Marley's Ghost
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Marley's Ghost

Mill Valley, California, United States | INDIE

Mill Valley, California, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Folk

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"Seattle Post Intelligencer"

"During the past two decades, the roots-music has gained a cult following with its instrumental virtuosity, supertight four-part harmonies and animated live performances." - Seattle Post Intelligencer


"LA Weekly"

“This West Coast quartet deftly dashes across decades of American music to create a sound that’s seeped in tradition but never bogged down by traditionalism." - LA Weekly


"No Depression"

" remarkable, distinctive voices . . . giddily eccentric eclecticism . . . a heady, subversive treat." - No Depression


"Paste"

“Marley's Ghost has earned cult-band status over 20 years of spirited musicianship, multi-part harmonies and irreverent humor.” - Paste


"Paste Review"

“Marley's Ghost has earned cult-band status over 20 years of spirited musicianship, multi-part harmonies and irreverent humor.” - Paste


"Marley's Ghost Returns..."

MARLEY’S GHOST RETURN WITH NINTH ALBUM GHOST TOWN,RECORDED IN NASHVILLE WITH COWBOY JACK CLEMENT

Acoustic quintet from Northern California and Pacific Northwest migrates to the (615) to record with legendary musician/producer, veteran of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Marley’s Ghost, cited by Paste magazine as “(having) earned cult-band status over 20 years of spirited musicianship, multi-part harmonies and irreverent humor,” will return from a three-year absence from recording with a new album, Ghost Town, due out February 23, 2010 on Sage Arts Records. The new album was produced by Cowboy Jack Clement, in whose Nashville home studio it was recorded. The cover was painted by acclaimed American watercolorist William Matthews.

The album follows Marley’s Ghost’s 2006 album Spooked, which was produced by Van Dyke Parks and featured a cover by R. Crumb. Of Spooked, No Depression remarked, “The band’s eighth full-length in 20 years glides with deadpan sincerity through sea chanteys, perverted mountain gospel, country-rock, vintage pre-WWII pop, Jazz Age vamps, Dylan, western campfire songs, and a rib-tickling salute to ‘the French Elvis,’ Johnny Hallyday. Brilliantly sung and played, Spooked is a heady, subversive treat.”

The latest development in the band’s recording career may prove to be the crucial link for Marley’s Ghost. Clement, the country music cornerstone whose career entwined with those of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and so many others, is the beloved dean of Nashville producers, and the presence of Marley’s Ghost in his studio earned the band its first Music Row buzz.

“Working with Jack is standing in the front door looking out into the world with the whole house of rock ’n’ roll and country music behind you,” says Marley’s Ghost bassist and singer Dan Wheetman. “Jack is steeped in the Sun Records ideals of music. The technical side is important but takes a backseat to the ‘bang,’ the performance with heart and energy.”

“It’s easy to think of Jack as the guy who wrote hits for Cash at Sun Records and recorded Charley Pride in the ’70s, but you know, he has a platinum album with U2,” he adds, referring to a portion of Rattle and Hum that Clement oversaw.

“Marley’s Ghost is very experienced, versatile and best of all, open-minded, and a fun bunch of guys,” says Clement. “I prefer to play with a great band rather than a bunch of great session players. And they are a great band. They understand that we are all in the fun business and if we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our jobs. And they can play just about anything they want to. Even polkas. I ain’t got ’em to do one yet, but I will.”

After more than 20 years of making music together— recording nine albums and performing thousands of shows around the country — Marley’s Ghost remains one of the best-kept secrets in the music world, an untapped natural resource waiting to be discovered.

“Our criteria,” says the band’s guitarist, Mike Phelan, “has always been: bring it, let’s run it. It’s not about genre or style.” This is one band that knows all the songs from both The Harder They Come soundtrack and Ralph Stanley’s Cry From the Cross. Or as Paste puts it, "a decidedly unusual band, as capable of reanimating Appalachian folk songs as they are traditional Celtic fare, honky tonk and reggae.”

The most important ingredients in the Marley’s Ghost musical brew are the characters in the band. The five multi-instrumentalists boast distinctive musical personalities that couldn’t be less alike.

