Among the 10 guitarists who departed classic bands before the fame, the first who comes to mind is the legendary Syd Barrett. Aside from being one of the founders of Pink Floyd, there was more to this man than met the eye. His bandmates knew it, as did the fans who were fortunate enough to hear him play and sing before he became a victim of circumstances that were beyond his control. As we go over the list of guitarists who could have been stars along with the bands they played with, we look into their accomplishments before, during, and after their run with legends such as Pink Floyd ran its course.
10 Guitarists Who Departed Before Their Bands Became Famous
#10 – John Curulewski – Styx
Before Styx got its name in 1972, John Curulewski was part of the 1969 lineup that featured three of his college buddies, Dennis DeYoung, Chuck Panozzo, and John Panozzo. At the time, these four referenced themselves as members of Tradewinds and Curulewski was the band’s guitarist and occasional lead vocalist. This was a name the band kept until 1965 when it was discovered another band was also called by the same name. It was first changed to T4W, an acronym for There Were 4. In 1970, the group became a five-man band with the addition of another guitarist, James J.Y. Young. This led to the need to come up with a new name as the men signed with Wooden Nickel Records. Styx won as a name that would stick as it was the only one the bandmates agreed they didn’t hate.
From 1972 until 1975, he was still part of the Styx lineup when it began to record albums in the quest to make a mainstream audience breakthrough as rock stars. During this timeframe, Styx recorded and released Styx in 1972, Styx II and The Serpent Is Rising in 1973, and Man of Miracles in 1974. As rock stars, Styx earned its fame in Chicago but with 1972’s “Best Thing” peaking only as high as number eighty-two on the US Billboard Hot 100, it hadn’t quite won over the mainstream audience just yet. “Lady” would be next as a hit in Chicago in 1974 before it served as Styx’s big breakthrough hit. However, the breakthrough didn’t happen until two years after Styx II was released.
On the US Billboard Hot 100, DeYoung’s signature ballad became a number-six hit. It also won over a global audience and the destiny of Styx as a world-class rock band that has won over the mainstream audience was set. However, by the time 1975 was over, Curulewski chose to spend more time with his family instead of pursuing a musical career that would keep him away from home so often. His replacement after his departure was Tommy Shaw.
Even though Curulewski didn’t stay with Styx, he didn’t give up his guitar as he was still a dedicated musician by heart. He opted for a career as a guitar teacher in Chicago. He also performed with local bands in the meantime. Unfortunately, he died of a brain aneurysm on February 13, 1988. The man was thirty-seven years old, living in Middleton, Illinois, with his wife and son at the time. His body was laid to rest at the St. Benedict Catholic Cemetary in Crestwood.
#9 – Henry Padovani – The Police
Henry Padovani was a French musician who was the original guitarist who was part of The Police’s rock group during the first half of 1977. When he left, he was replaced by Andy Summers, and the classic Police lineup was officially set in motion. As the trio act rose to become international rockstars, Padovani teamed up with Wayne County & the Electric Chairs as its rhythm guitarist. Soon afterward, he formed his own band, The Flying Padovanis. The inspiration for Padovani to embark on a musical career came from Jimi Hendrix.
The first band Padovani put together was Lupus as he teamed up with fellow schoolmates from the school he attended at the time, Aix-en-Provence in South France. In 1976, he moved to London, England, and was taken to watch a Curved Air punk concert. This led to Padovani meeting the band’s drummer, Stewart Copeland. The meeting led to Padovani’s interest to shave off his long hair and beard so he could adopt a certain look before auditioning for a punk band called London. However, this was short-lived as Padovani informed Copeland what his goals as a musician were. It gave the founder of the Police cause to recruit him as of January 1977.
The original lineup of Police featured Sting as the lead vocalist who also played bass guitar. Padovani was hired on to play lead guitar while Copeland played the drums and rhythm guitar. The trio released “Fall Out” as its first single in May with “Nothing Achieving” on the B-side. In 1979, it was released again and it became a number forty-seven hit on the UK Singles Chart. However, by this time, Padovani already moved on. As it turned out, Sting wasn’t overly fond of Padovani’s performance as the guitarist behind “Fall Out.” This brought in Andy Summers who would share the guitarist role with Padovani. The summer lineup of the Police performing as a four-man band was an awkward situation that led to Copeland asking Padovani to resign.
As fate had it, two months after Padovani was no longer a member of the Police, he teamed up with Wayne County & the Electric Chairs. At the time, Padovani’s new group was a more popular act than his former bandmates. The second half of 1977 witnessed the Police perform as the supporting act for Wayne County & the Electric Chairs with Padovani serving as his new group’s rhythm guitarist. He also debuted as a songwriter with Wayne County’s 1978 album, Storm the Gates of Heaven. “Cry of Angels” became one of his signature songs. In 1979, the group released its second and final album, Things Your Mother Never Told You. After this, Wayne County went one way and the Electric Chairs went another. Pavodani stayed with bassist Val Haller and drummer J.J. Johnson as the trio referred to themselves as The Electric Chairs. The role of lead vocalist before the band met with management issues that would lead to its disbandment.
However, Padovani, Haller, and Johnson continued to perform together, now as The Mystere Five’s. This 1980 creation featured these three men, as well as Chris Reeves as guitarist and Marc “Frenchie” Gloder as its lyricist and record producer. The Mystere Five’s four performers shared the role of lead vocalist, as well as songwriting credits, as a unit instead of individually. This group released two independent singles in 1980, “Shake Some Action” and “Never Say Thank You.”
Both were successful and received good reviews but by then, each man went his own way to embark on new projects. Padovani moved on to form The Flying Padovanis and released “Western Pasta” as a single in 1981. His group also had an EP, Font L’Enfer, and an album, They Call Them Crazy, before having it disbanded in 1987. After this, he worked with Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin for its 1988 recording of Copy Cats. It was also in 1988 that Stewart Copeland’s brother, Miles Copeland III, recruited Padovani to become the Vice President of IRS Records. It was a role he kept until 1994.
In 1998, Padovani picked up his guitar again before recording a solo album in 2007, A croire que c’etait pour la vie. The tracklist was sung in French, including “Welcome Home.” This song featured Stewart Copeland and Sting performing with him. It was the first time the original Police trio recorded music since “Fall Out.” It was also in 2007 that Padovani joined his former Police bandmates on September 29 in Paris as that was the last stop of its reunion tour. “Next to You” was performed as a four-man act with Sting, Copeland, Padovani, and Andy Summers sharing the stage. “Next to You” was a song from the Police’s debut album, 1978’s Outlandos d’Amour.
#8 – Bob Klose – Pink Floyd
Before earning his fame as a photographer, British-born Bob Klose grew up as the son of a Nazi German refugee who was also a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. He grew up and attended school in Cambridge, the very same Syd Barrett and Roger Waters also went to. Klose’s role as a lead guitarist began with Waters as the two performed in a band that specialized in R&B music. Performing with them at the time were Nick Mason as drummer and Richard Wright as rhythm guitarist. There were also two vocalists, Juliette Gale and Keith Noble, and a bass guitarist, Clive Metcalfe. At the time, this band was managed by Ken Chapman who also served as one of its earliest songwriters. This would be a lineup that would see Gale, Noble, and Metcalfe move on while Syd Barrett came in. Fans of Pink Floyd may recognize Juliette Gale as the woman who became the wife of Richard Wright.
The band’s new lineup of Barrett, Klose, Mason, and Waters repeated the same pattern as the previous roster did with a series of name changes before bounding between “Tea Set” and “Pink Floyd Sound.” The second of these two names was inspired by a pair of blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Ultimately, Pink Floyd became the name that would stick. As the band worked on coming up with its own unique identity as a name, it also worked on its musical repertoire. Klose was fond of blues and jazz while Barrett’s preferences were pop and psychedelia. Klose was also focused on completing his education so this led to his decision to leave Pink Floyd during the summer of 1965. Before leading, Klose played guitar for the recordings of “Lucy Leave” and “I’m a King Bee.” These songs wouldn’t be released until 2015 as 1965: Their First Recordings.
Klose moved on to become a photographer and printmaker. Despite taking on a career direction that made him famous in this regard, he continued to play music with his guitar. David Gilmour’s 2006 album, On an Island, had him as his guest musician. He did the same again with 2015’s Rattle That Lock. Klose also recorded music with Paul “Mudd” Murphy and the 2006 release of his album, Claremont 56. There was also 2006’s Junifip by Chico Hamilton. In 2007, he was a guest performer for the Smith & Mudd compilation album, Blue River.
