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Chris Barron of Spin Doctors will perform in Youngstown as part of the new Stone Jug Concert Series. (Photo courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services)
Chris Barron of Spin Doctors will perform in Youngstown as part of the new Stone Jug Concert Series. (Photo courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services)

Q&A: Spin Doctors frontman Chris Barron to perform in Youngstown

by jmaloni
Fri, May 31st 2024 10:15 am

By Joshua Maloni

GM/Managing Editor

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Chris Barron making it big in one band is that he almost made it big in two bands.

The lead singer of the Spin Doctors almost made the cut in Blues Traveler. Though he missed the “Run-Around,” he did find a “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” with his own group. Here, Barron found success with decade-defining 1990s hits “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.”

In the time since, Barron has achieved a second remarkable feat: overcoming vocal paralysis.

Now a happy, touring singer-songwriter, Barron will be the first headline act of the new Stone Jug Concert Series. He hits the stage Friday, June 14, following opening act Tonemah. Tickets are available at The Ontario House (The Jug), 358 Main St., Youngstown; and online here.

Barron shared more in this edited Q&A.

Chris Barron of Spin Doctors will perform in Youngstown as part of the new Stone Jug Concert Series. (Photo courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services)


Q: Let me ask you about John Popper and Blues Traveler. Am I correct to say that, at one point, he was in your band – and at one point, you were in his band? Is that true?

Chris Barron: It's close.

I was in an early incarnation of Blues Traveler called Blues Band, in high school, and it was before Bobby Sheehan was in the band. It was like a very early incarnation of the band. I think I was a sophomore in high school. And John, John's a year older than me, but he was held back a year. So, we were both like sophomores in high school.

Basically, there's no band that's big enough to contain the personalities of John Popper and me. So, it was his band, and I eventually got fired – on a very friendly kind of basis. He was just like, “This isn't working out.” Kind of thing, you know?

Basically, the way that Spin Doctors kind of came together, one of the precipitating events, was that, once we were out of high school, and I was trying to make a career in music happen, John is just like – even in high school, even back then, you listen to 3 seconds of John playing, and you knew that any combo that he was a part of was going to go somewhere and do something. So, I was trying to get him to do something with me. And Eric Schenkman, the guitar player for the Spin Doctors, was trying to get him to do something with him, as well.

John just wanted to do Blues Traveler. Eric and John were in a band called Trucking Company. Eric wanted John to be more active and involved. John wanted to be in Blues Traveler and just kind of show up to the Trucking Company thing whenever he wanted to. And so, Eric was kind of busting his chops to be like more into it and trying to convince him to do that. I was trying to get him to do like an acoustic act with me. And he basically introduced me and Eric, because he hoped that Eric and I would put something together and get off his back, which is exactly what was going to happen.



Q: The reason why I brought up John Popper and Blues Traveler is because I was reading an interesting interview that you guys did not too long ago, when you were doing a gig at a bowling alley, and I know that he came in and sang with you guys and played with you guys for a little bit. In that interview, you gave an answer to a question that I thought was brilliant: When they were asking if you get tired of playing “Two Princes,” and you turned it around to say that you'd never get tired of the reaction you get from the crowd. I thought that was fantastic.

I mean, I've interviewed a ton of musicians, and that question comes up from time to time. They kind of have their pat answers: They do it for the fans; and, you know, when they go to concerts, they like to hear the hits, too. What you said was just so obvious, but so profound – like, I guess you wouldn't get tired of that reaction, would you?

Chris Barron: I mean, yeah. And I don't get scared of the songs, either.

To me, I think that a lot of the, pardon me, but pat interview questions, are kind of asked in the paradigm and in the thought matrix of people who weren't musicians, or, who aren’t really devising these questions from the inside of music.

There’s not as big a division between the hits and the non-hits, for me. I've written scores and scores of songs, and they're all songs. For me, I'm thinking about them more along the terms of whether they’re upbeat, or down-tempo, and how they're going to fit into a set, and stuff like that; I'm not really thinking about them as, like, hits or non-hits.

You know, it's an exaggeration to say that they're just two more songs in my repertoire. Obviously, they occupy a spot, but it's more of a strategic kind of spot. Like, I know I'm going to play these in the set, and where am I going to play them?

And beyond that, I like those songs. I like “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes.” Every performer has like a repertoire of songs, and most of them have songs that they're going to play every time they perform.

I find it funny that musicians put this, like, weird kind of voodoo on the hit songs, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m really tired of playing the hit songs.” I just think that whole thing is really silly. To me, I'm just like it's just another song I wrote.

I mean, it's not just another song I wrote; clearly these songs have like an extra significance. But at the same time, that significance isn't as pronounced, for me, as you might think.

I like playing those songs. Bottom line: I like playing those songs. And then the other bottom line is, people bought a fu**ing ticket to come and to hear me play those, so why would I be such a fu**ing d*ck to not play them, or play them with like an attitude. This is basically my job. It's like asking a plumber if they get tired of doing elbow joints, or if they would consider going into a plumbing job and being like, “Yeah, no, I don’t do elbow joints.”

Q: And that's another really good point. Like you said, you're a songwriter; you write songs. And when you write songs, you don't necessarily know what's going to hit with an audience, and what's not. But when a song does resonate more with an audience, like “Two Princes,” do you go back and do you analyze it? Do you think about why it resonated more than another song?

Chris Barron: Not much; no.

I know why it does: Because it's catchy and upbeat and it's about a subject matter that strikes a chord with people.

I’m lucky because I know people who just right hits. I know songwriters, and that’s their thing. It's more of a knack, I think, than it is like a laid-out science – although I'm sure some of these writers have techniques of writing that way that are more delineated than other writers, you know?

I don't write that way. I just write songs. And I'm lucky because some of them are really catchy. And that's much more coming out of the process of writing itself, for me, because the way it works for me is, I'm sort of like, I have these ideas. And some of them, I instinctively know will make good songs. So then, the next thing is, like, “Cool. How do I get this from an idea to a fully realized song?” And what follows is like a series of decisions and choices, and then just kind of like writing, and I finish with a song. And at the end, I'm like, “Oh, this turned out this way,” or “It turned out that way.”

I don't just sit down and, like, “This song, I'm going to set out to write as a hit,” and “This song, I'm going to write like an album track.” “And this song is going to be this,” and “This song is going to be that.” It's really more like I'm trying to finish the song along its own terms.

But I'm lucky because part of my larger sensibility includes stuff that’s kind of ear candy, catchy kind of stuff – but I don't really set out to do that. It's really how the precipitating idea of the song ends up playing out, as I make all the choices that I need to make for it to end up being a song that works.



Q: A lot of your contemporaries, they are not writing songs; they are not releasing new music – either because they don't care, they can't be bothered, they don't think it's viable in 2024, etc. Is that one of the big reasons why you have continued to make music over the years, is because, at the end of the day, you are a songwriter?

Chris Barron: Yeah, totally. I just like doing it. If it was illegal, I would be like somewhere in a bunker still doing it.

Q: When you come up this way, you're playing solo. Tell me a little bit about what we can expect from your live show.

Chris Barron: Yeah, you know, like, if I was nearby, if I was like a punter and I just saw like, “Oh, the lead singer from the Spin Doctors is going to be doing a solo acoustic gig.” I don't know what I would expect. I would maybe expect a guy in a funny hat singing a song about a frog, or something.

Q: Yeah, that's fair.

Chris Barron: My show is funny. I tell a lot of stories. But it's poetic, and I think it's pretty engaging. I think people, generally when they do come out, they're surprised that I'm a pretty accomplished guitar player. I show up with like a killer vintage guitar – for your guitar fans. And I play kind of a funny, hybrid-style of guitar that's a little bit ragtime and mixing these kind of finger-picking techniques. I’m known for being a virtuoso singer. So, you know, I show up, I sing my @ss off, and I've got a lot of different kinds of songs. I think people are generally surprised by the kind of evening that it ends up being.

I'm funny, but I'm not like ridiculous. I’ve got a lot of stories, and my act is pretty cool. If you like solo acoustic singer/songwriting performance, I think I'm one of the guys out there who's really good at it.

And if you don't think so when you come and see me, just find me after the show and I’ll give you your money back.

Q: Fair enough.

Can I ask you about your vocal health, and the remarkable journey – and the remarkable progress – you have made over the years, to be where you are today?

Chris Barron: You can ask me anything. Some of your readers might not know that I lost my voice twice from a vocal paralysis, once in like 2000, and then again in 2015.

I lost my voice for about a year; from this, like, mysterious vocal paralysis. My right vocal cord was paralyzed both times, and doctors don't know why it happened. It was very, very frustrating, and very frightening, because both times I could barely talk, for about a year.

They don't know why it happened; they don't really know why I got it back. But both times I really worked my @ss off. I've been taking voice lessons since 1989, with an opera teacher, so I've got really good vocal technique. I don't abuse my voice. For sure, this didn't happen because I abused my voice.

Both times were really kind of dark, difficult. I certainly kind of see myself as a singer. I kind of like maybe a little bit too much identify myself as a lead singer. That's kind of my whole life. So, it was really, really difficult.

This last time, I worked with a speech pathologist, and I did acupuncture and yoga and all this voice work, and my voice came back. I went to my doctor and he was like, “Wow, you sound great. Let's scope your vocal cords and see how they're moving.” That's a process where they actually stick a camera up your nose and then down your throat to look at your vocal cords from the top, and they can see how they're working. And he was like, “This is going to be great; you sound great. You vocal cords are going to be rocking; this is so awesome.”

And he looked, and he was like, “Huh.” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Your right vocal cord is still largely immobile.” And I was like, “What does that mean?” And he was like, “You gained the vertical motion back, but not the lateral motion.” He was, “I actually don't know why you're able to sing and talk.” And I was like, “Really?” He was like, “Yeah, it’s kind of a medical miracle.”

But apparently what I've learned to do is kind of brace the musculature around my right vocal cord, and move the left vocal cord, which is the mobile one, over to the right vocal cord.

I sound as good or better than I ever have. It's just that I'm only using one vocal cord, somehow.

Q: That is remarkable. I wonder, when you look back on that time – I mean, you seem like you're in a place now where you’re happy; you're having fun with your career, with your music, with your songwriting. When you look back on that time, there's any number of emotions that you could feel, certainly. But to know that you’ve made it out to a place where you can continue to do this – and do it well and do it successfully – what is the lead emotion when you think about this whole thing?

Chris Barron: I mean, for sure, relief.

There is a sense of, like, you know people go through terrible f**king $hit. You’re walking around through life, and people are dealing with chronic pain and various crippling mental situations, and nobody wants to feel that way. But it's just their reality. And so, as you kind of go on through life, it made me just like, sympathetic, to people. I've always been a sympathetic person, but there's another level to it, of like, life is really hard for everybody; and then some people, $hit happens and you don't know why, and all you know is that you're hurting. And if that's happening to you, it's got to be happening to other people, too. And it sort of left me with this overarching sympathy and sense that we're all in this together, and maybe take a little extra second to make sure people are doing OK. You don't have to fix things for people, but it doesn't take a lot to just take an extra second to kind of be there.


See also >> New Youngstown concert series bringing national acts to intimate setting

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