Sidney Barnes and Aaron Price Talk Music

It’s the Y Chromosome Issue! Yeah! Obviously, I’m an advocate for women artists, and everyone who knows me well knows that the opportunity to spotlight local female artists in this feature each month is one I treasure. Everyone who knows me well also knows how I feel about inequality in general, and inequality within the music business, from a gender perspective especially, still has a ways to go.

Sidney Barnes

Sidney Barnes

Having grown up with six brothers, (five of them older than me) it warped and also prepared me for life in ways I’m still discovering. While it’s still a “man’s world,” it does not negate that my brothers, and most of the male musicians I’ve collaborated with or worked for in various towns and cities (and especially the liberated male musicians of Asheville INCLUDING the two incredible gentlemen I bring to you this month) have made my life as a female easier to bear.

I googled Sidney Barnes and was jazzed to discover he’s on Wikipedia! And why wouldn’t he be? The guy’s a major legend, living right here in our midst. The notable facts you’ll find there about this hip and easy going dude: He sang with Marvin Gaye and Herbert Feemster (Peaches and Herb). A Doo Wop group he formed called The Serenades was signed by Barry Gordy in 1963. He was a staff writer at Motown in the 60’s and teamed up with George Clinton later that decade and to this day they continue to record and perform together.

I first met Sidney when a singer friend of mine recommended me as back-up vocalist for a tribute show he was doing last year. I returned in kind by asking him to perform on my Christmas variety show a few months later. I started out enamored by this legendary Soul, Funk and R&B crooner, writer, producer. Sidney quickly leveled the playing field, granting access to his humility and gregarious nature, making it possible to admire him eye to eye.

I admit that I am biased when it comes to Aaron Price. We’ve been friends, band mates and duo partners, going on 10 years now. He actually looks like one of my blood brothers; my youngest brother Patrick. It’s uncanny. We played together for the first time, impromptu, for some friends at a club, and if my memory serves it was the song The Nearness of You in the key of C. I was a smitten kitten from that moment on.

His mad skills as writer, arranger, composer and accompanist mirror his collaboration style: close by when it really counts, giving space when you really need it. Aaron‘s affiliation with a variety of projects within a variety of genre mixes has enabled him to truly earn the title: Musician’s Musician of Asheville.

I asked these two gents to answer some stock “musician” questions along with a few of my own, to help us all get to know each of them better.

Aaron Price

Aaron Price

Tell me a little about where when and how you grew up.

Sidney Barnes: I was an only child and very sheltered. My Mom and Dad were wonderful hard-working parents. I grew up among the hills of Virginia and West Virginia and started Jr. High School in Washington DC in the early 50’s.

Aaron Price: I was born in Quincy, Illinois on the Mississippi. My mother’s side of the family is filled with piano teachers dating back to my great grandmother.

What were you doing when you discovered you wanted to be a musician/performer?

SB: While in Jr. High School I was a big fan of Doo Wop. It was mesmerizing the way music made and still makes me feel. I wanted to become part of creating music, as a way to affect others in the same way it affected and still affects me. Plus it seemed to be a profitable, glamorous way to meet chicks!

AP: My earliest memories from a bassinet or playing in a playpen, are listening to my mother’s students practice scales. Mom would practice Mozart’s famous Sonata in C. I remember picking the melody out at a very early age. So young that it really impressed Mom and Nanny. So it all started there; learning by ear and the compulsory piano lessons followed soon after. I don’t believe people are born with music talent, but I believe that a musical mind and interest can be cultivated in the womb.

Who were the people most influential in encouraging you to be/become a musician/performer?

SB: There were many pop singers in the 50’s & 60’s. My mother had a beautiful voice and encouraged me to develop my vocal and songwriting ability; my dad encouraged me as well. We moved to New Jersey in 1960 so I could spend time meeting people in the already established main stream end of the music business in New York City. I was then allowed to mingle with and learn from some of the biggest acts in Rhythm & Blues and they took me in with open arms.

AP: Mom fostered my music education, but Dad really got me interested in pop music and Rock and Roll. I practiced learning tunes by ear right along with learning to read music. I was a show-off. I could listen to a student of Mom’s play a piece and then as they were walking out the door, I’d play it by ear as they left the house. Mom thought that was rude.

How did you get started to becoming a professional musician/performer?

SB: I made sure that I met the necessary people that could help me. Case in point, I met Little Anthony and the Imperials. After hearing my music demo, they introduced me to their road manager, who in turn started introducing me to more people which led to more and more opportunities.