#7 – Doug Hopkins – Gin Blossoms
Doug Hopkins co-founded Gin Blossoms in 1987 with Bill Leen, three years after he graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in sociology. As Gin Blossoms formed as a band, Hopkins was the lead guitarist while Leen was the bassist. When these two formed their first band in 1981, neither of them knew how to play the instruments but were determined enough to learn. In 1988, Hopkins and Leen recruited Jesse Valenzuela as second guitarist and Phillip Rhodes as drummer. Robin Wilson later joined the same year as the band’s lead vocalist. During the quest of Gin Blossoms to make a name for itself as a rock band, Hopkins was contending with chronic depression, a condition that had been plaguing him since he was a kid. This led to a battle with alcohol that would become his nemesis after the popularity of the Gin Blossoms won the attention of A&M Records.
At first, Hopkins was uncomfortable with the idea of signing up with a major record label as he knew this meant taking on certain responsibilities that would include creativity issues for Gin Blossoms as a band. This didn’t help his battle with alcoholism, as well as the unstable behavior pattern that goes with it. While he was able to record and release Dusted as the Gin Blossoms’ debut album in 1989, this wasn’t the case when recording 1992’s New Miserable Experience. The man’s behavior became more erratic than ever as his drinking problem became worse. The bandmates of Gin Blossoms at that time were not only concerned about Hopkins but the future it had with A&M. This led to the group kicking Hopkins out of the lineup and was replaced by Scott Johnson. In addition to forcing Hopkins out, Gin Blossoms held back some of his royalties until he agreed to hand over his mechanical royalties to Johnson. He only agreed to accommodate as his financial situation at the time was dire.
When Hopkins returned to Tempe, Arizona, he began another band, The Chimeras. He teamed up with Lawrence and Mark Zubia but quit shortly after the trio had a live performance that didn’t go so well. Without Hopkins, the Zubias changed the band’s name to The Pistoleros. Adding salt to the wound, the Gin Blossoms achieved mainstream success after the release of New Miserable Experience. The hits “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You,” and “Lost Horizons” were all penned by Hopkins. The Gin Blossoms credited him as such, as well as for “Hold Me Down.” Unfortunately for Hopkins, as the Gin Blossoms became more popular, he became more depressed. Despite earning a gold record for “Hey Jealousy,” he destroyed it two weeks after hanging it up on his wall. As of December 5, 1993, the battle between alcoholism and chronic depression resulted in a decision made by Hopkins to end his life by shooting himself.
#6 – Josh Brainard – Slipknot
Before becoming Slipknot, the group from Des Moines, Iowa, Jim Root’s Atomic Opera was the most popular heavy metal act in town. On December 1, 1991, Joey Jordison’s Modifidious opened for Root’s group at a popular club in Des Moines. Jordison lost his guitarist to Atomic Opera and replaced him with Craig Jones. During this time, a drummer named Shawn Crahan formed a metal group of his own, Heads on the Wall. There was also Vexx, a death metal band that featured the lineup of drummer Anders Colsefni, bassist Paul Gray, and guitarist Josh Brainard. Brainard was also the group’s lead vocalist before Colsefni took over.
In 1993, Crahan was jamming with Colsefni, Gray, and a guitarist named Patrick Neuwirth. These three recorded a song while in Gray’s basement that was titled “Slipknot.” This would ultimately become the name of a band that featured the 1995 lineup of Brainard, Colsefni, Crahan, Gray, Jordison, and Donnie Steele. Together, these six men performed a private Halloween concert before making its public debut at a benefit show in November. At the time, the group called itself Meld before making the official switch to Slipknot.
The first record Slipknot put together didn’t have a record label involved. Before 1996’s SR Audio was completed, Steele left the band to pursue a career that was more accommodating to his Christian beliefs. By the time Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat was released on October 31, 1996, Mick Thomson was part of Slipknot’s lineup. Left in the hands of its producer, Sean McMahon for distribution, 1997 witnessed Slipknot receive a bit of radio airplay on local radio stations but it was not enough to win the interest of any record labels. So, it was back to the drawing board and the recording studio for Slipknot.
It was decided to take on a more melodic approach as the crew brought in Corey Taylor. By the time 1997 was over, Slipknot experienced additional lineup changes that included the departure of Colsefni. The new musical direction Slipknot took earned the group the attention it craved from the record labels and by February 1998, it received an offer to produce a debut album. After this, a DJ named Sid Wilson joined Slipknot, increasing its band roster to nine members.
