He was a member of The New Christy Minstrels and the lead vocalist on their 1963 hit "Green Green". Two years later he had his own hit record, "Eve Of Destruction", that went all the way to number one. We are of course talking about Barry McGuire.
Q - Before The New Christy Minstrels, what were you doing with your life? Were you in another group?
A - No. I was a pipe fitter until I was 25 and heard a guy play a guitar and next week I bought one myself. I learned how to play a C, an A minor, an F and a G. Within two months I had a job singing. I only knew five songs. I was at a party. Somebody heard me and asked me to sing at their club. They'd give me $50 cash and I said "Man, that's cool!" So I went, sang. It was the best cash register night he had in months. So he invited me to come back once a week and he'd give me $100 a night. So, I started doing that. Then Randy Sparks came by, heard me singing. He was putting The New Christy Minstrels together and within twelve months from the time I bought my first guitar, I was in The Christy Minstrels.
Q - That's fast!
A - I wasn't looking to be a professional singer. I just liked singing. I would sing at the beach. I would take my old, beat up guitar, this cracked guitar that I bought off this friend that I worked with, re-strung it and I'd go down to the beach and sing Kingston Trio songs. It was wonderful. Everybody would sit on the sand in a big circle, sing and pass the guitar around. Then I wound up at a party one night, it was a birthday party, and they heard me sing and they wanted me to come and sing at their club. I just followed the trickle as it ran down the mountain. Just following the stream.
Q - How was it determined that you would sing lead on "Green Green".
A - Well, I wrote the song. Actually I stole the song from Dino Valenti. He had a song "Green, Green, Rocky Road". (laughs) I introduced him to my girlfriend. I left town and when I came back he was dating my girlfriend. I got so angry with him, I took his big song, re-wrote it and we recorded it. They just liked the way my voice sounded, so they said go ahead and sing the verses. We tried other combinations. We had a girl singing one verse, Dolan singing one verse and then I would sing a verse. And then finally the producer said "why don't you get McGuire to sing all three verses." So I did and bang! There it happened. Had a Gold album out of it.
Q - That was a big hit!
A - Yeah, it was a big hit. It still plays. I still get royalties trickling in, not from artist royalties, 'cause all the artist royalties went to Christy Minstrels Inc. But at least I got writers royalties on it, so that's cool.
Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll, you helped launch the career of The Mamas And The Papas. What did you do for them?
A - I made a phone call. (laughs)
Q - Obviously a very important phone call.
A - No. I was working on my second album after "Eve". Cass called me one day and said "Listen, we've just come up from New York. Some friends of mine are here and you gotta hear these songs we're singing." So I went up to her house and heard 'em sing and thought "Man!" They just blew me away. I never heard anything like The Mamas And The Papas. I thought The Byrds were great and The Byrds were great, but The Mamas And The Papas were just another step, another notch up. And so I called Lou Adler, my producer and said "Listen, I've got some friends here." I knew 'em all from the East coast. I knew Denny, John and Michelle and Cass, who was just a dear friend. I met her when she was in The Big Three and then The Mugwumps and then The Mamas And The Papas. I called Lou and he said "Well bring 'em down to the studio tomorrow", and so I did. I read an article recently that Bones Howe wrote on how I brought 'em in. They auditioned for Lou in Studio Two at Western Recording on Sunset Blvd. "California Dreamin'" was supposed to be my next single release, but when they did the background vocals for me on the tune, they liked it so much, the counter-point sound, that John asked me "Can we release this as our first single?" I said "John, you wrote the tune. Of course. Go for it! It's your tune." So, they pulled my voice off and John and Denny sang instead of me. In fact, if you listen to The Mamas And The Papas stereo recording of "California Dreamin'" and you just listen to the left track, you'll hear my voice going "All The Leaves Are..." and then they didn't quite scrub it off the track. (laughs) Isn't that great? I tell everybody my trivia question is - What is the first karaoke song ever recorded? And the answer is "California Dreamin'" 'cause The Mamas And The Papas sang karaoke to my track. (laughs)
Q - What did "Eve Of Destruction" do for your career?
A - Oh, actually it blew me out of the water. Phil Sloan, the guy who wrote it told me twenty years later...like I said, I wasn't looking to be a Rock 'n' Roll star or a singer or a famous person. I just liked singing songs. When I was in The Minstrels, I started to wonder what is this all about? What are we? What is this thing we call us? What's in the body? Is there a spiritual entity that lies within us? Is there a spark of God that dwells within the human form? I started into a spiritual search. When I sang "Eve", I just felt that that was a very honest statement. Phil wrote the tune. I heard it. It resonated in me as truth. I didn't know what the fullness of truth was. I was searching for truth and I thought if I'm going to find the truth, I've got to speak the truth as best as I can. So, I recorded the tune.
