Cameron interviews Roger McGuinn for the June, 1973 issue of Creem magazine. Topics include The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and much more. Happy Sunday reading!
Roger McGuinn on Past, Present and Future BYRDS
With a goose from David Crosby, everything’s ducky in Byrdland. For the time being. postflyte pensees by Cameron Crowe.
A reunion of the original Byrds is a subject that a lot of people have talked about for an awfully long time. When word made the rounds nearly a year ago that such a re-grouping was within the realm of possibility, the general consensus of opinion was that people would believe it only when an album was on the racks. Well, an album is now on the racks and, so we hear, already enough homes to assure it of gold status.
But questions remain to be answered. Is the reunion a one-shot venture, or a move of relative permanence? In either case, what is to become of the Clarence White-Skip Battin Byrds? To get the answers to these questions – and more – reporter Cameron Crowe was dispatched to Los Angeles, where he talked with Roger McGuinn, original leader of the Byrds and the man who has carried the group name for the last five years. The interview was conducted before the release of the album, and when we later spoke with McGuinn, he indicated that tours of both America and Europe appear to be firm. But if these Byrds are consistent with their history, the only thing that can be counted on is that the future will most probably not work out the way it’s set down on paper.
How did the decision come about to make the original Byrds album?
Well, it’s not clear to anybody really… it just sorta happened. It was a spontaneous thing where a lot of people would serve to gain by a reunion album. Nobody really pushed for it very hard, which is partly why it happened. It was sorta “how’d ya like to…,” an open invitation to all the original Byrds. Nobody stood to lose anything, even David Crosby, who really didn’t stand to gain by it because he was already doing okay by himself. I think he wanted to reinstate himself as a Byrd,; his pride was at stake. He didn’t like the idea that I continued the group without him.
There were two different points of view, one is business and the other aesthetic. Michael Clarke stood to gain quite a bit. Chris Hillman was doing okay and I was doing all right. I could’ve passed it up, but then I thought, well, it could be pretty big. It could reopen the catalog of past Byrds albums and a lot of people would probably like to hear the new one. Looking at it aesthetically.
Looking back on kicking Crosby out of the band, do you think it was a mistake?
I regretted it after I did it, because he was a good singer and a valuable writer. A very talented guy. It was just an ego trip I was on. But on the other hand, I think it was necessary because we just couldn’t work with him. It was one of those situations.
Do you remember the day you kicked him out?
Yeah. Chris and I roared up to his house in our Porsches…we had just reached the decision to get rid of him. We walked inside and he was real excited, saying “hey, I knew it was you two. I heard the Porsches.” His morale was way up. Then we told him and he was really depressed. I kinda felt bad about it, but we just couldn’t work with him.
Didn’t a lot of the tension come to a head at Monterey?
Yeah. He said some things that may or may not have been true and were certainly not appropriate for the situation. He said, “Paul McCartney just said in London that everybody should take acid, because it’s good for you.” So what. He also said something to the effect that the CIA had killed Kennedy and not Lee Harvey Oswald, and that the Warren Report was false. That may be true, but it certainly didn’t belong at a concert. I didn’t see the pertinence of it; it was irrelevant. The audience was a little put off. It was sorta embarrassing.
Do you think that you underestimated Crosby?
Probably so. But the thing that made people underestimate him was his insistence on telling you how intelligent and talented he was. He was so insecure that he had to lay it all out for you verbally, and when somebody does that you don’t believe him. If you really are, you don’t have to say it. But it so happens that he really is talented, but he said it anyway because he didn’t believe it or something. He believes it now and doesn’t say it as much.
What was the format first planned for the Byrds?
We were all folksingers who wanted to rock and roll a little bit. We planned for it be a rock and roll band with folk music overtones… undertones, whatever.
Who was responsible for recording Dylan?
Tim Dunning was our first manager and a good friend of Dylan’s. He got the dub of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and played it for us, telling us that it would definitely be a hit song if we did it. We were very suspicious and kinda went “oh yeaaaaaa?” But he was right.
What is your relationship with Dylan at the present?
