The Wailers 2016, featuring five year-old reggae freestyle prodigy Lee “Scratch” Busalachi- Photo: Toby Rogers
As we headed into Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a run down ex-factory town, it was almost 30 below zero. The Wailers- Bob Marley’s old back-up-band- stepped out of their tour busses on the coldest night of 2016 without a second of hesitation. They must adhere to Marley lyrics “some people feel the rain, others just get wet,” when adapting to the ever constant changing of the elements on the road.
Since Bob Marley’s death on May 11, 1981, The Wailers have continued to honor their fallen comrade’s legacy by touring around the world literaly non-stop.
Marely, one of the greatest apostles of music has influenced every musician who has heard him. In the 70’s Bob Dylan, The Greatful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCarty, Eric Clapton as well as punk bands The Clash, The Police and U2, all tried to catch up with the driving, hypnotic Reggae groove Marely and The Wailers had created. And as they all learned the hard way, it wasn’t easy to capture the Wailers’ vibe.
Not only did Bob Marely and the Wailers change the direction of music, they introduced Rastafarianism to the world. The Greatful Dead may have created the “Deadhead” lifestyle, but Bob Marely and The Wailers created a way of life.
In fact Marely musicologists now claim that the complete Marely songbook, like the Bible, touch on almost every aspect and experience of human life. Marely even goes one step further mentioning his fear of a future nuclear war in Redemption Song, a subject not in the mentioned in the good book.
And 35 years later, they have never sounded better. For The Wailers are no tired old nostalgic band. They are the last band, other than possibly Cannibal Corpse and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, that are truly on a mission, a mission much higher than themselves.
“Sharing this music wth so many people around the world was my last promise to Bob,’ said bass player Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Bob Marley’s most trusted lieutenant & co-producer & anchor of the current Wailers 2016 Tour lineup. Barrett has played on countless classic reggae hits from the 70s as well as on all the Bob Marlery & The Wailers studio albums.
Soon, the other Wailer’s filed in backstage at Pittsfield’s 1903 Colonial Theater that was beautifully resorted with millions in federal grants spear-headed by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I ask Rasmel, The Wailers’ signature guitar player since the beginning how the tour is going?
“It’s going,” he nonchalantly replied, spoken like a seasoned road warrior.
The world’s most iconic reggae band The Wailers are now touring the United States, performing selections that defined their sound.They are the most successful reggae group in history, having sold over 250 million albums worldwide and played to an estimated 25 million people around the world. They have left an indelible mark on modern music performing 200 plus shows annually. After touring in South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe throughout 2015, The Wailers embarked on an Eastern US tour for February’s themed Reggae month and continue into Canada for the remainder of February into March 2016.
In 2014 The Wailers celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of the album Legend which was #46 on Rolling Stone Magazine‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Legend is also the best selling reggae album of all time, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. The re-release topped Billboard’s Top five chart in the Fall of 2014 – proving the timeless appeal of their music spans generations.
Barrett said in our sensi fueld backstage interview regarding the rerelease of ‘Legend’ reaching Billboard’s Top Five spot: ‘It only took 30 years. My life with The Wailers has been an odyssey. To be in the top 10 is hard for me to even imagine. We’ve come so far.”
The Wailers performance at Glastonbury in the UK was attended by more than 100,000 people in 2014. That performance, linked here highlights “Is This Love” which is on the Legend album and first appeared on the Kaya album.
Outside of their groundbreaking work with Marley, the Wailers have also played or performed with international acts like Sting, the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Kenny Chesney, as well as reggae legends such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear and Alpha Blondy.
The band are also playing selections from Exodus named by Time Magazine as the “Album of the 20th Century” it was released in 1977. Current sets also include songs from the albums Kaya, Survival and Babylon By Bus and reflect the songs that were performed when Mr. Marley was the lead singer of the band.
The Wailers have created an extraordinary body of work and their music can be heard in every corner of the world today. Original members included Bob Marley and his vocal partners Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, alongside the ground-breaking rhythm section of the Barrett brothers, Carlton on drums and Aston “Family Man” on bass. Today, Aston leads the band as it continues its worldwide campaign to promote peace, love and equality through the message of reggae and Rastafari.
The current Wailers’ lineup includes:
Aston “Family Man” Barrett-bass
Aston Barrett Jr. – organ
Anthony “Benbow” Creary – drums
Audley “Chizzy” Chisholm -lead guitar
Dwayne “Danglin” Anglin – vocals
Melvin“Ras Mel”Glover-rhythm guitar
Mr.Barrett’s son Aston Jr. is a multi-instrumentalist playing drums, bass and organ at given times in the band’s performance schedule. As for his role as part of the next generation of Wailers, he had this to say: “My father Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, my grandfather Joe Higgs and my uncle Carlton Barrett, help me so much in music. Having the same bloodline, I wish to help and share the music with those who want to learn. Having the name Barrett is one thing, but having the skill is another.”
The Wailers’ nucleus formed in 1969, when Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh recruited the Barrett brothers – bassist Aston “Family Man” and drummer Carly – from Lee Perry’s Upsetters to play on hits such as Lively Up Yourself, Trenchtown Rock, Duppy Conqueror, and many more besides. Inspired by Rastafarianism and their ambitions of reaching an international audience, this is the line-up that pioneered roots rock reggae, and signed to Island Records in 1971. Bunny and Peter left two years later.
It was at this point that the in-demand Barrett brothers – whose rhythms also underpinned innumerable seventies’ reggae hits by other acts – assumed the title of Wailers, and backed Marley on the group’s international breakthrough album, Natty Dread. Under Family Man’s musical leadership, they then partnered Bob Marley on the succession of hit singles and albums that made him a global icon, winner of several Lifetime Achievement awards, and Jamaica’s best-loved musical superstar. Drummer Carlton “Carlie” Barrett died in 1987, leaving his brother as the main beneficiary of the Wailers’ mantle.
The Wailers have also cultivated one of the most racially diverse fan bases currently in the music business. And at every show, rising above the audience is the ever present, pungent smell of burning ganja- one of the most important aspects of Rastafarianism- easily topping any Dead show “burnt offering” I have whiffed.
Reggae music has never stopped evolving but for millions of people from around the world it’s still defined by the songs of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s been their heartbeat rhythms that have inspired so much of what’s followed since, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of the “one-drop” reggae sound.
The Wailers 2016 tour dates: