Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Roger McGuinn will appear solo, performing classic hits as well as new material from his recently self-released album, "Limited Edition." The new CD features a youthful-sounding return to his electric folk roots and includes his latest endeavor, what he calls "pho-kop," a homespun mix of traditional folk with hip-hop beats.
"That was just a fun experiment," he says, via phone from Florida. "I've always liked combining new and old together. Back in the '60s, I would add Moog synth to five-string banjo."
McGuinn began his career in the early '60s playing traditional folk with The Limelighters and backing crooner Bobby Darin. Spurred by his early love of the Beatles, he plugged in his trademark 12-string guitar, bumped up the time signature and ushered in the electric folk movement a crucial element of the '60s pop landscape.
McGuinn is best known as co-founder of the influential rock band The Byrds, which scored several hits in the mid-'60s after Miles Davis helped them get a contract. They also recorded one of the first classic rock-to-traditional-country crossover albums ("Sweetheart of the Rodeo") with singer/songwriter Gram Parsons. Future groups such as The Eagles, Tom Petty, R.E.M., The Jayhawks and countless others have since incorporated elements of McGuinn's laid-back sound.
"['Sweetheart'] has a cult following, as does Gram kind of a James Dean thing," McGuinn says. "He was an interesting guy bright, intelligent, bit of a spoiled rich kid. He made me mad with that story about not wanting to tour South Africa with The Byrds because of apartheid. That wasn't true. Mick Jagger had gotten ahold of him and he wanted to hang with Mick. But in spite of that, I liked him. We had fun together riding motorcycles and playing pool."
Because of constant lineup changes and infighting, The Byrds flamed out, and McGuinn began a solo career that sputtered through the '70s with moments of glory and a few overproduced duds. He eventually hit bottom during the hallowed 1975-76 Rolling Thunder tour with Bob Dylan, which he recalls as a "high point artistically and a low point morally."
"I was having a lot of fun and my marriage was breaking up because of it," he says. "Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Ramblin' Jack Elliott were all on the bus. It was too much fun."
After ridding himself of a drug problem, McGuinn did what many a former burnout has done: He became a born-again Christian. "The spirituality is a positive thing that dictates what I do lyrically," he says. "No negative lyrics about murder or anything. But it's more of a personal lifestyle than an artistic influence."
Nowadays, McGuinn spends his time recording and releasing music from his computer (his Folk Den project distributes monthly covers of traditional folk via MP3) as well as touring with wife and manager, Camilla, who grew up in Roanoke and attended Longwood College.
He plans to release a four-CD Folk Den box set for the 10th anniversary of the project in November and sounds especially excited about the new Martin 7-string acoustic guitar that he designed, with an extra G-string tuned an octave higher for midrange boost and versatility.
Occasionally, he finds time to guest-jam with The Rock Bottom Remainders, the part-time group of famous author/amateur musicians that includes Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Matt Groening the "only band in the world," McGuinn says, "to have sold a combined 200 million books."
"They're great fun," McGuinn says. "Their lyrics are just OK, though mostly satirical stuff."
McGuinn says that of all his legendary stage collaborators, Dylan had the greatest impact on him: "He's always been an inspiration. Those early lyrics showed such amazing imagination."
What's next for McGuinn? He says he plans to keep touring as long as possible. "There is new interest in The Byrds I get a lot of e-mail from 20-year-olds," he says. "George Burns nailed it when he said, 'You stick around long enough, you get new again' or something." S
Roger McGuinn performs at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen on Saturday, March 5. Tickets are $22 in advance or $25 at the door.
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