Roger McGuinn

By Jeremy Miles

We heard him before we saw him.  His inimitable 12 string Rickenbacker ringing out the intro to Dylan’s My Back Pages. 

Then Roger McGuinn, founder of the legendary Byrds and architect of the band’s signature sound, strolled on stage all in black: leather waistcoat, cowboy-boots, hat tipped over one eye and playing that jingle-jangle sound that changed the course of the history of popular music.

Alone on stage with just the famous Rickenbacker and a custom-made seven string acoustic Martin, the genial 69-year-old McGuinn took us through a back catalogue of songs that seemingly connect everything with everything. From The Beatles to Bach to The Byrds. From folk-rock to country to shimmering acid-drenched psychedelia.  

His instantly recognisable clear bright tenor vocals, his dextrous guitar work, a multi-layered shower of harmonic joy. This was the story of a man with a rare ear for a tune, an eye for an opportunity and a love of a good story. 

There was inevitably a lot of Dylan. The classic chart hits which reinvented Mr Tambourine Man and All I Really Want To Do and the less commercial but perhaps more riveting numbers like The Chimes of Freedom and You Ain’t Going Nowhere,

 A truly gifted musician, he cited influenced from Ravi Shankar to John Coltrane to Andres Segovia. There were covers of songs by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and even a sea-shanty or two. 

Self-penned or co-written masterpieces included  5D, Mr Spaceman, He Was A Friend of Mine, The Ballad of Easy Rider, the stunning Chestnut Mare and the beautiful closing number May The Road Rise To Meet You.

 There were anecdotes galore too. How the band’s name was inspired by a Thanksgiving table groaning under the weight of a celebratory turkey. How a cocktail napkin with a few scrawled lyrics travelled coast to coast to become The Ballad of Easy Rider. How he came to write a pirate song while swashbuckling his way across the eastern seaboard with the Rolling Thunder Review and why, without a nod from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, The Byrds might never have got a record deal. 

All in all this was one  jingle-jangle evening extremely well spent. 

© Jeremy Miles 2022