Photo: Barry Feinstein Photography, Inc.
Living Legends: Roger McGuinn On The History Of The Byrds, His One-Man Show And Editing His Own Wikipedia Page
At 80, the former Byrds leader remains as curious as ever — puttering with gadgets, learning obscure folk songs, and playing songs and telling stories on the road. A new, photo-stuffed coffee-table book illuminates his early history like never before.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Roger McGuinn, a founding member of the Byrds and folk-rock pioneer who, at 80, remains active as a solo act. A new coffee-table book about the early history of the band, The Byrds: 1964-1967, is available now.
Roger McGuinn is still tinkering.
Decades ago, he helped codify the Rickenbacker 360/12 as a rock 'n' roll armament. He electrified his beloved folk music to make it jangle and chime. He wrote immortal odes to celestial voyages and alternate dimensions, and threw down incendiary "out" solos that would make John Coltrane proud. And that maximum-curious mind is still humming.
This is wholly apparent in his one-man show currently criss-crossing the East Coast. Therein, the 80-year-old former Byrd clarifies, contextualizes and canonizes his life story, perhaps working it out for himself just as much as he is for his audiences.
And as far as the folk canon that galvanized and mobilized him in the first place, he's far from finished with his decades-long analysis. On his website, he releases free-to-download interpretations of songs from the folk, gospel, sea-shanty, and calypso traditions, among others — under the umbrella of his "Folk Den Project."
On top of that, he remains a lifelong enthusiast for all things engineering, aviation, gadgets and science fiction. From the road, McGuinn explains that his engineer grandfather got him interested in all things that light up and whir.
"I take LEDs and put them in a little box with a switch on it and make them blink, just for fun," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I love taking things apart and trying to put them back together."
Fortunately for all of us, McGuinn isn't all that different from the man we learn about in The Byrds: 1964-1967, a lavish new coffee-table book that hit shelves on Sept. 20.
Featuring 400 pages of more than 500 illuminating photographs and an oral history courtesy of surviving Byrds McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby, the book is a definitive account of the band's genesis, commercial breakthroughs with "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and on-ramp to their eventual plunge into psychedelia.
In his post-Byrds life, McGuinn deepened in profound ways — not only in diving deeper into the folk tradition and honing his storytelling acumen, but focusing on his Christian ministry alongside his wife, Camilla. These days, he may have little interest in getting the old band back together, but he arguably remains their most active and public custodian — one one-man show at a time.
Read on for a history-spanning interview with the three-time GRAMMY nominee about the new book, his folkie origins, how he picked up the Rickenbacker, the importance of Gene Clark and Clarence White, and myriad other Byrdsy subjects.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Before we time-warp to 55 years ago, I think it's important to lead with a question about your life and work today. What's creatively percolating for you?
Well, I've been touring since [hesitates, chuckles] 1960! I'm still doing it at 80 years old. We're on a tour right now. We're going to play a theater in Brattleboro tomorrow night. I think it's a month-long tour; it's going to take us around to Easton. So, that's one thing.
When I'm home, I record; I've got a Folk Den Project that I do every month; I record a song and put it on the internet for a free download, in a section called The Folk Den on my website, McGuinn.com. It's a public service sponsored by UNC Chapel Hill.
I record other things. We've recorded CDs, but CDs are kind of a dying breed, so we've had to find some other way. The streaming thing is working out well.
For people who may know the Byrds, since they've been in the ether for so long, but haven't caught you live, what can they expect from you in performance?
I do a one-man show. I do, like, the life of Will Rogers, except it's not about Will Rogers; it's about me. [Chuckles.] I tell the story about how I was inspired early on in my teens to get a guitar; I played guitar in the Old Town School for Folk Music and got hired by the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio. [I played with] Bobby Darin and Judy Collins and became a studio musician and writer at the Brill Building in New York.
Tell me how The Byrds: 1964-1967 came to be. Why did it feel appropriate to tell the story of the band's early history mostly through photographs, with an oral history threaded through them?
I wasn't really on the inside of this, but Chris Hillman did an autobiography a couple of years ago for BMG Publishing. They acquired a number of photographs of the Byrds, and I guess they had so many, they couldn't use them all.
So, they said, "What are we going to do with these?" They decided to make a coffee-table book — 400 pages, 500 photos, printed with Italian paper. It's beautiful; it's a gorgeous edition.
Before we dig into this era of the band reflected in its pages, can you tell me about your early love of all things related to technology, outer space and sci-fi? To me, that's one of the most captivating facets of the band — that sense of far-out curiosity, that futuristic bent.
Well, I got into it when I was living in Chicago. My grandfather had been an engineer for the Deering Company or something — I'm not sure of the company — but he was instrumental in building bridges over the Chicago River.
