For those who grew up in the 1960s, the sound of the “jingly-jangly” 12-string electric guitar of Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn and the Byrds has always been a quintessential Southern California sound. Although McGuinn makes his home these days in Orlando, Florida, he is returning to the Los Angeles area for a concert at Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre on December 5.
The Mirror had the privilege of talking recently with McGuinn about his current activities, such as his ongoing online archive of traditional folk song, the Folk Den, and his views on music and media.
You’re associated with the Southern California image. When did you move to Florida and why?
I’ve lived in Orlando, Florida since 1991. I lived in California for about 20 years. I lived all over the place – I lived in Laurel Canyon and Malibu and even Century City. Then we moved up to Morro Bay and lived up there for a couple of years. The way my concert tours were structured, I would have to fly to the East Coast every couple of weeks and then rent a car and drive around. We got tired of all that flying and decided to get closer to the concert venues. I didn’t want to live in the cold weather and I didn’t want to live in the deep South, so Florida, at least Orlando, is kind of like somebody took a laser beam and cut out part of California and dropped it in Florida – because of Walt Disney and all that. It’s like a little California over here on the East Coast.
What do you think of the music scene today?
I’m not really in touch with the music scene in L.A. any more. I really don’t follow it. I don’t listen to radio so I have no idea what’s on the radio. To me, radio is an obsolete communication form from the last century. I don’t know anybody who listens to radio. (Later in the interview, McGuinn admitted that he might have been too harsh in his judgement of radio, explaining that he listens to, and supports, public radio).
Tell me about the Folk Den project.
I started the Folk Den back in 1995 when I was listening to a Smithsonian Folkways album of traditional music, and I realized that I wasn’t hearing a lot of traditional songs any more, because the new batch of folk singers were singer-songwriters like the Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan style of writing songs. It occurred to me that the traditional kind of folk music could get lost in the shuffle if somebody didn’t do something about it. The Internet had just opened up and I knew how to record songs and put them up on there for free downloads, which I did – and I put the lyrics and the chords and a story about the song and a picture. The idea was to keep the old songs alive so that people would download them and learn them and share them with their families and friends.
I’ve been doing one every month since November of 1995. Next month will mark its 13th anniversary.
What kind of songs are featured? And do you play the songs solo?
Cowboy songs, blues, sea shanties, songs from the Appalachians, spirituals, a variety of traditional songs. They’re all in the public domain, usually written by anonymous authors.
I play banjo, guitar, 12-string guitar. Sometimes I invite friends to jam with me on it.
What can audiences expect to hear at your upcoming Pepperdine concert?
I do some of the songs from the Byrds and I do some of the songs from my solo CDs over the years. Some of the traditional songs are from the Folk Den and there are maybe a couple of new songs. I mix it up every time. It’s not the same set.
Any other news that Mirror readers might like to know about?
I’ve got a seven-string guitar that I’ve designed for Martin Guitars. It’s a signature model. The original was called the HD-7, which is a collectible – they don’t make that one any more, but they do make a D-7, and the idea behind it was to get the best sound out of a 12-string and put it on a six-string guitar. For me, the best part of the 12-string guitar is the G-string pair, the high and the low G-string. It gets a real nice jingly-jangly sound and I use that pair of strings up and down the neck to play leads. It’s like a 12-string when you do that, but then you can bend it and then you can do little bluegrass runs on the bottom string like you can on a six-string. So it’s got the best of both the 12 and the 6. It’s called the D-7, made by Martin Guitar company.
Roger McGuinn performs at the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University, Friday, December 5, 8pm, $40. The Folk Den can be accessed at mcguinn.com.