NEARLY FOUR DECADES after Tacoma's pioneering rock 'n' roll band, the Wailers, formed in 1958, the still-active members discovered that their garage-rock legacy was being dangerously overshadowed by that other group with the same name. Jamaica's upstart reggae band, the Wailers, released their debut album -- the obscure & hit-less The Wailing Wailers -- in 1965. By that late date, our boys from Tacoma had already scored international hits (1959's "Tall Cool One," "Dirty Robber," & "Mau Mau"), issued an influential album (1959's The Fabulous Wailers), scored a No. 1 regional hit (1961's "Louie Louie"), issued a best-selling LP (1962's At The Castle), and enjoyed more regional radio hits (1964's "You Better Believe It," & 1965's "Out Of Our Tree" & "You Weren't Using Your Head").
They had also appeared on national TV (ABC's Dick Clark Show) & on the Alan Freed Show, toured the East Coast (1959) & California (1961, etc), played shows headlined by the likes of Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the Standells, the Royal Guardsmen, Sopwith Camel -- & enjoyed the release of a half-dozen additional 45s and four LPs. So, the band was rather well-known.
Thus it remains a bit of mystery why they (& their lawyers) did not react when the Jamaican band – which included future superstar, Bob Marley -- emerged with the exact same name. Except, to consider that by the time Marley's crew followed up with a new LP in 1970 (plus three more in 1971) – they scored no hits in the United States -- & those years were a low ebb for our local heroes. By the time the Tacoma boys began reuniting & playing more regularly in 1977, Marley's Wailers had caught fire in the British & American marketplaces: album's like 1973's Catch A Fire charted & Burnin' went gold, 1974's Natty Dread charted, 1976's Rastaman Vibration went platinum, & 1977's Exodus went multi-platinum.
Final sad proof that just enough time had passed by so as to have thoroughly confused some people about these two Wailers arose in 1993 when Bill Graham's San Francisco-based rock 'n' roll empire issued a series of limited-edition silk neckties with designs based on his old psychedelic Fillmore West & Avalon Ballroom posters. Seen here is Graham's "Reggae at the Fillmore" (!) tie – with artwork borrowed from Wes Wilson's classic poster (BG 11) for the June 17-18, 1966, Fillmore shows which featured Haight Ashbury's Quicksilver Messenger Service & the Wailers (with special mention noted of their latest Top-5 West Coast radio hit, "It's You Alone"). Clearly there were no shantytown Rastamen at the Fillmore those nights – but such shoddy handling of history caused the band, in 1993, to begin rebranding themselves on various CDs & gig posters as "The Boys From Tacoma."
In June 2007 surviving memers of Tacoma's Wailers – bassist Buck Ormsby, & keyboardist Kent Morrill – finally brought suit [Ormsby v. Barrett, No. 07-5305] against the reggae band after they discovered that the internet domain name "wailers.com" had been grabbed. Their complaint was that of trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, & cybersquatting, based on their registered trademark of the word "Wailers." Too little, too late: in January 2008, Western District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled for the defendants. Cased closed.