Michael Barr

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Composer Michael Barr teamed with lyricist Dion McGregor to author a series of contemporary cabaret staples recorded by singers ranging from Barbra Streisand to Blossom Dearie. Born in Vincennes, IN,…
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Composer Michael Barr teamed with lyricist Dion McGregor to author a series of contemporary cabaret staples recorded by singers ranging from Barbra Streisand to Blossom Dearie. Born in Vincennes, IN, on January 2, 1927, Barr relocated to New York City in the mid-'50s -- there he was introduced to McGregor by actor/singer Carleton Carpenter, and the three of them later collaborated on the musical Twofer, briefly produced in Los Angeles with actress Lurene Tuttle in the leading role. Barr and McGregor first enjoyed success in 1956, when June Christy and Billy May recorded their "Kicks" -- a year later, Dearie cut the minor classic "Try Your Wings," and in 1959 she additionally recorded the duo's "Hello Love." Under the name Mac & Mike, McGregor and Barr headlined the 1958 single "Rockin' Teens" for the Glory label -- the flip side, "Be My Next," was also covered by Joel Grey for Capitol.

In addition to their traditional pop efforts, Barr and McGregor also mounted an unusual experiment: when Barr discovered that his songwriting partner regularly talked in his sleep, spinning surreal, often violent tales rooted solely in the logic of dreams, he convinced McGregor to move into his 1st Avenue apartment so he could document these "somniloquies" via Pentron reel-to-reel recorder. Barr recorded more than 500 of McGregor's sleep stories during the early '60s, and as his collection grew, he began playing the most interesting and hilarious examples to Broadway's theatrical cognoscenti. Producer and talent agent Jules Green ultimately persuaded Decca Records A&R director Milt Gabler to release an LP compiling the tapes, and in January 1964, the label issued The Dream World of Dion McGregor (He Talks in His Sleep), soon accompanied by a book of somniloquies illustrated by the up-and-coming Edward Gorey. Both releases stiffed, and are now sought-after collectors' items. (Decades later, John Zorn's Tzadik label assembled a sequel, Dion McGregor Dreams Again.)

Barr and McGregor reached their commercial zenith in 1965, when Barbra Streisand covered their "Where Is the Wonder" for the album My Name Is Barbra. Despite the exposure, there was scant additional interest in their efforts, and after soul singer Joyce Webb recorded the duo's "Laughing to Keep from Crying" for Detroit's Golden World imprint, Barr and McGregor slid into relative obscurity -- their last collaboration of note was four songs written for the 1967 stage musical Who's Happy Now?, staged at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Hartford, CT. Frustrated with their lack of success, McGregor quit music in the late '70s, eventually relocating to Oregon, where he passed away in 1994. Barr settled in Hollywood, and as the original McGregor album continued to gain cult prominence, he began work on a musical inspired by the lyricist's nocturnal rants -- Dream World premiered in New York City in 1993, with actor Michael Alves in the starring role. Barr continued tweaking the musical for more than a decade, until his death on May 19, 2009, due to complications from diabetes.