Roger McGuinn - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica
Roger McGuinn will forever be recognized for his pioneering musical efforts in the Byrds and for being one of the first to realize the potential of Bob Dylan's songs within a rock music context. However, his greatest long-lasting influence may be his development of two innovative styles of electric guitar playing. First, McGuinn was responsible for introducing the jangley highly compressed ringing Rickenbacker sound based on banjo finger picking that defined the initial sound of the Byrds. He was also one of the first musicians to merge the free-jazz atonalities of John Coltrane into popular music by applying it to the electric guitar, a sound clearly heard on the Byrd's classic 1966 single, "Eight Miles High." A talented songwriter and gifted interpreter, McGuinn has been at the center of several significant stylistic movements, including the initial electrification of folk music and the merging of country and rock music, before either musical path was accepted or popular. McGuinn has also been ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, being one of the first pioneer musicians to embrace the internet and utilizing it to preserve the traditions of folk music with his Folk Den Project on his own website.
After numerous personnel changes over the course of nearly a decade, in February of 1973, McGuinn disbanded the latest configuration of the Byrds to make way for a reunion project of the original quintet. Recorded for David Geffen's fledgling Asylum Records label, the Byrds reunion (and final studio) album was issued the following month. Despite containing original material and choice covers written by the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, the album met with mixed reviews. A planned reunion tour in support of the album never materialized and the five members again went their separate ways. In June of 1973, McGuinn's self-titled album appeared on Columbia. Self-produced, McGuinn's solo debut was an impressive return to form. Intentionally avoiding the elaborate production that often diminished later-era Byrds' recordings, the album was an organic, simply crafted affair that was direct, finely honed, and an honest representation of McGuinn as a solo artist.
For the first time since his pre-Byrds years in the early 1960s, McGuinn took to the road performing alone. This solo performance, recorded at the Performance Center in Cambridge, Massachussetts by sound engineer, Dinky Dawson (also front of house engineer for the Byrds), finds McGuinn in strong form, performing a wide range of material both old and new.
McGuinn's performance is divided into two distinct parts, with the initial portion of the show performed on acoustic instruments, and the second half on his trademark Rickenbacker electric guitar. One of the most gifted Dylan interpreters, the acoustic portion begins with an engaging performance of a new Dylan song at the time, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," which McGuinn would later record on his third album the following year. One of the more surprising original songs follows with "Get To You," which McGuinn and Gene Clark originally penned for The Notorious Byrd Brothers album in 1967. (It was incorrectly credited to McGuinn/Hillman on the album credits.) Fueled by the loneliness of road life and travel, this unusual waltz-like number is one of the early highlights of this set.
Featured on McGuinn's debut solo album, the social commentary of "Hanoi Hanna," comes next, a song written with his frequent collaborator, songwriter and theatrical director, Jacques Levy. The next three numbers explore McGuinn's deep well of traditional folk music, beginning with an extremely rare performance of "Copper Kettle," a song praising moonshining composed by Albert Frank Beddoe that became popular through Joan Baez's recording in the early 1960s. McGuinn follows this with another celebration of alcohol with "Skillet Good and Greasy," before switching from acoustic guitar to banjo for a brief instrumental that segues directly into the traditional "Pretty Polly."
For the remainder of the performance McGuinn switches to electric guitar, beginning with Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," which clearly conveys his innovations as he applies his banjo-picking technique to his Rickenbacker. A similar wash of sound is next applied to David Whiffen's "Lost My Driving Wheel," another standout from McGuinn's first album. A mesmerizing "Eight Miles High" follows, stripped of all other instrumentation, makes a clear case for McGuinn being one of the more innovative guitarists of the 1960s, particularly on the ominous Coltranesque opening.
Three more songs from the prime Byrds-era wind the set to a close, beginning with another career defining number, "Turn, Turn, Turn." McGuinn then engages the audience as a rhythm section for a romp through the traditional, "Old Blue," before bringing it to a close with another Dylan penned Byrds hit, "Chimes of Freedom." Although it begins already in progress, McGuinn, still on electric guitar, also treats the audience to a heartbreaking encore of "Sweet Mary," another writing collaboration with Levy and one of his contributions to the Byrds reunion album the previous year.
In many ways this set not only reflects where McGuinn had been, but also can be seen as an early blueprint for where he would journey in his live performances decades later. Although not chronologically structured, McGuinn's set is a virtual travelogue through the various elements that influenced him as a musician, taking the listener on a compelling journey through his life as a musician.