Well, it’s just sort of nil. I haven’t talked to him for a long time. I was supposed to do an album with him awhile back and that didn’t work out.
How did you originally get into country & western music?
Chris Hillman did it. He’s from San Diego and I guess he heard a lot of country music down there. We were all folksingers, but when I first met him, he was a bluegrass mandolin player. I was into country music a little bit, but not as much…being from Chicago.
And he was the one that found Gram Parsons.
Yea, it was Hillman’s way of securing the Byrds stay in country music. Parsons was very firmly rooted in country.
Were you sorry to see the Byrds slip into the c&w thing?
That’s not exactly right. I was sorry to see the Byrds stay in country and western. At first I thought it was fun. You know, like going out on a camping trip or something. Country’s great, but you miss the city after a while.
Do you think country music killed the Byrds in the end?
No. I think the Byrds were hot in ’65 and not as hot in ’66. By ’67, it wouldn’t have mattered what type of music we were playing. The standard run you get a success is between six months and a year, unless you can keep poppin’ those number one hits off like the Beatles and Stones did. So we were down before we even tried country music. But we’re going up again. The original Byrds album is a gold album. A million dollars worth before it’s even released.
What were the first rehearsals for this new one like?
Uh, tense. Everybody was a little nervous about things.
How did you approach the situation?
It was very businesslike. David and I had been playing songs to each other for a couple days beforehand, so David started off by saying, “Roger why don’t you show them one of your songs.” We all went around the room and everybody showed his material. Then we all exchanged opinions about what was good and what wasn’t. Very businesslike. We got into a groove after that, when we finally started recording.
I heard that there was some friction between you and David…
No it wasn’t between me and David. It was Chris and David. It was over whether Stephen Stills was going to succeed in sabotaging the project or not. He didn’t try very hard.
Was it over Hillman?
David was just worried that Stephen would use Hillman to his advantage…against David. That didn’t happen. If he had wanted to use Chris, he wouldn’t have been able to because Chris was into the project too much. Stephen has always admired Chris, ever since the days when he asked him to manage the Buffalo Springfield. Hillman asked me to co-manage them, but I didn’t feel qualified. And I didn’t particularly think they were that hot, but that was just my ego. I wasn’t into listening with a full ear.
Did you find that the band had pretty much stayed the same?
No, they’d all gotten better at everything. Better at singing, playing, performing, just being people. They’d all mellowed out a lot.
Were you or are you a satisfied musician with the Clarence White-Skip Battin Byrds?
No. Actually, I’m gonna disband that group. I like Clarence White and the other members of the group, but I want to do something else.
What stage is your solo album in now?
It’s at the stage where most of the material is recorded, but hasn’t been sweetened with guitar licks and some harmonies. It needs a mix-down.
What’s Crosby’s role with your album?
He’s gonna help me out. He’ll sing harmonies and stuff like that. I’ll be producing it myself, but I don’t know if he’ll get a co-producer’s credit or not. We’ll have an album of both of us – a duet album – due out in the springtime. Atlantic had to give Columbia this shot at David so that the original Byrds album could be released on Asylum.
What are the chances right now for a Byrds’ tour?
It’s up in the air, but it looks pretty good. We got offered $100,000 for one night in London. It’ll be next summer.
Will there be a Byrds as long as there’s a Roger McGuinn?
I doubt it. I’m letting the Byrds title be applied to the original group again and there might be another Byrds album next year.
So for a while there will be a Byrds…
Oh, there’ll be a Byrds. It’ll just be the original Byrds. It’s coming around again to the original group, and I think it’s only fair that those guys get to use the name. They have more right to it than Clarence White or Skip Battin.
Will the original Byrds be a regular thing?
I think things might work out all right on a casual basis.
Do you think this reforming might unearth the same conflicts that helped kill the band the first time around?
It’s not gonna happen. That’s the whole idea of having it on a casual basis. So that it’s sort of load-back. So that it won’t get to where you find yourself so close to somebody that you can’t escape the bullshit.
Courtesy of Creem – Cameron Crowe – June, 1973