Dan Wheetman is a veteran of the ’60s Simi Valley, Calif. teen rock group the Humane Society, and, as a member of ’70s country-rockers Liberty, toured for years with John Denver and Steve Martin. Jon Wilcox, mandolinist and vocalist, used to trudge around the country as a solo artist. Mike Phelan, like Wheetman and Wilcox a prolific songwriter, can tear your heart out with a soul tune, put a romantic lilt into an Irish folk tune or blast molten lead guitar licks through the heart of a blues. Innovative pedal steel guitarist Ed Littlefield, Jr., spent years performing C&W in rugged roadhouses for loggers across the Pacific Northwest, and plays a fierce fiddle and bagpipes. And Jerry Fletcher, the band’s secret weapon and unofficial fifth Ghost, became “certified” in 2006, bringing his eclectic music skills (drums, keys, accordion and vocal arranging) to bear full-time.

Together they are a unique amalgam of their respective backgrounds, personal proclivities and musical abilities — a blend honed to a seamless collaboration over the many miles they have traveled together down the road.

“I call it ’bang,’” says Clement in summation. “It’s got bang. The band’s got some bang to it.” - Cary Baker's Conqueroo


"Interview with Mike Phelan of Marley's Ghost"

It's been 24 years since Marley's Ghost started making music together. Since then, they've toyed with pretty much every version of American roots music - often within the same song. This time around, they teamed up with producer Cowboy Jack Clement to make a solid old school style country album called Ghost Town (buy it from Amazon).

When I called up multi-instrumentalist Mike Phelan to get his thoughts on the new album and his experience working with Cowboy Jack, he had been listening to some old Bob Wills records, so we started there...

Are you a big Bob Wills fan?
The whole band are Bob Wills fans. We do a variety of music [styles]. One of them we used to do more than we do now is Western Swing. Danny and I used to play a fair amount of twin fiddle stuff in our shows. Now we do a different thing where we play fiddle, dobro, and accordion for that segment because that’s a combination that you never hear. And it’s really fun.

Tell me about where you got started with Ghost Town...
We were playing at Douglas Corner in Nashville and a pal of ours, Walter Forbes, brought his friend Cowboy Jack out to see us. At the time Cowboy wasn’t going out to see too many people, so we thought it was great that he came out. He was kind of nice but a little non-committal. We got back home and got a letter from him that said, "If y'all would consider doing it at my place, I’d like to produce a record for you." We’d heard about Cowboy, of course, but I googled him anyway, as you probably have, and found out he recorded Jerry Lee Lewis “Whole Lotta Shakin” and worked with Johnny Cash for 20 records or so, Charley Pride same thing, produced four tracks on U2’s Rattle and Hum…he's just been all over the place. Waylon, Marty Stuart, everybody really. We weren’t going to say no when he invited us to participate.

We wound up doing a lot of work at Cowboy’s place in Nashville. It was really, really fun. We went down there to figure out what we were going to do, what the material was going to be on the record. We didn’t really know if he wanted to make a country record, if he knew the variety [of styles] we do and how he was going to incorporate all of that. I have to say it was pretty seamless. We played a bunch of tunes, he recorded some stuff, he made some suggestions, some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But, we wound up with a pretty good record. Because he’s Cowboy Jack and we recorded in Nashville, it’s leans more in the country music direction. Country music is something we’ve always really loved, much like the Bob Wills stuff…and the blues, and the old time, and the a capella vocals. We wound up with a pretty good representation of who we are and benefitted from who Cowboy is.

I was going to say, people are always trying to categorize your music but this record struck me as a straight-up country record…
I think that’s true. There’s no easy way to define us. I think we are about roots music. Our inclination when we hear anything is to wonder where that guy got that from, even if it’s an original song. You gotta wonder where he got the notion to do this or where she came up with that. If you get an opportunity to sit down and talk to the person, you usually can figure out that they like Robert Johnson, or Bob Wills, or Hank Williams. Very seldom do these things come out of nowhere – they come out of the roots of American music. All that great melodic stuff, and the rhythmic stuff, came from jazz and rock and roll and old timey string bands, which was the first rock and roll – that’s what people got crazy and danced to in America. It’s still pretty cool stuff today. We really are a roots music band, but some of the places we take the roots is different from what some other people do. At the heart, that’s what we love and what we wind up doing.

Do you think there’s any such thing anymore as music that doesn’t come from roots music? That’s what’s happening in the mainstream, even…
I think there are some people who think music started with the songwriters in 1980 and 1990. Some of the pop guys are kind of ground zero. Some people think it started with the Beatles. Some people think it started with Kool and the Gang. I think there are plenty of musicians who aren’t aware of Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf or some of these guys who, once you hear their records, you hear their influence everyewhere. I don’t think everyone’s been exposed to it, as widespread as it is. I think there are people who come to it later on. Not that there’s anything wrong wth that. Just that... my personal taste is that, the closer you get to the originator, the more you can develop your own style and not wind up imitating someone.

