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On And On

an interview with
American Folk-Rock Legend

ROGER McGUINN



 

 

Continued From Home Page


On And On
an interview with
ROGER McGUINN


interview written and produced by
Robert Silverstein

A founding member of arguably the greatest folk-rock band in musical history, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds released his long awaited comeback album in early 2004. With several high-flying twists, including a scintillating live flamenco excerpt of “Eight Miles High” entitled “Live Echoes,” Limited Edition covers just about every era and aspect of McGuinn’s repertoire. For Byrds fans, songs like “Parade Of Lost Dreams” and “Castenet Dance” bring out that classic baroque pop sound that graced Byrds classics like Notorious Byrd Brothers and Younger Than Yesterday. In recent years, McGuinn made a rather low key comeback in the mid ‘90s, debuting his rootsy Folk Den CD, Treasures From The Folk Den on Appleseed Records while also pioneering musical cyberspace with Folk-Den content on his web site - www.mcguinn.com. For those who can’t get enough of McGuinn’s pure Folk-Den style Americana, Limited Edition songs like “Shenendoah” and “Shady Grove” will sound like they could have been adapted on Byrds Lps like their second full length Turn! Turn! Turn! and their country rock classic Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. For this first ‘jingle-jangle’ pop CD since his ‘91 masterpiece, Back From Rio, McGuinn—teamed with his wife and musical confidant Camilla McGuinn—tapped a number of fine players for the studio sessions including Hellecasters guitarist John Jorgenson and drumming ace Stan Lynch from Tom Petty’s group. A rare album that just gets better with each spin, Limited Edition amplifies McGuinn’s long standing history as a pop culture pioneer. Taking a break to speak with 20th Century Guitar’s Robert Silverstein, founder of MWE3.com during a recording session for an upcoming Stephen Foster tribute CD, on March 15, 2004, Roger provided fresh insights about Limited Edition, along with reflections of The Beatles and George Harrison and some priceless musical episodes with The Byrds.

{Holy cow! It's been five years since I did this interview with Roger McGuinn for the cover story of the April 2004 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine. Prolific guitar king of the double ‘0’s, Les Fradkin was also on the cover of that issue. Funny how Les, who played the original George Harrison in the Broadway Beatlemania back in 1977, is also a huge fan of Roger and they both really excel in that ringing, rockin' Rickenbacker 12 string electric sound. I was happy to make Les happy by featuring him in that same issue of TCG with Roger. Roger was and is always very cool. I had actually first met him back in 1989 in Florida at a great food, culture and art festival at Coconut Grove that I attended with my dad, Arnold Silverstein, back in late October 1989. I moved there after my record label, Breakthru' Records was put out of business by my distributors and I had to actually become a stockbroker in Ft. Lauderdale Florida for two years. After the Grove show, which also featured Leo Kottke, I remember handing Roger the last release on Breakthru', 1989’s CD of French Guitar Connection from French fusion guitar ace Jean Pierre Llabador, as I knew he’s a huge jazz guitar fan. I even slipped in a couple pro Notorious Byrd Brothers lines to Roger. Lucky me and the absolute highlight of that year for me. I also met two of my other guitar idols in Florida around that same time, one of my greatest Breakthru' signings, the late, great and gifted guitarist Thomas Almquist, the last time I would see him, and I also met Spain’s greatest fusion / classical guitar and sitar player Gualberto Garcia, who was taking part in a huge satellite TV show of Latin music in Miami Beach right then and there in '89. Anyway, back to the subject. Fifteen years later, in 2004 Roger released his long awaited Limited Edition CD and I was fortunate to interview him about the release for 20th Century Guitar magazine, which closed at the end of 2008. Looking back, I still love this music, but how I wish Roger could have recorded the album just like the good old times in the Byrds, although I know that the days of great studios and studio wizards like the late great Gary Usher are but a memory in this pro-tools, sometimes way too hot mastered world of modern CD releases. As a side topic, in August 2005 my old college buddy Eric Paulos and I had a great interview with ex-notorious Byrd brother Chris Hillman. Look for the uncut version of that Hillman interview coming soon to mwe3.com, with further discussions with Chris on the Notorious Byrd Brothers album. More recently, Roger released his 2007 Live In Spain CD and, more true to Roger's current music, a box set of Roger's best “Folk-Den” material called The Folk Den Project 1995-2005. Oh, and that song Roger was recording that day and that he spoke of at the end of the interview, “I Dream Of Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair” was actually included on a great, later summer 2004 tribute CD to early pop composer Stephen Foster called Beautiful Dreamer. Another great Foster cover, “Beautiful Dreamer” was actually done by The Beatles back in 1963 (not on that tribute album though) but to my amazement, I found out later that Foster was a real pop genius who died in a tragic fall on the Bowery in lower Manhattan in 1864 at age 37! Foster died with 38 cents in his pocket although he was an innovative musican back in the years before the American Civil War. Ironically, Foster wrote songs that immortalized America's Southern states in songs like “Swanee River”, “Camptown Races”, “Oh! Susanna”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, "Jeanie"... you get the picture, all covered on that tribute CD by greats like John Prine, Henry Kaiser and, of course Roger. In closing, let’s not forget the 2006 Sony Legacy 4 CD / 1 DVD box set on The Byrds called There Is A Season that has to be among the coolest box sets of the decade. - editor November 22, 2009}


