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The Christys

     People loved what Barry and Barry did on stage, and before long they were in the studio with Art Podell recording an album that was eventually released as “Here and Now!” But before “Here and Now!” had even hit the racks, McGuire and Kane had joined the New Christy Minstrels. In the Spring of 1962, Art Podell had asked them if they wanted to be part of the group, adding that they’d have a lot of fun and make a lot of money. Randy Sparks had put the Christys together as a studio ensemble, and had already done four songs and were set to perform at a Vic Damone special. “A lot of the guys who had worked on the four presentation songs for Columbia were already in groups and couldn’t get out of those commitments,” Barry recalls. “So, all of a sudden, Randy was scrambling for people to make a performing group, and I was one of the first members.” The members of the original performing group known as the New Christy Minstrels were: Randy Sparks, Art Podell, Barry McGuire, Barry Kane, Nick Woods, Larry Ramos (later of The Association), Clarence Treat, Dolan Ellis, Jackie Miller and Gail Caldwell. Over the years, the lineup would change, members coming and going. Other notable members over the years included Paul Potash, Gene Clark (Byrds and solo), Ann White, Karen Gunderson, Jerry Yester (Modern Folk Quartet, Lovin' Spoonful), Mike Settle (First Edition), Kim Carnes and Kenny Rogers (First Edition and solo).Roger (Jim) McGuinn (Byrds and solo) almost joined the group at one point, but decided to go with the Chad Mitchell Trio instead.

     In July 1962, the Christys got a one-week gig at the Troubadour that turned into a three-month gig due to popular demand. This led to television appearances on the Vic Damone and Andy Williams shows, and appearances at the Greek Theatre with Andy Williams. With the success of the Christys, Horizon Records released the Here and Now! album that McGuire and Kane had recorded earlier. Theodore Bikel wrote the liner notes, in which he said that “Barry and Barry all but stole the show” at the Christys’ concerts.

     In October of that year, the Christys’ debut album The New Christy Minstrels was released. It reached #19 in the Billboard charts, and stayed on the charts for 92 weeks. Although the songs on that LP were recorded by musicians other than the performance group of which Barry was a part, the album owes its longevity in the charts, to some extent, to the fantastic live performances of those songs.In February of 1963, the Christys' second album, “The New Christy Minstrels In Person,” was released. Unlike the Christys’ first album, “In Person” was a live performance, which is where the Christys shone most brightly. Their wit and vivacity in concert was something that couldn’t be captured in a studio recording.This album was followed by “The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! Legends & Nonsense” in May of that year.

     Barry co-wrote a song that made it big in 1963, but he was never to get official credit for it. The song was “Greenback Dollar.” The Kingston Trio’s recording of the song made it to #21 in the charts, but Hoyt Axton and Ken Ramsey were the only ones to get credit for writing it. Barry’s recollection of how the song came into being is that Ken Ramsey came into the dressing room at the Troubadour one night looking for Hoyt Axton. He told Barry that he had just written a song and wanted to play it for Hoyt. Barry told Ramsey that Axton wasn’t around, so Ramsey sang the song for Barry. A couple of days later, Barry and Hoyt were at a laundromat on Santa Monica Boulevard waiting for their laundry to finish drying. They got out their guitars, sat on top of some washing machines and jammed a little. At one point, Barry said, “Ramsey showed me this tune the other day. I don’t remember quite how it went.” Barry says he couldn’t remember the hook and a couple of the chords, but he and Axton started jamming with it and re-wrote the song using the fragments Ramsey had shown Barry at the Troubadour and adding what Barry and Hoyt came up with.

     Barry remembers, "I was traveling with the Christys, and while I was out of town, they went to Hoyt, ‘cause he was singing it all over town, and the Kingston Trio wanted to record it. Hoyt said, ‘Ramsey started it, but McGuire and I finished it, but he’s not in town.’ So, since they wanted it right away, they kind of left my name off. I used rag Hoyt about it when I saw him, and he told me how much money he didn’t make on that tune, and we laughed."

     The Christys’ album, Ramblin’ Featuring Green, Green was released in July, 1963, and reached #15 in the charts. It remained in the charts for seventy-seven weeks. It became a gold record in October of the following year.

     Contractually, Barry still owed Horizon Records one more LP. With “Green, Green” and Ramblin’ having so much success, Horizon wanted Barry to record a solo album. Barry says, “Rod McKuen and Lou Gottlieb did some work with us on it. It was fun. I had a couple of the Christys sing on it with me. Karen Gunderson and, I think, Clarence Treat sang with me, and it kind of got them upset over at the Christy office because they weren’t supposed to do that.” Art Podell arranged and conducted the recording, which came to be titled The Barry McGuire Album. Besides Barry’s version of “Greenback Dollar,” this album has some great songs that were co-written by McGuire and Rod McKuen, like “Good Times Are All Done Now,” and “Another Country.” Barry sings fantastic renditions of some McKuen compositions, including the haunting “So Long, Stay Well,” the romantic “The Way You Are,” as well as “One By One.”

     The Barry McGuire Album was put out on Horizon, later by Vee Jay Records, then the masters wound up somehow at Sussex Records. Sussex then put out a series of LPs under the name Star Folk that contained a mixture of songs from the Here and Now! and The Barry McGuire Album LPs, plus songs by other artists. According to Barry, “They just took a bunch of cuts, because there was a guy - I forget his name - and he came in and would record us live, and what did we know? We were a bunch of street scruffs, and it was a lot of fun. Judy Henske, Jerry Yester and people like that. Then they just took a bunch of those and released them as a little conglomerate of some stuff that Barry Kane and I did." The upshot was that Barry learned a lesson in how the music industry sometimes leaves musicians holding the bag . . . an empty one.

     In 1964, things continued to look bright professionally for the Christys, at least initially. Their fifth LP, Merry Christmas, and the following LP, Today, both made it to the Top Ten, and the single, “Today,” made it to the Top Twenty.

     The Christys did their own summer television replacement show that year, and were invited by LBJ to play at the White House.

     But 1964 was also the year that the Beatles hit the scene, turning the music business and the world itself on their respective heads. The folkie, innocent sound and image of the Christys was now considered outdated.

     The Christys LP, Land of Giants, only made it to #48 on the charts, and Randy Sparks sold the Christys to George Greif and Sid Garris for 2.5 million dollars. Barry says, “All of a sudden we became employees of New Christys, Incorporated. It really crushed us all. We were bringing in fifteen to twenty-thousand dollars a night, and the band members were only getting one-hundred dollars apiece.” Meanwhile, the new owners of the Christys were using the remainder of the money to pay off the loan that allowed them to buy the Christys in the first place. “It was like we were working to buy ourselves,” Barry says, “and we didn’t own ourselves. That’s what killed us all. One at a time, we started bailing out.”

     There were other reasons why Barry left the Christys. “I was moving into social issues and what was happening in the world, and the group didn’t want to change their image. I couldn’t go out there and pretend to be somebody I used to be, and so I had to leave the group to be true to what was churning around inside of me.” Barry left the Christys in January, 1965, right after they had recorded the Cowboys and Indians LP and had won first place at the music festival in San Ramos.

     One of the last songs Barry recorded with the Christys was “Chim Chim Cheree,” a popular song from the movie, Mary Poppins. The single, with Barry doing lead vocals, was released in April, 1965, three months after he had left the group. By this time, Barry was broke. A very surreal incident happened to him. “I had enough money to go to a movie, buy some popcorn and a Coke, and that was it. So I’m going down Hollywood Boulevard, with all the stars on the sidewalks. I walked past a record store, and out of the store is coming ‘Green, Green.’ I’m standing there listening, and right at that moment a car pulls up to the stop sign with its top down, and “Chim Chim Cheree” is coming over the car radio. So I’ve got two different songs with my voice, my own voice hitting me in stereo, right? - singing two different tunes, and I’ve got five dollars! I thought, ‘This is a scene from a movie, man! This is not happening!”

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