Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13: Founding member and lead vocalist for The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, is 71-years-old today.

James Roger McGuinn known professionally as Roger McGuinn and previously as Jim McGuinn, is best known for being the lead singer and lead guitarist on many of The Byrds' records. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The Byrds.

McGuinn was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He became interested in music after hearing Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel,” and asked his parents to buy him a guitar. In 1957, he enrolled as a student at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, where he learned the five-string banjo and continued to improve his guitar skills. 

McGuinn performed at numerous folk music coffeehouses and performed with the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Judy Collins. He also played guitar and sang backup harmonies for Bobby Darin. He relocated to the West Coast,  where he eventually met the future members of The Byrds.

In 1962, after he ended his association with the Chad Mitchell Trio, McGuinn was hired by Darin to be a backup guitarist and harmony singer. Soon after, Darin became ill and retired from singing. Subsequently, Darin opened T.M. Music in New York City's Brill Building, hiring McGuinn as a song writer for $35 a week.

During 1963, just one year before he co-founded The Byrds, he was a studio musician in New York City, recording with Judy Collins and Simon & Garfunkel. By the time Doug Weston gave McGuinn a job in at the The Troubadour in Los Angeles, he began creating rock style treatments to traditional folk tunes which caught the attention of another folkie Beatle fan, Gene Clark. They joined forces with McGuinn in July 1964, and together formed the beginning of what was to become The Byrds.

During his time with The Byrds, McGuinn developed two innovative and very influential styles of electric guitar playing. The first was "jingle-jangle" – generating ringing arpeggios based on banjo finger picking styles he learned while at the Old Town School – which was influential in the folk rock genre. The second style was a merging of saxophonist John Coltrane's free-jazz atonalities, which hinted at the droning of the sitar – a style of playing, first heard on The Byrds' 1966 single "Eight Miles High,” which was influential in psychedelic rock.

While "tracking" The Byrds' first single, "Mr. Tambourine Man,” at Columbia studios, McGuinn discovered an important component of his style. “With compression, I found I could hold a note for three or four seconds, and sound more like a wind instrument. Later, this led me to emulate John Coltrane's saxophone on 'Eight Miles High.' Without compression, I couldn't have sustained the riff's first note."

He also translated some of his banjo picking techniques to the 12-string. By combining a flat pick with metal finger picks on my middle and ring fingers, he discovered I could instantly switch from fast single-note runs to banjo rolls “and get the best of both worlds.”

Another sound that McGuinn developed is made by playing a seven string guitar, featuring a doubled G-string (with the second string tuned an octave higher). The C. F. Martin guitar company has even released a special edition called the HD7 Roger McGuinn Signature Edition, that claims to capture McGuinn's "jingle-jangle" tone which he created with 12 string guitars, while maintaining the ease of playing a 6-string guitar.

The Byrds recorded several albums after Mr. Tambourine Man in 1965. The single, "Turn! Turn! Turn!,” written by Pete Seeger with the lyrics drawn from Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, was The Byrds' second Number One success in late 1965. In 1969, McGuinn's solo version of the "Ballad Of Easy Rider" appeared in the film Easy Rider, while a full band version was the title track for the album released later that year.

After several personnel changes, the group disbanded in 1973. After the break-up of The Byrds, McGuinn released several solo albums throughout the 1970s.

McGuinn currently tours as a solo artist, and has used the Internet to continue the folk music tradition since November 1995 by recording a different folk song each month on his Folk Den site. (see link below.)

The songs are made available from his Web site, and a selection (with guest vocalists) was released on CD as Treasures from the Folk Den, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Traditional Folk Album.

In November 2005, McGuinn released a four-CD box set containing one hundred of his favorite songs from the Folk Den.


For more about Roger, visit his Website at -


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