BYRDS MAN WAITS HIS TURN, TURN
Heroes aren't always hard to find. Roger McGuinn, founding member of seminal '60s group The Byrds, seems to make a career these days of being very easy to find. In the US he travels around doing in-store appearances promoting his Live From Mars CD, and spends hours at his computer, answering emails from fans and working on his own internet pages.
Rather than resting on his laurels, the 55-year old McGuinn is out there spreading the word almost as if he were still back in the '60s.
Home to McGuinn is Orlando, Florida, and life is a far cry from the jingle jangle days of the famed Troubadour Club in Los Angeles, where The Byrds first took flight. But that Bob Dylan folk tune "Mr Tambourine Man," which McGuinn transformed into a smash hit in 1965, still keeps him on the road.
McGuinn (he changed his name from Jim to Roger as a spritual exercise in 1967, and it stuck) bought his first Rickenbacker after seeing George Harrison play one in A Hard Day's Night. Just as The Beatles were the major influence on The Byrds, so too The Byrds have been a major link in the chain. Through the various configurations of The Byrds with members including Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, and later Gram Parsons, and then Clarence White McGuinn was the only constant.
Initially the group were pioneers in electrified folk, then, with Parsons, it was countryfied rock, which reached its zenith in The Eagles. After "Mr Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn Turn" and "Eight Miles High," The Byrds didn't have much chart impact, yet they were constant groundbreakers. "I think it's more about influences than hits," says McGuinn.
"The directions we took music and how we changed people's minds about whether it was cool to do country music or not, and that sort of thing."
Those directions are still felt today, with The Byrds's style and particularly McGuinn's rolling Rickenbacker echoed in the music of Tom Petty, REM, The Jayhawks and Teenage Fan Club.
Elvis Costello once said, "McGuinn is still ahead of his times. There is a quote attributed to Charlie Mingus about Charlie Parker that rings true about Roger: 'If Charlie was a gangster, there would be a lot of dead saxaphone players.'
"Well, if Roger McGuinn was a gangster, there would be a lot of dead REMs and groups like that. Not that they're not good groups, but without Roger McGuinn they wouldn't exist."
After The Byrds, McGuinn performed and recorded with Clark and Hillman, but he seems happiest now on his own, a wandering troubadour, performing acoustically and telling stories about the past. Live From Mars is a compilation of DAT recordings from numerous venues McGuinn played in the early to mid-'90s, digitally edited to sound like one live show.
"I started working on an autobiography years ago, and it's still a work-in-progress with no release date in sight. But at one point I decided to cook up a soundtrack to go along with it, and then I put little bits of autobiography between the songs.
For an old folky, he has embraced new technology with open arms. He created the Folk Den, a site that aims to preserve and promote folk music through the World Wide Web and which offers a new folk song to listen to each month. He then created his own web site (http://mcguinn.com) and answers all e-mail.
"I love it," he says. "Communication's always been a big hobby for me, two-way radios, any kind of communication device." DEBBIE KRUGER
Roger McGuinn, East Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Byron Bay, April 9 & 10.