Roger McGuinn is Keeping Folk Music Alive

Traditional folk songs, which experienced a renaissance in the 1950s and 60s when groups like Kingston Trio and Simon & Garfunkel introduced songs penned by others to a younger audience, are suffering from an “out of sight, out of mind syndrome.” Co-founder/lead singer/lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McGuinn, has been trying to change that for two decades. His latest effort, The Folk Den Project: Twentieth Anniversary Edition, which was released last week, is packed with more than 100 re-recorded folk tunes.

It’s the second reincarnation of a project McGuinn began in the mid-90s. He was listening to a Smithsonian Folkways album of traditional folk music, and realized that new singers were writing their own material rather than doing Appalachian-style ballads, sea shanties and the blues. Hoping to get traditional folk music back into the public consciousness, he recorded a series of tunes and uploaded them to his website, mcguinn.com, in a section called “Folk Den.”

“I thought [traditional music] might get lost in the shuffle, and somebody ought to do something about it,” said McGuinn, who is often credited as the first guitarist to create and popularize the “jangle pop” sound via his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. It’s a style/approach that can be heard in the music of such renowned artists as Tom Petty and REM, among others.

McGuinn, who also released a 100-track, 4-CD set for the project’s 10th anniversary, had difficulty picking out specific favorite selections from the latest installment.

“It’s like, ‘Which one of your children are your favorite?’ I love them all. But there are a couple that I really like a lot.”

McGuinn says one of his favorites is “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” an African-American spiritual that dates back to the time of the Civil War and was also covered by Nat King Cole in 1959.

With the set now completed and released, McGuinn will perform several US shows in September, including a performance on September 30th at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey. Expect a one-man-play-style show.

“I set up all the songs with stories…There used to be a couple of actors that went around doing Will Rogers, and ‘The Life of Will Rogers.’ Well, I’m just doing my own life.”

greg prato

greg prato

Greg Prato has lived almost his entire life on Long Island. He has written for Rolling Stone, and has penned many a book on either rock n’ roll or sports. See what he’s up to on Twitter @gregpratowriter.