ROGER McGUINN: THE ROOTS OF A BYRD (AND A BOW FROM BRUCE)

 

Almost thirty years ago, at a benefit called “A Night for the Vietnam Veteran”, Bruce Springsteen performed The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider”, a song written by Byrds founder Roger McGuinn with some help from Bob Dylan. The song filled the already emotional hall with even more poignancy and emotion, and would be the only time Springsteen would ever play the song live.

I told Roger McGuinn about this last week, and the legendary Hall of Fame musician, who was not aware of Springsteen playing it, took pause.

“Whoa”, McGuinn said. “I’m honored that he would use it, especially for that purpose, that’s a wonderful thing.  To have him play one of my songs…well…that’s amazing.” 

Springsteen invited McGuinn onstage in 2008, twenty years after the benefit, to play two other Byrds classics with him and the E Street Band: “Turn Turn Turn” and “Mr Tambourine Man.” And at the end of the two songs, Springsteen knelt and bowed, and raised his hand in tribute to McGuinn.

It’s not everyone, in fact there’s practically no one, who gets Bruce Springsteen to bow to them. But then again, Roger McGuinn is certainly not just anyone. Even among the pantheon of legendary rock musicians, McGuinn holds a very special place, and his influence on  popular music remains far and wide.

Tom Petty onstage with his "idol" Roger McGuinn

McGuinn – who comes to Washington next week to play some dates as a side man for The Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock group of best-selling authors – remains rather humble about his impact on popular music over the last forty years, but that impact cannot be denied. Just listen to the musical framework of Tom Petty, or REM, or a host of other musicians out there, and you’ll hear strains of McGuinn’s legendary Rickenbacker 12-string guitar and the musical DNA of his groundbreaking folk-rock group The Byrds waft through the melodies. Petty is an admittedly devout fan of McGuinn’s, and has covered many of his songs over the years live and in-studio. He even sings like McGuinn at times.

McGuinn traces his impact on these and many other musicians to his roots as a folk musician, where it all began for him as a sideman with some of  folk music’s most notable players. McGuinn’s Folk Den Project (available at www.rogermcguinn.com) is a musical mecca of his own and others’ folk chestnuts, where it’s really evident how much folk has played a part in McGuinn’s evolution.

“You’d have to attribute [my influence] to the timelessness of folk music, that’s probably the core of it,” McGuinn told me. “And the Rickenbacker sound is kind of a banjo sound. I used to play banjo, with the Limeliters and Chad Mitchell Trio, and I was more of a banjo player than a guitar player for quite a while, and the banjo technique kind of bled over into my 12-string playing. I think the combination of the two made it something that nobody else was doing. I guess it became a unique sound.”

Roger McGuinn and Pete Seeger along with Jim Musselman, founder of folk-based Appleseed Records

Speaking of Springsteen – being a folk musician at heart, McGuinn was clearly pleased with  The Boss’ recent foray into folk music with his Seeger Sessions project and the exposure it gave to folk music in the modern day.

“I loved it,” McGuinn says admiringly, “how he honored Pete Seeger with that whole recording, that was wonderful, that he kind of branched off of his standard rock format and went over to the folk side for a whole album. I loved what it did for recognition for Pete Seeger. All the folkies know who (Seeger) is, but the mass public really doesn’t, and I thought that was a great thing.”

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One Response to “ROGER McGUINN: THE ROOTS OF A BYRD (AND A BOW FROM BRUCE)”

  1. […] ROGER McGUINN: A FOLK/ROCK LEGEND GETS A BOW FROM THE BOSS … […]

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