Kearney - December 2007
Photo from KUOW Flickr album
Kearney's house/studio, also the cover art for the Wheedle's Groove album named for him.
Photo from Light In The Attic Records, Matt Sullivan
Kearney - 1970s, at the 5th Avenue Studio
Photo by Matt Sullivan
Kearney's console, set for STUN.
Photo by Rick Chinn
Kent Morril, Kearney, and Buck Ormsby. Kent & Buck are founding members of The Wailers. Taken at Kearney's 75th birthday party.
Photo by Gary Louie
Album cover shot from the 5th Avenue studio.
Photo origin unknown
Kearney Whitsell BARTON
Inventor of the Pacific NW Sound
Dec. 29, 1931 - Jan. 17, 2012
From Seattle Times obituary section, January 22, 2012.
Kearney moved to Seattle after WWII and attended Franklin HS, Class of 1949. He enjoyed theatre, choir, and fast pitch softball. He was noted for his wit and humor, even in the toughest of times. Sports: He pitched for many fast pitch teams and trained many young pitchers. He held season tickets to UW football, Seahawks, SuperSonics, Thunderbirds, and an original Seattle Sounder in the 1970s. His love for the Hydro circuit started as soon as he moved to Seattle, and eventually he travelled with teams where he was known as "The Cookie Man," baking tens of dozens of Oatmeal Rock cookies for the team at each race.
Historylink.org File # 8719 tells the story of his Audio Engineering career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Northwest Music Association in 1992. "Professor Barton" was also very important to the ice skating world by recording the music for many local, national, and international skaters-some of them Olympians, as well as synchronized swimming. He was a man of many talents. Kearney loved to bake and shared his Oatmeal Rocks, Cornelian Cherry Jam, and famous Apple Pies with everyone he was around. He was very proud of his apple orchard and other fruit trees, and his many cats over the years.
Kearney's memorial Service was held Feb. 11, 2012 at 1pm. First Presbyterian Church, 1013 8th Ave, Seattle WA 98104. Cremation arrangements were through the Neptune Society.
Kearney stories are still most welcome.
From SeattlePI.com, by
P-I reporter Casey McNerthney
Original Article Link
To people outside the music world, Kearney Barton isn't especially well known. But the artists recorded in his Seattle studios certainly are.
Barton was an engineer for Quincy Jones, Ann Wilson, Bonnie Guitar, and garage rock icons The Sonics. He recorded the The Wailers, The Kingsmen, The Frantics, The Ventures, Little Bill, Stan Boreson, and thousands more.
In 1959, he was an engineer for the Fleetwood's "Mr. Blue" one of less than a half-dozen songs by Seattle-area artists to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"He created a sound that is still reverberating today," said Matt Sullivan, Light In The Attic Records founder. "In a lot of ways he was the godfather of the Northwest sound."
That godfather died Tuesday after an illness. He was 80.
Barton and others including Joe Boles of Seattle, Wiley Griffith of Tacoma and Lyle Thompson of Commercial Recorders were top engineers who helped form Seattle's sound before the early '90s grunge era. And Barton's collection of tapes showed his range: jazz to classical, grunge to bluegrass, high school bands to radio jingles.
"I don't think the significance of his contribution had really spread around the world as it did in the last decade or so with Norton Records of New York," music historian Peter Blecha said.
The record label specializing in loud rock and roll tracks through 1966 reissued several recordings made in Barton's studios and described him as an engineering genius. Barton's recordings of early Seattle rock bands were better received than his recordings of folk rock and psychedelic sounds in the late 1960s, making him a perfect fit for Norton, Blecha said.
Sonics tracks that Barton recorded have influenced Pearl Jam and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, among others, and the Norton-led resurgence helped lead to a Sonics reunion show at the Paramount in Oct. 2008.
After the success of "Wheedle's Groove" a compilation of influential Seattle funk and soul tracks form 1965-75 many of those artists gathered at Barton's North Seattle studio to record on the analogue gear he'd used for decades.
Though most studios transitioned to digital recording, Barton was legendary for stacks of tapes he'd recorded with vintage mics.
"They hadn't seen him in decades and were so excited," Sullivan said of artists Robbie Hill, Overton Berry, Ron Buford and others at the reunion recording. "It was an honor to get to record at a place like that, and all of us were really happy to see how it turned out."
Barton's work on early Seattle funk tracks received rave reviews after their re-release a few years ago, which was followed by the 2009 documentary also titled "Wheedle's Groove."
"His studio is just without words to describe it," producer Dynomite D said in a 2009 interview with Light in the Attic. "It's like a time capsule into the recording past, with all the vintage mics and gear it is really something you have to experience."
While it was packed with history, it wasn't very organized. But a few years ago, thousands of his master tapes were donated to the University of Washington, where archivists have been working to alphabetize and digitally archive them.
For years, Barton told of recording Jimi Hendrix with one his early bands. That tape hasn't been found, but there's hope that maybe someday it will surface from the tens of thousands of hours Barton recorded.
Blecha, who has written several music books and was hired by Paul Allen to track down rock and roll artifacts for Experience Music Project, is helping with the preservation. On Wednesday, he recalled the first local music exhibit he created for the Seattle Public Library in 1983. It was Barton who loaned Blecha the coolest parts vintage microphones, photos and the reel-to-reel tape partially unraveled in the display case.
"I think there was a universal sense of kindness and generosity," he said of Barton. "He had a calmness about him and a sense of humor that made everyone who ever recorded for him have fond memories."
P-I reporter Casey McNerthney can be reached at (206) 448-8220 or
From Rick ChinnKearney Barton was my introduction to the world of location recording, and to recording in general. My high school (Franklin) decided to present a musical, South Pacific, which would be a joint production of the drama and music departments.
Someone decided it would be a Good Thing to record the show, and to ultimately present it for sale. Kearney was hired to record it. He showed up with an Ampex 351-2, a custom-made mixer (probably built by Glenn White Sr.), and 2 Neumann microphones (a U47 and an M49, I think) and 2 altec coke-bottle microphones. Little did I know that Kearney had gone to the same high school, graduating in 1949.
How was he going to record a stage play and an orchestra at the same time, with only 4 microphones? Simple, he said. The Neumanns were hung over the stage, likely in omni, and the coke-bottles were on the orchestra, maybe 15 feet apart on tall stands, pointed straight up. He monitored on headphones, the same old war-surplus phones that he used thru the 50+ years that his studio existed. He let me hear the mix in the phones, and I was hooked. Sucked in and down for the count. I still am.
It was my first ever up-close audition of Neumann microphones, and my first-ever of stereo, headphones or not. Later in 1966, a band that I did sound for (The Dimensions) recorded a single there, and that was my introduction to studio recording. I learned a trick that day that I later put to use about 20 years later (putting a count onto a tape, after the fact, without splicing). It was also my introduction to what equalization could do for a signal. It went way beyond cool.
Those CookiesKearney's Oatmeal Rock "Cookie Power" recipe
Other Articles and Items of InterestHistorylink.org File # 8719, Kearney Barton
Recording Studios of the Pacific Northwest
Planet of the Tapes in the Stranger
Interviews on KUOW with/about Kearney.
KUOW's Flickr Album
Steve Fisk recalls Kearney Barton's life in music.
HistoryLink article about Joe Boles
Wheedle's Groove eponymous Kearney Barton release. That's Kearney's house/studio on the cover.
Description of Kearney's Console
Last modified 07/27/2016 17:30:00 (RC).