What does it take to sustain a career in rock and roll for six decades? For inspiration we look to Roger McGuinn, the 70-something founder of The Byrds, who continues to sell-out venues around the nation.
He and his wife and business partner, Camilla, were generous enough to invite us into their home to talk about the success they’ve had in their careers, which they attribute to networking well and working hard. “Networking is all about relationships,” Roger says, “and you never know who you are going to meet — that’s what makes it so exciting.”
See our interview on pages 90-91 of PR Rules: The Playbook, available on amazon.com And scroll down for an excerpt of our interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celeb.
By Hope Katz Gibbs and Michael Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine
Legendary rock star Roger McGuinn is going strong. The minstrel in the Stetson continues to perform, surrounded by his favorite three guitars and a banjo. As he eloquently shared the history of folk music and told the story of his career, he sang and strummed dozens of the songs that he and The Byrds have made famous.
When he performed locally at the Barns of Wolf Trap, he sang for the finale, “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” an old Irish blessing he turned into a ballad with his wife of more than three decades and official roadie, Camilla McGuinn. The couple celebrate their anniversary April 1, which was the inspiration for the name of their music label, April First Productions.
Our Lucky Stars
When we sat down with the down-to-earth couple in their home in Orlando, FL, for the interview, we enjoyed a little music by McGuinn, who picked on his guitar as we talked, and a toast with Camilla’s favorite champagne, Veuve Clicquot.
How did we land this interview? It began when the McGuinns were touring with the band of authors The Rock Bottom Remainders, and our firm, Inkandescent Public Relations, helped promote the 2010 Wordstock Tour when it came to Washington, DC. Founded back in 1992 by the late musician and author Kathi Kamen Goldmark, the band came about when she got to talking to her friend Dave Barry and they decided to pull together a handful of literary icons who loved to play music.
Sam Barry, who was Kathi’s husband and is Dave’s brother, explains it like this: “The Rock Bottom Remainders are a literary rock band that has been lurching its way through middle age by making lots of noise for a good cause.” Other members include Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Greg Iles, Stephen King, Matt Groening, James McBride, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, and Scott Turow.
It’s All About the Hat
While the band was truly entertaining, when McGuinn took center stage, he stole the show. A humble McGuinn, however, suggests that his signature Stetson is what the audience noticed most. “I learned this adage decades ago, when I was playing with Bobby Darin, and I believe it’s true: People hear what they see.”
Perhaps. But it’s clear that this man, who at 13 was inspired to play guitar when he heard Elvis Presley singing on the radio, has more than a stellar Stetson going for him.
Seated on the pretty patio of their solar-powered home — which includes a guest bathroom filled with awards, trophies, and some cool rock memorabilia from McGuinn’s vast career — he sports a black T-shirt featuring the cover art of one of his most recent CDs, “22 Timeless Tracks From the Folk Den Project.”
Camilla notes: “When Rolling Stone reviewed this new, shorter cut of our second CD, The Folk Den Project, they called it nearly perfect. We figured that if fans didn’t have the hours to listen to all 100 songs recorded on the 4-CD boxed set, we’d cut a 70-minute alternative.”
Those two CDs, produced by April First Productions, are among four that the McGuinns have created to date. The others include “Limited Edition,” which features folk, blues, and rock and roll songs, and “Live from Spain.”
Many of the tunes on it are ones that he learned decades ago when he was a student at the Old Town School of Folk Music in his hometown of Chicago, where he learned to play the guitar and banjo. He discovered the electric 12-string guitar after hearing The Beatles play one, and that led him to develop the unique “jingle-jangle” sound for which The Byrds became famous. His 12-string Rickenbacker, in fact, is now the stuff of legend.
Practice Makes Perfect
McGuinn credits hard work and determination as the keys to getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. “Being good at something requires total dedication. You have to decide that you are passionate about one thing, and that you don’t want to do anything else with your life, and you have to practice until you are good at it.”
McGuinn told Iconic Guitar magazine, “I practiced eight hours a day on that ‘Ric. I really worked it. In those days, acoustic 12s had wide necks and thick strings that were spaced pretty far apart, so they were hard to play.
“But the ‘Ric’s slim neck and slow action let me explore jazz and blues scales up and down the fret board, and incorporate more hammer-ons and pull-offs into my solos. I also translated some of my banjo-picking techniques to the 12-string. By combining a flat pick with metal finger-picks on my middle and ring fingers, I discovered I could instantly switch from fast single-note runs to banjo rolls and get the best of both worlds.”
The Byrds — which included David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, and Michael Clarke, then later Clarence White, Skip Battin, and Gram Parsons — recorded 14 albums, including “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” and “The Ballad of Easy Rider.” The group disbanded in 1973.
“We were a ship of pirates; it was every man for himself,” shares McGuinn, who released several solo albums after the breakup. He also toured with Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue,” and played guitar on the track titled, “Ride the Water,” on Bo Diddley’s The 20th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll All-Star Album. In 1978, he again joined forces with former Byrds Gene Clark and Chris Hillman to form “McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman.” They recorded an album with Capitol Records.
May the Road Rise to Meet You
In fact, 1978 was also the year McGuinn met Camilla. The couple happened to be taking the same acting class in Los Angeles, and were paired as acting partners. While it wasn’t quite love at first sight — well, not for Camilla, at least — it soon became clear to both of them that they were destined to be together. “At the time, I was dating a professional actress, who had encouraged me to take the class,” says McGuinn, who admits he was also in debt after the breakup of The Byrds.
Camilla adds, “As for me, I had spent years studying to be an actress, but to support myself had worked as a Playboy Bunny. So I had a car, and $500 in the bank.”
“I married her for her money,” jokes McGuinn, who on a serious note explains that this was also a time when he was on a quest to get healthy — mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Click here for more from our interview, and to read their Tips for Entrepreneurs.