Q - Is it true that some radio stations actually banned the song because of its pessimistic lyrics?
A - The Gavin Report or some report said "whatever McGuire comes up next, don't play it." "Eve" became a hit song and the DJs didn't make a dime off it. It cut its own course. It went bang! Right to the top and they said "we can't have this anymore. He's a loose cannon in the music business, so don't play whatever he comes out with." I came out with some pretty good tunes after "Eve", but they didn't get any airplay.
Q - I don't understand. The DJs are on salary. How could they profit from a hit song on the radio?
A - (laughs) There was a thing in those days called payola. They might get a salary, but they'd also get a Ferrari from the record company or they'd get a different hooker every night for the next 52 weeks.
Q - That probably would have existed for only the most important disc jockeys
A - Yeah. The "hot" DJs in the country, the ones that broke the records. The guys that controlled what the kids listened to. In those days, disc jockeys were king of their shows. They could play any songs they wanted to. Now they have program directors. They can only play what the big, national, international radio corporations tell them to play. They send them a play list and they can't play anything else but the play list.
Q - That's what ruined Top 40 radio.
A - Absolutely.
Q - Did you tour behind "Eve Of Destruction"?
A - No. I didn't tour in those days. I did a little tour of England, France, Italy. But it was just for a couple of weeks. I moved out to Topanga Canyon and got me a ton of books and a truck load of marijuana and just read and smoked and meditated and watched the sun go by. I was in a spiritual search. I didn't hang out with the Hollywood people. John Phillips and Denny Doherty and Michelle, they all took off. They made $30 million. I was still driving my little yellow van. I did Hair on Broadway. I went back to Hair on Broadway in '68 and played the male lead in the production. But once again, to me Hair was like a spiritual statement. It wasn't because, oh, now I'm gonna be a Broadway star. It's because I read the script, heard the songs and thought, oh man, I like what this is saying. It says something that I felt was true in my heart, that we are all spiritual beings in biological envelopes and the spirit is neither rich, poor, black, white, old, young, left, right. Spirit is other stuff. To me, that's what I saw in the Hair show. So I did the show until I blew my knee out one night. There was a lot of leaping and dancing. I came down on a microphone cable and it exploded my right knee. It looked like a watermelon. So, I left the show and came back to California. But, "Eve" was just one step. It was just one spoke in the wheel. It came around and I did the song and it became number one. I was always amazed people asked me "What's it feel like to be a star?" I'd say "God...a star?" I felt just like I felt last month, only now I can pay the rent. I couldn't pay the rent last month. That's your term. You put a label on me, calling me a star. Where were you last month? I'm the same person today that I was then except now I have this entity that is commercially valuable that is making people money, so now in your eyes I have value because I'm making money for people. So now you think I'm something that you didn't think I was last month. So, it all kind of revealed itself to me. It was just a bunch of noise. Like my wife says, a storm in a tea cup. (laughs) And pretty soon the storm blows over. The superstars gradually sink over the horizon and die. And then ten year later, nobody even remembers who they were. Today, I'm living one day at a time. I'm just as hungry for life as I ever was. I've discovered who I am in life and I've discovered the secret of life for me. Everybody has to find out for themselves because it's an inside job. Nobody can tell you the answer. You have to keep asking questions until you find the answers.
Q - Did P. F. Sloan ever tell you how long it took him to write "Eve Of Destruction"?
A - Oh, he was just a teenager. I think he wrote the song in just a few hours. He woke his Mom and Dad up at 3 o'clock in the morning, "Listen to this!" and sang it for them. (laughs) Phil was raked over the show business coals. They stole all of his copyrights away from him. He was scuffling from pillar to post for years. Finally, he got an attorney who was able to get his copyrights back. You swim with the sharks and they'll eat you alive. I left Hollywood. I moved to Topanga Canyon and I went from there to Santa Fe, New Mexico and from there I went to New York. Then I left town totally because I discovered what I was looking for in my spiritual search. For the next 30 years I just went around singing songs about my adventures in Christ, not of Christianity. From my perspective, Christianity has hijacked the message of Christ and have used it to build their own kingdom. That's still what I'm doing. I have show now called Trippin' The Sixties that's so much fun. It's just trying to reveal the joy of life. It's available if we just stop worrying about tomorrow or living in the past. Letting go of yesterday; take no thought of tomorrow and just live in the present moment and all of a sudden our lives become these fountains of euphoria.
Q - Did you have these thoughts when you were working as a pipe fitter?
A - No, I didn't. I used to read Playboy Magazine and masturbate a lot back in those days. (laughs)
Q - No drinking?
