Aston Barrett Jr. has no problem being compared to his father.
In fact, he prefers it that way.
He is the son of the legendary bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, who steered the helm of The Wailers in the wake of Bob Marley’s death, exemplifying what it means to be Rasta.
But Barrett is also one of 52.
“You know, honestly, I love it. Brothers and sisters, it’s really nice to know, and it’s also great to know they’re every race, as well,” Barrett said. “The unity is what we want, and it’s just nice. I could go to Switzerland, have brothers and sisters there; England, brothers and sisters; Jamaica, America, brothers and sisters. It’s nice. It’s really nice.
“We all try to bond, you know? Some of them we don’t know, some of them we know of,” he continued. “You just have to get to the ones who are on the same wavelength, because you can’t have everyone on the same wavelength. There’s a lot of us, so you’re gonna have everyone doing something different.”
Barrett isn’t the only member of the family in today’s reiteration of The Wailers, who will play a show on Saturday, June 16, at The Suffolk Theater. The drummer performs with original guitarists Junior Marvin, his uncle, and Donald Kinsey, who might as well be.
“It’s funny, it’s like a movie — a living movie — growing up with everyone,” Barrett said. “You see the ups and downs, the middle, the top, the left and right of everything. You’re seeing the mental, the spiritual and the physical of the whole message and the whole movement, because everything is a movement.”
When Marley died at age 36, in a way, so did that movement, and so did The Wailers. Nearly four decades later, the Jamaican reggae band has finally found its groove again, as they work on their first record since 1985 — one that keeps with tradition and represents rasta, and lives up to the standard that Marley set — and welcomes a new message: “Stand firm.”
“We, as Wailers, we have to do good. A lot of bad things came in our band after Bob died. A lot of evil try to come in, and a lot of it came in, and it took a while to come out,” Barrett explained. “The reason why it came out is because of what the music represents. That’s the power of Bob Marley and the Wailers.”
With new talent in group — including lead singer Joshua David Barrett, singers Shema McGregor and Hassanah, Owen “Dreadie” Reid on guitar and bass, and Javaughn Bond on three keyboards — they are keeping The Wailers’ legacy alive, Barrett said, while adding to a vast repertoire of hits.
“If you listen to all of the Wailers songs, there is a message for everything. Anything you’re going through, there’s a song for it. We did the same thing,” Barrett said. “We have to write songs that applies to everyone, and even as Bob said, ‘My music is so simple, even a baby can understand it.’ So we have to make music that is exactly like that, and gives you goose bumps.”
Barrett first picked up a bass guitar at age 4 while growing up in Jamaica and brought his love for music to the United States when he was 11. By eighth grade, he was touring, he said.
“I used to just tour, come back and do day school and night school just to graduate. But I had to do it to help me to pay some of the bills,” he said. “It was just me and my sister living. My mom was still in Jamaica. My father was all over the place. You know, he’s always touring. My father had many families, so he was with another family at the time. So we had to do what we had to do at that time, you know?”
That tension never seemed to take a toll on Barrett, he said, saying that he and his father have “always been very, very close because we do the same work.”
“We used to always just have a great relationship. I listened to all his stories. I always make sure I get all the information that I can because I want to keep his legacy alive,” Barrett said. “Obviously we all went through times where we probably wanted him more. Maybe I got him a lot more than my other brothers and sisters in certain cases. By doing the same work was where we had a lot in common, because he’s not a normal guy. None of them are normal.”
He laughed. “All the Wailers members, they’re all different. They’re not normal people. You can’t just talk to them like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ They’re gonna either make some kind of jokes, they’re gonna say the weirdest thing in the world. And you’re like, ‘How the hell these people make such great music?’ It’s crazy.”
Riding the tailwind of winning his first Grammy, Barrett said there are days he needs to remind himself of the history of the band — one that now includes him — and their purpose: to keep moving forward at a time when the world needs the Wailers, he said.
At a time when it needs peace, love and unity, he said.
“The world needs a bnd like us because we have to enlighten them. Whatever’s going on in the world, it needs that therapy. We’re like natural, musical, earthy therapy,” he said. “I’m grateful to be a part of that. There’s even days I forget. I’ll be like, ‘Oh man, I’m gonna play with the “Family Man,” and then I’m like, ‘Oh shoot, but it’s my dad.’
“I love when people say, ‘You do this like your father. You do that like your father,’” he added. “Because to me, I am proud of my father, I’m proud to be his son, and I want to make sure I live up to that.”
The Wailers will play a concert on Saturday, June 16, at 8 p.m. at The Suffolk Theater, located at 118 East Main Street in Riverhead. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets are $59 and $65. For more information, please call (631) 727-4343 or visit suffolktheater.com.