Barry McGuire may have found god, and Eric Hord reportedly became a wandering hippie whose sightings became fewer over the decades, but this was their moment in the California sun.
Barry and the Doctor
Barry McGuire and Eric Hord
Real Gone Music
4 May 2018
Barry McGuire's best known as a California folkie. He sang lead with the New Christy Minstrels before dropping out to pursue a solo career, and then had a number one hit with the P.F. Sloan protest song from 1965, "Eve of Destruction". McGuire had a distinctive hoarse vocal style that made him sound sincere and hardworking as if each note came directly from his gut. The Mamas and the Papas sang about him on their 1967 autobiographical ode to the Los Angeles music scene, "Creeque Alley". Eric "The Doctor" Hord served as the band's guitarist, and many considered his playing responsible for the Mamas and the Papas success as a rock band.
McGuire and Hord got together as a duo and put out one album in late 1970, appropriately entitled Barry and the Doctor. They were joined by a top-notch group of side musicians including the Byrd's Chris Hillman, the Eagles' Bernie Leadon, the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, Dillard and Clark's Byron Berline, and even an uncredited Herb Albert. The album had a loose, bluesy feel and a folkie back to the land sentimentality. It was a critical success and a commercial failure. McGuire reported that the album's recording was fueled by massive amounts of cocaine and resultant unpredictable behavior. It was McGuire's last secular album before becoming a born-again Christian.
Barry and the Doctor has since become a cult classic whose unavailability enhanced its reputation as one of the great lost albums of the era. It's recently been re-released. The question then becomes, does the actual music live up to its hype? The answer is "yes", but it is a very good record, not a great one. The record has a pleasant instrumental vibe and offers innocent messages. The lyrics are a bit corny, generally extolling life in the country versus the city as a heavy environmental message—a common trope of California tunes from the period (just ask Canned Heat, Jesse Colin Young, etc.). Despite the reported coke use, Hord displays his guitar chops by playing smoothly, and McGuire's 12-string beautifully rings out the riffs. The material never sounds rushed. Instead, it flows and often folds intricately upon itself. One would presume the artists smoked pot or took acid instead of snorting cocaine because of the material's psychedelic sensibility.
The album is only six songs long, but each track meanders comfortably for five and a half to ten minutes in length. McGuire sings "Leaving the Farm" as a shaggy dog story about a world where bookstores and grocery stores replace arable land, and there are no places for the pigs and chickens to live. The fact that the animals are raised to be butchered never gets mentioned. Hord plays a rhythmic lead guitar and turns "Too Much City" into an extended country western groove that allows the other accompanists, especially fiddler Berline, to take prolonged solos to decorate the melody. It's a lovely journey into the rural, although the anti-urban sentiments expressed seem dated. Then again, the smog over Los Angeles at that time was much worse then than it is today.
Or consider the two cuts about locomotives. "Train" and Electric Train" that flow into each other during the center of the record. They ramble as they rumble with the guitars recreating the sound of cars heading down the tracks. Traversing the rails becomes a way of letting the mind wander. Even when the train picks up speed, the duo makes sure the listener can feel the cars shaking back and forth as well as forward. We know we are riding coach or maybe in a boxcar where the bumps are felt more strongly.
Barry and the Doctor may not be an essential disc, but it is well worth reissuing. There are many delightful moments where the singing and playing suggests the positive nature of what was lost as time passed and the West Coast moment in country rock disappeared into the sunset. McGuire may have found god, and Hord reportedly became a wandering hippie whose sightings became fewer over the decades, but this was their moment in the California sun.