Baby-boomer music lovers have taken a shine to the old “VH1 Storyteller” program adapted to the concert stage. Stars of yesteryear hit the road, sing a few tunes and tell stories about their career and the songs that made them famous.
Roger McGuinn of Byrds fame has one of the more appealing such presentations. On Thursday night at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis, the 75-year-old singer/guitarist traced his career from his folk days as a Chicago high schooler to his Rock Hall of Fame heyday with the Byrds.
The stories about Bob Dylan, David Crosby, Paul McCartney and others were fun but the most fascinating aspect of McGuinn’s program was that he illustrated how he constructed – and deconstructed – his music.
Perhaps the most telling example was that he played the original 4 minute and 19 second version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” that was sent to the Byrds. It was in 2/4 time and Crosby insisted that it needed a Beatles-like beat to be played on the radio. Plus, it had to be trimmed by about two minutes. By the by, the Byrds chose to keep the verse with boots heels to be wanderin’ because, well, the Beatles wore boots.
After the Dylan recreation, McGuinn switched from his 7-string acoustic guitar to his signature 12-string Rickenbacker electric and performed “Mr. Tambourine Man” the way the Byrds converted it into a hit single.
Earlier, McGuinn demonstrated his early influences from Pete Seeger and banjo man Bob Gibson and explained how the latter led to gigs with the Limelighters, Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin.
McGuinn talked about how he and Gene Clark were writing songs together in Los Angeles and Crosby walked up, harmonized with them and suggested they form a band. What clinched it was Crosby knew a guy who would give them free time in a recording studio. The Byrds got a contract to cut a single for Columbia and that tune was “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
There were all kinds of twists and turns in McGuinn’s career and he weaved them skillfully throughout the evening. He talked about getting a custom-made 7-string acoustic guitar so he could get sounds that George Harrison taught him about – and then demonstrated the specialness of that particular guitar.
A high point was his discussion of “Eight Miles High” – from recalling the spark for the song that occurred on an airplane ride from England to revealing how he incorporated musical elements of John Coltrane, Ravi Shankar and Andres Segovia into the song.
In two 50-minute sets, McGuinn delivered his tales with a cheery disposition and signature sounds – both that high nasally voice and that unmistakable Rickenbacker guitar. And, since he was flying solo, he asked the fans to harmonize along with him on the hits. They were delighted.