This week's Byrds reunion featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman will bring back an important '60s rock legacy of chiming guitars, swelling harmonies and such landmark songs as "Eight Miles High" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."
But there is an unusual subtext for this first official flocking under the Byrds' banner since 1973--one that calls to mind a less sacrosanct '60s song title: "The Name Game."
McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman have decided to take the name "The Byrds" in hand so they won't have to worry about two other former Byrds usurping it to beat around rock's bush leagues. The three Southland club dates they have booked this week are part of a legal process by which McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman aim to secure "The Byrds" as a registered trademark that only they can use.
The dates don't signal any ongoing reformation of the Byrds, says McGuinn, the mainstay of the band from its inception in 1964 to its demise, after many lineup changes, in 1973. The purpose of the hastily arranged reunion is to have fun with the old songs, he said in a phone interview from his home in Florida--and to do a bit of business as the Byrds in order to meet legal requirements for registering a trademark. McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman will appear as the Byrds on Wednesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Thursday at the Bacchanal in San Diego and Friday at the Ventura Terrace Theater.
McGuinn, 46, said the impetus for the shows came when Crosby heard that a promoter in Florida was booking a tour for "The Byrds" that included only one original member, drummer Michael Clarke. It would be the latest in a series of Byrds tours over the past few years that have involved Clarke and/or Gene Clark, the fifth original Byrd (Crosby's manager, Bill Siddons, said that Clark has since agreed not to use the Byrds logo). McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman hope to preempt any repeats by securing the band name for themselves as a collective.
"Anybody who wanted to could go out there and operate under the name 'Byrds,' and that would be a travesty," the soft-spoken McGuinn said. "So we want to nail it down. Our motive is to stop innocent ticket buyers out there from being deceived."
Performing again as a Byrd is an about-face for McGuinn. He had been firmly against taking part in any reunions under the Byrds logo, which he abandoned after the original lineup re-formed for a one-shot album in 1973.
"There was a time when I strictly wanted to have the Byrds in the past," he said. But now McGuinn is softening. In June, he joined Crosby and Hillman for a 15-minute set at a benefit and tribute for the Ash Grove, the seminal Los Angeles music club. For that show at the Wiltern Theatre, they were billed individually, rather than as the Byrds. McGuinn said all three former Byrds enjoyed the reunion and told each other they ought to do to it again sometime.
McGuinn also is more amenable to a Byrds regrouping because of Crosby's recovery from drug addiction.
"He's just a different person now," McGuinn said. "He's fun to be around and fun to work with. He's not like he used to be, and that's a strong incentive."
McGuinn said it was Crosby who persuaded him to stop using the Byrds name himself after he had led a series of shifting '70s band lineups in which McGuinn was the only link to the group's '60s legacy.
"Crosby was upset with me when I was going out and doing it in the early '70s. We had a long talk about it, and I decided he was right. And that's why I put (the name) to bed."
The upcoming Byrds shows are "not a trial run" for a more permanent arrangement or a formal reunion project, McGuinn said. "I think it'd be fun to pursue it further, but I'm not sure on what level, or when." If the time comes, he said, he would be open to having the two other original Byrds be part of the reunion.
Hillman, after a long career drought, is doing well again as a country rocker fronting the Desert Rose Band. Crosby has been keeping a high profile with the publication of his autobiography as well as a new album with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and an upcoming solo album, "Oh Yes I Can," that is due for release Jan. 31.
McGuinn's recording career has been on hold through most of the '80s but he continues to tour as a solo act, focusing mainly on the Byrds repertoire.
"It's a wonderful thing, a fulfilling thing to do. I don't have any plans to get a band together in the near future. I enjoy working solo. I'm doing fine, but (a rekindled recording career) will be nice when it happens."
For the past year, McGuinn has been cutting back on his usual 100-dates-per-year touring regimen to devote time to another project: an autobiography that he said is scheduled to be published later this year by E.P. Dutton.
With a story that begins in the folk-boom of the early '60s, proceeds through the dawning of folk rock and takes detours for a role in Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and a couple of religious conversions (the first of which led to a name change from Jim to Roger), McGuinn should have plenty to recount. And who knows--with the unexpected resurrection and prospective legal registration of one of rock's most honored band names, perhaps there will be other Byrds chapters to write.