A local boy who made good, Roger McGuinn has long been acknowledged as a pivotal figure in rock: as the brilliant (and by most accounts autocratic) leader of the Byrds, he married traditional American music to 12-string electric guitar, creating a sound that would influence everyone from Bob Dylan and the Beatles to Tom Petty and R.E.M. to Wilco and the Jayhawks. But he’s always been something of an oddball; by now he’s inspired literally thousands of imitators, and he still sounds like no one else. Unlike his contemporaries in the 60s, who transformed rock ‘n’ roll into a singer-songwriter’s genre, McGuinn was a modest tunesmith and pedestrian lyricist, and scored his biggest triumphs with radical interpretations of other people’s songs. In the late 60s and early 70s, as hair grew longer, he embraced country–what the counterculture then considered “redneck” music–and a late incarnation of the Byrds, with legendary guitarist Clarence White, ran the gamut from straight bluegrass to jazz-influenced improvisation. As McGuinn closes in on old age (he’ll be 58 in July) he’s still out of step, revisiting with a purist’s zeal the traditional English and American ballads he learned in his teens at the Old Town School and posting home recordings of them on his Web site, www.folkden.com. (He’s currently compiling his fourth CD of such material, which will include duets with Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Odetta, and others.) Though his reedy voice hasn’t improved over the years, his 12-string fingerstyle technique is still something to behold; the complex, Coltrane-inspired “Eight Miles High” has defeated many a bar band, but at his last Park West show McGuinn tackled it alone and turned in a symphonic performance. Thursday, June 29, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Daniela Stallinger.