Born John Barry Prendergast, 3 November 1933, York, Yorkshire, England
Died 30 January 2011, Oyster Bay, New York State

John Barry has gone down in history as one of the most important composers of film soundtrack music. But he started his career in the music business as the leader of the John Barry Seven, Britain's first instrumental rock n roll outfit of any significance. This piece will concentrate on his early career (1957-1962) and his contributions to rock and roll.

Barry's mother was a classical pianist and his father owned a chain of cinemas across northern England. Being raised in and around cinemas, John became fascinated by film music at an early age. He took up the trumpet at the age of sixteen. While in the army he signed up for a correspondence course with jazz arranger Bill Russo in Los Angeles. Soon he was able to offer arrangements to such bandleaders as Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth and Jack Parnell.

Barry was not particularly fond of rock n roll (he preferred jazz and classical music), but understood the possibilities that the genre offered for an ambitious musician. He recruited a 7-piece group (3 guitars, 2 saxes, a drummer and Barry himself on trumpet) that launched its live career in March 1957. By September of that year the John Barry Seven were invited to appear on Six Five Special, the BBC's first attempt at a rock n roll TV programme. The group made its first recordings in October/November 1957, six vocal tracks, three of them written by Barry himself. Two of these came out on a "Six Five Special" LP and the other four were released on two Parlophone singles, "Zip Zip"/"Three Little Fishes" and "Every Which Way"/"You've Gotta Way". Barry was the vocalist on all six tracks. The records were typical of early British rock and roll : primitive and strongly influenced by what Charlie Gillett has called "northern band rock and roll" (Bill Haley, Freddie Bell).

The switch to instrumental rock n roll came in March 1958 with a cover of Owen Bradley's "Big Guitar". What followed in 1958-59 was a mixed bag, sometimes guitar-led, at other times sax-led ("Long John"), but chart success still eluded the Seven. The group's line-up had been changing gradually as growing professionalism and a fuller touring schedule tested each musician's commitment. The sound changed noticeably with the arrival of guitarist Vic Flick and his flatmate, pianist Les Reed. Together with bassist Mike Peters, saxophonists Dennis King and Jimmy Stead and drummer Dougie Wright, they became the nucleus of the Seven's second stage.

The group needed a formula upon which they could focus and this came from Barry's association with Adam Faith. For Faith's first Parlophone record, "What Do You Want", Barry borrowed the idea of using pizzicato strings from Dick Jacobs's arrangement of Buddy Holly's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore". The result was a # 1 hit for Faith and Barry would soon apply the pizzicato sound on the recordings of the John Barry Seven. Their first single along these lines was "Hit And Miss", released in February 1960 (no longer on Parlophone, but now on Columbia, also part of EMI) and it would give the group its first chart entry, peaking at # 10. It also became the signature tune of the popular TV program Juke Box Jury, replacing "Juke Box Fury" by Ozzie Warlock and the Wizards. Three minor hits ("Beat For Beatniks", "Never Let Go" and "Blueberry Hill") followed before the group returned to the Top 20 with a cover of the Ventures hit "Walk Don't Run" (# 11), which also had an excellent B-side in the shape of "I'm Movin' On", the old Hank Snow hit.

Also in 1960, Barry had the first chance to fulfill his ambition for writing film music. "Beat Girl", starring Adam Faith in his first film role, was a low-budget exploitation movie, but the freedom of writing a full score and experimenting with arrangements clearly sharpened Barry's desire to move into soundtrack work.

The year 1961 saw further hits with "Black Stockings" and a cover of the film theme "The Magnificent Seven" (a US hit for Al Caiola), plus the "Stringbeat" LP, a 15-track album featuring the trademark pizzicato sound. The group also experimented with a new electronic instrument, the clavioline, especially on "Watch Your Step", a cover of a Bobby Parker number. "Cutty Sark", a minor hit in April 1962, was something different altogether, clearly inspired by the Dave Brubeck number "Take Five", which had been a # 6 pop hit in the UK in late 1961.

The turning point in Barry's career came when James Bond entered the picture in 1962. That year he had a # 13 hit with "The James Bond Theme" from the film "Dr. No" (credited to "The John Barry Seven and Orchestra"). Writer's credit went to Monty Norman, but Barry has claimed that he wrote the theme himself, resulting in several court cases. Details of the most recent case (2001) can be found at According to John Barry expert Geoff Leonard, Norman did write the famous intro, but the rest was probably rewritten by Barry. There is no controversy that Barry did arrange the James Bond theme and the arrangement continued to be used for subsequent Bond films. He would go on to compose the soundtracks for eleven later James Bond movies, the last one being "The Living Daylights" (1987).

From that point in 1962 Barry gravitated increasingly into the soundtrack field he had always wished to pursue. Barry disbanded the JB7 in September 1963, when Vic Flick left for session work. However, he soon changed his mind and an entirely new line-up was recruited (led by Bobby Graham, later Alan Bown) that carried on touring until May 1965.

Barry received many awards for his work, including five Oscars, two for "Born Free" (1966) and one each for "The Lion In Winter" (1968), "Out Of Africa" (1985) and "Dances With Wolves" (1991). The latter two also won him Grammy awards.

Barry's final chart entry (# 13 UK) was the theme from the TV series "The Persuaders", starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. His only US chart entry was the theme from the third James Bond film, "Goldfinger" (# 72, 1965). John Barry died of a heart attack on January 30, 2011 (aged 77), at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. He had migrated to the USA in 1980.

More info :

Books : Geoff Leonard has co-written two books about Barry (John Barry : A Life in Music, 1998, and John Barry : The Man With the Midas Touch, 2008) and is currently preparing a third one, on the John Barry Seven.

Discography :

CD's :
John Barry : The EMI Years, Vol. 1 : 1957-1960 (1993, 37 tracks).
John Barry : The EMI Years, Vol. 2 : 1961 (1993, 28 tracks).
John Barry : The EMI Years, Vol. 3 : 1962-1964 (1995, 27 tracks).
All three CD's annotated by David Toop. Reissued as a 3-CD box-set in 2011 under the title "The Bee's Knees : The EMI Years 1957-1964".

Acknowledgements : David Toop, Geoff Leonard,Wikipedia.

YouTube :
Long John :
Hit and Miss (live) :
Walk Don't Run :
I'm Movin' On :
The Magnificent Seven :
Watch Your Step :

Some film themes :
James Bond Theme :
You Only Live Twice :
Midnight Cowboy :
The Persuaders :

Dik, August 2014

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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