Who Was Syd Barrett? Biography Of Pink Floyd's Mad Genius

By | January 5, 2021

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Roger Waters and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd pose for a portrait in 1967 in London, England (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett's band. It was Barrett who defined the group's sound, preserved on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Over the band's 50 year career, Pink Floyd mutated a few different times; they've been experimenters, prog rock icons and the crafters of concept albums (like Dark Side Of The Moon) and rock operas (The Wall). But it's their early psychedelic period that's their most important, and at that time the band was fronted by Syd Barret, an artist bursting with talent and madness.

With a head full of ideas and LSD, Barrett guided Pink Floyd through their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn before devolving from one of the most creative minds in rock n roll to a casualty of mental illness and psychedelics.

After breaking away from Pink Floyd, Barrett became a mythic figure in the history of rock, a psychedelic hermit who seemed to dissolve with the spirit of the '60s. Absent his influence, Pink Floyd became a different band entirely as the '70s dragged on. It's hard not to wonder what they would have become had Barrett been able to keep it together.

From Roger to Syd

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source: happymag

Syd Barrett wasn't always "Syd;" he began his life as Roger Barrett, born into a large middle class family in Cambridge. He was the fourth of five children and while he enjoyed playing piano it was writing and drawing that he was really attracted to. He started playing guitar when he was 14, and a year later he was able to get his hands on an electric guitar and played through an amp that he built himself.

It's not entirely clear where the nickname "Syd" came from. Some stories say that he was given the name in honor of a jazz bassist named Sid "The Beat" Barrett, while another origin story says that his school chums started calling him "Syd" after he showed up at school wearing a flat cap, something they felt was more becoming of a "working class" boy named "Syd."