Aston “Family Man” Barrett: Reggae icon and bass legend passes away at 77

Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the esteemed bassist of Bob Marley and the Wailers, passed away at the age of 77, per Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Olivia Grange, confirmed the news on Saturday through a post on X.

Born in 1946 in Kingston, Barrett played a pivotal role in shaping the foundations of reggae and dub. Starting as a child singing along to soul music on the radio, he later crafted his first bass guitar from plywood, a curtain rod, and an old ashtray. In a 2007 interview with Bass Player magazine, he described playing the bass as akin to singing, expressing himself through melodic lines.

Teaming up with his brother Carlton, Barrett played in various groups, including Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Hippy Boys, and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s The Upsetters. Beyond his performances, he mentored several Jamaican musicians, leaving an indelible mark on the reggae scene.

Joining the Wailers in the 1970s, Barrett became the bandleader and co-producer, contributing significantly to albums like Burnin’ and Uprising. His musical journey extended beyond Marley’s lifetime, touring with subsequent versions of the Wailers. In 2015, he earned recognition as the 25th greatest bassist of all time by NME readers, and in 2021, he was honoured with the Order of Distinction (Commander class) in Jamaica’s National Honours and Awards.

Despite a legal battle in 2006 with Island Records over unpaid royalties, Barrett’s impact on reggae endured. He retired from music in 2019, leaving a legacy that transcends generations. Minister Grange conveyed condolences, describing Barrett as a “pioneer of Jamaican music” and extending support to his family during Reggae Month 2024.

As fans anticipate the release of the Bob Marley biopic, “One Love,” Barrett’s passing adds a poignant note to the film. His son, Aston Barrett Jr., will portray him in the upcoming production, creating a heartfelt connection between generations in the reggae legacy. The music world bids farewell to a true visionary, hoping the angels welcome Aston “Family Man” Barrett to Mount Zion.

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