He was always in engineering, and he used to take me to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago every Sunday. That's where I developed my love of technology. I'd push buttons, things would light up and whir, and I'd go, "Wow! That's cool!"
That's where it all came from. I've just got a little bit of engineering in my blood.
Are you still a tinkerer to this day?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I love taking things apart and trying to put them back together. [Chuckles.] Building little things. It's a lifelong hobby.
The Byrds in Chicago, 1965. Photo: Jim Dickson Archive, courtesy of Henry Diltz Photography
This coffee-table book goes pretty deep into the band's synthesis of influences, from folk music to the Beatles. But I'm most interested in how the Byrds were almost predicated on a single instrument; that's a rare concept. What attracted you to the bell-like sound of the Rickenbacker so early on?
I was a 12-string player back in the folk days. I got my first 12-string guitar in Chicago in 1957; I believe it was a Regal 12-string. I was interested in the 12-string because of Lead Belly and Pete Seeger and Bob Gibson, who was kind of an acolyte of Pete Seeger.
When I was a studio musician in New York, I was the go-to guy for acoustic 12-string for a lot of folk acts. I was the musical director on Judy Collins' third album [1963's Judy Collins #3]; I played on the demo of "The Sound of Silence" for Paul Simon. The Irish Rovers, a lot of folk acts.
Read More: Joni Mitchell's Performance At Newport Folk 2022 Was Monumental. But Let's Not Forget Paul Simon Singing "The Sound of Silence."
So, I was already a 12-string player, and when the Beatles came out, I was enthralled with [them] because they were using folk-music chords in their rock 'n' roll. I noticed that George Harrison had a Rickenbacker electric 12-string, and I'd never seen one of those before. It was a new instrument at the time; in fact, his was only the second one ever made. The first one went to somebody named Suzi [Arden], who was in a group in Las Vegas, doing lounge acts.
When I found out about the Rickenbacker electric 12-string, I went to a music store and traded in my acoustic 12-string that Bobby Darin had given me and a five-string, long-necked banjo — a Pete Seeger style — and I got the Rickenbacker electric 12.
It was just such a great-sounding instrument. I played it eight hours a day!
Roger McGuinn performing with the Byrds in 1965. Photo: Barry Feinstein Photography
I don't think most people grasp how much of a pressure cooker the mid-1960s pop market was like; we hear stories about the Beatles needing to rush out Rubber Soul by Christmas, and so forth. The Turn! Turn! Turn! album came out only six months after Mr. Tambourine Man. Did you guys feel that crunch, that market demand?
We had a contract with Columbia where we had to do an album every six months, so it really did put the pressure on. We came out of the box with a No. 1 hit, and we had to live up to that. Fortunately, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" became a No. 1 as well.
It was a lot of pressure. We had Gene Clark as the main writer; he was doing great. Then, when he left, it was more difficult to come up with enough material for a good album. Every six months — that was part of the contract.
Gene is often framed as the tragic figure of the band, but The Byrds: 1964-1967 lays out what a force he was; he was the most prolific writer in the band. How would you describe his role in the creative machinery early on?
Well, he was obviously the main songwriter. He and I started the group; we started writing songs together, and he and I wrote some songs. Then, Crosby came along, and he wasn't really writing songs at that point.
We were doing some outside material, like Dylan and Seeger, and Gene kept writing every day. He must have written 30 songs a month; some of them were really good, so we ended up using those.
Read More: David Crosby On His New Album For Free & Why His Twitter Account Is Actually Joyful
The Byrds in Beverly Hills, 1965. Photo: Jim Dickson Archive, courtesy of Henry Diltz Photography
The book closes right at that jumping-off point into 1968's The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which means we go deep on that delicious transitional period, with songs like "5D" and your cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages." Those are probably my two favorite Byrds tracks; can you share any memories regarding them?
"5D": I wrote that while I'd been reading a little book called 1, 2, 3, 4, More, More, More, More [by Don Landis]. It was about multiple dimensions — kind of like string theory, or something. I thought that'd be an interesting subject for a song.
"My Back Pages": Jim Dickson had been the Byrds' manager, and we'd fired him. One day, I was in L.A., driving up La Cienega, and came to a stoplight, and Dickson pulled up next to me and rolled down the window. He said, "Hey, Jim!" — that was me — "You guys ought to record Dylan's 'My Back Pages!'"
I said, "Thank you." It had been a while since the Byrds had a Top 20 hit. So, I went home, got the record out, and listened to the song. It was in 3/4 time, and I had to rearrange it for rock 'n' roll. So, I did, and it became — I think it was No. 22. I'm not sure. [Writer's note: The song peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.]
I feel like "5D" fell into that space where, for decades, people presumed it was about drugs. No such thing: it's the product of a curious mind, which you still possess.
Exactly. It was more of a spiritual thing than a drug thing.
