By Michael Buffalo Smith
Editors Note: Be sure to download our FREE GRITZ Sampler CD for June that includes a track from Barry Lee Harwood as well as a track from Mainstream South! Download Here.
BUFFALO: It’s been exactly eight years since Scott Greene interviewed you for GRITZ the first time. What do you remember about where your life and career were at that time?
BARRY LEE: First of all lemme tell ya how great it is to be doin “inner-view” number three with you – it’s good to know Gritz is still here; stronger than ever and it’s good to know that I’m still here; stronger than ever! (laughing) When we did the first Gritz Innerviews back in 2002 I was “circling the field” lookin for a place to land. Those “inner - views” gave me a runway - helped me focus – gave me a compass to use. It helped me put “who I was - where I was goin and why” in perspective; not to mention that lifelong friendships were born as well. You guys were there when I took the first step on this journey and here we are back at the hunting camp; telling the story!
What I remember about those days is that it was a much simpler time; just me and my little cabin by the Cumberland! (laughing!) You’ve been to that cabin – you know how peaceful that little place was! I also remember that Scott’s son Stephen was shorter than me back then and now I have to stand on a step ladder to shake his hand! (laughing)
Those days were only “simple” because my plans were still “on paper” at that point! When you’re sittin at the drawing board everything looks “do-able”! I mean, Gritz started as a thought in your mind - then you took it to the drawing board and you know yourself; anything looks easy on the drawing board – but when ya decide to move forward and “record the album” or “print the magazine” that’s when ya have to call on your resources and put “people, places and things” into motion – and that’s when life gets a bit challenging.
“Simple” turns into “trials & situations” – ya have to “die to self” to reach your Promise Land and that’s what separates winners and losers. Everybody has a “Promise Land” to reach; the time in between “the promise” and “the land” is the wilderness where our character is formed and without it; we’ll never be strong enough to handle the dream we’re pursuing – the longer it takes to build character; the longer the journey. Character and reputation are one and the same – it’s easier to maintain good character than it is to recover from a character flaw – just ask Tiger Woods! (laughing) I had wasted a lotta time – I was at an age where most artists are established in their success and able to kick back if they want.
I’m not minimizing my accomplishments - success was a blessing but I made the mistake of using it as a rest stop! Success was a blessing in disguise – a blessing disguised as distraction! (laughing) We can force a dream to come true but without Christian character it will actually do us more harm than good. Success without struggle is just a free ride and there’s no joy and satisfaction when ya reach your destination! Although success gave me every opportunity to make my personal dream come true; I chose the path of least resistance and squandered a lot of valuable time.
When Scott and I first talked ( before the innerview) I was lookin at the big picture – I saw the hundreds of songs I’ve written that nobody’s heard and I knew if I didn’t get off my butt and release those songs; nobody ever would. All that to say; when we did the first innerview, I had just left Egypt - the waters parted - I crossed the Red Sea - and I was on my way to the Land of Promise! (laughing)
My career at that time was still on hold. I was wrestling with this so-called career because, up to that point, I’d been successful with a few things but time had passed me by. As a performer and a songwriter I hadn’t yet made a lasting impression in the public eye like I wanted to. I was wrestling with the reality that my career started in 1972 as a session player but the world hadn’t seen or heard “the best of Barry Lee” yet. I did session work all over the world but mostly in Atlanta, Nashville, New York and L.A. I played on a lot of chart records and it was cool to turn the radio on and hear “me” but it was always “me” on somebody else’s record, not my own! My songs and dreams were collecting dust and it was my fault; my bad. For most of my career I had been pretty much a “hired gun.” Even with The Rossington Collins Band and The Allen Collins Band I was in the band but still it was somebody else’s band – built on someone else’s career. It wasn’t “the band” that would fulfill my hearts desire and it wasn’t what I was seeing for my future long term.
No doubt it was a golden opportunity for me to establish myself in the industry but I let the stepping stone become a slippery slope. I lost my footing. Even though RCB recorded some of my songs there was still this vision – this dream – this empty place in my life that I was somehow and for some reason avoiding. There’s this God-given dream that stands apart from anything that I’ve ever done. There was this “Everest” I hadn’t conquered because I was content to be part of someone else’s expedition without capitalizing on the future. That sounds selfish but I’m first and foremost a songwriter and songwriters “say their peace” with the songs they write. If a songwriter doesn’t have an outlet – an audience to serve – they go insane! Trust me! (laughing) I’ve written hundreds of songs and the majority of them are yet to be recorded. I could have easily recorded a solo album while I was with RCB – that’s not unusual. If you heard all the songs that I’ve written you’d say, “Dag, man you need to record your own album.” My point exactly! I don’t wanna die with the music still inside me.
Anyhow; these were some of the thoughts I was wrestling with. I was focused on”the dream” that had not yet become reality; not just a childhood dream but a legacy that I was carrying forth for my Dad and Mom and my entire musical family. I was wrestling with the reasons why I hadn’t accomplished that dream. There was a real battle between my spirit, soul and body. Apparently I forgot that God doesn’t give us the option to quit – apparently I had forgotten about the authority of the believer in Jesus Christ because I dropped off the radar screen; feeling overwhelmed by mistakes the of my past – thinkin I had blown my chances but there’s nothing in the Bible that supports a pity party like that.
Nobody forced me to make bad choices and poor decisions all those years – I did that all by myself – I had fun with my success – had some good times and I loved the people who were involved and I made friends and fishin buddies with people I’m still in touch with today – but - I boxed myself into a corner and I don’t like bein cornered; so I came out fightin! At the time of the Gritz innerview I was looking for a way to reinvent myself. I was making plans to resurface – to accomplish a dream that had been in my heart for all those years. I was finally getting around to recording the first of many albums that had been dormant in my heart for a lotta years – I was settin’ the stage to make a comeback and a debut at the same time! (laughing)
I made peace with my Maker and although I had prayed the prayer of salvation in 1971, this time - for the first time in my life – it registered. I felt like I had truly been born again. I guess you could say born again “again” (laughing) because I felt the power of 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21 – the reality of it kicked in and the best way I can describe it is; “something evil left me” in that moment and I could move forward unhindered by mistakes of the past! I stood on my feet and said, “ya’ll step aside, I’m comin through”! (laughing) If you wanna know “the rest of the story” read “The Chariot Race” - it’s on my website under the Chapel tab – it’s an excerpt from the book I’m writing.
Ever see a movie called “The Natural”? Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) was on his way to baseball’s major leagues when a certain indiscretion waylaid him – for fifteen years! When he finally made it to the Major’s he was older and a bit wiser and more determined than ever to prove himself as a player! Once he dealt with the past and put it in perspective his feet were on a predestined path that led him right where he would have been if he’d never wandered away! The first song on my new album says; “no regrets”! That’s a place I needed to reach before anything else in my life could work; a combination of Philippians 3:13 and 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21!
Most people think I became the typical MTV profile, local boy does good – success brings ruin through drugs and alcohol – falls into the gutter – found God - now he’s workin at McDonalds and living with his Mother! (laughing) No, the fact is, I was on the path – I stepped off the path – I got back on the path; end of story! So essentially; I became the man I used to be! It’s great to be forgiven but ya have go back and clean up your messes! That first innerview caught me during a time of introspection and evaluation; it was time for a reality check.
How did Heartstrings Cafe come about?
Our mutual friend Claire had an internet chat room called Frynds of Skynyrd and she asked if I would do a sort of interview with her one Sunday afternoon. This was a little over a month after “getting back on track” and it introduced me to the online community thing. We did a repeat on the following Sunday and it became a regular Sunday event every week after. Instead of just fielding questions I played songs too and I started having fun with it.
When I was a kid my parents used to do radio shows – my Dad tried his hand at being a DJ once so the thought occurred to me that this was a great way to carry the heritage forward so I began promoting it as a webcast. I gave it a name and The HeartStrings Cafe was born. The webcast reconnected me with a lot of people including Scott Greene and that led to the first Gritz Innerview.
I put The HeartStrings Café Webcast on hold while I finished the new album but I’m fixin’ to fire it up again in a different way. I’m recording shows as we speak and we’ll put them on my website as downloadable Podcasts. Gonna have more live in-studio stuff and special guests.
Tell us a bit about your life since then, how you met your wife, and the decision to move from Nashville to Florida.
Life has been wonderful – I sorta have this hyper-awareness that helps put past, present and future in perspective. I’ve spent time dealing with “fires I left burning” in my past; mending fences and relationships. Recording the album sometimes seemed like a side project compared to all the issues I’ve had to deal with but, you can’t run a race if you’re shackled to years of chaos. When I decided to make this dream come true I was standing in my living room, alone in my cabin; that was a good thing! All I knew at the time was that I just wanted to follow God’s plan and purpose for my life; I had no idea what would be involved. I didn’t know what I was about to go through to make that happen! I think if Jesus Himself had walked through the door of my cabin and said, “I want you to move back to Jacksonville and record an album and here’s a list of all the stuff you’re gonna have to go through” I would have said, “Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stay right here where it’s comfy." (laughing) Seriously though, having never done what I was about to do; it was hard to count the cost – I just dove in head first and dealt with things as they came. I’ve never been concerned about pleasing all the people all the time so at least I had that goin for me! (laughing)
It’s no secret that Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of my life – the Bible tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these thing will be added to you” – all what things? All the things we need to succeed – all the equipment we need to do the job He’s called us to do – all the resources to sustain us and help along the journey – in a word; provision! Perfect example; when I got my feet “back on the path” The HeartStrings Café was born – that was provision. I met you and Gritz – that was provision. I met my future wife and so on and so forth. People, places and things were provided; all the planets lined up.
It doesn’t mean the work is any easier but everything I needed to do the work became available to me as I needed it. Bottom line; my life since then has been spent developing “Christ likeness” in my everyday walk – it doesn’t happen overnight. On the day that I leave this earth I’ll still be developing – maturing – workin on my story!
I get a ton of emails from people who knew me from back in the day and they’ve told me that “the party is over” in their life too – they’ve settled down and settled in to a different way of life. It’s cool to know after all these years of being apart many of us wound up on the same page.
Nowadays I feel like Jeremiah Johnson. Remember the beginning of that movie when Jeremiah first got off the boat – he was all excited about the adventure ahead of him – he was ready to become a real mountain man and he was willing to do whatever it took but he had no idea what he was in for! Then … brother he went through some tough stuff. Fast forward to the end of the movie when Will Geer found him cookin up some food on his campfire – all alone – snow all around. He was a different man altogether – his face looked different – he had faced challenges like he never dreamed of – he had paid the price to be the mountain man he dreamed of being. My face looks the same way now! (laughing) Sort of a cross between “I can love ya” or “I can whup’ya” – your choice!
I took a stand for the things I believe in and I took some heat for it – I’ve stood in the courage of my convictions so anything or anyone that I lost because of my beliefs I prolly never needed or they’ll come back later. Unproductive relationships just have a way of falling away.
I gotta say, one thing that has remained constant are the fans. The people who loved me “back in the day” have shown the biggest, most sincere display of “heart” toward me today. Fans are congruent – they’re uncomplicated and tenderhearted – they act the way they feel and feel the way they act – they say what they mean and mean what they say. Where would we be without those folks who take a portion of their hard-earned money and invest in what we do? Fans are our reward for a job well done! Can you imagine walking out onto a stage and there’s no people – no audience – no fans? That’s why I have such a problem with the stereotypical Rock Star persona – the image that is viewed as normal – when pride and ego become your definition. You see it in sports stars too; when a human being is elevated to Superstar status and they start thinkin’ they’re all that. It doesn’t happen to everybody – it’s just a problem with those that are affected by first fame. I’ll admit; when you’re standing on a stage performing songs for thousands of people you have to have confidence in what you’re doing – there has to be a certain amount of showmanship and bravado - but there’s no license to let it go to your head. A baseball pitcher has to believe that he’s got “stuff nobody can hit” but there’s no reason to get cocky about it and think “you’re all that.” That’s what I liked about workin with the Skynyrd guys. They were superstars but you’d never know it. They’d talk to you, fish with you, drink with you, laugh with you and if necessary, fight with you! (laughing) They kept the persona in perspective.
To me the definition of a Rock Star is; “servant.” When you got millions of people lovin’ on you and lovin your God-given talent then you have an obligation to serve them – not yourself. I don’t have a “holier than thou” attitude about who I am today and I’m not distancing myself from anything or anyone I’ve encountered along the way. I reached a point where I had to make changes in my life; I was killing my self. Everybody reaches that point. At the height of my success I was battling demons that I never thought I’d see; I was in a place I couldn’t call home and I had to make some changes - changes for me personally; it’s what Barry Lee had to do. I’m not the judge; we all got changes to make; I’m just telling ya’ll about mine. I’m the best “me” I‘ve ever been in my life and people who knew me then and now will agree. I’m a better player, singer, writer and producer than ever. I can still be a jerk but, hey, it’s not because I’m drunk! (laughing) When it comes to playin’ I can still rock yo’ socks off too; and it’s nice to remember it the next day!
Okay – you asked about my wife – I love to talk about my wife! I met Claudia during the first year of the HeartStrings Café. Our friend Claire had met Claudia at one of the Skynyrd events and they became friends. Well, Claire got this idea that Claudia and I would be “right” for each other. I was wrapping up my weekly HeartStrings Café Webcast when an IM from Claire popped up on my screen – it read – “I want to introduce you to the next Mrs. Harwood.”
I dismissed it but Claire insisted- and insisted – and insisted! Finally; I emailed Claudia. The rest as they say is history. There’s a song on the new album called “Come the Mornin” that I expressly wrote to Claudia- it’ll never get old. At the time Claudia and I met we had both experienced the full effect of “life’s up’s and downs” and we were past the point of playin’ “love games” for the sake of bein in love ya know? We lived in different states at the time so we talked on the phone – a lot - sent each other a couple thousand emails per day – you know – the subtle approach!
We became “new best friends” to each other. We weren’t using any of the obligatory “pitch & woo” techniques; we were just getting to know each other. Claudia put something in my heart that’s never been there before. My heart was less cluttered at the time and it needed to be to make room for the treasure I’d find in her. She’s the most selfless person I know; she has the heart of a servant. When we met, she was planning a move to Jacksonville. I said, “Great” because I was planning to “visit” (not move) there myself to work on the album. But, as love would have it, we moved at the same time and eventually got married on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. “SOMET Eagle” was written for and about Claudia. I wrote it before we ever met face to face. It is a musical personification of her. As far as the dream and my work are concerned; she’s not just an innocent bystander and she’s not the stereotypical musician wife! She’s very much a part of what’s going on with the whole vision – both creatively and administratively. She and I have written a few songs together and Claudia is one of the background vocalist’s on “Laid Back in the South.” She is heavily involved in the Prison Ministry at our church and graduated from SOMET (Ministry School) in 2007. She is Proverbs 31 to me!
Believe me; I haven’t been cool, calm and collected Mr. Spiritual through all the trials and situations during the making of his album. In fact, at times, I kicked and screamed like a girl! (laughing) You don’t have to be a Minister to love me but, in Claudia’s case, it helps. (laughing) I’m not easy to live with that’s a fact. Heck, even I don’t like myself all the time. There’s no gray area in my life – the switch is on or the switch is off. My creative self fights for dominance which leaves me out of balance most of the time. I don’t multi-task well and I don’t interrupt well. I’m an only child and I don’t share my food! (laughing) I think that qualifies me as a true artist does it not? (laughing)
As you can imagine, Claudia has her hands full trying to “keep me in the moment” because I live in two places at once. My left brain and my right brain can go for days without talking to each other. To my credit; I have stood strong in my faith and I’ve led the charge … but for those times when I’ve been down, felt like quitting, mad, sad, indifferent, combative, distracted, fed up, hiding out, throwing tantrums … Claudia was there to love me through it; even if it meant slappin me out of my hysteria! I found out sometimes love is a swift kick in the rear! She speaks softly and carries a BIG skillet! (laughing)
We’re both from North Carolina and there’s nothin like a good ol’ “Tar heel stand-off” but she doesn’t let me get away with taking the easy way out. She has been the rock steady partner and best friend to me; I would have prolly “derailed and headed for the alfalfa” without her. We’ve been havin’ fun with life – we’re passionate about who we were and where we were going. I felt like she was God’s confirmation that my life was back on track. “I must’a did somethin’ right!” - the fact that God brought Claudia to my life told me I was in the right place at the right time; doing the right thing for the right reason and motive! Anyone who meets Claudia and talks to her for five minutes walks away feeling better about themselves.
Back in the original interview you spoke about Chariot, and your plans. What became of that project?
That’s a good question - grab some lunch and I’ll start the answer (laughing) here’s my best shot at brevity!
A lot of things have changed since I moved back to from Nashville. When I left Nashville and moved back to Jacksonville I was locked onto a vision for a band that I was going to call CHARIOT – a band name that I had trademarked and put on hold; waiting for just the right time to use it. I was also locked onto a certain group of musicians and singers that I imagined would be the team to fulfill that vision – but - when you’re outta touch with people for ten or twenty years or more, things can’t help but be different. I kinda based my plans on “my last memory” of people, places and things ya know?
Well, “life” happened to all of us and although we were still friends; we were spinning in different orbs! That’s as it should be; ya’ really can’t expect things to be the same. We think different thoughts – perspectives change – our kids are grown – we have Grandchildren etc. In the absence; life goes on and ya have no alternative but to learn to live without each other; then the moment is gone. The talent is still there and it’s better than ever but we’re older and settled into a different groove. You spend years without each other and it’s easier to just keep goin the way you’re goin I guess. Sometimes when you learn to live without something and you can take it or leave it cause ya don’t really need it to survive; priorities change. Sometimes ya can’t relive the moment because ya have to face the fact that the moment is gone – along with the blessing that enabled it. It might have been there back in the day and it might have been everything you ever wanted but time passed it by and you have to find a good reason to want to pursue it again; is it worth the work to reconstruct it?
Most of the people I reconnected with were able to roll with my vision for the album but in other cases our past was a barrier. Sometimes people won’t let you heal the hurt. A side-note on that thought. When you have a band of musicians who live a life consumed with drugs and alcohol – without God at the center – or maybe God is at the center one day and not the next – no Spiritual consistency – there’s no way you can go for very long without the trouble that comes from disorientation. You can be best of friends but the band won’t hold together very long when you’re “not in your right mind” so to speak. Add fame and fortune to it and now you got egos out of control and fist fights in the hallway! I refuse to hold grudges and point the finger of blame at anyone because most of the time we just weren’t thinking clear. Our lives were so unencumbered by the thought process! (laughing) We gotta forgive and forget.
Something else I found is that most everybody I wanted to be involved with CHARIOT were recording albums of their own and they were using some of the same people - who are also recording albums of their own - who are using people who are recording albums of their own who are ….well – you get my drift! It gets confusing to me! I reckon we could all be in each other’s band and put on one heck of a show – take turns bein the headliner! (laughing)
When you say “Beatles” your mind automatically “sees” John, Paul, George and Ringo right? I was thinking that CHARIOT would be a certain group of people forever and always but any sort of lasting commitment from musicians and singers these days was a challenge – that’s easy to understand because again; we’re not eighteen anymore and our time is so spent on things that are more important. We’re older - filial obligations make it tough to commit to any long term involvement. So CHARIOT became a band of interchangeable players and singers. Instead of using CHARIOT as the main focus, I switched to “Barry Lee Harwood and CHARIOT” because I knew that the CHARIOT Band lineup would more than likely be different every time I play somewhere – depending on who’s available at the time. There’s less entanglement this way. CHARIOT still exists – I just never know who’s gonna be riding in it (laughing) but it’ll be good when we “get this show on the road”! I believe as members come and go; a team will evolve into the CHARIOT I’m looking for.
Now your long awaited album is out, and it is even better than I had hoped for, a great mix of country, Southern Rock and gospel. Tell us about the album; where it was recorded and the musicians involved, etc What instruments did you play yourself on it?
You’re very kind and I thank you for the thumbs-up! “Long awaited” being the operative phrase! (laughing) It doesn’t take eight years to record an album does it? It wasn’t supposed to take the children of Israel forty years to reach the Promised Land either (laughing) they had issues and I reckon I had issues too! To clarify; I didn’t work on the album every day for 2,920 days! (laughing) I’m meticulous but that’s ridiculous! There was an entire year where we didn’t work on it at all and another year we only logged fifty hours in the studio. I work a day job so sessions had to be after work. There were lots of behind the scenes issues I had to deal with; things that people don’t hear about. I was hospitalized and out of commission for a while – my Mom had heart surgery and – the real kicker - my wife had a heart attack which really put the brakes on the project! There were weddings, funerals and births including the birth of our first Grandson! I was pushing hard to finish but life just moved at its own pace and the harder I pushed the longer it took! We all have the same trials, situations and challenges but my point is; the album wasn’t always the priority. It wasn’t all about the music every day. God was workin on ME while I was workin on this album! The Southern Part of Heaven is a mirror image of my musical heart and life; every song is a page from my diary! You remember I played you some of these songs in their bare-bones state when we were at the Winters Brothers Jam one year!
There’s no way I can name every person who has “been there for me” but The Southern Part of Heaven wouldn’t exist without Billy Prince and Jeff Alford. Their unwavering faith, commitment and enthusiasm held my feet to the fire. If I lost sight of the goal they “saw it” for me! They both went above and beyond the call; men of integrity. Billy engineered the Nashville sessions; he also played bass on Anywhere a Train Can Go, Rocky Top Flyer and Laid Back in the South. Jeff engineered the Jacksonville sessions and brought an
endless supply of resources to the table; not to mention he helped me build ZOMO which is my home studio where I did a lot of overdubs at my leisure. I don’t doubt there were times when they really wanted to strangle me they exercised great restraint! (laughing) Jeff, Billy and I are not only friends and co-producers but we’re Brothers in Christ. We went through a lotta changes making this record and it’s good to be surrounded by people who read from the same “how to” manual; put their hand to the plow and don't look back. The production team that prays together stays together! (laughing) So much more than “music” happens when God is at the center of the project! You should see the stack of production notes I have on this record. Years ago so many of my lifelong friends told me, “man, when you do your album call me; I’ll be there” - so I called – and they were there for me! I wore out a lot of people recording this album! (laughing) To me it’s a perfect mix of Country, Southern Rock, Gospel and Bluegrass - all the roots of Southern music. The history of my future is written here in The Southern Part of Heaven!
I know this sounds contrived but I mean this with all my heart; I “see” my family members who have passed from this life; my Dad, both Grandfathers and Grandmothers, Aunts and Uncles and more – and I “see” them leaning over the balcony in Heaven cheering me on, saying, “ya did it son, ya did it!” A lot of my friends and family members here on this earth are saying the same thing. Go to my website and read “The People Who Loved Me Anyway” it’s a snapshot of my heart and how I feel about the people God sent along to help enable me to succeed.
When I listen to this album I realize more than ever that life and music ain’t just about me – never has been! You have no idea how grateful and thankful I am to have completed this record and this is just the first of many more.
The Southern Part of Heaven has a sort of “back in the day” feel to it that I like. It sounds familiar to a lot of people. I produce records with an “organized looseness” that‘s aimed at the heart. Not quite as loose as Rod Stewart and The Faces! (laughing) More like the days when technology didn’t create the talent – technology recorded the talent that was already there. My “zeros and ones” might be a little less than perfect but they’re gonna be the best feelin zeros and ones ever! You know; if my slide guitar goes a little sharp, so what – it’s a slide guitar and I’m a human being! If the overall solo “plays my heartstrings” then there won’t be a do-over!
Okay, lemme run through my thoughts about this “portrait” that I call an “album” that is a “record” of events that took place in my life and is burned onto a slice of polycarbonate plastic that we call a “compact dis.!” (laughing)
The Southern Part of Heaven says what I want it to say; the way I wanted to say it – no matter who you are or where you’re from; it speaks the language of your world - it transitions well from beginning to end and tells a story that’s easy to understand – it comes by your house and picks you up; takes you for ride and drops you back at your house – your four year old child and your eighty year old Grandma can enjoy it at the same time – the songs are past, present and future – born from my life’s influences, musical history and Spiritual revelation - the music reflects “the real you” and takes you to familiar places; like “the good ol’ days” we’ve all been missing. The lyrics are not explicit and they give you something to think about - something to laugh and cry about - something you can keep in your heart forever - all in a positive light. The instrumental songs are like soundtracks to a movie that plays in your life; a blank canvas for your thoughts.
In some ways this album picks up where RCB left off and it goes where RCB could possibly have gone if we’d stayed together. With RCB I wrote "Pine Box" - the follow up song on this album is "I Am That I Am." With RCB I wrote I’m Free Today and on this album the follow up is Sad To Be Cryin, so on and so forth. As a contributing songwriter with RCB you got a glimpse of where I was headed – but both the band and me never lived up to our full potential.
The Southern Part of Heaven is full-on Barry Lee with no buffer and no restraint. The songs take you on a Bluesy, Country, Gospel, Bluegrass, Southern Rock n’ Roll journey across the miles through Americana - a crossbreed of words and music that have been simmering in my heart for a lifetime of years. Like a Beatles album; you never know what you’ll hear when you hit the play button! Given the financial and human resources I had to work with; I’m pleased with the product; it’s like a testimony – every song is a mini movie! I don’t have fancy liner notes or anything but all the recording info and lyrics are here on my website.
Did you write the songs yourself? Love that mandolin!
I did! All except Swing Low Sweet Chariot! The amazing thing is; most of these songs were written in the 70’s! I’d like to think I’m just so ahead of my time (laughing) but it’s more like time stood still and waited for me to come back around! The “wasted days and wasted nights” have been restored!
I love the mandolin too. My Dad taught me my first song on mandolin when I was fourteen. I never picked up a mandolin again until around 1972 but “the seed” had been planted. I’m not a powerhouse mandolin player; it’s a fun little instrument to play.
I can play anything with strings on it but stringed instruments are more like writing tools to me – an extension of my musical self. I don’t think I’ll go down in history as one of the best guitar players, mandolin players, dobro, lapsteel players but I’m good at what I do and I know my limitations. I love songwriting, recording and producing a whole lot more than I like sitting around practicing guitar – in fact; anytime I pick up an instrument I start writing a song - I can’t pick up a guitar and tune it without a song idea developing.
The amazing thing is; I’ve been playing for a long time but every time I pick up an instrument I’ll play something I’ve never played before – music is a bottomless well.
I have a set of bagpipes that I bought in Edinburgh, Scotland – they’re antique and they told me they were made by the MacDougall Clan. You prolly won’t be hearing any bagpipe solo’s anytime soon!
What’s your response to those who will say you should have done an all southern rock or an all contemporary Christian record instead?
As my Grandfather said, “Hold onto your hat and buckle your strap; here we go boys!”
Yea and verily I have heard from The Doomsday Prophet – he hath pointed his boney finger at me and prophesied doom and gloom in my general direction because I foolishly recorded an album plagued with more multi-genre song material than the radio gods can handle! I’ve committed media’s unpardonable sin. I’ve single handedly confused Programming Directors and Promoters with one album! I’ve created an album for which there is no pigeon-hole! My God; even my own Mother can’t decide which song to play; she’s forced to put the CD in and hit the shuffle button. The Doomsday Prophet says I shall be cast out into utter darkness – my album shall be tossed into a lake of fire and I won’t be able to vote on the Grammy’s until such time as I learn to live by the rules of radio – the upside is; I can still get coffee from Starbucks so, hey, it’s all good!
Okay, back to reality! Actually, I can understand that mindset because my most visible point in the music business was in the Southern Rock genre; but I’m not a Southern Rocker entirely. Southern Rock is part of me and part of what I do– but it’s not all of me. The Rossington Collins Band didn’t stay together long enough for me to expose the songwriting capabilities you hear on The Southern Part of Heaven but you can see shades of it in songs like “I’m Free Today” and “Pine Box.”
Here’s the deal, just about the time my career got rolling, The Rossington Collins Band and The Allen Collins Band burned out and I dropped off the radar screen. People never got a chance to hear songs like those on The Southern Part of Heaven. There was an audience “waiting for my music and The Rossington Collins Band was my opportunity to find that audience but I vanished. When I disappeared I was known as a Southern Rocker so naturally, there’s a group of people who would expect me to return as a Southern Rocker. I’m returning, not only as a Southern Rocker but with the complete Barry Lee package that no one got the chance to see and hear before. It includes the Bluegrass - the Country - the Classical and so on. I have an extensive catalogue of song material.
Yes; I have enough Southern Rock songs to make an entire butt-kickin Southern Rock album. I also have enough Country songs to make a full-on Country album, yes; I have enough Christian songs to record a dedicated Worship album. I have enough songs for a total Bluegrass album and songs for a total instrumental / movie music album. Since I interrupted the career I started back in the day why would I want to resurface with an all Southern Rock album and then try to steer people in another direction later on? Why not just start with the real me this time? I know the answer – I just don’t agree with it.
The Doomsday Prophet has prophesied that I run the risk of confusing my fan base but I don’t believe people are that easily confused – that’s not giving the fans much credit.
It’s not the fans who are confused it’s those who don’t have a rubber stamp for what I do. If anything, I’m looking to expand my fan base; I’m gathering the fan base I would have had if RCB had stayed together. Even when RCB crashed into the rocks I could have (and should have) forged ahead with my career and this album would’ve happened a long time ago. In a lot of ways I’m starting over again but this time with clear eyes and pure motives. Old school and new school are in a wrestling match. I’ve always pushed the envelope – I’ve always tried to think outside the box but today envelopes and boxes are gone! I’ve blown some major opportunities in my life; one of which was to have the diversified fan base that is coming to life as we speak.
What you hear on The Southern Part of Heaven is “who I am” and it’s who I’ve always been. People now have a chance to hear what they’ve been missing; it’s what they were about to hear before I left the scene. People are finding out for the first time that I have a whole lot more to offer than they were aware of.
No one bought a Beatles album because they were Country, Rock, Gospel or otherwise; we bought Beatles albums because it was the Beatles – we never knew what we were gonna hear when the needle hit the vinyl. Ask everyone you come in contact with, “what kind of music do you like?” The # 1 answer is, “I like all kinds!” The problem is; some radio stations don’t wanna play all kinds of music. What? Do we need specialized radio stations – we already got’em. Thanks to the Internet and bedroom studios in every home the market paradigm has shifted and we’re inundated with … (you guessed it) “all kinds of music” – and consequently people have been taught to listen to (you guessed it) all kinds of music.
The argument between me and the Doomsday Prophet lies between the type of songs on my album and today’s music business model; what program directors and promoters are willing to work with. The Doomsday Prophet says, “It doesn’t fit the mold” – “it doesn’t fit in their box” so therefore I must scrap it and start over again because it’s impossible to place me and my music in one of their pre-fabricated boxes. OMG OMG what ever do I do? Simple; do it their way! Select a template from their box and record an album that matches one of their rubber stamps - got it! Let’s see … I put the peanut butter on the bread first – THEN the jelly. Are you sure I can’t put the jelly on the bread first? No; then it would be JPB instead of a PBJ and no one will want to buy a JPB because it isn’t normal. Plus; it’ll tear the bread up! (laughing) Ok, I’ll do it your way.
