Sherry Rayn Barnett is a Phenom Photographer
Sitting in the living room of the cozy Toluca Woods home she shares with a couple of felines, surrounded by her eclectic collection of music memorabilia, Sherry Rayn Barnett reflects with boundless enthusiasm on her life as a photographer and musician.
“I am captivated by what I see on stage and always want to capture those feelings,” says Sherry, who adds she was never comfortable performing solo. “Having the advantage of playing music, I can anticipate the moment. It’s something very intrinsic to me.”
A petite brunette with an infectious grin, she regales with tales forged through five decades of rock, folk, pop, disco, jazz, country, punk and blues—a journey that began as a New York teen in the late ’60s—ultimately landing her in the epicenter of music history.
It’s a story that might not have been told had the pandemic not happened.
Photographer Sherry Rayn Barnett has captured some of the most iconic legends in music— from rock to pop to disco to blues: Prince, Sting, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Janis Joplin—the list is endless.
In this episode, Sherry shares with Linda some of the stories of behind the images she’s taken at live music venues over her expansive career and about her new book Eye of the Music: The Photography of Sherry Rayn Barnett: New York to LA, 1969-1989. It is a stunning collection of more than 200 images of performers, all shot on film, some of which have never before been seen.
Eye Of The Music – The Photography Of Sherry Rayn
Barnett – Past Daily Sunday Book Review
Forgive the partiality, but when a life-long friend who you’ve always suspected of having “the gift”, finally puts together a collection of her work; a loving chronicle of Rock’s pivotal moments captured on film, not only are you thrilled, but you have this compulsion to point and yell “told you so!” to everybody who finds this treasure and thumbs these pages.
Let me start by saying I have known Sherry Rayn Barnett for more years than either she or I would like to admit. I met her when she first settled in Los Angeles and was busy setting up shop and doing what needed to be done in order to accommodate certain necessities like food, rent and film. She was delivering sandwiches to offices up and down Sunset Boulevard – dropping off healthy food accompanied by an infectious grin. I was struggling to make my own ends meet while trying to establish a career somewhere between Music, Film and Words and it was Sherry who kept me alive while I tripped, stumbled and opened a few doors in my own somewhat chaotic world.
NO DEPRESSION: The journal of roots music
The best music photographs, especially the photos of live performances, whether in small clubs or arena stages, re-create the passion of the artist’s performance. The photos take us there, give us front row seats, capture the lines of agony and ecstasy etched in the performer’s face, in their bodies. We return to those photos to live in the presence of the artist as well as in the presence of the photographer, an artist herself who transports us to a time and place, preserving the moments that comprise the history of our engagement with the music and musicians we love.
Acclaimed music photographer Sherry Rayn Barnett has gathered a stunning collection of her photos of over 200 artists in Eye of the Music: The Photography of Sherry Rayn Barnett: New York to LA, 1969-1989. She writes of her childhood in New York City: “I was raised on rock and roll — thanks to my mom.” Barnett’s mother, Peggy, was a songwriter who wrote early rock ‘n’ roll songs, and Sherry accompanied her mom to the Brill Building, where her mom would drop off demos and the young Sherry would collect 8×10 glossies of artists. “What mattered to me most,” she writes, “was the photograph — a visual reminder of the music, the face that matched the voice.”
Thank you to the official Jonimitchell.com for featuring Eye of The Music as front page News!
Beginning in New York City as a teenager, Sherry chronicled the artists redefining what pop music was as the 60s gave way to the 70s for various underground magazines. Early iconic photographs of Tina Turner, Joni, James Taylor, and Laura Nyro created trust and opened doors for revelatory images of Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt.
By the time she arrived in Los Angeles, the Troubadour scene was full-force. Sherry, who plays a blue Fender Stratocaster, was on the frontlines of the rock, pop, folk and Laurel Canyon country-rock scenes as much a fellow musician as a photographer documenting the music.
A great coffee table addition for all Joni and Troubadour completists!
Having spent over half a century working as a photographer, you’re sure to have seen Sherry Rayn Barnett’s work at some point. Maybe on such album covers as Nina Simone’s Let It Be Me, Toni Basil’s Best of Mickey & Other Love Songs, or What’s That I Hear? The Songs of Phil Ochs. Maybe in books like The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, or the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind. Sherry began taking pictures at the time rock ‘n’ roll was becoming rock, and rock was becoming art, and legendary careers were just getting off the ground. Her new book, Eye of the Music: The Photography of Sherry Rayn Barnett: New York to LA 1969-1989, offers an engrossing look through her personal archives, charting the career development of a professional photographer and the heady musical atmosphere of times.
Ironically, the COVID pandemic gave Sherry the time to complete the project, which had long been in the making. At the beginning of 2020, she was preparing for the release of a new album by her band, Mustangs of the West, set to be followed by a tour. The album, Time, came out as scheduled in March, but the tour ended up getting cancelled. The unexpected downtime allowed Sherry to focus on Eye of the Music and get it published by last December, making 2020 a busy year after all. “The fact that I was able to have an album release, and a book release, during the pandemic — it’s just absolutely amazing,” Sherry says, still in disbelief. “I doubt it will happen again.”
Bill Bentley on Americanahighways.org
Photography books are like sunken treasure: to find all these images of favorite artists from the past is to discover a whole new world up close and personal. There is nothing like coming across page after page of musicians who have become iconic over the years, and suddenly feel a new closeness to them that was never imagined before.
New Yorker Sherry Rayn Barnett started photographing musicians in the 1960s with a Kodak Brownie camera. Her father loved cameras, and passed his enthusiasm on to her. By 1964 she was on the road to becoming a professional, and has never looked back. This stunning book of her images starts with Ike and Tina Turner at New York’s Chelsea Hotel at the end of the ’60s, and continues until the ’80s were winding down. In those twenty years is a wild and wondrous array of artists of all musical persuasions. It’s hard to grasp that one person did it all. One of the real sweet spots of these photographs is how Barnett got right in the middle of it all. It’s not just an array of the best artists of our times, but more how she captured who they really were, in those moments when she was right next to them. To see Lou Reed onstage at Max’s Kansas City in Manhattan for his last night with the Velvet Underground in August 1970, with 17–year-old drummer Billy Yule in his only time with the band, is to feel like you’ve been invited into sharing history.
And this happens over and over in the glorious pages of EYE OF THE MUSIC. Whether it’s Joni Mitchell, B.B. King, James Taylor, Little Richard or any of the other artists featured in these pages, every single one is sharing their soul with the camera, and Sherry Rayn Barnett is there to capture the moment. In 2021 those moments won’t be coming again for so many of these incredible people, so it’s best to see it while you can. Worth 1,000,000 words.
Goldmine: The Music Collector's magazine
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Eye of the Music, 250 pages of historic photos and stories.
SHERRY RAYN BARNETT: Thank you. What the book has done for me is to put together a lifetime of work, even though it was just two decades of photographs. I spent years shooting concerts between playing with bands.
GM: Let’s highlight some of the women you have photographed over the years, beginning with Karen Carpenter in 1974. That year, their version of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” was the flip side of their hit version of “Please Mr. Postman.” Their sophisticated delivery of “This Masquerade” was originally on their Now & Then album, which I learned from my wife Donna. Karen’s voice and Richard’s piano were a perfect pairing on this song.
SRB: I love all their music, even the rare recordings. I photographed The Carpenters twice in concert. In 1974, which was my second time photographing them, I think Karen was really at her peak. She was slim but wasn’t anorexic. She was in full voice. At the end of the show they brought out the Jimmy Joyce Children’s Chorus to participate on “Sing,” as they had on the Now & Then album. One of the girls from the chorus told me that they did several shows with The Carpenters including Japan. Karen was exceptional and the band replicated the sound of their records, which was a sound all to themselves. The early songs that Karen did as a teenager before Richard got into production and arrangement didn’t have the Karen Carpenter voice that we know and love today. Richard’s arrangements and sounds in the studio brought her voice to life.
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Reader Review: Susan Heske
eye of the Music: The Photography of Sherry Rayn Barnett, New York To LA 1969-1989, is as close to my own coming of age story that I could imagine, offering a visual landscape of much of the music that has been the backdrop of a good chunk of my life. The images and stories in eye of the Music are simultaneously intimate and expansive, fleeting and historical, and lyrical. Although it may seem trite, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, holds true if we take the time to really look at an image and dig deeper into the line.
There’s a lot to explore and uncover in Sherry’s photographs. I am a lover of black-and-white film (yes, 35mm film), and of photographers who embrace the challenges of shooting in low-light situations that are spontaneous, chaotic, and sometimes controlled (which can often be more difficult), Sherry has captured images of musicians and performances that whisper and speaks volumes.
eye of the Music provides historical context. Many of the musicians in Sherry’s book took up the struggles for racial and gender equality and immigration rights, and who supported the anti-war and environmental movements. A number of them also took on the powerful and sometimes corrupt music industry by demanding better treatment, more financial compensation and creative control of their music. We see musicians, whose personal struggles resulted in tragic outcomes. We see musicians that helped to change the course of events, and those who are still on the front lines creating and sharing their music.
eye of the Music is also Sherry’s story. A strong woman photographer in a profession dominated by men. Her presence is felt, but not intrusive and exploitive. Sherry is a true believer in the power of music and photography. Her book has arrived, as fate would have it, during a pandemic, when going to music venues to listen to live music has been put on hold and so many musicians and music locales are struggling to survive. Let’s do what we can to support them. Thank you, Sherry, for letting us see the music through your eyes. Here’s to better days in 2021 and to in-person music gatherings!