A lot of people don't grasp how incredible, in my opinion, the band remained in the late '60s and early '70s after so many lineup changes; just recently, I was wigging out to the 16-minute live version of "Eight Miles High" on 1970's (Untitled). What do you remember of this time? Are these happy memories for you?
Well, [Byrds guitarist and mandolinist] Clarence White and I were good friends, and we loved playing together. He was probably the best guitar player we ever had. It was like having Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton in your band, or something.
I remember one time at the Whisky, Jimi Hendrix came backstage, and he went running right over to Clarence and shook his hand. The first time we played at Fillmore East with Clarence and the band, there was a big difference between the way it had been with the audience reaction [and the way it was then].
The audience was used to a certain level of Byrds musicianship, and when Clarence came out there, he just slayed them. He was just incredible.
We lost Clarence too young, just like Gene. What was it like to have those guys in the room?
Well, they didn't hang out in the same room. [Chuckles.]
I know — separately, I mean!
Clarence and I hung out more than Gene and I did. Gene was kind of off to himself; he had his life. But Clarence and I were on the road together, and we'd hang out more. Clarence was just a really nice guy and a brilliant guitar player.
What misconceptions still float around regarding the Byrds and your role therein that you'd like to correct, if any?
Oh, I don't really need to fix history. I tried that once on Wikipedia. Somebody put out some stuff on there that wasn't correct, so I went on Wikipedia and corrected it. And they banned me, because some 15-year-old kid in Canada had changed it!
Oh my gosh. Do you remember what the falsehood was?
I think it had something to do with the Subud religion. I'm not sure. [Writer's note: McGuinn changed his name from Jim to Roger in 1967 during a period of experimentation with Subud.]
[McGuinn's wife, Camilla, interjects in the background.] Oh! I forgot that. My wife says I had friends who went on and corrected it for me.
That's good to hear. The historical record can become distorted. A lie travels around the world before the truth is still putting on its shoes, as they say.
Right, we've heard that saying. I think Henry Ford said, "History is bunk."
Robby Krieger's Memoir Set The Night On Fire Offers A New Perspective On The Doors & Jim Morrison: "There Was Another Side To Him"
Photo: Madeline McManus
Living Legends: John Cale On How His Velvet Underground Days & Love Of Hip-Hop Influenced New Album 'Mercy'
The Velvet Underground may be riding a wave of public interest, but John Cale is laser-focused on the now — especially his miles-deep new album, 'Mercy,' which features Animal Collective, Sylvan Esso and many more.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with John Cale, a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and founding member of the Velvet Underground who has steadily built his solo discography for more than half a century. His new album, Mercy, is available now.
Back in 2018, John Cale strolled into the Velvet Underground Experience, an exhibition in New York City's NoHo neighborhood, and gazed upward at a massive projection at Lou Reed's face for several seconds. This writer was there, and the memory lingered — as did its attendant questions.
What must it be like to be chiefly known for what you did as a very young man, for all of two years? To boot, after decades of a storied solo career — including classics like 1973's Paris 1919 and 1982's Music for a New Society — what is it like to have people chiefly want to talk about the Velvets? On top of that, was there any perception among its members that what they were doing was important — much less momentous, and pivotal for popular music?
"I had some theoretical ideas as to why it was important," Cale tells GRAMMY.com over the phone from Los Angeles, where he resides. "I thought if I put together the music that Lou and I would do — which was out of tune slightly, but getting somewhere — the idea of what the music was going to be was going to have an effect. Not only on the avant-garde, but on a lot of other different styles.
The impact of the Velvet Underground on alternative, punk and experimental music has been litigated and relitigated — most recently, in Todd Haynes' fantastic 2021 documentary The Velvet Underground and Ignacio Julià's illuminating 2023 book of interviews, Linger On.
Where do you go from there, with Reed; Nico; manager, producer and cover artist Andy Warhol; and founding Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison no longer with us? Cale remains a potent creative force, so he keeps hurtling forward. His new album, Mercy, is one of his very best — aurally immersive, lyrically wise and filled with facilitative guests, from Weyes Blood to Laurel Halo to Animal Collective.
"I was angry," Cale says of his mindset while writing songs like "Noise of You," "Story of Blood" and "Not the End of the World." More specifically, "I was angry at the number of people in positions of power that should have known better and didn't." Thus, Cale remains a truth-teller as well as a thoughtful collaborator and vital innovator — and it's all there in the music.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Cale to discuss the origin of Mercy, the young rapper that's influencing him lately, and what the remainder of 2023 holds for him.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Whether political or personal, what raw materials went into Mercy?
Well, it was happenstance more than anything.
