THE WAILERS / “Dreamland”

bunny wailer 01.jpg I first heard Bunny Wailer’s beautiful spiritual “Dreamland” about ten years ago when I picked up Bunny’s classic 1976 LP Blackheart Man, Bunny’s first solo album after leaving the Wailers in 1973. (Bunny had spent the intervening three years releasing a few Jamaican-only singles and doing what Rastas call ‘reasoning’ and ‘cultivating’…whatever that means.) Ignorant as I was, I checked the liner notes, saw that the song was written by Bunny and figured that was the first time the song had been recorded. I was far, far away from the truth. third world 03.jpg Not long after hearing Bunny’s 1976 version, I heard Third World’s ethereal cover of the tune. That version is on Third World’s 1977 LP 96° In The Shade, an album that is every bit as classic as is Blackheart Man. How I didn’t remember “Dreamland” from back when I was a kid, I don’t know. I’m positive my parents played the album a lot because I remember hearing “1865” (aka “96° In The Shade”) all the time. the wailers 06.gif Now let’s fast-forward to just a couple months ago—this is where the story gets deep. Kalamu got me a great book for my birthday and in the process of reading through it, I found out that The Wailers (with Bunny singing lead) actually cut a version of “Dreamland” in 1971 when they were still recording with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and the Upsetters. That was a surprise. I tracked down the 1971 version and sure enough, there it was. Same song, same phrasing and feel, but with that rougher, rawer vibe that anyone who’s heard early-Seventies Wailers music will recognize.* I figured that was it for the “Dreamland” story until I read some of the fine print in the book. It said: “Bunny first cut ‘Dreamland’ for Studio One in 1966.” Interesting. I searched that one out too and was really surprised to discover that I already had the damned thing. It’s on a collection of early Wailers songs that Heartbeat Records put out in 2000. I’m usually not a big fan of early ska-sounding reggae, so I guess I passed it over. It’s a great version though—the rhythm track isn’t recorded well at all, but the vocals are sweet enough to make up for the fact that the mix is so bad that you can’t tell the drums from the bass. In fact, I like it enough that it’s the feature Cover for the week. (A trivia note about the 1966 version of “Dreamland”: although it is often credited to “Bob Marley & The Wailers,” Bob Marley isn’t on this record! During 1966, Bob grew disillusioned with The Wailers’ lack of financial compensation despite their consistently having hit records on the Jamaican charts. In February, he moved to America and worked at a hotel, trying to make enough money to start his own record label. In October ’66, Bob got drafted by the U.S. army. As you might expect, he went back to Jamaica immediately and good for him. Can you imagine the drastically different course of music history if Bob had gone and gotten himself killed in Vietnam? In any event, the lead vocals on this track are by Bunny Wailer with Peter Tosh singing harmony.) bunny wailer 02.jpg Now for the biggest surprise. You might have noticed that I used the original version of “Dreamland” as the feature Cover. That’s because it’s not an original song. Although Bunny Wailer is credited with writing “Dreamland,” he apparently plagiarized it from an obscure American R&B band called the ‘El Tempos.’ I wish I had a copy of that record, but I don’t. (If anyone does, hit me up!) One clue is that the earliest Wailers version (the ’66 one) includes lyrics that are omitted from all the later versions…lyrics that point to the song’s origin as a love tune as opposed to a Rasta-type ‘back to Africa’ spiritual. One last thing. Asante (my sister) points out that although the El Tempos original may actually be a love song, there are many ‘love songs’ in Black music that are anything but. Way back in the day, the slaves used music to communicate. As we all know, songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Wade In The Water” aren’t actually about low-swinging chariots or wading in water, they’re about escaping to freedom. This tradition lives on with records like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and The Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Street,” records that would seem to be about romance and partying, respectively, but are actually about Black Americans’ struggle for civil rights. So when Bunny remade an R&B record that talked about a guy fantasizing about a girl, and he changed it to a Rasta fantasizing about Africa, maybe he wasn’t that far off from the record’s original intention. Maybe. Get your versions here:

  • The Wailers (Bunny & Peter) – “Dreamland” – Originally a 1966 7” single on Studio One, currently available on Climb The Ladder (Studio One/Heartbeat, 2000)
  • The Wailers (Bunny, Peter & Bob) – “Dreamland” – Originally a 1971 single on Upsetter Records, currently available on The Best Of The Early Years (Trojan, 2001)
  • Lee Perry & The Upsetters – “Dreamland Version” – From Africa’s Blood (Trojan, 1971)
  • Bunny Wailer – “Dream Land” – From Blackheart Man (Island, 1976)
  • Third World – “Dreamland” – From 96° In The Shade (Island, 1977)
  • Marcia Griffiths – “Dreamland” – From Naturally (Shanachie, 1977)
—Mtume ya Salaam * According to p. 51 of the Wailers discography book, the 1971 Wailers version and the 1976 Bunny Wailer version are different mixes of the same track, vocals and all, but with instrumental overdubs added. Hmm.           Give a man a book          Next year I’m thinking of giving Mtume three books for his birthday: Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, Art of War by Sun Tzu, and What Is To Be Done by Lenin—I just want to see what he’ll come up with! Although it is probably obvious, we should never overlook how big an influence R&B had on early reggae. Huge and direct. Once again, with neither shame nor hesitancy, I bring up my hole in the earth theory, although in this case, the flying Negroes theory works just as well… and for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry… be hap… —Kalamu ya Salaam marcia griffiths 03.jpg P.S. For the sake of those who don’t know, Marcia Griffiths is one of the original I-Threes, Bob Marley’s backup singers (along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt). The Wailers were originally a vocal trio in which Bob sang the majority of the lead vocals and from which Bob was plucked by Island Records head honcho Chris Blackwell. Blackwell decided to promote Bob as the star, which is when the I-Threes entered the picture. There is probably some story about why “Dreamland” has been recorded so often by folk associated with Bob. Unfortunately here is where the road of knowledge runs out….    

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5 Responses to “THE WAILERS / “Dreamland””

Michael Szymanski Says:
May 4th, 2007 at 3:04 pm


My name is Rev. Mick Szymanski. I am writing this to you because of an article I read on the web regarding Bunny Wailer and the ‘stolen’ El Tempos song originally titled ‘My Dream Island’ or ‘My Dream Isle.’ It was originally recorded for VeeJay Records circa 1963. The reason I am interested is that the El Tempos were personal acquaintances of mine and as a musician, they were some of my heroes growing up in the Steel City of Lackawanna, New York.

I remember when that song came out. I was 14 years old and a drummer in a soul group. The El Tempos always took the time to help school us young, up and coming musicians. The guys names were Al ‘Bunk’ Johnson-guitar player and lead singer, Willie ‘Fish’ Lowe on keyboards, Otis’Screamin’ O.T.’ Toliver on bass and Leroy Brown on drums. Leroy was my personal hero and taught me a lot. And they used to let me sit in with them which was always a special deal. Fish and Otis have since passed away in the past few years. Leroy moved to Toronto years ago and hasn’t been seen for ages. Al Johnson became a Jehovah’s Witness and dropped out of sight although I did stop by his house about 8-10 years ago and brought him a cassette copy of his songs. He didn’t even have a copy for himself.

A friend of mine uncovered a CD copy of the El Tempos songs with also 2 never released. The CD was called ‘My Dream….’ Songs from a Chicago Street Corner Volume 3 – a release of the now defunct VeeJay catalogue. It was a Japanese import.

Anyway, sir, I’m glad that someone other than me and some local compatriots have taken up the El Tempos’ cause. They were a bunch of nice guys that deserved a bigger break than they got. As a side note, Otis Tolliver went on to play with Dyke and the Blazers, another R&B group from the Buffalo area that made some sweet soul music in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

I’m still a R&B player in my heart as well as being an Anglican Deacon with an interesting past. I hope to hear from you in the not too distant future.


Mick Szymanski

Bump Says:
June 23rd, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Champion reseach my brother! One day I will give you some more Bunny Wailer’s history. Guidance.

isdom24 Says:
November 28th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

It’s track 561 on the VEEJAY catalogue, but who has that?! I am a photojournalist and last night I interviewed Marcia Griffiths at Brooklyn Academy of Music. She said for years she too thought Bunny Wailer wrote it, especially when she did a cover. But then she heard the El Tempos version and was surprised. She described it as Doo Wop, unfortunately I forgot to ask her if the final lyrics of the El tempos’ version ended with “and surely we’ll never die!” Which many associate with Rastas not dying. Shame on me. Incidently, she also said Bunny Wailer wrote “Electric Slide” and she got the track from a box set of drum machine instrumentals from Toronto in 1982.

blackheartman Says:
December 16th, 2011 at 7:03 am there you go, the el tempos version. and sure enough, it ends with “and surely we’ll never die.”

I thought the dreamland from blackheart man used the same track as the lee perry version ha. that’s why i googled it, which brought me here ha

Leo Says:
August 26th, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Thank you for revealing the overt plagiarism of Al “Bunk” Johnsons’ song “My Dream Island” of the “EL TEMPOS” by Bunny. It was a great local band that turned on so many of us to music and life. The last time I saw Mr. Johnson was in a steel plant carrying a tool bag. Man, life can be soo unfair but his writing can never be stolen from him again. Mick Szymanski, who also wrote to you has much info on the “El Tempos.” I envied them as a young man and Mickey also let me use his drums when I had a gig. “El Tempos” forever Jack!!!!!!! Leo “Sky”.

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