Industry Profile: Camilla McGuinn
By Bob Grossweiner & Jane Cohen
Never lost in the woods with a GPS in hand. Photo by Steve Goldman
Roger and Camilla are standing somewhat stoically, almost like the Grant Wood painting American Gothic, at the Skyline Music booth at this year's Association of Performing Arts Performers (APAP) conference at the New York Hilton. Even stranger is that Roger is wearing a name tag spelling out his first name. So is Camilla.
We decided to mosey over. After telling Roger McGuinn that we have been long time fans going back to the days of The Byrds, we ask Camilla what she does. "I'm the tour manager," she says unabashedly. And a few seconds later adds "and a roadie." (Camilla turns out to be Camilla McGuinn, Roger's wife.)
So we ask Camilla if she would like to be profiled. Roger is smiling since someone is asking his wife to be interviewed instead of him. Weeks later she can only come up with this for her profile biography section: "met Roger Jan. 17, 1978, married him April 1, 1978, went to work for him in 1981 and have been his road manager ever since."
When pressed for some more background information, weeks later, she says, "Roger emailed me this list of my jobs a while back. After reading it, I think I'll ask for a raise."
Roger begins: "Camilla is Child of God, Loving Wife, Best Friend, Song Writer,
Internationally Read Author, Record Producer (Grammy winning),
Audio Engineer (Grammy winning), Theatrical Lighting Designer,
Music Publisher, Tour Manager, Travel Agent,
Roadie (but doesn't change strings), Accountant,
Investment Executive, Domestic Engineer,
Interior Decorator, Cross Country Trucker,
Customer Service Executive, Public Relations Executive,
Merchandise Vendor and Events Coordinator."
Camilla is on a roll now.
"Before I met Roger, I was living in Los Angeles and studying acting," she reminisces. "I'd been a drama major at Longwood College in Farmville, Va. , but like a lot 60's students, the California coast kept calling. I left California twice, once to Phoenix for a year and once to Colorado for a year. In between those two adventures, I lived in Malibu. I found out later that I had lived in the same canyon Roger did. Our driveways looked at each other. I met his dog, but I never met him.
"In the fall of 1977, I sailed to Mexico with my brother and returned to Los Angeles on Jan. 1, 1978. As the airplane circled the hazy city, I looked out the window and had a strong sense that my life was about to change. I returned to the actor's workshop where I'd been studying, but I couldn't get comfortable, so I did what some undecided women do: I went to get my hair cut.
"I was a Sassoon house model and as I was hanging out, I met a lady who told me about a workshop she had just begun. I got the number, called for an audition and was doing a cold reading for Tracy Roberts the next day. She accepted me for her class and told me to come Tuesday night.
"There were five new students that Tuesday. I was the only female. After a few exercises, Tracy teamed me with a guy with long hair and loose fitting clothes. I'd become weary of being a hippie and the long hair didn't impress me.
"At this point in my life I had decided to either be serious about acting or starve. I quit my job with Playboy as a glorified waitress, AKA a 'Bunny,' landed a few commercials and true to my commitment to act or starve, I lost weight. I wanted my partner in the workshop to be serious. I asked him if he had ever worked professionally. He quietly replied, 'I was in Bob Dylan's movie, Renaldo and Clara.' I inwardly groaned, 'Oh no...he's a musician.' The last thing I wanted to do was to work with a musician. As we walked out to our cars, we arranged a meeting time to discuss the scene we were assigned to perform from the movie Bloom in Love. I noticed his license plates read BYRDS2.
"The next morning as I was talking on the telephone with Gregg, a friend from high school, I mentioned that I was doing a scene with someone who might have been the Byrds' manager. My reasoning was that if he'd been in the Byrds wouldn't his license plate read just "BYRDS?" I had no idea how one got personalized plates. Gregg asked me his name. I told him, 'Roger McGuinn.' He started to laugh, 'Camilla, he was the Byrds!'