I was on tour in São Paulo, and I was getting on a plane to go home, and by the time I landed in LA, everybody was under strict lockdown. I'd already written the bulk of the album. So, I came back and was thinking: What is it I can add to this, and maybe ignore the lockdown for a minute and get on with some useful stuff?
Two and a half years later, I was still working on the structure and the noise of the album. I went straight back into it and added some other musicians. I was really glad I did, because [of] the variety of the musicians I found — I mean, I'd worked with them for the Velvet reunion concerts and other places.
So, there was Laurel Halo; there was Actress; there was Weyes Blood, Sylvan Esso, Animal Collective, and Fat White Family. And the songs benefited from all of that interruption.
Reading the lyrics, I was captivated by their heavy, overarching topics. You seem to have a bird's-eye view of everything.
Well, I was angry. I was angry at the number of people in positions of power that should have known better and didn't.
Regarding pandemic mitigation?
Pandemic mitigation, and distorting the truth. Disinformation, conspiracy theories, guns — so much hate. And we were really badly in need — and still are — for people to speak the truth, to help heal this mess and get to the point where redemption was possible. I thought, Well, that's what it is. Strain your soul.
Having been born at the top half of the '40s, do you remember another time when things were this nuts?
Well, I was born at the end of World War II, so it had something going on there that when you got out of it, you thought, Well, I'm glad that's over. Maybe now we'll go learn some common sense. And here we are, 60 years later; we still haven't learned it.
Can you describe the aural aesthetic you pursued for Mercy? I was struck by how enveloping it was from the beginning. It's maximal, but not busy.
That's true. I didn't want it to be busy.
Usually, I write songs from an improvisational point of view. I start with a rhythm, and I improvise the biggest part of the song and then simplify it. Because most of the stuff that I listen to is hip-hop, and I learned a lot from their style and their awkwardness. It was really instructive to me.
I only listened to certain kinds of hip-hop, and the further out they got, the better I liked it. There's a California style, and there's the Bronx. I can't say that I tried to imitate what they were doing, because I couldn't. I mean, I've got a Welsh accent, and that'll stop you in your tracks.
Tell me more about your improvisatory roots, back in the Velvets days when you played a lot of viola.
I don't play as much viola as I used to in those days, but that instrument was really what started me off. I was playing in orchestras from the time I was 12 or 14, and I used to improvise in the most awkward of situations. When you think of what the viola is famous for… not much!
I thought you'd be telling me you were really into Albert Ayler or Ornette Coleman or something.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I also loved listening to U.S. radio; the broadcaster came from D.C. I used to listen to Radio Moscow as well. It was full of those hard-to-find jazz musicians — I mean, Miles and Gil Evans and the entire "new jazz."
I used to go down to the Village and listen to all those guys playing there. I would go several nights a week to see Gil Evans and how his arrangements were really rich.
They were splendid, if you know what I mean by the use of the word "splendid." They had luxurious arrangements with several bass clarinets — not the simple, improvised pieces. These were chord-oriented and very rich. Yeah, they were something I learned a lot from.
John Cale performing with the Velvet Underground in 1966. Photo: Adam itchie/Redferns via Getty Images
You characterize yourself as being an awkward improviser early on. When do you feel like you really came into your own in that regard?
Last year, when I finally got this album under control.
Yeah. I mean, it really took a while, and it's kind of insecure. But when you start writing songs from the rhythm point of view first, you get to the end a lot faster — and it's a very exciting kind of journey, the progress to the end of the song.
That's what this album represents more than anything: what comes first? Do you put the melody down first? Do you put the rhythm down first? I put the rhythm down first. And as soon as you put the rhythm down first, you're in hip-hop.
Tell me a little more about what draws you to hip-hop. Which artists speak to you?
Earl Sweatshirt. A lot that didn't fall into any particular category. They drifted a bit; they drifted in their own thoughts. And I didn't mind that at all.
I'd love to go through the tracklisting and get your insight on each tune.
"Mercy": I had to decide whether I was going to lay myself open to pseudo-religious methodology, and Laurel Halo was similar. I met her in Australia on a tour, and she was a very trance-like synthesist.
"Marilyn Monroe's Legs": I wanted to write a song about Marilyn Monroe, but I didn't want to mention her name in the song. It has a certain obscurity to it; I wanted that song to have abstractedness.
"Noise of You" was something I wrote as an atmospheric piece. With all the melodies and choruses going in it, it really reminded me of Central Europe — of Prague in wintertime. Every time I played that song, I couldn't get away from the idea that this is the Charles river. When I first went to Prague, it was a difficult period, but it straightened itself out.
Then, there's "Story of Blood" with Weyes Blood. [She] has this passionate voice that really fits in, and carries the melody and emotion really well. "Time Stands Still," with Sylvan Esso — I loved them from when I first got used to them. I loved the way that they do melody and rhythm. They had some really beautiful phrasing.
