The Riddim King
Aston “Familyman” Barrett was a young 23-year-old musician with a growing, credible reputation in 1969’s Kingston music scene. He will tell you that he self-labeled himself Familyman. “We all have to work and live together, as a family,” he says. “There is one who’s in charge to keep that unity – that’s key to Familyman.” That name is now legend.
Fams, as he’s affectionately known, alongside his late brother, drummer Carlton “Carly” Barrett, first gained island-wide recognition with The Hippy Boys. This name came about when Fams, Carly, keyboardist Glen Adams, guitarist Alva “Reggie” Lewis, and singer Max Romeo were playing a hotel gig. The woman who owned the Flamingo hotel told Fams, “you dress like bad boys, but you’re not bad boys. You remind me of those guys in the States, those hippies.” And that’s how the name stuck. Throughout the late ‘60s, The Hippy Boys were a number one show/dance band, often performing inside Kingston’s Sheraton Hotel Junkanoo Lounge, the Sombrero Club, and the Jump In Line Festival at Half Way Tree Square. They also released local hits that included “Return of Django” for Upsetters, “Liquidator” for Harry J. Allstars, and their self-produced “Cobra Style and “Familyman in Dub.”
In the early days, while working with Scratch Perry, the famous “one drop” drumbeat got refined. As Fams say, “Scratch is a record producer, he works with sound.” Fams defines reggae as “the heartbeat of the people – the universal language that carries the message of roots, culture, and reality.” As for his own style, he admits he loves to sing, “but I didn’t practice.” He loves melody, and says that he “sings on the strings.” He plays his lines, he says. He is a baritone with a bass.
Living up to his moniker, Fams has mentored several artists. Aswad’s Brinsley Forde, Sly & Robbie’s Robbie Shakespeare, and Bob’s son Julian Marley have all benefited from working with the maestro. “When I rode with the Wailers, I told Robbie I’m going to be on the road spreading the message. I told him I need him to dominate the place… and he did.” Robbie answers, “He is the man for me. I’ve had influences… but I have to give it to Familyman.”
Fams continues to mentor up-and-coming new talent. Most notable student and success is his son Aston Barrett Jr., the musical director and drummer for his father’s Wailers. Aston Jr. also plays bass, keys, guitar, writes, and produces. A student who has studied his uncle, Aston Jr. has the remarkable distinction of sounding just like Carly Barrett. “Only he can play his uncle,” Fams says, “he is the closest to his uncle.”
In the late ‘60s, Bob Marley met Fams and Carly at Scratch Perry’s studio. He asked them to join the Wailers. They recorded as The Hippy Boys with Bob, Peter, and Bunny until 1969; that’s when they were asked to join as a full band. When Peter and Bunny moved on to pursue solo careers in 1973, Fams became the Wailers’ musical director, captain of the ship, and has remained a Wailer ever since.
Fams was with Bob in London after the split. He, Bob, and Carly were all that was left of the original Wailers. When Bob expressed concern over what’s next, Familyman reassured him, “the three of us can do it. Remember the Power of the Trinity.” Soon, they see a young man walking in London’s Chelsea district. He was carrying a bass guitar in one hand and a six-pack in the other – this young man was Al Anderson. The young American was soon joined The Wailers. Earl “Wya” Lindo, who played keyboards with Fams and Carly in the early ‘70s Wailers, had left the band to do some session work. Afterwards, he returned to the family. Fams recalls, “we were all hooked up, we were a team.” Their first gig as Bob Marley & The Wailers was in London’s the Lyceum Ballroom in 1975.
From Bob Marley & The Wailers’ 1974-debut album Natty Dread until Bob’s premature passing in 1981, Familyman was Bob’s partner and friend. Fams is also credited as co-writer, co-producer, and co-arranger. Fams inimitable heartbeat bass style is as much a part of the Bob Marley mystique as Bob himself. The Wailers band included Fams, Carly, Wya, Al, Tyrone Downie, Junior Marvin, Seeco Patterson and the I-Three. Bob Marley & The Wailers opened the door to what is recognized as the sound and message of international reggae.
Respected as a musical genius and one on the finest and most influential bass players of all times, Aston “Familyman” Barrett received the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from Bass Player magazine. He has contributed to Bob Marley & The Wailers being named Band of the Year by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1976, the Exodus album named Album of the Century by Time Magazine in 1999, and the song “One Love” named Song of the Millennium in 2000.
The legend continues.
