For five decades (and counting), Steve Barri has been a major force in popular music spanning the decades as a successful producer and songwriter and being one of the more enduring music makers of the 1960's. His name is associated with some of the most beloved and heavily played records of that decade though his credits and successes trail outright to the new century: Barry McGuire, Johnny Rivers, Three Dog Night, The Grass Roots, The James Gang, Steppenwolf, Jim Croce, Rufus, Steely Dan, Tommy Roe, The Four Tops, Bobby Bland and B. B. King are just a few of the performers for whom Barri's abilities as a judge of talent or his own talent as a producer or songwriter has proved essential at various times.
Steve Barri was born in Brooklyn, New York in early 1942 but the family moved to California during the 50's. He was interested in music throughout his youth and by the time he was in his mid-teens he'd begun writing songs. In 1963, Lou Adler, Vice-President of Screen Gems-Columbia Music, signed him to a songwriter’s contract.
It was Adler who had the inspired notion of pairing Barri up with another transplanted New Yorker, songwriter/singer, P.F. Sloan. Now Barri's efforts started to click as the team began generating songs for such artists as Johnny Rivers and Jan & Dean. Rivers, in particular, was a beneficiary of a hurriedly written Barri-Sloan number called "Secret Agent Man", which not only got used as the title music for a successful network television series but became a hit single and the artist's signature tune. The duo also grabbed a piece of the British invasion action for themselves when Herman's Hermits recorded their song, “A Must To Avoid". Neither Barri nor Sloan had yet abandoned their early aspirations as actual musicians, however, and they wrote and recorded surf music -- then a booming fad -- for Adler under the name The Fantastic Baggys. When Adler co-founded the Dunhill Records label in 1965 with Jay Lasker, Barri and Sloan were key parts of his fledgling operation as songwriters, session musicians, and neophyte producers.
By that time, Folk Rock had become a popular phenomenon and the team only added to its success with Barry McGuire's recording of "Eve of Destruction", which hit number one on the charts. Barri and Sloan were soon recording themselves under the pseudonym "The Grass Roots," and their initial success locally in Los Angeles resulted in the need to find a "real" Grass Roots to actually perform in person. Thus began a sequence of events that led to their next series of hits.
The permanent Grass Roots line-up, once it settled in, enjoyed a Top Ten hit with "Let's Live For Today", produced by Barri and Sloan. An enduringly popular oldie, it has gone on to become one of the most fondly remembered hits of the 1960's. The partnership ended soon after as Sloan decided to return to New York to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. Meanwhile, Barri shepherded The Grass Roots into a white Pop, Soul groove and through five more years of hit singles, including “Where Were You When I Needed You”, “Sooner Or Later” and their highest-placing record of all, "Midnight Confessions".
It was during this period that Barri's reputation as a producer was established, and not simply based on his enviable record of hits. Equally important, Barri became known for the beautifully full sound of any record to which his name was attached. He wasn't afraid to bring in top session musicians or even large brass and horn sections and provide them with opulent arrangements if it would make a record sound impressive on the radio.
Barri remained with Dunhill Records after its acquisition by ABC Records as the head of Artists & Repertoire, and it was under his administration that the company signed such artists as Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, the James Gang, Steely Dan, Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan), Jimmy Buffett, The Four Tops, Dusty Springfield, B. B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. He continued to personally produce various acts, including The Grass Roots, Mama Cass Elliot, Tommy Roe (who had a number one hit in 1969 with "Dizzy"), The Four Tops, and Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, who hit number one in 1974 with "Billy, Don't Be A Hero". One of his best productions in 1974, “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City” by Bobby Bland, went on to be used in many commercials, films and TV shows.
Barri's record of hits was enviable well into the 1970's and when ABC Records was dissolved after being sold to MCA in 1977, Warner Bros. Records immediately snapped him up to head up its A&R department. In 1982, soon after former Dunhill Records president Jay Lasker took over as head of Motown Records, Barri was brought in as the head of A&R for the company. This was a long overdue intersection of talents as Barri had emulated the Motown sound on many of the classic Grass Roots sides that he produced during the late 1960's and early 1970's. He also produced The Four Tops during their stay on ABC/Dunhill Records, with the hit single “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” and two hit albums. Among the first records that he produced for Motown was "Smoke Signals" by Smokey Robinson. He was also responsible for signing the Mary Jane Girls, upgrading the label's back catalog releases and also overseeing the era of massive hits by Rick James, the Commodores, and Lionel Ritchie.
In the early 1990's, after leaving Motown, Barri produced a hit single and accompanying album by the trio The Triplets and later worked with such artists as Richard Marx, Joey Lawrence and The Cranberries. At the end of the 1990's, he joined Gold Circle Entertainment as a producer and was eventually elevated to a senior vice presidency in the company.
The airwaves of Classic Rock radio and download websites are heavily populated with the music he wrote and/or produced over the last five decades.
He continues to create and is presently enjoying sharing his extensive knowledge of music and the music industry by giving lectures for UCLA’s Osher Program, The Skirball Cultural Center and other venues across southern California.