tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Monday, Sep 24, 2018
  • Home
  • Soundcheck

Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron talks touring at 50, being the ‘Two Princes’ guy and more

Go back and read Rolling Stone's 1993 cover story on the Spin Doctors — yep, that's a thing that actually happened — and the first quote from singer Chris Barron jumps out.

"I don't want to be 50 years old and be out on the road with my voice all shot. I want to have kids. I want to grow vegetables. I want to be a potter," Barron told the magazine during an interview at Disney World. "We're not gonna tour like this forever."

Well, guess what? Barron turned 50 this month, and the Spin Doctors are still out on the road. And when I read this quote back to Barron last week, he laughed out loud.

"What an a–hole!" he said by phone from his home in New York City. "Here I am, 50, and I f—ing love the road. But that is funny. I've gone through some vocal trouble, and it would be tiresome to tour the way we were touring then. That was very grueling."

Yes, children, there really was a time in the early 1990s when America couldn't get enough of the Spin Doctors. The loopy, funky alterna-hippies' debut album Pocket Full of Kryptonite went platinum five times over, largely on the strength of massive radio hits Two Princes and Little Miss Can't Be Wrong.

What's changed since then? For one thing, Barron is weaving solo shows into the Spin Doctors' tour calendar, including one on Sunday at the Hideaway Cafe in St. Petersburg. He'll play stripped-down versions of Spin Doctors hits, but also songs from his 2017 album Angels and One-Armed Jugglers, an Americana-tinged effort that's shocking in how little it resembles Jimmy Olsen's Blues.

Funny enough, shows like this take Barron back to his roots, way before the Spin Doctors were on MTV and Saturday Night Live. At his New Jersey high school, kids would gather in the auditorium before class to do homework while he tinkled away on a Steinway. He played solo in bars and coffee shops in New York before the Spin Doctors hit it big — at which point he largely ditched the guitar and became the face of the band as this gangly, languid presence on the mic.

"I think we've come away, for better or for worse, as the Two Princes/Little Miss Can't Be Wrong band, and I'm certainly not complaining when I say that," he said. "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong has been played on the radio over 3 million times, and Two Princes has been played on the radio over 5 million times. I'm not the kind of performer who hates his hits and has any kind of resentment for the good fortune that he has received."

Nothing after Kryptonite hit as big for the Spin Doctors — although their follow-up, 1994's Turn It Upside Down, did also go platinum — but that just allowed the band to grow and evolve in different ways. In the late '90s, Barron suffered a rare, career-threatening form of vocal paralysis that led to a Spin Doctors hiatus and one of those what's-it-all-about self-evaluations.

A few years later, the Spin Doctors reformed their original lineup, and has never stopped playing to decent crowds — but they've also gotten a little closer to their roots as a blues band. Check out their most-streamed songs on Spotify, and you'll see all the big Kryptonite hits, but also the title track from 2013's rambunctious If the River Was Whiskey.

"That's nice to hear," he said. "That's really gratifying. Both with artists and audiences, it's often the newest song that rings out most clearly in your mind. And if you don't have that — if you don't have something lively and new — then you can end up as sort of a nostalgia act. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but I do think it's inherently less vibrant."

At his solo shows, Barron does play a lot of new stuff ("I just write and write and write and these tunes come out, and I'm like, 'Wow, that sounds like a weird old Kurt Vile tune'"), but also Spin Doctors songs, scaled down for a band of one.

"I find that people are super entertained by my versions of Jimmy Olsen's Blues and Little Miss Can't Be Wrong and Two Princes," he said. "And, I might add, that I wrote those tunes on an acoustic guitar. So in essence, when I play it for an audience on solo acoustic, they're actually hearing it the way it was originally written and arranged."

Twenty-five years after his Rolling Stone moment, Barron is way more comfortable on the road at 50 — smartphones and FaceTime help a lot — than he ever imagined he would be. And no matter how many times he gets requests for all his old hits, he's not ready to quit yet.

"Achy Breaky Heart was the song that kept Two Princes out of No. 1," he said with a laugh. "Two Princes charted for a couple of f—in' years, bro, but it never got to No. 1. I'd rather have never gotten to No. 1 and not have to sing Achy Breaky Heart at every gig for the rest of my life."

— Jay Cridlin

Weather Center