Juan Barbosa: producer, guitarist and drummer extraordinaire
At the mention of her son, Juan Barbosa, Patty Lou Morgan’s face will brighten like the golden morning sun that skips across St. Ann’s Bay, where she and her husband Steve have settled these past few years. A mere kilometre from the eastern entrance to the famed Cabot Trail that encircles the vast Cape Breton Highlands, Patty Lou spends her days fluttering busily around her comfortable home while the seasons turn, ever so slowly, throughout the deep forests that surround the ocean inlet.
He came to visit last summer, and for a brief time Patty Lou baked and sang and let the stories wash over their reunion. She misses Ontario, where most of her family and children reside. Where she and her parents and her former husband played the music she so dearly loves. Where her gifted son, Juan Barbosa, who lives in Huntsville, produces, writes and plays the spectacular songs he is renowned for.
Barbosa is best known for his impressive guitar styling. His ability to play expressively in any genre has made him a valuable resource for local bands and especially for his work as a producer and multi-instrumentalist.
Small Temple Studio, his production centre in Huntsville, has been host to many of the creative music makers in the area, most notably Jeff Stamp, as well as Trixie Freebird, Sawyer Lance, Jamie Oppenheimer, and Patty Crozier to name but a few. His work with Jeff Stamp has perhaps been his best-known work and their latest collaboration, Love: Stampy from 2019, is regarded by many as a classic masterpiece.
While many talented people often are able to master several aspects of their trade, few become fully dominant on more than one. Barbosa is not only an unforgettable guitar player, he is also one of the best drummers playing in Canadian music. Seeing Barbosa play drums, especially in a band of equal talents, is to witness a marvelous spectacle of stunning virtuosity.
The genius to perfect playing more than one instrument is often overlooked, when the airwaves are so full of sound and entertainment available at every turn of daily life. Make no mistake—to master even one instrument is task enough, but to develop advanced capability in two is astonishing.
That Barbosa has been blessed with such prestigious gifts comes as no surprise to his mother. He was born into a family of musical performers. His grandparents played weekends and special events as a duo for several years. Patty Lou often accompanied them and she learned to play stand-up bass and some guitar. She recalls that after only showing her son a few basic chords, he came back with a song that he’d just written. The most direct influence on his abilities came from his father, Eddie “Kojak” Barbosa, who was a professional percussionist and who had toured extensively as a working musician throughout the US. He eventually settled and married in Canada, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Barbosa’s musicality surfaced at a very young age and from his earliest development he was drawn instinctively to recording, first on primitive cassette recorders, then moving rapidly to digital workstations. This is the third gift that has led Barbosa through many of his musical iterations.
He left Huntsville to work briefly as a hip-hop artist in Toronto where success brought more than its fair share of heartache. Returning home to Huntsville, Barbosa self-produced, engineered, and played all the instruments on his 2013 break-out album, The Road Back Home, which catapulted him into the rising spotlight on local radio. He became a much sought-after main stage performer at local venues and festivals. The album itself is beyond compare, encompassing styles and songwriting from blues and rock to country-funk, with every song a gem. His drumming chops on “That Country Funk” underscore his deep love for syncopated rhythms and complex metre. Seeing Barbosa perform with his various bands in those days was such fun. As the set unfolded, Barbosa’s playing would become almost possessed, as if every legendary blues/rock guitarist was dancing delightfully through his fingers and across the stage.
Barbosa followed up his debut album with two more remarkable albums that advanced his emerging talents as a songwriter and player, Listen! in 2014 and Soulbot 6000 in 2015, the latter getting nation-wide attention and acclaim. In fact, Soulbot could easily be characterized as a modern funk classic, combining so many unique features as to make James Brown smile with envy. Of course, the challenge for all working musicians is how much and how far to take it. The choices are often the road, working far from home, or trying to create demand through streaming and production work. Although Barbosa has undertaken some truncated touring, he has largely chosen to stay home and concentrate on his production company.
Huntsville is home to many great producers of all genres of music, but Barbosa has produced some of the more distinctive-sounding records coming out of the area in the past five years, from Patty Crozier’s modern country romp Midnight Queen, to singer-songwriter Jamie Oppenheimer’s debut outing, Imposter Game. Barbosa’s work with creative firebrand Jeff Stamp has been his most fruitful and collaborative. Working together on four recordings (one of which is yet to be released) of such varied styles and vision, it’s almost unimaginable that their teamwork has resulted in such inventive song realizations. Stamp and Barbosa are a regular duo on the local music scene and their friendship and powerful music is very much loved by those who cherish a night out on the town.
Given the current state of music and the aggressive popularity of streaming, Barbosa, like so many others, has opted to release digital singles as way of exploring his on-going song writing progress. His production work continues to dazzle and confound audiences with his innovative approaches to songs. Barbosa has been responsible for a string of local radio hits this past year. In person, Juan Barbosa is a humble, kind and generally quiet man, but never doubt that he is a man of rare gifts and talents.
Go celebrate Huntsville’s wonderful creative forces and buy some music or a painting or a book and support these treasures in our community.
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