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ROGER McGUINN
The Solo Years: 1974-1977

Roger McGuinn Discography

Roger McGuinn Bibliography



Country rock:
Love had played bass in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. Bowden, Attaway and Lovelace were former members of Cold Steel. That band was formed around the members of Linda Ronstadt's 1972 band who weren't lucky enough to join the Eagles, namely Richard Bowden, his brother Mike Bowden, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Gib Guilbeau. (Kleinow and Guilbeau formed the Columbia version of the Flying Burrito Brothers around the same time their bandmates joined McGuinn.) Cold Steel released an eponymous LP on the Dutch Ariola label in 1974.


Rolling Thunder Revue:
After the release of his masterpiece Blood on the Tracks (Columbia, 1975), Bob Dylan undertook a lengthy tour that became known as the Rolling Thunder Revue. In an effort to recreate something of the magic of the early '60s folk scene, a large gang of Dylan friends were part of the tour, including such luminaries as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Neuwirth, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Mick Ronson, David Allen Coe and T-Bone Burnett.
Playwright Sam Shephard came along and wrote about the tour, and parts of it were filmed for Dylan's movie project, Renaldo & Clara (1978). The tour featured songs from Dylan's album Desire (Columbia, 1975).

"Up to Me":
"Up to Me" was a companion piece to "Shelter from the Storm" from Blood on the Tracks (Columbia, 1974). Dylan's version, recorded during the September '74 sessions for that album, was eventually released on Biograph (Columbia, 1985).

"Dreamland":
Joni Mitchell's version of "Dreamland" was released as the B-side to "Jericho," a single from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (Asylum, 1978). A live version appeared on Shadows and Night (Asylum, 1980).


"All Night Long":
The original version of "All Night Long" appears on Frampton's Camel (A&M, 1973). The song was also a single, but failed to chart in the US or UK.

"Golden Loom":
"Golden Loom" was an outtake from the sessions for Dylan's Desire (Columbia, 1975). It finally appeared on The Bootleg Series (Columbia, 1991).

"American Girl":
"American Girl" is from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Shelter, 1976). It was released a single and hit #40 in the UK.



To read about Roger McGuinn's first two solo LPs, see Roger McGuinn, With the Byrds and Solo: 1964-1974.


The Roger McGuinn Band

Tired of solo touring, McGuinn assembled a new backing group to support Peace On You. The Roger McGuinn Band featured four guys whose background was in country rock: bassist Steve Love, guitarist Richard Bowden, keyboardist David Lovelace, and drummer Greg Attaway. McGuinn told interviewers at the time that he wanted to get away from jazz rock and back to country rock.
That band stuck with McGuinn during the recording of his next album the next spring, Roger McGuinn & Band (Columbia, 1975). Evidently McGuinn had hit a dry spell. Five of the ten tracks were written by other band members, and several of those had been released on the European-only Cold Steel (Ariola, 1974). Two of McGuinn's tracks were from his back catalog, "Born to Rock and Roll," already released on the Byrds reunion LP, and "Lover of the Bayou," from (Untitled). The only passable track on the album was a cover of Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Just two years later, McGuinn admitted to Johnnny Rogan that "it was a bad period for me. The band wasn't right, and we had an inflated impression of how good we were. I prefer to forget it. If I could erase that album, I would. I'd love to just totally wipe it out... I was having financial difficulties at the time... my head was in a weird place... it was just a slump."* Reaction from fans, critics and the public was unanimously negative; the LP reached only #165 on the charts when it was released in June.


Jolly Roger: the Rolling Thunder Revue

Just when he was about to be counted out, though, McGuinn joined Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, touring the country with a rejuvenated Dylan and a coterie of top-rank folksingers. McGuinn described the Revue as "the best time of my life. There was so much love between everyone on the caravan, I wish it was still going on. Really, it was like the early days of Greenwich Village, there was such a camaraderie between people... We had such good feelings toward one another, we were so tight-knit... Everything about it was fun."*
Rolling Thunder galvanized McGuinn. Between the first and second leg of the tour, he rounded up a group of musicians from the tour: David Bowie/Mott the Hoople alum Mick Ronson, guitarist David Mansfield, bassist Rob Stoner, and drummer Howie Wyeth. With Ronson producing, McGuinn recorded the best album of his Columbia solo period, Cardiff Rose (Columbia, 1976).
McGuinn had reunited with Jacques Levy and written four new tunes. Like most Levy collaborations, these were exercises in mythography: punning pirate tale "Jolly Roger"; crusader chronicle "Round Table"; Yippie valedictory "Partners in Crime" (addressed to Abbie Hoffman, at that time still in hiding); and Rolling Thunder tour diary, "You Should Have Been There." With tourmates Kris Kristofferson and Bobby Neuwirth, McGuinn wrote the so-so rocker "Rock and Roll Time," and the elegiac "Friend" was a solo McGuinn composition inspired by the death of a friend, apparently during a drug deal gone sour. Traditional murder ballad "Pretty Polly" was rescued from the Sweetheart of the Rodeo outtake pile and given a new, deranged treatment. Despite the improved songwriting by McGuinn, the album highlights were covers of two unreleased tracks by Rolling Thunder tourmates: "Up to Me" by Bob Dylan and "Dreamland" by Joni Mitchell.
The strong material was coupled with solid performances by the band and the best production since Ballad of Easy Rider. Ronson's guitar work brought McGuinn the same metallic muscle he had added to Mott and Bowie records in earlier years, making this the hardest-rocking album ever recorded by an ex-Byrd. It was the first and only time McGuinn would deliberately eschew his trademark sound and still come out with a great record. Unfortunately, favorable press and renewed attention as a result of Rolling Thunder were not enough to get the album commercial airplay, and it missed the charts entirely after its May release.


