Junior Barber, popular and beloved reso-guitarist in upstate New York, passed away earlier today. He was 73 years of age.
Junior, who was born as Antoine, was well-known in the dobro community all over the United States. Until the rise of The Gibson Brothers, he was surely the most visible bluegrass performer in Plattsburg, NY. He worked for 7 years with the Gibsons when they were getting started in the early 1990s, and his son, Mike, has worked as bass player with the Gibson Brothers for the past 24 years.
A bluegrass boy to his core, he left the Gibsons when they were threatening to try making a country record, preferring to stick with bluegrass, though he did work later with a western swing band.
Since leaving their group, he had worked with his cousins, Tom and Jewel Venne in Beartracks, and with Gary Ferguson. Following a stroke in 2016, Junior had been unable to play at all, a difficult way for a master musician to end his days.
Eric Gibson tells us that no one is more respected among musicians in their area than Barber, and that he was a professional mentor to them as young pickers.
“He’s a legend up here, one of the first pro musicians me and Leigh ever got to work with. Junior was a super tasteful player, a real tone freak.
He loved the dobro and all the people who played it, and would always stop and talk dobro set up with anybody who approached him. He was a great set up guy.
I always felt that he should have received more attention than he did, but he didn’t care at all for the spotlight.
He helped mold us into becoming better musicians, teaching us the importance of restraint, taste, and tone. Junior was a huge influence on us, and I am very thankful for that.”
Prior to working in bluegrass, Junior had served in the military, spending time in Viet Nam during the war. But family and friends recall that this was a part of his life he never liked to talk about.
Eric says that he didn’t share much about those days when they were traveling together, but that they knew it had affected him deeply.
“He was a quiet, reserved kind of guy, but the soul that would come out in his playing showed how deeply he could feel. He touch a lot of lives up here.”
Throughout his career, Junior liked to play without the use of a capo, insisting there were so many cool tones and notes to be found playing in B and Bb in open G tuning. Eric remembers Junior threatening to throw his capo in the Ohio River, but doesn’t know if he ever did.
About 15 years ago, Barber recorded a solo instrumental album, Steffi’s Waltz, with Alan O’Bryant producing.
Later in his life, he had begun experimenting with a C6 tuning, more commonly used in Hawaiian steel guitar.
No information about funeral arrangements has yet been announced.
R.I.P., Junior Barber.