Amidst an intimate background of sprawling ferns and black curtains backed by red lighting that was made to look like stained glass, Roger McGuinn of the famous 60’s folk-rock group The Byrds appeared at Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, N.J. Saturday night.
This is the fourth time I’ve seen Roger over the past 20 years and he never fails to impress as he tells stories of his travels through life from his humble beginnings to traveling between New York and L.A. singing in various clubs and coffee houses and playing with such luminaries as The Chad Mitchell Trio, Hoyt Axton and Bobby Darin before forming The Byrds and later meeting the Beatles and Rolling Stones. At 76 years old he still retains his famous melodic, soft falsetto voice.
Alternating between six and 12 string acoustic guitars, banjo and 12 string electric Rickenbacker guitar Roger performed all his hits with the Byrds and solo hits. He started out with Bob Dylan’s song “My Back Pages (I was so much older then I’m younger than that now). Roger said he chose to open with that song because this would be a trip through his back pages.
When Roger performed the Welsh mining song “Bells of Rhymney” he said he received an e-mail from a woman in Wales who said, “We love you Roger, but you and the Byrds have been pronouncing our town all wrong for the last 40 years. It’s pronounced “Rum=nee.” Roger then did the song pronouncing it as it should be.
Roger told of traveling to Roswell, New Mexico where they have the flying saucer museum which is really interesting and then went into the hit song. “Mr. Spaceman” and got the audience singing along.
Roger told how a director friend of his was doing a motorcycle movie starring Peter Fonda. He needed a theme song for the movie and wrote a few words on a napkin and told Peter, “Give this to McGuinn. He’ll know what to do with it.” He said Peter flew to his house in New York from L.A. and gave him the envelope and Roger wrote “The Ballad of Easy Rider” which he sang for the movie and performed last night.
Roger went on to describe him meeting Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman when he formed The Byrds. He performed “Mr. Tamborine Man” “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” “Chestnut Mare” (a favorite of mine), “turn, turn, turn” and several others. When he plays his 12 string electric Rickenbacker it sounds like he is playing several instruments at once and has that “jingle jangle sound with a Beatles beat” as he describes it.
When Roger performed their hit song “Eight Miles High” he said he was with Chris Hillman on a plane flying to L..A. and Chris said, “How high are we flying?” and Roger said, “About 35,000 feet or about 7 miles” Chris said. “That would be a good song but seven miles high doesn’t sound right so why don’t we make it eight miles high?” When they played it on the radio DJs said ‘Planes don’t fly at 8 miles high they must be talking about that other kind of high.”
Roger closed the show with the popular Irish ballad “When the Road Comes Up to Meet You.”
According to his Wikipedia page, Roger has been married four times and to his fourth wife since 1978. He has two sons from his second wife. He is a registered Republican and endorsed Ben Carson. He and his wife are evangelical Christians.
If you get a chance to see him when he comes to a town near you be sure to check him out. Below you can see Roger tell about forming Mr. Tambourine Man and performing it. The video is a little shaky, but great story beforehand and a great performance.