"Moonstruck" is something that came late in my day. I'd not written a song about Nico, because I'd worked on a lot of her records, but "Moonstruck" is how I imagine her style would be. When she approached songwriting, it was because a big influence on her was Jim Morrison. She put much of it together in that style. Jim was making a point of saying, "Do the words first. Do the poetry first, and then the music will come." So, "Moonstruck" was something I reflected on.
"Everlasting Days" with Animal Collective was a very, very useful way of using several different harmonies, like the Beach Boys — four-voice harmony. This was a fun track to work on with them.
"Night Crawling" was about what I remembered from those days when CBGB's was carrying on. It was one of those cases where you really want to work with somebody so much that you don't get the opportunity.
"Not the End of the World" was my way of dealing with the serendipity of life. You got a problem? Yeah, well, get over it and get some work done. That's always the way I've found life since the Velvet Underground — to be a continuum. Because really, I was always into work. Andy [Warhol], Lou [Reed] and myself, we all had that poke in the eye that comes from doing good work.
So, you have "The Legal Status of Ice" by Fat White Family, and they were a rambunctious lot. As close to having a punch-up as anybody. "I Know You're Happy" has [Colombian-Canadian singer/songwriter] Tei Shi on it. And "Out Your Window" is a little bit of a look back at the Velvets. The piano part does.
John Cale. Photo: Marlene Mariano
Aside from Mercy, what's the remainder of 2023 looking like for you?
A break! The two-and-a-half years that I put into this album — before I could leave the album, I came off the road and started getting used to daily life without performing. And deciding that it was smart to write as many songs as I possibly could and get them done fast, because you've got this nasty little monster around.
So, that's what I did. By the time I went back on the road, my engineer and I looked at the list that we had. There were something like 70 or 80 songs on there, and I thought: Good job.
Living Legends: Roger McGuinn On The History Of The Byrds, His One-Man Show And Editing His Own Wikipedia Page
Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns
Remembering David Crosby: 5 Tracks That Define The Rock Storyteller's Thoughtful Craft & Social Commentary
Rock icon David Crosby passed away Jan. 19 at age 81. His discography, like his reputation, is an immense and disparate jaunt that doubles as a music history lesson.
David Crosby was a 1960s folk-rock star, a '70s singer-songwriter marvel and a contemporary creative who simply couldn’t stop churning out new music. Crosby died on Jan. 19 at the age of 81, leaving the world with a massive body of work that helped shape multiple generations. Many rightfully remember him as a rock icon.
"GRAMMY Award winner and 10-time nominee David Crosby left an indelible mark on the music community and the world," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, jr. "As a co-founder of legendary groups the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he created some of the most influential rock music in his multi-decade career. His incredible legacy will be remembered forever, and our thoughts are with his fans and loved ones during this difficult time."
Crosby has multiple entries in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, though his only GRAMMY win came in 1970 with a Best New Artist golden gramophone for his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. (He was nominated for the same award in 1966 for his work with the Byrds.) Crosby's most recent nomination at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards for his 2019 documentary, Remember My Name.
In a Facebook post, Graham Nash recalled the "pure joy of the music we created together, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared. David was fearless in life and in music." Neil Young echoed that sentiment in a statement, reflecting on how Crosby's "voice and energy were at the heart of our band. His great songs stood for what we believed in and it was always fun and exciting when we got to play together."
Crosby’s discography, like his reputation, is an immense and disparate jaunt that doubles as a lesson in music history. From his most recent slate of solo singles — which dabbled in folk and jazz — to his groovy work with the Byrds that made him famous, and his sometimes tumultuous collaborations with Stephen Stills, Nash and Young, here are five essential tracks that paint an aural picture of the music legend.
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" (1965)
Crosby helped concoct this anthem while a member of folk-rock group the Byrds, and it's difficult to imagine protests, happenings and fashion of the hippie generation without hearing "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
Folk heavyweight Pete Seeger borrowed the bulk of the lyrics from the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, though the Byrds made the song a hit. Crosby's rhythm guitar and backing vocals give the song a mystical quality (along with Roger McGuinn’s 12 string Rickenbacker, of course). Synonymous with the activism that engulfed the conflict in Vietnam, "Turn! Turn! Turn! went to No. 1 just as that war in Southeast Asia was at the top of public consciousness.
Written by Crosby for Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled debut album, the tender, heart-wrenching "Guinnevere" tells the story of three women — among them, a girlfriend he lost in a car accident — opening with the plaintive, "Guinnevere had green eyes" before transitioning into a haunting line: "She shall be free."
Subsequently covered by Miles Davis on The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, a live version of "Guinnevere" was also one of the very last songs Crosby released. Speaking to Music Radar, Crosby said the torch song "could be his best" — quite a statement, considering the scope of his mighty career.