Thunderbyrd I

The Cardiff Rose band (sometimes referred to as "Guam" during the Revue) contemplated touring in support of the LP, but Ronson bowed out, concluding it would be a bad career move to appear as a sideman. (Stoner and Wyeth reappeared in 1977 backing rockabilly revivalist and ex-Tuff Dart Robert Gordon!) Instead, McGuinn recruited a new band and gave it a name that united both ends of his musical career: Thunderbyrd. Lead guitarist James Q. Smith had played in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and bassist Bruce Barlow and drummer Lance Dickerson were the rhythm section of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen.


Thunderbyrd II

The first Thunderbyrd played together live during the second half of '76, including a tour of the UK. But when McGuinn began recording tracks for his next album toward the end of '76, he was unhappy with the performances. Thunderbyrd I was sacked, and Thunderbyrd II hired. Guitarist Rick Vito had also played with Mayall, as well as with Todd Rundgren and John Prine. Drummer Greg Thomas had played with Etta James and Leon Russell, and bassist Charlie Harrison had played behind Leo Sayer. (Barlow's bass was kept on two cuts.)
The album Thunderbyrd (Columbia, 1977) was released in March. It was a solid record but not up to the level of its immediate predecessor. The very professional band delivered a polished but bland sound on material that was good but not great. Levy co-wrote another quartet of tunes with McGuinn, three of which avoided the mythic themes of his other work. Of these, only "Russian Hill" (about Levy's divorce) has aged well. Two uninspired country rockers appear, one of them "Why Baby Why" by George Jones. In a clear bid to score a hit, the band covers Peter Frampton's 1973 single "All Night Long." Again, two covers provide the album's highlights: Dylan's "Golden Loom" and Tom Petty's "American Girl." The latter song lacks the punch of the Petty original, but offers the peculiarly recursive sensation of hearing McGuinn imitating Petty imitating McGuinn. That song was released as a single, but it and the album once again failed to chart.
 Copyright © 1997 George Felton

McGuinn with Thunderbyrd, Dension University, April 8, 1977.
Thunderbyrd toured in support of the album, and in spring a promoter brought them to England on a bill with Gene Clark's Kansas City Southern Band and Chris Hillman and his own band. That tour fell apart when Hillman quit, but it led to a more permanent reunion by the end of 1977. McGuinn disbanded Thunderbyrd and began playing as an acoustic duo with Gene Clark late in 1977.


Turn, Turn, Turn

Like some of his critics, McGuinn looks back on his Columbia solo albums with a jaundiced eye: "I was kind of out of it. I was doing a lot of drugs and alcohol, and I was not really paying attention to what I was doing. I was being lazy mentally and creatively, and so on. So what you see there are some flashes of creativity, but moments of real apathy. It shows up in the work."*
Changes were afoot for Roger McGuinn, changes more permanent than the musical reunion brewing throughout '77. For one thing, in an acting class, McGuinn met the woman who would soon become Camilla McGuinn. Over the years she would become his musical partner as well, co-writing songs and helping manage his career.
A second, even more dramatic change also occurred soon after the death of Elvis Presley in August of '77. Just as Presley's early music inspired McGuinn to pick up the guitar, his death persuaded McGuinn to put away the cocaine. "Once Elvis died I had a spiritual awakening. I said, 'Wow,' the speed and downers had killed him, and would do the same thing to me. This shook me up. I sobered up enough to realize Jesus was the Messiah, that he was using Elvis's death to tell me something."* To this day McGuinn remains a quietly devout Christian.



To read about McGuinn's reunion with two former Byrds, see McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. Or skip ahead to pick up McGuinn's solo career in 1981.



Notes

"It was just a slump." Rogan, "Jolly Roger" at 14-15.

"There was so much love..." Kiersh, "McGuinn" at 209.

"I was being lazy..." DiMartino, Musician" at 20.

"I had a spiritual reawakening..." Kiersh, "McGuinn" at 210.


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Band Members | McGuinn | 1974-1977

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