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Music DVD Review: Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd: West Coast Legends Vol 4

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The German Rock music television series Rockpalast (Rock Palace) which began broadcasting rock concerts in 1974 and still continues today is releasing a series of DVD’s and CD’s of performances by the likes of John Cale, Michael Schenker from the Scorpions, and UFO. Available later this month, will be a 1977 concert performance from Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd that took place at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany. McGuinn who had taken part in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour named his new band partly as a tribute to Dylan combined with the reference to his own iconic sixties band. Joining McGuinn were Rick Vito on guitar, Charlie Harrison on bass, and Greg Thomas on drums.

The DVD features the band in fifteen songs. Byrds favorites include “Chestnut Mare” written by McGuinn and Jacques Levy for a country rock musical that was never staged. It was later released as a single and became almost as popular as some of the band’s earlier hits.

They open the concert with a version of the lesser known “Lover on the Bayou” that gives Rick Vito an opportunity for some rocking solo work. McGuinn’s whimsical “Mr. Spaceman” from the Byrds’ Fifth Dimension album retains the country psychedelic feel of the original. The band also does Gene Clark’s “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” which was on the Byrds’ first album. They save three of the best known Byrds songs for their encore: Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the psychedelic era “Eight Miles High.” For the most part the Thunderbyrd’s covers capture the sound and vibe of the originals, especially in the encores.

McGuinn does a take on George Jone’s “Why Baby Why” and sneaks in the Byrds “Tiffany Queen” at the end. The medley runs from country to a kind of Bo Diddley feel. There is a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” which also features some fine guitar work from Vito. Indeed, Vito’s guitar solos throughout are some of the best things on the album. Vito had been known mostly as a sessions musician at the time, although he had worked with a number of big name musicians. He was really to break out with his work on Bob Seeger’s “Like a Rock.” He sings two songs on this DVD: “Juice Head” and “Midnight Dew.” The first has a kind of blues vibe, but neither of them, other than for the guitar solos, is especially interesting.

“Golden Loom,” McGuinn announces, is a song Bob Dylan gave him which Dylan never recorded himself. You can hear the patented early Dylan braying wail even as McGuinn sings it. “Shoot Him” or “Victor’s Song” is an original McGuinn composition, written for a movie. It is a melodramatic piece that faintly echoes some of Dylan’s story songs. There is also a cover of “Dixie Highway” in which Sam Clayton of Little Feat joins the band on the congas. He can be seen in the background on “Shoot Him” as well.

Only available on DVD,Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd: West Coast Legends Vol 4 is a disc worth your time. The singer’s wide eyed stare into the camera on close ups can be a little disconcerting, but the man can sing, and he’s put together a band that can rock with the best of them. This is music that will have those of us who remember the sixties smiling and get the heads of those too young to remember nodding in time to the beat.

The DVD notes are limited. There are a couple of pages in German and a couple in English, but whoever wrote the English wasn’t quite up to the task. Here’s an example: “With ROGER MCGUINN a musical legend entered the Rockpalast stage. Reminiscences to the BYRDS, whose co-founder he has been, arose to the three voices vocal harmonies of this band. . . .” You get the idea. The DVD does include a track listing so that you can play individual songs as you want them.

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About Jack Goodstein

  • Rob Lagan

    Good review. A truly great concert & at this time Roger certainly was on a high point in his solo career after the Rolling Thunder Tour. Rick Vito certainly is a great guitarist & later went out on tour with Fleetwood Mac as part of their band.
    Mcguinns mastery of the 12 string Rickenbacker in the DVD is a joy to watch. This band also released one album entitled ” Thunderbyrd ” which Roger himself was pleased with.

  • Lou Novacheck

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this in No Depression immensely.

    I’ve subscribed to No Depression for the past few months in my Reader, but it was only tonight that I realized you’re a fellow BCer. Then, when I looked at your photo and brief bio under it on the Byrds piece I was reading, I see you’re in Uniontown PA. I’m from Lemont Furnace, although I haven’t lived there since I was a pup.
    Lou Novacheck

  • Jack Goodstein

    Good to hear from you. Where are you now?