Syd Barrett as a guitarist. What's his legacy?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Cubby, Apr 4, 2014.

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  1. Cubby

    Cubby Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hello esteemed forum.

    I know nothing about what makes a good guitarist. And I haven't listened to Piper at the Gates of Dawn in ages.

    But Piper is considered a milestone in psychedelic rock. We know that Syd was highly creative in terms of lyrics, performance and songwriting.

    I'm curious to know if Syd was/is considered a good guitarist. A quick Wikipedia check indicates that he was considered innovative at the time with his techniques.

    I don't expect Syd to be mentioned in the same breath as Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton, etc. But where/how do you think he rates as a musician and what do you think his guitar legacy should be?

    Thanks. As always, love the responses on the forum from everyone.
  2. botley

    botley Forum Resident

    He was certainly not afraid to do weird things... er, try unconventional techniques, I mean, with his guitar onstage and in the studio. That fearlessness to embrace experimentation is certainly part of what made Pink Floyd's early sound so distinct. That only took him so far, though. His legacy is one almost entirely built on his considerable talents as a songwriter, really, not his guitar chops.

    He could barely play in time with other musicians by the time he left Pink Floyd. Hardly the making of a good guitarist IMO. But Piper and a few other tracks from that period have some good examples of his creative techniques as a very fine lead instrumentalist. By the time of A Saucerful of Secrets, he and Gilmour were basically doing the same thing on guitar, so on that front he became almost interchangeable — and then they moved on from that style altogether.

    That said, no one has quite copied what he was able to do on "Interstellar Overdrive".
  3. Cubby

    Cubby Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thank you. I didn't think he had "chops", but maybe his guitar work and techniques could be considered "groundbreaking"?

    Thanks again.
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  4. rockledge

    rockledge Forum Resident

    right here
    I don't think his guitar skills were that good.
    I think had he not left PF and remained functional and David Gilmour not become the driving force behind PF they would likely have not had much success beyond 60s pop music.
    His songwriting was his main talent.
  5. Cubby

    Cubby Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thank you. Good point about Syd's functionality and how it introduced Gilmour to the group.
  6. Holy Diver

    Holy Diver Forum Resident

    He was a cool guitarist, unique and psychedelic, but not really technical. His best attribute was his song writing and lyrics. Listen to Matilda Mother for awesome lyrics that rival anything The Beatles did.
  7. Grampire

    Grampire Forum Resident

    29 Palms
    Step away from the keyboard....
  8. MarkTheShark

    MarkTheShark Forum Resident

    I haven't heard AMM, but I've read he may have picked up some of his guitar technique from them?
  9. revolution_vanderbilt

    revolution_vanderbilt Forum Resident

    New York
    This is something I've been thinking about for a few months now (since I've now ordered the Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band disc solely for some Syd guitar contributions). I've come to the determination that Syd was a good guitarist. Not great, but good. He had a few great moments, such as Interstellar Overdrive, of course. Syd was a great lyricist, hands down. And, surrounded by a great band, he was an awesome accompanist. Take his excellent work in Remember A Day. It's not great guitar work, per say, but it works on top of a solid backing track. And part of the draw here and other places is his fearlessness to slide, use weird effects, and extrapolate all sorts of noises from his six stringed companion. I think it's fascinating that his last sessions were all instrumental tracks, all overdubbed by him, to create guitar compositions. He knew that on his own, he couldn't play amazing material, but if only he had a few more of himself, he could build some great sounds. In this respect, I guess this makes his real talent composition. Something he probably could have done on any instrument with enough time, but I think the guitar was by this point his natural extension of musical expression. (someone use that last line somewhere, it's too good to waste!!)

    Another point I want to make here is how distinctive and unique his sound is. He had his own instrumental voice. If nothing else, that makes it interesting, so that when you listen to his stuff, you know that no one else would have ever done it the way he did. In the music I listen to, I find few artists who are so immediately identifiable, one other who comes to mind quickly being Jack Bruce.

    PS, here is the instrumental of Syd's Late Night. through the magic of OOPSing, I've in the past been able to separate some guitar parts. And, sure enough, there were plenty of little mistakes and anomalies in it, but when put together, those are lost. Sort of a sum of the parts kind situation. Anyway, enjoy this

    JulesDassin likes this.
  10. Scott in DC

    Scott in DC Forum Resident

    Washington, DC
    I actually enjoy his guitar work on Piper. It isn't on a level with Jeff Beck but it suits the material quite well.

  11. Glenn Christense

    Glenn Christense Foremost Beatles expert... on my block

    I've mentioned it before in other threads but he had his own little stylistic niche which was very cool for the songs he was writing. He certainly wasn't whipping out blues clichés. I always admire the fact that he seemed like he was gonna go off the rails at any second and crash and burn but he never did. It was a creative way to approach playing in my opinion. Now, if he had lived long enough, when his style of psych music went out of fashion , he certainly couldn't have just jumped into a traditional band as a guitar player, but there are a zillion other guys that could fill that slot.
  12. pinkrudy

    pinkrudy Forum Resident

    i think someone said kurt cobain was the technical successor to barrett on guitar.
    i agree
  13. DCW

    DCW been a-boogeyin' since I ditched the stroller.

    Everyone always wants to dismiss Syd Barrett's guitar work . . . except me.

    Think of it as someone who was probably into the Shadows coming up, then took a lot of drugs.

    I think of him as a sort of demented "Surf" guitarist, and he gave me a lot in terms of approach and creativity.

