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Roger McGuinn: The Byrd who'll never become a dinosaur
For everything, there is a season for Roger McGuinn — except a Byrds reunion. What’s Up correspondent Charlie Bermant chats up the co-founder of the legendary band about the holdout and his upcoming solo gig at the Admiral.
Roger McGuinn’s career divides into five stages. As lead singer of the original Byrds, he translated Bob Dylan’s poetic dissonance into a pop music language that could be comprehended by the general public. With a new set of Byrds, he did the same for country rock, setting off the spark that more or less defined the softer side of 1970’s music.
After the Byrds ended, he was somewhat adrift — even as he managed high points like appearing in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review and making an inspired album with former David Bowie sidekick Mick Ronson.
In 1995, he began the Folk Den Project, recording one traditional song every month and posting it on the Internet with words and chords. The intent for people to learn the songs, work up their own versions and pass them on to others.
Stage five of McGuinn’s career touches down at Bremerton’s Admiral Theater on Oct. 30, where he promises to perform a cross-section of the famous and obscure tunes that have solidified his reputation as one of the most eclectic and compelling veteran rock performers.
His repertoire draws from the Byrds, his solo albums and Folk Den tunes.
“People would be disappointed if I didn’t do some of the Byrds’ classics, like ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn!’ and ‘Eight Miles High.’” McGuinn said. “These songs are all good songs that I enjoy playing. It’s not like they are bubblegum hits that I am going to be forced to play all my life.”
McGuinn said he carries four different instruments to lend the show its variety.
“If you liked the Byrds you will enjoy the show,” he said.
McGuinn is one of three surviving Byrds, along with David Crosby and Chris Hillman; both of whom are eager to reunite. McGuinn admits he is the only hold-out for such a reunion, because he is not interested in being part of an oldies band.
“I just want to do my own solo thing,” he said. “My wife and I travel together, it’s real romantic and fun. I’ve been on the road with a bunch of guys, and I prefer traveling with my wife.”
On the day of each show, McGuinn said he decides the set list while eating lunch with his wife a local restaurant. He sticks to a pre-show diet of steak and broccoli and hammers out a set list, based on his last performance in the area.
“We tried all sorts of different eating combinations over the years and found that this meal will last him until we get back to the hotel after the concert,” said his wife, Camilla. “We also found out that carbs cause a hypoglycemic reaction in Roger so we limited them especially on the day of a show. It was real scary to watch him turn pale while playing ‘Eight Miles High.’ Now we don’t have that problem anymore.”
McGuinn was already established during the psychedelic era, so he did not fall into its trappings.
“I wasn’t really a hippie, although I did do a lot of the same things,” he said. “There was a lot of discontent with the hypocrisy of the system, politics and religion, and society in general. At the time we wanted to rid the world of poverty and hunger. We thought we could do it with music, which turned out to be overly ambitious. It turned out to be a big disappointment.”
Another disappointment was the fact that the Byrds missed playing at the Woodstock Festival.
“We probably had a gig somewhere else,” he said. “We didn’t know that it was going to be the biggest thing in the world.”
Roger McGuinn brings the spectrum of his career to the Admiral Theatre at 8 p.m. Oct. 30, 515 Pacific Ave. in Bremerton. Seattle Songstress Kellee Bradley opens. Info: www.admiraltheatre.org.