As arrangements for a memorial service are announced, the recent passing of acclaimed musician/producer Barry Beckett continues to be felt throughout Nashville’s creative community. Musician Steve Nathan and producer Steve Buckingham offer their remembrances below.
The memorial service will be Sunday, July 12 at 5 PM at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. If those who knew Beckett would like to send a statement to be used as part of the service, they can email it to Steve Buckingham at [email protected].
Respected studio musician Steve Nathan had this to say:
Just weeks before MusicRow magazine’s annual awards honoring studio musicians and others, we lost Barry Beckett, one of the best there ever was. I’ve been fortunate to receive a number of those awards over the years, thanks in no small part to the skills I learned working with Barry.
From the first session, when he told me (with his characteristic lack of any sugarcoating) that I’d “stayed a little too close to the chart,” I saw that there’s more to being a “studio musician” than knowing how to play an instrument. At the time he wanted me to realize that any monkey can tuck his elbows in and follow a chord chart, maybe even do it in tempo, but I needed to bring more, dig down and put my heart and soul into every record. Thankfully, he didn’t give up on me then and there.
Over the years, watching Barry, I learned to listen deeper, to hear the subtleties in the music and the lyrics. I learned to pay attention to everyone in the phones, to react to the other players and always give them something to play with. Most importantly, he taught me that “job one” is to come into the room, listen to the artist and producer, and “get” their vision for the record. He said to figure out what they want to say and then use all of your abilities to help bring that vision to the ears of the listener. Have the guts to step up when you have an idea, even if it upsets the apple cart, and have the humility to let it go when you’re wrong. And know that anytime you catch yourself showing off for other musicians, you’ve failed.
Barry didn’t teach me how to play piano, but he taught me how to make records. I wish I’d remembered to say thanks sooner.
Well-known producer Steve Buckingham also has fond memories of Beckett:
I have heard from so many people about Barry’s death. Paul Simon called from his tour in New Zealand to offer his condolences. I asked him to call Diane, Barry’s wife of over 43 years, which he did. The following is something I wrote on the night I was told Barry had died:
Eddie Bayers just called me and said Barry died about 30 minutes ago. Barry Beckett was one of the greatest studio keyboard players in history and a hell of a guy. If you listened to Rhythm & Blues, Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome”…and thousands of other records…you’ve heard Barry Beckett.
I first met Barry in 1976 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama when I was still playing sessions and hadn’t yet started producing. Barry and the other members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section…Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson…were already legends, having played on records for everyone from Wilson Pickett to the Rolling Stones.
Barry moved to Nashville a few years after I did. The first country artist I produced in Nashville was Tammy Wynette and the first musician I called to play on the session was Barry. I have a great picture of Tammy, Barry and all the other musicians together in the studio. We all look so young…and, sadly, three of those in the photo are no longer with us.
Barry and I worked together a number of times over the following years and even co-produced some artists together. As so many of the other musicians have recalled, the image of Barry holding a cigarette in one hand, elbow on one knee, toothpick in his mouth…staring at the keyboard, waiting to lay just the right 5 or 6 notes in the perfect spot…is indelibly stamped in our memories.
A week ago today, I went to see Barry for the last time with Eddie Bayers and Michael Rhodes. Eddie and Michael played drums and bass on hundreds of Barry’s productions as well as for me. We all consider ourselves lucky to have had him as a mentor…and, especially, a friend.
I will close with this one story. Barry and a group of us studio musicians and producers loved trains. Every year we would charter a steam engine and several cars and go on all-day excursions out of Chattanooga. The cars were the old, luxurious types built in the 1930s. The last car on the train had a platform out back and we all wanted to spend time sitting out there, watching the tracks disappear behind us. This is where Barry would park himself for the entire day, except when it was time to eat. One afternoon I was sitting on the back platform with Barry who, typically, had his elbow on one knee and was holding a cigarette…staring at the tracks. Finally he said: “Buck…listen to that rhythm.” (He was referring to the clickety-clack of the steel wheels on the rails). Barry continued, “That’s a deep pocket (groove)…let’s remember that the next time we’re in the studio.”
Believe me…there are a lot of things I remember about Barry Beckett.