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Since his days as the leader of the Bongos, the premier band of the Hoboken pop scene of the 1980s, Richard Barone pursued a sometimes low-key but largely rewarding and acclaimed solo career.
Barone formed the Bongos in 1980 and led the group through three albums, the singles compilation Drums Along the Hudson (1982), the EP Numbers with Wings (1983) -- which featured the title track, the group's definitive song -- and Beat Hotel (1985). In 1983, Barone and James Mastro recorded a subdued, mostly acoustic duo album produced by Mitch Easter, 1983's Nuts & Bolts. Mastro joined the band the same year following its signing to RCA.
After the Bongos parted amicably, Barone started his solo career in a peculiar fashion. Performing at The Bottom Line in New York City in 1987, Barone re-introduced himself in a musical lineup that prefigured the chamber pop mini-movement of a decade later, surrounding his voice and electric guitar with an acoustic guitarist, a cellist (Tiny Lights' Jane Scarpantoni, who would establish herself as the leading cello player in alternative pop), and a percussionist specializing in vibes and Latin instruments rarely heard in other contexts. The resulting live album, Cool Blue Halo, is a brilliant combination of Bongos tunes, new material, and impressive Bowie, T. Rex, and Beatles covers that perfectly illustrates Barone's range and tastes. It remains his best work.
Both Cool Blue Halo and 1990's Primal Dream were hampered by label woes. In both cases, the labels went belly-up not long after the discs came out, making them difficult to find. Barone quickly followed the latter release with Primal Cuts, a German EP featuring remixed tracks, acoustic demos, and new recordings of Primal Dream's best songs.
Barone then took a three-year break before re-emerging with the brilliant Clouds Over Eden in 1993. Dedicated to the memory of Barone's close friend, music journalist Nicholas Schaffner (who wrote The Beatles Forever, The British Invasion, and A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, as well as the liner notes for both Cool Blue Halo and Primal Dream), Clouds Over Eden is a dark but ultimately redemptive song cycle of grief and acceptance, considerably more powerful and personal than Lou Reed's similar Magic and Loss from the year before; musically, it expands and refines the direction suggested by Cool Blue Halo.
For a follow-up, Barone basically recorded Cool Blue Halo, Pt. 2. Replacing the acoustic guitar and percussion with a second cellist, the sound on 1997's Between Heaven and Cello is even more delicate and dark-hued than on Cool Blue Halo, but it suits the song selection, heavy on the two previous albums but with a few oldies and new songs, very well indeed.
For the next several years, Barone focused on writing, co-writing, collaborating, musical and theatrical direction, and producing other artists. In addition, he turned to the Loser's Lounge, a collective of New York-based art-pop scenesters who put on tribute concerts in local clubs. Besides playing and singing in the majority of Loser's Lounge concerts, Barone also produced their first two albums, 1999's Simply Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad About the Loser's Lounge and 2001's How Can a Loser Ever Win?
In 2000, Barone's German label Line Records reissued Cool Blue Halo, Primal Dream, and Clouds Over Eden in a three-disc box set called The Big Three. In 2004, he compiled a solo anthology, Collection: An Embarrassment of Richard. Since that time, Barone was the executive producer of The Nomi Song, a film on Klaus Nomi (Barone remixed Nomi's "Total Eclipse" as well). He was involved in a wide range of activities, including music direction and orchestration for Bright Lights, Big City at the New York Theatre Workshop. He directed and performed in a modern interpretation of Handel's Baroque masterpieces, entitled The Downtown Messiah, broadcast for six years on public radio, and continued his focus on major events in such venues as Carnegie Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, and New York's Central Park. His first book, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, was published in 2007. Glow, his first proper solo album in several years, was co-produced by Tony Visconti (T. Rex, David Bowie) and released in 2010.
Richard Barone is an American rock musician born in Tampa, Florida who gained attention as frontman for The Bongos. He works as a songwriter, arranger, author, director, and producer, releases albums as a solo artist, tours, and has created major concert events at Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl and New York's Central Park. He is also is a professor at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
Barone began his career at age seven as 'The Littlest DJ' on a local Tampa top-40 radio station, and later gained attention as the lead singer and songwriter for The Bongos, a critically acclaimed new wave band at the center of the early 1980s Hoboken, New Jersey music scene. After their first string of independent singles, released on the UK based Fetish label and compiled for the U.S. as Drums Along the Hudson (PVC), the group signed to RCA Records. Barone has been called a "gifted pop-rock tunesmith," and, stepping out as a solo artist, Barone's albums have ventured into chamber pop, orchestral, and more narrative singer-songwriter territory.
Barone actually released his first solo album, Cool Blue Halo (recorded live at the Bottom Line in New York) before The Bongos' amicable breakup in 1987. Anthony DeCurtis, writing in Rolling Stone, praised Barone's "spare, elegant arrangements" and credited him with fashioning "a kind of rock chamber music." While Trouser Press described the record as "intimate but confused," NPR's Tom Moon, in a more recent assessment, called the album "a plaintive masterpiece," and credited Barone with foreshadowing Nirvana's Unplugged performance of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," adding "Cool Blue Halo feels timeless, and maybe even exotic." On May 4, 2012, for the 25th Anniversary of the album, a special reunion concert was held at City Winery in New York. The concert was filmed and recorded as part of a deluxe, multi-disc box set including the remastered original album, concert DVD, and many special features, and was released in November 2012.
Two studio albums followed: the rock-dominated Primal Dream (MCA) in 1990, and the more acoustic-based Clouds Over Eden (WEA) in 1994, the latter dedicated to his late friend, rock journalist Nicholas Schaffner, and bearing a cover portrait by photographer Duane Michals. Trouser Press championed the "fine set of yearning love songs" on Primal Dream, while calling their production and arrangements as a "step backwards" from his debut album. But David Browne, writing in Rolling Stone, gave the album four stars and commented that "Barone is fast moving beyond the limited vocabulary of twelve strings and wimp-pop vocals." Billy Altman, in The New York Times, called his next album, Clouds Over Eden "unquestionably the most fully realized effort of Barone's career," while Trouser Press described the album as "wrenching and thoroughly worthwhile" and "the great album fans always imagined [Barone] making."
In 1997, Barone released Between Heaven and Cello, an album recorded live at NYC's intimate Fez nightclub, on some songs accompanied only by cellist Jane Scarpantoni. A boxed set of his first three solo albums was released in Europe in 2000 as The Big Three. In 2004, he released a limited edition solo anthology entitled, Collection: An Embarrassment of Richard, comprising personal favorites from his back catalogue.
Barone then turned his attention to producing, helming a number of recordings for a variety of artists including a recent duet between Liza Minnelli and pianist/vocalist Johnny Rodgers, a children's album for former model Jolie Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones, recordings for B-52's frontman Fred Schneider, and others. As a producer/director, he created large-scale concert events, including all-star tributes to Peggy Lee at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Chicago's Ravinia Festival in 2003 and 2004, and concerts for New York's Central Park SummerStage.
Other projects included executive producing The Nomi Song DVD (Palm Pictures, 2005), which includes his remix of operatic New Wave countertenor Klaus Nomi's "Total Eclipse"; musical direction and orchestration for Bright Lights, Big City at the New York Theatre Workshop (with Rent director Michael Greif); as well as directing and performing in The Downtown Messiah, a modern interpretation of Handel's baroque oratorio, broadcast annually on over 200 public radio stations nationwide for six consecutive years from 1999-2004. His songs and collaborations, including several written with singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, were heard on popular television programs including The West Wing, Dawson's Creek, Felicity, and South of Nowhere. In 2004, Barone joined his childhood inspiration Donovan for series of the latter's Beat Café concert events, including nine performances at New York's Joe's Pub, at which he sang and read excerpts from Allen Ginsberg's Howl in character as Ginsberg. Later, in 2008, he would produce a concert for Donovan, backed by an all-star band, which was recorded and released on DVD.
In 2006, he and the original Bongos reunited in the studio with Moby producing, to create a new version of "The Bulrushes," an early Bongos single, and a music video for the special edition re-issue of the group's debut album. The 27-track collection, Drums Along the Hudson - Special Edition, was released by Cooking Vinyl Records in June 2007. Several Bongos reunion concerts were held, culminating with an outdoor concert in Hoboken, at which the band was honored with a Mayoral Proclamation and the keys to the city.
In September 2007, Barone's memoir, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, with a nude cover photo of the author by Mick Rock) was published by Backbeat/Hal Leonard Books. That same month, his complete solo catalog was re-launched at the iTunes Store. In late 2007, he began staging a series of 'musical readings' of Frontman, both live and on radio, with excerpts of the book read by television actress Joyce DeWitt and radio personality Vin Scelsa, among others. Musical accompaniment was performed using the new Gibson Les Paul HD.6x-Pro Digital guitar (an instrument to which Barone contributed as artist consultant) in surround sound. On his birthday, October 1, 2008, he brought Frontman: A Musical Reading to the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City, with "Special Guests and Legendary Friends," including Moby, Lou Reed, The Band's Garth Hudson, Marshall Crenshaw, Terre and Suzzy Roche, Randy Brecker, Carlos Alomar, DeWitt and others as a benefit for public radio station WFUV.
In July 2009, Barone entered the recording studio to complete production work on the album he began at age 16 for performer Tiny Tim. The album, "I've Never Seen a Straight Banana - Rare Moments: Volume 1," was released in October 2009 on Collector's Choice Records.
In May 2010, he produced, on behalf of Jonas Mekas, a concert to benefit Anthology Film Archives and honor avant-garde filmmaker/author Kenneth Anger. Performing on the bill were Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, The Virgins, Mekas' ensemble, Moby, M.C. Ben Foster, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a rare appearance by Anger's experimental music project, Technicolor Skull.
In July 2010, Barone joined forces with Pete Seeger, producing and performing in "Reclaim The Coast: Gulf Coast Oil Spill Benefit" at City Winery in New York. Then, in August 2010, he and co-producer Matthew Billy recorded Seeger performing aboard the Sloop Clearwater, symbol of the drive to clean up the Hudson River, which started in the 1960s. The song and video, "God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You" were released on Election Day 2012.
Glow, Barone's fifth solo album, helmed by veteran producer Tony Visconti, was released in September 2010 on Bar/None Records. Also working on the project were producers Steve Rosenthal and Steve Addabbo, songwriter Paul Williams, engineer Leslie Ann Jones (at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California), photographer Mick Rock, and others. Also that month, Barone appeared in Rock's career retrospective photography book Exposed: The Faces of Rock n' Roll wearing only a white Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar, an image that was echoed in the Glow CD booklet. A tour of the U.S. and the UK followed in early 2011.
In August 2011, Barone was named to the Board of Advisors of Anthology Film Archives. In that same month, he was named music supervisor on a feature documentary chronicling the final days of Anna Nicole Smith. Besides his own music, the score contained music by Moby, Scissor Sisters. and others. In Fall 2011, Richard made a cameo appearance in "Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical."
For the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in September 2011, Barone and frequent collaborator Matthew Billy created a special version of the 1894 song The Sidewalks of New York, which was released to excellent reviews and radio popularity. In December 2011, Barone was appointed as a professor at the prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University where he teaches "Stage Presence: The Art of Performance." That same month, he released Collection 2: Before & Afterglow, mining his back catalogue to his pre-Bongos days and including recent work such as the Sidewalks single. In 2014 it was re-issued in an expanded, deluxe edition.
In March, 2012 it was announced that Barone had contributed a new song to the Occupy This Album project, along with Yoko Ono and Patti Smith (both invited to the project by Barone), Jackson Browne, and others. The four-disc set, to benefit the Occupy Wall Street Movement, was set for release on May 15, 2012. Co-written with Matthew Billy, Richard's "Hey, Can I Sleep On Your Futon?" was a gentle protest song inspired by "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" (a popular song from the Great Depression). Both the track and music video were included on the album download. Richard also performed at a series of concerts with other artists on the Occupy album including Michael Moore, David Amram, and Tom Chapin.
In September 2012, he released the first single "I Belong To Me," from the Cool Blue Halo anniversary project on the DigSin label. The deluxe, 3-disc CD/DVD set of the 25th Anniversary Concert, and the special remastered edition of the original album were released in November 2012. That same month, the Anna Nicole Smith documentary was released, along with Barone's single "(She's A Real) Live Wire" from the film.
I Belong To Me: The 'Cool Blue Halo' Story premiered at Anthology Film Archives on December 10, followed by a performance by Barone and musicians from the album. On the occasion of the album's release, Donovan wrote: "Well-deserved appreciation to Richard on this 25th anniversary release of his album 'Cool Blue Halo.' He displayed the stance early, like the minstrel/actor/playwright of Renaissance London. We met and have shared many a stage together... I have always loved Ricardo's 'Bar-oque and Roll' music. Shine On Ricardo, Shine!"
In June 2013, Richard met and joined forces with Beach Boy co-founder Al Jardine to record a version of Pete Seeger's iconic folk anthem "If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)" for the ONE Campaign. Recorded by Steve Addabbo at Shelter Island Sound studios in New York, they were accompanied by Larry Dvoskin and Sam Kogon on guitar and bass. The video was released as ONE Campaign's worldwide protest song project. 
The Bongos reunited on July 31, 2013 to perform the final concert at their home club, Maxwell's, in Hoboken where the original members had also performed the venue's first show. From the stage Richard announced that the group's long-lost album Phantom Train, recorded in Compass Point, Bahamas in 1986, would be released on October 1, 2013 on the JEM label. The label also re-issued the Special Edition of The Bongos' Drums Along The Hudson shortly thereafter. .
On March 14, 2014 Barone joined forces with longtime friend and collaborator Alejandro Escovedo to produce the first major tribute to the late Lou Reed at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, as part of the SXSW Music Festival. The three-hour concert featured over twenty-four acts including Suzanne Vega, Lucinda Williams, Sean Lennon, and Spandau Ballet. The house band included members of Blondie, the Patti Smith Group, and the Voidoids. The event was praised in Rolling Stone and other publications as being a highlight of the SXSW 2014 festival. . Barone also released a recording of Reed's All Tomorrow's Parties, produced by Chris Seefried with a video by Jonas Mekas assembled from footage of the early Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol's Factory. 
Barone lives in Greenwich Village, where he is currently writing songs for his next album and producing for others. Between continuing his teaching at New York University he tours and performs regularly.Barone, Richard (2007-03-28). "Sounds of the '80s, Minus the Artifice". NPR. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Rock: Richard Barone" New York Times Review, Robert Palmer, The New York Times, Dec. 16, 1987] Cool Blue Halo review, Rolling Stone Richard Barone reviews, Trouser Press "Home". Coolbluehalo.com. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Primal Dream review, Rolling Stone "RECORDING VIEW; Holding True To the Idealism Of the New Wave - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1994-02-20. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Press". Richardbarone.com. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Peggy Lee Tribute press release "iTunes - Music - Richard Barone". Itunes.apple.com. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "iCloud". Web.me.com. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Richard Barone Music - "I Belong To Me"". Richardbarone.com. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Collector's Choice "Reclaim The Coast" "Pete Seeger - God's Counting On Me, God's Counting On You (Sloop Mix) [feat. Lorre Wyatt & friends". YouTube. 2012-11-05. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "iTunes - Music - God's Counting On Me, God's Counting On You (Sloop Mix) [feat. Lorre Wyatt & His Friends] - Single by Pete Seeger". Itunes.apple.com. 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Bar/None Records Glow Press Release Anthology Film Archives Board of Advisors Brick By Brick Press Release "RICHARD BARONE - Brick by Brick (Official Music Video)". YouTube. 2010-06-18. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "The Sidewalks of New York 2011 - Richard Barone". YouTube. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "News". HITS Daily Double. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Richard Barone: Tisch School of the Arts at NYU". Clivedavisinst.tisch.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Collection 2: Before & Afterglow on iTunes "Artists on the Music For Occupy Label". Musicforoccupy.org. 2012-01-23. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Richard Barone - "Hey, Can I Sleep on Your Futon?" (Official Video) - Occupy This Album OWS". YouTube. 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2013-03-29. "Richard Barone - I Belong To Me - 'cool blue halo' 25th Anniversary Concert - Official Video". YouTube. 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2013-03-29. Thibodeaux, Tracy (14 September 2013). "Pods o' Pop-Richard Barone (The Bongos) Part 1". Interview. Pods o' Pop. Retrieved 4 October 2013. Thibodeaux, Tracy (14 September 2013). "Pods o' Pop-Richard Barone (The Bongos) Part 2". Interview. Pods o' Pop. Retrieved 4 October 2013.