Interview:Musician's Friend Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Roger McGuinn, Part II
In Part I, the Byrds cofounder, electric 12-string icon, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member talked about his days with the Byrds and how he created a whole new sound in popular music. In Part II, McGuinn fills us in on some odd moments onstage, his fight for Internet music, his latest album, and the gear he uses to get his instantly recognizable sound.
MF: What's the strangest story you can remember from a live performance?
RM: I think it was at the Boston Tea Party. It was the Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers on the same bill. I remember it because The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers had not been getting along. Gram Parsons had gotten mad and left the Byrds and Chris Hillman had also gotten mad and left the Byrds [after which the two formed the Flying Burrito Brothers]. So there was a little bit of animosity. But for this night everyone was real together and there was a lot of harmony. I got up on stage and was playing when I looked down and I noticed my fly was open [laughs]. That was probably the strangest night I can remember.
MF: So the guitar wasn't in front of your fly?
RM: Yeah, I guess it was a little bit.
MF: You moved it there quickly, huh? [general laughter]
MF: Felt like Jim Morrison there for a minute.
RM: Yeah. I could've been banned in Boston.
MF: Did you ever get banned anywhere?
RM: We got banned in England for going to South Africa. And that was a misunderstanding because we actually went down there to tell them we didn't like apartheid, but . . .
MF: [laughs] A lot of good that did you.
RM: Yeah. And then "8 Miles High" was banned on the radio.
MF: Because they thought it was about drugs?
MF: What was it really about?
RM: It was about a trip to England on an airplane.
MF: I guess people read into it what they wanted, especially with all the drugs that were going on in those days. It did lend itself to a double meaning.
RM: Absolutely, yeah. And we were aware of that. And of course we were doing drugs at the time so . . . Yeah, it was probably not all that far-fetched. But it wasn't about drugs.
MF: [laughs] Did drugs get to be a problem for anyone in the Byrds?
RM: Not while we were together as the Byrds. We were all pretty cool with it. We just smoked a little pot. It wasn't that big a deal.
MF: Who are your favorite musical compatriots from the last 10 years? People you've been playing with?
RM: I love Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, I think those guys are great. And the Jayhawks are cool.
MF: These are people that you've recorded with?
RM: I've done gigs with them. I did a TV show with Wilco for VH1. It's a thing called Influences. And I've just hung out with them. Jay's been over to the house and so on.
MF: Where do you live now?
RM: In Orlando, Florida.
MF: You've been in the middle of a debate over the role of the Internet in music distribution. What are your thoughts on that situation now?
RM: Well, I'm still trying to rule on it. I think it's like radio, the radio of the 21st century. The record companies are overreacting by suing the fans. So I went to the Senate and told them what I thought about it. I was there to support MP3.com which at the time was very, very good for artists. They were giving the artists 50% of records sold on their site, which is amazing because you never get anything from record companies.
RM: It was great. And I went there to tell them I thought it was cool and that the artists benefited from people downloading their stuff. It got them interested in the artist and then they'd go to their gigs and buy their merchandise and that sort of thing. It didn't go over too well with Patrick Leahy [laughs]. He wasn't too impressed with that. And Lars from Metallica didn't like the idea, but I just said my piece. I still think it's good for artists and bad for record companies. That's the way I feel about it. I don't want people stealing stuff, but there should be some way to compensate the artist. I think iTunes is great and eMusic and those things. It's all going that way. If the record companies would stop suing people and just sort of get behind selling the stuff online they'd be better off. My latest project, Limited Edition is an Internet exclusive. It's not available anywhere else.
MF: Where can we pick that up?
RM: It's only available through Amazon.com and McGuinn.com. It's also on iTunes and eMusic and Napster and all the other online services.
MF: Tell us about Limited Edition.
RM: It's an album I did in response to people saying, "We love all that folk stuff, but how about bringing the Richenbacker back again?" It's the Richenbacker jingle-jangle. I've got a lot of tracks on there that have Richenbacker breaks on them. And I love that sound myself. So, it was fun to do it. I recorded it at home and mastered it myself and sent it up to Oasis. They pressed it and we decided not to deal with the traditional distribution channels but to just to go through Amazon.com and to sell it on our site and at gigs and it's been going great. It went into the black the first month and I've made more money from this than I did from my Back from Rio CD which sold about a half a million.
