Carlton “Carly” Barrett was born on 17 Dec 1950 in Kingston. As a teenager he built his first set of drums out of some empty paint tins, and had initially been influenced by Lloyd Knibb, the great drummer from the Skatalites. He and his brother Aston were raised in Kingston and absorbed the emerging ska sound. Working as a welder he first tried building a guitar and playing. He realized guitar wasn’t his thing and picked up the drums.
In the late 1960s Carlton started playing sessions with his brother Aston, the pair calling themselves the Soul Mates or the Rhythm Force, before settling on The Hippy Boys, a line-up that featured Max Romeo on vocals. Leroy Brown, Delano Stewart, Glen Adams and Alva Lewis also played in the band’s fluctuating line-up.
The Hippy Boys became one of Kingston’s busiest session bands; fittingly their first recording was “Watch This Sound”, backing the late Slim Smith. They also released a couple of albums for Lloyd Charmers, Reggae with the Hippy Boys and Reggae Is Tight. As well as playing on many sessions for Bunny Lee and Sonia Pottinger, the Barrett brothers also played on two 1969 UK chart hits, “Liquidator” for Harry J, and “Return of Django” for Lee “Scratch” Perry, with whom they had now taken root.
For Perry, they took the name The Upsetters, and knocked out a long run of instrumentals, including “Clint Eastwood”, “Cold Sweat”, “Night Doctor”, and “Live Injection”. It was while with Perry that the Barrett brothers first teamed up with The Wailers, then a vocal trio consisting of Bob, Peter and Bunny. After recording many now classic numbers, Carly and Aston decided to team up with The Wailers on a permanent basis.
The Barrett brothers recorded several singles with the Wailers in 1969-70: “My Cup”, “Duppy Conqueror”, “Soul Rebel”, and “Small Axe”. Most of these songs appeared on two Perry-produced Wailers albums: Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution, and formed the early foundation of the one drop sound.
Though original Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston left the group in 1973, Carlton and Aston remained with Bob Marley and went on to record Natty Dread in 1974. Carlton has songwriting credits for two of Natty Dread’s songs: “Talkin’ Blues” and “Them Belly Full”.
Carlton remained with the Wailers in the studio and on tour until Bob Marley’s death in 1981. His signature style can be heard on every recording the Wailers produced since 1969, with the exception of the 1970 “Soul Shakedown Party” sessions produced by Leslie Kong.
On 17 April 1987, just as Carlton arrived at his Kingston home and walked across his yard, a gunman stepped up behind him and shot him twice in the head. He was dead on arrival at a Kingston hospital at age 36.
Shortly after his murder, Carlton’s wife, Albertine, her lover, a taxi driver named Glenroy Carter, and another man, Junior Neil, were arrested and charged with his killing. Albertine and Carter escaped the murder charge, and were instead convicted and sentenced to 7 years for conspiracy. After just one year in prison, they were released in December 1992 on a legal technicality.