"The next week during an exercise on stage, Roger's assignment was to convince me of something that I didn't want to do. We sat on two chairs facing the audience, and he began playing his guitar. He asked if I wanted a lesson. I wasn't happy that this rock star had already stolen the scene, so I wanted to make things uncomfortable for him. I told him of course I do. He then said, 'You'll have to cut your finger nails.' That wasn't a problem for me, so when he pulled his Swiss army knife from his belt holster, I presented him my left hand for a manicure. I smugly thought, 'He hasn't come up with a thing that I don't want to do.'
"He showed me some chords and encouraged me to try. After a few strums, he asked for the guitar back then played and sang a song. His scene stealing performance did not endear me to him at all. He was doing that musician thing. After his crooning he asked, 'Did you like that song?' I said, 'Not really.' 'Why not?' he asked. 'Its country and I'm not particularly fond of most country music,' I said. He then asked, 'But what did you think of the words?'
"Then it hit me. The song was ' I Like The Christian Life'(a song the Byrds had recorded.) He was going to try to convince me about the words that Jesus said. I retaliated with, 'How long have you been into Jesus?' 'A few months,' he replied. 'Well give it a few more, and you will get over it!' I responded. Then I left the stage in righteous indignation. The audience thought it reminded them of a dramatic scene from a Tennessee Williams play and spent a lot of time congratulating Roger.
"The story continued, but it wasn't Roger who got over Jesus. It was me who realized that Jesus is love and He spoke the truth. Within two months we felt that God's plan was for us to be married, and we were, on April 1, 1978. God does have a sense of humor. We laughingly tell people that Our Father arranged our marriage.
"McGuinn, Clark and Hillman were signed to Capitol Records, and I spent two years watching the workings of a band. One night during a candlelight dinner, Roger told me that he wasn't enjoying the music anymore with the band, and he had told Chris Hillman on the airplane on the way home that he was through. I asked him, 'How do you want to make music? What is your heart's desire?'
"He thought for a few minutes, and then began telling me about Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Jack had told him that the happiest touring he ever did was when he and his lady barnstormed the country with his guitar. That's what Roger wanted to do. He wanted to go back to his folk music roots, put the guitar in the car and show me America. He excitedly proclaimed, 'You can be the road manager!'
What makes a good tour manager?
They must have their priorities in order. The artist and the concert are the primary concerns. A tour manager must help the artist keep focused on the show. It's up to the tour manager to run interference for the artist from any distractions that will affect the performance. A smile, while shaking the head "no" to the many request for the artist's attention, accomplishes a lot. Attention to all the show details is very important. The stage setting, the lights, the sound and the comfort of the audience must be addressed at every venue.
As a roadie what gear do you carry on the road?
All the standard -- bottled water -- gold on the road; hand sanitizer -- Western society needs to get over the firm handshake custom -- bad for health and bad for guitar players fingers; flashlight; batteries; cell phone; computer etc. I also write the monthly blog for mcguinn.com so my Canon camera is always at my side.
What is the blog about?
While on tour in April 2005, Roger and I had a luncheon meeting with the executives of Sam Ash to help promote the 7-string guitar that Roger designed for Martin Guitar. I come from a family of story tellers and true to my nature, I monopolized much of the conversation with stories about our adventures on the road. Howie Mendelson, a Sam Ash vice-president, ended the lunch laughing and commented that I needed to write a blog. A couple of days later, we're having lunch with Ken Paulson, the editor of USA Today, and he too made the comment that I needed to write a blog. When we returned back to our hotel, Roger made the same comment. Three times within a week was enough, so I reluctantly said I would do it.
My reluctance was because my father was a career Navy man, and we moved every four years. I wasn't sure if I missed grammar classes or just daydreamed through them. I didn't know what conjugating a verb was until 11th grade while in my first year French class. I had to confess to my teacher that I didn't know what conjugating verbs entailed. She walked away from my desk shaking her head. I have plenty of confidence in telling stories but very little in writing them. The first blog I wrote was about the July 2005 Tour. Being concerned that my writing would be either boring or real stupid, I decided to post photos from our trip. Now I was not only a writer but a photographer, too. Two more hats to wear for the man I love.
