Wailing Souls (Contemporary Musicians)
The members of Wailing Souls, Winston Matthews and Lloyd McDonald, are two of reggae's more enduring artists. A traditional duo from the heart of Kingston, Jamaica, Matthews and McDonald are known individually by their respective ska nicknames of Pipe and Bread. In the late 1990s, even as the duo contributed to a revival of traditional roots reggae from the 1960s and 1970s, the pair serendipitously survived a musical transition into the twenty-first century. When advances in digital media proved unsettling to many in the recording industry, Wailing Souls bridged the technology gap with assuredness. At a time when many artists and record companies were bringing legal action to curtail free access to recorded music via the Internet, the music of Wailing Souls went out free and with the full blessing of the artists themselves, thus boosting their popularity accordingly.
Wailing Souls had its origins in the unsettling urban ghettos of Kingston where Matthews grew up in an area called Trenchtown, not far from the Whitfield Town neighborhood that was home to McDonald. Matthews, with a natural love of music and a knack for singing, received his nickname of Pipe from friends, because of his impressive voice, which many have compared to that of the late rastaman, Bob Marley. As a preadolescent in the early 1960s, he auditioned at the studio of ska superstar Prince Buster on a referral from an acquaintance. The audition led to some studio work for Matthews as a member of an ensemble called the Schoolboys. Matthews by that time was approximately 12 years old. Not long afterward, he teamed up with a schoolmate, Lloyd McDonald, who enlisted Matthews in forming a trio called the Renegades with George "Buddy" Haye. The Renegades recorded "Mr. Fire Coal Man," "Back out with It," and other popular hits and contributed backup work to an Ernest Ranglin album. Because Matthews and McDonald were in high school at the time, the group disbanded briefly in 1968, largely at the urging of their parents and teachers. Sensibility notwithstanding, the two colleagues regrouped and formed a quartet with Oswald Downes and Norman Davis. They recorded a single called "Gold Digger" at Studio One, which was the foremost reggae studio in 1960s Kingston. Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, a quasilegendary reggae impresario who operated Studio One, billed the foursome as the Classics. Soon after, in the early 1970s, McDonald, Matthews, Davis, and Downes signed as Pipe and the Pipes with Tuff Gong, a startup label belonging to Marley. Pipe and the Pipes wrote much of their own material and recorded a series of hits for Tuff Gong, including "Harbor Shark" and "Back Biter." In retrospect, some critics attribute much of the endearing quality of Wailing Souls to their talent as songwriters.
With hit records and recording contracts to its credit, the group evolved rapidly between 1974 and 1976. Downes and Davis left the group in 1974 and were replaced by former group member Haye along with the late Joe Higgs. Higgs left the group soon afterward and was replaced by Rudolph "Garth" Dennis. Around that time the quartet adopted the name of Wailing Souls while recording for the Channel One label under producer "Jo Jo" Hookim. As the popularity of roots reggae swelled to a peak during the mid 1970s, the group recorded a series of classic song covers and released a remake of "Mr. Fire Coal Man" along with a series of other hit singles. Their most popular recordings with Hookim were based in older classics. "Things and Times," "Joy with Your Heart," and "Very Well" did well for Wailing Souls. A 1976 release, called "Back Out With It," reached the number one position on the Jamaican music charts, and in 1977 the Souls began to issue records on their own label, called Massive. The first single on that label, "Bredda Gravilicious," became a memorable classic. Also among the early Massive releases was "Feel the Spirit." Wailing Souls signed also with Island Records of Jamaica in the late 1970s and in 1979 released Wild Suspense, which included a reprise of "Bredda Gravalicious" and featured the Revolutionaries. They recorded also on Greensleeves, a United Kingdom label, during that period, releasing Firehouse Rock' in 1981. Inchpinchers appeared on Island Records in 1982, and On the Rocks appeared in 1983 in Great Britain.
By the early 1980s, a violent subculture called dancehall dub permeated Kingston reggae and left peaceable musicians such as Wailing Souls in musical limbo. In part to escape the unpleasant atmosphere of dancehall dub, with its vicious overtones and so-called "gun lyrics," Wailing Souls relocated to Los Angeles, California. The move proved beneficial but resulted ultimately in the sacrifice of two group members: Haye and Dennis. Soon after the transition to the United States, the quartet released Stranded, their final album on Greensleeves in 1984. The album marked the end of the Wailing Souls as a foursome, leaving McDonald and Matthews to continue the group as a tandem act.
Thus the mid 1980s signaled the beginning of a new era of Wailing Souls as a United States-based Pipe and Bread duo. It was a time of high productivity for Matthews and McDonald; they worked with producer Linval Thompson and recorded for Junjo Lawes's Volcano Records label. Their 1989 Rohit album, Stormy Night, was produced by King Jammy, as were other Wailing Souls releases of that era. Additionally, Wailing Souls released a series of recordings for VP Records. They toured and recorded continually during the remainder of the decade and collaborated frequently with producers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, releasing "Old Brown" on Sly & Robbie's Taxi label. McDonald and Matthews settled in the Pomona, California-area for a time, where they experimented with nontraditional sounds. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the release of five so-called "underground" albums (non-mainstream recordings) on the Live and Learn label. The records, distributed in the United States by RAS Records, ended soon after Wailing Souls signed with a major United States label, in 1991.
