As leader of the Byrds, Roger (then known as Jim) McGuinn was an instrumental figure
in merging the genres of folk and rock.
McGuinn's seminal 12-string guitar playing brought a new sound to pop music, while the
Byrds' electric versions of Bob Dylan's folk songs helped popularize the legendary
James Joseph McGuinn III was born 57 years ago today in Chicago. His parents were
professional writers, and McGuinn toured with them to promote their best-selling book
"Parents Can't Win."
McGuinn studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music and became a sought-after
player on the Chicago music scene. He began playing guitar for the Limeliters and then
became a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio. With the latter group, McGuinn played
guitar and banjo on such LPs as Mighty Day on Campus and Live at the Bitter
McGuinn toured for two years with singer Bobby Darin, with whom he co-wrote and
performed as the City Surfers on the 1963 surf song "Beach Ball." McGuinn also became
an accompanist for folk singer Judy Collins and worked in New York's famed Brill
Building as a songwriter.
In 1964 McGuinn formed the Byrds in Los Angeles with David Crosby, Chris Hillman,
Michael Clarke and New Christy Minstrel member Gene Clark. The Byrds
misspelled a la the Beatles quickly signed to Columbia Records and hired
Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, who heralded the band as "L.A.'s answer to London."
The Byrds got their big break in 1965 when they met Dylan, who gave them his song "Mr.
Tambourine Man." McGuinn played guitar on the Byrds version of the song, which
included the entire band on vocals and studio musicians providing instrumentation. The
track was historic in its wedding of Dylan's lyrics to a rock 'n' roll beat. One of the
prototypes of folk rock, the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" topped the Billboard Hot
100 and became the title track of the Byrds' first LP.
The following year the Byrds had a smash with "Turn! Turn! Turn!," a Bible passage set to
music by folk legend Pete Seeger.
McGuinn and Clark began to argue about the band's musical direction. After Clark left
the band, the Byrds' music became more experimental. Their hit single "Eight Miles
High" (RealAudio excerpt) was one of the
first records to be banned due to lyrics supposedly about drugs.
This middle period of the Byrds' career also included such innovative LPs as Fifth
Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday, which expanded the range and
boundaries of rock 'n' roll. It also featured one of the band's signature songs, the
boisterous "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?"
McGuinn began calling himself Roger in 1967 because a guru in Indonesia said that a
new name would vibrate better with the universe. The guru sent Jim the letter "R" and
asked him to send back 10 names starting with that letter. "Roger" was deemed most
appropriate by the guru. Officially, McGuinn only changed his middle name from Joseph
to Roger, but he used Roger as a stage name.
That same year, differences between McGuinn and Crosby led to the latter's departure
from the group. The Byrds' next LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was a critically
acclaimed venture into country-oriented rock that didn't sell as well as its predecessors.
That LP and Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) were some of the first examples of
country rock, which later brought huge success to bands such as the Eagles.
With the rest of the original Byrds gone, McGuinn tried to keep the band alive for a few
years. The most notable tune of this Byrds period was McGuinn's "Chestnut Mare,"
co-written with Jacques Levy (who later worked with Dylan on 1975's Desire).
After a 1973 reunion of the original lineup for an LP, the Byrds disbanded. McGuinn
released three solo LPs: Roger McGuinn (1973), Peace on You (1974) and
Roger McGuinn and Band (1975). He then spent months touring in Dylan's
Rolling Thunder Revue band.
Mick Ronson, who had been David Bowie's guitarist, produced McGuinn's Cardiff
Rose (1976). The following year, McGuinn formed a band called Thunderbyrd and
issued an album by that name.
Clark and Hillman then rejoined him to form the trio McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. Their
eponymous debut album yielded a #11 hit in "Don't You Write Her Off." But the group
soon broke up.
After years of touring, on his own and with the likes of Dylan and Tom Petty, McGuinn
returned with Back From Rio (1990). The LP included the #1 album-rock track
"King of the Hill," co-written with McGuinn disciple Petty. Live From Mars, featuring
a few new studio tracks recorded with former members of the Jayhawks and many live
versions of Byrds songs, followed in 1996.
McGuinn and the Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He
continues to tour, recently performing a number of shows in the UK.
Other birthdays: Stephen Jo Bladd (J. Geils Band), 57.