Two Old Friends and One New
For me, The Byrds were a major musical influence. English bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks were the first to electrify my creative soul and inspire me to play music. The Byrds, however, brought the musical thunder back to this side of the pond by electrifying folk songs. Their cool look framed in the California sun, with their heavy backbeat and thick harmonies were an undeniable sound on the radio, and I loved it. Their contribution, right alongside Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie are the bloodline that carries the pedigree to what is now considered “Americana.”
Roger McGuinn’s twelve string guitar powered the Byrds vocal blend with an unusual mystique that was different. It was revolutionary compared to the sounds coming out of LA at the time. Although marketed as a self-contained band, it’s no secret that the “Wrecking Crew” contributed to the first two singles, and through the years, the bands personnel was a confusing revolving door that many passed through. Incarnations included Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby and Clarence White. Through it all, however, Roger McGuinn’s voice coupled with his 12 string Rickenbacker WAS the one constant and most identifiable thread that gave any version of the Byrds, its sound.
When the chance to play a few shows with Roger came down the pipeline I admit, I was excited. The possibility brought back the joy and passion I felt all those years ago. I was a kid again in the living room of my parents house on my first drum set playing ‘Turn, Turn, Turn” to our portable stereo system. I remember my first pair of “granny glasses.” I traveled back in my mind to a Byrds concert I went to at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym in the early 70’s. I had recently read a Rolling Stone article about Clarence White and Gene Parsons rigging Clarence’s’ Esquire into a B bender which allowed the guitar to sound a like a steel guitar. I saw Clarence play that guitar, pulling on the strap to get those pulls. That night I heard them play Martin acoustics with what I assume to have been Barcus Berry pickups, remembering and being amazed at how real and wonderful those guitars sounded without being miked. Now, all these years later, Roger’s twelve string and Clarence’s B-bender would reunite since Marty owns and plays “Clarence” every night, and is a bona fide graduate student and scholar of the Clarence White style.
Here’s the story on how we got on board with Roger.
The first time we got to play together was when Marty invited him to join us at the Grand Ole Opry back in 2010. The last time Roger had been on the Opry stage was 42 years earlier with the Byrds. It was during the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album sessions, which was being recorded in Nashville and Gram Parsons was briefly in the band. They got a cool reception that night and the negativity surrounding their performance unfortunately became legend. Marty decided the time had come to right an old wrong, and his invitation to join us went out. When Roger arrived at sound check we worked up “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Later that night when he walked out on stage to a packed Ryman house, the audience greeted him like a hero, and when our thirty-minute segment was up, the dark cloud of that 1968 performance was redeemed forever.
Roger Backstage at the Ryman
Just Before the Opry set
About a year later we had Roger on our TV show, adding a few songs to our growing repertoire of songs to play with him.
On the RFD TV set
In the fall on 2013 we begin to gear up for a string of road dates and it starts right where it should, in Los Angeles. We start with a casual acoustic rehearsal at the Beverly Garland Hotel in Studio City, where we go over the set, general arrangements and vocals.
Our coded signage
New School and Old School
The next day was a “plugged in” version down the street in North Hollywood, and we start to feel like a band.
The following night our first show takes place at Pepperdine University in Malibu CA. During sound-check, “Clarence” decides to misbehave with a squeak that couldn’t be detected or silenced by any amount of WD 40. Up until ten minutes before show time, the back was off the guitar with our sound man, Mick Conley, Marty and an assortment of stagehands huddled around “Clarence” in an electronic medical triage. Finally, one of the stage hands points to the guitar’s bridge saddle and announces,..”Graphite.” Since none was available, Marty calls for a No 2 pencil and proceeds to apply a small amount and voila, squeak gone. Just in time too, after a quick change and his appointment with the tuning stand, the show was on, only a few minutes late.
After Pepperdine, we traveled to Poway, near San Diego for another show before splitting with Roger and driving up to Redding CA to perform at Merle Haggard’s daughter’s wedding on Merle’s ranch.
After leaving Merle’s, we met up with Roger for our final show in Modesto, where I felt I finally gelled with the set. I didn’t have to look at my cheat sheets, and the show set flowed.
We played a couple more shows back east last November, and perhaps a few more in the future, but I can tell you, this has been one memorable musical experience. One I will never forget.