Barry McGuire Interview with Richie Unterberger

Known for "Eve of Destruction," the #1 hit that was the most controversial folk-rock smash, Barry McGuire actually had a long career that encompassed the New Christy Minstrels, films, Broadway, and key boosts to the launch of the
Mamas & the Papas. He spoke about his 1960s folk-rock days in late 2000.
What were the key motivations behind your switch from the commercial folk you 
were doing with the New Christy Minstrels to folk-rock? 
Going with Lou [Adler]. Well, I left the Christys. We did 300 concerts a year 
for three years, four years. There was a lot of things going on. I didn't think 
we were being dealt with fairly financially. And I got tired of singing "Green, 
Green." When I wrote "Green, Green," it was like a really a statement of where I 
was at philosophically in my life. "I don't care where the sun goes down, I'm 
going to lay my weary head, green, green rocky road, I'm gonna make my bed, 
green, green, I'm a traveling guy," you know. But times changed, and I changed, 
and I didn't feel that way anymore. The Beatles were happening. I think that was 
probably the main thing. The Beatles just changed the whole world of music. 
I'm finding that the Beatles are cited as the biggest influence in the shift to 
folk-rock, more than Dylan. 
It was so much fun. It was really fun. Well, Bobby was just basically a folk 
singer. He didn't play with any bands or anything, like all the rest of us. Just 
played his guitar and sang his songs. And then when I left the Christys... 
(chuckles) Roger McGuinn, he wanted to get in the Christys and we were full and 
wouldn't let him in. And so did David Crosby. He was all pissed off because he 
couldn't get in the Christys, and Hoyt Axton couldn't get in, and all the guys 
that were loose in the streets, a lot of them, wanted to get in. The Christys 
was happening, and everybody was looking for work and wanted places to sing and 
people to sing to. 
So I went out to Hoyt's one time, and Hoyt [Axton] was living in Topanga Canyon, 
and Roger McGuinn was living in his poolhouse. So I was sitting out, and Roger 
says, "hey, come here, let me sing some songs for you." So he started singing 
some songs, and he said, "What do you think about this stuff?" And it just blew 
me away. "Can you think of anybody who'd like to hear this?" And I said, Roger, 
that's awesome, just wonderful. And he told me one time that when he heard the 
little 12-string, electric 12-string riff that the Beatles did, I think it was 
the end of "Hard Day's Night," right at the end of one of their songs. And Roger 
went, that's it, that's it! And that's where he got the style for "Tambourine 
Man" and "12 [sic] Miles High" and basically, the Byrds' sound. 
So he was opening night...I was out of a job, and I'd been to every producer in 
Hollywood trying to get a job singing. But nobody wanted to know me. And so 
Roger says, "Well, we're opening up at Ciro's." The press was saying that 
everybody was going to be there. I'm like, "sure." So I was there that night, 
and Bobby Dylan, 'cause they were opening, that was their debut for "Tambourine 
Man." And Bob was there, and Lou was there, and a whole bunch of people were 
there. And I was just dancing on the floor. And Adler came in and said, hey, 
you're Barry McGuire? "Yeah." "Well, what are you doing these days?" "Nothing." 
He said, "Would you like to sing some songs?" I said, "Well, yeah." He said, 
"Well, come over to my house next week." And Phil Sloan was there that night. 
P.F. Sloan. 
We're all sitting at the same table. Sloan is, and Adler, and Dylan. I spent 
most of the time dancing. I kind of forgot about it. A week went by, another 
week went by, and Adler says, "I thought you were coming over to my house." I 
said, "Well, I lost your number." He said, "Where are you?" I told him, and he 
said, "I'll send a car." (laughs) 
So he sent a car to get me, and I went over, and I heard Phil's songs, and I 
really liked them. So I think, for me, it was more what Roger had done with 
"Tambourine Man," to kind of move my traditional folk style into an "Eve of 
Destruction" kind of a feeling, to the whole feeling we had [with] all the 
songs. And then the Mamas and Papas came out to California, and they were 
looking for a recording company, and I knew Cass and Denny real well, and they 
actually called me and asked if they knew somebody they could record for. And I 
said, well, Lou Adler, I'll introduce you to him. 
So I went over to her house one night to hear what they were doing. She was 
ironing and John and Michelle and Denny were sitting on the floor. We never sat 
in chairs in those days for some reason. And they started singing, and it just 
knocked me out. "Well, wait'll Lou hears this." 