The lineup of Slipknot continued to change before Brainard decided he had enough. During the 1998 Christmas season, he no longer shared the same connection with his bandmates since joining them in 1995. It was enough for him to decide it was time to move on. By the time 1999’s debut album, Slipknot was released, Brainard was gone. However, the recording process took place between September 29, 1998, and November 11, 1998. He was still one of the guitarists at this time. “Spit It Out” was the one hit that featured Brainard’s recorded guitar work before he left the band to pursue other musical interests.
His relations with Slipknot’s Ross Robinson continued, however. This led to Brainard recording and releasing solo tracks such as “Nothing is Real,” “Mudd Munster,” and “Primal Side” in 1999. He was also paired up with Vanilla Ice for his album, Bi-Polar, as well as with Sticky Fingaz’s solo album, Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Both of these recordings were released in 2001. From 2003 until 2008, he was part of a lineup called On A Pale Horse. Since 2013, Brainard has performed with a group called Dogs Of Neptune.
#5 – Jason Cropper – Weezer
Weezer’s original guitarist was Jason Cropper as he was there when it had its first official band practice in February 1992. The first three demo tapes by this group had him perform as its guitarist. These were handed to Geffen Records which led to signing up with this label. While recording the band’s self-titled debut album in 1993, Cropper learned his girlfriend was pregnant. This had a profound impact on the man that affected his ability to work with his bandmates.
When the mother of his unborn child showed up in New York with no place to stay, it was enough for Rivers Cuomo to tell Cropper he was no longer a welcomed member of the Weezer lineup. Brian Bell would take Cropper’s place, a decision Cropper admitted in 2014 was the correct one. Despite Cuomo firing Cropper in order to wave Weezer as a group, both musicians maintained a strong enough friendship. This was also the case with the rest of the band’s lineup. When Cuomo married in 2006, Cropper was there.
When Weezer debuted with Weezer in 1993, “My Name Is Jonas” credited Jason Cropper for it. There was also the 1994 release of DGC Rarities, Vol. 1, a recording that featured “Jamie” as a song that had Cropper perform as guitarist and backing vocalist. Once Cropper was out of the lineup, he and what became his wife, Amy Wellner Cropper, formed their own band, Chopper One. The two released “Free Lunch” as a single in 1995 before releasing Now Playing in 1997. As for the first child the couple had together, Kiefer Rain Cropper was born in January 1994. She would have a brother in 1999, Jake, and then a sister, Devon, in 2001. In 2005, Amy and Jason Cropper were officially divorced. This came about five years after Chopper One ran its course as a band.
For the 2002-2003 sitcom, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Cropper sang its theme song. Shortly after his divorce was finalized, Cropper began to record and post songs on his MySpace page. He also recorded and produced an Atlanta-based band called Buffalo Alice. In 2007, Mitchell was released as the group’s second album that also credited Cropper for his musical contributions. He also produced its third studio album, 2008’s Alexander Rosenhoff Testament: A Work of Fiction. As busy as Cropper was as a musician and producer, it wasn’t until 2020 that he would make a solo debut with “Goodness Knows.” In 2021, Weezer released Van Weezer which included “I’ve Thrown It All Away” as one of the demo tracks Cropper performed while he was still with the band.
#4 – Anthony Phillips – Genesis
From 1967 until 1970, Anthony Phillips performed as the original lead guitarist for the UK-based rock group, Genesis. Prior to this, he attended a preparatory school where his performance of “My Old Man’s a Dustman” resulted in disappointment as he forgot the words as a singer. This gave him cause to learn how to play guitar and he returned to perform a rendition of the Shadows’ “Foot Tapper.” When he was thirteen years old, Phillips used a Stratocaster guitar to put together his first song, “Patricia.” It was named after a girl he liked at the time. A piece of this song would later be recorded by Genesis and its song, “In Hiding.”
In 1965, Phillips was a student at a school in Surrey where he formed a band with Rivers Jobe, Richard Macphail, Mike Rutherford, and Rob Tyrell. They called themselves Anon and based their music on the influences of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The band was short-lived as it disbanded in 1966. After Anon was no more, Phillips and Rutherford became a songwriting duo who recorded several demos. They invited another fellow schoolmate, Tony Banks, to join them. Upon doing so, he made the suggestion to bring in Peter Gabriel as a singer and Chris Stewart as a drummer. This five-man band recorded a demo tape and handed it to Jonathan King’s publishing company. It was he who named the band “Genesis” while at the same time suggesting the men to record a studio album. The result was the 1969 release of From Genesis to Revelation. However, it was a production King altered with string arrangements to the band’s songs without their knowledge. This angered Phillips a great deal and rightfully so.
