DDV Music - Music Information and Education

Roger McGuinn

Roger McGuinnin a recent publicity photo
Roger McGuinn
in a recent publicity photo

Roger McGuinn (born James Joseph McGuinn III on July 13, 1942) is a popular rock American singer-songwriter and guitarist of the 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for being the lead singer and lead guitarist on many of The Byrds' hit records, the pioneering folk-rock band of the 1960s, contributing much to the band's unique sound.

Early life/music career

He was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, to parents, James and Dorothy, the two were involved in journalism and public relations, and during his childhood, they penned a bestseller titled Parents Can't Win. He attended The Latin School of Chicago. He became interested in music after hearing Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," and asked his parents to buy him a guitar. In the early 1980s, he paid tribute to the song that encouraged him to pick up the guitar that he credited "Heartbreak Hotel" to his autobiographical show. Around the same time, he was also influential with country artists and/or groups such as, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and The Everly Brothers.

In 1957, he enrolled as a student at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, where he mastered the five-string banjo and continued to hone his guitar skills. After graduation, McGuinn performed solo at various coffeehouses on the folk music circuit where he was discovered and hired as a sideman by folk groups such as the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Judy Collins as well as playing guitar and singing backup harmony for Bobby Darin. Soon after, he moved to the West Coast, winding up in Los Angeles, where he eventually met the future members of The Byrds.

In 1962, at 20, after he left the Chad Mitchell Trio, Bobby Darin had hired him to work as a backup guitarist. Around that time, he wanted to add some folk to his roots thinking it was a new act to follow. In a few weeks after McGuinn's hiring, Darin lost his voice and retired from singing for the time being. Thanks to McGuinn's experience, he decided to open T.M. Music in New York City's Brill Building where Darin's mentor had the offices. Around 1963, just one year before he joined the Byrds, he went solo and recorded such acts such as Hoyt Axton and Simon and Garfunkel. At that very same time, he had also heard of The Beatles, thinking that Beatlemania would crossed over its path, involving folk music. When Bob Hippard gave McGuinn a job in Los Angeles, Bob Troubadour, had seasoned his act with most of the Beatles songs, therefore, he would turn his attention to another folkie who was equivalent with the fab four, Gene Clark, to join forces with McGuinn in The Byrds, in July of 1964.

During his time with the Byrds, McGuinn developed two innovative and highly influential styles of electric guitar playing: the so-called "jingle- jangle"--generating ringing arpeggios based on banjo fingerpicking styles he learned while at the Old Town School--and a merging of saxophonist John Coltrane's free-jazz atonalities (harmolodics) with the drone of the Indian sitar, a style of playing first heard on the Byrds' 1966 single "Eight Miles High".

While tracking the Byrds' first single, "Mr. Tambourine Man," at Columbia studios, McGuinn discovered a key ingredient of his signature sound. "The 'Rick' by itself is kind of thuddy," he details. "It doesn't ring. But if you add a compressor, you get that long sustain. To be honest, I found this by accident. The engineer, Ray Gerhardt, would run compressors on everything to protect his precious equipment from loud rock and roll. He compressed the heck out of my 12-string, and it sounded so great we decided to use two tube compressors [likely Teletronix LA-2As] in series, and then go directly into the board. That's how I got my 'jingle-jangle' tone. It's really squashed down, but it jumps out from the radio. With compression, I found I could hold a note for three or four seconds, and sound more like a wind instrument. Later, this led me to emulate John Coltrane's saxophone on 'Eight Miles High.' Without compression, I couldn't have sustained the riff's first note."

"I practiced eight hours a day on that 'Rick'," he continues, "I really worked it. In those days, acoustic 12s had wide necks and thick strings that were spaced pretty far apart, so they were hard to play. But the Rick's slim neck and low action let me explore jazz and blues scales up and down the fretboard, and incorporate more hammer-ons and pull-offs into my solos. I also translated some of my banjo picking techniques to the 12-string. By combining a flatpick with metal fingerpicks on my middle and ring fingers, I discovered I could instantly switch from fast single-note runs to banjo rolls and get the best of both worlds."

