GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Eye of the Music, 250 pages of historic photos and stories.
SHERRY RAYN BARNETT: Thank you. What the book has done for me is to put together a lifetime of work, even though it was just two decades of photographs. I spent years shooting concerts between playing with bands.
GM: Let’s highlight some of the women you have photographed over the years, beginning with Karen Carpenter in 1974. That year, their version of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” was the flip side of their hit version of “Please Mr. Postman.” Their sophisticated delivery of “This Masquerade” was originally on their Now & Then album, which I learned from my wife Donna. Karen’s voice and Richard’s piano were a perfect pairing on this song.
SRB: I love all their music, even the rare recordings. I photographed The Carpenters twice in concert. In 1974, which was my second time photographing them, I think Karen was really at her peak. She was slim but wasn’t anorexic. She was in full voice. At the end of the show they brought out the Jimmy Joyce Children’s Chorus to participate on “Sing,” as they had on the Now & Then album. One of the girls from the chorus told me that they did several shows with The Carpenters including Japan. Karen was exceptional and the band replicated the sound of their records, which was a sound all to themselves. The early songs that Karen did as a teenager before Richard got into production and arrangement didn’t have the Karen Carpenter voice that we know and love today. Richard’s arrangements and sounds in the studio brought her voice to life.
Flip side: This Masquerade
A side: Please Mr. Postman
Top 100 debut: November 23, 1974
Peak position: 1
GM: In addition to “This Masquerade” being a featured flip side for this story, I learned in your book that you have a flip sides songwriter in your family, your mother Peggy Stokes.
SRB: Yes. How about that? It was in the late 1950s. She was shopping songs to doo-wop groups like The Clovers and she had a song held by Colonel Tom Parker for Elvis Presley, but he never recorded it, so she was writing early rock and roll songs, and did get a couple of flip sides recorded. Her demos had top notch New York musicians and singers on them and were arranged by Stan Applebaum, who arranged Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and Neil Sedaka songs, so they sound fabulous.
GM: Now let’s go to The Greek Theatre in 1972 for your first time with The Carpenters.
SRB: I watched Karen play drums and she was a really substantial drummer. She started as a jazz drummer, and that was her first love. As The Carpenters’ records grew in popularity due to her vocal ability, Richard wanted her out front, not behind the drums. I think it was an awkward transition for her but one that she had to make for the audience and for the sake of their career. It was such a great privilege to photograph her playing drums. My best friend Jackie from school in New York City had come to visit me in L.A. We were both involved in counterculture issues, protesting the Vietnam War. She was a black radical. I wanted to take her to something cool and I looked in the paper and I saw that The Carpenters were going to be at The Greek Theatre and I wondered if I should even mention it as they were the most white bread group since The New Christy Minstrels, who I also photographed, the first act I ever shot with my square blue Brownie camera. I mentioned it to her, and Jackie said, “I love The Carpenters.” So, we went, and I didn’t even have a press pass for that show. We just went and I walked up to the stage with my camera and thank goodness for that wonderful night in 1972.
GM: As 1972 began, for my 14th birthday, my friend Mark bought me Carole King’s album Music, which followed Tapestry, and contained the hit “Sweet Seasons” and “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” which The Carpenters released as a successful cover a few months later. Mark and I both loved Tapestry and were certainly interested in what was to follow. You heard the Tapestry songs seven weeks before that album was released.
SRB: Yes. That was very interesting. In December 1970 I was still in New York City and I was shooting for an underground paper called Rock Magazine. I was a huge fan of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I photographed Joni in the prior year, but I hadn’t photographed James yet. James was playing at Queens College near where I grew up. I got there and his opening act was Carole King. She didn’t receive the best reception because everyone was waiting for James, but this was the debut for the songs from Tapestry. She sat at her piano playing songs from Tapestry and she had James come out and sing “You’ve Got a Friend,” which was amazing. People who may have known her as a songwriter probably weren’t in the audience and that audience hadn’t heard these Tapestry songs before, of course. The crowd was there for James’ songs from his Sweet Baby James album. Toward the end of his set he said that he had a special guest and he brought out Joni Mitchell, so I was able to capture Carole King, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell as the only photographer there that night.
