RIP: Kearney Barton, Legendary NW Recording Engineer & Studio/Label Owner

photo © Eric Predoehl /

When I embarked on this documentary project of mine, a bunch of people in the Pacific Northwest told me “Ya gotta interview Kearney Barton!”

I’m so very glad I took their advice.

Kearney Barton recording engineer for many great bands of the Pacific Northwest, has passed away on January 17 at the age of 81 years old.

In the LOUIE universe, Kearney was a giant. He recorded Little Bill Engelhart when Bill covered LOUIE LOUIE in 1961, two years before the Kingsmen released their iconic version. When the Wailers found out that Bill was recording this song, they rushed to release their recording of the song with Rockin’ Robin Roberts, which in turn, inspired a gazillion garage rock bands, including the Kingsmen, whose version borrowed heavily from the Wailers/Rockin’ Robin rendition.

After the Kingsmen had a hit record with their single of LOUIE LOUIE, Kearney Barton was hired to record the band for their first album – a live performance at the Chase nightclub in Portland, Oregon.

Matt Sullivan, founder, Light in the Attic Records summed up the legacy of Kearney Barton with these words:

To say Kearney was a pioneer of the Northwest sound would be a massive understatement. Maybe he was the inventor? Whatever the tag, we miss the man. He taught us about the Frantics, the Sonics, Little Bill, Don & The Good Times, and so many more, but the one that really blew our minds was Black On White Affair’s “Bold Soul Sister, Bold Soul Brother,” recorded by Kearney in February ’70 and released on his Topaz label. It’s the tune that led me to Kearney’s doorstep in 2003, hoping to convince the wizard to let us license the single for inclusion on a comp of Seattle soul from back in the day. I quickly discovered the man had a heart of gold and a sense of humor that would make your grandfather proud.

In 2001, Norton Records released 3 CD compilations of Kearney’s memorable recordings from the Pacific Northwest, but that really just scratching the surface of a proverbial glacial iceberg. When I visited Kearney, I was in awe of a vast collection he maintained at his home studio, as well as the recording gear he still held onto.

Luckily the University of Washington was able to work out an arrangement with Kearney to preserve this magnificent archive of his…

As a result of his many decades of work, Barton amassed thousands of analog reel-to-reel recordings at his home studio. In April 2010, the Libraries Media Center received a grant from the American Music Partnership of Seattle (AMPS) to preserve and describe a portion of these recordings. Thanks to the work of UW students Alex Burks, Kim Cannady, Ross Fuqua, John George, Peter Leonard, Josh Peterson, and Dan Trager, a large portion of this collection is now searchable here.

Thank you, Kearney for everything!


Light in the Attic Records obituary

Seattle Weekly blog obituary article on Kearney Barton

University of Washington Libraries Media Center

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