Saturday, March 05, 2011

Roadie Report 55 - The End of 2010, Grand Ole Opry 1968 & 2010-by Camilla McGuinn

Today is the first Saturday in the third month of the year 2011. The past month was filled with filing the tax return, reading so many contracts that I felt like I should have gone to law school and unpacking suitcases. I woke up remembering that we always called the last day of the week “creative Saturday.” Our travels have kept us away from my desk for so long, that notes were coming in from the fifteen readers of the BLOG urging me to get back to work. My excuses are now is time to write.

I loaded all the pictures in my camera onto my computer. The pictures remind me of our adventures but while perusing the snapshots, I couldn’t remember how far back to go. There was only one choice. I had to do something I seldom do – I had to read the BLOG. Then I found myself reliving all the stories, so I gave up the idea of writing today and decided just to load the pictures.

Well, it was a short lived decision. Time had come for me to reflect on the last months of 2010 or they would be lost forever in the cobwebs of my mind.

2010 began with Roger sharing stories, aka lectures, on the cruise ship, The Queen Victoria while traversing through the Panama Canal. The work year ended in November with another cruise through the same canal on the Crystal Symphony. The sister ship of the Symphony, the Crystal Serenity, was the first ship that invited Roger to give his lecture, “How Folk Music Took Me to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” Guests of the Crystal Cruise Line are treated so wonderfully, they will take a voyage whenever their schedules allow. On board, we re-acquainted ourselves with several couples who had sailed with us to Lisbon. It felt like a joyous family reunion. They appreciated the new stories Roger had added to the lectures. He realizes fans love to hear the same songs and stories but really enjoy the slight changes he always tries to add to each concert and lecture.

A highlight of this trip for me was zip-lining through the trees in Caldera, Costa Rica. Less the 30 folks joined the adventure, but I was totally impressed with a couple in their 80s. The wife was the only one of us who had previously experienced the tree zip.

After we were suited in our harnesses, the guide gave us our safety lecture. It was then I began having second thoughts. Especially when he said we had to stop ourselves on some of the lines and we should remember not to hold on to the wire, lest we lose our arm. Yikes…what if I forgot to let go? No one was anxious to be the first Tarzan or Jane. After the 80 year old lady bravely stepped on the box, I gulped and followed. By the end of the eighth zip-line. I was fearless and vowed to fly through the trees any chance I could get.

After the ship docked in San Pedro, California, a car drove us to downtown Los Angeles. Roger had been invited to an evening of conversation as a fund raiser for Live Talks Los Angeles . We were pleasantly surprised by the downtown development of Los Angeles. When we lived there, we never ventured to the city neighborhood. Now it has some wonderful restaurants and is beginning to feel like a place meant for walking. Los Angeles has always been a city for wheels, not for feet.

On the second day of adjusting to solid ground, we boarded AMTRAK's Coast Starlight for San Francisco so we would be close to Pleasanton, the location of the next concert. Our enthusiasm for our January experience in the early 20th century condo we rented was infectious enough to cause two friends to join us in the building to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast. It felt like a college dorm with cooks running between two condo kitchens. The aroma of roasting turkey wafted up the few steps that separated our condos to the scent of the baking pumpkin and apple pies.

The concert at the Pleasanton Theater on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was delightful. The only sad part was watching the people who had hoped to get tickets for the sold out show, leave without hearing the music.

Early in the morning of Nov 29th, we found our compartment on the California Zephyr train to Chicago. Once again, we were re-tracing our January trip, but this time we were spending four days in the windy city. Roger was returning to his alma mater, the OLD TOWN SCHOOL of FOLK MUSIC, for a concert and a fund raiser.

Living in the San Francisco condo for a short time gave us a feeling of being city residents. Even though Chicago is Roger's hometown, we both wanted that city resident feeling again so we decided to rent a condo in Chicago from the same website. The condo was perfectly situated on the 57 floor of a building and even had a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor. The weather was cold and snowing. It gets real cold in Chicago when the wind blows, but we never had to leave the building except to go to work. Our city resident experience became very vertical.

One of the Old Town School guitar instructors invited Roger to come to his class on our day off. The guitars were almost bigger than some of the students. We walked into the classroom while three of the older girls were getting settled in their seats. I began telling them that Roger had so diligently studied and practiced the guitar that when he was 17 years old, he began his professional career. That was 50 years ago. I noticed a blank stare and thought they weren’t comprehending the 50 years part of the story. I explained that 50 is one half of 100. They shook their heads and slightly rolled their eyes.