MF: Wow, so you're starting to love this distribution? [laughs]
RM: Yeah, I think it's great. We're selling physical CDs and iTunes is selling downloads.
MF: And they can download a tune at a time or the whole thing.
RM: Yeah, the whole thing is like $9.99 or something, where it's $16 something on Amazon for the physical CD.
MF: How long did it take to record Limited Edition?
RM: About eight months. On and off because I'd be on going on the road and coming back.
MF: You're touring quite a bit?
RM: Yeah, I do about 30 to 50 dates a year. It's kind of low key; I don't go out for 200 date tours or anything. But this year we went to Europe and I played about 20 dates over there and then another 15 or so here.
MF: Are your live shows a mix of material you've done over the years?
RM: Yes. I do the new and old. I do things from my current projects and songs from former CDs over the years and the Byrds Classics that people want to hear.
MF: You do the Byrds? Do you try and be authentic to the originals?
RM: Yeah, I play "Turn, Turn, Turn" like it is on the record and so on. Then I get the audience to sing the harmony.
MF: Who's on your new record?
RM: I've got Pedro Naraujo on keyboard, Delyn Christian on harmonica and background vocals, John Jorgenson on six-string lead and bass and background vocals, Curt Keidser on drums, Kammy Kolorado on background vocals, Bill Lee on background vocals, and Stan Lynch on drums. I played 12-string electric, 12-string acoustic, six-string electric, six-string acoustic, five-string banjo, and vocals.
MF: When you're touring what do you do for a band?
RM: I just play solo. I do it like a folk singer. Just sit down and play. I bring three guitars--a Rickenbacker electric 12, a Martin acoustic 12, and now I've got a new HD 7 I use.
MF: That's the new Martin?
RM: Yeah, the new Martin 7-string.
MF: What made you go with the 7-string?
RM: In June, when we went to Europe, I thought it'd be great if I could just throw one guitar in a gig bag and take it on the plane instead of shoving it under in the luggage. Because Air France broke my $7,000 D-12-42 - 12-string signature model coming back from France. I went, "Man, this is terrible." You're always holding your breath about shipping a guitar under, even in a good case. So, I went to Martin and said, "If I had a six-string with the extra high G it would sound very much like a 12-string on the leads. Because I do a lot of leads up and down the G-string--a trick I learned from George Harrison. It's the best-sounding pair on the 12-string. It's got the most ring to it. So, Dick Boak and I designed this guitar and he built me a custom one and they had it sitting around at Martin before they shipped it to me. Some musicians came up and played it and said, "Wow this is really good, this is bright and it's got a great sound to it. Why don't you make these?" And Dick said, "Yeah, we ought to do an edition of them." So they asked me what I thought and I said "Sure." I gave them a few added features such as the hexagonal abalone inlays up and down the neck like the D-45. I gave it the mother-of-pearl rosette and the mother-of-pearl inlay on the headstock like the D-45 as well. So, it's really a nice-looking guitar. It looks like a 45 from the front.
MF: So the extra string is just an octave double of the G string?
RM: Yes, it is. It gives it that 12-string kind of jingle-jangle sound when you're playing.
MF: That's a cool idea.
RM: Yeah, it's kind of a Swiss army knife of a guitar. You can bend the strings on blues breaks, and then do bluegrass runs on the bottom strings like a six. But when you get into the middle of it, it's a 12.
MF: The 12-string that got destroyed, you said was a signature model from who?
RM: It was a Martin. A D12 42 RM. It's a $6,900 retail price.
MF: Whoa. Beyond repair?
RM: No, we fixed it. But it still shows cracks and stuff.
MF: That would be horrible to have that happen on the way to the gig instead of on the way home, huh?
RM: Yes, it would. I didn't know it had happened at the airport. I got to the hotel in New York after getting off the Concorde--they were supposed to have treated things with kid gloves on the Concorde but they evidently didn't [laughs]. And so I opened the case to play the guitar and it was rattling. I went, "What's this?" And there's a hole in it.
MF: So you always check your guitars now when you pick them up?
RM: Yeah, I do. I try not to ship them if I can help it. I try to carry them on. I go First Class so it's not that big a deal to carry stuff on.
MF: Do you use any effects to get your jangly sound when you play the Rickenbacker?
RM: Well, the signature model Rickenbacker, it's called the 370/12/ RM.
