In the late 2000s, Memphis had The Barbaras, a handful of early-20s music heads colliding in the midtown bar scene and making a racket that captured VOM and Del Shannon in a blender. The band was great, the live shows were insane—see the checklist below.
• Maniacal bearded frontman (Billy Hayes)
• Incredibly tall bassist (Bennett Foster)
• Synthesizer mastermind (Will McElroy)
• Boy-next-door guitarist (Alex Gates)
• An array of unbalanced drummers
• Crowd interference (Stephen Pope)
• Shows that included props, costumes and groupies
• Had a somewhat cult-like aura
• Always had fun and seemed to enjoy each other’s company
• Could induce grown men to strip and gyrate on the bar at a show
• Staged orgies, deaths and resurrections at live shows
• Performed ventriloquist act
• Wrote great absurd pop songs
One thing they didn’t do? Record an album. Although they tried. Jay Reatard recorded them in fits and starts between touring, but after taking two Barbaras (Hayes and Pope) for his road band and touring constantly over the next few years, the group flamed out. The Magic Kids formed in their wake. When Hayes and Pope eventually left Reatard’s band and joined Wavves, he told them that he erased all of the Barbaras recordings.
In 2011, Goner was excited to find the sessions safe and sound right where Reatard had left them, on his digital recorder. Alicja Trout helped the band finish recording and mixing the tracks, and when paired with their own recordings (plus some heavy-duty work from Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering) it was clear their legacy held more than just a great (and now out-of-print) single. There’s a Barbaras album after all—and it’s a doozy.
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