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Roger McGuinn: Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ rides again, 50 years later

September 26, 2018

Roger McGuinn: Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ rides again, 50 years later

CLEVELAND, Ohio – To everything, there is a season, and nobody knows that better than Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn.

So, when it came time to, ahem, turn, turn, turn, to a genre besides the band’s early efforts in psychedelic rock, he was on board. And thus was born “Sweetheart of the Rodeo″ and the birth of country rock – with country star Gram Parsons as the midwife, so to speak.

That was 50 years ago, and now McGuinn is touring in support of the anniversary of what has become one of the Byrds’ most beloved album. But it didn’t start out to be a country rock record.

“My idea was a very ambitious idea,″ said McGuinn, who will bring the tour, along with his pals Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, to the Akron Civic Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 3. “I wanted to start with early music, baroque, then go to Celtic and came to the Appalachians and turned into country, then go to jazz an out to space music.″

So what happened?

“The Gram Parsons came along,″ McGuinn said.

“He was a very talented guy and very intense,″ he said. “He was very much in love with country music and that was infectious.

“I loved it so much myself that I went to a rodeo tailor and got some country gear and got a black Cadillac El Dorado,″ he said, the smile at the memory evident in his voice.

″[‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’] was not well received when it came out, but over the years, it’s climbed the charts to be one of the most revered Byrds albums,″ McGuinn said. He noted that it’s one of three albums in Rolling Stone’s list of top 500 albums of all time.

“There was a problem back in the ’60s because country music was considered light,″ he said. “Vietnam was going on and people felt betrayed because we’d gone over to the country side.″

And yet as much as he likes it, “Sweetheart” is not his favorite among Byrds albums.

“It was something we wanted to do because we were so much in love with country music,″ McGuinn said. “I think it’s No. 3 [on the list of best-of Byrds albums]. No. 1 would be ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers, then ‘Younger Than Yesterday.’ ″

Given his love of country, it makes sense that McGuinn would team with Stuart, who with his band is probably one of the purest “true” country acts on the scene today.

“I met Marty about 18 years ago,″ McGuinn said. “It was a Dolly Parton movie and Marty was master of ceremonies.

“Marty and I went down to a little creek and sat down by this creek and Marty started playing,″ he said. The two teamed up on an impromptu version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,″ a Bob Dylan classic McGuinn and Clarence White did in one incarnation of the Byrds.

A video of the song is proof of a friendship that began then and has only gotten stronger over the years, and led to this combination for the tour.

Stuart and his band and McGuinn and Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman team up throughout the two-set show. The result has been a concert that’s pleased Byrds fans, fans of McGuinn’s solo years and those of Stuart and his band, McGuinn said. They do songs of each band, in a show that’s integrated.

Or, in other words, everyone gets a turn, turn, turn.

Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. What: 50th anniversary of the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo″ Byrds album. When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3. Where: Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main Street, Akron. Tickets: $53 to $93, at the box office, akroncivic.com and ticketmaster.com and by phone at 1-800-745-3000 and 330-253-2488.

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