Any rumors of Barry McGuire’s retirement from music are exaggerated.
Yes, the gravelly-voiced singer — best known for the ’60s anthem “Eve of Destruction” — is doing a set of final shows with The New Christy Minstrels next month, and after that he will be taking a break from the road. And yes, the band recently gifted McGuire a signature model 12-string Martin guitar, with mother of pearl inlay on the fret board and the New Christy Minstrels logo on the head stock.
It was a retirement gift — in lieu of a gold watch, no doubt.
But on the phone from his home in Fresno, McGuire makes it clear this is not a retirement.
“I love singing, I love performing. I love taking the audience on a ride,” says McGuire, who will join his former bandmates on stage Nov. 2 at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos and Nov. 16 at The McCallum Theater in Palm Desert.
McGuire started his career with the New Christy Minstrels in the early 1960s (he sang all the verses on the band’s biggest hit, “Green Green”) and was part of the ’60s California folk-rock scene. He’s mentioned by name in the Mama and the Papa’s song “Creeque Alley,” if there’s any doubt. He spent a year on Broadway performing in the musical “Hair.”
He has been on the road playing music in one form or another for the better part of six decades. He’s performed all over the world and rattles off the countries he’s been to, only stopping when it comes to the continent of Africa.
“I’ve never been to Africa,” he says.
For the last 12 years, McGuire has toured with “Trippin’ The Sixties,” a musical showcase where he sings the songs and tells the stories of his friends at the time.
Like, John Phillips from the Mama and the Papas, who wrote Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” on a $500 bet. Phillips was convinced he could write a hit song on the spot, McGuire says.
Apparently he could. The song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1967 and has since become an anthem for the decade.
But at 79 years old (he had a birthday last week), McGuire is tired.
It’s gotten to the point where he hates airports and hotel rooms and European venues where the stage is up three flights of stairs and there are no elevators. He returned from his last European trip (26 shows) with knee strain and a case of dehydration. McGuire will still play. Instead of the 50-plus shows he normally does every year, the number might be closer to 10. Instead of five- or six-week tours, he’ll stick to weekend jaunts. That way his wife can stay at home if she wants, and he won’t have to worry about who will water his plants.
And he does play every day, anyway, just for the joy of it. He constantly learning new tunes, he says.
“I’ve fallen in love with the old classics,” he says, before starting into a Cole Porter tune he just learned this week. It’s a bit of work to change the jazz chords to the easier folk chords.
And McGuire can’t really retire, even if he wanted to. He likens himself to pro-athletes, guys like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, who never stop playing, even if it’s just a pick-up game with friends.
“It’s just in your blood,” McGuire says, adding, “Your body reaches a point where it says, ‘You go on and play, but I’m staying here,’ We always knew the day would come.”
And so he’ll enjoy it fully, spending time in his garden, tending to his roses and the xeriscaped front yard.
“I love home,” McGuire says.