BABYLON BY BUS: On The Road With Bob Marley's Wailers

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NATTY DREAD RIDES AGAIN: Wailers Aston Barrett Jr. & Junior Jazz with Lucky Busalachi 

When Bob Marley's Wailers go on tour, it’s not some 80-100 night spring, summer, and fall tour, like touring "giants" The Grateful Dead or Bob Dylan. It’s over 200 nights a year. Every night, every week, every month, every year, every decade since Bob's untimely passing in May of 1981, the Wailers have been on tour. They all ride together in one red tour bus and for the last thirty eight years have played on stages across the globe several times over, never once looking back in their rear view mirror. The Wailers have only one direction, forward; to the next gig, the next city, the next country. 

Since Bob was buried in 1981, Kingston, Jamaica's favorite sons have become a global phenomenon selling more records and CD's then any other reggae act. The Wailers posthumous release Legend in 1984 has sold over 28 million copies. Time magazine declared Bob Marley and The Wailers 1977 release Exodus best album of the 20th Century. Whether it’s on the shores of Martha's Vineyard or a slum in Angola, wherever the Wailers go on the planet, they have racially diverse audiences eagerly waiting to devoutly chant Bob's song lyrics along with the band like they are ancient scriptures. The Wailers' songs of redemption, of liberation, truth and love have become universal anthems of a global human family. 

Led by Bob's most trusted general, bass player Aston "Family Man" Barrett made a promise to Marley lying in his death bed that he would never abandon the music they created together; keep the band intact and on the road until his own last breath. 

For almost forty years, Family Man has kept that promise and in doing so, has created one of the best touring bands the world has ever seen. Whether it’s a few hundred in a night club or a stadium packed festival, the Wailers can slay any crowd with the power and hypnotic energy of the Bob Marley songbook. The Wailers are no spoiled rock stars. They work hard and fast and are some of the most down to earth, humble musicians this reporter has ever covered.

On Friday, March 8, The Wailers begin a fourteen night UK tour in New Castle at the O2 Academy which ends at the Indigo in London on March 23. The Wailers have a special bond with England since colonialism dissolved in Jamaica in 1961. "It’s like we are all brothers," said Wailer drummer Aston Barrett Jr. "Other than Jamaica, the United Kingdom feels most like home." 

I caught up with the Wailers on the last leg of the 2019 North American Winter that began in Beverly, a Boston suburb on the Massachusetts North Shore at Cabot. Boston too is special place for the Wailers, being the first city they ever played in North America on July 11, 1973. After wrapping up at Cabot it was on to Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont for a Saturday night show. Finally to Hawks & Reed in Greenfield, MA, closing out the 2019 winter tour as a blizzard raged outside (more on that later). 

The set includes Bob Marley's best material played with a rhythmic intensity not truly captured on any record. Drummer Barrett Jr. hit each beat like it might be his last. And its Barrett's beat that over time puts the audience into a trance. It’s a craft he has mastered on the road since 2009. 

Hawks and Reed in Greenfield Massachusetts is by far one the best clubs in New England, complete with a full blown stunning basement speakeasy. Launched by Ben Goldsher on May 17, 2017 with a Lee "Scratch" Perry performance. It is clear after one conversation that Mr. Goldsher has a serious love for music, yet that passion also extends to his patrons. When the blizzard popped off I saw him outside helping people to their cars and giving out directions to folks leaving the show early. 

After the show ended and the Wailers packed up their gear and pulled out, the snow crashed down around them. As the Wailers' tour bus faded into the distance its was on to Logan airport for a flight to London. Spanning the last five decades the Wailers direction; to the next gig, the next city, the next country has never changed.

Be sure to check out the Wailers on their UK tour this month. 

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