After decades of wrangling with courts, frauds, record companies and hired gunmen, legendary Wailers bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett may finally get the credit he's been seeking for the contributions he and his late brother, Carlton, made to the musical legacy of reggae icon Bob Marley.
A British High Court has granted Barrett the right to sue Universal/Island Records for what might amount to millions of dollars in unpaid royalties. No trial date has been set.
Barrett and his brother, along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, composed the core of the Wailers during the peak of Bob Marley and the Wailers' popularity. Aston and Carlton provided the rhythm section on legendary LPs such as Exodus, Babylon by Bus and Rastaman Vibration, among others. However, after Marley's death in 1981, the issue of songwriting credit and royalties became the lynchpin of several contentious lawsuits between the surviving members of the Wailers, Marley's estate and the record company.
Aston and Carlton, who was killed by hit men in 1986, had attempted to extricate themselves from the legal mire in 1994 by striking a settlement with Universal to the tune of half a million dollars plus legal fees. But since then, various Bob Marley and the Wailers reissues and merchandising have seen the light of day. Barrett claims he and his late brother are entitled to a cut of anything that features their work.
The Barretts have spent years pushing their suit through various Commonwealth courts in Jamaica and the English High Court appeals system. Universal/Island asked the High Court judge to dismiss the case because it was an "abuse of process" of the courts. In a decision delivered March 28, the Honorable Mr. Justice Hugh Laddie denied the company's motion, saying that the case raised issues "far too complex and numerous" to simply toss out of court.
"They tried to bury us, which I find really ironic considering that Universal has been talking about artists' rights so much lately in regards to passing legislation in California and with file-sharing," said Barrett's U.S. attorney, Stewart Levy. "These two men made huge contributions to the world of music and just seek the credit they deserve."
Universal/Island would not comment on the suit.