The fundamentals of the music business haven’t really changed over the years but the transition from analogue to digital to internet is changing the way the whole world does business. It gives more freedom to the artist; or does it? With a computer and Garage Band you can bypass the Record Companies if you want to but you still run into the locked gate of Program Directors. Ain’t nothin’ new; someone has always had a monopoly on what the public hears and when they hear it. Music is boundless and free – if you can dream it you can do it - but when it comes to getting airplay and getting booked by an agent they gotta be able to pull you out of a numbered slot. It’s just business as usual to them and we’re expected to work within the constraints. We’re expected to record albums, not according to what we want, but according to what they’re willing to work with. Well what if I have a concept that they don’t have a template for; back to square one. Apparently their creativity has a shelf life.
I’m not taking a cavalier approach to the established way of doing business in the music industry. My goal is to do it God’s way and to follow the blueprint I’ve been shown. If that leads me away from what they call normal then let’s just see where it goes; I have to follow my heart. No matter what I’ve done, how I’ve done it, why I’ve it or where I’ve done it – there’s always been a trail of people who disagree and walked away; so nothings new! It’s mind over matter; I don’t mind and it don’t matter! (laughing)
Of course, this debate could go on forever and I’m not criticizing the critics; oh wait – yes I am! (laughing)God knows nothing great was ever accomplished without the naysayer but I draw the line at Hebrews 11: 1. I’m moving in faith – I have faith in a vision that not everyone can see – but, then again, not everyone needs to see it. Faith is my Title Deed to the promise I believe I already have. Walt Disney looked out of an airplane window at the landscape over Central Florida and he “saw” Disneyworld. He was looking at a forest and swampland but his minds eye “saw” his new theme park. He could have nudged the passenger next to him and said, “That’s Disneyworld down there, do you see it?” the passenger would have looked out the window and seen nothing but trees and greenery; he would have written him off as a nut; but Walt was the only person who needed to see it. Now it was up to him to build what the eyes of his faith saw. His faith was all the evidence he needed. The critics lined up to tell Walt why this was a bad idea – but their criticism was based on what they saw – not what Walt saw.
Noah built a sea-going vessel in the middle of a dessert – why – because God said it’s gonna rain. Up until that time it had never even rained on the earth so Noah had no idea what rain was; he just built the boat. The critics and hecklers came out every day. For one hundred years they taunted him and told him he was crazy; but then it started to rain! It’s not up to you, me or anyone else to explain or argue the logic behind a God-given vision or more specifically; the album I recorded. If it truly is “the ark” God told me to build then we’d all do well to embrace it and see where it goes. If it sets new precedent; do I get credit for it – no – God gets the glory. The media is not my source; God is my source. We all use the media but if you depend on them to feed you you’ll starve. Instead of predicting doom and gloom maybe the Doomsday Prophet could open his eyes to new possibilities – at least offer a new suggestion. Fear is a complex emotion. New business models are being created every second and there’s room for everybody. I can’t fault someone for being critical; their opinion is based on the information they believe in and govern their life by – so is mine – and without corrective lenses they’ll never see what “the eyes of my faith” see. Everyone has a way that works for them; I won’t criticize their means to an end because it just could be the thing that changes the whole industry for the better.
Jesus healed a blind man on a Sunday afternoon; the Pharisees said, “It’s against the law to heal on Sunday.” Jesus didn’t say, “oop’s, my bad – sorry Dude I’m gonna have to undo the miracle – we’ll have a do-over on Monday.” There is no wrong day or wrong way to do the will of God if your heart is honest and your motives are pure. During the making of this album I never caved to carnal thinking and I’m not about to start now. There will always be people who don’t “see” what I see and “hear” what I hear so how can they have an appreciation for where I’m going? I’m following a God given dream in my heart so by nature I respond to the truth and an unbeliever finds me difficult to understand. I’m not discouraged by the naysayer because I’m a fighter and I believe I’ve followed my blueprint. Bad press doesn’t take the wind out of my sails; it just means the wind isn’t blowing from that direction. If my life and my music serve God’s purposes it doesn’t matter how it looks to the rest of the world; it’s a life well spent and I’ll be content with the result of my decisions.
There’s only one name on my list of people on this earth to please! (laughing) When I’m satisfied that a song or an album says what I want it to say the way I want to say it; then I pass the point of criticism. I’ve learned that the critics don’t count anyway; they’re only there to confirm that I’m on course. You have to learn to use criticism for fuel and move forward with the vision in your heart because there’s an audience for every artist out there – no matter what you do. You’ll find a group of people who will like it and support it. Look; we’re all in this thing together; I’m not gonna slam somebody’s method whether it works for them or not – we’ll figure it out eventually. There’s an audience that you can reach that I’ll never reach – but then – there’s an audience I can reach that you’ll never reach because people have ears to hear different things at different times in their lives. We’re all aiming for the same target; we all have our unique purpose.
Some artists have a bigger “reach” than others for sure – maybe they play by the rules! (laughing) We’re all learning and growing; maturing and changing. The naysayer is just someone who doesn’t see what I see and that’s ok; I don’t expect everyone on the planet to appreciate what I do or how and why I do it. It would be wonderful and profitable if they did; but they don’t. We all have our marching orders. Even if my beliefs take me outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom – even if my beliefs distance me from “business as usual” there’ll be a select group of people out there waiting and willing to work with me. As long as I make my position clear there’ll be people, places and things to support it. No one can steal my dream or rob me of my destiny except me.
