Music legend created, split from band
One of rock music’s legendary recluses, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, died Friday from symptoms related to diabetes. He was 60.
Barrett died at his home in Cambridge, England, where he had grown up and then lived since the early 1970s.
Mental problems associated with his heavy LSD usage shortened his musical career, and he spent most of the last 30 years at home painting and gardening. It was long speculated that Barrett also had a form of schizophrenia or autism.
Despite a short career — he made two albums with Pink Floyd and two solo albums after that — his vocal and guitar styles were an influence on David Bowie, Pete Townshend, Robert Smith of the Cure, the Smiths, Robyn Hitchcock, At the Drive-In, R.E.M. and others.
“Syd was the guiding light of the early band lineup and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire,” the members of Pink Floyd said in a statement.
Born Roger Keith Barrett, he was given the nickname Sid as a teen in reference to a local jazz drummer; he altered the spelling to distinguish himself from the better-known Barrett. A guitarist, singer and songwriter, he aligned with Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright while at art school in 1965 to play covers of R&B tunes, just like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who and the Kinks.
The band, which went by names such as the Tea Set and the Megadeaths, began to experiment with improvisation and developed a psychedelic rock sound that was starting to catch on in London. Barrett came up with the name Pink Floyd by using the first names of two Carolina bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
After releasing two singles, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” Pink Floyd recorded debut album “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” next door to the studio where the Beatles were recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote two of the first album’s songs; his guitar playing, which included distortion, feedback and echo, provided a unique aural quality to Floyd’s music that would continue after he left the band and was replaced by his schoolmate David Gilmour.
“Piper at the Gates” reached No. 6 on the U.K. charts but did not chart in the U.S. (in 1968 Capitol subsid Tower Records released an altered version of the album that included “See Emily Play” and reached No. 131.)
Soon after “Piper’s” release, Barrett became unpredictable. At concerts he would spend the show detuning a guitar, playing a single chord or doing nothing; in a late ’67 interview on “The Pat Boone Show,” he gave only a blank stare as a response to questions.
At times, Pink Floyd performed as a five-piece band with Gilmour on guitar and Barrett wandering the stage and occasionally singing. Barrett would contribute only one song, “Jugband Blues,” to the band’s second album, “A Saucerful of Secrets.”
In January 1968, Pink Floyd bass player Waters either asked Barrett to concentrate on songwriting and no longer tour with the band, or the group intentionally did not pick him up on their way to a gig at Southampton U., bringing along Gilmour instead.
Convinced that Pink Floyd could not exist without Barrett, the band’s managers stuck with the singer at the breakup and let the new Floyd lineup fend for itself.
EMI and Harvest Records, which had recorded Pink Floyd, immediately asked Barrett to work on a solo effort, and he produced “The Madcap Laughs,” consistently of songs left over from his Floyd years. (Intriguingly, Gilmour and Waters produced the album.)
His second disc, “Barrett,” was recorded in the first half of 1970 and featured Gilmour and Wright. Barrett made only one appearance as a solo artist, performing in London in 1970. After a half-hour, he put down his guitar and walked off the stage.
Barrett formed another band, Stars, in 1972, but it fell apart after a bad gig.
Two years later, he failed in an attempt to record again, sold the rights to his albums to EMI and moved into a hotel. After his money ran out, he moved in with his mother.
Until his death, Barrett received royalties from Pink Floyd compilations, live albums and singles; Gilmour was long credited with ensuring Barrett was taken care of financially.
Two of Pink Floyd’s later tunes, “Wish You Were Here” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” were about Barrett. Barrett attended the recording session of “Diamond” but, with his head shaved and a considerable weight gain, his bandmates did not recognize him. In the film “Pink Floyd the Wall,” Bob Geldof plays Pink, a character modeled on Barrett.
Bowie wrote on his Web site Tuesday, “He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed.”
Barrett is survived by a brother, Alan.