By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Soon after The Beatles arrived on American soil, a pair of folk musicians — Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark — formed what would become America’s answer to the Fab Four — The Byrds.
Enjoying tremendous commercial success in a career spanning nearly a decade, the Byrds recorded a myriad of rock classics. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” “Eight Miles High,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Rock and Roll Star” have become a part of the musical lexicon of a generation of U.S. fans. Now inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Byrds attracted legions of admirers from early on.
“I’d never been famous,” said McGuinn. “So when people would grab something and rip it off of you, it was a scary proposition. I remember running to the car from a venue and being tackled by girls. That would be every guy’s dream, you would think, but it was frightening. I don’t think anybody is ready for that kind of thing. It elevates you to such a peak. It’s not the normal life of a human being. It’s something that nobody can live up to. I think it was a fun experience, and I’m glad I made it through it. Because of that, I’m able to work now with name recognition, and that’s a good thing. But I’m glad that’s behind me.”
McGuinn’s latest effort is a double CD/DVD live recording entitled “Stories, Songs and Friends.” Initially recorded for his late mother Dorothy in honor of her 102nd birthday, this instead became the last concert she would hear McGuinn perform. Featuring dozens of the Byrds’ classics and beyond, McGuinn passionately shares his music and tales from a storied career on the recording.
“Back in the Byrds, the cool thing was not to say anything between songs,” said McGuinn. “Talking on stage was a hump I had to get over. It was something that I had to become comfortable with. I started cooking up things to say between songs that have grown over the years and turned into these stories that are really fun to tell. I am very pleased with the way the album turned out.”
Influenced by Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash as a teenager, it was the late Pete Seeger who served as the catalyst behind McGuinn’s desire to be a working musician.
“In 1957, when I first realized that Pete Seeger was going to play solo at the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, I went to see him,” McGuinn said. “I thought, ‘Wow this is what I want to do when I grow up.’ That was kind of the seed that got me to do what I’m doing.”
Hired by Bobby Darin as a backup guitarist and singer in 1962, McGuinn remained for a year and a half. Forced to retire from singing for health reasons, Darin then hired McGuinn as a staff songwriter for his publishing company.
Relocating to Los Angeles in the early ’60s, McGuinn, began experimenting with traditional folk songs played with Beatle style guitar. Along with Gene Clark, he enlisted the talents of Michael Clarke, David Crosby and Chris Hillman, giving birth to the Byrds.
The band’s first single, Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965), brought the Byrds significant notoriety and was a sign of things to come. Their follow-up number one hit song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965), written by Pete Seeger, earned even greater attention. “Eight Miles High” (1966), “Mr. Spaceman” and “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (1967) followed.
“It was just before the Byrds that my mother sent me Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking,” recalls McGuinn. “I used to say in the Byrds, ‘everything will work out alright,’ from that book. Positive thinking is really prayer. You’re asking God to make it work. I believe that’s why the Byrds were a success, because I was really focused on the positive part of it at that point. My wife Camilla and I have been Christians since 1978. It’s a foundation that keeps us grounded. When you do that, the Holy Spirit will highlight things you’ve never seen before. It’s an exciting adventure to live like that.”
McGuinn enjoyed early solo success with the “Ballad of Easy Rider” and Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” both included on the classic film soundtrack “Easy Rider” (1968). That year he was also an integral part of the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” which is credited with popularizing country rock.
After disbanding in 1973, the Byrds briefly reunited months later to record an album, which was a disappointment. Subsequent touring and recording plans ended and McGuinn opted for a solo career. He released a self-titled debut later that year.
In the decades to follow, McGuinn released an occasional album, namely “Back from Rio” (1991), “Limited Edition” (2004) and “CCD” (2011). “Back From Rio” included the hit single “King of the Hill,” which he wrote and performed with Tom Petty. “McGuinn, Clark and Hillman,” with ex-Byrds Gene Clark and Chris Hillman, was formed by McGuinn in 1979. The band’s eponymous 1979 debut garnered critical praise and yielded the hit single “Don’t You Write Her Off.” In an effort to promote and preserve traditional folk music, McGuinn launched the website “Folk Den” in 1995. Releasing a new folk song every month, the project has drawn critical praise. In 2002, he released the Grammy nominated “Treasures from the Folk Den,” a selection of songs featuring guest vocalists. Today, McGuinn is enjoying touring around the U.S., bringing a positive message and melodic music to his fans.
“People ask me,” says McGuinn, ‘Don’t you want to be in the big time? You could be in the Byrds and playing stadiums and capitalizing on the name.’ ‘No, no thank you,’ I tell them. What I’m doing is fun. We make our own rules. It’s a blessing that I get to do what I do.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Roger McGuinn
WHEN: Thursday, June 12, at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
TICKETS: $20 and $38.50, available at the Colonial Theatre Box Office by calling 610- 917-1228 or at www.thecolonialtheatre.com. All ages are welcome at the Colonial.
CONNECT: On Twitter @colonialtheatre