Interview: Donald Kinsey

Ahead of their UK tour, I got to catch up with one of the original members of The Wailers, Donald Kinsey.

Being the son of Chicago Blues Legend ‘Big Daddy Kinsey’, Donald grew up surrounded by blues and gospel music. It was his dad that introduced him to a number of musical legends including Lou Reed and Albert King. It was his grandparents, however, that ran the local church where Donald, at the age of 13, used to play with his dad on weekends. It wasn’t until Donald was looking for a record deal in New York, with his group ‘White lightening’, that he came across Reggae music.

‘When we walked in to Island records the first thing I saw were all these Bob Marley posters hanging on the wall, and I thought to myself – Who is this guy? We ended up getting the record deal and I ended up picking up a few cassettes in the office of Island Records. When I got home I put the cassettes in my boom box, and when the music came on, I thought to myself wow! I mean, It was something so different but so similar at the same time. The rhythm was so refreshing, but then I still felt the same spirit as I did when I heard gospel music. Ya know?’

It wasn’t until White Lightening and Bob were both playing in New York, that Donald and Bob Marley met.

‘There was a press conference in New York. It was there where I got to meet Bob and Peter Tosh. I actually ended up recording and touring with Peter first. Then straight after that, I got a call from Bob. Bob asked if I could come play some guitar on a record, which ended up being Rastaman Vibration. Following that he asked me to come and tour with the band. So yea, boom! there it was.’

Donald went on to explain how amazing the tour was, and how everything ‘was meant to be.’ There were some moments, however, which weren’t all smiles. In 1976, Donald was with Bob in the 56 Hope rd. kitchen when a gunmen broke in and attempted to assassinate Bob and his crew while they rehearsed for 'the Smile Jamaica concert.'

‘We had been tour for a while, and Bob turned around to me and said, ‘I want to do a free concert for Jamaica, and I want to call it Smile Jamaica’.

'It was a very positive thing, and everyone got very excited about it. The closer we got to the day of the show, things started to feel weird. People started to talk negatively about it, and it felt really weird. Some members of the band felt very frightened. So yea, we were rehearsing, and it was a blessing that we happened to take a break. If we were all in that room, it would have been a massacre that day. I mean what I saw that day, I saw bullets, I saw guns I heard shots. Ah man, it was awful’

Despite this terrifying scene, that night Bob Marley and the Wailers went on to play at Smile Festival.

‘After the shooting I spoke to Bob via walkie talkie, I could see the festival site from my hotel room, and he was up in the hills and he said, ‘Donald would you think of not playing?’

'I replied, ‘the almighty has seen us to this point, he isn’t going to abandon us now.’

It was after this horrible occurrence, why the Wailers took some time off. Bob travelled to England while Donald returned home to record with Peter Tosh. It wasn’t until 1979, that Bob and Donald reunited.

‘I was out in California, and Bob was out there playing so I went and chilled with him for a bit. When I saw him though, there was something about him that made me worried. He was doing an interview, and when the press would asked him questions, he would quite often lose track of what he was saying. I knew something wasn’t right. After the interview, I rode the bus back with him to the hotel and I said, ‘Are you okay?’

'He replied ‘Yea man, I am just tired’'

Donald sadly didn’t get to see Bob again, however, he believes that Bob is with him and the Wailers every step of this tour.

‘It’s like Bob is bringing us all back together. I have looked forward to this day for a long time, I always had this feeling that this would happen again. To be back and working with family, ah man, it is amazing.’

Donald and the Wailers will be playing at the 02 academy in Bristol tonight, for further information or for tickets, click the link below:

http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/VDH1706?brand=o2academybristol&camefrom=AMG_BRISTOL_wail&_ga=1.232693663.1692298219.1473065162