Tell us about the early years of Sidney Barnes?
Well I was born in West Virginia in 1941, and being black during that time (40’s & 50’s)in the South created certain complications . And growing up in that environment instead of making me bitter, it made me understand and appreciate people more, as strange as that sounds. In some instances white people treated me personally better sometimes than many people of my own race did, go figure. Any way I discovered that when I sang, people smiled and it made them feel good no matter what race they were, so I worked hard on developing that talent, and it opened up a whole new world to me, and for me. Then I decided to pursue a career doing it and I’m glad to say that my parents backed me 100%, which made my struggle easier.
According to your website you knocked on the door of a new record label in town called Motown, whilst the desk and the furniture were arriving! What was it like working for this legendary label?
We moved from Roanoke Virginia to Washington DC in the early 50’s as I was just becoming of age and it was there that I discovered Rhythm n Blues, Doo Wop, & Rock n Roll. While living in DC, I put together several Doo Wop singing groups, and at one time or another I had future stars like Marvin Gaye, Van McCoy, and Herb (of Peaches & Herb fame) in my group. At first I named my groups the Tear Drops, later changing it to the Embracers.. When my family moved to New Jersey in 1960 (so that I could be closer to New York and all the action), I began to hang around where all the creative action was in New York and got discovered by a guy named Teddy Vann who recorded one of the first songs I’d ever written “Over There”, on a girls group called The Bobbetts. Months later a guy living in Newark New Jersey signed me to cut a record on his independent record label called Gemini Records, the record was titled “ Wait”, and that was the first record I ever recorded as a solo artist..In ’62 I formed a singing group we called The Serenades with New Jersey guys George Kerr , Tim Wilson, and Howard Curry. We were a very good singing group with good original material, so when Motown opened up a New York office I made sure that I would secure an audition with them, and I did, and Berry Gordy himself heard that audition and signed us on the spot. Berry ended up co- producing our first record for the company. Weeks later George Kerr and I were signed to the label & the music publishing company as producers, talent scouts, artist, & song writer. It was a great learning experience working around all those early Motown stars, and Berry Gordy was a great educator and music man. We added over 100 songs to the Motown Jobete Music publishing company, and helped bring in our New Jersey buddy George Clinton, and other young acts that went on to find success in the music business.
You’re friends with George Clinton. You must have some interesting tales about him!
I’ve got hundreds of George Clinton stories, so I wouldn’t know where to start. I’ll just say that we are like brothers, and I have so much respect for him and his talent. We’ve co-written and co-produced a few songs together, I’ve sung on several of his albums, and appeared with him on stage. I’m currently working with him now at his Tallahassee Florida studio on a couple of his new albums..
You released a lot of singles in the early 60’s. How successful were these and what was it like recording at that time for an artist?
I only had a few songs released on myself as an artist or as a group member during the early and mid 60’s. “If Your Heart Says Yes” by The Serenades on Motown & V.I.P. Records, “Wait” (as I mentioned), “I Hurt On The Other Side” , “Switchy Walk”, I’m Satisfied”, & “You’ll Always Be In Style” on myself on Red Bird & Blue Cat Records, “Shindig “ and “New York City” on Blues Tone Records. These were mostly co-written with my buddy J.J. Jackson. These were good songs, but it was very hard then to get good air play or great gigs, especially if you didn’t have a hit record, but I did my share of live appearances on shows with some legendary artist. In 1965 I sang and toured with the legendary group The Fiestas (of “So Fine” fame). J.J. Jackson and I also wrote a lot of RnB songs that charted that were on various record labels during that time including songs on The Shangri la’s, Mary Wells, and a lot of other acts. In 66 I teamed up with George Clinton and we wrote and produced records on other artist for Golden World Records in Detroit.. In 1967 while signed to Chess Records in Chicago, I helped to organize an R’n’ B/Rock ‘n Roll group, with the late great Minnie Ripperton, called Rotary Connection. Minnie & I sang lead for the group and we played many of the 60’s Rock festivals with Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, and many others. We had several singles released from the five albums we released. It was great fun being an artist during the 60’s, I learned a whole lot from that experience.
You wrote for some really important acts in the early 60’s including the Shangri La’s, Mary Wells, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the list goes on…do you have any tales you would be willing to share with us from those times?
Sorry no tales to tell, all I can say is that it was all such great fun and a learning experience. Any way the stories are long and you can read more about them in my autobiography I just released entitled “Standing On Solid Ground” that I’m selling from my web site, the title is taken from the title of a hit Northern Soul record I had out in 2008. I also co-wrote a song with George Clinton that the Jackson 5, and other artist recorded called “I’ll Bet You”, we also co-wrote “Can’t Shake It Loose” that the Supremes recorded for Motown.