"Almost Cut My Hair" (1970)
Crosby wrote this irreverent yet poignant ode to the counterculture for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Déjà vu. The song takes Crosby’s famously stubborn nature and transposes it to the fading days of the hippie movement, long hair and all.
"If you’re writing a song like 'Almost Cut My Hair,'" Crosby said in his final interview, just two weeks before his death, "[And it’s] something where you feel like you have a point to make, then that anger can come in there but you’ve got to be careful with that s—." Aside from the of-the-moment lyrics (in which he proclaims he feels like letting his "freak flag fly"), Crosby takes center stage musically. His voice is the only one heard, as Still, Nash and Young pitch in on instrumentation.
"Cowboy Movie" (1971)
Foreshadowing his future career, Crosby was deep in his collaboration with CSNY when he released his debut solo album If I Can Only Remember My Name. Featuring friends such as Joni Mitchell, and members of Santana and the Grateful Dead (they called their band the the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra), the album was maligned upon its release but has been reassessed to acclaim.
"Cowboy Movie," with the Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh on guitar and bass, is a tribute to the tales of the Old West. "Now I'm dying here in Albuquerque," Crosby sings as the song comes to a close. "I must be the sorriest sight you ever saw."
"She’s Got to Be Somewhere" (2017)
"Whatever time I have left on this planet should be dedicated to making the best music I can," Crosby said in 2018 "It’s the one contribution I can make. Music helps things; it makes things better." Crosby did just that, going on a creative tear where he released a bevy of solo albums.
On 2017's Sky Trails, the man who helped pioneer folk and psychedelic rock is almost unrecognizable. The cool and crackling "She’s Got To Be Somewhere," a co-production between Crosby and his adopted son James Raymond, is an exploration of jazz fusion. "It’s ingrained in me and it’s ingrained in my son James," Crosby said of his jazz influences during a 2019 conversation with Jazz Times, citing jazz titans Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Evans.
David Crosby On His New Album 'For Free' & Why His Twitter Account Is Actually Joyful
Photo: Francois Rousseau
Living Legends: Electronic Music Pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre's 50-Year Odyssey Of Audio Experimentation
"I don't think that you decide to be out of the box. It’s just a part of your personality or your character," the French musician says of his decades-long desire to democratize sound.
Presented by GRAMMY.com, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. GRAMMY.com recently caught up with Jean-Michel Jarre, whose work has greatly influenced the scope of electronic music and broken multiple records.
Jean-Michel Jarre is living proof that age is a construct.
The 74-year-old electronic music legend is just as curious and excited about music as artists in their 20s heading out on their debut album tour. For 50 years, Jarre's resume has overflowed with a spirit of ingenuity.
Jarre first sparked international attention with his 1976 album Oxygéne, which was one of the first to solely utilize synthesizers in the creation of three-to-four-minute pop songs. The LP’s second single, "Oxygene, Pt. 4," merged then-unheard bubbly synth sounds with a clear sense of melody and song form — launching both the technology and electronic music to new heights.
In the decades that followed, the global music community took note of Jarre's innovation and the artist became a sought-after collaborator. He’s worked with classical composers including Hans Zimmer, dance music stalwarts such as Detroit techno icon Jeff Mills and trance legend Armin Van Buuren, collaborated with Moby, and partnered with burgeoning talents like the anonymous music project, Deathpact.
But the reach of Jean-Michel Jarre extends beyond his discography; he continually redefines what electronic music can be in both the listening space and the live space.
He’s invented hybrid instruments like the laser harp. He’s broken records with his performances, playing for audiences of over a million people on multiple occasions. Jarre has also broken geographic and cultural boundaries with his performances; in 1981 he became the first Western artist to perform in China in the post-Mao Zedong era. On Nov. 25, Jarre celebrated the 40th anniversary of these historic performances with The China Concerts, a remastered edition of the live recordings from those five concerts.
But Jarre is doing more this year than looking back into his extraordinary past. His 22nd album, Oxymore, came out in October and is billed as the "first commercial release of this scale" to fully utilize multichannel and binaural sound in the production, composition, recording and mixing processes. This spatial 3D audio allows listeners to feel as if they are physically inside the music — a concept Jarre has wanted to bring to life since he first saw Chet Baker play trumpet in Paris when at age 10. The album was developed in the "Innovation" studios of Radio France and is a homage to the late composer Pierre Henry, Jarre's mentor and a pioneer of electronic music.
Jarre created an Oxymore-based VR world, Oxyville, and has hosted several performances in the metaverse. During a digital meet and greet with fans and avatars, "one girl was very excited. Asking lots of questions and moving and bouncing everywhere," Jarre says from his home in Paris. "I discovered by talking to her that she was quadriplegic and it was her first time she attended a concert and danced all evening."
