On Stage: Roger McGuinn remains a major influence

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Roger McGuinn

If you attend Roger McGuinn’s show at the Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) on April 25, you’ll be treated to a great musical performance and a lesson in rock-and-roll history.

A concert performance by Roger McGuinn is more than just a music concert. It is a history lesson in the evolutionary development of rock music in America. McGuinn has had a major influence on rock music over the last four decades.

“It’s like a one-man play,” said McGuinn, during a recent phone interview from his home in Orlando, Florida.

“I do the hits and I play some new stuff. What I change is the stories around the old songs. I do the same thing with the songs from ‘Sweet Memories.’”

McGuinn has released several albums in the last 15 years including “Limited Edition” in 2004, “Folk Den Project” in 2005, “CCD” in 2011, “Stories, Songs & Friends” in 2014 and his brand-new album “Sweet Memories.”

“I do around 50 gigs each year,” said McGuinn. “I’m careful about the venues I play. I prefer theaters. Outdoor venues fizzle in that you can’t control the sound.”

“I’ve got a lot of good memories and I like to share them. In my live shows, I do different stories at different times — things like how the Byrds got formed or what it was like playing with Dylan and Tom Petty.”

McGuinn has a lot of songs from which to draw for his live shows but some choices are predictable.

“Obviously, I do a lot of Byrds’ songs,” said McGuinn, whose jingly-jangly playing style on Rickenbacker guitars influenced an amazing number of musicians (including R.E.M., the Kennedys and Sloan).

“There are songs than fans always want to hear such as ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ ‘Eight Miles High,’ ‘So You Want To Be A Rock’N’Roll Star,’ ‘Feel A Whole Lot Better’ and ‘My Back Pages.’ It’s a loose set so I can change things in the middle.”

McGuinn revisited a special time in the Byrds’ history last year.

“Last year, I toured with Marty Stuart,” said McGuinn. “We did the 50th anniversary of the Byrds’ ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ album. SONY still owns all those recorings.

“On my new album, I have re-recorded ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ and ‘So You Want to Be A Rock’N’Roll Star.’ I play them as close as I can to the originals. And, I recorded a sequel to ‘Chestnut Mare.’

“They were all done in my studio using ProTools. I play everything. It was fun to re-record them and get all the harmonies down. I cut some recently-written songs and some that have been 20 years in the making. ‘At the Edge of the Water’ was written as an ocean voyage.”

As a founding member of the Byrds, McGuinn was part of a band that could be considered “early birds.” The Byrds were a rock band based in Los Angeles. They are universally regarded as one of the most influential rock bands ever.

The Byrds led the way for the folk-rock movement with hit covers of songs by folk legends such as Bob Dylan (“Mr. Tambourine Man”) and Pete Seeger (“Turn, Turn, Turn”).

They were one of the first groups to make psychedelic rock and, along with the Beatles, pioneered raga rock with songs such as “Eight Miles High” and “Why” — compositions that spanned both genres.

In 1967, their song “Going Back” featured the use of a pedal steel guitar and that paved the way for their next album “Sweethearts of the Rodeo.” That album featured a variety of genres (rock, folk rock, jazz, bluegrass) and laid the groundwork for the soon-to-happen country rock movement.

After numerous lineup changes, the Byrds eventually disbanded in the 1970 leaving behind a legacy of trailblazing efforts and great music. Since then, McGuinn has continued on with a solo career. In the late 1980s, he toured with Dylan as the opening act.

“I was inspired by Pete Seeger when I was a kid and he’s been my inspiration ever since,” said McGuinn. “For my live shows, it’s just me and my instruments — just like Pete Seeger. I play a seven-string guitar that was custom-made by Martin, a five-string banjo, and a 12-string Rickenbacker – a signature model from the ’80s.”

The Rickenbacker guitar became part of McGuinn’s signature sound almost 50 years and still figures prominently in his songs.

“Rickenbacker did a signature 12-string for me in 1989,” said McGuinn. “It was a limited edition of 1,000. It was very much like they did with Pete Seeger.

“I’m still writing. I’ve got some new songs so the next thing will be to go into the studio. Writing is the same as always. You have to sit and work on it.”

McGuinn, who will turn 77 in July, knows the key to staying young is to stay busy.

