Even after 50 years, Barry Musseau still has his first guitar. Sort of. Technically his first guitar was a plastic child’s guitar that his mother bought him from Sears. But he still has the first guitar he learned a song on, the same one that he used when he first played for an audience.
Barry remembers the exact circumstances that triggered his passion for music.
“I think I was eight years old when my father took me to his brother’s house,” recalls Barry. “He had an acoustic guitar there, and he picked it up and he played a few tunes on it, and I was hooked. Right away. So I went home, and I asked my Mom and Dad if I could have a guitar for my birthday, and I got my first guitar on January 24, 1968.”
He was a bit shocked when that turned out to be the little plastic guitar, and complained that he wanted one like his Uncle Ron – a real wooden guitar. A few months later his plastic one broke so he knew what he wanted for Christmas.
The Christmas guitar didn’t fare much better than the plastic one, breaking down after a few months. So he asked for yet another guitar.
“I was in grade 5 then, and I got a really big Dreadnought-sized guitar from Sears catalogue.”
You can guess what happened to that one too. Barry was a bit rough on guitars back then. When he 11 years old, he asked his mother for a proper half-decent guitar. He wanted to get serious about it.
She obliged, gifting him with a Sears Silver Tone. Barry was already imagining its potential, using a bit of creativity to inscribe Gibson on the head of his new guitar. That was then.
These days, it’s the Silver Tone isn’t much to look at. In 1975, as a precocious 15-year old, Barry and two band mates rowed out to Pig Island and misbehaved, assisted by a generous helping of beer. He had a few too many it seems, as on the return trip, he used his precious Silver Tone as a paddle.
“The back came off her, but I still kept her, just because of that story right?” he asked rhetorically, guffawing at the memory.
Barry’s first performance in front of a live audience came a few years earlier during a grade 6 assembly. He had just changed schools, having moved out of Mouse Island. Word somehow got to one of his teachers that he could play. So he was asked by his teacher if he could play at school assembly, in front of a couple hundred kids.
With the bravado of youth behind him, Barry replied, “Yeah no problem.” But the more he thought about it, the less confident he grew. He wasn’t sure he could do it.
“It was after lunch. I went out behind the school and found a little piece of glass and scratched up my finger. I went to the teacher and said ‘Miss I cant do it. Look. I cut my finger.’”
The teacher was having none of his flimsy excuses though and wagged a finger at him.
“’You’re getting on that stage, no ifs, buts or maybes’ she said,” chuckles Barry. He went onstage and played Who’ll Stop the Rain by CCR. From that point on, Barry Musseau was known as a guitar player. He joined the band, Dream, in 1975 when he was still 15.
“From that point on, every dollar I got, I started putting it right back into buying a guitar. And as the years went on I started getting involved with a lot of bands – all kinds of different music – Blues, Rock, Country, Classical, Newfoundland music.”
After a bit of coaxing, Barry shares that his favourite style of play is Blues.
“But there’s no market here for it,” he laments. “You could maybe play one song in the club and that’s it. You’ll be told about it.”
His band schedule eventually got pretty crazy, with Barry playing 5 nights a week at the Port Club while holding down a day job as a butcher at Coleman’s.
But there was a method to that too. Barry continued to pump all of his revenue into new instruments, and accessories, from foot pedals to stands to mandolins to amps and everything he could find.
About 20 years ago, his brother, Jeff, began delving into art shows.
“He said, ‘Barry, when are you going to start coming along and play some background music for me?’ So I bought a classical guitar. So Jeff would display his art, and I’d be playing in the back. And then I started getting bookings.”
He played for Marine Atlantic on their ferries. He was booked by the Chamber of Commerce, local hotels, and for practically every event that came up, Barry was the go-to guy. He played a couple of gigs with the legendary Ducats, and says it was one of his greatest honors.
For 15 straight years, Barry has been non-stop busy with his classical guitar.
“I enjoy it because there’s no stress.”
A classical guitar has nylon strings, as opposed to steel, which gives it a softer, less abrupt strum. This produces a softer, more gentle sound than other instruments.
Barry played a large variety of his guitars during this interview, and all types of music, but the soft tones of the classical were unmistakably different than the rest. He says that each and every one of his 30-plus guitars has its own personality, its own sound, its own strength, weakness and style.
“Every song that I liked, I learned how to play them by ear. These days it’s easy to learn. You just go on YouTube and everything is demonstrated for you. But there’s one thing that you can’t be taught, and that’s your own personal touch,” says Barry.
“A Fender Stratocaster sounds so different from a Gibson Les Paul or a Gretch. They all have their own personalities.”
The passion that Barry exudes about guitars can’t be overstated. His voice rises a little bit and he becomes more expressive and animated when talking about the age of wood, the cut of the grain, even the part of a tree that the wood comes from.
But for someone who has dedicated their entire life to guitars, Barry is so knowledgeable that he can listen to an unknown piece of music and know the exact instruments that are being played.
He has delved into a few different instruments over the years, including bass, mandolin, and a bit of keyboard, but nothing will challenge his favourite.
“Mostly it’s guitar. That’s my main one. It’s always been guitar.”
He took bookings from here to Deer Lake, despite having more than one shot at national touring. He had little interest in travelling across the country, since he had a young family to raise. For over 40 years, he was a butcher at Coleman’s grocery, and retired only three years ago.
He hasn’t played in front of an audience since the 2019 Bread and Roses dinner. And he misses it.
“I played that the last three years, and after last year, that was it. Everything got shut down.” Barry has three daughters, but he says they aren’t musically inclined.
“Nope,” he shakes his head. “Didn’t want to learn either! I used to say ‘Come on, try to learn to play something!’ Nope.”
But Barry knows that everyone is different. Not everyone can sustain a passion for over 50 years. But his is still going strong.
“One hundred percent. It never left me. It’s still every bit there like it was when I was a boy.”