Benefit concert planned at ’Ganny in memory of island guitarist
Josh Barber grew up in Jamestown. As a child, he was passionate about fishing. He fished with his grandfather, and won fishing derbies at the reservoir. There were times when he could be seen riding his bicycle through the streets of the town carrying a 15-pound bluefi sh by the tail. Later, his passion turned to hockey and he played for La Salle Academy.
Eventually hockey was replaced by another love for Josh, the love of music. He started playing guitar at the age of 16. He never took any formal lessons. Instead, he learned by taking part in every jam session he could find, and became an exceptional musician.
Josh started his first band in early 2000. They were called Smokestack Lightnin’, and they became a fixture at the Narragansett Café, which became Josh’s favorite place to play. The band played all over Rhode Island, and also in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Smokestack Lightnin’ was named Best Blues Act by the Providence Phoenix in 2004, prevailing over well-known names like Roomful of Blues.
In 2006 Josh wanted to add a little rock and roll to the blues that he had become known for in Smokestack Lightnin’. He started a new band that was called J.B. and the Stack, eventually shortened to simply the Stack. Josh started writing his own songs around this time and won Best Blues Act again in 2008.
On Sept. 30, 2010, Josh took his own life. According to a website created in his honor, he died of a broken heart.
It was a failed romance that started Josh on a downward spiral. He was hospitalized for depression a couple of times in the wake of the breakup. “It seemed like he was getting better, seeing other people,” said John Barber, Josh’s father. “I guess the underlying thread in all of his problems, including that problem, was that the social networks kept putting it in his face.”
“He kept seeing pictures of her with her other boyfriend on Facebook,” Barber continued. “Not that he didn’t go looking for it, because he did, but every time he would find something like that he would just go right back into the depths of it again. He fought it for about a year, and finally gave in. It was one of those incidents that put him over the edge.”
John Barber feels strongly that had there been some transitional care for Josh between the structured environment of the hospital, and the unstructured environment of his home life, he might still be alive today. “Picture this,” Barber said. “You attempt suicide. For whatever reason you fail. You go to acute hospitalization. They take everything away from you because you’re on suicide watch. They watch you 24/7. Presumably you’re getting better, but obviously not.
“From that environment they give you an appointment card to go see somebody in a week or so, and they let you go home to the same place that you attempted suicide. The last time was really devastating for Josh. He never really recovered from going back into that environment.”
In addition to the social networks, which Barber feels are “killing our youth,” he cites the vast array of psychiatric pharmaceuticals that are available. He points out that the television commercials for these drugs always include a warning that they may cause suicidal thoughts.
Barber also said that the various doctors involved in Josh’s case didn’t talk to each other and that his son complained of growing tired of telling his story over and over to a variety of doctors, nurses and social workers who didn’t communicate with each other.
“Different doctors were prescribing different mind drugs,” Barber said. “Josh never wanted to be on them to begin with. He took them because he thought he would be able to get back with his girlfriend. In my eyes those drugs did more damage than good to him.”
“Are the drugs to blame?” Barber asked. “Am I to blame? Is the girlfriend to blame? Is society to blame? I’m not blaming anybody. He had a problem and he took his own life.”
When Josh’s problems began he was forced to cancel gigs. When he returned home from his hospitalization he found it hard to reconnect with the musicians and the venues that he had worked with. He continued to record music in his home, and his father hopes that the music will be made available to the public one day. There is also a book about Josh’s life in the works. The book is scheduled for publication in 2012.
In response to Josh’s death, the Barber family has created a nonprofi t fund to raise awareness of the needs of people who are suffering from depression and similar conditions. The organization’s name, WAMO, is an acronym taken from the title of a poem that Josh wrote, “We All Move On.” The organization’s website can be found at WeAllMoveOn.org.
The Oct. 30 benefit at the Narragansett Café will take place from noon until 3 p.m. The event will feature a host of musicians, including Tom Ferraro, Nick Palda, and the original members of Smokestack Lightnin’. In the tradition of the Narragansett Café, there will be no admission charge, but donations to WAMO are encouraged. Donations can also be made through the website.
“Josh loved Jamestown,” Barber said. “He loved playing at the Narragansett Café because it was a hometown gig. As the musicians say, it’s a nice room.”