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Marley’s Ghost — roots music band performs at BPAC
Ed Littlefield Jr. was born to play the pedal steel guitar. He knows how to play the banjo, the mandolin, the guitar, and bagpipes, to boot, but he loves the pedal steel guitar best.
“I like to take the steel guitar where it’s never been before,” he said. “Places like Episcopal hymns, reggae and Celtic, among others.”
A 30-year resident of the Arlington area, Littlefield will bring his band, Marley’s Ghost, to the Byrnes Performing Arts Center Saturday, Feb. 21, in a concert presented by the Arlington Arts Council as a fundraiser for public art.
Littlefield owns Sage Arts recording studio on his Burn Road estate, bringing a variety of recording artists through Arlington on the way to his house.
Cowboy Jack was there last week, working with Marley’s Ghost on their next recording. They have produced nearly 20 collections since starting to work together in the mid 1980s. Their last CD, “Spooked” includes their own original tributes to old classics honoring the roots music that they love so much with a cover illustration by R. Crumb.
All the band members are dedicated to the preservation of America’s traditional music, offering workshops and class instruction at various events like the folk music workshops at Folklife and Fort Worden. Littlefield was part of the faculty there several years ago.
A product of the 1960s folk music scene, Littlefield said he discovered the old timey folk music as a kid in Stanford, Calif., when his father listened to Burl Ives. By the time he was 12, he loved bluegrass and old time music, he said.
“I learned four chords on the guitar at summer camp at age 10, then learned to pick on the banjo at 12,” he said. When he turned 14, he learned the mandolin. He remembers the folk music of the ‘60s as a bunch of strumming and was excited to discover that it was possible to pick a tune on a guitar. Then he discovered the pedal steel guitar, turning toward country western music because that’s where the instrument most commonly fit.
Littlefield played with a Northwest band, Lance Romance, in clubs and at festivals around the West for five years.
“We were on the road 50 weeks a year playing country western bars from Montana to Black Diamond,” he said.
“It was a steady diet of country western with a little Rolling Stones thrown in,” Littlefield said. “They were terrified to jam. I was getting burned out on the same old sounds.”
He wanted a band that was willing to take more musical risk. Then this trio called Marley’s Ghost showed up at his doorstep, via his old friend, Dan Wheetman.
“My pedal steel guitar fit right in.”
Marley’s Ghost is comprised of lifelong friends and musical comrades who all have mastered many instruments and can sing too. Jerry Fletcher and Dan Wheetman went to high school together in California, Littlefield said. Littlefield met Wheetman when the now 60-year-olds were 21.
“Danny played with the John Denver band for seven years,” Littlefield said.
“He did his first gig in the Sidney Opera House. He has the most incredible voice,” Littlefield said. “He can do ultra black blues just as good as ultra white country.” Wheetman also plays bass, rhythm guitar, fiddle, harmonica, banjo, dobro and lap steel guitar.
Jon Wilcox has toured internationally as a singer-songwriter and interpreter of traditional American and British Isles music. He sings and plays mandolin, rhythm guitar, guitar and bouzouki.
A singer from the age of 5, Mike Phelan plays lead and lap steel guitar, fiddle, dobro and bass. He has lived all over the U.S. performing many styles, including bluegrass, rock, folk and blues in countless bands, as well as in theater, radio and advertising.
Although he’s an old friend, the newest member of the band is Jerry Fletcher, on vocals, drums, percussion, keyboards and arrangements. He worked with John Denver, Steve Martin and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to name a few, and founded a branch of Junior Music Academy in Kalispell, Mont.
Whether you want to call it old time country, bluegrass or traditional American music, Marley’s Ghost promises an eclectic assortment of tunes by fun-loving bards who offer instrumental virtuosity and ultra-tight four-part harmonies.
Assisting the Arlington Arts Council, the event is cosponsored by the city of Arlington through a lodging tax grant to the performing arts center and the Medallion Hotel, which is offering special overnight packages for two including champagne and chocolates, breakfast and $50 toward dinner at The Cellar Restaurant, all for $159. To reserve a room call 360-657-0500.
One of the coordinators of the concert is Virginia Hatch, a member of the city’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission as well as a member of the arts council.
“We’ve been thinking about using the BPAC to further our goal of bringing art to Arlington,” Hatch said.
“We are all just learning what it takes to pull together events like these and we hope that people will come from all around Puget Sound to hear the music.”
Plan ahead for Rhonda Vincent March 21
Coming next month, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage will perform at the BPAC March 21. Vincent has made music and videos with Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, and Miley Cyrus and is featured on CMT.com. Her latest album, “Good Thing Going” was called “First Class Blue Grass” by USA Today.