A - No, I never drank. I'll have a drink, but I've never been an alcoholic. I used to hang with an alcoholic who's dead now, my best friend, Owen Orr. He went to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and he was clean and sober for 17 years before he died. He told me one time he was praying to have the strength not to drink. He said he asked God "How come Barry can have a beer and I can't?" He said "Barry, God answered me." I said "Wow! What did he say?" He said "Well, because you can have a beer and I can't." (laughs) "Barry can have a beer and I can't," and that's the truth. I can have a beer and not have another one for 3 weeks. But he would drink the whole 6 pack and off he'd go to the liquor store. So, I didn't smoke cigarettes. I was in the Navy. I was the only guy on the ship who didn't smoke. I was happy. I started smoking cigarettes probably when I was 25 or 27. Then I got into grass when I was 28 and smoked for 10 years. Then I walked away from that. I've never been addicted to substances. My only real addiction is food. I really have to watch. It's my comfort zone thing.
Q - Would it be safe to say that after you enjoyed some success, you got to date Playboy centerfolds?
A - No. I never did that. That was not my hunger. I had a partner I was living with. We had a daughter. Then the time came for us to go different ways. She went to Woodstock. I wasn't a lady chaser. They chased me sometimes and sometimes they didn't. When I really got to wake up to the spiritual reality of life was when I was working with The Christys. I sang for Presidents. I sang at the White House on two different times. I sang for a full spectrum of society - Princes, Kings, prostitutes, drug addicts, college kids. I discovered that nobody was happy and I realized I'm not happy either. I've got all this adulation coming my way. I've got all this money and I'm not a happy camper. A friend of mine, Paul, who was in The Christy Minstrels, both of us started talking about it. We started buying books and reading and reading and talking and trying to be as honest as we could in what we observed in ourselves. I left The Christys on a spiritual search. Went to New Mexico. Took some magic mushrooms down there. Had an out-of-body experience. Not New Mexico, old Mexico...Puerto Vallarta. That's when I met Phil Sloan. The Byrds we're opening at Ciro's. Phil was there that night. So for me, it's just been a spiritual search. I met a girl back in '72. We got married in '73.
Q - Did you say you had a couple of hit records after "Eve Of Destruction"?
A - I had a song called "Cosmic Cowboy" that was nominated for a Grammy. Mike Nesmith of The Monkees asked me a question one time and told me I should write a song about Christ that would allow people to see him before they actually knew who it was they were looking at. He said "It's like the name of Jesus has become an enemy to the person of Jesus because of all of the acts of hypocrisies that have been perpetuated in his name, the Inquisition, the Crusades, Catholics killing the Protestants in Ireland. There have been more people murdered and slaughtered in the name of Jesus and Muhammad. And Muhammad didn't write the Bible. It's all just men trying to control the world through religious hype. So, I wrote this song, "Cosmic Cowboy". Then I wrote a little song called "Bullfrogs And Butterflies" that went Gold. It was on a children's album. It was a fun, little album.
Q - What are you doing these days?
A - I've started doing this Tripin' The Sixties show. It's the most fun I've ever had in my life. If you want to read about it, you go on the Trippin' The Sixties site (www.trippinthesixties.com) and click on the Blog page. We post all of our shows and our road adventures. I'm working with John York. He was with The Byrds and played with The Mamas And Papas the last year they were on the road. He was with Johnny Rivers. Incredible guitar player, bass player. Great performer. So, the two of use have this show. If you go to the Trippin site there's some videos there too. On the video page, there's a video called "Eve 2012" and it's up-dated lyric by Phil Sloan the guy who wrote it in the first place. He did it a few years ago and we recorded it. Well, it just is what it is. Very few people want to know and it really doesn't make any difference in society if you know what's going on or not. It's gonna happen anyway. The only thing it does is give you the opportunity to go "Oh, I know what's going on" and get on with your life.
Q - Because, what else can you do?
A - What else can you do? Yeah. Democrats. Republicans. They're all the same. I tell people, every 4 years we vote for a hew hood ornament on the automobile 'cause that's all the President is. He's just a hood ornament. It's the same engine, the same transmission, the same power is driving the machine and nobody knows who's at the wheel. We're starting to get a glimpse of who's at the wheel, but even that doesn't make any difference because there's nothing we can do about it. When you look at the Federal Reserve and you think, who prints the money? It's the Federal Reserve. It's not the President. And the Federal Reserve are above the law. Nobody can tell them what to do. So, there it is in a nutshell.
Q - We're on the "Eve Of Destruction."
A - Yeah, but then there's gonna be a dawn. You gotta get through the tight spots, through the rapids before you can come out into the New Age. I think we're at a transitional point. Even the Mayans seemed to have known about it in their 2012 calendar.