The man behind the music

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Features Editor

Nov. 21, 2000 10 PM

When Brandon Barnes is in New York, he’s driven around in limos and wined and dined at the finest restaurants in the Big Apple. He really gets stroked.

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But when he’s back in Goshen, he’s just a regular guy. And this "good ol’ boy" takes a lot of good natured ribbing from his buddies down at the diner.

"What is it that you do?" they want to know.

What it is that Brandon Barnes does is write songs – top R&B songs,

multi-platinum songs, songs for top recording artists such as Anne Murray and Brain McKnight. That’s what Brandon Barnes does.

"My buddies at the Circle S want to know what I do that allows me so much time to hunt and fish," Barnes said, laughing. "They don’t think I work. But I often tell them, ‘I working now.’ Something someone says will key a thought or a chord might run through my mind. I’m always working."

Barnes has reached the plateau in his songwriting career where artists are coming to him to write songs for them. He has arrived on the music scene but it hasn’t always been that way.

Barnes musical career started out when he was five and was a drumming mascot for his dad’s marching band at Etowah High School. In high school, he was a played percussion for the band and later for Jacksonville State University. He also was the drummer for several bands who played "gigs" in and around north Alabama.

Barnes soon realized that if he wanted a career in music he needed to know more than the drums.

"When the band was on the road, the other guys would go out on the town after we got through playing so I would borrow their instruments and go back to the hotel and learn to play them," he said.

Before long, Barnes was writing music

and put 15 to 20 on a tape and went about selling his songs. It wasn’t an easy sale.

Finally, in 1980,

a publishing company in Muscle Shoals was impressed with his talent and offered him a job making fifty bucks a week to write for them. Barnes said, "I’ll do it" and he did and according to the contract, they took 100 percent of the publishing rights.

Barnes though he had hit on something good when he signed on with Wishbone Recording Studio. Ann Murray recorded two of his songs, "When I Can Have You" on A Little Good News and "Love You Out of My Mind" on Heart Over Mind. Both albums sold more the 500,000 copies. Barnes was on his way. But then the recording studio shut down and he was out in the cold again.

He tried is luck in Nashville, "and they didn’t know what to do with me" and there was no sense in starving to death in Los Angeles. So, Barnes came home to Alabama to write his music.

He began writing for a gospel group, Take Six, at Oakwood College in Huntsville. The leader of the group, Claude McKnight introduced him to his brother Brain. Although Brian was a piano player and singer, he was at Oakwood to play basketball.

"When that tall, skinny 18-year-old sat down at the piano and played and sang, it was the most unbelievable thing I have every heard. I knew Brian McKnight was a special talent."

From the moment they met, Brandon Barnes and Brian McKnight clicked.

"He wanted to do what I was doing and I wanted him to sing my songs," Barnes said.

The combination of Barnes and McKnight proved to be a big hit on the R&B charts.

"The Way Love Goes" rose to number four on the charts and "One Last Cry" was nominated for a Grammy.

Barnes has songs on McKnight’s Anytime album that sold more than two million copies. He has three songs on Back at One

which was released in the fall. Already the album has sold two million copies. Their single "Anytime" was the 1999 R&B single of the year.

No longer is Barnes "slinging mud against the wall and hoping some of it sticks."

"After you have a hit people want your songs," he said. "I can now pick and choose who I want to sing my songs."

And there’s a line behind McKnight.

"Brian gets first shot at a song."

Others who have recorded Barnes songs include Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Boys to Men, Philip Bailey, Cee Cee Peniston, BeBe Wymans, Phil Collins, Steven Bishop and Earth, Wind and Fire.

In February, Barnes will be in New York to meet with Darius of Hootie and the Blowfish on songs for their upcoming album.

That’s pretty heady company for a young man who flunked music theory and failed piano class in college.

Barnes started at the bottom and made the tough climb to success in the highly competitive field of music entertainment.

For Barnes, success has been delayed gratification. Over 16 years, it has only been in the last half that he has done well.

"I slept on floors, eaten beanie weenies and suffered," he said.

At one point, Barnes lost everything he had in a house fire – all of his musical equipment, his clothes – everything. With the $400 he got from his homeowners insurance, he bought the necessary clothing and a bass guitar, only to have it stolen out of his car.

Barnes said it probably would have been much easier to quit and find what his Goshen buddies consider a "real job." But that wouldn’t have been Brandon Barnes. He’s a regular guy who loves God, his family and country living. And he’s a not-so-regular guy who has been blessed with an extraordinary gift of music.

But no matter how far he goes and how high he climbs, Barnes, the regular guy, will always come back where his heart is – back home to Pike County.