“I play my guitar an hour a day,” said McGuinn, referring to his regimen for staying young and healthy. “And, I walk every day. Performing live shows also helps.

“It’s nice because I’m seeing a new crop of fans — fans in their late teens and early 20s. They figured it out somehow. I get a lot of 17-year-olds telling me how much they love the early Byrds’ albums.

“But the demographics are definitely changing. I used to have people asking for my autograph for themselves. Later, they were asking for autographs for their fathers. Now, they’re asking me to write an autograph for their grandfathers.”

Video link for Roger McGuinn — https://youtu.be/1ez7VFDwfhU.

The show at the Colonial Theatre will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $29.50-$52.50.

Squirrel Nut Zippers

A few years ago, Jimbo Mathus, the founder of the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, visited the area for a solo show at XO Lounge. Mathus had been on his own for the last 15 years.

Now, the Squirrel Nut Zippers have come back to life and will headline a show on April 25 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com).

“The Zippers broke up in 2000,” said Mathus, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Rockport, Massachusetts. “It was a good challenge for me after that — a challenge to regroup and re-invest in what I’m all about.”

At the time, Mathus had just released “Blue Healer” on Fat Possum Records. It was his 12th solo album.

“Recently, I was approached and asked about doing a reunion tour for the 20th anniversary of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I really didn’t know how to feel about it.

“Then, I thought – I know so many great musicians in New Orleans. I thought I could put together a great band. I cherry-picked the best people I thought could make the greatest Squirrel Nut Zippers of all time.”

Mathus got the players and started to play live dates as Squirrel Nut Zippers. The led to a new SNZ album – “Beasts of Burgundy.”

“Beasts of Burgundy” was released in March 2018 via the band’s own label — Southern Broadcasting. Performers on the album include Mathus (guitar, vocals), Dr. Sick (fiddle, banjo, various instruments, vocals), Cella Blue (vocals), Vanessa Niemann (vocals), Tamar A. Korn (vocals), Dave Boswell (trumpet), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Aurora Nealand (clarinet), Charlie Halloran (trombone), Colin Myers (trombone), Henry Westmoreland (tenor and baritone saxophone), Kris Tokarski (piano), Leslie P. Martin (piano), Tamara Nicolai (upright bass), Neilson Bernard III (drums) and Chris Phillips (percussion).

“We were on the road a lot – playing a lot of shows – so we didn’t have a lot of time to go into the studio,” said Mathis. “We just grabbed days here and there.

“I scraped some money together and we got in the studio whenever we could. It was a lot of fun. Dr. Sick is a great historian. He’s also a great musician and a great partner in the band. The record was finished last year – July 2017. I wrote the whole thing. The songs came really fast.

“There’s a book called ‘The World That Made New Orleans’ by Ned Sublette. I got a lot of story ideas from that. The history of New Orleans is intriguing to me – thinking about the old entertainers that are now almost extinct. It’s a lost art form – the New Orleans hot jazz, cabaret, vaudeville era.

“When people come out to our shows, they’re getting some of that lost art. There are 12 of us. It’s not only great musicians, it’s costumes, dance and theater. People see our show and they’re overjoyed. They come away elated.”

Video link for Squirrel Nut Zippers — https://youtu.be/zeC5yr–CdQ.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall, which has Mighty Joe Castro & The Gravamen as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at the Ardmore Music Hall are Philly Bloco on April 26, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers with Dynagroove on April 27, The Rock Collection: Melvin Seals, Greg Anton, Stu Allen, Dan Lebowitz, JP McLean, & Stephanie Salva on April 28 and Son Volt on May 1.

More vintage American music will be on tap on April 25 when Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) hosts a bluegrass twin-bill featuring the Jon Stickley Trio and Front Country.

The Jon Stickley Trio

The Jon Stickley Trio is a progressive ensemble from Asheville, North Carolina — a genre-defying and cinematic instrumental trio featuring deep grooves, innovative flatpicking, and sultry-spacy violin. The band is rooted in the traditions of bluegrass but performs Gypsy jazz and folk-punk as well. Jon Stickley plays flat-pick guitar, Lyndsay Pruett plays violin and Hunter Deacon plays drums.

Stickley is known as a creative acoustic guitarist who uses the instrument in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Pruett is described as a fiddler capable of producing flowing solos with her own distinctive flourishes. Deacon is a classically-trained and jazz-influenced modern drummer.

