Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett: Rockstone Wailer
In commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country’s culture. This week we feature Wailers band bass guitarist Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett.
BEHIND every good reggae song is usually a great bass man. One of the greatest is Aston 'Familyman' Barrett of the Wailers band.
With the scheduled premier of the documentary, Marley, last evening, many persons have recalled their memories of the reggae legend who died in May 1981 at age 36.
For over 10 years, Barrett was Bob Marley's right-hand man, laying down some of the wickedest bass lines on songs like Concrete Jungle, Natural Mystic and Exodus. He also worked as producer, engineer and songwriter on some of the albums Marley recorded for Island Records.
Barrett and his younger brother, drummer Carlton Barrett, were the backbone for two other influential reggae bands: the Hippy Boys and the Upsetters. The latter was the house band for producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry's Upsetters label.
The Upsetters were an outstanding unit that also included Glen Adams on organ and guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis. Prior to the Upsetters, Barrett played bass on big hits for producer Bunny Lee, like Everybody Needs Love by Slim Smith and Bangarang which was done by Stranger Cole.
In 1970, the Upsetters re-recorded the rhythm track for Mr Brown, a song the Wailers did for Perry. Marley was reportedly so impressed with the Barretts that he invited them to join the Wailers band and they immediately made impact on the amazing Trench Town Rock.
Barrett's work in the 1970s was not limited to Marley and the Wailers. He played on numerous sessions for musician/producer Augustus Pablo and played on Peter Tosh's acclaimed Legalise It album.
Aston Barrett will be forever linked with The Wailers, its triumphs and post-Marley controversies. The band is one of the best touring reggae acts today and even had a minor hit song in 2009 with country star and long-time admirer Kenny Chesney.
For most of his time as Bob Marley's musical director, Barrett was always the man in the shadows. But those in the know will tell you it was his quiet presence that kept things together.