Bass player, singer, songwriter
Roger Waters rose to prominence as the guiding hand behind the sometimes compellingly philosophical and sometimes bombastic thematic content of Pink Floyd following the departure of the group's first creative driving force, Syd Barrett. With Barrett at the helm, the group pioneered a style of lyrical whimsy combined with spacey musical backing. Following Barrett's departure, Waters assumed more and more control of the group's creative focus, steering the band into lyrical considerations of madness, celebrity, and mortality bolstered by sonic textures that included sustained blues guitar notes, sound effects, spoken word, multi-track overdubs, ethereal synthesizer and jazzy piano. The result was a patented Pink Floyd experience enjoyed by stoners and straights alike, which brought the band international, critical and public acclaim, massive wealth, and continued strife within the band over creative control. Personal conflicts between Waters and the other three members of the band led to the group's temporary dissolution in the early 1980s. When guitarist David Gilmour reunited the group in the latter part of the decade without Waters, he sparked a legal and very public battle with the group's conceptualist, bass player, chief lyricist, and self-proclaimed leader. Waters went on to record several solo albums of varying quality, always making sure to enlist such top rock guitar talent as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
Waters was born in 1943 in Great Bookham, Surrey, England, His father, Eric Fletcher Waters, was a teacher who died at the Battle of Anzio four months after his son's birth. His father's death and his upbringing by an overprotective mother, Mary, would become pivotal literary tropes in Waters's Pink Floyd projects Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and the subsequent film of the double album, and The Final Cut. Mary Waters moved Roger and his older brother to Cambridge after her husband's death. Her staunch liberal politics and pacifism deeply impacted her son's views, and Cambridge proved an intellectually and aesthetically fertile environment in which to raise her children. Waters attended Cambridge County High School for Boys, an experience reflected in the hit single and scathing indictment of the British educational system "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," from The Wall. Waters performed poorly in school but managed to strike up a relationship with his classmate Roger Keith ("Syd") Barrett, with whom he would later form Pink Floyd. Waters was for a time enrolled as a naval cadet. His mother gave him a Spanish guitar when he was 14, but he showed little interest in learning the instrument before his later teen years.
After briefly studying mechanical engineering at Manchester University, Waters quit school in 1962 to embark on a hitchhiking tour that took him through Europe and into the Middle East. Upon his return he served an apprenticeship with an architectural firm and enrolled at Regent Street Polytechnic, where he met future Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. The duo became close friends, and joined the Cambridge group Sigma 6, which also included future Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. The group changed its name to the Abdabs (alternating with the Screaming Abdabs, depending on the venue), the Lodgers, and the Tea Set. Performing in the latter group, the trio brought in Barrett as vocalist and rhythm guitarist in 1964. Lead guitarist Bob Klose left the band shortly thereafter, and the remaining quartet gigged frequently around London's burgeoning blues and psychedelic scene, auditioned unsuccessfully for television programs, and refined their style. Klose, however, had been the band's most accomplished musician, and his departure forced the group to tailor their sound to their limited instrumental abilities. Barrett filled the void with his singsong nursery rhyme compositions, and the group learned to expand its experimental style.
Between 1965 and 1968 the quartet, now known officially as Pink Floyd, became the darlings of the swinging London psychedelic scene, which was noted for brightly colored paisley patterns, long hair, and copious intake of psychotropic drugs. After writing the majority of the songs on the band's brilliant debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and several songs on the follow-up A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett was fired by the band due to his increasingly erratic behavior, believed by some to be the result of years of drug abuse and by others as the onset of extreme mental illness. Waters stepped into the void left by Barrett and led the band into music that was more and more progressive. The rise of the progressive rock format on American FM radio stations introduced the band, by now featuring the plaintive vocals and guitar playing of Barrett's old friend David Gilmour, to a whole new audience. Waters's autocratic style and seemingly boundless energy led the band to increasing levels of fame and critical approval, culminating with the seminal rock album Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. The album's unprecedented success, however, also had a negative impact on the band. Waters's lyrical obsessions, abrasive personal style, and autocratic nature alienated him from his band mates. He notoriously belittled the musical abilities of Gilmour, Mason, and Wright as the band tried to match the aesthetic success of Dark Side of the Moon, but met with resignation and indifference at best and bitter resistance at worst. By the time Pink Floyd recorded its two-disc opus The Wall, the band had become not much more than Roger Waters's group, with occasional songwriting, guitar playing and vocal assistance (notably on "Run Like Hell" and "Comfortably Numb") from Gilmour. Wright, in fact, had been reduced to a salaried position for touring purposes, and many studio musicians were brought in to realize Waters's vision. The last Floyd album to feature Waters, The Final Cut, might more accurately have been called the Final Straw, as it was for all practical purposes a Waters solo effort with minimal input from Gilmour.