So, a couple of days later, I had a recording session. Lou was knocked out. They 
did the backup vocals on that album. 
And you also did the version of "California Dreaming" with the same backing. 
Well, it was my track. It was going to be my next single release. And when they 
were doing my backup vocals, they started doing a counterpoint with (sings) "all 
the leaves are brown, and the sky was grey," well that all came together on my 
recording session. And they heard it and thought, "that's the sound. That's what 
we want, that counterpoint thing." Then John asked me if they could release 
"California Dreamin'" as their first single, and I said, "Hey, you wrote the 
tune. Do whatever you want." So they did. They took my voice off, and put 
Denny's voice on, and they had that flute player guy come in and [he] did a 
toodle-toodle  in the middle of the song. And it was a monster hit for them. 
If you listen to the left track on their album, if you get The Best of the Mamas 
and Papas, you listen to the left track, you can still hear a little bit of my 
voice. My son discovered that once. 
So that was the crossover. I think it was the Beatles influencing Roger, and the 
Byrds, and when "Tambourine Man" hit, man. And then along came Sebastian and the 
Lovin' Spoonful, with all his great music that he wrote, and it was just off and 
running. I think Roger had more of a game plan than anybody else had. Because he 
heard stuff and listened to stuff. I've never been much of a musician. I'm kind 
of like, you've got a bunch of guys out on surfboards. Well, some guys really 
calculate the waves. And I'm just out there. And a wave happened to come along 
and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and rode it all 
the way to the beach. But Roger, he calculated and thought, and figured out what 
he wanted to do before he did it. That's the impression I got. 
Gene Clark was in the Christy Minstrels. He left. And so when Gene and David and 
Roger got together with Chris, and then off they went. The big turning point, 
really, was the Beatles' influence on American folk music, and then Roger took 
it to the next step, and then along came the Lovin' Spoonful and everybody else. 

What attracting you and Lou to covering so many P.F. Sloan songs? 
Well, he was a staff writer for Dunhill. And he wrote some good songs. I really 
liked "Let Me Be," I really liked "Child of Our Times." I really liked "This 
Precious Time" was a great song, and the Mamas and the Papas backed me on that 
song. And I've never been much of a songwriter. I mean, I wrote "Green, Green," 
but I've never been much of a songwriter. To have a songwriter that wrote so 
specifically what I felt to be true...I've never been much of an actor either. 
If something is real for me, then I can do it. But I can't really pretend I can 
do it if it's not. That's why I had to quit the Christys, 'cause it wasn't real 
for me anymore. That's why I had to leave Hair on Broadway, because I did it for 
about a year, and one night I was doing the show, and I realized, well, this is 
not real. I told the director. He says, man, it was a killer show tonight. The 
audience didn't know you were faking it. He says, you're getting to be an actor. 
I said, I don't want to be an actor. And I quit the show. (laughs) 
And Phil wrote those songs that were just tailor-made for me. He told me years 
and years later that "Eve of Destruction" became a #1 tune without any payola or 
manipulation on behalf of the distributor record company, the networks in the 
industry, that it made kind of an end run. And all of a sudden it was a hit 
tune. There was a report that used to come out back in those days, I don't know 
if it was the Gavin Report or something like that. And they said, no matter what 
McGuire comes out with next, we're not gonna play it. Because their feeling was 
that I was like a loose cannon in the record industry, and they wanted to get me 
back in line. Rather than a career maker, "Eve of Destruction" turned into a 
We did some great songs after that. I did a little song that Travis Edmondson 
wrote called "Some Rainy Afternoon." It was a great song. And it got a little 
airplay in, you know, in Maine. (laughs hard). Some disc jockey that hadn't read 
the Gavin Report or something. 
Phil was also a recording artist himself. Did you sense any frustration on his 
part that he was writing hits that were more successful as covers than his own 
records were? 
