In November it will have been 30 years since the release of Michael Jackson’s classic album, “Thriller.” Over the years the hits from “Thriller,” including the title track, “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It” have permeated popular culture.
With the release of The Easy Star All-Stars tribute album “Thrillah” last week, the songs have worked their way into reggae culture as well. The band performs Sunday at Wooly’s.
The Easy Star All-Stars broke out in 2003 with the album “Dub Side of the Moon,” covering Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in a reggae style. They followed that with “Radiodread,” their take on Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and most recently “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band,” a rastafied version of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
With “Thrillah” the band was hoping to break away from rock concept albums and shine the spotlight on R&B, a style which had a strong influence on Jamaican music.
“R&B was very instrumental in the history of Jamaican music, even before reggae,” Easy Star producer Michael Goldwasser said during a phone interview. “It made a lot of sense to explore R&B’s connections to reggae and how it continues to influence current dance hall music.”
With “Thrillah” the Easy Stars wanted to make a danceable album,which was something missing from past albums “OK Computer,” “Dark Side of The Moon” and “Sgt. Pepper.” Jackson’s “Thriller” is one non-stop dance groove, but they wanted to make it danceable in new ways.
They also had to find ways to get around the fact that Jackson had a five-octave range that few singers can match. To help cover those bases the band used a number of singers, including Michael Rose, Steel Pulse, Luciano and Mojo Morgan.
“It was a great challenge finding people who could do justice to these songs,” Goldwasser said. “We weren’t trying to find people who sound like Michael Jackson, but we needed great singers who could bring something new.”
The album concepts may be new, but Goldwasser’s love of reggae goes back to growing up in New York City. He became enchanted with The Wailers’ album “Catch a Fire” and picked up on the connections between his own Jewish religion and the Rastafarian religion. He heard verses that he had first learned from the synagogue coming from the mouths of Jamaican singers and quickly picked up an affinity for the style of music.
Goldwasser later co-founded the Easy Star label that gives the All-Stars band its name. He worked as a touring musician for years, including a stint with The Mediations which stopped in central Iowa in the late ’90s. But these days Goldwasser has given up life on the road to produce albums for Easy Star artists and working to conceptualize future Easy Star All-Stars releases (before you ask, they haven’t decided what the next album will be).
“For every album, I’m usually working on it at least a year. I would never get them done if I was spending time on the road. But I do miss it somewhat.”
East Star All-Stars
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Wooly’s, 504 E. Locust St.