Steve Barri was born Steven Barry Lipkin in Brooklyn, New York, on February 23, 1942. His family moved to California when he was just a child. He began his career as a songwriter. He submitted his songs to Screen Gems Music which was run by Lou Adler. Adler liked Barri's songs, and helped him get his first recording of a Barri original. It was "Suzie Jones", recorded by The Nortones in 1959. Barri recorded a few unsuccessful solo singles and then teamed with singer Carol Connors, a former member of The Teddy Bears. When none of the singles under her name were successful, they then formed a group of their own, The Storytellers, with Carol's sister. Their debut single "When Two People (Are In Love)" was released on Dimension Records in 1963 with the help of Lou Adler who produced the single.
Adler then paired Barri with another promising young New York born songwriter, P.F. Sloan. The new team immediately began writing songs for Adler's stable of artists, which included Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers ("Secret Agent Man" was a Barri, Sloan song) and Terry Black. Herman's Hermits had a big hit with Sloan & Barri's "A Must To Avoid". The Turtles and the Searchers were among other groups that had hits with Barri, Sloan songs. Barri and Sloan also recorded themselves, as The Fantastic Baggys; with an album called Tell 'Em I'm Surfin' in 1964. It has become a cult classic and has been reissued on CD. Two more Fantastic Baggys albums were issued with Sloan and Barri having less to do with the recordings. By the third album, the only Sloan & Barri track was the song "Only When You're Lonely".
In 1965 Adler founded Dunhill Records with Jay Lasker and Bobby Roberts (Roberts performed in an act called The Dunhills, and so the name). He brought Barri and Sloan with him to the label and asked them to work on records and songs in the exploding folk rock movement. They had a huge success with Dunhill artist Barry McGuire when his recording of Sloan's song "Eve of Destruction" went to #1. They also began recording themselves again, this time choosing the name The Grass Roots for their songs. Barri and Sloan, not wishing to tour, hired a band called The Bedouins to tour and record as The Grass Roots. The group's lead vocalist, Willie Fulton, recorded a new lead vocal in place of P.F. Sloan's for the song "Where Were You When I Needed You” and it became the first Top 40 hit for The Grass Roots. Barri and Sloan then put together a new group line-up of Creed Bratton, Rick Coonce, Warren Entner and Rob Grill when the original group was replaced. The new line-up recorded the album Let's Live For Today in 1967, with Barri and Sloan producing, recording and performing their songs right alongside the group. Barri hired a lyricist to adapt the title song, originally an Italian song into an English version. This became the first Top 10 hit for The Grass Roots, with Rob Grill singing the lead with Warren Entner. Sloan then departed, leaving Barri to oversee the musical future of The Grass Roots. Barri gave the group several more of Sloan's songs to record, which appeared on their Feelings and the transitional Lovin' Things albums. Barri was the sole producer and the group output was being evolved into a soul sounding style with the addition of horns and more compositions in a pop soul vein.
Dunhill Records was acquired by ABC Records in 1967 and Barri was assigned the position of Director of Artists & Repertoire at the newly combined label. In addition to his duties as house producer, Barri was instrumental as A&R Director in signing several major acts to ABC/Dunhill, including Steppenwolf, Smith, Three Dog Night, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, The James Gang, Jim Croce, Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan), Steely Dan, Gayle McCormick (formerly of Smith), Jimmy Buffett, Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods, The Four Tops, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Dusty Springfield, and others. He also mentored the careers of two songwriting teams, Price & Walsh, and Lambert & Potter. He signed both to ABC/Dunhill's publishing arm, Trousdale Music in 1969. Both teams competed on The Grass Roots albums. Price & Walsh ended up writing five of The Grass Roots charting hits and four of those five made it to the Top 40. Lambert & Potter also wrote two Top 40 hits for The Grass Roots.
Barri had a good year of his own as a producer in 1969. Besides charting hits with The Grass Roots, Smith and Mama Cass, he hit #1 with his production of Tommy Roe's "Dizzy". This song featured an innovative string arrangement by Jimmie Haskell. His success as a pop producer on ABC/Dunhill continued through the label's prime years in the early 70's, where he also produced a number of extraordinary albums. They included Mike Kennedy (former lead singer of Los Bravos of "Black Is Black" fame), Kinky Friedman and Dusty Springfield. His many successes included a chain of hits for the Four Tops, a number one for Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods in 1974, "Billy, Don't Be A Hero". The next Heywoods single, a Top 20 hit called "Who Do You Think You Are", ranks among Barri's finest pop productions. He also produced a major comeback album for blues legend Bobby "Blue" Bland, the 1974 album Dreamer.
