your fallen brother: the life of Junior Braithwaite
Franklin Delano Alexander Braithwaite, better known as Junior
Braithwaite, was born April 4, 1949 in Kingston, Jamaica. On June 2,
1999, at the age of only 50 years old, three cowardly gunmen took
his life. Most people think that Bob Marley founded The Wailers, but
in fact Junior was a co-founder of the band, along with Peter Tosh
and Bunny Wailer. When Braithwaite was just a young teenager, as
were all of his bandmates, The Wailers released their first single in
December 1963, "Simmer Down." The band at the time featured Bob
Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverly Kelso and Junior himself.
According to Roger Steffens, who interviewed Braithwaite in 1985,
Junior was only in the group for eight months and only sang lead on
such songs as, "Habits," "Straight and Narrow Way," "Don't Ever
Leave Me," and "It Hurts To Be Alone." Braithwaite had arguably the
best voice in The Wailers as stated by Studio One's Coxson Dodd,
"Braithwaite had the best voice in the group when they first came to
Junior Braithwaite left The Wailers in late August of 1964 and
moved to America trying to pursue a medical career. Years later,
Bob Marley discussed the early Wailers' days and commented that,
"Junior [Braithwaite] used to sing high. It's just nowadays that I'm
beginning to realize that he sounded like one of the Jackson Five.
When he left we had to look for a sound that Bunny, Peter and me
Roger Steffens adds that, Junior "lived primarily in Chicago and
southern Wisconsin for the next 20 years, but returned to Jamaica in
1984 at the request of former partner Bunny Wailer, who enlisted him
in his 'Never Ending Wailers' recording project."
In 1985, while reflecting back with Roger Steffens about the Wailing
Wailer songs, Junior commented, "All of them have their own
characteristics, all the tunes. They have different things to say, and
new inspiration come each day, and so I'm saying all of them is
appreciated. I consider all of them a blessing or gifts from the Most
High, Jah Rastafari."
The songs featured on the "Never Ending Wailers" album become
that much more crucial because this was some of the last recorded
work that Junior ever did. One song in particular, "Together Again"
refers to this historic reunion of The Wailers and calls on the need to
"Remember your fallen brother, who has accomplished his task."
Who could have known that within years of this song, two of its
singers would be gone - Peter Tosh and now Junior Braithwaite.
In 1986 Bunny Wailer performed his first United States tour ever,
including his August 16th performance at Madison Square Garden in
New York City. It was here that saw the reunion of the remaining
Wailers (minus Peter Tosh who was unavailable for the concert),
including Bunny along with Junior Braithwaite and Vision Walker on
the song "Together Again." There were plans for a possible full
Wailers reunion tour which never materialized because of the death
of Peter Tosh in 1987. Imagine what this reunited Wailers would have
been like to see in person, truly amazing!
Junior Braithwaite attempted to make a solo comeback of sorts,
with his May 1997 performance (see a picture of this concert on main
page) at the Heineken Startime held in the Countryside Club in
Jamaica. According to the Jamaica Observer, Junior had been
working on a project with the all-female group Fourth Street Sister,
which remains unreleased.
The Jamaica Observer captured some reactions to Junior's death
by some legendary Jamaican musicians, including King Stitt who
was quoted as saying, "Junior was a decent man. I never heard him
in any war yet. He was just a humble and a quiet person. Musically,
he had something going. He left the Wailers and came back hoping
to restart his career. Just a pity he got cut down." As
Wailers-ologist and fan Matthew Smith rightly put it, "Junior's death
is just the latest in a line of tragic events that have followed The
Wailers since the assassination attempt on Bob and Rita in 1976.
Carly [drummer Carlton Barrett], Peter [Tosh], Fam and Carly's
[Barrett] father, and now Junior have all been senselessy murdered
by the very brothers they have spent their lives singing about and
using their music to help."
In Roger's interview, Junior gave his views on life and reggae
music, "Well, it's [reggae] about truth and rights, it's not about cars
and women. It's a more spiritually - because, you see, the whole
purpose of creation is that Jah, every man is equal under the sun.
And if I'm oppressed, well, I'm just the voice of the people then. But
don't sing about oppression all the time, I sing about love, because
that's a part of life too, and about family, and about the joys and the
woes. It's like what a poet would do with his poem, he write about
ever facet of life on every level. You have gladness, sadness,
whatever. So to me it's not really a war against no one in particular.
It's about truth and rights and whoever the cap fits has to wear it,
man. I don't have any animosity towards or against anyone. I love -
because love is the greatest thing. Love, yeah, is the key to even
Junior's death cuts short a career that was never fully realized, but
fans can take comfort in knowing that the songs that he did sing on
will live on forever!
Many thanks to Roger Steffens for...research
that he has tirelessly collected!