Sidney Barnes: The Rotary Rockstar Renaissance Connection! 

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

What do 45’s, albums, cassette tapes, CD’s and downloads all have in common? Sidney Barnes’ career has played through the speakers of all those sonic platforms over the years; creating a timeless score to various eras. His vocals are engraved in many of your favorite songs. His production had clubs, house parties and concerts dancing. His words are unforgettable poetic energy. His work behind the scenes has given birth to many shifts in the music industry. His music has filtered down to a new generation between the doorway of Hip-Hop and the portal of non-stop creative offerings. Sidney Barnes is the bridge between many historical musical moments and cultural movements. From his first song in the 1960’s to the Rotary Connection, to his latest music entering 2022 unto his soul’s reflection, I am extremely honored to share this interview I conducted with the legendary Sidney Barnes. 

Samantha Hollins: Where are you from? How did your hometown, culture and family dynamic give you your creative foundation?

Sidney Barnes: I was born in a small, coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia in the 1940’s. My mother was a fine Southern lady and the daughter of a Baptist minister. She loved music and art. Dad was an uneducated laboror and coal mine worker. I was their only child and we had a very close family. I first fell in love with the Country music & BlueGrass music that I heard on the radio, and that good old Gospel music I heard at church where my mom was the choir director.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Normally one of the first questions I ask is “When was the first time you fell in love with Rock-n-Roll”, but listening to your earlier songs such as “Wait My Love” and “Adios, My Love”, you were at the beginning of early Rock-n-Roll. So instead I will ask you about that journey. When you moved to Newark, NJ to record your first record with Gemini Records, what was that process like? Was that your first time in a recording studio? Who were those gorgeous voices who sang on “Wait My Love”?

Sidney Barnes: One of my biggest personal claim-to-fame stories is after moving from West Virginia to Virginia, we moved to Washington DC. There I started hearing more Rhythm & Blues, Doo Wop and Rock ‘n Roll on the radio and I was immediately hooked. I convinced my parents to move to New Jersey so that I could be closer to the New York Music scene. So we moved to Newark, New Jersey and I began to search for people who could help me further my musical career. I finally met a guy who was starting a small independent record label in Newark called Gemini Records and he signed me as his first artist. He took me to a tiny New York recording studio; my very first time in a recording studio…and I recorded a song a lady named Jean Banks had written called “Wait”…along with the first song I’d ever written called “I’m Satisfied”. Jean and a couple of her singing friends sang back up for me on it. The song turned out to be a local and regional hit. And I was on my way. By the way I got credits on “Adios, My Love” as a writer. I did very little as a writer on that song. My good friend Tim Wilson actually wrote the whole song. I just inspired the development and growth of the song.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Learning that over 150 recordings/projects are adorned by either your singing, songwriter, musicianship, production and even jingles and hip-hop samples is mind blowing. What a prolific legacy. Is there anything you haven’t done that you would add to this extraordinary resume at this stage in your life? Any new school artist, producers or songwriters you would like to work with?

Sidney Barnes: I don’t care. I’ll write and record with anybody. I love to do it so much they wouldn’t even have to pay me to do it. But I gotta earn money somehow. I love it so much I’ve worked for free many times. The category I’m in, that I’m the most proudest of is: In 1969 I wrote, recorded, and produced a very cheap radio jingle for a local Chicago friend who had started his own little ad. agency, and his first account was to create a jingle for a local furniture store called Ember Furniture. It was located on the West Side of Chicago; just a small Mom and Pop business. Trouble was he didn’t have but $500 to do it with. At the time I was touring with Rotary (Connection) and creating jingles for major Chicago ad. companies that were paying me top dollar to create jingles for them. But because this guy was a struggling Black guy, I did it for him. I wrote it, produced it and sang it…and got a few of my young buddies to assist me on backup vocals.The jingle became very popular on WVON; a local Chicago radio station. Then because of popular demand I was asked to make the 60 second jingle into a 45 RPM record so that the store could press out records and give the single away to customers who bought items from the store. And my friend ended up creating a multi-million ad. agency from it. The jingle is still popular. It’s called “Ember Is Forever” (“The Ember Song”) and is featured on YouTube. It created an international following with music collectors around the world, and is part of a CD compilation currently on the world market. Quite an accomplishment. 

