The music world is mourning the death of Bob Marley & The Wailers bassist Aston 'Family Man' Barrett following his death at the age of 77. In a social post on 3 February his song Aston Barrett Jr posted, "With the heaviest of hearts, we share the news of the passing of our beloved Aston 'Family Man' Barrett after a long medical battle." He passed away in Miami, Florida.
Born in Kingston Jamaica in 1946, Barrett joined Bob Marley's band in 1971, playing on most of the Wailers albums from that year's Soul Revolution Part II and assuming the role of musical director and co-producer. This role in the Wailers earned him the Family Man nickname, though it would also be portentous in another way; he would also go on to father a reported 18 sons and 23 daughters.
In addition to his crucial role in The Wailers, Barrett also contributed to key albums by artists including former Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear and Lee 'Scratch' Perry's studio band, The Upsetters.
“I’ve played before Bob, with Bob, and after Bob,” Barrett told writer Bill Murphy in 2007, “and along the way I create a whole new concept of bass playing. That’s just my thing. That’s my destiny.”
Barrett and his Fender Jazz Bass would continue the band's legacy with The Wailers Band in 1989. "Reggae music is the heartbeat of the people," Barrett reflected in the 2000 documentary on the making of the band's global breakthrough 1974 album Catch A Fire. "It's the universal language."
Aston's dynamic with his brother and Wailers drummer Carlton (Carly) – who was killed in 1987, the same year Peter Tosh was murdered – was the backbone of the band's dynamic that would help launch Marley's songs worldwide. It all stemmed from their first jams with Aston's homemade bass from plywood and a curtain pole with Carly's paint tin drum kit.
“We begin to practice drum and bass,” the bassist remembered to Murphy, “what we call dub. When I rest my bass on the floor, I get that bass effect—boom, boom, boom, you know? That’s where I begin to create a new concept of time and melody.”
They were pioneers, and Barrett's syncopation of melodic bassline with downbeat would catch the ear of Lee Perry for The Upsetters.
Drummer Aston Barrett Jr now leads The Wailers touring band and musicians have responded with their own tributes in the wake of his father's passing.
"My teacher is gone, " added Bob Marlet's eldest son, Ziggy. "Aston Family Man Barrett, his feel and style has inspired me and so many others. We will continue to study his genius for generations and miss his physical presence still his spiritual energy and teachings endure."