Marley Fortune’s Law suit

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Bob Marley was probably the most important export from Jamaica, having sold tens of millions of albums world wide, and still selling.

His popularity and his legend will never die. He has never been a stranger to making headlines. In 1978 he joined the hands of Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley with that of opposition leader Edward Seaga in an effort to promote peace and unity on the Island when the two were feuding amidst election violence. These days, it seems like the headlines he makes are predominantly to do with the vast estate he left behind.

The latest in this on going saga is former bass player Aston "family man" Barret’s lawsuit against the Marley estate and Universal Island Record label for failing to honor agreements that he claims were made as a partnership with the late superstar singer.

Barret claims that he and his drummer brother, Carlton, were left "desperately short of money" after Marley died of cancer in 1981, even though they were owed royalties from a contract signed with Island records in 1974, together with earnings from songs that he had co-written with Marley.

The hearing was attended by Marley's widow, Rita. The court was told that the Barrets had been approached by Marley in the late 1960s after he heard their band, the Upsetters. They had been the rhythm nucleus of legendary producer Lee Perry's studio band. They were also unchallenged as Jamaica's hardest rhythm section, a status that was to remain undiminished during the following decade.

They also appeared on British chart program “Top of the popsâ€? in 1967 and got to no. 4 in the charts. Bob Marley had, not surprisingly, been interested in their sound. Barret stated that "Mr. Marley had said that he was after international success which had not been achieved by the Wailers despite being together for six years."  Marley and Barret then met in an alley behind his studio at 56 Hope street, known as Island House, in Kingston, Jamaica. The studio was the same one where, in 1986, his widow would be hit in a multiple shooting. Barret and his brother agreed to join Marley and they toured in Kingston, Jamaica.

Marley then signed to Island Records in 1972 and their first albums "catch a fire" and "Burnin" included the original Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, with whom Bob Marley had grown up with in the notorious Western part of Kingston called Trench town.  After a disagreement in 1973, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh left the group.

Stephen Bate, representing the Barrets in the High Court here in London, England, stated Friday March 17, that Marley had agreed to Aston Barret's suggestion to form a new band. He also agreed to split all the money equally, the court was told.

By 1974 the Barrets, with their unique, rhythm-driven sound, and Marley had a new contract with Island Records and the breakthrough album, Natty Dread, was released. Bate said, "The chief reason for this musical breakthrough and international acclaim was Aston Barret and his brother." Eleven albums followed. He said that what he was saying did not for one minute detract from the extraordinary songwriting abilities of Bob Marley.

Bate said that, eventually, a contract was completed that had the names of Marley and the Barret brothers on it. In a phone call from the U.S., Aston was told by Marley that he had signed for all three of them, Bate said. "So far as the Barret brothers were concerned, that was it. They had their contract with Island records,� the lawyer said.

Barret, now having to wear a hearing aid as a result of all that bass sound, said that he did not recall how he was paid, but that Marley always took care of him and his brother. Their first deal was worth $27,500, but the success of Natty Dread brought a stratospheric rise to $124,000, Bate said. By the time the Rastaman vibration album was released in 1976, the band had an agreement that Marley would take 50% and the rest would be shared between the Barret brothers, Bate said.

He said that the brother's problems began after Marley died. He did not leave a will and Rita Marley became administrator of the estate. Bate said that, while they felt they had been paid only a proportion of what they were owed, they believed they had no option but to sign a deal.

Carlton was later shot dead, leaving three children and a widow. The hearing continues.

Ocen Allimadi is The Black Star News’s music editor. For reviews send all submission to The Black Star News, 11 Broadway, Suite 519, New York, N.Y., 10004. He can be reached at

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