Jim McGuinn, later known as Roger, was already a veteran of the New York and Los Angeles music scene when he co-founded the group that would become the Byrds with Gene Clark and David Crosby in 1964.
Roger McGuinn, prior to forming the Byrds, toured and performed folk music with the Limeliters, Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin as a guitarist and banjo player.
A Chicago native, McGuinn studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music and was active on Chicago’s folk scene, where he was strongly influenced as a teenager by Bob Gibson.
Within a few months, McGuinn, Clark and Crosby were looking to expand their group. Conga player Michael Clarke was recruited because he looked like two of the Rolling Stones. Mandolin player Chris Hillman was asked to join the group and learn to play the bass guitar. During a Thanksgiving dinner the band settled on the name “Byrds,” and success was just around the corner.
Columbia Records signed the Byrds in January 1965 and they recorded their first number one hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
In 1968 McGuinn and Hillman hired Gram Parsons and headed for Nashville where they recorded the now critically acclaimed Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Roger McGuinn disbanded the Byrds in 1973 to pursue his dream of a solo career. He made five solo albums on Columbia Records.
McGuinn rejoined Gene Clark and Chris Hillman in 1978 on Capitol Records for three albums.
In 1981 Roger decided it was time to return to his folk roots and began touring solo acoustic.
Arista records released Back From Rio in 1991, a rock album that included his friends, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Elvis Costello, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Penn and John Jorgensen. After touring extensively to support the album he returned to his roots - folk music.
In November 1995, McGuinn began recording and uploading to the Internet a series of traditional folk songs to his web site. The recordings are available for free download at http://folkden.com.
The autobiographical one man show, “Live from Mars” was released on Hollywood Records in November of 1996. The album includes two studio tracks, “May the Road Rise to Meet You”, and “Fireworks”, recorded in Minneapolis with members of the Jayhawks.
In November of 1995 McGuinn began recording a series of traditional folk songs and uploading them to mcguinn.com, in a section called the Folk Den. Since then he has posted a new recording of a traditional folk song on the first of every month. The purpose of the Folk Den project is to use the medium of the World-Wide Web to continue the tradition of the folk process, that is the telling of stories and singing of songs, passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth. Each month he would record a song, print the lyrics and chords, add a personal note and put it on his web site, mcguinn.com. He wanted everyone to have the opportunity to learn the songs and to be able to sing them with their families and friends, so downloads were offered free of charge.
McGuinn’s 2001 album, Treasures from the Folk Den, on Appleseed Recordings, grew out of this project, and features newly recorded collaborations with many of McGuinn’s musical heroes - Peter Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta and others.
The CD was nominated for a Grammy in 2002. In the summer of 2004, Roger released a new studio album, Limited Edition, and in keeping with his “digital pioneer” status he has released it only via the Internet and at his live performances.
In November 2005, McGuinn celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Folk Den project. To commemorate, McGuinn released a four-CD box set of 100 of his favorite folk songs that he has uploaded to the Folk Den over the last decade. The Folk Den Project includes many new recordings, re-mixes and a complete digital re-mastering of the original songs. The CD release concert was held at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, where McGuinn learned to play a twelve-string guitar, five-string banjo and first fell in love with folk music.