Last night we got an email from Kearney Barton’s niece Patti, telling us the incredibly sad news that Kearney passed away peacefully at 8 PM. He was 81-years old. Over the last couple years, Kearney’s health had been deteriorating, but he was still sharp as a nail, hanging on and cracking jokes when we last saw him over the holidays. To say Kearney was a pioneer of the Northwest sound would be a massive understatement. Maybe he was the inventor? Whatever the tag, we miss the man. He taught us about the Frantics, the Sonics, Little Bill, Don & The Good Times, and so many more, but the one that really blew our minds was Black On White Affair’s “Bold Soul Sister, Bold Soul Brother,” recorded by Kearney in February ’70 and released on his Topaz label. It’s the tune that led me to Kearney’s doorstep in 2003, hoping to convince the wizard to let us license the single for inclusion on a comp of Seattle soul from back in the day. I quickly discovered the man had a heart of gold and a sense of humor that would make your grandfather proud. He was a genuine sweetheart who loved to work and record and record some more, making his famous cookies for guests, and watching a hydroplane race now and then. I remember him saying he’d had a bunch of calls from overseas reissue labels wanting to license the single, but he felt reluctant. Kearney liked the idea of working with a local label. Bless his soul.
The one thing that I could never wrap my head around was the wealth of material Kearney recorded since entering the business in the 1950s. It didn’t seem humanly possible. There were few, if any, bands who didn’t record at least one tune after walking through the doors of his Audio Recording Studios. And if it made a sound, he’d record it.
Digging through Kearney’s archive years later, this becomes all the more evident to our eyes and ears. We discover analog reels of operas, country western, big bands, psych, advertising jingles, downer songwriters, soul, high school jazz bands, crooners, funk, classical, folk, modern rock, radio shows… and whatever else I’m forgetting he probably recorded that too.
It’s a rare thing to master your craft at any point in your life. To do it in your thirties and stick with it for another 45 years, up until almost the day you die, is a beautiful thing. RIP Kearney. We’ll miss you.
- Matt Sullivan & the Light In The Attic crew