Such an interaction is what keeps Jarre excited about what’s coming next in his career. It’s not technology. It’s the magic he can generate by sharing creative, physical experiences with other human beings.
"Who cares about the technology? When you are in a restaurant you don’t care so much about the kitchen and how it’s done. You just enjoy the food or not, and it’s the same with music or art," Jarre says. "I think mystery is key. I have a son who is a great magician and the last thing I want to know is how he is doing his trick. It’s a magic killer."
Jarre is still finding that magic. He spoke with GRAMMY.com about his two new albums, his continuing relationship with experimentation, and how the role of art and culture in the world has changed (or stayed the same) over the last five decades.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I read that you started your musical experimentation as young as age 11 with a secondhand tape recorder. Have your feelings towards musical experimentation changed or stayed the same over that time?
When I started at the age of 11-12 with this second-hand tape recorder that my grandfather gave me I became obsessed with the machine. I was basically recording everything all day and sometimes at night, but I had no idea that it could be a link to any future linked with music.
One day, I played the tape backward and I had the feeling that some aliens were talking to me, and from that moment I started to record. I was starting to play in some local rock bands with friends, and so I was recording some of my guitar and organ and playing [the recordings] backward, changing the speed, just doing experiments with sounds but with no preconceived ideas.
And then when I discovered [Groupe de Recherches Musicales] in Paris, one of the origins of French electro-acoustic music, I discovered that some people were considering music in a different way. Thinking about integrating noise and sounds into music, and it became very obvious that it was really a revolution — a revolution in music.
I was listening to American rock bands or British rock bands, and it was a revolution globally around the world, but I felt that something else could be explored. These days were right in the middle of the student revolution where it was cool to rebel against basically any kind of establishment and, in a sense, electronic music was a way to rebel against the establishment of rock. We tried to find a different voice in a different way, and at that moment I was experimenting with very limited technology…. doing field recordings and processing sounds, or stealing some oscillators from radio stations to create the first DIY type of synthesizer.
Today whatever you do — hip-hop or rock or pop or techno — we’re all integrating sound effects into our music. We all became sound designers as well as music producers. Today, the emergence of immersive technology and immersive worlds are two other disruptive moments very potent in my career.
Does that drive to revolutionize music still play a role in how you move forward as an artist?
I don't think that you decide to be out of the box. It’s just a part of your personality or your character. I’ve always been interested in new ideas or new tools. I’ve always considered that technology is dictating styles and not the reverse.
It’s because we invented the violin that Vivaldi made music with it. It’s because we had 78s in Elvis Presley’s time that you could only cut three minutes on the 78 and it was the only way to put a record in a jukebox. The pop single as a format started to be played on the radio and not the reverse. This link between tech and culture has been always something quite essential in music production.
I’ve always been curious about new techniques because the beauty of lots of music productions is the idea of hijacking technology — to take technology which has not been devised or designed for us, but stealing from them. We are all robbers.
It brings us back to the idea that great art goes against what’s come before.
[Electronic music is] probably the most popular music in the world, but it still has its underground feel, its underground image.
Every emerging movement in music has been rejected by the previous one. The first jazz was quite rejected by classical musicians. Then the first rock musicians were rejected by jazz.
When I started with electronic music it was really against the establishment of rock. Lots of rock artists [were saying] "What’s all these machines with knobs? They are not real instruments," and a few decades later these instruments are still called machines.
All these signs are showing that electronic music is still underground. It’s still truly something linked with a kind of rebellious approach about sound production and music production.
Considering the "machine-instrument" relationship, you built the laser harp, which no one can deny is a machine, but no one can deny is an instrument either.
Exactly. It’s all a cultural thing. What is an instrument? A saxophone is a fantastic piece of technology. A clarinet is a fantastic piece of technology. It’s quite sophisticated. And then it’s a machine. It’s an acoustic machine. It’s a manual machine. It’s not electric but it’s a machine also.
For Oxymore you were the first person to conceive and compose an album from beginning to end using 360-degree audio. What’s it like for you to use different forms of technology in your music today?
[I don’t consider] myself a geek. I’m not really interested in technology for the sake of it. The same way you don’t ask a pianist to fix a piano. It’s the same thing, but I’ve always been interested by the relationship between my music and space. Even in times of Oxygéne, I was …finding delays or reverb to try to enlarge, widen the soundscape in a sense.
We have, culturally, this kind of frontal relationship with music. When you compose for a symphonic orchestra you visualize the orchestra in front of you. When you’re producing music in a studio you have two speakers in front of you. When you are in the festival or concert hall you still have the PA system in front of you.
So our relationship is more a kind of representation of music than an immersion into music. Stereo doesn’t exist in nature. When I’m talking to you I’m in mono. When a bird is singing it’s singing in mono. It’s the environment around us and our ears which are creating the perspective in audio.
