Their time backing up Bob Marley made The Wailers one of the most legendary reggae groups ever, but that’s just part of their repertoire. Aston Barrett Jr, who spoke to Carl Marsh ahead of a Cardiff show this month, is continuing the legacy not just of Bob, but of his superlative all-Barrett rhythm section.
With original Wailers members Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and the late Carlton Barrett being your dad and uncle, respectively; it’s fair to say the phrase “music in your blood” applies to you. Having the Barrett name must have opened many doors in your earlier days, as you honed your musical skills – right?
Well, having a name is one thing, but having the skills to back it up is another, and I was able to have not only the name but also the skills to back it up. Plus, my father was able to send me to a better school to have better opportunities where we were able to explore more in the musical field. But he also gave us an open mind. And he taught me everything that I knew because, you know, he has a lot of children [apparently somewhere between 45 and 52!] – and I was one of them that really took to the music and took it to the level, and continued to take it to that level.
So when he saw that, he’s like, “alright, come on tour with me!” He started training me – he was like Mr Miyagi [in The Karate Kid]. It was some hard training, man. You would get paid according to your work – there was a time when he paid me, and I’m like, “my pay is short –” He said, “Did you clean my bass guitar? Did you set up the bass amps? Did you do this…? You get paid according to your works!” I was just like, wow.
And when your dad stepped back from the band, he effectively told you that you now led the Wailers?
In 2016 he got ill. Just minor strokes… even though he’s healthy, over the years he’d been doing different things, eating chocolate. These things will catch up to you. That’s what he taught me – he said, “’earn from my mistakes”. So when he got ill, he was like, “you’re gonna have to [lead the band].”
I said no, I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want to work with the management that he had: it’s not that they were bad people, but I didn’t feel things were 100% clear. I said I would have to switch out everyone in order for me to do that, and I did. I thought it would have been easy – it wasn’t easy at all. It took me five to six years.
Running the band in the first three years was definitely difficult, especially having a few of the original members [in the lineup] – they’re good, but you know, I call them ‘uncle’, and they would be like, “oh… my nephew’s running this?”
I had to put my foot down. And when we got the opportunity to do the album with Emilio [Estefan, producer of The Wailers’ 2020 comeback album One World], I called all the band and said, “Hey! We’re gonna do this.” They’re like, “We’re not doing this, unless this is done…”
I just told them, “Well, I’ll just play all the instruments myself. I have to continue my father’s legacy and I can’t deal with this pettiness.” So I did that, and we got nominated [for Best Reggae Album in the Grammys]. After that, a lot of them called me back and said, “Irie – you’ve proved to us. We’ve seen what you did. You did the work.”
This music is bigger than everything. You know, there’s a Bob Marley & The Wailers song for everything you go through in life. And I take it very seriously.
The Wailers play Tramshed, Cardiff on Sat 5 Mar. Tickets: £25. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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