knows you, your capabilities. He knows what to expect and what to get from you at the same time. It’s such a great thing that he has that experience. It’s not new. It’s a risk in the studio. Sometimes you get magic and other times you feel like you are just doing what somebody wants you to do. Karl brings the magic.
You recorded most of the album live in the studio, correct?
Most of it was live.
Was there a moment that reminded you of the magic working with Karl?
It was on the (unreleased) track Take Control where I had a guitar solo. That reminded me of the days when I was working with him and Peter (Tosh). Like a Stepping Razor-type thing. He put his two cents in, got me through it, and I was able to say exactly what I wanted to say.
This is your first foray into the world of the digital release. What are your thoughts on this medium?
I like the expedience and wide range of getting to the fans directly, simply by inquiring on the internet. Just go online, bam, it’s there. You get some bandwidth with MP3, but what I don’t like is (how much) bass is missing. For me being an analog freak, surround sound on the stereo is where we take off. That’s where the low-mid and sub are really working. That’s where the Miracle album has its big sting.
Do you have plans for another record?
In 2013 there will be a new album from The Original Wailers, without a doubt. There will be some changes rhythmically, and production-wise some slight changes. We will work with Karl and (producer) Jason Corsaro simultaneously. Working together, they will be a great team to get the three-dimensional depth that reggae music offers.
Miracle is a five-song EP, but started out as a full length album. What happened?
We started out with 11 songs, but you have to understand that people who have a desperate Western relationship with music can turn it, what’s the word, crazy. Individuals who are in the studio one day and seem to be enjoying it, then, a year later, don’t want to have anything to do with what the plan was. Everyone knew what the intention was. I wanted to go with what I saw as executive producer as the strongest songs. Those came from Desi Hyson and that is who I supported.
What did Desi’s songs have that appealed to you?
Stronger lyrical content. It was all there. It’s rebel music. Our intention is to have people embrace this original music, these songs, as well as the golden classics from the days with Bob.
Did Desi come to the session with finished songs, or was there input from you, as well?
He had a lot of the songwriting nailed down. The songs he wanted to work on, five or six, they sounded perfect for me. He had all the verses, chorus. We just collaborated on the intros, tempos, and the harmony parts. It came out really good because lyrically what was being said we all could understand. It was relevant, and we paid attention to that. It pushed us to our optimal abilities, as we wanted to put a rhythm to those words that was worthy.
There was a time not too long ago when hearing something fresh and new from The Original Wailers wasn’t really written in the stars, was it, given the split with Family Man, the departure of Junior Marvin, and the legal questions regarding the name?
The basic meaning of The Original Wailers is the symbol of struggle for every individual that has ever had anything to do with that name. I’d like to clarify the words ‘Original Wailers’ so far as I’m concerned. That came into focus because of Earl ‘Wire’ Lindo, Tyrone Downie, Carlton Barrett, and Aston Barrett. Those guys worked with Peter, Bob, and Bunny. What I basically wanted to do was put the original Wailers band members back together, so I incorporated the name to do that, as such. When you are producing something, you are going to run into a lot of slippery roads. There’s clear ice out there, and when you think it is safe and you are going too fast, you will crash. Crash-mode meant I can’t get the original Wailers all together at one time. They are doing different things and had different aspirations about the original Wailers. My aspiration is this- there are some people that are using the name The Wailers that have nothing to do with Bob Marley or The Wailers. It’s a profit scheme to keep themselves working for free on the name The Wailers. No one should be able to incorporate a name that they are not associated with nor have any blood involved. My thing was to get all the band members- Judy, Marcia, Tyrone, Family Man, everybody that worked with Bob and Peter back together to work together. That was the dream of The Original Wailers.
And you have had a lot of problems ever since.
There is a woman living in Baltimore who has absolutely no right to have anything to do with counting the Wailers’ money for her personal gain or what her problems are. This is a problem child that was with Third World, tried to get shows for Inner Circle. She took Third World to Africa and almost ruined their career. She’s a really bad example of what someone would call a ‘manager.’ She has tied up the whole process of the original band members getting together so that they can be free, so that finally (the sale of) records, CDs, merchandise can be counted for the individuals, themselves without somebody else deciding who will take what percentage. It is something that even Bob had a problem with. They (The Wailers) were always so good, that someone from the outside, whether it be publishing, the record execs, they wanted a piece of the Wailers that they didn’t deserve to have. And they went about it anyway they could.
How far does this go back?
It started with Peter, Bunny, and Bob. They did an amazing album with (Lee) Scratch (Perry), African Herbsman. I couldn’t believe how amazing the songwriting and production was. It took me weeks of listening to comprehend how amazing Scratch is with those guys. Then from that to Catch a Fire, wow! Things are changing drastically. If you look at that drastic change from African Herbsman to Catch a Fire to Burnin’, it’s like things are going to spin off the face of the Earth. After Burnin’ the band broke up. And I wanted to know why.
What was your understanding of it?
They were being tackled every time they had the ball. They were famous in Jamaica. They became very popular in Kingston and all over the island, but still hadn’t found a place on the radio. Or in America or England. Something had to be done because Byron Lee playing Soca was getting the attention. Bob wasn’t playing Soca. They were playing one-drop roots rock reggae; they were, essentially, the inventors of this music. They were having so many problems, the three of them, to perform, tour, get management. There were spies everywhere. Everybody wanted to know what was on their minds, what are they going to do, because they are worth money. All hell broke loose. It became, like, let’s separate the group. Let’s put Peter and Bunny in one category and Bob in another. Let’s make it look like they are together but it’s really all about Bob, when before it was always the three of them.
Bunny Wailer is the last living of the original three. How does he fit into it?
I want to send a message to Bunny. For decades, I looked up to the three of them. They were bigger, musically, in their lives, their past, than I ever could be. I came through Island (Records), and I was thought of as a spy, as one who had come to ruin the three of them. I wanted to work with the three of them. I thought it would be incredible to play Bunny’s music, to play Peter’s music, in addition to Bob’s music, all at one time on one stage. That’s what I wanted. Even today, I think that Blackheart Man is the greatest reggae album ever. I had no idea it wasn’t going to be that when I joined. That it wasn’t going to be The Wailers, it was going to be Bob Marley and the Wailers. I came to Hope Road and was seen by Peter and Bunny as the American who came to separate them, but that is not where I was at. I was there to unify and strengthen the three of them and be a servant to them and the rest of the band and its music. I’m still here, working on behalf of all of those that have had anything to do with the original Wailers. The trademark was just to battle this woman in Baltimore who thinks that she is the rightful owner of the name the Wailers. So, Bunny, the name belongs to you, Peter, Bob and all the musicians that went on the road, who sacrificed their lives for this music.
You are planning international spring and summer tours. What do you hope from your return to the road now that you have a new album out?
We want to come up with a really strong program to support this album. The longer I’m on the road, the tighter the music is, the more I can expose what we have in our merchandise closet, and it gives the fans access to the CD of the EP which allows them to hear it in full surround sound, as opposed to the compressed MP3.
So when fans see The Original Wailers coming to their city, what can they expect?
We’re not a tribute band. We’ve had people leave the group, but we will carry on with our music, our writing, our production. I found a songwriter in Desi Hyson that I believe in. We are not interested in living off of Peter, Bunny, and Bob’s music, what they did years ago. These guys were great teachers for us, and we want to carry on that tradition, but we want to earn our living with what we do today, what we have written, not as a tribute band to the past. We want fans to listen to the new record, go to the Facebook page, and see that this is a viable, relevant roots rock reggae band. The past is the past. We want to move forward.