Bassist 'who created sound of Wailers' loses £60m battle

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The bass player who "helped create the sound of the Wailers" has lost his court battle for up to £60m in unpaid royalties from Bob Marley's band.

A High Court judge in London threw out a claim by Aston "Family Man" Barrett against Universal- Island and the Marley family for royalties from albums such as Exodus and Natty Dread, which he said had been promised by Marley, who died in 1981, aged 36.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Lewison said that an agreement in 1994, in which Mr Barrett accepted a share of a £1m settlement from the Marley estate, "compromised" the later claim. That settlement had followed two actions brought by members of the remaining Wailers in New York and Jamaica in the late 1980s.

After yesterday's ruling, the Marley family said they were "delighted" with the outcome. "For the last four years Aston Barrett has persisted in this hurtful and extremely expensive claim which was actually settled in 1994. It was hard to listen to Aston Barrett reduce his friend Bob to someone who was more interested in playing football than making music. It is good to see our position vindicated," a statement from the family said.

Mr Barrett, who is now 60, and reputedly the father of 52 children, brought the claim on behalf of himself and his late brother, Carlton, the drummer in the Wailers who was murdered in 1986. He now faces legal costs of around £2m and may be forced to sell his two homes in Jamaica.

The Wailers began as a ska vocal group in 1963, and coalesced into the trio of Marley, Bunny Livingstone (who also called himself Bunny Wailer) and Peter Tosh. In 1969, the Barretts joined to provide the rhythm section although it was not until 1973 that they signed for Chris Blackwell's Island Records and eventually found worldwide fame.

This group split in 1974, when Tosh and Livingstone refused to tour further, which left the Barretts to form the nucleus of the Wailers Band, which, along with the backing singers, the I-Three's, accompanied Marley until his death.

During the hearing, in March this year, Stephen Bate, representing the musician, told the judge: "Aston Barrett and his brother literally created the sound of the Wailers, though this is not for a minute to detract from the extraordinary songwriting ability of Mr Marley. It was the Barretts' unique sound which brought the Wailers international success."

But Rita Marley, the singer's widow, said that while the Barretts had helped to create the Wailers' sound, they were only viewed as "backing session musicians".

In his ruling, the judge accepted the arguments by the family and the record company that the Barretts were never party to any agreements between Marley and Island; that they did not write some of the songs they claimed to have co-authored and that they had consented for their work to be released on CD and DVD.

Mr Justice Lewison said Mr Barrett was not a reliable witness, adding: "He was plainly close to Bob Marley himself, whom he trusted implicitly. At this remove of time, his recollection of events was hazy; and I also consider that, as often happens, he has reconstructed events in his mind according to how he would like them to have been." The judge said he believed Rita Marley had done her best over the years for the Wailers.