Roger Waters Talks New Album, Pink Floyd's First U.S. Gig and the Cult of Syd Barrett

A Turner Archives
Roger Waters at the Billboard Touring Conference and Awards 2013 on Wednesday, November 13th 2013 at The Roosevelt Hotel; New York

"The only other thing I would ever consider doing," said Roger Waters, the legendary Pink Floyd frontman, about pursuing a career outside of music, "is starting a church. Then you don't have to pay income tax All you need is the gift of the gab, you need to be able to lie really well and you make a fortune with almost no talent."  The career change, after hearing Waters' rather intense keynote Q&A at today's Billboard Touring Conference, hardly seemed like much of a stretch.

Mightily as Billboard touring guru Ray Waddell tried to keep Waters focused on music throughout the Billboard Touring Conference's Keynote Q&A, the 70-year-old firebrand reflexively turned the conversation to politics, which he spoke of both knowledgeably and with the fervor of an Evangelical. Never mind that he commandeered one of the most successful tours in music history (The Wall Tour) and has one of the best selling albums of all time ("Dark Side of the Moon"), far more important to this music icon is his fight for "liberty truth, justice, and peace" -- all of which he sees as under threat.

The 80-minute discussion's biggest music revelation came when Waters disclosed that he is working on a new album -- his first in 20 years. His succinct synopsis of the album's storyline included the character voices of a six-year-old Northern Irish boy and his grandfather who comforts the child after he's had violent nightmares which include children being killed. The grandfather "enters into a covenant with the boy that he will take him on a quest to find an answer to his question, 'Why are we killing the children?' And that's what the record's about," Waters explained.

Earlier in the discussion Waters recalled his first gig in Surrey for which he was paid "10 quid," the 1960s musical revolution ushered in by the Who, the Stones and the Beatles, and the profound impact music from the Mississippi Delta, and artists like Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, Woody Guthrie and Alan Lomax's field recordings, had on him.

On the cult of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's original (and mad) singer-songwriter, Waters said he was "very talented," but said he was only "incandescent for a year or maybe two." He compared Barrett's loyal following to the posthumous devotion to artists like Nick Drake and Tim Buckley inspire.

The musician fondly recalled Pink Floyd's first U.S. gig in 1967, at San Francisco's Winterland, which featured the group on the bottom of a bill with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Richie Havens and Headlights. He laughingly recalled buying a pint of Southern Comfort, having a slug before going onstage only to return after the set to find Janis Joplin had drank the entire bottle.

Waters spoke fondly of Live 8's Pink Floyd reunion show before Richard Wright died, which he called a "very important moment." While he as also gratified by the band's historic Berlin Wall show in 1990, "he lost a fortune" because he had financed the show.

Waddell deftly steered Waters away from a screed on the fence on the US-Mexican border to the success of his three-year "The Wall" tour, which the musician attributed to the album's "eloquent music, great songs and certain ideas which are expressed very, very strongly throughout the show that people respond to."

Waters lamented the difficulty younger musicians face sustaining a career in music. When asked his advice for aspiring artists and musicians, Waters said he wouldn't choose to give any -- and then recounted his answer when someone asked if he could go back in time and meet his 19-year old self , what would he would say to his younger self: "I wouldn't talk to that little fucker -- standing in a corner, smoking cigarettes, snarling at everybody -- he had to go figure it out for himself."


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