“Reggae carries that heavy message of roots, culture, and reality. So the bass has to be heavy and the drums have to be steady”: An interview with Aston “Family Man” Barrett

Bob Marley and Aston 'Family Man' Barrett performing on stage (Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)
(Image credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty)

“I call it the earth sound,” chuckles Aston “Family Man” Barrett warmly as he describes what drew him to the bass all those years ago. Back then he was a young bike mechanic and welder scratching out a living in Kingston, Jamaica. 

“Lloyd Brevett was one of my favorite bass players from Jamaica, and he played upright bass. I always tried to grab that sound, even when I am playing the electric bass. I decided to find out what key the earth tunes into. After a while, I realized the whole planet is tuned to Eb,” laughs Barrett. “When you play in that key, it makes you come to the center of the fretboard — you get a nice feel there, for sure.”

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Based in New York City, Bill Murphy has contributed features, profiles and reviews to Rolling Stone, Time Out New York, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Bass Player, The Wire, Relix magazine and many more. He has also written liner notes for numerous album releases, including the lead essay for the Grammy-nominated Wingless Angels box set, produced by Keith Richards. Read more by him here.