Nobody makes a name for themselves by simply "standing on the shoulders of giants." You can be the best Blues musician technically speaking, but just playing more of what Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy have played before you won't catapult you to superstardom. For that, you have to blaze new trails. Play things no one has played before. Create a sound that's both unique and interesting, as well as entertaining. > Read more
That's why we're still talking about Pink Floyd more than four decades after Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, and Roger Waters first came together to play some R&B tunes for their college friends.
Pink Floyd: The Beginning
The group later dubbed Pink Floyd first formed about 1964. All except Barrett were students at the Regent Street Polytechnic School in London. Barrett was responsible for coining the name, but his tenure as leader was short lived, due to an erratic and unpredictable nature that most of his friends blame on an undiagnosed mental illness.
As is so often the case, especially when incredibly talented musicians are involved, the back-story to the story is even more compelling than the actual history. You can read anywhere about how Pink Floyd broke into the London music scene, and how they managed to produce 15 solo albums, 3 live albums, 8 compilations, and no fewer than 27 singles.
They'll also tell you how the band's original R&B soon gave way to more complex musical compositions -- such as space rock and progressive rock, with a heritage rooted in older musical genres, including country, blues, and folk music. You can even read about how they were known as much for their wildly elaborate live performances and for their eccentric but engaging album covers as for their spacey music.
Pink Floyd: The Back Story
What you won't hear many places is the full story (the true one) about how the unusually-named Pink Floyd got that moniker. It's widely reported that the name came from an album Barrett had by old school blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The problem with that little legend is that there is no evidence to be found anywhere that these two bluesmen ever recorded music together. Most likely, Barrett had two albums, and brought the two names together to make one. Understanding where the name Pink Floyd came from also gives us clues about where Barrett and the boys got their inspiration for what became a brand new musical experience.
Pink Anderson, the "Pink" half of Pink Floyd, is often reported to have been a "Georgia bluesman," but in actuality, he was a native of South Carolina. The western part, to be exact, where the Appalachian Mountain chain breaks out of the coastal plains of the east coast. Those familiar with music history note that Anderson sang in the melodic tones of an Appalachian mountain man, not a gritty bluesman from the Georgia of the Deep South, where the Delta Blues ruled.
Delta Blues was born in the Mississippi Delta, and was a gritty sound that eventually gave birth to other forms of Blues, including Louisiana, Texas, and even the infamous Chicago Blues. The Blues Anderson strummed and sang was birthed from the Gospel music and mountain folk music popular among the African American population before and during the Great Depression, particularly in the South. Anderson did, however, travel to Atlanta to do some recording, which is probably where that rumor came from.
If you check out Anderson's music on YouTube, you won't find anything like the bluesy Delta Blues that hailed from the Deep South in the 1920's and 30's. You will hear something much more like the "Negro Spirituals," a form of Gospel created by African Americans in the Deep South. He recorded distinctively Gospel tunes, like "I Will Fly Away" as well as decidedly secular Blues songs, like, "I Got a Woman."
Anderson was born in 1900 and spent his younger years touring with a "Dr. Kerr" who was a "medicine man" traveling and selling the wares of the Indian Remedy Company. These medicine men often brought along a musical act, which is the purpose Anderson served for Kerr, singing, playing guitar, and dancing for his sales pitch until Kerr retired.
In 1916, Anderson took up performing with a blind singer and guitarist named Simmie Dooley. "Blind" Simmie Dooley actually was a Georgia bluesman, who played local gigs like parties and picnics with Anderson in Spartanburg, South Carolina, until he retired in 1957. Dooley brought an air of Country Blues to the repertoire. Though presented with the opportunity, Anderson refused to record after Dooley's retirement.
Anderson then went on to maintain a musical trio for awhile, made up of a guitar, a washboard, and a harmonica. In 1963 he appeared in a film titled The Bluesmen, but died at the age of 74 in poverty. According to friends and neighbors, he supplemented his retirement income before his death in the 1970's by hosting card games and selling moonshine from his modest apartment.
Floyd Council, the "Floyd" half of Pink Floyd, hailed from a different Blues family tree. Dubbed by record companies as both "Floyd Dipper Boy Council" and "The Devil's Daddy in Law," Council did sing and play the Delta Blues and the Piedmont Blues -- both of which are Blues forms that started in the Deep South, and feature a rougher and slightly heavier sound than Anderson's Gospel-esque Blues.