MF: That's your signature model?
RM: Yeah. Rickenbacker released it in, I think, '89. And they made a thousand units of it, which they sold quickly. They're still around now as a pre-owned guitar. It's got a built-in compressor, that was one of the things I wanted Rickenbacker to include. And they really listened hard to the Byrds records and got the compressor to sound like that. They did a great job on it.
MF: Is there studio compression on the Byrds recordings?
RM: Yeah. We used to use two, I'm not sure what the brand was, back to back. We'd plug one out to another--two of them in series--and crank them both up all the way. Really squeeze down the signal.
MF: Did you use any other guitar effects when you were in the Byrds?
RM: I had a phase shifter for awhile.
MF: I think everybody had one of those in the '60s. [laughs]
RM: I think I've still got it out in the garage somewhere.
MF: Don't get rid of it, it's a classic.
RM: Oh yeah. Still works.
MF: Are you a guitar collector?
RM: I'm not a real collector, I've got a few guitars. I've got an Epiphone Birdland that they gave me, which is really pretty. And a few Rickenbackers and a few Martins. And I've got a 70s D-12-45, which is pretty.
MF: Do you remember your first Rickenbacker 12-string?
RM: Yeah I remember it. It was great.
MF: When did you get it?
RM: I got it in '64 from a music store in LA. I'm not sure exactly where it was. But we'd gone to see the movie A Hard Day's Night. I noticed that what George was playing looked like a six from the front, but when he turned sideways there were 6 other pegs sticking out the back. And I went, "Wow that's a 12 and I've got to get one of those." I traded in my Gibson acoustic and my Vega five-string banjo for it.
MF: Whoa, had to have it.
MF: Well, it turned out to be a signature sound for you. How long did you keep that guitar around? Do you still have it?
RM: No, it was stolen in 1965. I remember it was at a Catholic university we were playing in. They didn't have any security on the dressing room. Somebody walked in with a gray Rickenbacker case that was evidently empty, put my guitar in it and walked out again. Somebody said that guitar sold on E-Bay for $117,000 recently.
MF: Wow, did you look into it?
RM: There's no way to really prove it.
MF: But if they're selling it as your guitar...
RM: Yeah. It's a weird thing. Technically it's still my property, but nobody seems to go by that. So [laughs] I don't know.
MF: Do you do a lot of home recording or do you still use the studios?
RM: The first track of Limited Edition, "If I Needed Someone," was recorded in a studio in Nashville. We went up there expecting to use their board and a Studer 24-track. They were just kind of sitting there unused because they were recording it to a computer. And I went, wait a minute, I could do that at home! [laughs] I don't need to be here to do that. So after paying $6,000 to get the first track, I did the rest of it on Adobe Audition.
MF: You like that program?
RM: I like it yeah. I've got Sonar 4 Producer and Pro Tools.
MF: So, do you use mostly plug-ins for effects and processing or do you use any outboard stuff?
RM: I use one little outboard called a Jangle Box. It's a new product, it just came out, you can find it at JangleBox.com. It's a stompbox compressor, a really good-sounding one.
MF: What kind of banjo do you play?
RM: It's an Ode. They made it from a really old Vega rim. It's got a lot of brackets. It's really nicely done and they put a beautiful neck on it. It looks like mahogany.
MF: What do you run your Rickenbacker through when you're playing live?
RM: When I'm going live I just run through the JangleBox and then go wireless into the house.
MF: Do you have any guitar amps that you really love?
RM: For years I used the JC 120 Roland on the road. They stopped making the really good ones, they got kind of funny. It was hard to find a good one on the road, it was like the bass would be blown out of it. The mids would be blown out or something so I considered going direct. I used the Pod for awhile but I like this JangleBox better.
MF: They've come a long ways with that Pod stuff, too, huh?
RM: Yeah, the Pod's cool. It's got a lot of good effects in it.
MF: Do you have anything new coming out to keep our eyes peeled for?
RM: I'm working on a box set of my Folk Den Project. November will mark the 10th anniversary of The Folk Den. It's a project I've been doing every month since 1995, putting a traditional song up on the Internet at mcguinn.com in a section called the Folk Den. And to commemorate it I'm going to do a four-CD box set of all these songs.
MF: We'll look forward to that. Thanks for talking with us. It's been a pleasure and an honor.
RM: Thank you.