    His guitar work on some of his solo work is relatively "slick" and conventional, like a slightly less intricate version of the guy who taught him how to play-David Gilmour. Had he not "retreated", odds were good that the band would have sounded much the same, but with the whimsy intact. American audiences might not have bought as much of it, but the Pink Floyd would have done all right.

    Heck, I don't even like the lens through which most Americans view Pink Floyd, so all the better.
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  14. Spacement Monitor

    Spacement Monitor Forum Resident

    His slide guitar on "Remember a Day" still gives me chills.
  15. Glenn Christense

    Glenn Christense Foremost Beatles expert... on my block

    Many, but not everyone.:D
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  16. LOVE Syd's playing.

    His work on Piper is truly without peer and his interplay with Rick's keyboards borders on telepathic.
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  17. wildroot indigo

    wildroot indigo Forum Resident

    I find Barrett's playing relatively melodic for a rock guitarist... It seems to express more about the music at hand, than it does about his identity as a musician. One instance of that would be Remember a Day, already mentioned.

    Sometimes an odd technique like using a plastic ruler as a slide on See Emily Play would give him a unique sound. He wasn't really a "guitar hero" type of performer, but there are some incredible live improvisations documented from 1967, and even toward the end he'd still pull off something like the one-take backwards lead on Dominoes.

    For me, one of the most impressive examples of his playing is Apples and Oranges: the whole song, especially in stereo. I haven't heard anybody else play like that.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
  18. Cassiel

    Cassiel Sonic Reducer

    NYC, USA
    I think the AMM influence is a bit overstated, although the bands shared bills in London at the time and Barrett expressed his admiration for the band's sonic adventurousness (AMM pioneered use of their instruments and, actually, any objects they felt like incorporating, purely for their sonic qualities, without attempting to replicate how these instruments were customarily used). Keith Rowe of AMM used his guitar in a purely atonal sense, detuning it and manipulating it with other objects, and playing it laid flat on a tabletop. You can see Barrett do the same in that "Nick's Boogie" footage from 60's Floyd; he uses a plastic ruler as a slide on "See Emily Play," as wildroot indigo notes; the radio noises in "Astronomy Domine" may have been a nod to AMM (who used shortwave in their performances); definitely the abstraction of the middle section of "Interstellar Overdrive" seems to be on a similar wavelength with AMM's improvisations.
    Chris M likes this.
  19. Jose Jones

    Jose Jones Outstanding Forum Member

    Detroit, Michigan
    Syd was a pioneer in using effects with the guitar, like the Binson echo unit, combined with creative slide techniques like using a Zippo lighter, ball bearings, metal rods, on the guitar strings and doing much of it live, not just as a studio effect.
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  20. rockledge

    rockledge Forum Resident

    right here
    I think it important to note that this really is a tough call to make, simply because DGs very identifiable guitar style became such a huge part of the PF thumbprint. It is very tough to try to imagine PF without that sound.
    That DG is such a guitar monster makes it really tough to imagine how SB would have developed as a guitarist and how that would have fit into PFs future.
    Had a different guitarist stepped into the void and PF not done so well we would be saying "damn, that obscure band PF sure could have become something had SB stuck around.
    As it stands, we simply cannot say that.
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  21. BadJack

    BadJack doorman who always high-fives children of divorce

    Boston, MA
    On a purely technical level, he seems to be a good rhythm guitarist with a Steve Cropper influence. However, he was able to use unorthodox or "wrong" methods, along with electronic effects, to create a pretty impressive noise. In that sense, I'd say that his spiritual successor would possibly be someone like The Edge more so than Cobain, but I don't think I've ever heard Edge mention a Syd influence.
  22. dsky

    dsky Little Blue Light

    Yeah, that's a beauty. Guitarheads and classic rock fiends always cite Gilmour's solos on "Time" or "Comfortably Numb" as evidence of his genius and preeminent axe wielding status. To be honest, I struggle to remember much about either of them but I can always recall the sublime work of Syd on "Dominoes".
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  23. wildroot indigo

    wildroot indigo Forum Resident

    I think Syd's legacy as a guitarist has largely to do with the foundation of Pink Floyd's instrumental style: space within the music, improvisation, and a complementary relationship between guitar and keyboards.

    It sounds evident on Interstellar Overdrive, Nick's Boogie, Astronomy Dominé, and live recordings from 1967... Interstellar would stay an encore until late 1970, Astronomy a show opener until mid-1971, and Nick's Boogie became A Saucerful Of Secrets, played until late 1972.

    These comments from Wright are revealing:

    "It was great when Syd joined [in late 1964]. Before him we'd play the R&B classics, because that's what all groups were supposed to do then... With Syd the direction changed, it became more improvised around the guitar and keyboards." (MOJO, May 1994)

    "He would do things on the guitar that no one had ever dreamed of doing, which influenced me. So that made me do things on the keyboards that I wouldn't, that people hadn't done before. Technically, no, not so brilliant, but for me all the technique is not important: it's the originality, and he was one of the originals." (Which One's Pink? - The Pink Floyd Story documentary, 2007)
  24. DCW

    DCW been a-boogeyin' since I ditched the stroller.

    That's it in a nutshell!! Brilliant!

    That solo on "Dominoes" is a spine-tingle, too.

    David Gilmour can follow the melody very well, and has beautiful phrasing . . . all of which makes him absolutely the wrong choice for the guitarist role in Pink Floyd.
    dsky likes this.
  25. revolution_vanderbilt

    revolution_vanderbilt Forum Resident

    New York
    To be fair, I think Gilmour's solo in Time is one of the greatest solos ever put on record.
    PhoffiFozz likes this.
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