But Council wasn't from Georgia or Mississippi, either. He came from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, born in 1911. He started playing in Chapel Hill in the 1920's with Leo and Thomas Strowd, forming the group the Chapel Hillbillies. In the 30's, he took up with Blind Boy Fuller, one of the few recorded artists among the true Piedmont Blues musicians, but Fuller was definitely one of the most popular of that group, especially among African Americans living in the rural South.
While playing with Blind Boy Fuller, Council was scouted by John Baxter Long of ACR Records. He took Council on a few trips to New York City, where he recorded under all his various nicknames. During an interview in 1969, Council recalled having recorded a total of 27 times. Six of those he played and sang solo, 7 of those recordings were with Fuller (Council as backup), and another 5 that were never issued. Two of the unissued recordings were made with Piedmont Blues and folk legend Sonny Terry, a harmonica player. Three of the unissued recordings were made with another harmonica player.
Council continued playing in his hometown of Chapel Hill through the 40's and 50's, but was forced into retirement by a stroke that rendered him unable to play in 1963. Council passed away in 1976. Anderson, Council, and their contemporaries made a tremendous impact on the world of music, not just by donating their names to the iconic Pink Floyd, but also paving the way for other world-famous Blues players, like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.
Pink Floyd: The Band
Pink and Floyd, respectively, left their mark on Barrett and inevitably much of their musical heritage made its way into the spacey, psychedelic music that Pink Floyd created and made famous in the 1960's and 70's. At times, you can hear each branch of that family tree, from the smooth strumming and crooning of Pink Anderson, Blind Simmie Dooley and their mountain music to the heartfelt Deep South picking and purring of Floyd Council and Sonny Terry and their Delta Blues. The band borrowed heavily from Blues, Country, Folk music, and the hard rock and electronic sounds more popular in later musical history.
Pink Floyd received their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and eventually made their way into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. As of 2013, they had laid claim to over 250 million official album sales, which includes the sale of 75 million certified copies in the US alone.
Their first massive success was the album The Dark Side of the Moon, released in 1973. They followed up in 1975 with Wish You Were Here, and released Animals in 1977. The Wall came out in 1979, and became the best-selling multi-disc album in history. After a nasty break with Waters in 1986, and an equally ugly lawsuit that sought to legally dissolve the band and retire its name, Pink Floyd (under the leadership of Gilmour) went on to release A Momentary Lapse of Reason ('87), The Division Bell ('94), and The Endless River ('14). Of those albums, only Animals failed to reach the #1 spot on the American charts.
Pink Floyd is most noted for their psychedelic rock -- composed and performed to inspire a wonderful trip. But, unlike most of the rock music written to enhance a high, Pink Floyd's music actually holds up to sobriety. It's powerfully moving and intensely creative, enthralling listeners the world over, many of whom don't even use pot or LSD.
At some point or another, Pink Floyd band members have included:
Roger Waters -- bass player, rhythm guitarist, and vocalist from 1965 through 1985, and again briefly in 2005. He was the band's leader and frontman after Barrett's departure in 1968, but later sued the band and caused a hideous riff that lasted for decades. The members have patched things up, but he is no longer an active participant in their musical performances. As Gilmour points out, Waters was only in the band for 17 years and has been out for more than 30. Perhaps it's time for fans to quit wondering if he's coming back.
David Gilmour -- lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, and vocalist from 1967 to 1995, and again in 2005 and from 2012 to 2014.
Nick Mason -- percussionist from 1965 to 1995, and again in 2005 and 2012-2014.
Richard Wright -- keyboardist and vocalist from 1965 to 1979, again from 1987 to 1995, and also in 2005. Wright passed away in 2008 of lung cancer.
Syd Barrett -- lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, and vocalist from 1965 to 1968 and band leader and frontman during that time. Barrett likely had some type of mental illness (schizophrenia was suggested by some) that was never properly diagnosed or treated. Much of his life was marred by odd behaviors and serious drug abuse, including a reportedly "forced high" by some of his drug-using followers that possibly left him permanently brain damaged. He passed away in 2006 in his home, and the death was blamed on his battle with diabetes. Despite numerous romantic partnerships over the years, he never married or had children. His considerable fortune was left to his brothers and sisters.
In case you were wondering, yes, "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" from Wish You Were Here was about Syd Barrett. He actually dropped in on the recording, hung out awhile, exhibited his eccentric behavior (which the band had come to expect) and made his exit just as suddenly. Apart from an odd little encounter between Barrett and Waters a couple of years afterward, this was the last time the band saw him alive.
Most of the band members have enjoyed successful musical careers in addition to their contributions as Pink Floyd.