Barry McGuire had his 15 minutes of fame – and lived it to the max.
A member of the New Christy Minstrels, one of the biggest folk groups of the early 1960s, McGuire traveled the world, made plenty of money, and enjoyed great success as a solo artist with his No. 1 hit song, “Eve of Destruction,” in 1965.
“Through the early years of my life, I grew up with a Playboy fantasy,” said McGuire, who will be in concert Thursday night in Napoleon, Ohio.
“I had ’32 Ford roadsters and every hot car – a Jag roadster, a Siata roadster with a Corvette engine – it weighed 1,800 pounds and had a 300 hp engine. I sang at the White House for two different presidents. I sang all over Europe.”
After speeding his way to the top, however, he said he found little pleasure in his worldly achievements.
“All this stuff that I did, there was no fulfillment in it,” McGuire said from his home in Fresno, Calif. “And the people I met that were much more famous than I was, like Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jonathan Winters, when you get alone with them and talk to them, you find out they’re lonely, unfulfilled people who don’t know what they’re doing. They’re miserable and alone. So why should I waste anymore of my energy trying to be like they are?”
The United States was going through a time of civil unrest in the mid-1960s, and McGuire said he personally was doing a lot of spiritual and philosophical soul-searching.
“I had 16 friends who died of suicides, drug overdoses, or sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.
He got a call from New York producers who invited him to join the original cast of the musical Hair six months after the show opened on Broadway, but HE continued wrestling with life’s big questions.
“I left Broadway and went looking for the answer to my own personal ‘Eve of Destruction,’ ” McGuire said.
“I went to Hollywood and met this guy and said, ‘What’s happening?’ and he said, ‘Jesus!’ I said, ‘Whoa,’ and ran away.”
It wasn’t until 1971, after years of marijuana and cocaine use, that he picked up a paperback Bible – “disguised,” he said, under the title Good News for Modern Man.
The little book was lying on the floor and the wind was blowing through the windows, flicking its pages. It was as if the Bible were calling out to him, saying, “Read me!,” McGuire recalled.
He did pick it up and began reading, skeptically at first, but was amazed by the words Jesus used and how he treated people, from personal friends to prostitutes and street people.
“For the first time in my life, I stopped looking at Christians – at denominations, organizations, Catholics, Protestants – and I took a look at Jesus and examined what he had to say,” McGuire said. “I could find no fault in Jesus. I saw the church, Christianity, the organizational control the nines, and the hypocrisy, but when I saw Jesus, I saw none of that.”
He described his spiritual transformation as an “inside job.”
“What good would it do if I changed my way of living but stayed the same inside? A lot of people step into the church and take their ‘inside’ with them and spend the rest of their lives there. They’re still empty inside. It’s an inside job – it always has been and always will be.”
McGuire, who turns 71 next month, said he is grateful that his music-industry career never reached the very summit, and sees “God’s hand in it every step of the way.”
“I just barely made it above the horizon of recognition, and that’s good enough for me,” he said. “I have three Gold Records, but nobody knows that. It’s wonderful. I would much rather be me than Kenny Rogers or Harrison Ford, they can’t go down to the local restaurant. I had a friend who said he always wanted to be rich and famous. I told him to skip the fame, just be rich. You become a prisoner of your own success.”
Had he reached superstardom, he said, “I would have had the money to orchestrate my own demise.”
McGuire has been singing and playing guitar in churches for decades now, and while he often quotes Scripture, he said he doesn’t preach to the audience.
“I just share the journey of my life, and how God set me free from the inner monsters that lived inside of me – pride, doubt, lust, power, all the things that live in us.”
McGuire said the more he gives to God, the more he gets out of life. He described the last five years as “the most miraculous, serendipitous adventure I’ve ever known. The more we let go, the more God is able to do.”
That’s the message he’s been emphasizing in concert lately, he said.
“My favorite question to ask an audience is, ‘How many here today are living a stress-free life?’ Jesus said, ‘Cast all your cares on me.’ If you love God, that should be automatic. It’s a commandment. When we surrender everything to Christ, then we’re free. That’s when we have the peace that surpasses all understanding. God knows what we need before we even know ourselves. It’s like a great big Rubik’s Cube in the cosmos. When I get to Ohio a week from now, the very thing I need will appear. Same for you, for every human being….
“But the reality is, we really don’t surrender to Jesus. We don’t really trust God. We say we do. We do all the lip service. But the reality is that what’s inside us is fear and stress.”
McGuire, who said he feels unworthy of calling himself a Christian, prefers to be known as a “follower of Christ.”
He has been performing between 40 and 80 concerts a year on average, but recently signed a contract to tour with a reunited New Christy Minstrels, playing 90 U.S. concerts and 30 overseas shows over two years.
When the famed folk group is on the road but has an off night, McGuire plans to keep busy spreading the Gospel through his music.
“I’ll call the local church and ask to perform – and I’ll do it for free,” he said.
Barry McGuire will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1075 Glenwood Ave., Napoleon, Ohio. Praise and worship music will precede the concert. A free-will offering will be taken. Information: 419-592-3535.
HISTORY OF A HIT SONG
After Barry McGuire left the New Christy Minstrels in January, 1965, he said the music industry dropped him like a hot potato.
“I could not get an interview with a producer. I had three hit songs. I had been playing 300 shows a year. But nobody had the time of day for me.”
He went to Ciro’s nightclub in Los Angeles to see his friends Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of the Byrds, and bumped into big-time producer Lou Adler.
Adler introduced McGuire to a 19-year-old songwriter named Phil “P.F.” Sloan.
Unlike the New Christy Minstrels’ cheery, apolitical tunes, Sloan’s weighty lyrics confronted the tumultuous social issues of the 1960s, including the Vietnam War, political assassinations, the Cold War, civil rights, and a foreboding sense that Armageddon could come at any moment.
“I loved all of Phil’s songs, especially ‘Eve of Destruction,’ ” McGuire said.
He said the tune was not a “protest song,” but a “diagnostic of social hypocrisy worldwide.”
“If you go to a doctor and he tells you you have melanoma, you don’t call him a ‘protest doctor,’ ” McGuire said.
Adler scheduled a three-hour recording session in July, 1965, and at the very end, McGuire reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out wrinkled, stained sheet of notebook paper on which Sloan had written “Eve of Destruction.”
“We did it in one take. There’s a place where I sing, ‘I feel like my blood’s coagulatin’ …. Ahhhhh, you can’t twist the truth.’ People say I sound frustrated. I was. I was in a corner and the light was dim and I could barely read the words because the paper was wrinkled and someone had gotten chicken stains or something on it.”
McGuire planned to do a more polished recording, but a DJ got a copy of the raw version, played it at a party, and the crowd went wild.
“We recorded it on Thursday and by Monday it was on the radio,” McGuire said.
On Sept. 25, 1965, the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
More information on Barry McGuire is available online at www.barrymcguire.com.
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