At seventeen years old, Phillips decided he was no longer interested in pursuing a university degree. He opted to remain with Banks, Gabriel, and Rutherford with the determination to become a full-time band. However, the grueling tour schedule the men kept was taking its toll on Phillips. He also developed stage fright that became progressively worse as the band struggled to come up with musical material that featured a set of solos and new content. After experiencing a bout with bronchial pneumonia, Phillips was sidelined until June 1970. He was able to record its second studio album, Trespass. After this, Phillips decided it was time to bow out as the touring schedule once again proved to be his nemesis. His departure nearly marked the end of Genesis but it went on to record and release its next studio album, Nursery Cryme in 1971. “The Musical Box” was a song based on the written works of Phillips and Rutherford as a team.
After leaving Genesis, Phillips felt he needed to make personal improvements as a musician. In 1974, he became a music teacher which led to him playing classical guitar and piano who also studied orchestration. He made his solo debut in 1977 with The Geese & the Ghost but it met with commercial failure. The same thing happened again with 1978’s Wise After the Event, then with 1979’s Sides. Even after following the pop direction his record labels had in mind, Phillips wasn’t able to get anywhere until the release of Private Parts & Pieces. This one was released in 1979 at the same time as Sides and it was an experimental album that met with success. It was followed in 1980 with Private Parts & Pieces II: Back to the Pavilion. Throughout the course of his career, Phillips continued to make his impact in the music industry as a performer and songwriter.
#3 – Dave Mustaine – Metallica
As Metallica’s original lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine performed four songs for its 1983 album, Kill ‘Em All, and two songs from 1984’s Ride the Lightning. Prior to joining this popular heavy metal band, he grew up in a Californian household that practiced Jehovah’s Witness as a religion. He was the youngest of four siblings and two of them were significantly older than he was. Family life in the Mustaine household included witnessing the alcohol abuse of their father and the 1965 divorce from his mother that left a four-year-old Dave Mustaine without an adult male figure during this stage of his life. As he grew older, Mustaine’s saving grace was music.
His first band was Panic before it dissolved in 1981. After this, Mustaine joined Metallica after answering Lars Ulrich’s ad for a lead guitarist. This led to the recording of its first album, Kill ‘Em All. However, Mustaine’s dependency on drugs and alcohol interfered with his ability to function as an ideal bandmate. His antics led to a physical confrontation with James Hetfield that would lead to Metallica having no choice but to fire Mustaine from the lineup. The men put him on a Greyhound bus and shipped him back to Los Angeles, California. This was a fateful bus ride that had Mustaine scribble on the back of a handbill that would become the lyrics behind “Set the World Afire.”
After his run with Metallica was done, Mustaine founded another band, Fallen Angels. The 1983 lineup featured Robbie McKinney and Matt Kisselstein but it was a short-lived union as the chemistry simply wasn’t there for the trio to capitalize on. As fate had it, Dave Effelson and Greg Handevidt lived in the apartment below Mustaine’s when he performed his version of Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil.” Mustaine was hungover at the time and hurled a potted plant out of his window and it hit the air conditioning unit belonging to the apartment suite below. This prompted Effelson and Handevidt to run upstairs and ask for cigarettes. Mustaine scoffed at them and slammed his door in their faces. When the two knocked a second time, they offered to buy beer. This marked the beginning of a musical act that would ultimately bring in Dijon Carruthers as the drummer for a band that would change its name from Fallen Angels to Megadeath.
While with this group, Mustaine took on the role of lead vocalist after he and his bandmates couldn’t find anyone reliable enough to work with. As Megadeth’s frontman, he recorded and released sixteen studio albums that sold over thirty-eight million records worldwide. While he may not have become famous with Metallica, he certainly did so with Megadeth. While with this group, six of those albums released became certified platinum by the RIAA. In 2017, it won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, thanks to Dystopia. As for “Set the World Afire,” This was the hit that came from the 1988 album, So Far, So Good… So What!. After its release, it became platinum with the RIAA and with Music Canada, as well as silver in the UK.
