Syd BarrettGuitarist Syd Barrett helped found the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd. After a mental break forced his departure, he spent 30 years as a painter and recluse.
Who Was Syd Barrett?Guitarist Syd Barrett took to music at an early age. While in London for college, he joined the band that would become Pink Floyd as the guitarist and wrote many of their early songs. He soon became erratic and was forced to leave the band. After a brief solo career, he quit music and moved in with his mother where he painted and seldom spoke to others.
Early LifeRoger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was born in Cambridge, England on January 6, 1946. Barrett was the fourth of five children born to Max and Winifred Barrett, who encouraged his interest in music. He played the piano, ukulele, banjo and guitar as a kid. He also spent time writing and drawing, and he won awards for his poetry in high school.
Several stories exist as to how Barrett acquired his nickname, "Syd." Some sources say that he was given the nickname around the age of 14 and that it refers to a local bass player named Sid Barrett. Others say he was given the nickname as a kid at scout camp.
As a teenager, Barrett formed a band, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes. In 1962, the band broke up, and Barrett began playing Beatles covers at parties and picnics. The following year, he began writing his own songs. In 1964, he moved to London to study painting at the Camberwell College of Arts.
Pink FloydBarrett knew Roger Waters from his school days in Cambridge, and he reconnected with him when he moved to London. Waters had formed a band with Richard Wright and Nick Mason—first called The Sigma 6, and later The Tea Set— and when one of the members left, Barrett joined. The band went through additional member and name changes, but in the summer of 1965, they began using the name Pink Floyd, a homage to two U.S. blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Later that year, the band took to the studio for the first time, recording Beatles covers along with three of Barrett's songs: "Double O Bo," "Butterfly" and "Lucy Leave." Barrett also had his first acid trip.
In 1966, Pink Floyd found a management team and transitioned to being a full-time band, and in 1967 the band recorded and released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. However, by the middle of that year, Barrett's behavior became more unusual, and many attributed it to a psychotic break induced by LSD. In one concert he slowly detuned his guitar on stage; in others, he strummed one chord the entire show or didn't play at all. In television appearances, he gave one-word answers to interviewers' questions or simply stared blankly and remained mute. During their 1967 tour with Jimi Hendrix, the band had to bring in a substitute guitarist when Barrett didn't show up or couldn't perform, and by the end of the year, they hired David Gilmour as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett. On April 6, 1968, Pink Floyd announced that Barrett was no longer a member of the band.
Pink Floyd later sang a number of tributes to Barrett, including "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," a nine-part composition recorded on their Wish You Were Here album.
Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd
Later CareerAfter leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett released two albums, both in 1970, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, but he played only one concert between 1968 and 1972. In 1972, he joined with Twink and Jack Monck as The Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band, which backed a few visiting musicians in concert. The trio then formed the short-lived band Stars. In 1988, EMI Records released the album Opel, which included previously unreleased music that Barrett had recorded from 1968 to 1970.
In 1996, Barrett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a founding member of Pink Floyd, but he did not attend the ceremony. Additionally, a number of box sets, compilations and re-issues have been released over the years.
Personal Life and DeathIn 1978, Barrett moved in with his mother in Cambridge, and returned to painting. He also began to garden. He stayed out of the limelight, became annoyed when paparazzi snapped his picture and kept to himself, interacting mostly with his sister, Rosemary. Although he was hospitalized briefly, he was never officially diagnosed with a mental illness or medicated.
Barrett died of pancreatic cancer on July 7, 2006, at the age of 60, in Cambridge, England.