Toppa Top 10: Reggae’s Greatest Bassists

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2. Aston “Family Man” Barrett

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What Bob Marley is to reggae, Family Man is to reggae bass—the backbone of the Wailers, prolific session bassist, and producer (oh, and father…with 41 kids to his credit, Family Man has certainly lived up to his name).

Along with his late brother, the drummer Carlton (“Carly”) Barrett, he began playing before he even had an instrument, making his own bass out of whatever he could find. The siblings first formed their band, The Hippy Boys, in the late 1960s, playing Kingston nightclubs and on recording sessions for Lee Perry (though they had some of their own hits as well). The Barretts started recording with The Wailers in 1969, and the rest is pretty much history.

Family Man’s contributions to the Wailers went beyond just creating some of reggae’s most memorable basslines—he at times acted as band leader, co-writing 11 songs with Marley and keeping a close eye on every aspect of production. Barrett’s playing developed stylistically over the span of his career: tracks like “Ambush in the Night” practically feature the bass guitar a lead instrument. He has also played lots of sessions for other artists, including some of the finest work by Burning Spear and Israel Vibration. But it is his imaginative grooves that have cemented his place in the history of the instrument, not just for reggae but for bassists around the world—try imagining any Wailers tune without its bassline. For a taste of Barrett’s live prowess, watch this performance at London’s Rainbow Theatre in London from 1977’s Exodus tour (also the basis for that year’s Bob Marley and the Wailers Live! album). Though he’s hardly visible, Family Man’s bass is front and center, dominating the mix.