The Byrds Have Landed. Roger That.

Roger McGuinn Creatively Twists Technology to Showcase His Talent in Paving New Paths for Different Music Styles


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Notoriously labeled a rambler, sports anchor Tim McCarver delivered an unusual proverb during a World Series broadcast: "The answer can never be yes, unless you ask." Although McCarver's phrasing is a bit befuddling, Environmental Science Policy and Management Professor Ronald Amundson seems to have understood the message-a brief YouTube search, a tune-in to KFOG and a phone call secured a guest appearance by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and frontman of the Byrds Roger McGuinn for Amundson's ESPM 10 class.

The raga-psych-folk-rock progenitor performed an acoustic set and conversed about technology and its interconnectivity to music and the environment.

Regarded as the modern day Alan Lomax, McGuinn denies any tension in reconciling both his roles as a curator of traditional folk ballads and a defender of technological expansion. "Alan Lomax was using advanced technology when he went to the Appalachian mountain range during the 1930s," says McGuinn. "He had a wax disc recorder which was the latest audio technology of his time, and he was using it to capture something old and preserve it." Like Lomax, he views technology as a means to preserve the sacred vestiges of the past.

According to McGuinn, technology can be used as an equalizing agent in the recording process, a means to divest the iron-grip of record companies. "I record all my stuff on a MacBook with Pro Tools," he says. "[Pro Tools] is easy to work with. I love the way recording on a computer has democratized the whole system of music recording ... now you can record CD quality stuff at home."

Although he respects analog proponents such as Neil Young, McGuinn interprets the shift from analog to digital through a lens of expediency. "I don't miss the old tape machines, cleaning the heads I don't think the improved audio quality is worth the trouble" he says.

Digital recording has often been critiqued by analog fans as undermining the holistic experience of recording music, something that loses the tactile feel of rolling a joint on a console, but McGuinn dismisses this notion. "You can get Pro Tools boards that mimic a Neve board, except the board is now a big mouse. And you could roll a joint on a digi-design board," he chuckles.

Not only does McGuinn have a website of free downloadable folk song mp3's, but his flirtation with technology led him to discover new sounds that have shaped his work. The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" was inspired by listening to John Coltrane's "India" and "Africa" recordings and sitarist Ravi Shankar on McGuinn's newly purchased casette recorder.

"I was getting the style of Coltrane's notes and going off into off-the-wall places" he remarks about his free-form, mantra-like guitar playing. "What I was trying to get on the Rickenbacker were the valves [of a saxophone] opening and closing, that sort of angular modern jazz feel."

Even the name Roger, which was given to him by an Indonesian guru during his experimentation with Eastern philosophy in the '60s, has technological underpinnings. "Roger" is a term for a two way radio, and after submitting names to the guru, this name was chosen. "He said I would vibrate better with the universe," said McGuinn with a sheepish grin. "Back in the '60s, we experimented with a lot of weird stuff."

With the onslaught of new digital recording programs and the growth of the Internet-based market, the record industry continues to face many setbacks due to the effects of piracy and illegal downloading and file-sharing of songs. McGuinn himself took part in this debate in the year 2000, traveling to the Senate to attend a judiciary committee hearing titled "Is There an Upside to Downloading?". McGuinn visited on behalf of, who was paying artists 50 percent of digital retail sales, a foreign concept at the time. "My point was that the record companies were claiming that the artist was losing money because of downloading when in fact the record companies weren't paying the artist in the first place. Downloading didn't hurt anyone but big corporations." Rather, he views downloading as a mode of advertisement, a strategic way to market one's self and increase popularity.

McGuinn culled a diverse selection of songs from his repertoire to perform for the class, such as his environmentally conscious "The Trees Are All Gone," the traditional, jangly and buoyant folk song "Heave Away Me Johnnies" and the Billboard hit "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Sung in a delicate, quavering voice, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" showcased his unusual picking style known as the jingle-jangle, a term referencing the lyric from the song "Mr. Tambourine Man." McGuinn adapted his hybrid fingerpicking technique-one derived from his former studies of the banjo-to the compressed Rickenbacker guitar, creating what he calls "a rolling arpeggio pattern" that formed the basis of the Byrds' sound.

While preserving traditional folk songs remains a high priority for McGuinn, it does not tamper with his excitement for the future of recording. "It's all getting smaller, tighter and better. I even have a four-track on my iPhone."


Record an album on your iPhone with Justin at [email protected]

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