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Next to Henry Mancini, John Barry is the film composer who's made the greatest impression on the popular imagination. His theme to the James Bond movies ranks with Mancini's Peter Gunn theme as one of the most recognized and evocative pieces of music.
Born on November 3, 1933 in York, England, John Barry studied piano and composition with the music master of York Minster (cathedral) and Bill Russo, one of Stan Kenton's arrangers. He served in the British Army in the early 1950s, playing in a regimental band.
After his discharge, Barry and several of his fellow military band mates formed the John Barry Seven, an instrumental group that created an odd hybrid of Dixieland, mood music, and early experimentations in electronics. Barry played trumpet, but guitarist Vic Flick contributed the group's most distinctive sound, foreshadowing his "James Bond" guitar licks. The group had several Top 10 hits in the U.K., including "Hit or Miss" in 1960. The group also backed some of Britain's early rock stars. Their work with one of these, Adam Faith, resulted in Barry being hired to score Faith's movie, "Beat Girl."
The "Beat Girl" soundtrack has been reissued on CD and is well worth seeking out, if you can overlook a very forgettable vocals. The blend of a big brass section with Vic Flick's monster guitar sound is very reminiscent of the Bond scores, but a little rougher and, in my opinion, more interesting. The reissue also includes the whole of the album, "Stringbeat," an odd but occasionally highly effective pairing of a string section with Flick and a few other members of the John Barry Seven.
Barry began phasing down his performance work after 1960, as he became more and more involved in film scoring. After writing soundtracks and incidental music for a number of now-forgotten films, Barry got his big break when he was hired to write the score for the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No." Barry introduced elements of rock into his music, most memorably in the guitar line (played by Vic Flick) for the opening sequence. The theme became known as the "James Bond Theme" and has been used on every Bond movie since. It's one of the most recognized pieces of music of our time now. Barry scored a number of the better 1960s spy films, including "The Ipcress File."
Barry subsequently composed the scores of 13 of the 17 Bond films. He scored over 35 films, winning Oscars for "Born Free," "The Lion in Winter," "Out of Africa," and "Dances with Wolves." He also won Grammys for his theme to "Midnight Cowboy" and several other soundtrack recordings.
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