Interview with Roger McGuinn for by Stephen Peeples

James Joseph McGuinn III, better known as Roger McGuinn, is cofounder of The
Byrds and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. His roots are in folk, and he is
now using the Internet to further the folk tradition. He has several vintage
and recent tracks posted on his page, where his "McGuinn's Folk Den
Vol. 1" CD is also now available.

This reporter is a first-generation Byrds fan who met McGuinn in 1978, when
serving as editorial director in the press department at Capitol Records. I had
the honor of writing the liner notes for the “McGuinn-Clark-Hillman” album in

We last met a few years ago when McGuinn played the Troubadours of Folk
festival at UCLA. Backstage, he introduced me to Tom Petty, who'd shown up to
sit in with him, and I introduced both of them to Richie Havens, for whom I'd
been doing press, then just shut up and enjoyed listening to the three
folk/rock legends shoot the breeze.

I recently discovered Roger's page and his own homepage while
researching another story, and had to re-connect with him. Knowing his history,
I wasn't surprised to see that he was into bleeding-edge technology, right
along with all the youngsters just starting out.

We "chatted" on Good Friday, April 2, 1999, Roger in Orlando, Florida, and
yours truly in Santa Clarita, California.
-- Stephen K. Peeples


PEEPLES: People who know your background know what a gadget/tech nut you are,
and the story behind adopting “Roger” as your first name. When we first met, in
1978 at the Capitol Tower, I seem to recall you had a big bulky cell phone, and
that was your latest gadget. Am I remembering right? And  like, who the heck
were you TALKING to back then?

McGUINN: What I had then was a briefcase telephone, a 25-watt VHF full duplex
transceiver that connected to the commercial land mobile telephone service. I
could make calls to, and receive them from, anyone in the world. I did then
what people do now with cell phones, but back then you could use them on
airplanes. I have some great road stories of how the phone saved the show. I
got my first one in 1971.

PEEPLES: Please give us a short history of your involvement with computers and
the Internet.

McGUINN: My first computer was a gift from my mother, in 1980. It was a small
Radio Shack MC-10. Then I was given a Color Computer, based on Motorola's
6809e chip set. I hacked that to do all of our [accounting] books. Then I got
an IBM Convertible, one of the first laptops. There has been a succession of
286, 386, 486, and Pentium machines since. Most of them still work.

I got on-line in the early '80s with a commercial service called Easy Street.
We used that to communicate from home to the road, even from Europe. Then I got
on CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online. I discovered the Internet in the
early '90s using usenet and email, then the Web a year or so later. I found
that a good ISP was better than the services I'd been using.

PEEPLES: At what point did you create your own Website at
Who hosts and manages it? It's loaded with good stuff covering all aspects of
your past, present, and future...

McGUINN: After writing a Byrds FAQ and posting it on, I got an
offer from Kenton Adler at the University of Arkansas to host a Byrds Home
Page. I contributed to that for a year or two, and then gradually built my own
home page.

My virtual domain name is hosted by a local Orlando ISP.
That's a funnel to my Web site hosted by the University of North Carolina's
MetaLab. UNC's Paul Jones offered me Web space on their site so that I would be
able to present my Folk Den songs in streaming technology by RealMedia. I'm the
Webmaster of my site and do all the HTML work and media updates myself.

PEEPLES: Tell us more about the Folk Den -- its mission, and how you
have posted a “new” folk song there each month for the last few years.

McGUINN: The idea of preserving traditional folk songs on the Internet came to
me, after I began to develop a concern that these songs might get lost in the
strict formatting of the commercial music business. Very few radio stations
were playing these wonderful songs, and the new breed of "folk singers" were
writing their own material. I wondered what would happen when Pete Seeger and
Odetta passed away. So I decided to do my part, continuing the folk process --
that is, the singing of songs and telling of stories in the oral tradition, but
on the Internet.

So each month I record a traditional folk song in my digital home studio. I
format these songs as .WAV, RealAudio and sometimes MP3 files. They are free.
I've made a CD of some of these songs available through, and
plan to release more CDs in the months to come.

PEEPLES: Is it fair to say that some of your recent recordings sound a lot like
your earliest recordings?

McGUINN: Yes, and actually one of the songs on my "McGuinn's Folk Den, Vol. 1
CD," "John Henry," was recorded in 1959.

PEEPLES: No wonder it sounds so adenoidal! Now, who among the current
generation of folk artists do you see carrying on that same tradition and

McGUINN: Dar Williams, Wilco, and Son Volt come to mind.

PEEPLES: Back to the tech stuff -- at what point did you get into streaming
audio and video, and MP3?

McGUINN: As soon as I got on the Web, I found RealAudio. It took me a while to
get it working, but now I use it every day. In 1995, a friend's son came to my
house and downloaded my first MP3 encoder for me. I loved the idea of being
able to compress CD quality files into such a small space.

PEEPLES: Tell us how you connected with

McGUINN: Someone from the site contacted me and asked if I had anything I
wanted to post. My first CD, "McGuinn's Folk Den, Vol. 1," has been on
for just over a month [as of 4/2/99]. The first week I was Pick of the Day!
Already my track "James Alley Blues" has reached the Weekly Top 10. I'm
very honored to have reached this position on the foremost MP3 Web site! The
exposure is tremendous. My songs get thousands and thousands of downloads! And has been great to work with.

PEEPLES: What kind of emails are you getting? Fans? Industry? Long-lost
one-time accomplices like me?

McGUINN: Both fan mail and industry invitations have resulted from my being on Lots of old friends have discovered where to find me.