Now identifying himself as a born-again Christian, Mustaine has managed to survive his battle against substance abuse, as well as the 2019 bout he had with throat cancer. He’s also in the history books as one of the greatest metal guitarists of all time. Mustaine has also been married to the same wife, Pamela Anne Casselberry, since 1991. The couple have two children together, Justis (born 1992) and Electra (born 1998. Both children followed their father’s footsteps by establishing music careers of their own.
#2 – Tracii Guns – Guns N’ Roses
Before adopting Tracii Guns as a stage name, he was born and raised as Tracy Ulrich in Los Angeles, California in 1966. As a student at Fairfax High School, he befriended Robert Gardner and Michael Jagosz and the three formed a band called Pyrrhus with a bassist named Dani Tull. By this time, the man switched his name to Tracii Guns and recruited a fourth band member, Ole Beich. Together, they put together L.A. Guns in 1983 and released an EP, Collector’s Edition No. 1. After this, Jagosz was arrested while in a bar fight. Bill “Axl” Rose briefly replaced him as the new lead singer before Jagosz returned to the lineup. Rose came from the lineup, Hollywood Rose as its frontman with Izzy Stradlin and Chris Weber as his bandmates. On one fateful occasion, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose teamed up to perform for a 1985 New Year’s concert. After this, both bands merged as one to become Runs N’ Roses.
Two months after Guns N’ Roses formed as a band, Guns, Beich, and Gardner left as they often found themselves at odds with Rose and his bandmates. Beich was the first to go as he was fired and was replaced by Duff McKagan. McKagan played bass for the recording of “Don’t Cry,” “Think About You,” and “Anything Goes.” After performing a show at the Troubadour in March 1985, Guns got into an argument with Rose that became extreme enough for him to leave the lineup. He was replaced by Slash as the band’s new lead guitarist. Gardner quit soon after Guns left and was replaced by Steven Adler.
The departure of Guns N’ Roses in 1985 led to the reformation of L.A. Guns by Rose that same year. He teamed up with Nickey Alexander, Paul Black, Mick Cripps, and Robert Stoddard. Black would be replaced by Phil Lewis while Cripps switched his role from bass to guitar. Also joining the group before 1985 was over was Kelly Nickels. In 1988, L.A. Guns was released as the band’s debut album by Vertigo Records and it charted as high as number five on the US Billboard 200. While on tour to support the album, Alexander bowed out as drummer and was replaced by Steve Riley. This began the classic lineup of L.A. Guns that would achieve its own brand of fame until 1992. In 1989, Guns and his group released its second album, Cocked & Loaded. This did better than L.A. Guns’ debut album as it peaked as high as number thirty-eight on the US Billboard 200. In 1991, Hollywood Vampires was next, then 1994’s Vicious Circle.
Like Guns N’ Roses, L.A. Guns experienced lineup changes after reaching its popularity peak. Despite this, the recording continued with additional albums and concert performances. In 1999, L.A. Guns experienced a reunion that featured Cripps, Lewis, Nickels, and Riley. The group recorded a live album, Live: A Night on the Strip, and it was released in 2000. In 2001, Waking the Dead was the final album released by L.A. Guns that had Guns in the lineup before he decided he had enough. At first, it looked like it was the end of the road for L.A. Guns. However, Riley and Lewis kept it going while Guns himself moved on, first forming Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx in 2004 and then The Tracii Guns Band. The second of these two groups became a reincarnation of L.A. Guns. Off and on, Guns kept his group going as he embarked on other musical projects as one of the busiest rockers in the music business.
#1 – Syd Barrett – Pink Floyd
Roger “Syd” Barrett was born on January 6, 1946, as the fourth of five children growing up as the son of a pathologist in Cambridge, England. While growing up, he learned how to play a variety of musical instruments such as the banjo, guitar, piano, and ukulele. He also enjoyed drawing, painting, and writing. While attending junior high school, one of his teachers was the mother of Roger Waters. Starting in 1957, both boys attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys. After his father passed away from cancer just before the 1961 Christmas season, his mother encouraged him and the band he had at the time, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, to play in the family home. This lasted for a few months before Barrett’s group disbanded. Helping him with this was his schoolmate and friend, Waters.