Is it true you were going to be the original lead singer for Earth, Wind and Fire?
Maurice White who put EW&F together, asked me several times to be lead vocalist of the group when they were first formed because he didn’t consider himself a singer, he wanted to just play drums because that’s what he did, I talked him into singing the lead himself. Maurice got his original idea for E,W&F after he saw Rotary Connection perform live. We were both on Chess Records at the time; he was the drummer for The Ramsey Lewis Jazz trio at the time.
As you know Discomusic.com’s primary audience consists of disco, funk and dance music fans. I’m sure we would all be thrilled to hear how you came to be involved with the exhilirating “Love And Desire” by Arpeggio in 1978. Simon Soussan, the producer, has seemed to disappear from the face of the Earth; did you have much to do with him?
Simon found me in L.A while I was recording the “Footstomping Music” album, and knew about my notoriety as a singer on the Northern Soul scene. He was recording disco tracks for Polydor Records and asked me to write and sing on a track for a group concept he had he was calling Arpeggio. So I wrote “Love & Desire” and sang the lead on it with a talented young lady named Mona Lisa Young, and it came out as “Love & Desire by Arpeggio. Since I was signed to a label already he couldn’t sign me, so it was a job for hire. When the record came out it became a big disco hit, and Simon disappeared, owing me and several other artists, who never got paid.
Tell us about “Footstompin Music” and how you came to be involved with Parachute Records and Casablanca Records?
I was in LA singing back up on a Parliament album (“Up For The Down Stroke”)for Casablanca Records, Russ Regan heard me an ask me to sign with his Parachute Record label as an artist and gave me a budget, and I cut “Foot stomping Music”.
“Get On Up And Dance To The Boogie (Or The Boogie Man Will Get Cha”) besides being possibly one of the longest titles for a song, got released on a 12” record. What was your experience of the disco era like and why do you think it crashed so hard?
“Dance To The Boogie” was originally titled “Aquarius” but that didn’t work out so we changed the titled. I personally liked disco, it was great dancing music and disco diva Gloria Gaynor and I were very close at the time. Personally I think that the powers that be were against it because they saw how people were becoming united behind it, dancing together and mingling inter-racially, and they also felt that it was promoting to much bi-sexual freedom, so they squashed it. It was all political. I’m glad to say that Disco music is still alive, through Dance & Club Music which I love. It’s happy music, good dancing music, and it makes people feel good.
You also recorded a song for the disco/ vampire movie “Love At First Bite” which is a guilty pleasure for many fans of 70’s horror and disco. What did you think of the film?
It was alright, the song was on the album but they didn’t include it in the movie, just the track with out the vocals. I didn’t write it so I didn’t really care, another work for hire that I never got paid much for.
Did you work with Eddie Kendricks and if so can you tell us how that came about?
When my group The Serenades were recording our session for Motown, Eddie came into the studio and sang a part on one of our songs. Later Eddie recorded a song I’d co-written wit Greg Perry. I also did several shows that featured the Temptations when I was with The Feista’s in the mid-60’s. So I knew them well.
You wrote the classic track “How’s Your Love Life Baby” for Jackie Moore. What was it like working with her?
I originally co-wrote the song with Greg Perry who recorded it first, Greg and I were very close friend and wrote several songs together. I didn’t know Jackie had recorded it until way after the fact, so I never met her.
You have had an amazing career. What does 2014 hold for Sidney Barnes?
Like I said I’m working with my buddy George Clinton on a couple of great album projects that’ll be released soon, I have a new Northern Soul vinyl & CD out that I recorded in Austria called “The Best Thing That Ever happened”, and I’ve got a new CD being released soon called “People Come On”, that I recorded with an Australian DJ producer named Paul “ Bluewolf” Patterson. It’s an RnB/House music recording, and I’m expecting it to be a big record for me. After the release of “People Come On”, I’ll release at least two songs a month on my own label.. I also plan on doing more shows to promote these and other singles, including doing more shows abroad where I already have a modest fan base with the Northern Soul crowd.
Thank you for talking to us Sidney
Thank you for showing an interest in me & my music, I’m very proud that I’ve help to keep a lot of people dancing.
Sidney Barnes‘ website is: www.sidneybarnes.net
(originally published on Discomusic.com 9/Mar/14 http://www.discomusic.com/forums/showthread.php/45594-Interview-with-Sidney-Barnes?highlight=sidney+barnes))