Tyrone Downie is a Jamaican keyboardist/pianist who is most known for his involvement as a member of Bob Marley and The Wailers. He studied at Kingston College and joined The Wailers in the mid-1970s, making his recording début with the band on Rastaman Vibration, having previously been a member of the Impact All Stars. He has also played with The Abyssinians, Beenie Man, Black Uhuru, Buju Banton, Peter Tosh, Junior Reid, Tom Tom Club, Ian Dury, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly and Sly & Robbie. He currently resides in France and is a member of the touring band of Youssou N’Dour, whose album Remember he produced.
In 1983, Grace Jones released the Single “My Jamaican Guy“. Unbeknown to Downie, he (though in a relationship and not romantically linked to Jones) was the subject of the song.
Downie released the solo album Organ-D in 2001.
Junior Marvin (born 1949 as Donald Hanson Marvin Kerr Richards Jr) also known as Junior Marvin-Hanson, Junior Hanson and Junior Kerr, is a Jamaican-born guitarist and singer best known for his association with Bob Marley and The Wailers. He started his career as Junior Marvin with the band Hanson in 1973. Marvin has also been associated with Gass, Keef Hartley Band, Toots & the Maytals and Steve Winwood. In 2007, Marvin recorded a solo album entitled Wailin’ For Love. In 2008 Marvin, along with Al Anderson, formed The Original Wailers and Junior left this Band in April 2011.
Donald Kinsey (born May 12, 1953, Gary, Indiana) is an American guitarist and singer, best known as a member of the Wailers Band, the reggae backing group for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Kinsey is one of three sons of the late Chicago blues performer, Big Daddy Kinsey. He is a member of the Kinsey Report, which he formed in 1984 with his brothers, Ralph Kinsey and Kenneth Kinsey, and Ron Prince. Previously he toured and recorded with Albert King, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and the Wailers and Roy Buchanan.
Drummer / Musical Director
Aston Jr. was born into musical greatness. His rhythm-based lineage begins with his maternal grandfather, Joe Higgs, “godfather” of the Trench Town sound, legendary singer, producer, and mentor. His famous father is Aston “Familyman” Barrett, co-founder of The Hippy Boys in the mid-60s and The Wailers band in the ‘70s, along with his iconic uncle, Carlton “Carly” Barrett, renowned drummer and driving force behind the vision and creativity of The Wailers sound.
Aston Jr. will tell you he was born to play music. The multi-talented young Barrett plays bass, drums, guitar, organ, and keyboards. Growing up watching his father create, record, and perform, it makes sense that Aston Jr.’s passion is the bass. He began at age three, and the first bass line he learned was “Positive Vibration,” played entirely on the E-string. Equally inspired by his uncle’s unique one-drop style, he invested time watching and studying Bob Marley & The Wailers videos. Aston Jr. has captured that complex feel, distinctive style, and clearly evolved into the singular next-generation Carly Barrett.
Aston Jr. has received rave reviews since he began playing drums with The Wailers in 2009. That praise comes after decades of playing and performing. An 8-years old Aston Jr. played bass for I-Three member Judy Mowatt at an all-girls high school. As a teen, he learned to play the Hammond B3 organ while in church. Because the B3 was a huge part of the Wailers sound, he appreciates the fact that this increased his Wailers skills. In 2004, he began playing bass in Julian Marley’s Uprising band. By 2006, Aston Jr. joined his father and Junior Marvin on stage for his very first Wailers show.
Aston Jr. gives credit to Aston Sr. for his talent and abilities. “I love playing with my father,” he says, “the best thing is we get to the true sound of the ‘roots’, which goes way beyond the depths of the bass.” He loves playing the drums because, as he claims, “it brings me closer to Uncle Carly, the best Reggae drummer ever.” Along with his brothers Kevin Barrett and John aka Floyd Barrett, Aston Jr. knows that they are here to keep their father’s history-making career moving forward.
The rhythm force duo created alongside the highly praised Familyman Barrett brings a mix of Roots-Rasta-Reggae and modern technology; the result is a new-generation Barrett sound. This is evidenced in the musical soundtrack they created for the documentary Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend, an early look at Marley’s life through the lens of Jamaican photographer and Marley paramour Esther Anderson.
