Bob Marley & The Wailers – Easy Skanking In Boston ’78


Bob Marley & The Wailers – Easy Skanking In Boston ’78

2015 is the 70th anniversary of the birth of Bob Marley and as part of a number of events scheduled to celebrate the life of Jamaica’s greatest musician, The House Of Marley – which handles his significant legacy – is releasing a 13-track album recorded on The Wailers’ US tour in 1978. There are already four other live Marley albums, two of which were released during his lifetime – the 1975 album which (unusually for any performer) established Marley as a mainstream artiste when the single taken from it, “No Woman No Cry,” provided him and The Wailers band with their mainstream breakthrough and ongoing chart successes that continue to this day and the also recorded in 1978 Babylon By Bus set. 34 years after his untimely demise, Marley’s presence is an inescapable one and not merely in the reggae world; if it does only one thing, Easy Skanking is a definite reminder of exactly what made Bob Marley and The Wailers so popular, and with music fans that perhaps didn’t own any other reggae LPs. Recorded at the very peak of their abilities, Bob & The Wailers turn in a performance that’s as resonantly powerful today as it must have been 37 years ago.

Of course nowadays Marley’s legacy is about more than just his music. You can buy Marley headphones, watches, coffee, any number of t-shirts and hoodies, rolling papers, books based on Marley’s lyrics, and I could certainly find a use for the neat looking grey Marley backpack and not just for any Marley drinks coolers I might take on an excursion with me. His home in rural Jamaica is a must-visit for any visitors to the island and listening to Easy Skanking I was left feeling that while it can all seem like a touch over commercialised, Marley’s actual musical legacy is a profound one.

Opening the set with “Slave Driver,” from 1974’s Catch A Fire album, Marley and The Wailers sound a bit laidback, just warming up for what is going to become an actually incendiary performance by its ending, with a thunderous take on “Exodus.” Earl Lindo’s keyboard was an important part of The Wailers’ sound, providing the Barrett brothers rhythm section with an added depth and those guitar licks were played by Al Anderson, not Marley himself. Also present were backing vocalists the I-Threes, whose presence gives “Them Belly Full” an added note of accusation to Marley’s own lyrical protestations of poverty, something he and the rest of the band would have known only too much about. Eric Clapton’s 1973 cover of “I Shot The Sheriff” had provided the Wailers with much musicianly credibilty prior to their ascent to superstardom and on this album the song receives a verging-on-funk interpretation, maybe prefiguring their 1980 hit “Could You Be Loved.” “Reflexes got the better of me,” sings Marley and you’re left in no doubt, The Wailers don’t drop a note on what remains one of their best known songs.

It’s with the album’s title track that things go a bit beyond JA cool to actual greatness. On an album of classic tunes, “Easy Skanking” is the Wailers band in full flight with a near stunning performance from the Barrett brothers, whose drum and bass go into overdrive for what seems like an only too brief three and a half minutes and which is followed by a slightly less than enthusiastic version of “No Woman No Cry,” with Marley’s voice sounding a bit strained as he sings a lyric he might’ve, for whatever reason, got a little tired of. It’s still a worthy performance though and next song “Lively Up Yourself,” and the rest of the album which includes songs like “Jammin,” “Get Up Stand Up” and “Exodus” is The Wailers at their dancable, mesmeric and evocative best, spectacularly well played and the music of a band that could walk onstage tomorrow to as rapturous a reception as those late ’70s audiences were providing them with. If you ever had any doubts about why Marley continues to possess such an iconic status as a musician and personality, the second part of Easy Skanking should answer any of those questions.

I never got to see Bob Marley onstage, although one other reggae show that belongs in my own top ten of live performances – and I have seen a lot of gigs – was by Toots And The Maytals, a bit more recently than 37 years ago, and one very memorable evening that was. I can’t suggest that Easy Skanking will provide an introduction to the legacy of Marley and his band as there are probably very few people to whom his name and music are unknown but it’s a salutary reminder of exactly why Marley is so revered and why I for one wouldn’t feel short changed after paying $129 for a leather backpack bearing his signature. There is, let this scribe assure you, far more to the Marley industry than t-shirts and drinks containers, and his is a memory we should keep alive.