Waters was the first member of Pink Floyd to release a solo album while still a member of the band. Released in 1970, Music from the Body was a film soundtrack collaboration of sorts with experimental composer Ron Geesin. Other members of Pink Floyd also appear uncredited, in addition to female backup singers, giving some advance notice of the direction Pink Floyd would eventually take. For his first post-Floyd venture, 1984's The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Waters enlisted Eric Clapton and a trio of latter-day Floyd sidemen: Andy Bown, Raphael Ravenscroft, and Michael Kamen, as well as female singers Katie Kissoon, Doreen Chanter, and Madeleine Bell. Waters presented the album concept to Pink Floyd at the same time that he presented the concept for The Wall. When the band chose the latter, Waters shelved the project until after they released The Final Cut. Consisting of lyrical fragments and a barely comprehensible dream narrative, the album flummoxed audiences and critics alike.
For the Record …
Born George Roger Waters on September 6, 1943, in Great Bookham, Surrey, England; son of Eric Fletcher (a teacher; killed in World War II) and Mary Waters; attended Cambridge County High School for Boys; studied mechanical engineering at Manchester University.
Bassist, vocalist, songwriter for Pink Floyd, 1965-85; recorded first solo album, Music from the Body, with Ron Geesin, 1970; released second solo effort, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, 1984; recorded live version of Pink Floyd opus The Wall, with special guests Sinead O'Connor, Marianne Faithful, Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper, and Joni Mitchell; reunited with all three members of post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd for an appearance at Live 8, 2005; released opera Ca Ira, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Sony BMG Entertainment, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.
In 1987 Waters released Radio K.A.O.S., another concept album, this time about a telepathic boy and nuclear war. Although Waters toured to support the album, its lack of identifiable songs failed to excite either fans or critics. Bookended by two live albums, The Wall Live in Berlin and In the Flesh: Live, the studio album Amused to Death featured stellar guitar work by Jeff Beck on a cautionary grouping of songs about religious fundamentalism, international politics, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, filtered through the consciousness of a gorilla watching the subject matter on a television.
Ironically, Waters experienced some of the best reviews of his solo career with the release of his next compositional work, Ca Ira, an operatic rendering of the French Revolution with lyrics by Etienne Roda-Gil and featuring Bryn Terfel as lead vocalist. Other critics were not so kind. Writing in Opera News, critic Joshua Rosenblum noted, "One ends up wishing that, the gravity of its subject notwithstanding, Waters's first opera had revealed at least a hit of Pink Floyd's brash, visionary iconoclasm and freshness of invention."
Divorce and Reconciliation
Waters's relationship with Gilmour grew into a full-blown feud in the mid-1980s when the Gilmour announced his plans to record his next album as a Pink Floyd project without the help of the erstwhile bass player. From 1987 to 1994, Gilmour led the remaining members of Pink Floyd and a cadre of hired musicians and backup singers through two studio albums, two successful concert tours, and two live albums. Pink Floyd was able to put aside its rancorous relationships in 2005, when Bob Geldof urged them to re-form for a one-off performance at Live 8 in 2005. The performers seemed cordial with one another, and the old Pink Floyd magic from the mid-1970s was recaptured for a brief moment before the four members once again went their separate ways.
Despite Waters's reputation as a difficult and headstrong individual, he is undoubtedly the major architect of some of the most successful rock concept albums of the 1970s. The magic of the music made by Pink Floyd in the 1960s and 1970s clearly overshadows the solo efforts of its individual members, although Waters composed and performed several memorable solo works.
With Pink Floyd
Saucerful of Secrets, Columbia, 1968.
More, Columbia, 1969.
Ummagumma, Columbia, 1969.
Atom Heart Mother, Columbia, 1970.
Meddle, Columbia, 1971.
Obscured by Clouds, Columbia, 1972.
Dark Side of the Moon, Columbia, 1973.
Wish You Were Here, Columbia, 1975.
Animals, Columbia, 1977.
The Wall, Columbia, 1979.
The Final Cut, Columbia, 1983.
(With Ron Geesin) Music from the Body, EMI, 1970.
The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Columbia, 1984.
Radio K.A.O.S., Columbia, 1987.
The Wall: Live in Berlin, 1990, Mercury, 1990; reissued with bonus track, UM3, 2003.
Amused to Death, Columbia, 1992.
In the Flesh: Live, Columbia, 2000.
Ca Ira, Sony International, 2005.
Manning, Toby, The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd, Rough Guides Ltd., 2006.
Mason, Nick, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, Chronicle Books, 2003.
Opera News, October 2005.
All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com, (February 12, 2007).
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