MWE3: I want to congratulate you on the new album. You’re calling it Limited Edition?

RM: Yes I am. It will be limited in that it will not be sold in brick and mortar stores or through any normal channels. It’ll just be available through out web site and www.amazon.com

MWE3: I’ve waited quite a while for an album like this from you. It’s been a while...

RM: Yeah, it’s been about ten years. Well I try to do one every ten years (laughter) whether I need to or not.

MWE3: It really seems like you’re blending a number of styles from the folk den side with the folk-rock sound of The Byrds.

RM: Right, I am. That’s true. And I’m blending some urban beats in there just for fun. I was getting lots of emails from fans wanting me to do a Rickenbacker-oriented album again and I thought, ‘well, why not?’ ‘Cause I like that sound too.

MWE3: So it’s more of what long time Byrds fans were waiting for.

RM: Yeah, they’ve been prompting me to do this for quite a while. They liked Treasures From The Folk Den but they wanted to hear another Rickenbacker album and of course, Limited Edition is...also refers to that Rickenbacker guitar.

MWE3: The signature....

RM: The limited edition Rickenbacker, the 370-12 RM.

MWE3: Did you record the CD in Florida? How do you like Florida?

RM: Well, some of the stuff was recorded in Nashville, in a studio with John Jorgenson and Stan Lynch. And then other tracks were recorded in Florida. And I love Florida. I’ve lived here for about twenty years now. It’s been twenty years. We moved here in 1984 from California. It was just a lifestyle change. I got tired of the freeways and the smog. (laughter)

MWE3: Where’s Windermere?

RM: Actually that’s just where our P.O. box is. We live in Orlando. We live actually in incorporated Orange County. It’s kind of in the suburbs where we live. It’s very nice, it’s like a big park. It’s very pristine and pictorial. Looks nice.

MWE3: My parents live in Pompano Beach, I guess near Ft. Lauderdale.

RM: Oh, okay. That’s in the Miami area.

MWE3: My father loves it and after the brutal winter we had in New York, I’m inclined to agree with him.

RM: I’ll tell you, the weather in the winter is just like heaven. It’s just the best place on earth. I like it better than California. California gets a little cold and this doesn’t. It’s really nice. I ride my bicycle every day with short sleeves. It’s like summertime all year round. It’s a little hot in the summer, but we tour in the summer. We go to Europe and other places.

MWE3: You said John Jorgenson recorded with you on Limited Edition. So you didn’t record all the guitar parts yourself?

RM: No, I didn’t.

MWE3: Any other players record with you on the album?

RM: Stan Lynch, from The Heartbreakers.

MWE3: I haven’t seen the finished CD yet, with the credits. But it’s a great record.

RM: Oh, I’m glad you like it. Thanks.

MWE3: So, you’re just going to market it...

RM: It’s just going to be online and sold at gigs. We’re going to sell them on the road.

