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The Wailers still keeping the beat
Source: inform.com
Posted on: April 21, 2008 07:36 MST
Filed under: Reggae

The Wailers

There's a then-and-now thing about the Wailers, which lost a fairly famous frontman in Bob Marley in 1981.

The primary "then" is Aston "Family Man" Barrett, the heart of the 21st-century Wailers and its connection to the band's beginnings. Family Man was present on just about all of Bob Marley's '70s recordings, making him a particularly influential instrumentalist. His sound is immediately identifiable and iconic (see sidebar). As current Wailers vocalist Elan Atias points out, "people can name songs just from your humming his bass lines alone. That's how significant they are. They're so simple, but so deep. His tone, that's one of the main reasons you feel the music."

Early Wailers departees Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer have better-recognized names than Barrett's. Both were contributors to Marley's early success, but both also established a successful solo career apart from Marley.

Less heralded, but inestimably important, Barrett, 61, and his brother Carlton were the crucial rhythm section that put a beat to Marley albums such as Exodus, Catch a Fire, Burnin', Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration.

After Marley's death, Barrett carried on the Wailers name (Carlton was murdered in 1987), with late-'70s Wailer Junior Marvin taking over vocals.

A handful of singers have come and gone since. Al Anderson, a Wailers guitarist who played on a few Marley albums in the '70s, was with the band when he discovered Atias, who fronted the Wailers for three years in the late-'90s. He recently rejoined the band.

Atias is a generation younger than Family Man and a white Jewish guy from Los Angeles. He was pulled into the fold less for his background than his voice, which has a high, raspy timbre similar to Marley's.

His debut was onstage before 6,000 people at a festival in Dubuque, Iowa, with a thunderstorm threatening.

"I didn't have much of what you'd call stage presence then," he says. "But the thing I was worried about was getting the lyrics right. Everybody in the crowd knew every word to those songs. It's a lot to know. And we'd never had a soundcheck or rehearsal."

andrew.dansby@chron.com

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