Roger McGuinn Discography
Roger McGuinn Bibliography
The Old Town School of Folk Music
The Old Town School of Folk Music on Chicago's North Side was founded by Win Stracke and Frank Hamilton in 1957. At that time it offered classes in banjo, guitar, and folk dancing. McGuinn was one of the school's first students; later alums include John Prine and Steve Goodman. Over the years, Old Town has staged concerts by many major folk musicians.
Today the school offers classes in many traditional instruments, as well as blues, Latin and African music. In 1994 the school announced its plans to expand to a larger building and increase its Spanish language offerings.
The leader of the Byrds was born James Joseph McGuinn III in Chicago on July 13, 1942. During his youth, McGuinn and his parents, James and Dorothy, lived in a comfortable neighborhood on Chicago's Near North Side, and young McGuinn attended prep school. His parents became minor celebrities in their own right when their book of family humor called Parents Can't Win became a best-seller.
At age 13, McGuinn heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." He asked for, and got, a guitar for his 14th birthday and went to work learning the rock 'n' roll songs he loved. "I started with Elvis, and I was heavily into Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers and Johnny Cash -- that whole rockabilly, Memphis sound," McGuinn said in 1991.* In the '80s, McGuinn paid tribute to the song that made him pick up the guitar when he added "Heartbreak Hotel" to the autobiographical show that would eventually be captured on Live from Mars (Hollywood, 1996).
McGuinn was introduced to folk music when one of his teachers brought Bob Gibson into the classroom to play for his students. At the suggestion of this teacher, McGuinn enrolled in the just-opened Old Town School of Folk Music, the locus of Chicago's folk music community. There he learned guitar from future Weaver Frank Hamilton, later progressing to 5-string banjo and 12-string guitar. McGuinn studied at Old Town from 1957 to 1960, where Hamilton taught him not only instrumental technique, but also a broad folk music repertoire.
Even before graduating from high school, McGuinn began playing acoustic sets at local coffee houses and clubs, including Albert Grossman's Gate of Horn. At one such gig a member of the popular supper-club folk trio the Limeliters was sufficiently impressed to invite the teenage McGuinn to a hastily-arranged audition the next day. McGuinn passed, and the trio offered him a job on the spot as an accompanist. McGuinn said he would be pleased to join in a few months, as soon as he finished his last year of high school. The Limeliters returned to California, and McGuinn assumed he had heard the last of them, but shortly after graduation, he received a telegram from the Limeliters summoning him to Los Angeles. He played behind them at the Ash Grove, one of LA's leading folk venues, and on their LP Tonight in Person (RCA, 1960), but after just six weeks, McGuinn was sacked as part of a financial retrenchment by the trio.
McGuinn decided to try his luck as a solo artist in LA. At the Ash Grove he met another teenager: David Crosby. Said Crosby in 1991, "I was in awe of Roger because he was an actual working musician. He thought I was a dork." McGuinn countered: "No, I liked you. We exchanged guitar licks and became friends. I remember the day you taught me how to drive with a clutch in an old Chevy convertible. Then we went out to Santa Barbara to see your mom and she made us lamb sandwiches with avocado."*
The Chad Mitchell Trio
McGuinn moved to San Francisco to try his hand at the North Beach folk scene, but shortly after arriving he got an offer to accompany another commercial folk ensemble, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and left for Greenwich Village. McGuinn played with the Chad Mitchell Trio for more than two years, touring the country and appearing on the LPs Mighty Day on Campus (Kapp, 1961) and Live at the Bitter End (Kapp, 1962). McGuinn even toured South America with the Trio under the aegis of the State Department.
In 1962, McGuinn was approached about joining up with the New Christy Minstrels, and he was prepared to leave the Chad Mitchell Trio for that outfit when Bobby Darin offered him a job as a backing guitarist. Darin had decided to work some folk music into his sound by this time, and thought McGuinn would be a good accompanist for the new part of his act.
After a few months on the supper club circuit with McGuinn in tow, Darin lost his voice and temporarily retired from performing. (McGuinn never had the chance to play on any of Darin's records.) Luckily for McGuinn, Darin had decided to open his own music publishing company, T.M. Music, in New York's Brill Building, where Darin's mentor Don Kirshner had his offices. Darin hired McGuinn as part of his songwriting stable.
With fellow songwriter Frank Gari, McGuinn wrote a handful of surf songs in the style of the Beach Boys. These were released as singles by the City Surfers, a pre-fab studio group featuring McGuinn on guitar, Darin on drums, and Gari on vocals. In the US, the A-side of the first single "Beach Ball"/"Sun Tan Baby" (Capitol, July 1963) received some airplay in New York City but little elsewhere; later a cover of the song was a hit in Australia. The follow-up, "Powder Puff"/"50 Miles To Go" (Capitol, Sept. 1963) also stiffed in the States. McGuinn performs the "Beach Ball" (in a faux-Brian Wilson voice) in his autobiographical stage show and on Live from Mars.
McGuinn credits Bobby Darin for teaching him the show business verities: "The time I spent with Bobby was the most educational experience of my career. Bobby was a real pro.... He was old school, he taught me what the business was all about, how to get ahead. Basically, he taught me how to be a real performer."*
After a few months, McGuinn moved on. He spent his time gigging around Greenwich Village and working as a session guitarist and arranger. During this period, McGuinn recorded with the Irish Ramblers, Hoyt Axton, and Simon and Garfunkel (when they were still "Tom & Jerry"). Most importantly, McGuinn also arranged and played on Judy Collins #3 (Elektra, 1963), which featured a Pete Seeger song called "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
By the end of 1963, McGuinn had returned to LA to get his solo career off the ground. He had also heard the Beatles. Most other folk musicians derided the Beatles' music as pop fluff, perhaps correctly sensing that Beatlemania would wash away almost everything in its path, including the folk movement. McGuinn was different; he appreciated their music. When his friend Bob Hippard landed McGuinn a gig at LA's Troubadour, McGuinn peppered his act with Beatles songs. In short order, McGuinn attracted the attention of another folkie who was equally taken with the Fab Four: Gene Clark.
The story of the Byrds will be chronicled in detail in the forthcoming Byrds History Section; the following Chapter, Roger McGuinn, With the Byrds and Solo: 1964-1975 begins with a few words about McGuinn's role in the band and then picks up the story in 1973, when he dissolved the Byrds and launched his solo career.
"I started with Elvis...." DiPerna at 44.
"He thought I was a dork." Young at 44.
"Bobby was a real pro." Kiersh, "McGuinn" at 205.
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