I've enjoyed the process of the blog a lot more than I imagined I would. I'm always on the look out for photo opportunities, so we've stopped at some unusual places. The blog has also evolved into a biography of Roger. As we travel through or to a city, I interview him about the first time he was there. I hear stories from him that he had forgotten. Jim Dickson, the Byrds' original manager, read the blog and asked me to write about some of his memories. The history doesn't come with every blog, just when the situation awakens the memories.
Does the local crew let you carry the gear?
I insist the local crew carry the gear.
What is your preferred mode of transportation on the road?
In the late 90's we realized that flying with fragile musical instruments was too stressful and harmful so we informed Roger's booking agent that we would only be driving to concerts. We travel in a Ford Conversion Van. We're now driving our fourth one. Driving the roads of America is a wonderful experience and the configuration of the van - comfortable seats, a couch turned into a bunk, TV, DVD player and Internet access - makes the drive enjoyable. It's not unusual for us to drive across the country several times a year. We drive in hundred-mile shifts and stop as the sun sets. The need for a picture for the blog has encouraged us to stop and enjoy sights that we used to drive pass.
When we tour in Europe, our favorite form of transportation is the train using the BritRail Pass for the U.K. On the Continent, we enjoy renting a good car and seeing how fast we can comfortably drive.
What other tour duties do you do?
We call ourselves an old fashion mom and pop business. He does everything on stage, I do the rest.
What if anything do you have to do with Roger's recording?
Roger and I write songs together. We also produce, mix, design art work with the help of a real pro, and purvey all of his recording projects. It took a while for us to learn to work with each other without saying, "That's stupid!" Roger loves all the details of being his own record label. He often says, "They were having all the fun!" meaning the record companies. I also manage the phones, the press, the bookkeeping and the ladies who want to take Roger to tea.
We have released three CDs on April First Productions, our label:
1. Limited Edition, 2004 -- folk, blues and rock 'n' roll. One of my favorite tracks is the tribute to George Harrison -- "If I needed Someone." We recorded it in Nashville with John Jorgenson and Stan Lynch. Both of these wonderful musicians recorded with Roger on the first Byrd's box set and "Back From Rio."
2.The Folk Den Project, 2005. This was one big project. Roger wanted to celebrate 10 years of The Folk Den. It's his favorite project on mcguinn.com where he posts a traditional folk song each month for free download in order to help preserve the music. While mixing the 100 songs of this four CD set at Roger's side and proof reading the 40-page booklet at the Summit Road Studios in Parker, Colo. , I thought we might be nuts. Who was going to care about 100 folk songs? It turns out. A lot of people. Even Rolling Stone called it "...near perfect."
3.Live From Spain, 2006. Every Saturday morning when we're at home, we commit ourselves to creative Saturdays. Roger records and I usually work on the blog. One Saturday, I decided that a real creative thing to do would be to clean my desk. In the process, I found the master from a show in Spain. It was recorded for radio broadcast so the quality was exceptional for a live recording. I took it to Roger thinking we might use it for the APAP conference. He put it on and as I was walking out of his studio, I stopped in my tracks. It not only had a good sound, it was an unusual show. We decided to press it for the fans who have been asking me for a copy of Roger's concert. Roger's shows are all slightly different, but this one will bring back the memories.
First concert attended?
James Brown and The Temptations in Roanoke, Va., maybe in 1967. It was a sports venue. I only lived there a few years and I don't go back, so I doubt I ever knew the name of the arena.
First concert worked?
May 16, 1981, at the Aladdin Theater in Las Vegas as Roger McGuinn's tour manager. The promoter that night warned me about the pitfalls of gambling by telling me the story of Sammy Davis Jr., how he gambled his life away to the casinos. Mr. Davis had to work for them for years to pay off his debts. After telling me the story, he had two very large body guards escort me backstage and told them not to let me stop at the tables.
First industry job?
First and only: tour manager for Roger McGuinn.