You know, the music business is like the Lotto. Just put your numbers down and 
sometimes they hit, and sometimes they don't. There's just no rhyme or reason. I 
know great songwriters. Fred Neil would come up when he was in L.A., we all used 
to hang out. He would sit there and sing, and we would just melt. I mean, we 
would go to his recording sessions. He was like this folksinger's singer. I was 
there when he recorded (sings) "skipping over ocean, like a stone." We all 
wanted to be like him, and he couldn't get a hit record. And then another guy, 
Nilsson, comes along, does the song, big monster hit. Everybody thought he wrote 
the tune, and we all kind of got miffed a little bit that he was copping 
Freddie's thunder, you know. At least Freddie got some songwriting royalties on 
it. But there was never a better, more awesome songwriter-singer than Freddie 
Neil. And it just never seemed to open for him. He was very involved in this 
drug abuse. I think that kind of scared everybody away. Even more so than the 
rest...we were all...I mean, I'm only speaking from my personal perspective. I 
was very laced with drugs myself, but Fred seemed to be even more so than me. 
That might have had something to do with it. That might have had something to do 
with nobody wanting to play my records, too, I don't know. 
How would you rate Lou Adler as a producer? 
Well, you know, I don't know. He was an entrepreneur. He was the one who hired 
the musicians and booked the sessions and he had the ear. He heard the Mamas and 
Papas and said yes, immediately, yes! And so he did have, I guess, that 
producer's gift. And yet, when my second album came out, and my second release, 
"Child of Our Times" and "Let Me Be," when they didn't make it commercially, he 
didn't know what to do to, how to package me to make it work again, you know? It 
was kind of a fluke. So I think he did kind of work with the material that came 
his way, and when it ceased to be commercial, he went on to the next whatever 
was happening. That's what most producers seem to do. They take the cream off 
the top of the milk, and then when there's no more cream left, they go through a 
new bottle. (laughs)  But he certainly was easy to work with, and a very 
congenial and did his best to assist all of us. 
On Dunhill Records, the session musicians had a lot to do with the label's sound 
and success. 
Absolutely. Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, Larry Knechtel, those were all his house 
guys. Those were the three main guys. And then of course every once in a while, 
Herbie Albert would sneak into the studio and do a little lick or two. That 
didn't hurt (laughs). Him and Herb were very good friends. 
Did the actual label folk-rock bother you, as it was an industry term put on the 
I never gave it a second thought. In fact, you saying it right now is the first 
time I've ever considered it. No, not at all. Not for me. 
It was really fun. I mean, the Modern Folk Quartet, did you ever hear any of 
their stuff? 
Just a little, aside from their two Warner Brothers folk albums. They hardly 
ever recorded at all in their rock phase, unfortunately. 
I mean, killer stuff. It was fun. I would go over when they were playing and 
dance for hours. They would do "Swing Me." (sings) "Swing me," and I mean, I 
would leave the planet. 
How do you think it was that the larger society itself was changing in a way 
that both helped bring about folk-rock, and made the music successful? 
For me, it was a whole search. There was an undercurrent. And this is only my 
personal perspective. I can't say everybody would answer the same way. There's 
as many different reasons as there were people involved. But my reason was, I 
left the Christys searching for a deeper meaning to life. I had done years on 
the road, I'd performed at the White House. I saw all this opulence and wealth. 
People that were so famous, Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., people that I knew, 
some of 'em I performed with. And none of 'em were happy. I felt, why should I 
spend my life trying to get like them? Frank Sinatra one time, he's got his head 
against the wall, he's got a drink in his left hand, he's punching the wall with 
his right hand, and he's saying, "I'm bored, I'm bored, BORED, BORED." I said, 
well, he's Chairman of the Board, I guess. And I said, why do I want to spend my 
life getting like that? 
I left the Christys looking was kind of an excursion into Eastern 
mysticism that was taking place at the time. And I thought, maybe there's some 
answers, spiritual answers that I'm missing. Like there's something spiritual 
about us human beings. And a friend of mine in the Christys, we used to sit up 
at night and talk and read and wonder if reincarnation, and if it wasn't 
reality, what would happen to the human spirit when the body dies? Is there an 
afterlife? Just questions like that. So I left the Christys really in search of 
some answers. And I thought, well, the only way I'm going to find the truth is 
if I speak the truth. 
And so I really tried to be a truth speaker. And the songs that I heard, if it 
wasn't true for me, I couldn't sing it anymore. And I remember one time, in the 
Monkees, Mike Nesmith came to me with a song he'd just written. "You and I, 
travel to the beat of a different drum." Well, he wanted me to record the tune. 
He'd just written it. And I was just coming off of "Eve of Destruction," and I 
looked through the tune, and I said, well Mike, I don't think we travel to the 
beat of a different drum. There's only one drummer. We all travel to his beat. 
Well, I couldn't sing his song. Because for me, it wasn't a truthful statement. 
Well, Linda sang it, and it was a monster for her. 
So for me, it was a spiritual search. The songs that I heard were...I discovered 
a lot of truth in those songs. And I would speak truth in the songs, like, when 
I heard Between the Buttons, the album that the Stones did. Some of those 
songs...I found little sparks of truth. Then I wound up doing Hair on Broadway, 
because I thought that was, for me, was a statement of spiritual expansion, 
understanding, awareness. And so that's what was happening to me. 
And there was a real shedding of the old dogma, like boundaries of morality were 
being broken down and everybody was into the new party mode of just loving on 
each other. Which destroyed thousands of us. I lost 16 of my personal friends 
through that lifestyle. 
One time I was with a friend of mine who's dead now, and we had this big block 
of cocaine about the size of shoe box. And we were slicing off lines and I was 
just ready to spoon a spoonful into my nose, and as I did I just started holding 
one finger on one nostril. I looked up, and here's these posters on the wall, 
this house we were at. And there's Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Marilyn 
Monroe and Lenny Bruce and all these posters, and I looked at them with my one 
eye open and I turned to my friend and I said, maybe this stuff ain't good for 
us. Like, what are we doing here? And now he's gone. I mean, all those great 
wonderful friends are gone, because of the lifestyle we were living, without 
I remember we woke up one morning at Denny's house and John Phillips called. He 
said, you guys okay? We said, yeah, what's wrong, what's going on? He said, 
well, everybody's dead over at Sharon's house at Terry Melcher's place. When it 
all finally started to unravel what had happened, I said, well, maybe we should 
have one rule: we shouldn't kill each other. So gradually, and then I had an 
Italian roadster that I built, it took me five years to build it, it was stolen 
from me and stripped. I said, well maybe we should have another where we 
shouldn't steal from each other. So then there was a lady that I was 
desperately, madly in love with who went off with a friend of mine, Scott 
McKenzie, and I said, well, maybe we shouldn't rip each other off for our old 
So gradually, I just adopted the Ten Commandments (laughs). 'Cause I started to 
see a reason for 'em, you know. Why can't we do these things? Because you just 
can't do those things.  I didn't know why. So I threw all the rules away, and 
everybody starting dying around me, and I wound up desolate and bankrupt, and I 
said, oh, that's why. So I adapted that into my life. 
How often do you perform now? 
I did about a 100 concerts this year. All over the United States. We're cutting 
back next year to about 40. We generate money for an organization called Mercy 
Corps. 92, 94% of the money they get goes to the people in Kosovo and Korea. 
Right now they're working in North Korea. Three million people have starved to 
death in North Korea, and we're spending all our time looking at who's going to 
be President of the United States. I mean, we're so out of touch with what's 
happening in the world. 
Are you doing any acting? 
No, I'm not an actor. I gave it a shot. My problem is that I can't remember my 
lines. I couldn't get in the Boy Scouts, because I couldn't remember, you know, 
"a boy scout is clean and trustworthy and happy..." I couldn't remember all 
those things. My buddies worked with me for weeks, and I went up to take my 
test, and started crying because I couldn't remember the words. I can remember 
songs. If you put it to a melody, I would have sung it to 'em in a minute. 
But I'm the kind of a guy who, I can't remember phone numbers. But I can 
remember where the numbers are on the dial. I can remember the pattern, you 
know, like little triangles and patterns, and I can push the buttons that way. 
But if somebody says, what's your phone number, I'd have to look at a telephone, 
draw a picture, and put the numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. Then I could 
tell 'em what the number was, because I can remember the pattern. 
I liked your appearance in The President's Analyst. 
I was in one called Werewolves on Wheels. It's one we can all get together and 
forget. But that's the last film I did before I left Hollywood. See, what 
happened to me is, I read a New Testament, and the writings and the life of 
Jesus. It's not like Christianity, like Western Christianity. There's a depth 
and a truth that I found in the teachings of Jesus that really put my life 
together for me as I applied those truths to my daily choices, attitudes. So 
just before I left Hollywood, that was the last film I made, was The Werewolves 
on Wheels." (laughs) A great movie to leave Hollywood by. 
That film [The President's Analyst] was a very, very futuristic film. It's on TV 
every once in a while, and I'll watch it just for fun. The kids can see Daddy 
when he was young. Then around town, everybody jokes at me, wherever I go 
(laughs). "Hey, I saw you last night on TV!" 
contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2003