Aston “Family Man” Barrett, who played bass for Bob Marley and the Wailers, passed away at the age of 77.
Jamaica’s culture minister, Olivia Grange, announced on Saturday through X (formerly known as Twitter) that Aston Francis Barrett, also known as ‘Family Man’ or ‘Fams’, has passed away. Grange expressed her sadness at his death, which occurred early this morning at the University of Miami Hospital in Florida, United States.
In 1946, Barrett was born and raised in Kingston. He played a key role in pioneering reggae and dub music. During his childhood, he enjoyed singing along to soul music on the radio, but eventually shifted his focus to playing 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.”
Barrett and his brother Carlton performed with various bands such as Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Hippy Boys, and The Upsetters led by Lee “Scratch” Perry. He also served as a guiding figure for numerous Jamaican musicians, including Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare of the reggae duo Sly & Robbie.
Following his addition to the Wailers during the 1970s, Barrett assumed the role of bandleader for Marley’s supporting band and also served as co-producer for the group’s albums. He remained a part of the group until the end of Marley’s life, lending his talents to beloved albums such as Burnin’ and Uprising.
However, his impact extended beyond his lifetime. He continued to perform with updated versions of the Wailers and was recognized as the 25th best bassist of all time by NME readers in 2015. In 2021, he received the Order of Distinction (Commander class) at Jamaica’s 59th Independence Day celebration.
In a 2007 article for Bass Player magazine, he stated: “I have played with Bob in the past, currently, and after, and in doing so, I have developed a unique approach to bass playing. It is my personal style and my calling.”
Grange’s recent statement also showed her backing for the loved ones of the individual known as the “trailblazer of Jamaican music”. She conveyed, “As we observe Reggae Month 2024, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to his spouse, kids, relatives, and to all those in the local and global reggae music community. May the angels receive Aston “Family Man” Barrett into Mount Zion.”
In 2006, Barrett engaged in a legal dispute against Island Records, seeking £60m in unpaid royalties for his contributions to the production and songwriting of various albums. However, his efforts were not fruitful and he ultimately retired from the music industry in 2019.
Barrett’s passing was announced less than two weeks prior to the premiere of the biopic “Bob Marley: One Love,” in which his son, Aston Barrett Jr., will portray him.