Roger McGuinn (04/25/13)
I was half kidding when I asked if Roger McGuinn was up for interviews before his show on May 3rd and next thing I knew I was emailing with Camilla, his lovely bride of 35 years (AKA Roger’s manager, road manager, stage manager, roadie, etc.) That was last fall so I had months in which to imagine a conversation AND get really nervous about it. I was in the music business for years and met hundreds of well-known people, but Roger McGuinn was a Byrd, for cryin’ out loud! If there was a soundtrack to my life, it came from the Byrds.
Aside from defining and inspiring an era while embracing sounds that would become instantly recognizable and positively American, Roger McGuinn was the connector between folk, rock and country. He was also a constant at the center of one of the most seminal bands of the 60’s and 70’s that would include a revolving door of equally influential cohorts – David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Clarence White, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, Gene Parsons, and more. I’m not sure I want to even imagine where music would be today without him, but I’m dead certain that man has some amazing stories to tell.
Camilla directed me to the FAQ’s on Roger’s website and while she didn’t exactly say it, what she meant was – asked and answered thousands of times, find some new questions.But I was going for a local angle. Roger’s favorite project, The Folk Den is hosted here at UNC –Chapel Hill on Ibibilio.org, a contributor-run, digital library that is a collaborative project of the School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Paul Jones is director of this home to one of the largest “collections of collections” on the Internet.
“I think that the McGuinn’s are a couple that have made some very smart choices doing what they love and sharing that love,” said Jones. “He loves playing but hated the hassles of managing a group as time went on. Now he gives away a song a month, right on time where ever he may be, and plays the shows he cares about going where he and Camilla like to go. He once told me that “touring with Camilla is like a kind of honeymoon at every show” They keep it simple but very high quality. I’m a great fan of both of them. Even someone completely incapable of playing guitar or singing on key (I’m saying me here) can appreciate Roger’s commitment to musicianship and his generous spirit.”
Having heard that Roger had made a guest appearance in his History of Rock class, I reached out to John Covach, rock historian and former Professor of Music Theory at UNC (now Chair of the College of Music at Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester).
“Yes, Roger McGuinn visited my History of Rock at UNC about ten years ago,” said Covach. “There were 300 or so students in the class at the time and it seemed like they all showed up that day, along with many faculty and staff–the room was filled to capacity. Roger had two guitars with him; I asked questions, he answered, and then would perform a song or two. It was a fantastic session and the students demonstrated their appreciation by giving him a standing ovation. He was overwhelmed by this and I might have even seen a tear in his eye. It was one of those rare moments in education where everything works out perfectly. Somebody told me later that he really enjoyed the experience–I know I did!”
Roger and I talked about that visit, along with his collection of transistor radios, visiting the Beatles in LA, folk song collecting, technology, and music. Then he put Camilla on the phone. If you’re still dying to know the answers to all those asked and answered questions like “why did he change his name from Jim to Roger” go to the website. It’s all there, plus some.