“We’re all instrumental” said Stickley, during a phone interview last week. “We do plug in. We also use handful of effects including a bass simulator.

“Before putting this trio together, I was in a bunch of other bands. Usually, I was playing acoustic bass.”

With inspiration ranging from Green Day to Duran Duran to Tony Rice to Nirvana, Grateful Dead, David Grisman and beyond, the Jon Stickley Trio is catching listeners’ attention with its unique sound. Along with releasing several full-length albums and one EP in the past few years, the Trio has toured incessantly over the last few years.

“With this trio, we’re doing experimental progressive bluegrass with elements of jazz, rock and classical,” said Stickley. “Our roots are in bluegrass but we’ve gone in a different direction.

“We play mostly originals. We also take classic bluegrass tunes and re-arrange them in our style. And, we also play some newgrass covers of artists like David Grisman and Bela Fleck. We’re now n a club tour but we also do a lot of festivals – bluegrass, jam grass and Americana.”

The band’s most recent album is “Maybe Believe,” which was released in 2017.

“We made four albums so far,” said Stickley. “We just signed with Organic Records. We’re going into the studio next week in Asheville to start working on our next album. Right now, we have six tracks that we’ve already road-tested.”

Video link for Jon Stickley Trio – https://youtu.be/_suxtehT7JQ.

Front Country

Front Country also is signed with Organic Records. In April 2017, Front Country released its second full-length album “Other Love Songs” on Organic Records and the album debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums Charts.

Front Country is an American folk pop and progressive bluegrass band founded in 2011 in San Francisco, California. The band consists of lead vocalist and songwriter Melody Walker, mandolinist Adam Roszkiewicz, lead guitarist Jacob Groopman, violinist Leif Karlstrom and bassist Jeremy Darrow.

The band was initially formed as a bluegrass ensemble at a monthly jam at the Atlas Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. In 2013, the group moved on to play a monthly residency Amnesia, a bar in the Mission District.

“A lot of us had known each other for a while in the Bay Area music scene,” said Groopman, during a phone interview last week from Nashville.

“We started playing together and it sounded good. We won first place in the RockyGrass Festival Band Competition in 2012.”w

Although Front Country has a foundation in traditional music, the band is creating its own path and sound, which they refer to as “roots pop.”

An acoustic band born in the land of tech innovation, Front Country was never going to be accepted as an authentic American roots band out of the gate. Cutting their teeth in progressive bluegrass jams in San Francisco’s Mission District and rehearsing in the East Bay, the band members learned to play roots music their own way — with the tools they had on hand.

The ensemble included a mandolinist with a degree in composition and classical guitar, a guitarist trained in rock and world music, a bassist equally versed in jazz and bluegrass, a violinist with technique that could seamlessly hop between honky-tonk and electropop, and a female lead singer with grit and soul that was also a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. In a wood-paneled country dive bar in the shadow of the San Francisco skyline, Front Country forged a sound that was focused on merging the musical past with the future.

“At the start, we pretty much a straight-up bluegrass band,” said Groopman. “From the beginning, we’ve been trying to push the boundaries. Nobody in the band grew up playing bluegrass. I played rock-and-roll and jazz. Melody was doing world and folk. Leif was a classical musician. We all had these very diverse influences. So, we started opening up our sound to these influences.”

Although Front Country has a foundation in traditional music, the band is creating its own path and sound, which it refers to as “roots pop.”

“Our first album – ‘Sake of the Sound’ – was pretty much straight bluegrass,” said Groopman. “With ‘Other Love Songs,’ we still recorded it as an acoustic band — no big production – but we started working more of a pop/rock sound.

“At a lot of places in San Francisco, we built an older fanbase that likes bluegrass music. But we also have a younger audience that likes the rock aspect. The Bay Area is always a great place for diverse music.

“The ‘Other Love Songs’ album was recorded in 2016 and came out in 2017. We’re starting now to work on our next album. We’ve recoded five tracks so far. We’re talking our time – writing new songs and road-testing them. We hope to finish the album this summer.”

Video link for Front Country — https://youtu.be/-ISna1OB54c.

The show at Locks at Sona will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at Locks at Sona are Jesse Terry and Craig and Aislinn Bickhardt on April 26 and Peter Bradley Adams on April 27.

