Marley’s Ghost
Courtesy Photo

There are perks and benefits that come with playing music solo versus in a group. The financial side is simpler with fewer people to write checks to, and there is no need to accommodate other opinions when you’re on your own.

But playing in a group is much more prudent for anyone that wants to create music while also raising a family. And more importantly, a collaborative, democratic effort provides a stronger support system for each band member.

Support and a kind of leaderless group consciences – these are the reasons why Marley’s Ghost has been a steadily productive musical act for the past thirty years.

The band is scheduled to play at SOhO on Thursday, March 10th, a prime opportunity for members of the community to support the enduring, ageless band. Not to mention that the thirty-year act has another two records on the horizon: The Woodstock Sessions, which is the end result of working with musical legend Larry Campbell, and a “nameless” record that is still TBD for a release date.

Marley’s Ghost is currently comprised of Mike Phelan, Ed Littlefield Jr., Dan Wheetman, Jerry Fletcher, Bob Nichols, and Jon Wilcox – the last of whom resides nearby in Montecito. Thirty years into their musical career, the now-six-piece band is a mainstay of old-time music with their musical roots stretching all the way back to the days of traveling folk singers and Nashville Country.

Back when the group originated in 1984 with Wilcox and Wheetman, there was little pressure to take over a music scene that was dominated by flashy frontmen and rock stars, especially since Marley’s Ghost has made their name as a conglomeration of varying styles like folk, bluegrass, reggae, honky tonk, and Celtic music.

“We’ve always been a ‘leaderless’ band,” says Wilcox. “I started the band, but it’s not in my nature to be the dominating type. The rough consensus is to please as many as possible.”

Even if the group was interested in making it big, they never fit the preferred demographic as explained by the late George Jones: “If you ain’t a cute little fellow or a girl with a cute butt, they’re not interested.”

Marley’s Ghost is a relic of a hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone era in music. Rehearsals are regular marathons as the members will spend three days and six-to-eight hours each day going over old pieces, breaking in new songs, and working in the details.

Where other contemporary bands have dissolved due to royalty disputes and differences of opinion, Marley’s Ghost has thrived in the past thirty years by understanding the role of music in their lives and vice versa.

“It’s the buzz of being able to do what you do, but to have this support group, this posse, of musicians and singers that takes you beyond yourself,” says Wilcox.

He directly ascribes their longevity to a decision not to be “road hogs,” or musicians that tour constantly throughout the calendar year. At their busiest, the band played a total of only about ninety gigs, far fewer than some acts that are on the road for ten months out of the year. There is also less pressure to tour due to the fact that most of the members of Marley’s Ghost have families and other responsibilities not tied to music.

That’s not to say that every member of the band agrees on every issue or song. But their ability to harmonize — not just in music, but also in life — provides a strong sense of stability between the six members.

“We’re harmonically as good as any group I’ve heard. There are strongly different personalities [in the band],” says Wilcox, “but it’s a mix of different voices that blends beautifully.”


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