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The Long Way Around - Feature from Issue #35 Sept-Oct 2001

Roger McGuinn

I Want to Preserve the SongsA conversation with Roger McGuinn

There are many facets to Roger McGuinn. Among them, of course, is the durable rock icon whose fanciful songs, plaintive vocals and ringing 12-string Rickenbacker were the abiding glue in the myriad lineups of folk-rock pioneers the Byrds. More pertinent to these times, though, is the traditional folksinger who has bookended those electrified years, and the inveterate high-tech/electronic gizmo freak, and the husband and father.

McGuinn The Byrd is, for all intents and purposes, put behind him, but those other elements have come together in the veteran singer’s efforts to extend and promote the folk tradition. Now living in Orlando, Florida, Roger and his wife, Camilla, have interwoven ancient music, up-to-the-minute technology and family ties, much of it centered on the internet.

Long on technology’s cutting edge, McGuinn was an early experimenter with the Moog synthesizer, owned one of the first mobile telephones in the early 1970s, bought a personal computer in 1981, was online by the mid-’80s, and has maintained an extensive, well-appointed website since 1994.

At his site (www.rogermcguinn.com), you’ll find McGuinn’s own copious answers to Byrds FAQs, biographical info, photos, tour schedules, audio links, and — most germane to this interview — the Folk Den.

Begun almost six years ago, the Folk Den is a repository for ready-to-download original McGuinn recordings of traditional folk songs, produced and mixed by Roger and Camilla and added to the site at the rate of one per month. These songs are also available on four (thus far) compilations through MP3, but the McGuinns wanted to augment the project with a more accessible outlet — i.e., a conventional CD release.

A deal was struck with Jim Musselman at Appleseed Recordings, and so, with computers, state-of-the-art production gear, guitars and banjos loaded into the car, Roger and Camilla hit the road. The two visited some of McGuinn’s mentors and contemporaries in their homes, where they recorded traditional songs in intimate, living room settings. The bountiful harvest of that venture, Treasures From The Folk Den, was released August 28 on Appleseed.

I. THE VIRTUAL HOOTENANNY

NO DEPRESSION: You mentioned in your liner notes the shrinking number of outlets for folk music as an impetus for creating the Folk Den and its related projects. Do you see this as an irreversible trend, or do you envision a cycling back to popularity for the form?

ROGER McGUINN: Well, I’m hoping to help reverse it with my ongoing Folk Den project and these new CDs. The internet is helping a lot with folk music.

ND: But how do you get new listeners to these genre-specific outlets if they don’t know they’re looking for it?

RM: They tend to stumble into my site for one reason or another. They might be doing a search on the Beatles or something like that. I know a lot of people found it when “Turn Turn Turn” was in the movie Forrest Gump. They’d do a search on the Byrds, then they’d go into my site, then they’d check out the Folk Den and go, ‘Wow, this is cool.’

ND: What was the impetus for Treasures From The Folk Den?

RM: It’s about preserving the oral tradition, and getting these wonderful singers together on one album.

ND: Will this be an ongoing series?

RM: I have plans to do a volume two at some point. This deal is just a one-off, but I can renegotiate for another one. It’s all a play-it-by-ear kind if thing; it’s very low-key.

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Originally Featured in Issue #35 Sept-Oct 2001

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