Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Bob Marley and the Wailers Bassist, Dies at 77

Aston Barrett, bassist for Bob Marley and the Wailers, died on Saturday at 77 years old. Barrett’s death was shared by Jamaica’s minister of culture on X (formerly Twitter) in a series of tweets. Olivia Grange began, “I share with you my deep regret at the passing of Aston Francis Barrett, CD, popularly known as ‘Family Man’ or ‘Fams.'”

“As a bass player, keyboardist and guitarist, he was one of the two famed Barrett brothers, Aston and Carlton, who were part of Bob Marley and the Wailers,” Grange continued, “and Lee Scratch Perry and the Upsetters in the early years of Reggae Music.

“He died at the University of Miami Hospital in Florida in the United States early this morning. This pioneer of Jamaican music was also a mentor to many Jamaican artistes and musicians including the ‘Riddim Twins,’ Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

“As we commemorate Reggae Month 2024, I wish to express my sincere condolences to his wife, his children, his relatives and to members of the local and international Reggae Music fraternity. May the Angels welcome home Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett to Mount Zion.”

Barrett was born on Nov. 22, 1946, in Kingston, Jamaica. He built his first guitar on his own out of plywood and a curtain rod, working as a bike mechanic before he made it as a musician.

He played with several bands before he was introduced to Marley. He would go on to write most of the bass lines for the reggae legend. Barrett later described their first meeting in an interview with No Treble.

“The first time I met Bob, it was music that brought us together. He was in the U.S. hanging out for a while with his mom in Delaware,” Barrett said. “He heard a different concept of music coming out of Jamaica. So he decided to return to Jamaica and get himself tuned up… back in action.”

“He asked a guitar friend of mine named Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis if he knew the bass player and drummer [from the songs he heard]. He said ‘yes’, so Bob said, ‘Get them for me. I want to talk to them for a session.’ We met at a bar and he said, ‘Is it really you that is named Family Man that plays those bass lines?’ I said ‘yes.'”

“He was surprised because he thought they were coming from an elder player and didn’t know it was [someone] who was one year younger than him [laughs]. He looked at me and said, ‘If it’s really you, then you’re all right man,'” Barrett concluded.

Barrett’s nickname “Family Man” preceded his impressive foray into fatherhood. As he told the BBC in 2013 of his large brood, “Ah, it’s only 23 daughters and 18 sons. It’s 41. In the court battle, they do that to me, say I’ve got 52. I am the family man. I’m gifted with 41.”

“And 23 grandchildren. And two great-grand,” he added.

After Marley died in 1981, Barrett helped steer the band that had been left behind. His work included co-producing albums for the group. In 2014, while on a tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album “Legend,” he told No Treble, “It’s good to get out there again for [those who missed] out on it. They’ve got a chance to get back at it.”

“It’s reggae music, which is the heartbeat of the people, the universal language that carries the messages of roots, cultures and reality,” he continued. “We focus mostly on the young people to keep them in line so they don’t walk on the wild side.”

In 2006, Barrett sued Island Records and the Marley family for royalties he claimed he was owed. His lawsuit was dismissed by the judge with the support of Marley’s family.

Barrett said that, before Marley died, he promised several members of the band royalties from three albums: “Babylon by Bus,” “Natty Dread” and “Rastaman Vibration.” But Marley’s widow, Rita, dismissed the suggestion and told the court that Barrett and his brother were simply “viewed as backing session musicians.”

This was the third suit Barrett had filed against the family. In 1986, he filed a lawsuit in New York, and in 1989 a suit in both New York and Jamaica. In one case he was awarded $500,000 and legal costs from Island Records.

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