The old axiom for rockers is to never read the reviews. Roger McGuinn doesn’t buy it. The legendary singer-songwriter, who has influenced so many significant recording artists from Tom Petty to R.E.M. with his jangly guitar style, made a change after reading a critique of his performance three decades ago.
“I was opening for John Prine in Texas back in the early to mid-’80s,” McGuinn said during a call from his Orlando home. “John is a wonderful storyteller, who engages the audience. The day after the show my wife and I read the review and it said, ‘Unless you’re a really big fan of Roger McGuinn, it (his performance) was kind of boring.’ The reason for that was the contrast to John Prine, who was so great telling his stories. At that point, I decided to tell stories and I’ve been doing it ever since. My shows have been so much better since.”
Expect McGuinn, 71, to render Byrds classics, solo tunes and to spin a bunch of yarns when he performs Friday at the Largo Cultural Center.
“I’ve been around for so long,” McGuinn said. “I feel like I’ve seen it all. I have some good tales to tell.”
One of McGuinn’s best anecdotes, which he probably won’t share in Largo, is his decision to cover Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “American Girl,” months after the song hit the charts in 1977.
“When I heard ‘American Girl’ for the first time I said, ‘when did I record that?’ I was kidding, but the vocal style sounded just like me and then there was the Rickenbacker guitar, which I used. The vocal inflections were just like mine. I was told that a guy from Florida named Tom Petty wrote and sings the song and I said that I had to meet him. I liked him enough to invite Petty and the Heartbreakers to open for us in 1976. When I covered ‘American Girl’ I changed a word or two and Tom asked me if it was because the vocal was too high and I said ‘yes.’ I had fun with Tom’s song. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know him really well. He’s great and he’s been kind enough to say what kind of an impact I had on him.”
Petty and Bruce Springsteen agreed to be interviewed for a forthcoming Roger McGuinn DVD, which will debut next year.
“It’s nice that people will come out and say nice things,” McGuinn said. “Bruce is tremendous. We’re not close buddies but we respect each other and we’re friendly. When Bruce played Orlando in 2008, he sent a car out for me so I could come and play along with him. I did ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ When I was originally doing that song, I tried to make the vocal like a Bob Dylan/John Lennon thing. There’s a story behind every song. I’ve got so many songs. I have the Byrds songs, the solo songs and my Folk Den project. I never run out of songs or stories.”
The Largo show is driving distance from McGuinn’s home. “I love Florida,” McGuinn said. “It really is a great place that sometimes gets a bad rap. I love where I live and I’ve had a lot of great times in Tampa. It’s a wonderful place to perform.”