MWE3: I guess you’re taking the music business side of things into your own hands.

RM: Exactly. I’m tired of paying ninety per cent to the record company. For what? For a little promotion? For putting up the front money? Fortunately, we’re able to do that now, so it’s not a big deal. And for the promotion we’ve hired a publicity agent and we’re just going to do it ourselves. They got to have all the fun and they get all the money too, so why not do it yourself? I’m very much for doing it yourself.

MWE3: You were an early pioneer of uploading music on the internet.

RM: Yeah, back in the ‘90s.

MWE3: How do you think the internet will evolve?

RM: I think it’ll be like the telephone. You’ll just take it for granted. It’ll be there and you’ll use it everyday and just won’t think about what it is or where it comes from. It’s like radio, TV and telephone all bundled up into one thing. You can do stuff in real time, all around the world. It’s really cool.

MWE3: Your cover of the George Harrison classic “If I Needed Someone” kicks off the Limited Edition CD. Your version is one of the best Harrison covers I’ve heard yet.

RM: Thank you very much. It’s kind of a daunting thing to do to try to tackle a Beatles song because it’s almost blasphemy. (laughter) It’s hallowed ground...you don’t want to make a mistake. So we felt good about it. I always liked the song and I also like George and it was just kind of a tribute, my personal tribute to him

MWE3: Didn’t you originally record the song for a George tribute CD?

RM: Actually, we did record it for the Koch tribute album but at the last minute they decided not to do that so we decided to use the track ourselves.

MWE3: That clearly would have been one of the best songs on that CD had it happened.

RM: Well...I’m very happy it worked out the way it did. ‘Cause we got a great track for our album.

MWE3: I was kind of hoping there’d be some kind of George tribute concert here in the U.S. like there was in England.

RM: Yeah, well I’d be happy to participate if anybody invited me.

MWE3: I had interviewed Albert Lee and he told me that he played the Concert For George.

RM: Oh yeah? I wish I’d been on that...

MWE3: You and George had a lot in common especially as you both were very associated with Bob Dylan and his music. And it’s interesting that The Byrds were the first kind of American band that equaled the Beatles magical pop effect in a way...

RM: Well we were shooting for that. That was our goal and I guess we achieved it because when The Beatles came over they asked them, ‘what’s your favorite band?’, and they said, ‘The Byrds!’. That was a great thing.

MWE3: Just one more thing on George, how you you think he changed the electric guitar sound in rock music?

RM: Yeah, well he was very innovative. I loved his style of 12 string playing. It’s what inspired me to pick up the Rickenbacker 12 and I emulated his style quite a bit in my lead work by playing the melody on the high on the G string, all up and down the G string. That was George’s thing that he used to do. So I kind of took that and added a little of my own stuff to it, with the banjo picking, and it came out different but definitely I was inspired by George.

MWE3: And also today, he’s being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in New York. {Talk about good timing - ed.}

RM: How wonderful...

MWE3: I guess it’s just a matter of time till you’re inducted, as a solo artist, there as well.

RM: I don’t know. I haven’t really had any hits under my own name, so I don’t know if they’ll ever do that. But it’s no big deal (laughter) If they do, they do.

MWE3: So that’s Stan Lynch and John Jorgenson playing with you on “If I Needed Someone”?

RM: Yeah, uh-huh. Hang on a second. I’ll get a CD and I’ll read you the other musicians on it. The musicians are: on keyboards, it’s Pedro Arroyo. He’s a local guy in Florida here. Delyn Christian on harmonica and background vocals. He’s from Ohio. We were up there and I recorded some stuff in Ohio. John Jorgenson is on six string lead guitar and background vocals. Curt Keidser plays drums on it. And Kammy Kolorado sang some background vocals. Bill Lee did some background vocals. Stan Lynch played drums. And I played 12 string electric, 12 string acoustic, 6 string electric and 5 string banjo and I did the vocals. So, it’s got quite a few people on it so it’s not just all me doing my own overdubs.

MWE3: So you mostly used the Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker signature guitar?

RM: Yeah, uh-huh.

MWE3: I heard that model was completely sold out.

RM: It sold out back in the early ‘90s. They made a thousand of them. And that was the limit. They sold ‘em all.