Co-producer with Roger for Roger McGuinn's "Treasures From The Folk Den" - 2001 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album and co-producer with Roger for "Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair" from "Beautiful Dreamer" - 2004 Grammy Award winner for Best Traditional Folk Album.
Those things are what the industry calls highlights; my personal highlights are writing with Roger the songs, "May The Road Rise To Meet You" and "Without Your Love." Oh, one more: "The Trees Are All Gone" written while Al Gore was still burning electricity in the Senate building.
What did you get a Grammy for audio engineering on?"
"Beautiful Dreamer - The Songs of Stephen Foster," a compilation CD. Roger wrote that on my list of jobs -- a bit tongue in cheek. I was a co-producer on the track "Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair," but the people who compiled the CD and got to keep the trophy sent me a certificate for engineer. I don't know if that was because they didn't take me seriously or they just ran out of the certificates for producers.
Missing the Beach Boys tour in 1986. Roger was opening for them, and I was invited to join them on their BAC 111 private jet. I declined because I was committed to an acting workshop.
Wondering how to get my big foot out of my mouth when I asked the gentleman sitting next to me at the after-show party for Dylan's' 30th Anniversary Concert, "Who are you?" It was Jann Wenner -Rolling Stone owner/editor.
Best business decision?
Encouraging Roger to pursue his dream.
Best advice you received?
Trust in God and have confidence.
Best advice to offer?
Trust in God and have confidence.
Mistakes you have learned from?
Hopefully all of them.
Can you give examples?
There have been so many. Why would I want to bore everyone with the details?
Most memorable industry experiences?
There are three real standouts, and I can't choose between them. The first occurred October 1987 at Wembley Arena in London. Roger was on stage singing the encore with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. I was standing on the side of the stage beside George Harrison.
The second was the concert referred to as "Bobfest" by Neil Young -- the Bob Dylan: 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, which took place in Madison Square Garden on Oct. 16, 1992. The show was great, but the sound check was awesome. Roger and I stood backstage watching the concert on a monitor and then watched each of the artists walk off stage after their performance. Eric Clapton was over the top.
The third was in the winter of 1994 at The Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. Roger was asked to perform "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" in honor of Pete Seeger. It was the most amazing weekend. Dinners at the State Department, reception at the White House and topped off with meeting Walter Cronkite. I told him, "I don't believe there are space aliens because if there were, they would have come down and contacted you." He shook my hand and said, "I like that." It is one of the few times I actually wanted my picture taken.
Tiger Woods because of his concentration, his discipline and he is so cute.
This is a tough one. We travel so much, and there are wonderful restaurants everywhere, but I really enjoy going back to Minetta's Tavern in the Village in NYC. Not so much for the food but for the wonderful memories Roger and I have from there. Whenever friends join us for what we jokingly call the 60's tour of the Village, we always end up at Minetta's because that's where Roger would go in the 60's if he had some extra cash. My favorite memory there was the evening we asked Pete Seeger to join us between sound check and the show at the Bottom Line. It was like taking Santa Claus to dinner.
I love The Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and the Peninsula in Beverly Hills because they park our Ford van right next to all the Rolls-Royce motor cars and do it with style. I love the Sheraton on The Hudson because the view of Manhattan is priceless, and the ferry ride to the city is an E ticket right out the front door!.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you?
My friends have ceased being surprised by me. Acquaintances usually drop their jaw if they find out I was the Phoenix Playboy Bunny of the Year one year in the '70s. That's a bunny - not a playmate!
Industry pet peeve?
Bogus royalty statements. I'm also Roger's bookkeeper.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...?
I didn't plan on doing this, so only God knows if there was another plan.
Camilla can be reached at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This has been a hectic month.Even though it is "Creative Saturday', I need to prepare for a trip around the world instead of writing. I get asked a lot of questions about my life with Roger and since I wrote all the answers to the questions in this interview, I thought this might tell some of the story. I posted this a few days early because we are now on our way to Japan for a Martin Guitar promotion. The long airplane ride will be a good opportunity to rest.