||Roger McGuinn Interview by Ear Candy April 1999
When most people think of the Rickenbacker 12-string, one person comes to
mind...Roger McGuinn. Although the Beatles had the 12 string first, it was
McGuinn who fully explored the possibilities of the instrument. The
12-string pictured at left is the model that George Harrison played in "A
Hard Day's Night" (Roger plays a slightly different model). After seeing
this movie, Roger decided to switch to the Rickenbacker 12-string. As the
driving force behind the Byrds, McGuinn was easily one of the most
influential artist of the 60's. Roger's influence can be heard today in
bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. There is even a band from
Florida called the Lears, which plays their originals in an amazing
In this interview I tried to avoid most of the Byrds history questions,
since these are well documented.
E.C.: First, being a guitar player myself (and also playing a rickenbacker
12 string in my band!), I had a few questions about your guitar
playing.Your work on the 12 string seems much more innovative than the
Beatles. It was like nothing that had been heard up to that point. I know
thatyou had a folk background, but how did you come to that style of
playing? How long had you played a 12 string?
Roger: I found a Stella spruce top 12-string in Chicago around 1957 and
learned to play it. Lead Belly Bob Gibson, and Pete Seeger were
myinspiration. At the same time I began playing 5-string banjo. Somehow I
combined the two picking styles on the 12-string.That's what makes my
style sound different; it's a 5-string technique, incorporated with
standard guitar finger picking.
E.C.: I know that some of the earliest Byrds work was with the 12 string
acoustic guitar. Did the influence of the 12 string come before orafter "A
Hard Day's Night"? Or was that just when the Byrds decided to go electric
on the 12 string?
Roger: Right, I'd had my acoustic 12-string for years. The Beatles movie
showed me that there was a great electric 12-string on the market.
E.C.: The Byrds are one of the few contemporary rock bands of the 60's
that the Beatles musically emulated (not to mention style as in the case
ofRoger's Ben Franklin glasses), on "If I Needed Someone". Were you aware
of that song before it's release? I had heard a story where theBeatles
sent you an advance copy of the song to get your opinion...
Roger: Yes, that story is true. George gave Derek Taylor a copy and asked
him to hand deliver it to us, before the release of the song, along
withthe explanation that he had put it together with the riff from the
"Bells of Rhymney."
E.C.: As for harmonies, three groups come to mind when you think of the
60's: the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Byrds. Brian Wilson was
influencedby the Four Freshmen and the Beatles by the Everly Brothers.
What was the Byrds harmony influence, how did it come about?
Roger: David Crosby was out harmony man. His influences were the same as
the Beatles, with a little jazz thrown in the mix.
E.C.: "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" was originally intended to be a 2 record
set, with the intention of covering the change from country to
jazz/rock.If the album had been completed as intended, do you think the
history of the Byrds would have been different?
Roger: Very different, but I can't say that the "Musical History" album
would have done as well in the long run.
E.C.: Speaking of which, Chris Hillman had a country hit in 1989 with his
version of "You Ain't Going Nowhere"(and I saw you do a fantastic
liveversion in 1991 in Austin), which pretty much kept the Byrds 1968
arrangement. So, you can say that the Byrds are even influential intoday's
country music. What was it like to play the Grand Old Opry in 1968? What
was the reaction of the audience? At least you got ahilarious send-up song
out of it ("Drug Store Truck Driving Man")!
Roger: It was a great thrill to play the Grand Old Opry, especially for
Gram. There is still some residual influence from what the Byrds did
E.C.: I'd like to ask about one of your unfinished concepts, Gene Tryp.
The Who only recently got to present "Quadrophrenia" to their
satisfactionin 1997. It also took them several years to get the idea into
a movie. Also, Townsend has talked about resurrecting the
futuristic"Lifehouse" project from 1970. Have you ever thought of
continuing Gene Tryp?
Roger: We did a presentation of "Tryp" at Colgate University a few years
ago. It was great fun!
E.C.: I was blown away by the "Never Before" album when it came out. Why
didn't the Byrds release, "It's All Over Now Baby Blue"? It seems likeit
would have made the perfect follow up. Was the band dissatisfied with the
take, or was it a management decision?
Roger: So many things were going on at that point, it's hard to say.
E.C.: The Beatles and the Stones would often guest on each others albums,
albeit low key. Once the Byrds had become famous, did you get a chanceto
guest on any sessions for other groups?
Roger: Roger: Yes, Crosby can be heard on "Sgt. Pepper."
E.C.: I had read that you are a born-again Christian. I know Dylan had his
born-again phase in the 70's. Are you still a born-again Christian? Iknow
that several born-again artists get pigeon holed and it severely limits
their lyrical content. Do you think that it has any effect onsongwriting?
Roger: Yes I'm still a believer, but don't do "Christian" music, I'm a
E.C.: When first listening to the Beach Boys album, "the Beach Boys Love
You", I was surprised to see your name on the songwriting credits for"Ding
Dang". How did that come about? Have you worked with Brian any other
Roger: That was the only song that Brian and I wrote together. He came to
my home in Malibu and we jammed all night.
E.C.: I know that you have never worked with Dylan on an album. But, I
think it would be a natural for you to play on a Traveling Wilbury's
record!You have Dylan AND Tom Petty there. Would something like this ever
be a possibility?
Roger: That's hard to say. I haven't been asked to join them.
E.C.: I recently saw the Byrds on VH1's "Monterrey Pop-the Lost
Performances". The current trend seems to be releasing these lost,
yetstunning live sets from the 60's, whether it be Dylan, Hendrix or the
Jefferson Airplane. The only official live Byrds release was 1/2 of
the(Untitled) record in 1970. Are there any live Byrds performances "in
the can" that have the possibility of being released?
Roger: Yes there's one coming out this summer, "The Byrds Live at the
E.C.: A few years ago a band that billed itself as "the Byrds" played a
small gig in the Atlanta area. The group consisted of later-Byrds members.
Iknow that before his death, Michael Clarke was playing in a band billed
as "the Byrds". What are your feelings about a group performing as
theByrds with NO original members?
Roger: I'm upset that such a group is going out and ripping off the public
E.C.: Lennon used to complain that you only heard the same 5 or so Beatle
songs on the radio, despite their vast influence. It seems that only
aselect few Byrds songs get heavy rotation on the radio. The oldies
stations play only "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn", whilethe
classic rock stations play "Eight Miles High". What do you feel are the
strongest Byrds songs? What songs would you like to hearplayed more?
Roger: "She Don't Care About Time" and "Renaissance Faire" come to mind.
E.C.: Finally, do you have any plans for new studio recordings? I loved
"Back From Rio" (and the 91 tour!).
Roger: Yes, I'll do a rock CD at some point.