Roger McGuinn Flies High, Sans The Byrds
Rock Hall of Famer, who performs
here Friday with Marty Stuart, is soaring anew as he
revisits his storied musical past with a new
|This appeared on U-T San
Diego - October 9, 2013
|Rock and Roll Hall of Famer
Roger McGuinn has no interest in reforming The
Byrds, the legendary band he led in the 1960s and
early ’70s that helped pioneer folk-rock (“Mr.
Tambourine Man,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), raga-rock
(“Eight Miles High,” “Why”) and country-rock (“Time
Between,” and “Hickory Wind”).
But when he performs Friday at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts with country-music stalwart Marty Stuart and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, McGuinn will happily revisit some of the classic songs he recorded with The Byrds. He couldn’t be happier.
“I first met Marty back around 2000,” McGuinn, 71, recalled. “He had a Martin guitar with a B-Bender (pitch-changer) and Marty has always been big fan of (deceased Byrds’ guitarist and B-Bender co-creator) Clarence (White). So we played ‘Old Blue,’ ‘Chestnut Mare’ — all the old Byrds’ songs — and it was like being in The Byrds again. I had no idea Marty had almost cloned Clarence!”
Stuart was subsequently instrumental in inviting McGuinn to sing on the Grand Ole Opry. The Byrds received a decidedly cool response when they performed during a 1968 Opry telecast at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, largely because the audience didn’t appreciate long-haired hippies playing country music, no matter how reverently.
"When The Byrds started country-rock, we had no idea there would be such a thing," McGuinn recalled. "We were just trying to honor the music. We started listening to country radio. We wen to Nudie's and got cowboy clothes. I got a black Cadillac El Dorado; it was a role playing thing for me and I think for (second-generation Byrds' member) Graham (Parsons), too.
"Jim Stafford told me once he asked Graham (before The Byrds) about country music, and Graham said that, no, he wasn’t into it. And, a few years later, he was. (Byrds co-founders) Gene (Clark) and Chris (Hillman) were doing country stuff before Graham joined the band and we never thought anything much about it."
The friendship between McGuinn and devoted Byrds fan Stuart has grown since they first met 13 years ago, although McGuinn said they have only performed four shows together to date. Their Poway performance is part of a four-city West Coast mini-tour. More dates will follow in November.
"The format is pretty similar to to 'The Rolling Thunder Revue'," McGuinn said, referring to the loose-knit approach employed on Bob Dylan's fabled 1975 concert tour with McGuinn, Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Bob Neuwirth and a backing band that included T-Bone Burnett, Scarlett Rivera and ex-David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson.
"We're thinking Marty and the Fabulous Superlatives will do a song or two, then I'll do a Byrds' song or two, then they'll come back and we'll do some songs together, and we’ll keep coming and going. It's a collaborative effort and we'll probably focus on songs people know."
Meanwhile, The Byrds’ other two surviving co-founders, David Crosby and ex-San Diego bluegrass mainstay Chris Hillman, have repeatedly expressed a desire to reunite The Byrds, to no avail. The two last performed publicly with McGuinn on a brief
“Reuniting The Byrds would be nostalgic and it wouldn’t be the same, as evidenced by when we tried to do a (1973) reunion album and it wasn’t the same," McGuinn said.
“I’m so happy doing what I’m doing that I don’t want to rekindle The Byrds. Paul McCartney was once asked about getting The Beatles back together, when all the members were still alive, and he said: ‘You can’t reheat a soufflé’."
McGuinn used the same soufflé line in a 2006 U-T San Diego interview.That comment did not sit well with Crosby, who was interviewed separately for that same 2006 interview. " `Reheating a souffle'! ... He's such an ass," Crosby said of McGuinn at the time.
"But ... I'd work with him at the drop of a hat, because he is that good. I think he's brilliant and I'd give most of the credit for The Byrds' success to him. I would gladly fly wing-man to Roger again.
"The overriding sadness in me is that really good music could be made, and isn't being made, because of some sort of ego (problem) or held-over anger from however many years ago," Crosby lamented. "Whatever it was I did to Roger, I wish he could let go of it so there would be more music. But if he won't, I can't do anything about it. The last time I asked him, his line was, `I'd rather join the Army,' which is kind of a slap in the face. That was a year ago.
"I was young (in The Byrds), I had a large ego and I'm sure I was a pain in the butt to Roger at some point. I also enhanced his music pretty drastically, so it's a balance. Nobody is perfect, and I certainly wasn't then. But I think I made some of the best music of my life with him, and I think that has merit."
Hillman, in a separate U-T interview in 2006, agreed.
"We are in our sixties now and it would be nice to go out and (at least) have dinner together," Hillman said. "I talk to David quite a bit; Roger is kind of reclusive. I don't know if reforming would open a lot of old wounds that are best kept shut, but I love both those guys."
The Byrds' 50th anniversary is next year. But in an August interview in Rolling Stone, McGuinn said he would not reunite with Crosby and Hillman because, he said: "I'm happy with the Byrds as a good memory. David and I have talked about this at length, and to me a reunion would just be for the money. We'd go out and play some sheds (amphitheaters), maybe gross a couple of million dollars and split it four or five ways. I'm not attracted to expensive things. I don't need a Ferrari or anything like that...
I love David. He's funny, smart and very talented. He's one of the best harmony singers on the planet. He's a great rhythm (guitar) player. He's written some really nice songs. I have nothing against David. This isn't personal . . . Again, I just think it would be about money and I don't need it. My wife is very good at budgeting. We don't need much. It's kind of like Pete Seeger. He made money, but he gave it all away and lives up on that hill."
Speaking to U-T San Diego last week from Flagstaff, McGuinn hedged a bit about the financial aspects of a reunion.
"Yeah I said that, but I have since thought that (money) shouldn’t be my main focus (for not doing a reunion)," he said.
In that case, why not do a Byrds' reunion tour on behalf of McGuinn's favorite charity?
"Well, never say never," McGuinn said. "I remember when Fred Wallach, who ran a music store in West Los Angeles, got throat cancer and David, Chris and I did a couple of songs at a benefit for him. It could happen."
The Byrds-free McGuinn performs, by his estimate, between 25 and 30 U.S. solo shows a year. He tours Europe every other year.
"I've returned to my folk-music roots for past 18 years," McGuinn said. "And on my Folk Den web page, I have over 200 songs with lyrics, chords, stories; it's a labor of love."
McGuinn's next release is Stories, Songs & Friends. To be released by his label, April First Productions, it's a live 2-CD/1-DVD set that was recorded in Tucson last year in honor of his mother's 102nd birthday.
"She was bedridden at the time and has since passed away, but she has heard it," he said. "The DVD is a small bio (film) with me telling stories about my life and The Byrds. It's also got Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Chris Hillman, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Dave Barry as talking heads, giving their opinions about my life in music...
"I'd like to be remembered as a keeper of the flame who kept traditional music alive, because I've been doing that twice as long as I was in the Byrds."
By George Varga
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