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ROGER McGUINN

Founder member of the seminal folk rock group The Byrds, Roger McGuinn
tells GARY JAMES about his latest CD and his return to roots

The Byrds in 1966 Roger McGuinn former leader of The Byrds and a 1991 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a new CD out. It's called "Treasures From The Folk Den" (Appleseed Recordings) and is Roger's first studio effort in a decade.

For those who don't know, Roger McGuinn's band The Byrds shot to fame in the mid-1960s with a song called 'Mr Tambourine Man'. The Byrds were regarded as the American Beatles.

The Byrds in 1966, clockwise from top left: Roger McGuinn,
Gene Clark, Chris Hillman,Michael Clare,David Crosby

This is an edited version - to obtain the full interview click here


GJ: Roger, why did you decide to record a CD of folk standards?

RM: Back around 1992 I got concerned that the traditional side of folk music was getting lost, with the music business becoming increasingly narrow in scope, and the new breed of folk singers, basically singer/songwriters who were doing their own material and neglecting the traditional side. So I thought I would do something about it. In 1995 I had a website so I decided to open a section of the website called The Folk Den. I promised to put up every month a recording of a traditional song along with the lyrics and chord changes, and a little story of what it was about and a picture. I've done that every month, since November 1995.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who runs a folk label said 'This is great, but not everyone gets online. Why don't we do a CD that we can sell in the old-fashioned way in the record stores.' To sweeten the deal he said let's get Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta - the people I grew up listening to, to help me out. I thought, great! So, I went round to their homes with my computer and recorded them on 64 track digital software and good microphones and got a really good studio quality result and we made it into a CD.

GJ: Was it easy to get these people to come on board?

RM: Once I got Pete Seeger, he was the kingpin. He's the Big Guy in folk music. He's got the respectability and the recognition.

GJ: I would say the golden age of folk music was probably the late-50s early 60s.

RM: Right. That's true.

GJ: And the British Invasion brought it to a close?

RM: Right. The Beatles supplanted folk music as the most popular form of music, especially in the United States. And then we went along with that being in The Byrds. We were Beatle enthusiasts and we combined The Beatles and folk music and came up with what they called folk rock.

GJ: Were you happy with that term…what would you have preferred?

RM: Well, we didn't want to be locked into a specific genre. We wanted to experiment with different musical areas and we did. So we started out combining folk and rock but later went on with country and jazz and all different kind of things

GJ: Would it have been better to call The Byrds a pop group. You were popular on the Top 40 charts and and on AM Radio.

RM: Yeah, we were a boy band (laughs).

GJ: Who were you trying to reach with this new CD - the people who enjoy folk music or the people who have never been introduced to it?

RM: Well, actually, I didn't worry about targeting it or marketing it. My main concern was to preserve the songs and to pay tribute to the people who helped me out with it - Pete Seeger, Odetta and the old guard of folk music. To give them a kind of spotlight. So it was a combination of the two. The reason it was called 'Treasures' is that these people are treasures as well as the songs.

GJ: If you had to do it all over again, would you have chosen the life of a musician?

RM: Yeah. It was great and still is. As the running joke goes among musicians, it beats working (laughs). That is a joke, because it is a lot of work, but it's also very pleasurable and I feel very blessed and fortunate to have been able to make a living doing what I love most.

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© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.


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