Thursday, January 28, 2021

Gem of a memory BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

A year ago, almost to the date, recording artiste Gem Myers was a guest at the JaRIA Honour Awards, organised by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association. Sitting in the box, she could not resist the urge to rise to her feet once the tribute to honoree Bunny Wailer began. Filled with joy and pride, she danced to his classics such as Ballroom Floor, Cool Runnings, Boderation and Rock N' Groove as they were performed. On that night, she shared with the Jamaica Observer how hearing his music and seeing him being honoured had brought back a flood of memories from her days providing backing vocals for the reggae icon for stage and in studio.
Fast-forward to yesterday, and Myers was awash with mixed emotions as news of Bunny Wailer's death began to spread. She was saddened by his passing, but could not help but reflect on how fortunate she was to have worked with the legendary artiste. “I can't even recall how I first got to work with Jah B. I was very young, and as vocalists we were always in the studio working with other artistes. There was a little clique of us headed by Pam Hall, and so we would get work… so, Pam played an integral role in most of what I did and who I worked with back in those days. We did some great work with Bunny Wailer and I found him to be absolutely giving when it came to the work. Always approachable, always willing to share, always willing to teach. In the years after, whenever we saw each other on the road or events, he always acknowledged me and had very kind words and recollections of our years working together. I will always remember those days, they will stay with me for a lifetime,” she shared. On Boxing Day 1982, the National Stadium in St Andrew was filled with thousands of reggae fans for the concert Youth Consciousness. Bunny Wailer and Dennis Brown were among the top-billed acts, and Myers was among the backing vocalists. For her, that experience is one which forever sticks out in her mind. “Like I said, I was young and just being in the stadium and seeing all these people rocking to the music. It was my biggest show at that time and I couldn't believe I was on-stage with Bunny Wailer. It was such a great experience and it helped me with my confidence, just to perform for such a massive audience,” she said. Bunny Wailer's talents as vocalist, performer, arranger and songwriter are never overlooked by Myers, who noted that he always had a hand in crafting the harmony on his recordings, and his skills in pulling a performance together were worthy of emulation. “The man have some wicked tune… if yuh t'ink a lie check out his album Black Heart Man. His work with The Wailers is something we all know and must celebrate. Bunny Wailer is legacy-rich. He can rest knowing that he put in the work and generations to come will know him and his music. I can't point to a single tune that is my favourite… there are so many, Fire Burning, Ballroom Floor, Black Heart Man… too many,” noted Myers. “Jah B's passing is causing me to reflect on the number of legendary artistes that I have worked with as a backing vocalist. My first major job was with Peter Tosh on his Mama Africa album. I sang on about four of the tracks. So the only icon I haven't worked with is Bob [Marley]. I have since worked with Toots, Ras Karbi, Jimmy Cliff, Judy Mowatt, and the list goes on. I am truly grateful to have worked with these artistes including Bunny Wailer, as I know they have contributed to my career,” she added.

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