Deep roots

Founding member Family Man keeps the Wailers band alive

The Wailers, featuring founding bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett (third from left, in shades)

The Wailers, featuring founding bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett (third from left, in shades)

Photo courtesy of The Wailers

Preview: JMAX Productions presents the Wailers with 311 at the Senator Theatre Friday, Feb. 26, 8 p.m. Tickets: $43, at
Senator Theatre
517 Main St.

In 2006, while he battled the Marley family in court for a share of royalty rights, it was widely reported that Aston “Family Man” Barrett was so nicknamed because he had 42 children. So it’s a fair question to ask the 63-year-old legendary bass player and sole remaining original member of the Wailers if the Barrett clan has grown since then.

“Ah, well, I got seven homes, you know?” he says before breaking into a long, soulful chuckle. The laugh is one constant in a precarious phone interview threatened by a shaky international connection, Barrett’s thick Jamaican patois and the occasional sounding of what seems to be a very large and very close chicken.

Barrett is as prolific musically as he is paternally. Before founding The Wailers Band to back Bob Marley in 1974, he and his late brother, drummer Carlton Barrett, were founding members of The Upsetters, reggae mastermind Lee “Scratch” Perry’s studio band. Though Marley passed away, The Wailers Band (now the Wailers) never quit, and with them or solo Family Man has played with most of the reggae world and artists as varied as Sting, John Denver and, most recently, country star Kenny Chesney on the song “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.”

“It was really fun!” Barrett says of the odd pairing with Chesney. “He came to Jamaica and we had a great ol’ time. We gonna do more tracks together for some upcoming releases, I be hookin’ up in da studio with Kenny real soon.”

Knowing Barrett keeps some unlikely company makes the Wailers’ pairing with modern rockers 311 at the Senator this Friday make more sense than what seems to be a let’s-book-a-tour-based-on-what’s-in-our-weed-dealer’s-CD-carousel mindset. In fact, the bands toured together in 2006.

“Yes, my man, it was so fun last time, so good,” Barrett says of 311. “I can’t wait to get back to this one coming up, we made history travelin’ wit 311 last time and this time we make a new history.”

The tour is dubbed “One Love,” and speaking with Barrett it’s apparent the positive message of the music and his Rastafarian faith is more than hype.

“We love the Earth, and are concerned with all Earth crisis,” Fams says. “We just played a benefit for Haiti the other day; we let people sell things at our merchandise stands to support organizations that help the world.”

A brief discussion of politics leads to the issue of violence in Barrett’s home of Jamaica and abroad. It’s an issue close to Barrett personally, as his brother Carlton was gunned down in 1987 at the age of 39.

“Jamaica is not much different than what’s goin’ on globally, it’s not bad like Iraq or Iran. But there are problems, more guns—we dealing with the problem of modern weapons. People focus on weapons of mass destruction, they don’t see all weapon are weapons of mass destruction.

“Nobody bother to listen to the law of God almighty. Seem like Lucifer be runnin’ things. Whether the Christian the Muslim or the Jew, they are in the same game, the same tricks they play. They not pull for our young generation, the future of our children—they head us toward total devastation. What kind of future is that?

“I been to the Holy Land, mon, and you know what I see? Lotta people walkin’ ’round wit’ a lotta guns.”

On a lighter note, there’s the question of that chicken: “Yeah man, I be a farmer man,” he explains, again with the distinctive laugh. “Nothing like the purest food, y’know. I’m into that from when I was a kid. I spent only my school time and Christmastime in town, in the city. But as soon as I get ’oliday east of summer, I always be up in the mountain, with the culture, where the air is fresh and the food is fresh, y’know, fresh meditation and to pure myself for this time Jah give me.

“Just like Bob, we always in the countryside, just like Mr. Winston Rodney—Burning Spear—we always love the country.

“We are country and western, mon. Just like Kenny!”