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: The Rotary Connection set a huge sonic presence in Rock-n-Roll history. How did such a profound group of musicians and singers come together?What was the overall musical message?

Sidney Barnes: That’s such a long and complicated story. We really haven’t got the time to go into it here, but there were actually two Rotary Connections. There was the recording group of musicians and singers, then there was the performing group of musicians and singers.  Rotary Connection was a freak of nature, and a very intriguing story. We were one of the first integrated Psychedelic Rock Bands in history.  Our female lead singer, Minnie Riperton, had a voice like no other and should be in The Guinness Book of World Records. And me, the lead male singer, was the only real experienced member of the group. Our musical arranger, Charles Stepney, was a musical genius…and our producer was the son of the record label owner. We influenced people like Elton John, Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire and many others. We helped to change music in a very good way.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Your song, “I Remember Minnie”, on your album “Peace, Love, Sex, Wars & Video Games” mezmorize me deeply. Your lyrics are extremely vivid and delicately wrapped in warm beauty celebrating such a beautiful connection between you both. What was it like being the low vocal roots to Minnie Rippington’s high vocal frequency?

Sidney Barnes: Minnie was a freak of Nature. When I first met her in Chicago at Chess Records she was 18 and pregnant and working at Chess as a staff studio session singer, with very little performing experience but a lot of recording experience…and she was classically trained to be an opera singer. We developed a very deep friendship and working relationship. Since I was the most experienced one of the two I had to teach her how to perform and got great glee from watching her grow from a nobody to a Diva, and on to a million selling recording artist. We also became very close to each other’s families. We were, by the way, the only two Black people in the Rotary Connection live performing group. Minnie was very special. The group lasted for only 3 yrs.

Samantha Hollins: You’ve shared the stages with the likes of B.B. King, The Rolling Stones, Sly and The Family Stone, Led Zeppelin and more. What were those concert days like compared to now? 

Sidney Barnes: Long before Rotary I had traveled; performing on the legendary all Black Chitterling Circuit with several major Rhythm & Blues recording stars of the 50’s and early 60’s. With Rotary Connection I found myself still performing with some of those same Black stars but now it was performing with mostly all White acts. Rotary Connection was considered a White performing act since there were only two Blacks in the group, which were me & Minnie our band on the road was all White. The places we performed at with Rotary were larger and we were paid a lot more. By (the late 60’s) the audiences we played to were mostly all White. Nowadays Rock ‘n Roll audiences are mixed. Back in the early 60’s Black acts were lucky if they traveled for miles to perform and were paid anything at all by the promoters. We (Rotary) usually played open air festivals and large concert halls. And we traveled in limos and planes, and had our own road manager; had equipment roadies and an equipment truck. We were big time Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty back then; opening shows for Janis (Joplin) & The Stones. WOW!!

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Listening to your song lyrics past and present are like hearing the most engaging poetry over melodic energy. Where does a song begin for you?

Sidney Barnes: Most of the time I’ll just hear a melody in my head. Sometimes I’ll just hear a few bars of a melody and I’ll suddenly hear the whole song in my head. It all depends. Words seem to come naturally to me. I love poetry and well written lyrics. I admire people who write great stories and great catchy lyrics. I learned so much about song writing from being at Motown and working around some of the other great songwriters I first met while working in New York.   

Samantha Hollins: Songwriting can be such a personal experience. You have written for/with so many legends including Muddy Waters, The Supremes, Parliament/Funkadelic, The Jackson 5, Minnie Riperton and so many more. When approaching a song for someone else is the process different from writing for yourself?

Sidney Barnes: Usually I don’t write songs for a specific person, except for when I was asked to write a song for  Muddy Waters, Rotary connection, Ramsey Lewis, Parliament/Funkadelic, and a few other artists. Mostly I’ll write a song and whoever hears it and wants to record it can. Every once in a while, maybe years ago I’d do that, but usually I just write songs. 

Samantha Hollins: Your story is so extraordinary. You went from being an artist to writing, producing, and being a talent scout for Motown Records. Did that transition add to how you approached your own artistry and conducted your business?

Sidney Barnes: Oh yes. Having experience in several areas of something you like to do, and/or dealing with usually always makes your efforts much better dealing with any related situation. That goes for anything you love to do. In other words if you desire to become a serious chef or cook, you should also know how dishes are washed, which pans to cook what with, how long to cook that steak before it’s burned. In other words you should know and experience all the areas related to whatever your life’s work is. So you’ll know what to do and what not to do, and how to do it better. And always try to learn those areas from the best. Be inspired and get involved and experience the full efforts of whatever it is you’re creating.

Samantha Hollins: Listening to your project “Living In A Digital World” definitely gave the best of nostalgia with a modern day sound. How did it feel adapting to the digital world coming from an analog world?  

Sidney Barnes: I love and appreciate working with all the new tech stuff. I’m doing most of my current song writing on my computer. Keyboard Musicians from all over the word are sending me some great instrumental tracks that they’ve recorded in their home studios. Most of the songs on all my new albums were done like that. Thanks to the internet for that pleasure. They send me several tracks and I write songs to the ones that touch me. I’m doing a lot of stuff with guys in India, Seria, and Australia,  as well as with producers/musicians here in the States. Then I sing all the vocals on the tracks; background and lead because I got nobody else to do them and I’ve ended up with so many untill I’m releasing them in album form. I’m not really trying to be an artist right now but I’ve got to do something with all these songs that I think are all great songs.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Having the opportunity to listen to your new music before it’s released was such a privilege. You sing phenomenally in any genre. I love that you are releasing a Jazz Standard album and Rhythm and Blues album.

Your song “I Love Rhythm and Blues (co-written with Mr. Otis Blackwell writer of “Great Balls Of Fire” & “All Shook Up”), is so necessary. It brings R&B back to its original roots. Was that a conscious decision to do that?

Sidney Barnes: I loved working with Otis. He was like a teacher and a friend, his songs “Great Balls Of Fire & All Shook Up”, were two of the songs that inspired me to become a songwriter. And I also worked directly with other legendary songwriters like Leiber & Stroll who also wrote songs like “Hound Dog” and other great Rock & Roll hits. And of course while at Motown I got a chance to learn from Berry Gordy, Smokey, and Holland Dozier Holland. Man it’s been like I went to songwriting college. I feel so blessed. It was all so much fun; so many great memories. And I just love good old R&B music that is our roots. Then I remembered that Otis and I had co-written this song that we never finished and it would be so cool to finished it and release it. So I decided to finish it and it sounds great. Feels great, too. It’s a fun song.

Samantha Hollins: Your voice is smooth like velvet and still fine as wine from then ‘til now. Do you have any rituals you do to preserve your gift as a vocalist?

Sidney Barnes: No, I’m just blessed to be able to do that. I was born with that ability. I had the chance to be a professional Vegas-style crooner but I’d rather be funky and innovative. But now that I’m older I’m glad I can croon and do standard songs that so many people love. It paid off big time when Deniece Williams hired me to go on tour with her and do the Johnny Mathis part to their big hit “Too Much Too Little Too Late”. The song was a huge hit for them but she wasn’t able to afford taking Johnny on the road with her so she hired the next best thing. She hired me and it was a great success, especially since I had sang back up with her and Maurice White on her big hit album, “This is Neicy”, as well as on her international hit single from the album “Free”. And yes, I sometimes do, do a few vocal exercises to warm up, and I smoke way too many cigarettes but I’ve actually never had a problem with my voice.

Samantha Hollins: When you choose Jazz Standards, what is that process like? Do the songs have to relate to your life’s journey? “Where Do I Begin?” made me wonder how close is that narrative to your personal story?

Sidney Barnes: Those Jazz tracks without the vocals are some of the prettiest instrumental tracks I’ve ever heard and the players are all masters. When I was offered the chance to be the vocalist on these tracks there was no way I was going to turn them down. Plus I had grown up hearing and loving these songs. I even sang “Unforgettable” to my wife at our wedding. She encouraged me strongly to do this album and I’m so glad that I did. Not too many old Rock ‘n’ Rollers like me can still sound this good, especially at my age. But again, I’m blessed…and yes “Where Do I Begin” is sort of personal to me after losing my wife last year. She was an amazing lady. We had been married for almost 20 years…but, like I said, I’m blessed.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: Your history with George Clinton goes way back and forward. How does the vibe flow when you two get together and make creative noise?

Sidney Barnes: George and I not only have a great deal of love and respect for each other, we’re close in age with the same kind of background and we’re both visionaries…and we got some serious history together. So that alone makes it always a pleasure to work together. Outside of Mike Terry of the Funk Brothers, I’m the only person to have had a production company with George and have a hit record with him outside of Parliament-Funkadelic. “I Bet You”, a song which Parliament recorded and then Jackson 5 and several other artists recorded it. I’ve sung on several of George’s albums with him and the crew. I’ve even got a song we recorded together on one of my new albums called “A P-Funk Fairy Tale” and he’s featured on it. I love working with George but sad that we haven’t done it in a while. 

Samantha Hollins: Your career spans over many years and music industry changes, yet you manage to keep growing with the flow. What next? What is the evolution of your legacy?

Sidney Barnes: Well I want to get as many of my original songs out, even the ones in demo form, so that if something happens to me the songs aren’t just laying around somewhere collecting dust. I want my family and some charity to receive a portion of the royalties which over the years could amount to millions of dollars. I’m currently working with an attorney to help me set up a major Music Publishing Administration deal for my catalogue, and so far that seems like it’s going to happen really soon. I want to be nominated for a Grammy in two categories: “BEST Male Jazz Vocals”& “BEST Urban Contemporary R&B album”. I don’t want to win; just be nominated. I want to do some small tours, and some shows overseas where I have a sizable following of fans on the Northern Soul scene in the UK. I’m creating a movie related to the music business in 1954; sort of a docudrama called “Rhythm & Blues (the movie)”, and get with George Clinton to create a killer soundtrack. And continue to sell my 500+ page autobiography “Standing On Solid Ground”. Then hire a really good publicist to advertise myself and go around talking to people that need encouragement and help as many people as I can to find their strengths, follow their dreams, and set goals for themselves and stuff like that. That’s how I want to be remembered: that Sidney Barnes loved to spread love through music and through his life experience words of wisdom…and how we all are blessed.

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

Samantha Hollins: As a Rock ‘n’ Roll Artist in this day and age I am intrigued by your history. You opened many doors for artists like myself to continue the journey. Thank you so much!

I appreciate your time and all that you have done to contribute to the landscape of music worldwide past present and future. You are a national treasure that I celebrate with this interview.

Sidney Barnes: Thank you. I always enjoy talking about the good old days and about my journey. Peace & love to the world and continue to share your creativity with others. That inspires them.

Sidney Barnes’ first single, “Love Song: On The Radio” will be released on the international record label BarVada. It’s a groovin’ odyssey into the land of Funk and Dance music with clever upbeat lyrics that tells a story of the greatest love songs. Sidney Barnes’ voice glides over the track with smooth surrender, giving us once again another classic love song. 

The Universe has truly given us a bonafide Rockstar in Sidney Barnes. His creative energy transcends all space and timeless music. May we continue to honor his legacy right now from the Moon to the Earth…past, present and future…for all he’s undeniably worth. 

Photos courtesy of Sidney Barnes 

If you enjoyed this creative offering you can contribute $10 to keep content like this flowing. We are constantly traveling to the next story For The Culture! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s