Interview: Roger McGuinn (solo, The Byrds)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: May 2014. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary musician: Roger McGuinn. Roger, previously known as Jim McGuinn, was the lead singer and lead guitarist of The Byrds, one of the greatest bands of all time. He also has a very interesting solo career and has collaborated with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and many others. His latest solo release is “Stories, Songs & Friends”, a live 2-CD/DVD recorded in Tucson, Arizona in 2012. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


What a fan should expect listening to “Stories, Songs & Friends” live album? Can you tell us a few things about its content?

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I recorded the album for my mother’s 102nd birthday in Tucson, Arizona at the Fox Tucson Theater and because she was alone and she was in bed, she couldn’t attend the theater. So, we recorded the concert as she was there. She heard it, she lived her 102nd birthday and three days later she passed away. But we listened again to the concert and we liked it so much that we decided to release it. Because there was a good audience and everybody had a good time. There were a lot of stories and a lot of songs. Also, we put a DVD together with
some of my friends, that’s why we called it “Stories, Songs & Friends”. Because we have in Tom Petty, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Bruce Springsteen, all talking about how they heard The Byrds and everything.


Do you consider “CCD” as a concept album?

Yes, I guess it is a concept album. There is a concept indeed about the golden age of sail. All the songs that we recorded are from the 1940s and ‘50s when the travel ships used to deliver the mail, passengers and various other things. Yes, it’s a concept album in that sense because all the songs talk about that concept.


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Are you satisfied with the feedback you got from fans and press for “CCD” album?

Yes, I’m very satisfied. Everybody who listened to album seems to like it. We are very pleased with the way people are responding to it and it sells very well too.


Are you anxious about your forthcoming autumn European tour?

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Yes, my wife and I, we are very happy that we will be travelling for four months in Europe and that I will be able to perform there. We will be on holidays since August and we will perform in The Netherlands and the UK in September and it’s very exciting to be there. We always love to tour in Europe.


Did you have a good time last year touring with Peter Frampton’s “Guitar Circus”?

Oh, yes. Peter Frampton is a wonderful guitar player and a great guy. We toured with B.B King and lots of other guitar players and it was brilliant. It was a wonderful tour.


Do you think Folk Den Project is a great opportunity for younger fans to learn about the traditional folk music?

Yes, it is. It’s an educational experiment to make folk songs last longer because as you know there aren’t as popular now as they were 40 or 50 years ago. I was concerned that people will forget the songs, so I decided to put them on the Internet for people to download free, and learn the chords and the lyrics and the stories about the songs. And I hope people will download the songs and share them with the family and friends and keep them alive.


Were you surprised when you first learned that George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” from The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” album (1965) was influence by your riff in “The Bells of Rhymney”?

Yes, I was very surprised and I was very honoured that The Beatles had listened to The Byrds and created something that was a direct derivative of a riff that I recorded in “The Bells of Rhymney”. It was a wonderful honour that The Byrds influenced The Beatles, who were such a big influence on The Byrds. It was really an honour.


When you wrote “Eight Miles High” (1966) had you realized that you created the first psychedelic rock song ever?

No, we weren’t thinking in terms of psychedelic songs. It was really a song about our trip to England and back. Everybody was in the mood to be psychedelic, so they interpreted the song to be psychedelic. It was viewed as a psychedelic song, they interpreted it to be anything other than a travel song.


What do you remember the most of The Monterey Pop Festival?

I think The Monterey Pop Festival was so interesting because of the way everybody behaved: Everybody was friendly, there was a lot of love and respect in the vibrations of the people. Even the police officers were friendly. There were very healthy and warm feelings we had along with Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Mamas & the Papas. It was a great experience.


Were you satisfied with the quality of the live performances by the original Byrds line-up?

The first line-up of The Byrds was a great band in the studio, we made some good records. But when we went on stage we were unexperienced compared with many other bands like They Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So, we weren’t as good on stage as we were on records, but later on when he had Clarence White (ed: The Byrds guitarist from 1968 to 1973; died in 1973) in the band, it was a very good performing band.


Were you shocked by the negative reactions of the crowd at the Grand Ole Opry show in 1968?

We were disappointed then, because we loved the country music so much. We were hoping that everybody would pick up our music and give us a good reaction, but unfortunately there were people who misinterpreted our intention. So, they didn’t understand that we were so sincere and honest while performing the music.


