18 holes with the Spin Doctors' Chris Barron
This January marks the 25th anniversary of the Spin Doctors' first release, "Up For Grabs." Later that year, the band released its first full-length album, "Pocket Full of Kryptonite," which included the iconic "Two Princes." These days, lead singer Chris Barron is still belting out his signature tune, but he has also started spending time playing signature holes all over the world. We were lucky enough to play a round with the rock front man and get his thoughts on everything from golf clothes to environmental conservation.
"You've got to believe in something, it's a lonely universe." -- Spin Doctors
"I hate when people do this!"
Chris Barron reaches down to pick up a cigarette butt off the fairway. "Why do smokers think this isn't littering? It's fiberglass!"
Not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect a badass rock-and-roll star to do -- unless that badass rock-and-roll star is Chris Barron. The lead singer of the Spin Doctors constantly retweets cat photos, quotes Bobby Jones more often than Bob Dylan, admits to playing ladies Bridgestones at times for their soft feel, and expresses his love of the environment with thoughtful comments like this.
"It's hard to reconcile," Barron ponders. "Being such an enthusiast for playing this game on a beautiful garden like this, how can you not be for preserving nature?"
But make no mistake about it, Barron is a badass rock-and-roll star. In the mid-1990s, "Two Princes" -- arguably the most recognizable rock song of that era -- and "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" were played as often on the radio as Taylor Swift and Adele are today, and that album, "Pocket Full of Kryptonite," sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
Barron says these days his gigs are two-thirds Spin Doctors and the rest solo, although it's trending toward being more evenly split with a new album in the works (Check out thechrisbarron.com for news, gigs and songs). "I love playing with the band, but they don't want to do a lot of my solo stuff. Also, I'm 47. I can still move around the stage and kick my leg over the microphone," he says while impressively demonstrating, "but it's also nice to just sit up on stage with my acoustic guitar."
Although he's a late comer to golf, it has become Barron's top passion outside of his music in the past few years -- despite his belief that he looks terrible in golf clothes. Barron first got into the sport by watching it during downtime on the road with his band in the late '90s. Originally, he admits he put it on to help him fall asleep.
"It's like chipping a wet sock out of the back of your band on a hungover Sunday morning," Barron says, giving a pretty spot-on David Feherty impression. "I'd be snoring my brains out in no time, but I'd wake up when they were on the 14th hole and watch the end."
Now he trades sleep for more time on the course. When I meet him at 8 a.m. for an 8:30 tee time, he says he's been up since 5 and practicing for about an hour.
Like most golfers, Barron has that "one good shot" story that got him into the game. But it's definitely different than any you've ever heard before.
"In 2009, I was in Iraq playing for the troops. We stayed at this former palace of Saddam Hussein's, built around this lake probably made of the drinking water of Baghdad. John Palmer was playing bass with me, and his dad happens to be a golf pro. So he grabbed me by shirt, put a 6-iron in my hand, and said, 'Move your hips like this!' I skidded my first shot out into the lake at 2 a.m. The second one was a big banana ball. He said, 'Keep your head down, dummy!' So on my third shot, I just kept my head still and it made this sound between a pop and a snap, and my hands just ended up in that spot between your shoulders and heaven. I wound up in this perfect pose of a golfer, and I could just see my ball going straight out into the misty air of a glaring Baghdad war zone night. A sensation went up my arms and into my rib cage. And I just said, 'I've got to take this game up.'"
"And if you like to talk for hours, just go ahead now" -- Spin Doctors
Barron lives in Manhattan with his wife, Broadway actress Lindsay Nicole Chambers, and teenage daughter, and he often plays golf at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where he also takes lessons. In his sixth full year of playing, he's starting to shoot in the 80s more regularly. Barron says he tried getting other members of the band into golf when he first caught the bug, but gave up after awhile. He realized playing as a single gave him a better chance of getting out and gave him more time to get to the course early and practice. Barron plays most of his golf when he's touring, often sending a personal email to the tour's promotor, politely asking for assistance with a tee time.
"One of the great perks of being in a band that some people know about is I can always get a game," Barron says. "There's always someone who will say, 'I'll take you out,' because golfers are so nice. I'm a lucky, lucky dude. I do what I love to do."
Barron at the Hong Kong Golf Club
Oh, and then there are the cool stories like the one from Iraq. When I mention I'm going to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, he gives me a high five and says, "That's awesome!" I ask him if he's been. "Oh, not since we opened for the Rolling Stones." Advantage: Chris Barron.
Barron's golf equipment is far less exciting. He plays a Cobra driver he bought used and which almost looks like it came from his band's heyday. He broke the club once and bought the same one on eBay later that day. Considering his favorite guitar is even older, he's not of the belief that newer automatically equals better. That goes for his taste in golf courses as well. Barron's favorite? Royal St. George's, known for its fast, bumpy terrain that he says is "like playing golf in a Led Zeppelin song."
As for playing partners, Barron's odd work schedule often dictates he goes out as a single during weekdays. That means he's usually paired up with a demographic unfamiliar with his music, and one that's provided some inspiration for his own game.
"A lot of times I was playing with these old dudes. These guys would be hitting 3-wood like 120 yards and playing in the 80s. Just hitting dead straight, they're lag putting was sick. I love old guy golf."
Barron also loves pro golf, and that's apparent when you hear him talk. Aside from the Feherty (and Gary McCord) impersonations, he rattles off a list of current favorite players, and deftly goes from referencing Hogan to Nelson to Seve to Jack in a matter of minutes.
"There are so many compelling stories," he says.
"I don't think I can handle this; a cloudy day in Metropolis" -- Spin Doctors
I find it interesting that one of Barron's favorite players is Luke Donald. "He got to No. 1 and he changed his game by trying to get more distance. I feel bad for him."
If anyone knows about stints on top, it's Barron, who found fame and success with the Spin Doctors at a young age.
Not that he dwells on the band's glory days of the '90s. Barron is as positive and as cheerful as a Spin Doctors' guitar riff when he's out on the golf course. When the starter gives us a last-minute talk about how difficult the course is, Barron replies, "Why does he say that? It's just golf. Nothing is going to ruin my day!"
And nothing does. The brilliant songwriter/lyricist even makes club selection melodic and poetic. "My seven [iron] is singing its siren song," he says before striking another smile-inducing shot.
Turns out an experience touring with the Rolling Stones played a role in his carefree attitude on the golf course. Barron was playing around with one of Keith Richards' guitars before he went on stage, but forgot to put the capo back in the right key, leading to a slightly off version of "Start Me Up" minutes later. Barron was terrified to hear Richards' reaction, but the band's stage hand reported he just laughed it off and said, "it was just one number."
"I had an epiphany," Barron said. "That's just one version of Start Me Up in their career. One number, one night. It's not that big of a deal. And it's just like that in golf. Even great players miss easy putts."
On this day, Barron misses his share of easy putts, but he counts every shot and posts a respectable 93 on a tough course. He also shows enough glimpses to warrant his unwavering optimism that low scores are just around the corner. Nearing 50, Barron may be considered an aging rock-and-roll front man, but he's still very early in his golf career -- and a long way from playing the "old guy golf" he so admires.
"You're either dealing with this game in the moment or you're not," he says. "The ball's in the hole or your not. And you're handling it or you're not. And that's life, so I love that about the game. There's just so much good stuff."