And then modern technology is allowing us to go back to a very natural way of experimenting and experiencing sounds, and for the first time, we can be inside the music. This is a total disrupting moment.
At the moment, lots of spatial audio is conceived and composed in stereo but then spatialized later on. I conceived and composed the music [for Oxymore] in space. Putting every element of my arrangement in speakers that go all around me is a totally different approach. It’s like going from painting to sculpture.
How did you conceive of and compose this record in spatial audio?
I started in my own studio in 5.1 [speaker setup] because only 5.1 was allowing me to put the sound in space. Then I went to Radio France Internationale, the French BBC, and they have a very sophisticated studio with 36 speakers where you can really adjust sounds by degree.
Then you could say "that’s interesting, but who can listen to that?" And the answer is important.
Binaural — the multichannel audio version translated for headphones — was not devised for music at the beginning, but more for movies. We had to twist the system to get a convincing binaural version [that would sound] very close to the experience you could have with real speakers around you.
The binaural version, for me, is essential because it’s the real democratization of immersive sound. With just your standard headphones and any kind of smartphone or laptop, you can have access to the immersive experience. With the development of the metaverse and VR, with the development of electric cars that are more equipped with immersive sounds, we know that this technology is going to be the next step.
I’m actually convinced that in maybe in five years’ or six years' time, we’ll probably consider stereo with the same nostalgia that we are considering the gramophone of our grandparents.
I’m also convinced that new styles and new artists in hip-hop, punk, and the pop of tomorrow will depend on this new technology. As all the previous genres of music have been depending on the tools we were using as music producers.
Read more: What Is Immersive Audio?: How Engineers, Artists & Industry Are Changing The State Of Sound
You’ve said your first physical experience with music came when Chet Baker played his trumpet for you at the age of 10. Fast forward to today and you are performing in VR worlds with 360 audio where people are literally surrounded by the music. How does that physical experience of VR and spatial audio compare to your experience with Chet Baker?
In a sense, it’s very similar. I always consider our relationship with any kind of art form to be organic and based on emotions and feelings, physically. When I think about what happened with Chet Baker and this physical feeling I got with the air of the instrument on my chest, it was absolutely purely physical and the feeling was from an organic process.
It’s the same thing with VR. The first VR object is a book; you are projecting yourself and you imagine the face of the characters and you become inside the fantasy world as a watcher or as an actor. VR is one step further where you are sending your digital twin into a VR world. But it’s still emotional; it’s still very organic.
When I was playing in VR I have my instruments in the physical world, but if I’m in front of an audience made of avatars, these avatars are digital twins of real human beings, a real audience. So after five minutes, I’m sweating. I’m nervous or I’m enjoying it in the same way. It’s even strange to think that after five minutes you forget you are in a virtual world because you are still feeling, physically, emotions.
There is a social dimension that we forget when we’re talking about the metaverse because lots of people these days are mixing the metaverse and cryptocurrencies and saying the metaverse is linked only to business.
Actually, there is a fantastic creative potential, poetic potential, a kind of Romanesque approach to creating your own world even from your living room. For the last 20-30 years you can produce, compose and distribute your music from your living room with a laptop. The same thing is going to happen with VR. A young artist could create his own fantasy world with some tools from his home.
This month you will celebrate 40 years of your performances in China, which remain an astounding testament to how music can generate unity. In today’s world, we are seeing so much division and turmoil. What do you think your role is as a musician with a huge audience to address that?
I was raised by an extraordinary woman. My mom used to be a great figure in the French resistance and after the war. When I was a child, she told me about this idea that we shouldn’t mix ideology and people.
I think we have to go everywhere where people don’t have the same freedom of speech and freedom of expression as we have. And I think that more than ever culture should be considered as a trojan horse.
The beauty of VR is tomorrow you can have people from Iran or from North Korea — if they have a headset or even a laptop — and they can have access to the concert we can do in New York or in Paris or in London.
When I look back, I think that China concerts are very special to me because it was like playing on the moon for both sides. At that time people had absolutely no idea about what was going on in the West. I went there with a stage project that was even revolutionary from the Western point of view —with electronic music, with lasers, things that were totally new. But you can imagine from the Chinese point of view, in those days, it was a real shock.
That your career has lasted so long to allow for a 40th anniversary album is kind of unbelievable. When you think back on your decades as an artist, what are your key takeaways?
What I learned is the importance of curiosity. Every time you start a project is to touch reset. I’m starting again as a beginner. I’m not really interested in what I’ve done before. It doesn’t really belong to me anymore. I’m more interested by what’s next — not to try to beat records, but as a kind of excitement. As long as this excitement exists, I think you go on.
Living Legends: Roger McGuinn On The History Of The Byrds, His One-Man Show And Editing His Own Wikipedia Page
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC