To Soar On

Ray Barbee and his mild guitar

Ray Barbee used to scout around after skate contests to find people who could teach him a little guitar, and by 1989, he had his first group endeavor together: a San Jose cover band hacking around songs by the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles ("We need a singer for our band, if anybody there sings," he told Crumbly Cookie zine). But that was the kid days, and like a lot of noted pro skaters—the untold story eclipsed by the thuggy guys who never got past parole hearings and power chords—Barbee went from the basics to something quieter and more technical, developing an instrumental guitar sound all but completely detached from po-faced British guys crudding up the blues. His signature Triumphant Procession EP (2001) swings on a lean and clean jazz guitar sound lifted from light-fingered combo players like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery and then brightened further by elements of '60s surf—Barbee doesn't touch the fuzz, but he still shares a certain agility with Nokie Edwards or Davie Allan—and cosmopolitan accents like a few pops on a quiet vibraphone or a quick tap on a synthesizer string section. Very polite for a pro skater, you could think, and without live percussion, most of Barbee's Progression EP just tiptoes along—if it's not being reviewed as "buttery," it's being reviewed as "laid-back." But live sets with human-being backing do wonders for that sometimes lack of presence. With a guy like Chuck Treece—the Philly skater whose noted hardcore band McRad once sounded like Void with even slurrier enunciation—behind him, Barbee gets to lift up a little, reclaiming a jazzy sense of improv that gets pinched by programmed presets. It's this fluidity that's made him about the only one of OP's featured athletes (though he still skates, Barbee is currently between teams after the fold of the Firm last month) to also be a featured musician. The surfers and skaters who watched his quick, easy footwork in the old Ban Thisvideo can't miss the same relaxed physicality in his music, which rolls and recedes with the grace of water smoothing out a beach. It's a nice niche—with the outlaw parts of outsider sports long since run to fat, there's new room for a mild side. Rolling past the GOD HELP US thrift store in Ban This always looked so effortless and easy with Ray Barbee's feet sticking to the skateboard, and listening to him nibble at the strings on his guitar now—it's just as happy and natural.

RAY BARBEE PERFORMS WITH DAVE RASTOVICH AND STICKY FINGERS PLUS A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FILM HYDRODYNAMICA AT THE COACH HOUSE, 33157 CAMINO CAPISTRANO, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, (949) 496-8930. SAT., 8 P.M. $10. CALL FOR AGES.

 
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