Steve Barri inducted by Becky Ebankamp (following Abram the Safety Ape’s video tribute to Lance Link):
Thanks, Abram. I’m also a big Lance Link fan. But we should let our audience know that while Lance, Mata Hairi, Bananas Marmoset and Sweetwater Gibbons played their instruments with heart and soul, a professional production team that shares 98.5 of chimps’ genetic material contributed to their primitive sound. Steve Hoffman wrote and sang many of their songs. And the Evolution Revolution’s catchy single, “Sha La Love You,” was produced by a man who has a pedigree in pop, from surf to soul to bubblegum and beyond: Mr. Steve Barri, who we are honoring tonite.
If Steve has a little trouble remembering the particulars of the recording sessions for Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution, he has a pretty good excuse. In 1967, Barri was promoted to head of A&R for all of ABC Dunhill Records when his mentor, Lou Adler, left to work with the Mamas and the Papas. Only in his early 20s at the time, Barri was juggling songwriting with his new duties of discovering artists like Steppenwolf, 3 Dog Night and Jim Croce and producing everyone from Mama Cass to the Four Tops.
One day in the middle of all this creative frenzy, label founder Jay Lasker came to Steve and said, “ABC is doing this show with monkeys and they need some songs.” Barri dispatched some steady songwriters in his stable, Michael Price and Dan Walsh, to get crackin’ on delivering chimp rock hits. Like Barri, the Price and Walsh team had written songs for the Grass Roots, and in fact, Lancelot Link’s lead single, “Sha La Love You” was a rumored Roots reject.
Oh, and did I mention the deadline? Barri and his team had to write the group’s hits and record demos within about four days. Dan Walsh may have sang the single, or it might have been bubblegum singer Austin Roberts. It gets a little hazy after that…
As it turns out, Lancelot Link — a show that applied manic monkey antics to the comical spy theme of Get Smart — was not the Saturday Morning TV darling it deserved to be, so Barri moved on to other projects. But the group did release their album and Barri-produced single, and the TV show aired several videos of the EvRev performing.
Barri does recall an ABC Dunhill industry event where the label was introducing its new music roster. On hand were members of 3 Dog Night and Steppenwolf, while Richard Harris and Beverly Sills were there to lend an air of non-teenybobber sophistication. Also? About a half dozen chimps. Like true professionals, the simian members of the Evolution Revolution waited patiently backstage for their moment in the spotlight, but it was briefly interrupted by a star fit: Barri recalled how Richard Harris stumbled upon the motley crew, and in his refined queen’s English inquired, “What are these monkeys doing back stage?! I did a film with apes, and I DON’T get along with them that WELL!” With that, the thespian/MacArthur’s Park crooner promptly made like a banana and split.
Frankly, Steve Barri’s songwriting and production resume is too long to list in a five-minute speech. In the early 1960s, Barri and his songwriting partner, P.F. Sloan, sang back up vocals for Jan & Dean. The pair went on to write the popular TV theme song “Secret Agent Man,” “A Must to Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits, “You Baby” for The Turtles and “Where Were You When I Needed You” for the Grassroots. In fact, Sloan and Barri WERE the Grassroots. Their songwriting demos were recorded for the first album. When the group got hot, they hired musicians to “play” the Grassroots because they didn’t dig the idea of touring. Along with ABC Dunhill, Barri has worked at Warner Bros., Motown, JVC Records and Gold Circle Entertainment in A&R and producer roles.
Bubblegum fans will be especially thrilled to know that Steve Barri produced “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. If that isn’t enough to convince you that he’s a grand poobah of bubblegum, consider that the Fantastic Baggys, his early ’60s surf group with PF Sloan, appeared on an episode of The Flintstones with singer “James Dar-rock,” who performed two of their songs.
Also worth noting: Unlike some, Barri is not ashamed to wear the Bubblegum badge. “I loved ALL the music,” he told me. “And some of these Bubblegum songs have held up a lot better than rock.” To wit, one of his Mama Cass productions, “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” brilliantly kicked off the opening sequence of this season’s first episode of the TV show Lost.
Please join me in welcoming Steve Barri to the stage to receive his Gummy!