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Bluesman Chris "BadNews" Barnes Is On the Rise in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Rising blues star Chris "BadNews" Barnes has done and been a lot of things in his life - comedian, television writer, onscreen actor, bar owner (Flaming Saddles in New York's Hell's Kitchen), martial arts instructor - and now, a blues singer and songwriter. But he has never been a tanner - or a Tanner - for that matter. You see, the artist with several full-length albums to his name in the hokum blues genre often - very often - gets confused with the actor named Chris Barnes who starred in the Bad News Bears movies.

Chris "BadNews" Barns is on the rise in Nashville.

"You've never dyed an animal hide have you," we asked the singer who was quick to respond with a 'no' officially clearing up the fact that he has never been a tanner or Tanner. With one controversial subject out of the way we quickly got down to the business of an hour-long mid-town interview at his hotel room in Nashville on October 29, 2022 that found your team at MCN getting a sneak preview of the next album of his underway in town which itself will be a quick turnaround from his current release BADNEWS RISING that is really turning heads on the blues scene.

Chris "BadNews" Barnes is on the rise now in a comedic rock genre and his new found position as captivating bluesman is really a culmination of all his life and work experience up until this point. But, how did he become mistaken with that other actor with the same name? Barnes said his father gave him the nickname "BadNews" when he was just a kid in Scranton as a nod to troubled basketball player Marvin "Bad News" Barnes.

But, there's got to be more than that, right? Barnes the actor in the baseball movies grew up on the East Coast and was a beloved figure in the film industry until leaving the trade for the life of a recluse. Even his cast-mates to this day no longer know his whereabouts. Barnes the bluesman also sought a career in entertainment becoming a television writer for Second City, Saturday Night Live and the legendary Carol Burnett.

BADNEWS RISING is the latest award-winning album from Chris Barnes.

The pair are separated by six years in age but there is a similarity in likeness due to both being fair haired and blue-eyed. So, you can see where the confusion arises. But, really Barnes the bluesman is a unique and charismatic character in his own right with a compelling backstory to his name.

"My parents were ballroom dancers, my sisters were Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and my other sister was a nun," Barnes revealed about these inspirations that led him to become a standup comedian in New York City as he began a life that compelled him to the stage and spotlight.

"I was doing standup comedy in New York City and I was opening at a club called Tramp's - the legendary blues club. I was opening for Koko Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, 'Big Eyes' Willie Smith, all of them, all of the acts on Alligator," Barnes relayed about the early origins of his own music career. "So, I was doing standup and I would always end with a made-up song on harmonica. When I finished the band would start playing."

"It was 'Big Eyes' Willie Smith who said what I was doing was called hokum blues," Barnes remarked. "Smith said we used to hook em with the hokum - a form of blues that got the audiences all riled up and ready for the blues bands."

Spend a little time with Mr. Barnes and you will quickly discover there's a lot more to the man than just eight bars and dark shades.

"BadNews" and Tom Hambridge hard at work in Music City. (Photo courtesy of Chris Barnes.)

"When you get to Second City - they call it the Oxford of comedy. So, I went from high school to the Oxford of comedy. You're taught to wake up in the morning and turn on NPR. You listen to 'All Things Considered' and everything that is on that day's news you have to personalize to your own life," Barnes relayed about his own educational background. "That's how you learn to write. You learn political and social sciences. You learn to find how every story effects you."

With the success of BadNews Rising under his belt and the pandemic affording him some down time, Barnes got back to work writing songs with an eye to returning to Music City to continue his fruitful partnership with producer Tom Hambridge of the Buddy Guy band - and the new songs sound really exceptional as Chris branches out a little beyond the hokum blues genre he has become known for.

"I said to Tom let's do a straight ahead contemporary blues style," Barnes said about his new direction for the next record. "So this one is a little more contemporary straight ahead blues, very stylized and just a hell of a lot more bluesy and I'm very excited about that aspect of it."

There's a serious, personal and painful side to the upcoming record as well as the tentative title track "True Blues" takes its name from the cigarettes his mother smoked as she stared out the window to the apartment where her unfaithful husband was having an affair with a neighbor.

"There's two sides to comedy, you know. There's the tears of a clown. Comedy in general is other people's pain," Barnes added about the source for some of his insightful writing. "Rodney Dangerfield taught me that a true comedian wears the target on his own back. So you put the target on your own back. The deepest pain in my own life was this scenario."

Chris "BadNews" Barnes on the red carpet with some blues brothers in Nashville.

Some of that Barnes intelligence finds its way onto the project in the form of a song about Einstein and the psychedelic "Mushrooms Make Me a Fun Guy" about the therapeutic nature of micro-dosing that he is currently dabbling in with the hopes of restoring neural pathways in his brain damaged from years of substance abuse.

But, it's not all heavy and sad subject matter. Barnes knows how to market himself and the opener "Bad News Travels Fast" is a great calling card and personal anthem that is sure to become a live favorite. To ensure that he winds up on the road in all the right places there's also "Blues Ballin' Baby" that highlights the blues community Barnes aspires to while name-checking all venues and festivals associated with the genre that he soon expects to play.

In our one hour with Chris "BadNews" Barnes we learned a lot about him. But there is so much more to know. A good place to continue your discovery is to take a listen to the most compelling track from BadNews Rising called "I Slow Danced with Joni Mitchell" with the song based on a true life encounter revealing additional inside baseball information about the blues artist.

Speaking of baseball. We are now pretty positive that Chris "BadNews" Barnes is surely not the actor from the 1970's film. This confusion still haunts the bluesman to this day. We asked him to clear it up once and for all by simply showing us his driver's license at the start of the interview and he was reluctant to participate in this bit of fact-checking. But, Chris "BadNews" Barnes wouldn't be doing his job as a burgeoning bluesman on the scene if he had. Got to keep a little mystery in play just like his famous friends in the Blues Brothers.

Related Links: For more information on CHRIS "BADNEWS" BARNES and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Chris "BadNews" Barnes | Flaming Saddles NYC


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