So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star: Hall of Famer Roger McGuinn comes to Monmouth University this weekend, for a Music Industry Workshop on Friday and a Pollak Theatre concert on Saturday night.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 28, 2009)
I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
Those words, from Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” were brought chart-toppingly to life by The Byrds and their granny-glasses wearing frontguy Roger McGuinn in 1967. When they came out of the West to carry the American standard against the Brit invaders of the mid-60s, McGuinn and company weren’t so much rock stars as young veterans of the jug bands and hootenannies of the nation’s folk scene — earnest pickers and harmonizers who adapted Dylan and Pete Seeger to a slightly trippy template defined by the signature jingle-jangle of McGuinn’s 12-string guitar.
Some forty years after the first Byrds recordings, the man who was present at the creation of modern-times country rock released The Folk Den Project, a four-disc, 100-song box set of traditional folk standards, collected from his regular downloadable postings on his professional looking official website.
When he rolls into Monmouth University this weekend for two separate events — a Music Industry Workshop conducted at Wilson Auditorium on Friday afternoon, and a Saturday night concert at the Pollak Theatre in tandem with former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian — McGuinn will represent himself as a performer who’s deeply rooted in American musical tradition, while standing as a passionate advocate for do-it-yourself technology and peer-to-peer musician communities. A firm believer in the transcendent power of old-fashioned live performance, and a man who doesn’t mind telling you about the 6.4 kilowatt solar panel system he installed in his home. A man who looks both forward and back. So much older then, and younger now.
Red Bank oRBit spoke to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as he embarked upon his current tour. Continue Reading for the virtual back pages.
RED BANK ORBIT: You’ve been to Monmouth in the past, correct? Anywhere else on the Jersey Shore?
ROGER McGUINN: I remember playing the Steel Pier in Atlantic City a long time ago — and I’m pretty sure I played Convention Hall. I’ve done ‘em all, Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall…
You still do a good amount of touring, but do you take it at a more relaxed pace these days? How important is to maintain a certain comfort zone on the road?
I travel by road when I tour; I have a Ford van that’s equipped with TV, internet, iPhone — plus I get to drive myself!
When I travel to Europe I like to take a cruise ship — I’ll do a couple of lectures while I’m on board. It’s like it’s the 1930s, and I’m Cole Porter! Anyway, it’s not wise to fly with instruments. They break them, and then they’ll give you 200 dollars.
So what can you tell us about the show we’ll be seeing at Monmouth?
John Sebastian is co-billed on this tour, and it’s up to him whether he wants to open or close the show. He’s solo; he’ll sing some songs and tell some stories and then I’ll come out and do three songs with him. I tell stories also. John and I have known each other since we were green; we work so well together that we don’t bother running a set list until the day of the show.
Do you kind of “read” the audience to figure where the show’s going to go? And do you prefer the more intimate spaces these day, what with all the storytelling?
We’ve played all kinds of different venues, from 300 to 2500 people — I actually don’t like them so big, because of the time shift — the amount of time it takes for something to register with people all the way in the back of the room.
You’re one of the first musicians of your generation to really take the lead on the new tech opportunities out there — could we safely surmise that a lot of the reason is because of your past experiences with record labels, agents, business managers?
Well, the old business model was for the band to get a million dollar advance from the record company, and then spend the rest of their career paying it back to them. Now you can get a MacBook and ProTools and do it all yourself.
You’ve done really well with your self-produced recordings, but aren’t there times when you get the urge to do it the old-school way, with all of the musicians in the studio at once?
There are times when a live-in-studio project is just what’s needed for a certain song. Tom Petty did the entirety of Full Moon Fever in Mike (Campbell)’s garage. But these days, the studio is like paper.
It’s like paper in that paper is a dying medium. They should outlaw paper.
I read an interview in which you credited one of your old sound engineers from the 60s with helping you to develop that jingle-jangle sound. Don’t you think that if all of this D.I.Y. tech had existed back then, you would never have met the guy, and your sound might not have crystalized in quite the way that it did?
That’s a good question, but — I’ve been in the studio for 40 years, always trying to learn new things, and I know about things like compression. If I hadn’t had that experience, I might have benefitted from his knowledge.
What kinds of topics are you going to cover in your workshop on May 1st?
I’ll cover guitar technique; talk about peer-to-peer communities, and how they’re great for artists and bad for corporations.
You’re not much of a fan of the big entertainment conglomerates, are you?
I have no sympathy for the recording industry — no recompense for the wicked. And this is not sour grapes; they really were that wicked. In a business in which one of the goals is to strike that balance between art and commerce, it was always the commerce guys who had all the real fun.