PEEPLES: Are you seeking a major label deal right now, or would you rather stay

McGUINN: The idea of being told what to do by a record label is repugnant to me
at this point in my life. I really love being able to create whatever music I
like and post it. Some record company would have to come up with an awful lot
of money to get me to sign with them, and they aren't going to do that.

PEEPLES: What's your take on SDMI and similar efforts to curb illegal digital
copying of music on the Web? What do you think will happen?

McGUINN: There are too many ways for MP3 files to get around on the new, for
anyone to be able to regulate them. I enjoy being on the legal side of the MP3
wars. We'll just have to see how it all plays out. This reminds me of FM radio
in the late '60s when the free-form format was starting. It was an exciting
time for music!

PEEPLES: What do you think about the convergence of media on the Web?

McGUINN: It's inevitable, and I like it very much! I like the idea of a
one-stop box that will cover all of your communication needs.

PEEPLES: Back in the analog world, how often do you go out to play gigs?

McGUINN: I spend between 50 and 100 days a year on the road. This year many
will be in Europe. You can always see where I'll be at: Most of my shows are solo, with
my Rickenbacker 12-string and my new Martin D12-42RM 12-string guitars.
Sometimes I use a band as well. I've played with Wilco recently.

PEEPLES: Tell us about your new Martins.

McGUINN: The Limited Edition D12-42RM Roger McGuinn 12-string is a 14-fret
Dreadnought. There a lot more information about it at my Website.

PEEPLES: Please give us brief track-by-track commentary on the stories behind a
few of the songs you have posted now at, starting with "James Alley

McGUINN: "The James Alley Blues" is Song #61 in the Harry Smith Anthology. It
was originally recorded by Richard (Rabbit) Brown in New Orleans, on March 5,
1927. Brown was one of the first musicians to learn the 12-bar blues pattern,
and was one of the most important New Orleans folk singers to record. He was
famous for his dramatic guitar playing, which was similar in style to that of
bluesman Willie Johnson.

I have tuned to the key of the original recording, which is
somewhere               between C and C#, and have emulated the tempo and blues
licks Brown played.

PEEPLES: "Finnegan's Wake."

McGUINN: An old Irish tune, but these words were added later for music-hall use
during the Victorian era. Some Irish people have objected to them as an
English-inspired stereotype, but I first heard this song sung by the Clancy
Brothers and Tommy Makem, at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, in the late '50s. To
me, no one was more Irish than they were.

PEEPLES: "John Henry."

McGUINN: The legend of John Henry dates back to the early 1870s during the
building of the Big Bend Tunnel through the West Virginia mountains by C & O
Railroad workers. To carve this tunnel, then the longest in the United States,
men worked in pairs to drill holes for dynamite. One man used a large hammer to
pound a huge drill, while another man screwed it into the rock.

John Henry was renowned for his strength and skill in driving the steel drills
into the solid rock. One day the captain brought a newly invented steam drill
to the tunnel to test. Which was stronger, man or machine? John Henry, the
strongest steel driver of them all, beat the steam drill, but according to the
song, the effort killed him.

PEEPLES: "John The Revelator" -- and c'mon, who's the anonymous backing

McGUINN: This was recorded originally in 1930 by Blind Willie Johnson. He was
one of the foremost African American singers of religious songs, with 30
records to his credit. On his recording of this song, his wife, Angeline sang
the answer-back part. I have tried to keep as close to the original sound as
possible, but the person who sang the answer-back part on my recording would
prefer to remain anonymous.

PEEPLES: Fair enough; had to ask! A few Byrds questions...Sony's releasing a
remastered "Byrds Greatest Hits" collection with three bonus tracks...

McGUINN: ..."It Won't Be Wrong," "Set You Free This Time," and "Have You Seen
Her Face."

PEEPLES: Of course, "Mr. Tambourine Man" will be on it. I've heard the tape of
the complete January 1965 session with Terry Melcher and the Wrecking Crew
guys, all 22 takes or whatever it was. It's a revelation. What you were
thinking when you guys nailed "the keeper"?

McGUINN: The feeling was one of joy and disbelief! We couldn't fathom that we'd
created something so overwhelming.

PEEPLES: In general, have you been okay with how Legacy has handled the Byrds
catalog? How involved have you been?

McGUINN: I'm very happy that the Sony SBM reissues are coming out now, and are
of such high quality! I have been involved in the mixing of the last eight CDs.
Bob Irwin does an excellent job with the remastering.

PEEPLES: What do you think of the work the writer John Rogan [author of the
Byrds bio "Timeless Flight"] has done to document the band's history?

McGUINN: At first I found Rogan's work lacking in factual detail and
overburdened with personal opinion. Now with the release of "Timeless Flight
Revisited" I find that he has corrected the problems that had bothered me in
his previous work. The liner notes for the "Byrds Greatest Hits" are excellent
in their attention to detail.

PEEPLES: What else is in the wings?

McGUINN: "Untitled," "Byrdmaniax," and "Farther Along" will be out this summer.
They all sound great, complete with bonus tracks!

PEEPLES: How about your SOLO catalog? That is also worthy of a box set, or at
least a 2-CD anthology!

McGUINN: So far Sony hasn't shown any interest in releasing my solo albums on
CD. My first is out on Edsyl. You can find out more about it at

PEEPLES: What's your plan for the next several years?

McGUINN: Andres Segovia was scheduled to play Carnegie Hall the month he died.
He kept doing what he loved until he couldn't do it any longer. That's what I
plan to do!