Wailing Souls' American label, Columbia/Chaos, released a debut album, All over the World, in 1991, which earned a Grammy Award nomination from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Their subsequent contribution to the Cool Runnings soundtrack brought them high visibility as the album sold more than a million copies. They toured internationally in 1996rom California to Japann a mission to promote an album from Zoo Entertainment, called Live On. Matthews and McDonald collaborated impressively on Psychedelic Souls with Sublime's bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh in 1998. That album reaped a second Grammy nomination for Wailing Souls. As the 1990s drew to a close, Wailing Souls remained the only Jamaican reggae act on contract with a major United States label.
It was the occasion of their 1999 European tour that brought Wailing Souls back to roots reggae and Jamaica after nearly two decades of experimental foraying from the traditional music forms. Their experiences on tour, according to Matthews and McDonald, brought them to a new awareness of the significance of roots and its importance to their fans. The Los Angelesbased pair subsequently returned to its physical roots in Jamaica to produce its next album. The project progressed rapidly in Jamaica, and after releasing a single called "Underdog" in 1999, the pair released a new self-produced album, Equality, to a receptive public. The album was featured on the MUSICBLITZ website and became one of the most downloaded pieces from that Internet site. Electronic distribution notwithstanding, Matthews and McDonald give precedence to "flesh and blood" on tape, to maintain the human warmth of the music. The "rire and intensity" of the music may be unwittingly sacrificed when digital media is overdone, according to the pair. With a unique artistic freedom, effected by the self-production environment, Matthews and McDonald delved deeper into roots reggae on Equality, which was distributed for sale through Koch International. The pair toured and promoted the album in Jamaica amid discussions of an extended world tour in June of that year. With the turn of the new year in 2001, they received a Grammy nomination and anticipated a U.S. tour. Critic Dan Le Roy rated Equality for MUSICBLITZ as, "heavy dreadness [that] you don't have to dread" and complimented Wailing Souls for their ability to record timely music with a sincere regard for roots reggae.
Matthews and McDonald tour habitually with a ninepiece band. Low-keyed and peaceable, the appeal of Wailing Souls, according to critics, is due largely to their upbeat, positive message. Without question, their harmony and hope is a vivid contrast to the dark and violent influences in later twentieth century reggae. In the process of renewing their commitment to roots music, they invited other upbeat musicians of the tradition to join in their recordings, such as "Bredda Gravalicious," which featured the Souls' reggae colleagues, Riddim Twins (Sly & Robbie). Wailing Souls songs such as "Love Her Madly" of 1998 combine ska, hip-hop, and other raucous beats, effectively packaging roots reggae into hard-beat rock and roll. They write songs incessantly, on a daily basis. Their work is published by Winmatt Publishing and Bread Soul Publishing, both affiliated with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
In June of 2000 the pair returned triumphantly to Trenchtown and presented a $50,000 donation to the Trenchtown Cultural Center to spur the development of a Bob Marley Cultural Yard within the neighborhood facility. Their trip included a video shoot for "Don't Say," which was the first single release from the album. The "Don't Say" video was filmed within the cultural center yard. The yard site, appropriately, marks the location where Matthews was born.
"Mr. Fire Coal Man," Studio One.
"Mr. Fire Coal Man," Channel One (remake).
"Things and Times," Channel One, c. 1973.
"Joy Within Your Heart," Channel One, c. 1973.
"Very Well," Channel One, c. 1973.
"Back out with It," Channel One, 1976.
"Bredda Gravilicious," Massive, 1977.
"Feel the Spirit," Massive, 1977.
Wailing Souls, Studio One (Jamaica).
Soul & Power, Studio One (United States).
Wild Suspense, Island Records, 1979.
Firehouse Rock, Greensleeves (U.K.), 1981.
Inchpinchers, Island Records, 1982.
On the Rocks, Greensleeves (U.K.), 1983.
Stranded, Greensleeves (U.K.), 1984.
Stormy Night, King Jammy/Rohit, 1989.
All over the World, Columbia/Chaos, 1991.
Live On (includes rework of "Jah Jah Give Us Life"), Zoo Entertainment, 1995.
Psychedelic Souls, Pow Wow, 1998.
Billboard, September 12, 1998, p. 17; June 24, 2000, p. 13.
Inter Press Service, June 10, 2000.
MUSICBLITZ, 2001, http://www.musicblitz.com/, (January 22, 2001).
"The Wailing Souls," http://www.artistsonly.com/wailso.htm (January 22, 2001).
"The Wailing Souls: Living On," 1996, http://incolor.inetnebr.com/cvanpelt/souls.html (January 22, 2001).
"The Wailing Souls Triumph Return to Trench Town," The Reggae Source, http://www.reggaesource.com/articles/wailing_souls_2000.html (January 22, 2001).
"Wailing Souls," sonicnet, 2000, http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/ai_bio.jhtml"ai_id=507747 (January 23, 2001).
"Wailing Souls" Still Wailing after All These Years," Reggae Index 2000, 2000, http://www.caribvibe.com/wailingsouls.htm (January 22, 2001).
"Wailing Souls: The Bread and Butter of Bread and Pipe," the Synthesis, http://www.thesynthesis.com/music/wailingsouls/interview080... (January 22, 2001).