Cool Factor 10: Jim Barrett, Local Loyalist & Legend (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of our profile and interview of Troy legend Jim Barrett. Click here to read Part 1.

(left) photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk and (right) photo by Al Goldberg
(left) photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk and (right) photo by Al Goldberg

I think you find the good in everything.

Maybe so. I guess I’m patient, and always look for the good in what I’m hearing. If I don’t like a band’s record, I’ll at least try to see them live before I make up my mind.

A lot of local performers in this region owe their careers to you.

That’s a nice thing to say, but to be honest, I’d like to think that I owe my career to them. When these bands or solo acts play my store, it’s still a thrill for me. For instance, recently a young band called the Mysteios. They’re so sincere, driven, great writers and very, very entertaining. I notice things…..I can see it in their eyes that they’re hungry: a certain kind of passion. Locally, live, there’s no one like Super 400… they’re incredible.

My favorite all-time musician – bar none – has always been Johnny Rabb. He’s like a savior to me. When this region was struggling…people playing disco with pink pants on and shiny shoes, Johnny was still playing goofy dive bars with great musicians. He took all the crap and never quit. He is the epitome of why this area is so rich in musical talent.

To my knowledge, you began promoting local music when you began DJ-ing your famous “Kaleidoscope” radio show on WRPI 91.5FM, correct?

Yes, back around ’67, the Troy Boys Club didn’t have enough money to send some of their kids to summer camp. So my friend Marty Dionne and I pulled together a bunch of musicians and formed a band called Roger Rock-Out and the Hard Brothers, which featured, by the way, 10 lead guitar players (laughs)! We did a benefit at the Playhouse next to RPI in ’68. It was mobbed. And we sure as shootin’ sent those children to camp.

How did your record store, the River Street Beat Shop, come about?

Well, there were actually two. The first one, I opened up with Art Fredette called Positively 3rd St. We moved next door to a bigger space and had bands playing “bootleg style” behind a black curtain. Then, again moving up the street next to the Atrium, which eventually fell through as well. But after being home for about five years with records, tapes and CDs scattered all over our house, my wife encouraged me to open up my current place, and we’ve been successfully going for about five years now.

The last few years have brought tremendous interest in vinyl and independent, home-grown retailers, especially among young people. It’s like back to the beginning all over again. The local record store is a social outlet.

Yes, here in my shop and also in Albany at Last Vestige and at Divinyl Revolution in Saratoga. We all see it happening again, and it’s encouraging.

What about the current vinyl revival. Do you think it’s a short term thing?

No, definitely not. In fact, there’s a major resurgence going on. Many new bands both local and national are purposely putting their music out on vinyl. It’s not even about the audio fidelity, as much as it’s about the personalization aspect. Besides hearing the warmth in the music, you can feel it, touch it, marvel at the art work and actually read the liner notes! It becomes something personal like it was to us back in the day. Downloading on an iPod can’t give you that.

You’ve been here from the beginning. How do you feel the local scene has changed from, say, 15-20 years ago?

Musically, it’s never changed. It’s the public, meaning, the bands finding places to play. In the ’60s, the strip in Troy had about 30 venues you could play and make good money. The bars all worked together. It was astounding. Those years between ’66-’72 were amazing.

Troy, in particular, has always been known as a music town. And now there’s even a resurgence with places here on River Street, as well as Daisy Baker’s and the new Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Not to mention the Troy Brew Pub and the (currently dormant) Revolution Hall. And there are places like Brian Gilchrist’s Ale House, where you can see national bands as readily as regional artists, and for something like $5 to boot! This area is a melting pot for great music.

How’s your current “Kaleidoscope” radio show doing?

I was at WRPI for 29 years…some of the most wonderful years of my life. Then my friend and savvy radio man himself, Pat Ryan, helped me set-up shop at Albany Broadcasting, and I spent eight years there. While I was there, we had an Arbitron rating of 21.9, which was incredible for a local show on a Sunday night! With both a format and time change looming, I needed to find a new home, which brought me to 88.3FM at Siena College, where I am now. This year is my fifth anniversary. I’m on Saturdays from 6-8pm, which I think, is good for my listeners.

With the industry fallout affecting virtually every musician on the planet, do you think music as an art form has been reduced to a hobby, except for the lucky few that can break through? And can artists of today possibly make a living?

There’s a tremendous amount of talent out there. But I think given the current status of the industry, bands have to go out and tour live. Between the long-time greed of the major labels, and now the more current ‘entitlement’ mentality of the younger downloader, it’s all over the place. And the fault is mutual. I mean, even a few of my own kids download, while the others ‘get it’ and buy the record or CD. None of my kids have similar tastes, but they all appreciate music. However, they’re very supportive of the local scene. As far as CDs are concerned, it’s a train wreck. I think we’ve seen the last of the million sellers for awhile. The lack of respect for the musicians and the art form itself… it’s a shame.

It’s an level playing field now for everybody…no guarantees.

It will come back, but it will be different. There will always be some short, contrived national trend, but the real changes will come on the regional level. It’s reverting, even now, back to the bars, youth clubs and school dances with young bands playing live and recording their music, especially, since there’s not a lot of money in touring for mid-level artists. With all these social networking sites and webzines working together, there’s still nothing in this world that’s better than live…. that’s the bomb.

Story by Bob Girouard, an Albany musician/writer, who currently writes for such magazines as Modern Drummer, Classic Drummer and Elmore Magazine
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Jim Barrett (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
(photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Jim Barrett (photo by Al Goldberg)
(photo by Al Goldberg)
1 Comment
  1. J. Welf says

    Comment about the “vinyl revival” is spot on.

    Jim For Prez!

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