Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd
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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Syd Barrett Guitar Playing Legacy

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
It is my belief that Syd Barrett's initial rise to fame, and lasting contribution to music, was through his innovative and technically advanced guitar playing. While Hendrix was still wood shedding in NYC as an unknown, Syd was exploring inner-space with his guitar, EchoRec and slide rig. In my opinion, before this, guitar playing was relegated to playing-the-notes. With the guitar, EchoRec and slide introduced by Syd, no longer was the guitar constrained by mere "notes"; it had been turned into a sound synthesization device.

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
The signature Pink Floyd Song at the time, and for years afterward, was Interstellar Overdrive. Wikipedia says Interstellar Overdrive was one of very first psychedelic instrumental improvisations recorded by a rock band. It also set the tone of Pink Floyd as a "space rock" band. This song, and Astronomy Domine, gave Barrett the full room to "freakout" with his guitar rig. I find it odd that people are quoted as saying Syd was a very "innovative" guitar player but not a very "technical" one. In my opinion, Syd sits at the apex of technical ability, at the time, with his revolutionary guitar rig and grasp on how to effectively use it. 

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
Then came the novelty song - Arnold Layne which became a hit. Next was See Emily Play which sports one of Syd's most amazing guitar breaks on recording. After that was the breakdown; whether is be from an LSD overdose or mental illness is not going to be examined here. After the breakdown, Syd's guitar playing changed. Gone were the flights of inner space fancy to be replaced by a more primitive, and crunchy, chord playing.

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
For the 1969 "comeback", I think that it was a matter of trying to make something out of the shattered remains of the career. They got him to hammer out songs that he had on an acoustic and then brought in musicians to fill in music around it. They scoured old notebooks and had him record "new" bits of song from them Oddly enough, they chose to ignore the complete songs from 1968 that were in the can. But none of these songs on the solo albums focused on Syd Barrett the Electric Guitar God. In fact, much of the guitar work on these albums is by David Gilmour.

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
From 1970 - 1972, it was attempted to get him playing live again. The few recordings from these attempts reveal that his guitar playing had deteriorated badly. There was no innovative use of the  guitar, EchoRec and slide rig. This was replaced by a very primitive, and heavy, chord-type playing. On the Last Put Together Boogie Band recording, it is my belief that much of the playing attributed to Syd is actually Fred Frith. On the few parts that I am pretty sure it is Syd, it sounds like he is monkeying around with the guitar playing sounds that have zero to do with the music being played by the band at hand. It's as if he had lost control of being able to integrate the sounds into some form of music.

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
I think this is the primary reason that he withdrew from the public; his mental illness made it impossible for him to summon the concentration needed to play the guitar like he was known for doing. Also, the desire to do so seems to have left him. Those are two huge hurdles to overcome; not being able to coupled with not even wanting to anymore.

Syd Barrett Guitar
Syd Barrett Guitar
Had Syd not gotten ill? I think things would have been very different. He was already beginning to experiment with two EchoRecs hooked into each other. This would have expanded his palate of sounds exponentially. More guitar devices and tricks were just over the horizon. For sure, I think that a young Robert Fripp was paying close attention to Syd Barrett guitar playing.
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