Uli Jon Roth

If you’re looking for music with a harder edge for your live entertainment on Thursday night, then check out Uli Jon Roth’s “Triple Anniversary World Tour,” which touches down at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on April 25.

Roth explained the “triple anniversary” during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Ottawa, Canada.

“It’s two 40th anniversaries – the release of ‘Tokyo Tapes’ and the start of Electric Sun – and the 50th anniversary of my first time on stage in 1968,” said Roth.

“The show is a cross-section of my performing and music career. In 1968 and 1969, I was in a band with friends in school in Hannover. We played dance songs and a lot of R&B. And, some Queen and Hendrix songs.”

Roth is one of the best – and most famous –rock musicians to come out of Germany.

“I was born in Duesseldorf and grew up in Germany,” said Roth. “In 1980, I moved to the U.K. I still live in the U.K. – in Wales.”

Roth, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitar players ever, played his first ever show in December 1968 — at the age of 13.

 – and to celebrate his upcoming 50th Stage Anniversary, he will perform concerts across North America this spring.

He became famous as Scorpions’ lead guitarist and is one of the earliest contributors to the neoclassical metal genre. He is also the founder of Sky Academy and inventor of the Sky Guitar.
The two hour-plus program on this tour features carefully-selected highlights from Roth’s entire five-decade music career. The 50th Anniversary set will include the best of that timeless material, including “The Sails of Charon,” “In Trance,” and “Fly to the Rainbow.”

He will also be reconnecting with the second very important part of his unique musical journey – his ground-breaking Electric Sun period during which he took the art of electric guitar playing to a completely new and unprecedented level.

Virtually singlehandedly, Roth pioneered a unique style of guitar playing which combined complete technical mastery of the instrument with an intensely melodic and emotional appeal.

1985 was the final year for Electric Sun as a band concept. It has been more than 30 years since Roth performed the music of Electric Sun in the U.K. in an unforgettable series of shows which included Hammersmith Odeon, Manchester Apollo and Newcastle City Hall. After all these years, he has now taken a fresh look at this unique material, drawn from the three Electric Sun albums – “Earthquake,” “Fire Wind” and “Beyond the Astral Skies.”

Roth’s musical scope is enormous and ranges from vintage Jimi Hendrix and Cream to the technically much more demanding world of classical music. Roth has written classical concertos and symphonic pieces and is equally at home in both worlds.

The current tour features Roth playing excerpts from his stunning “Metamorphosis of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Concerto” as well as several pieces which feature him on classical, acoustic and flamenco guitar.

“I have a six-piece band,” said Roth. “There are three guitars, bass, keyboards and drums – and vocals. We also have a big projector with moving images.

“I’m doing songs from early Scorpions, Electric Sun and other stuff I’m known for – all done as the originals. It’s important to sty truthful to the song. Sometimes, the arrangements do get a little altered.”

Roth is known for the legendary Sky Guitar which is his own invention. It is an instrument which allows him to play with a six-octave range. Sky Guitars are the only guitars which make it possible to play Vivaldi’s celebrated violin concerto “The Four Seasons” at concert pitch, but with the sound of an electric guitar.

“On this tour, I’m playing a new prototype guitar,” said Roth. “It’s the Excalibur and it’s the best guitar in the world. This one can do it all – and then some. It has a lot of in-built effects. It’s my favorite.

“Making the set list for this tour wasn’t exactly easy. I took some time over it to get it right. Most of it worked but some needed a little fine-tuning. I’m always getting feedback on what fans want to hear. The program has been well-received.”

Video link for Uli Jon Roth — https://youtu.be/AHqOT1rCip0.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $25-$40.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are the Slambovian Circus of Dreams on April 26, Rita Rudner on April 27, Wishbone Ash on April 28 and Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express on May 1.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Better Than Bacon on April 25, Pat McGee Trio with Dan Sarkissian on April 26 and 27, and Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express featuring Frank Gambale  on April 30.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Cindy Alexander with Kevin Fisher on April 26 and House of Hamill on April 27.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Obie, LaBella & Poole, and Marcus Angeloni on April 27.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Michael Braunfeld and the Boneyard Hounds on April 27.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents The New on Apryl 26 and Chick Corea & Bela Fleck on April 27.

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