Spokane Chronicle, June 7, 1989

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Spokane Chronicle
  • 1989 June 7

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Former Byrd-man Roger McGuinn
stages a comeback

Steve Morse / Boston Globe

The Byrds paved the way for such twang-filled acts as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and R E.M. They started out covering Bob Dylan songs — topping the charts with Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" in 1965 —and soon branched into psychedelic rock, country music, bluegrass and protest songs in the Woody Guthrie tradition. They were West Coast hippies with brains, granny glasses and a social conscience.

Their trademark was the seminasal voice and jangly 12-string guitar of Roger McGuinn. He later became a phantom, but has just turned up with his first album in 10 years — the tasty Back from Rio. lie's backed by Petty, Elvis Costello, Michael Penn and Byrds alumni David Crosby and Chris Hillman, who together "marry the feel of the '60s with the urgency of the '90s," McGuinn said from his Florida home.

McGuinn is suddenly in the middle of a comeback. He dropped out to play low-key solo shows in the '80s, but it's his time again. He coordinated the recent four-CD boxed set, The Byrds, featuring previously unreleased tracks and four new Byrds songs stemming from a reunion last year at a Roy Orbison tribute. And he'll be inducted with the other Byrds into the Rock Hall of Fame on Wednesday — another high-profile event.

"It all just fell into place — my new album, the boxed set and the Rock Hall of Fame." he said. "I'm really honored that we're being inducted, though I've never been big on trophies or things like that. I don't have any gold records hanging on my wall. I'm not into them. It's enough for me to just know that we've done well."

The truth is, the Chicago-born, 48-year-old McGuinn almost had to be dragged back into circulation.

"I wasn't really pursuing a record deal actively. I was taking kind of a passive attitude about it," he said. "If somebody wanted to sign me, they'd let me know, but I wasn't going to go out of my way to do it. 1 didn't really miss it. The only thing I missed was that when you have records out there, it's a form of advertising and you can play bigger venues. That's the only advantage that I could see."

McGuinn broke away from the record industry in 1980, when the McGuinn-Hillman-Clark Band ran its course and he opted to go solo. "My wife and I talked about it and said, 'What do we want?' We decided what we really wanted was a good quality of life. So I said I'd love to just throw my guitar in the back of the car and barnstorm America and the world. And we did. We went to Europe and we did Japan and played all kinds of places around the U.S. and Canada. We just loved it."

Along the way, he met up with various musicians, such as Elvis Costello, who wrote the folk-rocking "You Bowed Down" for the new album.

"I ran into Elvis first in New Orleans when I was playing Storyville. He came backstage and we jammed a little bit. He liked what I was doing and invited me to play on his album Spike. So I played on that. Then I saw him in Boston at a gig at Nightstage. He came to the show and afterward he and I got up to do an acoustic set for the people still around. Then we did a five-hour jam session when everyone left. We were passing the guitar around and playing Beatles songs. Aimee Mann from 'Til Tuesday was also there. We had a great time.

"I knew I'd be recording soon, so I asked him if he had any songs and he said no, but he'd write me one. Then I bumped into him at the airport in Atlanta. I was getting off a plane and he was getting on the same plane. I said, 'Have you written my song yet?' And he said, 'No. I forgot.' He went back to Ireland after that, wrote the song and three weeks later sent it to Petty & the Heartbreakers, who sounded just like the Byrds when they started in the late '70s, also volunteered help on "Back from Rio."

Strangely enough, there are no Dylan songs on the new album. "I asked Dylan if he had any songs for the album and he didn't. I did try. I do talk to him from time to time. I've always been a big admirer of his as a writer and performer. How could you not do great material like that"

The new album, to be followed by a band tour this spring or summer (but not likely a Byrds reunion), restores McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar sound to electrifying prominence.

The Byrds always had great guitarists, among them bluegrass rocker Clarence White. "I put him right up there with Hendrix. That's what I thought of him. Hendrix liked him, too I remember he came backstage once at the Whiskey in L.A. and just went nuts over Clarence. He went straight for Clarence and just started hugging him and talking to him about guitars."

White was later killed in a car accident. Another legendary Byrd — singer Gram Parsons, who appeared on the 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo album that kicked off the country-rock movement — later died of a heart attack.

Such tragedies aside. McGuinn has persevered in his modest, mild-mannered style. And while Petty and R.E.M. have stolen most of his former rock attention, McGuinn is hardly ready for pasture.

"What I've been doing in the last decade is really great preparation for making records again," he said. "It's like actors who go out on the summer stock tour, where they keep their chops up. They're out of the public spotlight, but they're still keeping their craft alive."


Spokane Chronicle, June 7, 1989

Steve Morse's interview with Roger McGuinn includes a couple Elvis Costello anecdotes.


1989-06-07 Spokane Chronicle page 4B clipping 01.jpg

1989-06-07 Spokane Chronicle page 4B.jpg
Page scan.


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