The Wailing Souls (originally The Renegades) are a Jamaican reggae vocal group whose origins date back to the 1960s. The group has undergone several line-up changes over the years with Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald the only constant members. They have been nominated for Grammy Awards three times.
Formation and Studio One era
The group formed in 1964, originally called The Renegades, comprising Winston "Pipe" Matthews, Lloyd "Bread" McDonald, and George "Buddy" Haye, who had attended the same vocal classes held by Joe Higgs in the early 1960s as The Wailers. Matthews had previously recorded as a member of The Schoolboys for Prince Buster.
They recorded as backing singers with Ernest Ranglin and released their own debut single, "Lost Love", before recording several singles for Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One label, including "Back Out With It", "Row Fisherman Row", and "Mr. Fire Coal Man". The group became The Wailing Souls in 1968 and in the same year Haye left and new members Oswald Downer and Norman Davis joined. Under the new name they recorded singles such as "Dungeon" and "Thou Shalt Not Steal".
In 1970 the group began working with producer Lloyd Daley, releasing the "Gold Digger" single. In this period, their singles were often released under names such as The Little Roys, The Classics, Atarra, and Pipe and the Pipers, to avoid confusion with The Wailers. They went on to record with members of the Wailers later that year on the Tuff Gong singles "Harbour Shark", "Walk Walk Walk", and "You Should've Known Better".
By 1974 Downer and Davis had left, and original member Buddy Haye returned, along with Joe Higgs, although Higgs' tenure in the band was short-lived as he was recruited for a US tour with Jimmy Cliff. His replacement was Rudolph "Garth" Dennis, a founder member of Black Uhuru.
In the mid-1970s, The Wailing Souls association with producer Joseph Hoo Kim and his Channel One Studios brought them a string of hits, backed by house band The Revolutionaries, including "Back Biter", "Very Well", "Things and Time", "Jah Jah Give Us Life", and "War". In 1977 the band started their own 'Massive' label, further hits following in "Bredda Gravalicious" and "Feel the Spirit". The band's success reached another level in 1978 when their Wild Suspense album, featuring remixed tracks from their singles, was released internationally by Island Records.
In the early 1980s they recorded with Sly and Robbie for the duo's Taxi label and continued to record at Channel One for producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes, singles from this era including "Fire House Rock", which was the title track from their 1980 album, released by Greensleeves Records. In the same era they also worked with other producers such as Linval Thompson (Wailing). From 1981 to 1984 they were largely based in the United States, and on their return to Jamaica, Haye stayed behind as did Dennis, until he returned to Jamaica and Black Uhuru in 1985.
Remaining members Matthews and McDonald launched a new era of the group in 1986 with singer Ziggy Thomas added to the line-up, working with producer Delroy Wright and going on to release the albums Lay It on the Line (1986) and Kingston 14 (1987), and recording Reggae in a Firehouse in 1988, although it was not released until 1991. They moved on to work with King Jammy on the 1989 album Stormy Night which was successful enough in the US to prompt the group to return there in 1991.
Major label era and later work
After moving to the US they added new member Maisha and signed to Sony's Chaos label. Their first major label album, All Over the World (1992) received a Grammy nomination the following year, and they became the first reggae group to appear on The Tonight Show. Four tracks from the album were used on the soundtrack of the film Cool Runnings. A second album for Sony, Live On (1994), this time released on the Zoo label, failed to repeat the success of its predecessor, and the group were dropped.
They continued to record, releasing the Tension album in 1997, and the covers album Psychedelic Souls in 1998, which was recorded with members of Sublime and the Long Beach Dub Allstars, and brought the group a second Grammy nomination. The self-produced Equality followed in 2000, which featured reworkings of old songs recorded with Sly and Robbie, and saw the band receive their third Grammy nomination. They also contributed the song "Renegade Survivor" to the soundtrack of the animated motion picture Titan A.E. in 2000.
In 2006 they released Classic Jamaican Flava, a two disc set featuring a compact disc and a DVD of a live performance in San Francisco, California. In 2008 Dennis returned to the group. Their tracks "Things and Time" was included in the soundtrack of the 2010 film Dear John.
In April 2015 it was reported that McDonald and Matthews were working on a new album with Sly and Robbie.
The group have recorded cover versions of a wide variety of songs, such as Kate and Anna McGarrigle's "Heartbeats Accelerating", The Who's "My Generation", The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", and The Rolling Stones' "Black Angel". Influenced by "War Deh Round a John Shop", Sublime altered the Wailing Souls song and renamed it "Pawn Shop".