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Wailing for Bob 

Tarnished royalty endures

"Ya don't know who to trust," Wailer Aston "Familyman" Barrett wrote on "Who The Cap Fit," for Bob Marley's American breakthrough album, Rastaman Vibration. "Some will eat and drink with you/ ... pretend they love you now/ Then behind they try to eliminate you." When Barrett composed that song in '76, he didn't realize how close to home that prophecy would come in later years.

Marley was the legend, but Barrett was the backbone -- the man who built and maintained the support system through Marley's back up band, The Wailers. "Everybody thought that everything was Bob. They didn't realize that Familyman was the man that did all the arranging of the songs," Wailers lead guitarist Junior Marvin said in an '89 interview. Marvin, who came onboard in '77 for the recording of Exodus, maintains that The Wailers were a team effort, with Marley seeing himself as a part of the team, not the leader. "The leader of the band has always been Familyman, even in Bob's time," he says. But because the band never publicly disclosed that arrangement, Marvin says, "People always felt that Bob was everything and we were just a bunch of guys behind him. But he would just write the chords and we would finish the songs for him." Marley himself had been quoted as saying that he would have played more guitar if Familyman had taught him more chords.

But Barrett's contributions have been brushed aside. Last May, Barrett lost a 60 million pound lawsuit against the Marley family requesting royalties from Marley albums he had worked on and copyrights on six songs he had written, including "Dem Belly Full," "Who The Cap Fit" and "Talkin' Blues." His lyric, "I've been down on the rock for so long/ I seem to wear a permanent screw" from "Talkin' Blues" seemed apt when Marley's widow Rita testified that bassist Barrett and brother Carlton on drums were session players and not true members of the band.

The Wailers was first a vocal group formed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1963, consisting of Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, Bunny Livingston, Bob Marley, Peter McIntosh, (nee Tosh) and Cherry Smith. By '66, the group had boiled down to Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh. By the early '70s, they had assembled a band, with a rhythm section consisting of the Barrett brothers. Livingston left in '72 and Tosh in '73. From then on, the band was known as The Wailers. Barrett served as producer and arranger and chose most of the musicians for the band.

Since Marley's death in '81, the Wailers have carried on without him, with Barrett still leading the band. On the current tour, the only other long-time member still with him is organist Earl "Wya" Lindo. But thanks to Barrett's dedication and careful choice of musicians including Marley vocal stand-in Gary "Nesta" Pine, with the band since '98, the band still retains the sound and the sprit of Marley.

But it's a bittersweet legacy. "We keeping Bob Marley and the catalog live over the years, making a lot of dough for the high-level recording labels," Barrett told interviewer Phillip H. Farber in a 2000 interview. "No one does that, not even the family of Bob." The Marley estate has received all the royalties from the entire Island Records catalog, which includes albums from 1974 until 1983. Upon hearing that he had lost the lawsuit, Barrett said that he had done nothing wrong; his only problem was that he didn't have friends in high places.

That may be true in the legal system, but in the court of public opinion, the jury box is packed with enthusiastic fans who come out to see Marley's legend continue to shine through Barrett's vision.

The Wailers play the Visulite Theatre Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. $20 advance. $24 day of show.

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