November 22, 2008
Better than: Watching one of those Time Life infomercials about reliving the '60s though a 10 CD compilation featuring the likes of Hermann's Hermits and Ten Years After.
Starting promptly at 8:00, Roger McGuinn treated the packed house in Ft. Worth's McDavid Studio to a musical history lesson. The founding member, singer and guitarist of '60s icons The Byrds delivered 90 minutes of blissful memories for the crowd of lively octogenarians.
The 66-year-old McGuinn, whose guitar chops remain in superior form, remained seating for most of the evening, grinning and telling the stories behind the songs. "It took us 77 takes to get this one right," McGuinn said before playing "Turn, Turn, Turn." He recalled early shows opening shows for Hoyt Axton, Roger Miller and even comedian Lenny Bruce. McGuinn played songs he did prior to The Byrds, when he was the backing guitarist for the Chad Mitchell Trio. But it was on the material for which he is most famous that McGuinn really stirred the emotions of the crowd.
"My Back Pages," "Mister Tambourine Man," "Chestnut Mare," "Ballad of Easy Rider" and "I Wasn't Born to Follow" all echoed into the early evening as McGuinn's twelve string, acoustic guitar replicated the delicate arpeggios that are the trademark sound of The Byrds, hell, even of the decade of the 60's.
McGuinn surprised the audience by singing Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" and the blues standard "St. James Infirmary." He stopped only for a few quick sips of water before telling more stories about all those talented players, folks like Parsons, Clarence White and David Crosby. "This kind of fat guy came up and said he wanted to be in my band," said McGuinn of first meeting Crosby. "When he said he could get us free studio time, we had to let him in."
McGuinn's lengthy encore began with "My Back Pages," continued with Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" and McGuinn's own classic "So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star" and ended with a stunning performance of "8 Miles High."
After an hour and a half of musical history, McGuinn tipped his stylist fedora and left. The crowd obviously wanted more, but the house lights quickly came on and most, if not all of them, shuffled off to bed.
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Personal Bias: The Byrds were one of the first bands that made a difference to me. When I first heard "Eight Miles High," I was about 8 years old and even then, I remember thinking, "This is better than what my parents listen to." That wasn't too big a hurdle since my parents listened to Neil Diamond and Jim Croce, but you get my drift. Nearly every band that interested me as a teenager - REM, Husker Du, The Replacements, etc. - were inspired by the songs, arranging skills and guitar playing of Roger McGuinn. The fact that such influence continues today in bands like The Mountain Goats and The Walkmen, just to name two, is a testament to the legacy of The Byrds.
Random Note: Damn, Ft. Worth's downtown really kicks Dallas' ass. I know this is old news to most folks, but bustling cannot begin to describe Sundown Square on this particular Saturday night. Bars, restaurants and clubs were all packed with people and not a single skirmish did I witness or ill word did I hear. Amazing.
By the way: Accompanying me on this trek to Cowtown was this portly teacher friend of mine. He's normally a pretty abrasive guy who's main mantra seems to be "I don't give a fuck." Yet even his dour demeanor was softened by the pleasing tones of Roger McGuinn. All smiles on the way out, both of us were delighted that we made the trip to Tarrant County. --Darryl Smyers