As part owner of Bad Lions Studio located in South Florida, Aston Jr. produces, writes, creates, and records for himself and others. A student of jazz, funk, and freeform music, he fully appreciates The Wailers sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and he brings that old-school style to his creative projects. Whether it’s playing bass, drums, guitar, or organ, Aston Jr. has increased his visibility and reputation by recording or touring with such popular artists as Lauryn Hill, Stephen Marley, and Julian Marley. While touring with Ms. Hill in 2013, he recalls the excitement of sharing the stage with Lauryn Hill and NAS.
Aston Jr. will proudly tell you that the music The Wailers created then, and the music they are creating today “has no category…there is no old sound – there is no new – it’s just there.” The Wailers sound is the Barrett sound. The legacy continues.
Josh David has a commanding task as The Wailers band lead vocalist. Taking on the words of Bob Marley may be daunting to some, but not for the young Rasta lion from Roselle, NJ. Josh David stands firm and authentic in the singing spotlight.
Currently living in Brooklyn, NY, Josh David prides himself as a bridge between Reggae’s former and latter spiritual and musical “troditions.” Joining forces with the world’s most well known Reggae band, he is grateful and honored to be a part of this renowned team of musicians, guided for decades by his distant cousin, bassist Aston “Familyman” Barrett.
As a youth in New Jersey, Josh David grew up in church. It was there he joined the choir and began performing for his congregation and community. In addition to singing, he plays guitar, bass, drums, and piano. His extensive talent and easy going personality led him to performing with such Gospel greats as Grammy-winner Tramaine Hawkins, Kim Burrell, and Donovan Jackson & Joshua Generation. He later recorded or performed with R&B and Hip-Hop stars, including Common, Q-Tip, Quincy Jones, Kanye, Mary J. Blige, and Solange Knowles. Recently, Josh David has worked with renowned Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro and Grammy-winning producer Commissioner Gordon, of Lauryn Hill/Amy Winehouse/Ghetto Youths fame.
The door to Reggae opened when the music and message touched his soul. He traveled to Jamaica, his great-grandfather’s homeland, to record, perform, and create videos with Ghetto Youths’ artists Biggz General and Dax Lion. A highlight of that Kingston journey was performing on a stage that also featured Chronixx, Jesse Royal, and Bongo Herman.
On a UN trip to Tunisia to perform a series of US Embassy-endorsed shows, Josh David remembers the kindness of the Rasta youth he met there. His dedication to Rastafari continues, exemplified in the conscious lifestyle he lives. He proclaims it was the will of JAH that brought him to meet Aston Barrett, Jr., Familyman’s son and drummer for The Wailers, in 2012. The two young talented Rasta lions kept in touch, and in 2014, Josh David was blessed with the opportunity to join The Wailers band as its lead singer.
Having traversed this musical journey, from church youth, to performing with today’s top artists, to circling the globe with The Wailers, Josh David has joined the struggle to trod paths created by the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley, O.M., Peter Tosh, O.M., and Bunny Wailer, O.J. Joshua David Barrett lives and sings the songs of freedom. His mission, to uplift and inspire a new generation of Wailers’ fans, comes from the heart. Like Bob Marley, his enthusiastic performances keep steadfast in honoring the life and legacy of Ethiopia’s “Talaku Meri/Great Leader” Emperor Haile Selassie I. The legendary Wailers band continues spreading the message of “One Love” globally and throughout the Kingdom of The Most High, Jah Rastafari.
HE may be oblivious to most fans at major concerts, but sound engineer Dennis Thompson has ensured a crystal-clear sound for some of the biggest pop acts for nearly 40 years. Thompson has worked in the studio and toured with reggae’s elite: Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear, Augustus Pablo, Buju Banton and Steel Pulse. His resume also includes stints with jazz bassist Marcus Miller, and contemporary pop stars Alicia Keys and Missy Elliot.
Now in his mid-60s, Thompson lives in New York City where he is assembling tapes of shows he has done over the years for a personal archive he tentatively calls The Dennis Thompson Project. Some of those tapes are of famous concerts, like Brown performing at Reggae Sunsplash at Jarrett Park in the early 1980s or Pablo playing JapanSplash. There are many dates with Steel Pulse and Buju Banton, with whom Thompson worked during the 1980s and 1990s, respectively. The most treasured of Thompson’s collection are his shows with Marley. Among them are dates in New England during the reggae king’s last tour in 1980.
Thompson was engineer for Marley’s last live concert, which took place at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23 that year. The show is recaptured on Live Forever: The Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23, 1980, released in 2010 by Tuff Gong International. A graduate of Kingston College, Thompson grew up in central Kingston. His contemporaries at that school included keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, later a founding member of The Skatalites and musical director at Studio One. Thompson’s reputation as a sound engineer was growing when he first worked with Marley, then a member of The Wailers at Randy’s studio in 1973 on songs like Lick Samba and Craven Choke Puppy.
Three years later, Marley was a solo act and superstar-in-the-making when he asked Thompson to accompany him on a world tour promoting his Rastaman Vibration album. It was Thompson’s first time on the road, and working in a non-studio environment. “I grew up very fast, I was totally green. I had to rely on common sense and the grace of the Father for the first five shows,” he said. “Early PA systems you had no such thing as noise gauge, you had one EQ and one compressor, and that’s it.”
Dennis Brown and Buju Banton were the reggae acts Thompson worked with mainly in the 1980s and 1990s. One of his biggest gigs in recent years has been with the talented Miller whose credits include playing and arranging songs for jazz legend Miles Davis and soul great Luther Vandross.
Owen “ Dreadie “ Reid was born on July 8, 1958 in Beautiful St. Mary, Jamaica. As a young boy he had a deep passion for music and growing up, all types of music inspired him. At the age of eight his mother “Mama Price” gave him his first guitar on Christmas Day. This begun his journey with music and learning to play the guitar.
One day while meditating on Hellshire Beach in Kingston he met a gentlemen who said he had a guitar book and guitar that he did not want because he could not play. He told the man that he liked guitars and if he would be willing to give it to him. He returned later with the items. This was the start to his musical career.
In 1980 he headed out to Bob Marley’s Studio to audition as a singer at 56 Hope Road, in Kingston. At the time Bob Marley was out touring with the Wailers; unfortunately, this turned out to be his last mission with the group. He stayed on and learned his craft after meeting Aston “Family Man” Barrett. Family Man mentored and took on Owen “Dreadie” Reid as his last musical apprentice.
As Owen “Dreadie” Reid mentored with Family Man he was responsible for Ziggy and Stephan Marley’s after school musical practices, which Family Man left him in charge of. He had the opportunity to practice and later played bass tracks on Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers first album titled “Play the Game Right” track Aiding and Abetting. This was his first international recording.
In 1987 he toured with The Wailers as their rhythm guitarist. He continued to tour the world with The Wailers until 1991. He has had the opportunity to work with world renowned Artist such as Jimmy Cliff, The Abyssinians, and Ericka Badu. He received a participation Grammy on Damian “JR. Gong” Marley’s album “Half-Way Tree”, Stephen “Ragga” Marley “Mind Control” and also Damian “JR. Gong” Marley’s “Welcome to JamRock” album. Additionally, he worked with Aston “Family Man” Barrett and the Wailers on Alpha Blondie’s Worldwide Hit Selling album “Jerusalem”.
Currently, he is working with Julian “JuJu” Marley and The Uprising Band as Producer, Composer, and Bass player. He has worked on the albums “Lion in the Morning”, “Time and a Place” and “Awake”. He is also enjoying working with The Wailers Reunion Band as rhythm guitarist and assistant bass player to Aston “Family Man” Barrett. He is producing and composing his own work and has enjoyed collaborating with other talented up and coming artist.
This rising star was born for greatness. Shema McGregor is the daughter of two legends – her mother is the beautiful and talented singer Judy Mowatt, a member of the iconic I-Three, the trio of singers who recorded and traveled with Bob Marley & The Wailers for a decade. Shema’s father is renowned singer Freddie McGregor, a child star who endures writing, recording, and performing for large crowds around the world.
The multi-talented Shema began her journey at an early age. At three-years-old she was learning to play piano, by seven she was playing violin. It was no surprise to family and friends that before reaching her teen years she was singing back up for her parents, and playing keyboards in the The Shepherds, a band formed with childhood friends Grammy-winner Damian Marley and guitarist Shiah Coore.
Shema shares in the triumphs of Big Ship Music, a family-owned company that also represents her brothers, producers and performers Stephen ‘Di Genius’ and Daniel ‘Chino’ McGregor. Under the Big Ship sail, Shema has emerged as a solid solo artist, performing and recording soulful pop ballads, as well as dipping in some dancehall style.
Throughout her journey, Shema’s parents have remained her greatest influences. “My parents worked too hard for me not to do the same. They taught me where we came from and where we need to go. As the saying goes, every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.”
*Various members of the band will be touring as their individual schedules permit.
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