Over the years God has restored many of the people, places and things that I’ve lost – He has given me a second chance at those opportunities that I missed. I understand that the music business is locked into a certain way of doing things – I understand they have their cookie cutter – assembly line way of doing things and (they think) if you walk outside the lines you’ll fail. No one can convince me that The Southern Part of Heaven is confusing to record companies, radio stations and especially the buying public – it’s like trying to convince me there is no God! Confusion comes from people who have more faith in the music business than the dream God placed in their heart; people who won’t allow dreams and God-given visions to open doors for them – people who are afraid to step out on faith and walk on the water – even if it is only for a few steps. God can make a way where there is no way.
I like this quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
It’s not the critic who counts – it’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena – whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood – who strives valiantly – who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.
But who does actually strive to do the deeds? Who knows the great enthusiasms; the great devotions? Who spends himself in a worthy cause? Who, at best, knows in the end, the triumphs of high achievement and who, at worst, if he fails, at least while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. I would rather fail trying to do the will of God than be a mere spectator.
Jumping the track here, I really enjoyed the recent release from
Mainstream South you are on. Tell us a bit about that project.
MainStream South is the brainchild of Steve Perez and the debut album Speechless was written, arranged and produced by him. There are eleven songs self-described as, “a rare collection of contemporary instrumental rock music.” It’s some of the most awesome and inventive music I’ve played on in a long while and I’m honored to have been a part of it! Steve has been one of Jacksonville Florida’s best kept secrets for a lotta years. He’s an awesome keyboardist, writer and arranger and a true friend. Steve’s one of the good guys! He’s passionate about his music; a very precision player. He understands the economics of composition. He plays all the keyboards on The Southern Part of Heaven.
Steve and I “make beautiful music together” (laughing) It doesn’t matter what kind of song we throw at each other; we both have a way of finding the perfect interpretation.
Matter of fact the song SOMET Eagle on my new album is just me and Steve - is that awesome or what!
As a keyboard player he’s been compared to Billy Powell but to me the comparison isn’t balanced because Steve’s not only an awesome utility keyboardist but a fashionable songwriter and arranger as well; the difference being publicity; he’s been under the radar until now. Derek introduced me to Steve in 1975 – we were in and out of bands together with Randall Hall, Gary Goddard and others up until the time Derek and I joined the Rossington Collins Band.
We lost touch after that until I called Steve to be involved in my new album project. It was great to have the “awesome threesome” in the studio and it inspired Steve to fulfill a lifelong dream of his own. He had written a group of songs that we used to play during our time together in the 70’s so he booked studio time and began moving forward with his MainStream South project. Derek played drums and he invited me to play guitar. If anyone hasn’t heard “Speechless” you owe it to yourself to add it to your collection - truck on over to CD Baby and check it out! The best all round piano work I’ve heard out of this city and of course Derek Hess never has an off-day! He plays better now than ever; he’s locked on target. Interesting side-note; the first band I ever joined in my life was with Derek Hess – around the eighth grade! He’s better than a best friend could ever be – never a dull moment with him around! I kinda think Steve’s gearing up for another album; maybe some shows or promotion of some kind. Whatever it is I’d keep up with him because it’ll be a classic event.
THE ROSSINGTON COLLINS BAND
Do you ever hear from the old Lynyrd Skynyrd/Rossington Collins Band members?
No I don’t and it isn’t because I don’t want to – we just drifted apart. We still orbit the same planet; we just lost radio contact! I saw more of them when I was living in Nashville. It’s always friendly when we see each other and that is as it should be. Leon was the one who always stayed in touch … at all hours of the day and night! (laughing) I miss those phone calls.
I didn’t really realize you once had a band with Dave Hlubek of Molly Hatchet. Tell me about that band, Dave and any fun memories.
Yeh; Dave and I had The Hlubek –Harwood Band in the 80’s. The lineup included Lonnie Brown and Buzzy Meekins. All my memories with Dave were fun – he’s a funny guy. When we first pulled a band together some people were shocked that I chose to work with him – I was “warned” about Dave’s persona but I honestly never saw Dave’s dark side! (laughing) and fortunately he caught me during one of my attempts to “stay on the straight and narrow” so I was in my right mind at the time and although it was a flash in the pan, it worked and we had fun with it. We weren’t trying to re-live our past success; we were just giggin around town – makin some money. My favorite Dave quote, “three things I like to do and that’s eat – play music – and eat; did I mention eatin’ cause I like to eat!” (laughing)
Here’s the big question of the day - what are your immediate and future musical plans, and can we expect to see Barry Lee Harwood coming to our town soon?
As far as shows and stuff there are a few things I’m working on that are very exciting but we’ll have to see if they fall in place; there’s nothing definite at the moment. When I finally finished the album it hit me; DAG, I need an agent! (laughing) I told you I don’t multi-task well!
The album was just released in April this year so I’m meeting with people – on the phone with people – on the net with people – exploring possibilities - just sort of swingin wild right now. I can’t wait to feel the heat of the stage again but it’s gonna take a special combination of people to make it work. I’m just one of the g’zillion Indie Artists out there and since I’m not signed with an agency I’m wearin’ all the hats at the moment. Really and truly I feel like my purposes for this phase would be better served in Nashville.
My next album is in the queue and we should begin production in 2011. I have a studio on my property so I’m always workin on material and production of some sort. Whatever happens next and whenever it happens you can bet you’ll be among the first to know!
Special thankl to Barry Lee for his time, Claudia Harwood for all her help, and finally to Scott Greene for helping get the ball rolling on the relationship between Barry Lee and GRITZ eight years ago!
Allen Collins and Barry Lee
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