After a lifetime as an educator, executive, and businessman, Barry Whitfill decided to pick up the guitar, write and record his own songs at age 60. He just released his first CD, Caliche Legacy.
Barry Whitfill: On a Musical Odyssey
by Phil Houseal
At the age when many finally find time to sit back and listen to the music, Barry Whitfill decided it was time to record his first CD.
“It was kind of a souvenir to myself,” said the 60-year-old retired educator, who is just now embarking on his musical odyssey.
As did so many of the subjects of this column, Whitfill subsumed his love and interest in making music to earning degrees, building careers, and raising a family. He holds two Masters in education, worked as an executive for a gas company, and tried his hand at operating his own business. That’s what brought him and his wife, Paula, to the hill country five years ago.
When the business venture failed to live up to expectations, Whitfill decided to turn to his first love - music.
“The business brought us here, and I guess we’re here now so it’s too late to go back and start over,” he said philosophically.
Although he had been around music all his life, and would often sing with friends, Whitfill did not pick up his first guitar until he was already in his 40s. He began hanging around cowboy and folk singing events, where he had an epiphany of sorts.
“As I would sit there listening to cowboy singers, I realized I knew as many cowboy songs as they did. I found myself meeting these people, and the more I went the more I enjoyed it.”
He learned to play guitar and took a songwriting course (“Which quashed any desire of becoming a professional songwriter”).
But he learned enough to write a few dozen songs, which, to his surprise, people enjoyed hearing. When several requested copies of his song Trans Pecos Odyssey , he started thinking of putting his tunes on a CD.
“A number of people wanted copy of that song. I thought, heck, I’ll make a CD!” he said.
I noticed that of the 12 songs on his CD Caliche Legacy, three had “Introductions” which were as long as the songs.
“I really hesitated to do that, because I always thought if you have to write an explanation it’s not a very good song,” Whitfill explained. “But if I don’t include the story, listeners wouldn’t have any idea what the song was about. Besides, they’d be disappointed, because they enjoy the story as much as the song.”
Starting a music career at age 60means you bring a bucket load of influences. Whitfill lists his inspirations as Steve Fromholz, Hank Williams, Jimmy Rogers, and Bob Wills. No wonder he has a hard time defining his own style.
“It’s really hard to describe,” he said. “Most of it is western by nature, and that’s one of my first loves. Keep in mind that cowboy music was the first folk music. So I tend to call myself a folk artist who leans toward western.”
Even with a CD under his belt and a few fans from his Friday night gigs at Guenthers in Comfort, Whitfill harbors no illusions of joining the ranks of those legendary musicians.
“There’s so much good music out there, I have no visions I’d ever be any more than I do now,” he said. “The main reason I made this CD was I had handful of people ask for it.”
And he admits his ego kicked in “a little bit.”
“I got 15 or 16 songs that have some merit or value, and my kids like to listen to them. If something happens to me tomorrow they would be gone forever. Everybody likes to leave something behind. If this is all I leave behind, so be it.”
His interest in music can safely be said to come from passion, not profit, as he “hasn’t made a dime doing it.”
But that’s not the purpose.
“I’ll probably end up giving away a whole lot more than I’ll ever sell,” he said of his new CD. “But that’s kind of what I wanted to do.”