Where did it start for you?
When I was five, my dad said this is the lead - that’s your part. This is the tenor – that’s your sister Ilene’s part. This is the baritone - that’s where your sister Pat sings. You’re not responsible for singing those other parts, but you’re responsible for knowing them so you don’t step on them. Then he taught us about 40 or 50 songs that were popular when he was a young guy – barbershop and that kind of stuff. He thought singing would increase our self-confidence. He never intended any of us to take up music [as a career]. He wanted us all to be engineers and lawyers. My two sisters are engineers, but I’m not.

And now you’ve been making records for a long time. What’s changed the most?
I think the command of subtlety has hapepend over those years. Adding Jerry Fletcher…we’ve known him for a long time. Danny and Jerry knew each other in high school. When he joined the band, we got a drummer who played keyboards at the same time – which is something you really have to see to believe. He sings great… I think a lot of things we were doing came together in a new way and got more powerful. That’s the most profound change – the groove is deeper now. It’s more fun to play the shows. The range of material hasn’t changed that much. The songs change, but the possibilities have expanded because Jerry plays drums, he plays keys and accordion. He plays a really good mandolin. There’s lots of other stuff he can do, too. I think the biggest change has been that we know each other so well now. When we sing together it’s easy for us to arrange a four or five part a capella tune because we’ve been at it for 24 years.

It’s hard to believe any bands starting out now will still be together in 24 years…
[laughs] Well, we never imagined we would last that long. I think we were all going to do it til it wasn’t fun anymore and it’s still really fun. Cowboy Jack has this thing that he likes to interject. He says, “We’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our jobs right.” As glib as that might sound, I think it’s actually true. It is supposed to be fun. We have a lot of fun doing it. We try to have fun and let the audience in on it. That’s the key to performing.

I want to read you something that was written in No Depression when it was a magazine, about your record Spooked. The reviewer said, “The lads of Marley’s Ghost seem determined to give the impression, amid the giddily eccentric eclecticism that all is well in their twisted brains”….
[laughs] Yeah that would be true. I think all is well. If you can’t have a fantastic time doing this stuff, then you’re in the wrong business. It doesn’t make any sense if you’re sitting around thinking you can maximize your income by being a musician. I think we do it for the reason that a lot of people do it, which is that it’s a blast. When the groove is happening and the band sounds great, it’s completely worth it to get out of the bus and haul our junk in and out of places, the booking, the hotels…that doesn’t matter more than what’s happening onstage. - No Depression


"Bluegrass Special"

"Low-key, deeply felt and beautifully realized in all respects, Marley’s Ghost’s Jack Clement-produced Ghost Town is the sort of roots exercise that lays easy on the soul upon first hearing, and grows more meaningful over time, as its core humanity reveals enduring truths about the human condition." - Bluegrass Special
Marley's Ghost live on WSM April 29, 9.15 a.m. - Bluegrass Special


"Marley's Ghost- "Ghost Town""

Marley’s Ghost, a cast of five diverse multi-instrumentalists, has issued Ghost Town, their 9th studio album. The disc has legendary Nashville producer Cowboy Jack Clement singing, playing some acoustic guitar, ukulele, and adding his songs “Got Leavin’ On Her Mind” and “Goin’ Back To Bowling Green.”

Ghost Town features well-known female vocalist Kimmie Rhodes on 12 of the 14 selections. Marley’s Ghost is a troupe, whom amalgamate many different instruments, styles and blend rich harmonies for a sound where the genus has little bearing. It is all good music to Marley’s Ghost, who provide both a hat rack and coat hook to comfort all guests.

“Goodbye To Old Missoula” is an ode to the painful reality of discovering a one-sided love a day too late. “My Love Will Not Change” has a confident delivery with a catchy accordion against the pedal steel guitar. The main oration is the acoustic and electric guitar playing of Mike Phelan.

The John Hartford tune, “Here I Am In Love Again” jangly pedal steel guitar bounce from Ed Littlefield Jr. contrasts with rippling piano work of Jerry Fletcher awaken us to falling in love as an accident. The Tim O’Brien penned, “Less and Less” reflects life’s trek to seek leaner emotional and physical baggage, “…I have been up and down the road a time or two I guess…” with Jon Wilcox on great lead vocals.