You played a fundraising concert for Bobby Kennedy in LA, shortly before his assassination and you got to meet him then. Do you remember that night?

Yes, I remember the fundraiser for Bobby Kennedy. It was at the L.A Sports Arena in Los Angeles and after the concert the band met Bobby Kennedy and we wished him well and we hoped that he would make it as the President, but as you know unfortunately he was shot later.


I ‘ve seen a photo of yours along with Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and friends at Allen’s East 12th Street apartment in Manhattan. How was it like to be at Allen Ginsberg’s apartment with Bob Dylan?

It was a thrill to be with Bob Dylan, he’s such an interesting guy. It was a thrill to be will Allen Ginsberg as well. We had a wonderful time that night. I remember that evening very well. It was such a thrill.


Do you consider your appearance in Bob Dylan’s “30th Anniversary Concert Celebration” as one of the highlights of your career?

It’s certainly one of them. The other one would be playing in Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden and some of the shows we did with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty on the Temples in Flames Tour back in 1987.That was a lot of fun. First of all, Rolling Thunder Revue, (ed: the Bob Dylan tour with Joan Baez and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1975-6) was a highlight as well.


Did you enjoy writing the song “King of The Hill” with Tom Petty, one of your biggest fans in 1991?

Yes, it was fun writing with Tom. He is a really great songwriter and we were able to write that song. We wrote it very quickly, in just about an hour or less. We both were reading the book “Papa John” by John Phillips, so that song was based on this book.


Can you tell us a few things about Pete Seeger, who recently passed away?

Well, Pete Seeger was a hero of mine. I remember the first time I saw him was back around 1957. I went to the Orchestra Hall in Chicago. I saw him with The Weavers when he was with them and then I saw him playing solo and I was very impressed by how well he did a solo concert. How well he was able to captivate the audience without other instruments.  And he was a role model for me to follow. To do this by myself with a couple of instruments and tour around and tell stories. Pete Seeger was an inspiration to me and I am happy that I was able to hang around with him several times and record with him. It was such a pleasure to be with him.


Were you flattered when George Harrison let you play his Rickenbacker guitar that he played on “A Hard Day’s Night”?

Yes, I was. I was very flattered and if you look at the picture –I hold the Rickenbacker and George is on my left- and his hand is playing a D diminished chord, which is the chord that I recorded in “The Bells of Rhymney”, which is the song that inspired “If I Needed Someone”. I didn’t realise that until very recently, I was looking at the picture and I said: “Wow!! He’s playing that D diminished chord!” (laughs). That was really fun.


Do you regret for declining the offer to play at Woodstock?

I don’t remember declining the offer to play Woodstock. I think we may have, but I don’t remember turning it down. I think either we weren’t offered or we were doing something else. Maybe we had some other concert to play at that day.


Are you happy with the triumphant return of the vinyl?

I think vinyl is a very nice medium, unless you are in the car. It’s warmer than CDs. It’s analog, it’s warmer to common people. People like it and it’s fine to play the old records.


Do you believe that popular music which was written in the ‘60s and ‘70s was much better than today’s music?

I don’t know. Popular music is changing all the time. We had the pop music of the ‘40s and the ‘50s and then we had rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly. It just changes like the weather. Some music is better than the other. They were all good for their own time. I love Bob Dylan’s music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially his early stuff because the songs he wrote in the early ‘60s were inspired by traditional songs, and as you know, I’m really in love with traditional music. So, those are my favourite Bob Dylan songs, the ones that have a melody in them like Jean Ritchie’s “Masters of War” and some of the other tunes that have a traditional feel and in their lyrics too. I love those days for that.


Do you have any musical ambition left?

My musical ambition is just to keep playing. Playing as many concerts as I get offered and to make new recordings like “CCD” and “Stories, Songs & Friends” and continue with my Folk Den project.


You knew everyone. Who is the most talented musician you have ever seen?

Jimi Hendrix was one of them. Eric Clapton and then Clarence White, who was an underrated guitarist. Most people don’t know Clarence but he was an excellent musician. And then we have Marty Stuart who is a great musician.


Are you practicing on guitar nowadays?

Yes, I’m practicing an hour every day.


Why did you decide to move to Florida?

We love the climate.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Roger McGuinn for his time and to Camilla McGuinn for her valuable help.

Official Roger McGuinn website:

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Roger McGuinn tour dates:

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