Notable compact disc producers have said that Barri's productions of the 60's and 70's make other records of their time sound like "demos". This is shown to be true when his records are transferred to CD today. They still sound great. They stand the test of time because they were so professionally and meticulously constructed. They have a superior sense of spatial positioning of the instruments with care to the full sound and the orchestration. Barri had such a knack for choosing the right instruments, musicians, singers and styles for particular songs that even modern digital studios can add nothing that Barri had not already put in there. He developed relationships with capable engineers like Phil Kaye and experienced arrangers like Jimmie Haskell. His preference for using full horn and string sections and using top-notch studio musicians sometimes upset the artists he worked with, but those artists had no complaints when the records proved to be a huge commercial success for them.
Barri's efforts are heaven sent for audiophile listeners. Although his recordings were almost all geared for the monophonic and compressed sound of AM radio, Barri's records are filled with tiny, artful touches that can be clearly distinguished when listening carefully on high end audio equipment. Strange and unique instrumental runs quietly support and enhance the overall sound. Odd instruments and fills appear at surprising places with melodic effects. You might hear a sudden explosive bass run or a light piano passage at the most unexpected places. There is always a little "extra" thrown in on the fade out, a Barri trademark just as a reward for listening all the way through.
As ABC/Dunhill was being dissolved after being bought out by MCA, Barri joined the staff of Warner Bros. Records as an A&R Director and producer. During this time he enjoyed an interesting phase of his producing career as "King of the TV Theme Hits". He'd had a number one with "Theme From S.W.A.T." by the Rhythm Heritage, a group of studio musicians which he assembled and co-produced with Michael Omartian, on ABC just before he left the label. Then, on Warners, he had a #1 hit with "Welcome Back" by John Sebastian (theme from the TV series "Welcome Back, Kotter"), and a Top 5 hit with "Happy Days" by Pratt & McClain. At Warners he also produced records for Cher.
Barri's former boss at Dunhill Records, Jay Lasker, became President of Motown Records in 1982 and hired Barri to become the Vice President of A&R at the label. Having worked with The Four Tops and always having been a fan of the Motown sound, Barri jumped at the chance to work with the Motown stable of artists. He initiated Motown's "Command Performance" series of classic Motown artist compilations on CD. During his tenure at Motown, Barri acted as executive producer on multi-platinum albums by The Commodores, Lionel Ritchie, and Rick James. He signed The Mary Jane Girls and former "Star Search" winner Sam Harris to the label. As a producer, he had a Top 40 hit with Harris on "Sugar Don't Bite".
Barri left Motown in 1986 and did a number of different things during the next dozen years. Notably, in 1989 he produced a Top 10 single for the techno-pop group Animotion, "Room To Move". Also he produced the album for the teenage girl-group The Triplets, who had a Top 15 hit in 1991 called "You Don't Have to Go Home Tonight" and also covered Barri's "Where Were You When I Needed You" on their album. He briefly worked for Capitol Records during this period, and also with Left Bank Management, where he worked with artists such as Meatloaf, Richard Marx, Joey Lawrence, Stephanie Mills, and The Cranberries. Barri produced two albums for Joey Lawrence, and had a Top 20 hit with him in 1993 titled "Nothin' My Love Can't Fix". Barri also moved into jazz during this period, and became an A&R executive at the JVC Records label.
In 1998 Barri signed to Gold Circle Entertainment as a producer and A&R executive. This company runs two labels, Gold Circle and Samson Records and their artist line-up includes Pat Benatar, Roland Orzabal (formerly of Tears For Fears), John Waite, Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket), and David Crosby. In 2000 Barri co-produced an album called No Static At All by Garden Party, which is a jazz instrumental tribute to Steely Dan, the band that he signed to their first record deal in 1970. In 2001 Barri was named Senior Vice President of A&R for Gold Circle Records.
Steve Barri photo from his UCLA Artist-In-Residence tenure 2010 to 2011