MWE3: And you’re still using the limited edition Roger McGuinn Martin twelve string?

RM: Yeah and that’s on this album too. That’s kind of a double play on words (laughter). Yeah, I used that and actually I have two more limited edition guitars that are coming out. I got a new Martin seven string that I invented. It has a combination of a low G and a high G, and the rest like a six string. So it’s like a twelve string on the G string. It’s got an octave on the G string and then the rest of it’s like a six string. So, it’s easier for a regular six string player to play but you get that ring that you get on the G string with the twelve string. And a lot of the lead work that I do is on that G string, so that’s, to me, the most important string on a twelve string. The most important set of strings on a twelve string is the high and the low G. And as I was saying, I got that from George. He used to do a lot of lead work up there, up on that string. So, I invented a guitar that just had that and it was a regular six string, so you bend blues licks on the top two strings and get some of that twelve string picking on the G string. And you can pick it on the bottom strings like a regular guitar. It’s a regular low E, a regular low A, a regular low D. And then it’s got a low G and a high G. And then it’s got a B and an E. So it’s like the third string is a pair, instead of the third string being a single string. So it’s my intention to...also I’ve got a magnetic pickup at the bridge on this guitar. It’s an acoustic guitar with a magnetic pickup on the bridge. And then I plan to just take it to Europe as one instrument that’ll do everything. So Martin liked the idea. They built me one and they said, ‘let’s put out a limited edition of that.’ So we’re going to do that. So, it’ll be the Roger McGuinn seven string limited edition. And they’re going to sell it for four years. However many they sell in that time period.

MWE3: When is that coming?

RM: Well, I just signed the contract and sent it back so we’ll see how soon they can get that into production.

MWE3: That’s going to sound great.

RM: It does sound great. I haven’t played it but people who’ve played it tell me they love it.

MWE3: So there’s another guitar coming too?

RM: Yeah, there’s one more coming from the Epiphone company. Their “Byrdland” guitar. There’s going to be a Roger McGuinn Byrdland. They’re going to do a limited edition of those. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Byrdlands. It’s a beautiful, handmade guitar. It’s all spruce and maple with ebony fingerboard and mother of pearl inlays. It’s just gorgeous. Gold hardware. Like a half Rick archtop. Like the L-5, only thinner.

MWE3: From the Limited Edition CD, the “Parade Of Lost Dreams”, I call it a scathing indictment for these times.

RM: (laughter) Well, it’s a comment on the times. It started out, we were sitting at a sidewalk cafe in L.A. Hollywood Boulevard. And we were watching (laughter) the parade of people go by. Really, some strange types. And we thought, ‘man, this is really low. It’s quite a scene.’ So we thought it’d be a good...“Parade Of Lost Dreams” came to mind for a song title and then we developed it. And as we developed the song it started to take on dimensions beyond Hollywood Boulevard just to kind of pinpoint what we felt was (laughter) wrong with all of society. (laughter) But, it’s not meant in anger or any kind of negative thing. It’s meant as a social statement.

RM: Uh-huh. I want to say that it was written a long time ago so it’s not about any particular person. It’s about the whole scene in general.

MWE3: It’s kind of spooky, in a way...So some of these songs date back a bit too.

RM: We did a run of song writing in ‘96 and have two of those songs on there.

MWE3: So “Parade Of Lost Dreams” dates back to 1996?

RM: ‘96. If you look on my web site, www.mcguinn.com, on the preview, go to check out the album on there and you can get thirty second downloads and also check out the lyrics. And on the lyrics pages you can see the copyright dates of all the songs.

MWE3: “Southbound 95” is pretty funny!

RM: Yeah, it is funny.

MWE3: Are you talking about somebody specific?

