Roger McGuinn turns 68 today and we celebrate his career and legacy. McGuinn and his Byrds were pioneers in the folk-rock movement and were one of the first American rock bands to find popularity in the post-British Invasion era. The beautiful sound of McGuinn's electric 12-string Rickenbacker should be immortalized on a musical version of Mt. Rushmore as it continues to influence musicians today. It should also be noted McGuinn has been fortunate in his collaborators as The Byrds were not a one-man show; David Crosby, Gene Clark, and Gram Parsons all put their stamp on the band's sound as well.
I've created a brief playlist to celebrate McGuinn's legacy as a pillar of American music. Songs two, three, and four were chosen because I was treated to a surprise performance by him at Music City Roots in Nashville earlier this year and those were the songs he played.
- "Mr. Tambourine Man" – The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man: I had to choose this one because it's the first song on their first record and you hear so much of what you need to know about The Byrds from the opening bars. You hear McGuinn's Rickenbacker and you hear those gorgeous harmonies. You also hear the band performing a song from the Bob Dylan catalog, something they did often and brilliantly.
- "My Back Pages" – The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" is one of the great lyrics in music. Hearing McGuinn pluck that Rickenbacker in person and still voice this song as if almost no time had passed since he first sang it put a jolt in me. His voice and that guitar are seeds of so much music that followed.
- "You Ain't Going Nowhere" – The Byrds – Sweetheart Of The Rodeo: I doubt I'll get much argument when I say Sweetheart of The Rodeo is one of the first great country-rock records ever made and it still stands tall all these years later. Gram Parsons had a hand in that but it was a group effort and a spectacular album. McGuinn got the entire crowd clapping and singing along as he performed this one. I can still hear and feel it.
- "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" – The Byrds – There Is A Season: Influential Nashville DJ Ralph Emery was not as impressed with "You Ain't Going Nowhere" or Sweetheart and declined to play the song. McGuinn and Parsons had an answer for him in the form of this song, which McGuinn ended his set with. In retrospect McGuinn said Emery probably understood his audience and knew the opaque imagery in the song wasn't going to connect with his listeners. All's well that ends well.
What is McGuinn up to today? Still touring, still playing the classic songs from his days with The Byrds as well as his solo career. He's also on a mission to revive and keep alive the proud folk tradition that was so influential and inspiring to him starting out and he's giving it all away! McGuinn's Folk Den is a repository of traditional folk songs he has recorded which listeners can download free. McGuinn also shares his knowledge of the history of the songs, making this an incredible lesson in music and history.