Bob Marley's quiet storm
...Aston 'Family Man' BarrettSunday, May 02, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 25th in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
WHAT would Elvis Presley's sound be without guitarist Scotty Moore, or James Brown's funk grooves minus Fred Wesley's trumpet? It's hard to think of Bob Marley with no Aston “Family Man” Barrett.
The legendary bassist is largely responsible for The Wailers' patented one-drop beat that helped make Marley a superstar.
Barrett, 74, played on many of Marley's most famous songs including No Woman No Cry, Rastaman Vibration, Exodus, Crazy Baldhead, Sun is Shining, and the anthem, One Love.
On over 90 per cent of the songs Marley did for Island Records, Barrett and his younger brother Carlton (aka Carly) on drums provided a rhythm section many bands have tried to emulate.
Last June, Rolling Stone magazine placed Barrett at number 28 among its The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time.
The Rolling Stone tribute read:
“As half of the rhythm section for Bob Marley's Wailers, Aston Barrett and his younger brother Carlton played a primary role in introducing the sound of reggae's one-drop rhythm to international audiences. But the influence of the self-proclaimed 'Architect of Reggae' extended far beyond that genre into pop, R&B, and funk: His strutting bass line on the 1969 instrumental track The Liquidator, by the Harry J All Stars, would end up serving as a direct template for the Staples Singers' smash I'll Take You There three years later. “The drum, it is the heartbeat, and the bass, it is the backbone,” Barrett once said. “If the bass is not right, the music is gonna have a bad back, so it would be crippled.” Barrett was deeply attuned to the storytelling of his Wailers bandleader, paying close attention to Marley's songwriting before he came up with his own bass lines. “It's like I am singing baritone,” he once said of his bass work. “I create a melodic line each time.”
Among Barrett's many admirers is fellow 'bassy' Jackie Jackson, who played on several of The Wailers early reggae songs.
“Family Man is the quiet storm. His memorable bass lines enhanced Bob's music and anchored his songs perfectly,” Jackson told the Jamaica Observer. He added that his favourite bass line by Barrett is Zimbabwe, a song from Survival, the 1979 album by Marley.
“That's a wicked line...beautiful. Beyond words,” said Jackson.
From east Kingston, Barrett began playing as a session musician in the late 1960s for producers Lee “Scratch” Perry and Bunny Lee. He was a member of several session aggregations such as The Hippy Boys and The Upsetters.
He and Carly's early recording gigs with The Wailers (which also included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) were for Perry. Some of the songs they played on included Mr Brown, Duppy Conqueror, and Soul Rebel.
In the 1970s Barrett also played organ and functioned as recording engineer on some of Marley's Island Records albums. He played bass on seminal albums such as Blackheart Man by Bunny Wailer, Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear, and King Tubbys Meet Rockers Uptown by Augustus Pablo and King Tubby.
After Marley died on May 11, 1981 at age 36, Barrett assumed the role as leader of The Wailers. Carlton Barrett was murdered in 1987 at age 36.
The band remains one of the best touring units in reggae and were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album this year with One World.
Aston “Family Man” Barrett – who has never received a national award in Jamaica – called it a day from touring three years ago after suffering a stroke.
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