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Roger McGuinn

+ {McGuinn, Clark & Hillman} + {McGuinn-Hillman}

There’s been no better patron of the 12-string Rickenbacker than BYRDS folk-rocker ROGER McGUINN. Born James Roger McGuinn, July 13, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, his “pre-flyte” days of the early 60s were with The CHAD MITCHELL TRIO, while session work for the likes of BOBBY DARIN, JUDY COLLINS and HOYT AXTON served as a good apprenticeship. Abandoning respective monikers such as The Jet Set and The Beefeaters, Roger (then as Jim McGuinn) teamed up with fellow L.A.-based guitarists DAVID CROSBY and GENE CLARK, The BYRDS took flight in ’64; CHRIS HILLMAN (bass) and Michael Clarke (drums) were in place when the group scaled the charts all over the globe with debut 45, `Mr. Tambourine Man’. Featuring their trademark jingle-jangle electric-folk style, subsequent hits and seminal LPs secured the 5-piece mainstream status, although within the ranks there was always unrest – CLARK, CROSBY and Clarke, all bailing out during spikier times.
The unflappable McGuinn soldiered on regardless, taking in a stray from the short-lived International Submarine Band (GRAM PARSONS), and veering full-blown into country-rock on 1968’s groundbreaking, “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”. With a handful of exceptions (the excellent `Chestnut Mare’ was one of them), The BYRDS tailed off from then on in, only for Roger to resume again with the original group on an eponymous reunion LP in 1973. By which time, the man was already planting the seeds of his solo career.
McGUINN’s solo career proved to be fairly prolific, kicking off with the eponymous ROGER McGUINN {*7} solo debut in early 1973, revisiting the eclecticism of mid-period BYRDS. Showcasing songs penned with future DYLAN-ite Jacques Levy (including the great `Draggin’’, which featured The BEACH BOYS’ Bruce Johnston), harmonies and the odd bit of instrumentation from BYRDS flyers could be heard on `My New Woman’.
PEACE ON YOU {*4} followed in ‘74, and although Levy was again on board, weaker songs from outsiders CHARLIE RICH (the title track), STEVE MILLER (`Going To The Country’), AL KOOPER (`(Please Not) One More Time’), ALBERT COLLINS & Donnie Dacus (`Do What You Want To Do’) and DAN FOGELBERG (`Better Change’), were shallow in comparison to his previous effort(s).
While ROGER McGUINN & HIS BAND (1975) {*6} foreshadowed the guitarist’s stint with DYLAN and his band (as part of the bard’s famous Rolling Thunder Revue) through the mid-70s, it was hardly something to reactivate his flagging career; example his take of DYLAN’s `Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.
Forging an unlikely friendship with MICK RONSON, Roger teamed up with the ex-BOWIE acolyte (together with assorted Rolling Thunder stragglers: David Mansfield, Rob Stoner and Howie Wyeth) on what was hailed as the man’s most accomplished solo work, CARDIFF ROSE (1976) {*8}. Working with KRIS KRISTOFFERSON and Bob Neuwirth on `Rock And Roll Time’ and covering both `Dreamland’ (from JONI MITCHELL) and `Up To Me’ (from DYLAN), balanced his workings with sidekick Levy.
With the musical climate not exactly receptive to roots rock, the veteran jangler left his solo stratosphere behind after 1977’s THUNDERBYRD {*5}, an album that was sparked by versions of TOM PETTY’s `American Girl’, golden country nuggets `We Can Do It All Over Again’ and `Why Baby Why’, plus the obligatory DYLAN cue, `Golden Loom’.
Save for a handful of collaborations with old BYRDS muckers GENE CLARK and/or CHRIS HILLMAN (check out 1979’s McGUINN, CLARK & HILLMAN {*6}, 1980’s CITY {*6} and 1981’s McGUINN-HILLMAN {*5} set, it’d be fourteen long years before McGUINN re-emerged on Arista Records.
Reaching Top 50 status once again, BACK FROM RIO (1991) {*7}, roped in CROSBY, HILLMAN, TOM PETTY and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell. Having been touted as contender to succeed as ROY ORBISON’s replacement in The TRAVELING WILBURYS, Roger was in good company here as he strolled through his own compositions/collaborations and covers of ELVIS COSTELLO’s `You Bowed Down’ and Jules Shear’s `If We Never Meet Again’.
Since the mid-90s, McGUINN has been one of the first of the old guard to harness the power of the internet, posting albums of traditional folk songs recorded in various home studios; LIVE FROM MARS (1996) {*5} was one of them.
He took the same concept into the physical realm with TREASURES FROM THE FOLK DEN (2001) {*5}, cutting a swathe through the traditional landscape in the company of PETE SEEGER, ODETTA, JOAN BAEZ, JUDY COLLINS and ELIZA CARTHY, among others.
McGUINN plugged in once more for LIMITED EDITION (2004) {*5}, a folk-rock return to BYRDS-ian fare. An endless list of artists and bands (PETTY, R.E.M., The LONG RYDERS, The SMITHS, PRIMAL SCREAM, RIDE, etc), have kept alive the spirit of the BYRDS (and McGUINN’s famous Rickenbacker sound) in their own particular styles, while the band’s own recordings remain timeless treasures; as witnessed on his belatedly released 2004 concert piece, LIVE FROM SPAIN (2007) {*7}. Sunken treasure buried alongside the ghosts of sea shanty singers buried beneath the waves was 2011’s CCD {*6}; possibly pieces of silver best left to other folk artists.
2018’s SWEET MEMORIES {*6} was exactly what it said on the tin – a trip down memory lane in order for 70-something McGUINN to re-record BYRDS classics: namely `Turn, Turn, Turn’, `Mr. Tambourine Man’, `So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and a festive sequel of `Chestnut Mare Christmas’. The remaining tracks (highlights `5:18’ and `Grapes Of Wrath’) stemmed from unpublished works penned by Roger and lyricist wife Camilla.
© MC Strong 1994-2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jan2013-Jun2019

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