Earning a B.A. in Marley | AspenTimes.com

Earning a B.A. in Marley

Elan, former lead singer for the Wailers, performs Friday at Belly Up Aspen with his own band. They're supporting the release of their debut album, "Together as One." (Contributed photo)

ASPEN ” When Elan Aties ” known just as Elan ” was a mere 19 years old, he went out for a few drinks with some ladies and a record executive. One of the ladies said he was a great singer, and the exec said he’d like to hear it.

So Elan ” who plays the Belly Up Aspen on Friday at midnight, following George Clinton and P-Funk ” went into the studio to record with some friends and met Al Anderson, lead guitar player for the Wailers. Anderson helped Elan record an album, then took the results to some of the other Wailers, who were looking for a lead singer. They thought he sounded pretty good and asked him to join.

Only a few weeks after the meeting with the exec, Elan got onstage with the Wailers as lead singer having never sound-checked, rehearsed or recorded with them and having never been onstage before.

“The first show was in Dubuque, Iowa, it was a festival with about 6,000 people,” Elan said. “I just thought, ‘Oh shit, this is crazy.’ I wasn’t afraid of the audience, I was more afraid of getting all the lyrics right. I knew all the Marley fans and Wailer fans knew all the lyrics by heart.”

Elan calls it his college years, as he toured with the Wailers for the next three and half years. They taught him about the music business and about stage presence and introduced him to everyone in the reggae community.

“Nobody had ever heard of me,” Elan said. “It was just, oh, the Wailers got a new singer. I had no stage experience. I had no presence. I would stand in front of the microphone, sing all the songs according to my knowledge of listening to them as a kid. People used to come to me, get very spiritual, say, ‘You’re channeling Bob.’ For years they said I was one of Bob’s kids. People would think I was one of the Marley’s. It was a crazy time, a fun time, I learned a lot.”

It was the voice, though, not the look that reminded people of Bob Marley. As a white kid from L.A. Elan said few people matched him up with the voice unless they saw him singing. And later when he put his own band together and took the results to record executives, he said no one believed it was his singing.

“They would turn to my bass player and think it was him because he was black,” Elan said. “It’s kind of like when you look at Christina Aguilera you never think that voice is going to come out of her. She belts it like a fat black lady in a church. There’s no color lines. Music is felt and heard. You take it and it takes you away. It teaches people to not be discriminating about the way people look. We’re all here together as one. That’s what the new record is, all the different genres mashed up together as one.”

Elan’s album, “Together as One,” is not as unprecedented as it might seem on first look ” a white guy from L.A. who just happens to be an Orthodox Jew releasing a reggae album? Think Matisyahu, most recently, but if looking for true precedent, it’s easy to go as far back as the Police in 1979 or UB40 later.

Elan often got mistaken for Bob himself while on tour with the Wailers, but in his debut he brings in enough new wave and pop to balance out the dance-hall old-school feel. Reviews have been good. As he puts it, he had to leave the Wailers so he could grow with a new band and a new sound.

“The older they are the harder it is to teach them new tricks,” Elan said. “I have this band, and they’re really into the music. They’re all my age, so we can grow together. The Wailers were all older than me, they were all legends. I needed a band I could grow with and have my own stories with as well.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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