Roger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was born in Cambridge, England on January 6, 1946. Barrett was the third 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.
Barrett 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.
However, with his success came increasing pressure and stress. This along with his experimentation with drugs caused his behavior to become more and more unpredictable. During shows, Barrett would be seen strumming only one chord through the entire concert, or simply not playing at all. Eventually his band mates grew tired of his erratic behavior and in March of 1968 it was officially announced that he was no longer a member of Pink Floyd.
After leaving the band, Barrett had a brief solo career during which he released two albums, “The Madcap Laughs” and “Barrett.” Soon after, Barrett distanced himself from the public eye and withdrew from the music industry.
He retreated to his late mother’s home in Cambridge where he lived by himself. He took back up his original art-form of painting and was also said to have been an avid gardener. Barrett spent the last of his days here, out of the public eye as much as possible. He passed away on July 7, 2006. Although his death was usually reported as a result of “complications from diabetes”, it was in fact due to pancreatic cancer.
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