by Maliika Walker
Photos by Sista Irie Photography
Can you imagine hearing roots reggae music without the bass? The bass is the cornerstone of reggae music. When one thinks of bass and reggae, Aston “Family Man” Barrett comes to mind. Family Man has recorded with some of the greatest reggae artists in history including The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jacob Miller, Israel Vibration, and Sly and Robbie to name a few.
Aston “Family Man” held positions such as a bike mechanic and electrical welder before being known as the bass player in Jamaica. We all have a vision of where we would like to see our lives going. Sometimes we have a job that pays the bills before getting the opportunity to earn a living thru our passion. Reggae as a whole is thankful “Family Man” pursued his passion. One cannot separate reggae and Family Man’s impact on the music that would eventually be spread to all corners of the globe. If “Family Man” didn’t pursue his passion Bob Marley & The Wailers wouldn’t have treated us to those funky bass lines you hear on classic tunes. Just think of hearing the classic tune, Natural Mystic, without Family Man’s bassline ushering in the song.
Maliika Walker had the opportunity to speak with “Family Man” about his career before The Wailers, his transition to band leader of The Wailers, and The Wailers of today. Here is their conversation.
Maliika: You are one of the architects of the bassline in roots reggae music. How did you come up with the sound in all the records you played on.
Family Man: Honestly I love singing also but I haven’t practiced vocals over the years but I helped grow Bob on certain tracks, with the melody. Bob used to say, “It’s me man Me no have no pretty voice.” And I told him that I know but he had the gift of expression with lyrics, melody and the music overall. No one could express themselves like he could and I pushed him to bring his gift out more.
So when I play, I am not just simply backing a track I am playing a melody. The bassline is singing baritone. So that is my way of setting the bassline in every individual track. So the lyrics and the melody together help create the music. Bob has such a great voice, a voice that carried the message but it’s everything working together the lyrics, the melody, and the expression of the music. We also can’t forget about the timing and the riffing.
Maliika: How did you become a member of the Upsetters and how did you transition to playing with the Wailers?
Family Man: Well the first name was the Hippy Boys, followed by Youth Professionals, then the Upsetters. My brother and I played with different groups but no one carried a vibe like The Wailers. It was like a four leaf clover. The Wailers were special. Bob, Bunny and Peter carried a special vibe. There was a breakdown with the band after a while but my brother and I remained with Bob to carry the movement forward. Now my brother Carlton and Bob are not with us physically but we move forward for the band, reggae music, Jamaica, and the world.