AP: I had no choice about studying piano. My parents said that I would thank them eventually, for forcing me into lessons. Then a few years ago during a phone conversation (I was probably calling to borrow money or moan about being poor) Dad reminded me that they only encouraged me to study music but they never encouraged me to be a musician by trade. I view it as a calling rather than a conscious decision. I just sort of “became” a musician without really thinking about it.

Please name your top two or three musical influences/genres.

SB: Nat ”King” Cole (pop/soul), Sam Cooke (Soul/gospel).

AP: I love the power and emotion of 70s Rock and Roll, Pink Floyd and The Who. I would be nowhere without Mozart. His body of work is impressive and he out-lived his reputation as a child prodigy, which I can relate to.

Delve into your decision to move to WNC to pursue your musical career?

SB: In 2001 I was living in Chicago seeking a friendly laid back rural town to move to; one that still had a Metropolitan feel. My plans were to retire from performing and just write songs. Then through a computer dating website, I met and subsequently married a lady that lives here in Asheville. I continue to perform locally, write and record. I do special performances abroad.

AP: After graduating with a Business degree from Appalachian State in 1997, I moved to Asheville. Salsa’s restaurant was a hole in the wall back then and Tressa Thornton, who helped give me and the band Vendetta and The Nines our start, had just opened her bar. I opened Collapseable Recording Studio and hustled gigs. Though my original intention was to move to a larger city, I find my roots here are deep. Now I can’t imagine leaving.

Talk a little bit about the musicians/instrumentalists with whom you perform and collaborate.

SB: Since I’m considered a seasoned professional and somewhat of a legend, I was fortunate to meet, collaborate, record and perform with some of the best instrumentalists, rappers and vocalists in Asheville. I love and respect them all. I frequently travel to George Clinton’s recording studio in Tallassee Florida and record with him.

AP: Kelly Barrow (aka Vendetta Creme) likes to keep a step ahead of things—or behind, depending on how you look at it. Asheville women who have nurtured my path are Kelly, Tressa Thornton and Julie Payne, my daughter Lilah’s mom. Valorie Miller was my/our first recording client, and by choosing us she helped put Collapseable Studio on the map. Here it is, now 17 years later, and Valorie and I are working again on another record. We’ve come full circle.

Some final thoughts and words from Sidney:

“There are many proud moments in my career: Recording a single for Motown Records in 1963. In 1969 I headed a Rock/Soul/Psychedelic band named Rotary Connection and recorded five classic albums for Chess Records. I toured with some of the biggest Rock & Roll acts of our generation, including B.B. King, Janis Joplin and The Rolling Stones. I’m on over 150 albums and compilations worldwide. My songs have appeared in records, films and commercials and I have personally helped to create some of the biggest acts in the soul end of the music business. A story I guess that needed to be told, as my friends and fans in England encouraged me to write a book I called Standing on Solid Ground. It can be purchased through”

Some final thoughts and words from Aaron:

“I draw inspiration from women at West Asheville Presbyterian Church where I am music director. Elizabeth Hawkins hasn’t missed a Sunday of church in 60 years. She comes to mind every time I start to feel flaky about a gig, or a job I need to get done. Music is my church and my redeemer. I’m grateful to everyone along the way who has encouraged me. My daughter Lilah is taking womanhood by storm. She recently played Princess Winnifred in “Once Upon A Mattress” at her high school. Its joy to hear her sing, play and write songs. I feel like my dad at this point; I want to encourage her dreams but I also want to give her a reality check about how much work it takes to have a successful music career.”

What is it about performing that keeps you pursuing opportunities to do so?

SB: It makes me feel tremendously good inside to create pleasing moods, sounds, melodies and words. I feel blessed that I’ve inspire others to do the same.

AP: When life gets complicated music is a centering force; a guiding presence.

Aaron will be performing with Kelly Barrow in Vendetta Cream on June 3rd and July 1st at the Crow and Quill and with Wham Bam Bowie (Tribute) Band at the Orange Peel on June 24th.

In September Sidney will be traveling to England where he will be performing for his huge fan base there, at a special concert featuring other notable and popular artists of the 60’s.

Peggy Ratusz

Peggy Ratusz

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, songwriter and vocal coach. –

Peggy’s June Schedule:

• Friday, June 3rd Noble Cider with Alex Taub on keys, 6:30pm
• Saturday, June 4th, Blue Ghost Brewing in Fletcher with Jonathan Pearlman, 6:00pm
• Thursday, June 16th, Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack South with Aaron Price on keys, 7:00pm
• Friday, June 17th, Tressa’s Early Spotlight with Alex Taub on keys, 7:30pm
• Saturday, June 18th, Noble Cider with Aaron Price on keys, 6:30pm

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz