Is Billings ready for some authentic reggae from Jamaica?
Since Bob Marley is no longer with us, the closest one can get to reggae’s patron saint is a live performance from his son Ziggy Marley or his former band, The Wailers. This Wednesday, Feb. 27, The Wailers, led by Aston “Family Man” Barrett, will provide the musical celebration.
While few outside of hardcore reggae fans will know of Barrett or his significance, it can be argued that what the world knows as the distinctive reggae bass guitar sound was formed – if not invented – by the Family Man.
Also unknown to many Bob Marley and the Wailers fans is that the original Wailers were a vocal trio: Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Early on in their career (1974), they parted ways, and Marley’s studio backing band took on the name of The Wailers.
That band was based on the seminal reggae rhythm section of Aston and his brother Cartlon (“Carly”) on drums. Carly died in 1987, and the band has since been led by Aston and has featured various past members of the band ever since.
According to their website, together with Bob Marley, the Wailers have sold in excess of 250 million albums worldwide. While not big chart-makers in America, in England they have notched up more than 20 chart hits, including seven Top 10 entries.
Other than their career with Marley, the Wailers have also played or performed with many international acts, including the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Sting, as well as with reggae legends such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.
Described on their website as “the greatest living exponents of Jamaica’s reggae tradition,” the Wailers performed on innumerable tours, playing to an estimated 24 million people across the globe. They have also been the first international reggae band to tour in many new territories, including Africa and the Far East.
As part of producer Lee Perry’s studio band, the Upsetters, the in-demand Barrett brothers have played on many reggae hits by other acts. Their most recent collaborators include Colbie Caillat, Kenny Chesney, Eve and Jason Mraz.
After becoming the new Wailers, they backed Marley on the international breakthrough album, “Natty Dread.” Under Family Man’s musical leadership, they partnered with Marley on a succession of hit singles and albums that made him a global icon and Jamaica’s best-loved musical superstar.
The Wailers’ current lineup combines old school authority with lead vocals from one of Jamaica’s most exciting new singers, Koolant. Koolant joined the Wailers shortly after his cameo appearance in the film, “Made in Jamaica.”
“It’s been a wonderful experience singing with the Wailers because so many of Bob Marley’s songs are still relevant to what’s happening right now. They are of the times,” Koolant says. “Bob Marley was a prophet, and it’s an honor to be part of that. I put my whole self into spreading that message, and it can only help my own development as an artist and as a songwriter.”
While Koolant brings his own personal expression to Marley’s songs, there’s more to the Wailers than merely reliving the past. Koolant sings lead vocals on one of the band’s latest tracks, “A Step for Mankind,” recorded on behalf of the World Food Program.
The current tour will feature the classic Bob Marley and the Wailers album “Survival,” performed in its entirety. While this album doesn’t contain as many of the best-known hits, it remains a favorite of die-hard Marley fans.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Local blues and rock artist Jared Stewart will open the 6:30 p.m. show. The Wailers are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m.
Jared Stewart has opened for many national touring acts, is a perennial performer at the Rockin’ the Rivers festival in Three Forks and has won more Billings Outpost Tuney Awards than any other artist. His current band includes longtime drummer John “Horse” Culbertson, bassist Horacio Cantu, and is sometimes augmented by his son, Cordell, on bass and guitar.
This show is presented by Magic City Blues in collaboration with Mojo 92.5. Tickets for the all-ages show are $29 in advance, $35 on the day of show. Tickets are available at the Shrine Auditorium, Hansen Music, by phone at 534-0400, or online at www.MagicCityBlues.com.