RM: I heard truckers say all those things that you hear on that song. On the CB radio. Everything in that song, except for the “Ride ‘Em High, Ride ‘Em Low” chorus was something I heard real truckers say. It was a number of truckers over a period of time. But they all have this running thing about ‘four wheelers’...that’s us right? They can’t stand us, because we get in their way (laughter) and we don’t drive real professionally according to their standards, right? (laughter) So, they’re always complaining about the little four wheelers. And then I try and throw in some of the actual complaints like...one of their big complaints is somebody driving in the fast lane and going slow and they can’t get around the slow person in front of them. So, then I heard a real trucker say, ‘one of these days I’m going to take my little girl and we’re going to go down and check out Walt Disney World.’ I heard that. They call the rubber strips that come off their tires...say a truck loses it’s tread? They call that Alligator. They call it ‘Gator’. They say, ‘watch out...there’s a strip of Gator at the 55.’ That’s the 55 mile marker. So they have their little lingo that they use and I threw some of the terms in there. But everything in that song is something real. It was fun writing it.

MWE3: Is Jorgenson on that?

RM: John isn’t on it, but Stan’s on the drums.

MWE3: Limited Edition goes into the Folk-Den sound and I was impressed because you picked some classic folk songs that have lots of historic importance like “Shady Grove”.

RM: That’s a cool song. I always liked the melody. What do you think of the beat? It’s an urban drum kind of beat. It’s like a hip-hop beat. I thought I’d mix the genres of folk and hip-hop and call it ‘pho-kop’. (laughter)

MWE3: When did you first hear that song?

RM: Oh, many years ago back in the ‘50s when I was at the School of Folk Music in Chicago. The old town school of folk music.

MWE3: And the Limited Edition version of “Oh Shenandoah” sounds like it could’ve been on the first Byrds album.

RM: Yeah, it’s that same style of picking and everything that the first Byrds album had...the harmonies...

MWE3: Also from Limited Edition, the song “On And On” has that timeless Byrds quality to it.

RM: It’s real Byrds-like.

MWE3: That’s your twelve string on there?

RM: Yeah, I’m playing twelve on that. I’m playing the six on that too. I did quite a bit of six string work on it. More than usual.

MWE3: So you overdubbed a lot of the guitar?

RM: Yeah, I had up to fifty tracks on some of these songs. (laughter) ‘Cause you have these tracks, why not use ‘em, right? Some of them just have a little bit here and there. Like a little accent or whatever.

MWE3: I haven’t heard the finished CD. I the CDR advance different than the final mix?

RM: Actually, I listened down to the production CD. And some of the highs are...you know, it’s really mellower. It sounds good...I think it sounds better. They did something to it. They mellowed it out. It sounds better than the CDR. We paid extra to have it mastered to glass. I don’t know if you know about that process, but it’s a new process, mastered in real time or something like that. Anyway, instead of mastering it to a...they usually do is master it to a digital tape and press the master glass from that. But what they did in this case was, they took the CD and just mastered it straight to glass so it gets something in the process. It gains something (laughter).

MWE3: I get so many CDR’s that I just want to make sure...

RM: There’s a little bit of sibilance, like on “Shady Grove” on the CDR that doesn’t come through as much on the actual CD. They EQ’d it or something.

MWE3: “Castenet Dance” is another great song from the new album.

RM: Thank you.

MWE3: Is that autobiographical?

RM: I don’t really like to explain songs ‘cause they mean different things to different people. So you don’t want to spoil it. Actually, Camilla meant one thing while she was writing it with me and I meant another. Yeah, it is kind autobiographical but then it’s about different things, different people. It’s about relationships. It’s about trusts and forgiveness.

MWE3: I was pretty surprised by the “Live Echoes” track. You played some amazing guitar on there.

RM: Oh, thank you. That was a recording made at a concert I guess. It’s a blend of things. It’s a little bit of Segovia, a little bit of John Coltrane, some Ravi Shankar.

MWE3: Is the main theme based around a classical piece?

RM: It’s based around “Leyenda”. But it’s not “Leyenda”. It’s got “Leyenda” in it. Which was one of Segovia’s favorite songs. It’s a Spanish folk song. Actually there’s more to it. It’s “Leyenda del Acueducto” in Spanish. It’s basically just called “Leyenda”.

MWE3: Where was that one recorded?

RM: I think it was up in like Cheyenne, Wyoming or someplace.

MWE3: I like the way the “Echoes Live” track blends into the final track, “Made In China”?

RM: Uh-huh.

