YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsSongs


June 25, 1986|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — When Roger McGuinn takes the stage at Humphrey's on Thursday night, he's going to give San Diego a taste of what he's been up to since he grounded the Byrds, for good, more than a decade ago.

He'll sing and play songs from his solo albums, ranging from sea chanteys like "Jolly Roger" and "Jack Tarr the Sailor" to such introspective love songs as "Russian Hill," written with Bob Dylan collaborator Jacques Levy.

He might perform an acoustic version of "Chestnut Mare," as he did touring as a member of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

And he's sure to play at least a couple of songs--such as the Top 40 hit "Don't You Write Her Off"--from the three years in the late 1970s and early '80s when he toured and recorded with fellow ex-Byrds Gene Clark and Chris Hillman.

But McGuinn, 43, said he's also going to set the record straight on one very important matter: The Byrds are not back together.

A group calling itself the Byrds, which passed through here earlier in the year, had two original members in its lineup, but McGuinn wasn't one of them.

"And that's just not appropriate," McGuinn said by phone from Rochester, N.Y., one of the stops in a monthlong tour in which he's opening several arena dates for the Beach Boys and headlining a number of small clubs.

"The name should be laid to rest, like the Beatles. I stopped using the name in 1973 for reasons of artistic integrity. And the main thing that bothers me now is that fans expect to hear the Byrds, and that's not what they're getting.

"Besides, if anybody has the right to call his band the Byrds, it's me, and I don't want to do that. And if I don't think it's OK for me to do it, then it's not OK for anyone else to do it either."

McGuinn's 12-string guitar was the torch that welded together folk and electric rock in the middle 1960s to create the group's distinctive--and influential--sound.

McGuinn's nasal voice--both mournful and joyous--led the way for the soaring four-part harmonies on "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "Eight Miles High."

And long after the four other original Byrds had departed (by the end of 1969), McGuinn kept the Byrds' name--and the group's pioneering instincts--alive for a half dozen more albums, on which he defined and explored a country-rock fusion with the help of such sidemen as Clarence White and the late Gram Parsons.

He insists he likes working alone, although his solo career hasn't yielded him any hits. He hasn't had a record deal in five years, but that's a small price to pay for independence, McGuinn maintains.

"I'm really not in any rush," he said. "When a good deal presents itself, I'll take it, but there's no hurry.

"Actually, I'm having the time of my life right now. I'm finding plenty of work, and I really don't need the money. And I've had this really strong desire to be a solo artist ever since I began singing and playing guitar--just every time I've tried it, a group has come along."

Indeed, that's been a pattern in McGuinn's career--not just post-Byrds, but also before then. McGuinn began as a troubadour in the early 1960s American folk scene. He worked for some years with Judy Collins, the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Limeliters, each time spending the time in between as a solo artist.

Finally, in 1964, he vowed to go solo for good. But within months, he had teamed up with four fellow folkies--Clarke, Hillman and David Crosby--to form the Byrds, with a misspelling similar to the Beatles,' a group the five Americans hoped to emulate.

Instead, they created a sound of their own, and their first record, an electric cover of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," is said to have inspired Dylan to make the switch from pure folk to folk-rock himself.

In the years since, the Byrds have influenced more rock bands from around the world than just about anyone except Elvis Presley and the Beatles, most recently Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whose latest hit is a live version of the Byrds' classic "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star."

"He does it very well," McGuinn said of Petty's version. "He sounds just like I do on the original record. I guess that's why I like it."

The Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey's on Shelter Island was conceived five summers ago as a vehicle for pop-jazz, for the mellow instrumental strains of artists like John Klemmer, Chuck Mangione, Pat Metheny.

But this year, four acts--Roger McGuinn, the Roches, Jesse Colin Young and Donovan--provide a change of pace from all that jazz. All four evoke memories of the early 1960s folk scene, centered on Greenwich Village and far removed--both in music and in time--from San Diego's concert scene.

Appearing Thursday night with McGuinn are the Roches, a trio of sisters from New Jersey who surfaced in the mid-'70s with a modernized version of coffeehouse folk produced by King Crimson kingpin Robert Fripp.

Donovan, the original flower child, produced a series of breezy folk-rock hits in the '60s, from the psychedelic "Hurdy Gurdy Man" to the simplistic "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman."

Young, founder of the seminal '60s folk-rock group the Youngbloods, furthered the fusion of folk and electric rock with hits such as "Get Together," "Darkness Darkness" and "Sunlight."

"The era of the folk singer/songwriter is returning," said promoter Kenny Weissberg of Southland Concerts, producer of the Concerts by the Bay series.

"Ever since Springsteen showed he could sell records with (the acoustic album) 'Nebraska,' other rockers are showing their softer sides more often--and not just the veterans we have coming to Humphrey's but newer, emerging artists as well."

Los Angeles Times Articles