Imagine being a fundamental part of the greatest reggae band ever and having to watch as sales from your work soar, and you can’t even get a penny of the revenue. Imagine playing the music for every song and every album that was released by Bob Marley and the Wailers and then being told that you were nothing but work for hire.
What Island Records, Chris Blackwell and the Marley family did to the Barrett brothers is nothing short of a shameful disgrace and downright wickedness.
Two brothers, two youths from the Jamaican ghetto, neither knowing how to read or write, but both blessed with immense talent to play the most beautiful reggae music the world has ever heard. Today the music from Bob Marley and the Wailers continue to dominate every reggae chart, yet Aston “Family Man” Barrett, (Carlton Barrett died in 1987) gets zero, zilch, and zip from the revenues that the music brings in.
The Barrett brothers joined Bob Marley and The Wailers in 1970. Carlton Barrett was given credit for writing the song “War”, even though it is well known that the lyrics are actually taken from a speech by H.I.M Emperor Haile Selassie I. Both brothers were given credit for writing “Talkin’ Blues” but after Bob Marley’s death, Rita Marley and Chris Blackwell claim it was a mistake and they were not the writers. Still the Barrett Brothers are featured on all the albums recorded by the Wailers.
Carlton Barrett popularized the one drop rhythm, a percussive drumming style created by Winston Grennan.
Aston “Family Man” Barrett was the bandleader, co-producer of the albums, and the man in charge of the overall song arrangements.
With Carly Barrett’s beats and his brother Aston Barrett’s bass; the Wailer rhythm section planted the seeds of today’s international reggae. Yet neither man was able to reap his fair share from the fruits of his labor. Carly Barrett died in 1987 at the age of 36 and Aston has tried to get his piece of the revenue that the music brings in but with no huge success.
Being illiterate, the Barret brothers got taken advantage of severely by those who knew better. Their lack of business knowledge allowed them to sign into contracts that were less than beneficial to them.
In 2006, Aston Barrett tried one last time to get paid for his hard work by suing Island Records, Chris Blackwell and the Marley family for 60 million dollars but he was not successful.
It would have been enough to give each of his 52 children a little more than 1 million dollars for their father’s unacknowledged contribution to the immortal sound of Bob Marley and the Wailers.
But it was not to be. Aston “Family Man” Barrett, who is the author of the bass line which gave Marley’s late-1970s hits their inimitable rhythm, failed in his latest legal bid for a multimillion-dollar slice of the Marley musical empire.
This was the third time the former friend and colleague of the late Bob Marley had sought financial recompense for his contribution to the Marley sound, having undertaken legal actions in Jamaica and New York in the 1980s which, like yesterday’s ruling, left him waiting in vain.
At the high court in London, he claimed that he and his brother Carlton, a drummer in the band who was murdered in 1987, were still owed up to £60m from a contract signed in 1974 and royalties from six songs they had written. He alleged that after Marley died of cancer in 1981, without leaving a will, his widow, Rita, and Island Records had denied Barrett and his brother access to the wealth generated from sales of Marley and the Wailers’ albums.
It is funny, Bob Marley sung “not one of my seeds shall sit on the sidewalk and be bread”, but we have to wonder how many of Carlton Barrett’s 52 children are begging bread because their father was robbed by the Marley’s family, Chris Blackwell and Island Records.
“Aston Barrett and his brother literally created the sound of the Wailers, though not for a minute to detract from the extraordinary songwriting ability of Mr. Marley,” Stephen Bate, representing the musician, told the judge. “It was the Barretts’ unique sound which brought the Wailers international success.”
The judge, however, agreed with arguments put by Island-Universal and the Marley family that Barrett surrendered his rights to any further royalties in a 1994 settlement in exchange for several hundred thousand dollars. He said: “I conclude that all the claims that Mr. Aston Barrett brings in his personal capacity have been compromised by the settlement agreement.”
So today when fans listen to the brilliant albums from Bob Marley and to Wailers, the Marley family is being paid but not the Barrett family, even though it’s the Barrett’s music complimenting Bob Marley’s lyrics. Since Aston Barrett who can’t read or write settled for less than half a million dollars, he has absolutely nothing else to gain from his brilliant work.
Musicians should learn from this story, that regardless of how great they are at playing music, they must be able to read, write and have an understanding of what they are signing. Better yet, they should always hire an attorney before signing anything.