MWE3: It’s weird to hear the audience applause blending in to the last cut.

RM: We tried to make “Made In China” like the encore. You know, like it was a wild gig and that was the encore.

MWE3: It gets back to the social...kind of critiquing again...”Made In China” is a little like “The Parade Of Lost Dreams”.

RM: Yeah, it does have a little social conscience to it. It’s about the troubles they have over there about, you know the one child per family. So, our song was saying, they won’t bootleg this album because it’s got this song on it. (laughter) It’s an anti-bootleg song. It’s not very diplomatic.

MWE3: What do you think is going to happen this year? It’s a weird year in a way.

RM: Oh, yeah. I really can’t predict, y’know? It could be business as usual or it could go changing on us. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It could go one way or the other. It’s anybody’s guess right now. It’s kind of fifty-fifty right now, isn’t it?

MWE3: I want to ask you, I don’t know if you know but one of my favorite Byrds albums is Notorious Byrd Brothers.

RM: Oh, thank you. It’s one of mine too.

MWE3: I had it when I was thirteen when it came out in early ‘68.

RM: So it was an impressionable age when you got it.

MWE3: I just wanted another album I always associate with Notorious Byrd Brothers from that period was Lee Michael’s Recital album. I don’t know if you remember that album.

RM: I’m not familiar with that one.

MWE3: Lee Michael’s Recital?

RM: Yeah.

MWE3: I should make a copy for you.

RM: Yeah, I’d like to hear it.

MWE3: That kind of equals what Notorious Byrd Brothers was doing, which was this kind of majestic approach to the pop music you explored with The Byrds.

RM: Notorious was a benchmark for this Limited Edition because, the way the tracks blended together. That was the inspiration for me doing that on this album. I don’t know if you notice that. I didn’t want any spaces between the (songs)...It was kind of fun technically to do that. It was interesting because most of the programs that you master with now make you have two or three seconds of silence between the tracks. But I figured (laughter) a way to do it.

MWE3: The expanded edition of Notorious Byrd Brothers on Sony featured a bonus track instrumental version of “Change Is Now” called “Universal Mind Decoder”. Was that the twelve string on there?

RM: Yeah, it’s a Rickenbacker doing a finger picking thing.

MWE3: It’s interesting that the liner notes for the expanded Notorious reissue said that it was rare in that both David Crosby and Clarence White appear on “Change Is Now”.

RM: That is unusual, yeah, because they didn’t really even know each other.

MWE3: Also is that Gary Usher who announces the take intro of “Universal Mind Decoder”?

RM: Probably, yeah.

MWE3: What do you think Gary Usher brought to the mix as the Byrds producer during that period?

RM: Ummm...he was very innovative. I think it was his idea to run all the tracks together. And he invented a way to synchronize two eight tracks and make a sixteen track out of it. And he invented how to do that phase-shifting thing, like in the middle of “Old John Robertson”. He invented that. He was innovative. He was a good guy with technical things. He was an airplane pilot. He was good with technical stuff. So I think he brought that to it. He brought a sense of fun to it. It wasn’t a serious thing. Everything was fun. We were having a ball doing it. I’ve always enjoyed that album.

MWE3: Notorious Byrd Brothers also featured a couple Gerry Goffin and Carole King songs on there.

RM: Gary brought those around. Gary Usher...

MWE3: Did you meet Gerry and Carole King around that time?

RM: I don’t remember meeting them. I met Carole King later. But I don’t think they physically came to the studio. I think they just sent a demo.

MWE3: Did you ever get to hear Gerry Goffin’s album Back Room Blood?

RM: No.

MWE3: It came out in ‘96.

RM: Oh.

MWE3: That’s another album...it had Barry Goldberg and Bob Dylan on there....

RM: Cool. I’ve got a recording project going right now that I need to get done. I’m doing a song on a Stephen Foster tribute album and I’m kind of in the middle of recording it today. And it’s the only time I’ve got to do it so I really need to get back to work. Stay on the line because Camilla wants to get an address to send you a real copy...stay on the line okay?



Thanks to Roger and Camilla McGuinn @ www.McGuinn.com







 
 
 
 
 

 

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