Aston "Family Man" Barrett would like to clear something up. He is an original Wailer. And according to him, the band using the name "The Original Wailers" is not.
With both The Wailers and The Original Wailers touring through Charleston (the Originals performed at last fall's ShineFest), keeping distinguished from one another can be challenging. But while the Originals feature Junior Marvin, who played guitar with Bob for the last five years of his life (1977-'81), and occasional Marley guest, guitarist Al Anderson, The Wailers have an ace in the pocket. Family Man joined Marley's band on bass in '72, helping him to pen global hits like "Stir It Up," "Get Up, Stand Up," and "Trenchtown Rock."
"We are The Wailers. Anything that is Wailers, we are," says Family Man in his thick patois accent on the phone with City Paper from a tour stop in Rhode Island. "They [Original Wailers] are trying to fool the public. They are bad news. They know that if Family Man is not there, it's not right. Don't let them fool you."
It's clearly a very sensitive subject for Family Man; he even compares the Original guys to the Taliban. But all the squabbling settles down when Family Man takes thumb to bass strings. The oldest living Wailer still performing, his unmistakable style is the last actual remnant of the old Marley sound. Family Man's performance with The Wailers rings out like the true original.
The Wailers are currently recording a new album, although they're not rushing it, says Family Man. Their show promises to revisit all the old favorites, featuring signature bass lines played by their creator. Even when he retires or The Wailers disband, the music will likely continue, with a growing family of players connected through one Marley reincarnation or another.
Family Man himself has done his part to contribute to the reggae gene pool. He earned his nickname as a prolific father — at current count he's sired 52 children. But lest one criticize his epic footprint, Family Man has also founded a nonprofit, I Went Hungry, that provides food to starving children in Ethiopia. After all, he did write the bass lick on "Them Belly Full."