Another sound that McGuinn has developed is done by playing a seven string guitar, featuring a doubled G-string (with the second string tuned an octave higher). The C. F. Martin guitar company has even released a special edition called the HD7 Roger McGuinn Signature Edition, that supposedly captures McGuinn's signature "jingle-jangle" tone which he created with 12 string guitars.

In 1968 he was involved in the groundbreaking Byrds album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, to which many attribute the rise in popularity of country rock. After the break-up of the Byrds, McGuinn released several solo albums, and later toured with Bob Dylan during his 1975 and 1976 "Rolling Thunder Revue" and opened for Dylan and Tom Petty in 1987. He currently tours as a solo artist.

Roger McGuinn has used the World Wide Web to continue the folk tradition since November 1995 by recording a different folk song each month on his Folk Den site. The songs are made available from his web site and a selection (with guest vocalists) was released on CD as Treasures from the Folk Den. In November 2005 McGuinn released a four-CD box set containing one hundred of his favorite songs from the Folk Den.

On July 11, 2000, McGuinn testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on downloading music from the Internet that artists do not always receive the royalties that (non-Internet based) record companies state in contracts, and that to date, The Byrds had not received any royalties for their biggest hits, "Mr. Tamborine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" - they only received advances, which were split five ways and amounted to just "a few thousand dollars" per bandmember. He also stated that he was receiving 50 percent royalties from MP3.com.

Religious faith and name changes

In 1965, McGuinn was initiated into the Subud religious sect, and practiced latihan, a >meditation in which he opened himself up to receiving spiritual guidance. McGuinn changed his name in 1967 after his guru told him it would better "vibrate with the universe." The guru sent Jim the letter "R" and asked him to send back ten names starting with that letter. Owing to a fascination with airplanes, gadgets and science fiction, he sent names like "Rocket," "Retro," "Ramjet," and "Roger," the latter a term used in signalling protocol over two-way radios, military and civil aviation. Roger was the only "real" name in the bunch and the guru picked it. While using the name Roger professionally from that time on, McGuinn only officially changed his middle name from Joseph to Roger.

In 1977 McGuinn become a born-again Christian.


  • Roger McGuinn (1973)
  • Peace on You (1974)
  • Roger McGuinn and Band (1975)
  • Cardiff Rose (1976)
  • Thunderbyrd (1977)
  • Back from Rio (1990)
  • Born to Rock & Roll (1992)
  • Live from Mars (1996)
  • McGuinn's Folk Den (4 volumes) (2000)
  • Treasures from the Folk Den (2001)
  • Back to New York (2002)
  • Live from Electric Lady Land (2002)
  • Limited Edition (2004)
  • The Folk Den Project (2005)

Cardiff Rose, 1976

  1. Take Me Away
  2. Jolly Roger
  3. Rock and Roll Time
  4. Friend
  5. Partners in Crime
  6. Up to Me
  7. Round Table
  8. Pretty Polly
  9. Dreamland
  10. Soul Love (demo recording)
  11. Dreamland (live)

Thunderbyrd, 1977

  1. All Night Long
  2. It's Gone
  3. Dixie Highway
  4. American Girl
  5. We Can Do It All Over Again
  6. Why Baby Why
  7. I'm Not Lonely Anymore
  8. Golden Loom
  9. Russian Hill

Back from Rio, 1990

  1. Someone To Love
  2. Car Phone
  3. You Bowed Down
  4. Suddenly Blue
  5. The Trees Are All Gone
  6. King Of The Hill
  7. Without Your Love
  8. The Time Has Come
  9. Your Love Is A Gold Mine
  10. If We Never Meet Again

Born to Rock & Roll, 1992

  1. I'm So Restlessten
  2. My New Woman
  3. Draggin'
  4. The Water Is Wide
  5. Same Old Sound
  6. Bag Full Of Money
  7. Gate of Horn
  8. Peace On You
  9. Lover Of The Bayou
  10. Stone (The Lord Loves A Rolling Stone)
  11. Lisa
  12. Take Me Away
  13. Jolly Roger
  14. Friend
  15. Dreamland
  16. Dixie Highway
  17. American Girl
  18. Up To Me
  19. Russian Hill
  20. Born To Rock And Roll

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Roger McGuinn