Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, bassist with Bob Marley and the Wailers, dies aged 77

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service

Aston “Family Man” Barrett, bassist for Bob Marley and the Wailers, has died aged 77.

The news was confirmed on Saturday by Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister for culture, who wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “I share with you my deep regret at the passing of Aston Francis Barrett, popularly known as ‘Family Man’ or ‘Fams’ … He died at the University of Miami Hospital in Florida in the United States early this morning.”

Barrett was born in 1946 and grew up in Kingston, where he would help to lay the foundations for reggae and dub. As a child, he sang along to soul music on the radio before switching over to the bass.

He built his first bass guitar from scratch using plywood, a curtain rod and an old ashtray. In a 2007 interview with Bass Player magazine, he said: “When I’m playing the bass, it’s like I’m singing. I compose a melodic line and see myself like I’m singing baritone.”

Along with his brother Carlton, Barrett played with groups including Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Hippy Boys and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s The Upsetters. He was also a mentor to many Jamaican musicians including Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare of the reggae production duo Sly & Robbie.

After joining the Wailers in the 1970s, Barrett became bandleader of Marley’s backing band and co-producer of the group’s albums. He remained a member for the rest of Marley’s life, contributing to the much-loved albums Burnin’ and Uprising, among others.

But his legacy stretched much further: he continued to tour with later iterations of the Wailers and, in 2015, he was named the 25th greatest bassist of all time by NME readers. In 2021, he was honoured with the Order of Distinction (Commander class) in the National Honours and Awards on Jamaica’s 59th Anniversary of Independence.

In his 2007 Bass Player feature, he said: “I’ve played before Bob, with Bob, and after Bob and along the way I create a whole new concept of bass playing. That’s just my thing. That’s my destiny.”

Grange’s update also expressed her support for the family of the “pioneer of Jamaican music”. She said: “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.”

In 2006, Barrett entered a legal battle with Island Records, claiming £60m in unpaid royalties for his production and songwriting work on the albums, but his campaign was unsuccessful. He retired from music in 2019.

The news of Barrett’s death comes less than two weeks before the release of Bob Marley: One Love, the biopic of Marley in which Barrett will be played by his son, Aston Barrett Jr.

Donate At Caribbean News Service, we do not charge for our content and we want to keep it that way. We are seeking support from individuals and organisations so we can continue our work & develop CNS further.