Personalities | Roger McGuinn | Signature Sounds | Guitar Heroes

James Joseph McGuinn (b. 1942) was raised in Chicago and became a fan of folk music as a teenager. He asked for and received a guitar from his parents after hearing Elvis’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. In 1957, McGuinn entered Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, where he studied five-string banjo and guitar.

McGuinn’s skills and solo performances attracted the attention of recording artists in the burgeoning folk-music craze, and by 1964, he had been a member of The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin’s band. As a session musician for Darin’s New York publishing company, he recorded with Hoyt Axton, Judy Collins and a young duo named Tom & Jerry, soon to become Simon & Garfunkel. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1964 was the move that would initiate the making of McGuinn’s legend.

In LA, McGuinn met singer-guitarist David Crosby and singer-songwriter Gene Clark, with whom McGuinn released a failed single as The Beefeaters before adding bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke to form The Byrds. The goal was to bring elements of the British invasion sound to the folk-influenced modern songs of Bob Dylan and the band’s writers. The first single, Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, featured McGuinn’s new, revolutionary guitar sound: a Rickenbacker 12-string heavily compressed in the studio to create a jingly sustain that would influence guitarists for decades. McGuinn would later adapt the sound for the spacey ambience of The Byrdspsychedelic hit ‘Eight Miles High’ (1966).

Along the way, Chicago’s Jim McGuinn was renamed Roger by the founder of the Subud spiritual group. The original Byrds would enjoy enormous success, but would soon split, reform and spawn solo careers. McGuinn has continued to tour and record solo albums, his latest release being 2011’s sea shanty-inspired CCD. He has also become an internet pioneer artist, covering classic songs on his Folk Den website. In November 2005, McGuinn released a four-CD box set containing 100 of his favourite songs from the Folk Den. But he will forever be remembered as the guitarist who melded folk, country, rock and psychedelia into a signature guitar sound.

Essential Recordings

The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man

The Byrds: Turn! Turn! Turn!

The Byrds: Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

Solo: Roger McGuinn & Band

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