Starting in September 1962, Barrett was with the art department of the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. This is where he met David Gilmour. It was during this time the Beatles and the Rolling Stones began to make names for themselves as rock gods. Like so many other fans and musicians at the time, the impact the two bands made on Barrett was profound, to say the least. It wasn’t long after this he began to write his own songs, including “Effervescing Elephant.” This wouldn’t be recorded and released until 1970 but it marked the beginning of a man’s creative songwriting talent that made him a legend. Two other key influencers who impacted Barrett’s desire to dive into the music industry were Bo Diddley and Bob Dylan. However, he was also dedicated to the visual arts, and in 1964, he moved to London after enrolling at its Camberwell College of Arts.
It was also in 1964 when Syd Barrett and Roger Waters founded a band that underwent a series of lineup and name changes before finally settling on Pink Floyd. In 1965, the men began to make their first set of studio recordings, thanks to the assistance of their mutual friend, Richard Wright. Not only did this mark the beginning of one of the most iconic rock groups in history, but the beginning of Barrett’s dependency on a drug known as LSD. He was also close to members of a Sikh sect known as Sant Mat. He, along with a friend named Storm Thorgerson, attempted to convince its guru to accept them into the sect. Thorgerson was given the okay to join but Syd Barrett was deemed to be too young. The rejection deeply affected Barrett and he began to dive deeper into writing more songs.
As a band, Pink Floyd not only covered popular American R&B songs but also incorporated improvised jazz into its act. At the time, Pink Floyd’s lineup was Barrett, Mason, Waters, Wright, and a guitarist named Bob Klose. However, Klose left in 1965, but the band was in no hurry to replace him to bring its roster back up to a five-man band. This didn’t come about until late 1967 when David Gilmour paid a visit to his friend, Barrett. David Gilmour discovered what used to be a close friend who was jovial had become somewhat unresponsive. Syd Barrett also didn’t recognize him and had a difficult time remembering where he was.
While Barrett’s energetic personality became increasingly despondent, his songwriting genius was still there. This was evident with songs such as “See Emily Play.” Aside from being one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, Barrett did more than come up with original musical content with his band. He also designed the front cover of its debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This 1967 release served as an intro that earned Pink Floyd a strong fan following inside the United Kingdom and across Europe. It was also starting to win over an audience in North America. Unfortunately for Barrett, his increasingly erratic behavior reached its peak by the spring of 1968. This caused his bandmates to reluctantly remove him from the lineup. Between mental health issues and the substance abuse that accompanied it, not only were Pink Floyd members concerned about Barrett’s well-being but their own as well. Although he contributed to some of the songs to the group’s second studio album, A Saucerful of Secrets, by the time it was released Barrett was out.
After he was ousted from Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett embarked on a solo career and released “Octopus” as a single in 1969. This was followed by two albums he released in 1970, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Even though he was credited as a solo artist for these albums, his former Pink Floyd bandmates were still by his side to make sure these albums were completed and ready for market. In 1972, Barrett decided to retire from the music industry and live the rest of his life away from the public spotlight as much as possible. He became an extremely private person as he poured full focus on gardening and painting.
Even though Barrett was no longer part of Pink Floyd’s lineup, his former bandmates still regarded him as a close friend and often paid tribute to the man throughout the span of the group’s recording career. 1979’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and some of the content from The Wall all paid homage to Barrett. The 1988 release of Opel shared previously recorded and unpublished tracks Barrett made while he was still Pink Floyd’s frontman.
In 1996, when Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it took the full lineup into consideration. Syd Barrett rightfully earned his place among Doug David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright as part of one of the most influential psychedelic rock groups in the history of the music industry. Ten years after this, Barrett passed away on July 7th at sixty years after losing his battle against pancreatic cancer. Like this father before him, this horrific disease claimed his life before its time. In 2016, Pink Floyd released The Early Years 1965-1972 as a box set that featured “Scream Thy Last Scream,” “Vegetable Man,” and “In the Beechwoods,” three songs from Barrett’s brand of musical genius that would reach the ears of music fans for the first time.
In life and in death, Syd Barrett’s influence made a tremendous impact on fans and peers in the music industry around the world. The collection of admirers is as impressive as the man’s legacy. Before becoming legends themselves, recording artists such as David Bowie, Roger Miller, and Jimmy Page were among the many who looked up to Barrett as a hero. Barrett’s influence continues today as various rock-related musical genres can be linked to the man’s musical genius. Even though Barrett was out before Pink Floyd became internationally famous, he was by no means left behind as his legacy continues to shine on like a brilliant, crazy diamond.
10 Guitarists Who Departed Before Their Bands Became Famous article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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