Dan Wheetmans’ baritone channels John Muir in “Light In The Forest.” A dreamy guitar line drawing us close to a lonely traveler, whose mourning melody filled memory seeks the lost whisper of a never-ending love. Within the shining yearning chorus is, “. . . look for the light in the forest, listen for the voice in the wind, and in your heart, each beat is a part, of the love that never ends. . . . ” This mid-tempo heartfelt haunting tune stirs a breeze for all lonely souls seeking sweet forgiveness.

The disk epilogue is “Don’t We All Feel Like That” outlining the timeless tactile instructions about the commonality of loss.
Their refined hybrid wide repertoire embodies a collaborative caravan of kindred spirits. Venture beyond the mainstream path and explore the distinct panoramic grasp of Marley’s Ghost. As a mysterious co-op amid a wagon train of instruments they paint a varied palate of aural color. Marley’s Ghost is uniquely nimble in their consummation of what other’s only imagine. - Uncommon Music


Discography


1987 Haunting Melodies

1989 Let De Groove Rise Up

1991 Ghost Country

1992 Gospel: How Can I Keep From Singing

1996 Four Spacious Guys

1998 Across The River

2001 Live at The Freight

2007 Spooked

2010 Ghost Town

Photos

Bio

On the verge of 25 years of making music together, recording nine albums, and performing thousands of shows across the country, Marley’s Ghost is at once a deeply seasoned band of kindred spirits and one of the best-kept secrets of the acoustic music world. Even the members of the band have trouble describing their music, but they all know whatever they do, it always comes out sounding uniquely like Marley’s Ghost. Mandolinist Jon Wilcox thinks it’s the vocals. Steel guitarist Ed Littlefield says it’s the broad repertoire. Guitarist Dan Wheetman just calls it American roots music, if you count reggae.

The absence of a handy label or glib marketing slogan — like a soft drink without a jingle — may have helped obscure the work of this richly rewarding musical venture, but the group keeps working, keeps getting invited back, keeps winning fans and, perhaps most importantly, keeps getting better at what they do, whatever you call it.

“Our criteria,” says guitarist Mike Phelan, “has always been: bring it, let’s run it. It’s not about genre or style.” “What I love about this band is that whatever we play,” adds percussionist/keyboardist Jerry Fletcher, “it gets filtered through our individual personalities and playing styles and emerges collectively our own.”

This is one band that knows all the songs from both The Harder They Come soundtrack and Ralph Stanley’s Cry From the Cross. “Instead of being in an old-timey band and a blues band and a reggae band and an acoustic folk group,” says bassist Dan Wheetman, “I can be in one band and do it all.”

The most important ingredients in the Marley’s Ghost equation are the characters in the band. The five multi-instrumentalists boast distinctive musical personalities that couldn’t be less alike:

Dan Wheetman — Remarkably versatile and powerful singer and show business veteran of the band whose Simi Valley (CA) ’60s teen rock group, the Humane Society, earned a regional hit and, as a member of Aspen ’70s country-rockers Liberty, toured for years with John Denver and Steve Martin.

Jon Wilcox — School teacher, mandolinist and vocalist who used to trudge around the country as a solo artist to the same folk clubs where all the fledgling singer-songwriters tried their hands; the group’s tender, sensitive side.

Mike Phelan — Boy tenor who can tear your heart out with a soul tune, put a romantic lilt into an Irish folk aerie, or blast molten lead guitar licks through the heart of a blues. Like Dan and Jon, a prolific songwriter.

Ed Littlefield Jr. — Innovative pedal steel guitarist son of a millionaire industrialist/philanthropist, he spent years playing C&W in rugged roadhouses for loggers and cowboys across the Pacific Northwest — he kept active fishing licenses for Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho and Washington — and brought the psychedelic spirit of Jerry Garcia to western swing. Eddie is all music — he plays fierce fiddle and is a tasty bagpiper who cuts quite a figure in a kilt and tam o’shanter.

Jerry Fletcher — Long the band’s secret weapon and unofficial fifth ghost, appearing on albums and gigs from the outset, he became “certified” in 2006, bringing his eclectic musical skills (drums, keys, accordion, vocal arranging) to bear full time. Teen rock rival of Wheetman’s and his cohort in Liberty, Jerry lays down a thoughtful groove that grounds the band and completes the musical puzzle.

Together they are a unique amalgam of their respective backgrounds, personal proclivities, and musical abilities — a blend honed to a seamless collaboration over the many miles they traveled together down the road.