Roger McGuinn
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
After Roger McGuinn heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," he knew he had to buy a guitar. Classes at Chicago's well-respected Old Town School of Folk Music helped make him proficient in both banjo and guitar, and his emergence on the local folk scene soon led to a gig touring with singer Bobby Darin, who asked him to move to New York and work as a songwriter for his music publishing company, TMI Music.

In New York, McGuinn began to experiment with merging folk and rock, which led him to Los Angeles and the renowned club the Troubadour. There, he met Gene Clark and eventually David Crosby—the beginnings of one of the most influential bands of the '60s, the Byrds. From their first number one hit, "Mr. Tambourine Man" to the single "Turn! Turn! Turn!" to the critically acclaimed album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which many attribute as the first full-fledged country rock album, the Byrds were landmark songwriters and musicians.

As a solo artist, Roger McGuinn has made five solo albums, including his latest, Treasures from the Folk Den, which includes traditional folk songs and duets with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and more. It was nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award.

Before he went on the road, we asked him these 20 questions.

1. What book had the biggest impact on you? Why?

The Bible. It changed my life.

2. Have you ever read or written a perfect sentence?

I've read one. What was it? "I AM."

3. What was the oddest job you ever had?

I worked as janitor's assistant when I was 15. I made enough money to buy the Martin guitar that I gave to my wife as a wedding present 32 years ago.

4. How did you start playing music?

I was 13 years old when I heard Elvis Presley over my transistor radio (the iPod of its day) while riding my bicycle on the streets of Chicago. He inspired me to get a guitar. Then Bob Gibson came to my high school, the Latin School of Chicago. His banjo playing and storytelling excited me. My music teacher explained to me that was "folk music" and I was in luck because a new school had just opened in Old Town called the Old Town School of Folk Music. I was one of the first students and learned to play the six-string guitar, 12-string guitar and banjo. My banjo playing had a direct result on how I played the 12-string electric Rickenbacker, which I have been associated with in the Byrds.

5. What would your theme song be?

I open all my concerts with "My Backpages," written by Bob Dylan, and close them all with "May the Road Rise to Meet You," written by Roger McGuinn and Camilla McGuinn.

6. What is your favorite food?

Depends upon the time and place—on the 4th of July, it's chili/slaw dogs; at Christmas, it's tamales; on New Year's Eve, it's caviar pie; for a wedding anniversary, definitely lobster and Caesar salad.

7. Which individual has, for better or worse, had the single greatest influence on your life?

Jesus.

8. What is your greatest career coup?

Getting out of the music business and traveling the world as a troubadour.

9. What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome or challenge you have ever faced?

Overindulgence.

10. What characteristic do you admire most in others?

Love, hope and faith.

11. What talent would you most like to possess?

To be a song-and-dance man.

12. What is your favorite film?

Depends upon the time and place—for Christmas, it's It's a Wonderful Life; on the 4th of July, Independence Day; on Saturday night, Blast from the Past; and on Friday night, Benny and Joon.

13. What inspires you most?

God and my wife, Camilla.

14. What is your greatest fear?

Perfect love casts out all fear.

15. What gives you hope about the world today?

Faith in God.

16. What is one thing you have always wanted?

To ride in Air Force One.

17. What is your most valued possession?

My faith.

18. What is one book you've been meaning to read?

No one realized that I needed eyeglasses until I was 12 years old. My parents were writers, so I was around the sounds of words and developed a vocabulary with my sense of hearing. I play guitar by ear. I remember once when I was 36 years old, I was at a radio station and they asked me to read the news. I broke out in a cold sweat. I didn't really enjoy reading until I married my wife and we began reading the Bible out loud to each other every day. I enjoy reading now, and there is a whole world of books out there to explore.

19. What is your secret guilty pleasure?

Chocolate for breakfast.

20. How would you like to be remembered?

As a folk singer and a preserver of folk music.


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