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Byrds' signature, McGuinn's legacy

Published September 26, 2006

Without the folk-rock influence of Roger McGuinn and the L.A.-born Byrds, Tom Petty might be a gas station attendant today instead of a rock star. Sheryl Crow might be a school teacher. The Dixie Chicks might be Republican!

In 1965, the Byrds (who also included such young stars as songwriter Gene Clark and David Crosby) jumpstarted their career through a shimmering Bob Dylan cover, the rousing Mr. Tambourine Man.

But the truth is that there was nothing derivative about the band, thanks mainly to Chicago native McGuinn. He became one of the most influential, and underrated, guitarists in the history of popular music.

That rare cross of peaceable hippie and noodling rocker, McGuinn used his preferred Rickenbacker guitar to develop a signature sound that pop music critics call "Byrdsian jangle." Listen to the Byrds' 1965 hit I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better (which was later covered by Petty), and you'll hear what I'm talking about: 12-string uplift perfect for hopeful beginnings and happy endings.

As '60s bands were wont to do, the Byrds took their share of spooky, psychedelic sojourns, most notably on the cloudy creepiness of 1966's Eight Miles High. But no matter how far out the Byrds tripped, McGuinn always made sure those jangly, sonic sunsets were part of the landscape.

In praising the Byrds, I can't think of a better compliment than this: Whenever I'm taking a road trip, I'd be lost without them.

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 09:31:30]

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