GM: In October, Carole King will be inducted in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and so will The Go-Go’s. Ten years after Tapestry, in 1981, as The Go-Go’s were promoting their debut album Beauty and the Beat, you were there, photographing Gina on drums, Jane on guitar, and you nicely captured Charlotte and Kathy surrounding Belinda on stage.
SRB: I also photographed them in 1979 when they were at The Roxy where they were headlining, and The Ventures were opening for them. At that point they were basically a punk band. Two years later, they hit it big and it was a whole different culture, shifting from the 1970s to the 1980s. I looked around and all the girls in the audience were wearing miniskirts. It was an interesting change. There weren’t many all-female bands along the way. Fanny and Birtha, who are also in the book, could really play their instruments. The Go-Go’s certainly developed as musicians and songwriters. They were a great and highly entertaining group, with such personalities and they will be back on tour later this year.
GM: The third female act being inducted this year is Tina Turner, who you photographed in the early part of your book in her Ike & Tina Turner days and then again in 1984.
SRB: Ike & Tina Turner were my very first shoot that got published, in 1969. I shot them at The Electric Circus in the East Village and then went for an interview shoot at the Chelsea Hotel. Fortunately for me, those negatives really held up. What an incredible performance that was. I saw them a few more times. Then in 1984, as a solo performer with that huge comeback hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” I photographed Tina, co-billed with Lionel Richie, which was an amazing performance, and she sang with Lionel as well, which I have a photo of in the book. Tina’s return was one of the most incredible comebacks ever. It was hard to choose the best photographs of her because she is one of the most emotive performers who I have ever photographed. Her energy was boundless.
GM: Also, in the 1980s, I bought a 45 with a picture sleeve, which has in the bottom-right corner the words, “Photographer: Sherry Rayn Barnett.” It is one that I often played for my daughter Brianna, “Mickey” by Toni Basil.
SRB: I shot the stills for the video in 1981 before MTV’s debut. Toni called me and hired me to shoot some video production stills. She has had an illustrious career as a choreographer, dancer, actress, and a singer. She was conceptualizing a series of videos which were cutting edge, and one of the videos was “Mickey.” She was doing promotional videos for her label. With “Mickey,” she choreographed it with real cheerleaders, even with the outfit she had when she went to Las Vegas High. When MTV later picked it up, it just blew it out of the water for her. By then, the 1980s had a sound and “Mickey” fit it in it sonically.
GM: I also remember watching her video “Shopping from A to Z” on MTV.
SRB: I loved that, and I shot the stills for that one and all of her videos. They were all so different, unique and colorful, and she has an identifiable dance style. She is still in demand and stays active.
GM: Another 1980s videos star is another family favorite, Cyndi Lauper, who you photographed in early 1984 while “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was her breakthrough hit.
SRB: I photographed her multiple times beginning with that night, her first L.A. performance. Her sound is definitely her own and as a performer, she is in my all-time Top 5 of artists who I have photographed. She is amazing. I went back to her prior recording with her band Blue Angel and learned that she had that voice from the very beginning. She is still an outstanding artist. Her songs, have become classics, like “Time After Time.”
GM: Let’s transition from “Time after Time” to your song “Time,” the title tune from your 2020 album with Mustangs of The West. This is one where Rusty Young joined you.
SRB: We had an opportunity to have Rusty Young, as a labelmate on Blue Elan Records, join us on pedal steel guitar, and who better to join us. Rusty’s history with Poco made him to be a perfect choice. He was such an incredibly sweet guy, a pleasure to be around, and so humble. He played on “Time” and another of our songs on the album, “In the Real West.” On a livestream show we did after the album‘s release, he joined us again and we learned that he had been playing lap steel guitar since he was six years old. He also joined us on a cover of “As Tears Go By” and he elevated that song to the highest place. He played with incredible emotion and it is so sad that we lost him this year. We miss him a lot. He also did a song called “Waitin’ on You” last year and had Suzanna Spring join him, after your Goldmine interview with Suzanna for our Time album, which I thought was the most profound, informative and interesting interview of any of the press we received last year. Now I make sure to read your articles and I enjoy them. I have a long history with the magazine with my photographs and I am thrilled that you have not only featured our music but now also my book of photographs. Thank you so much for everything.
For more on Carole King, The Go-Go’s, and Tina Turner, look for the article “Fabulous Flip Sides: Rock Hall Women 2021” coming to Goldmine this fall.