During the class, Roger played his guitar solo to Eight Miles High. A teacher overheard one of the girls whisper to to her friend, “He’s awesome!” The other replied, “Well he’s been playing for 55 million years!”

The train ride home from Chicago had a change in Washington DC with a 6 hour layover. As we were getting off the train, we met an interesting lady who called herself, Miss Lucas. Someday I might write about that encounter.

The Washington train station is one of my favorite transit places to spend a forced amount of time. The historic train station houses numerous tourist shops and an upscale shopping mall. We spent a delightful afternoon in a lovely restaurant tucked away in a corner of the station.

When people ask Roger to name the guitar players he most admires, Marty Stuart is at the top of the list. Marty plays guitar in the same intricate style of Clarence White and even owns one of Clarence’s guitars that he played in the BYRDS. Marty is a regular on the Grand Ole Opry and has always felt Roger should make a return appearance to bring a peaceful closure to the ill fated BYRDS’ performance in 1968.

CBS records had enough clout to get the rock group the “BYRDS” on the mother radio of country music WSM’s, Grand Ole Opry. The group had broken with the rock tradition and recorded a whole album of country music. It wasn’t the BYRDS first foray into the country sound. They had previously recorded songs in the country vein on “Turn,Turn,Turn, “5D” and “Younger Than Yesterday,” but never devoted an entire album to the genre. Even Roger’s “Mr. Spaceman” embraced the country beat. The “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album marked the first time a rock group dared to venture wholeheartedly into the country realm.

The live radio format of the “Grand Ole Opry” makes timing a critical element. At rehearsals, stop watches are marking every second. During the afternoon rehearsal of the show, the BYRDS sang two songs from “The Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album. The chosen single, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and another tune on the album, a song penned by Country music legend Meryl Haggard, “Sing me Back Home.”

The band was serious about the authenticity of the album and even cut their hair to appease the country audience. The first song the group sang on the live show, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” came off without a hitch but it was the second song that got the group blackballed from the Opry. Just before they began the count for the song, Gram Parsons walked up to the microphone and made a very bold statement. “We were suppose to sing a Meryl Haggard song, but my grandma has been listening to the Grand Ole Opry all of her life and I want to sing a song I wrote for her.” With that departure from the script, Gram began singing his song “Hickory Wind.” Roger looked to the side of the stage and the director looked like he had just swallowed something very disagreeable. Skeeter Davis was the only smiling face when they left the stage and walked out of the Ryman auditorium to the trailing echos of, "They'll never be invited back."

December 10, 2010:
The Grand Ole Opry show moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the Grand Ole Opry House in Opryland on March 16, 1974. During this Christmas season, it moved the radio show back to the Ryman because the Rockettes were performing on the Opry House stage. It was a poetic moment on the old Ryman stage when Marty Stuart announced his special guest, Roger McGuinn. They sang “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,”“Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Roger still hasn’t had a chance to sing that sweet Meryl Haggard song, “Sing Me Back Home” at the Opry, but he now sometimes delights audiences with this story and sings the song in his concerts.

Just before Christmas, a film crew from the BBC came to Orlando to interview Roger about the influence of the British invasion on America … the musical invasion. The show should be released in the United Kingdom before Roger’s concert tour there in October 2011.

In January, we were counting our blessings. The Crystal Serenity invited Roger to lecture on the first leg of its world cruise. There was one problem, we had to fly from Orlando to Los Angeles to board the ship, then fly home from Tahiti. We’re not fearful of flying for ourselves, but we have had guitars that didn’t fare to well. Have you seen the video “United Breaks Guitars?” It is not only United Airlines who breaks guitars. One airline promised to treat our luggage with “kid gloves.” Roger has laughingly mentioned that the only kid gloves that were used with his guitar were the ones the baggage crews were wearing when they drove a fork lift through the guitar case.

Our guitar dilemma was solved when author Greg Iles showed up at a Rock Bottom Remainders gig rolling a large guitar case. It immediately caught our attention and within weeks, we had four cases made for Roger’s working axes. We could now fly with a guitar.

We arrived in Los Angeles the day before the ships departure to be available for another BBC interview. The theme for this interview was "guitars" and thanks to our new rolling case, Roger was very happy to have the Roger McGuinn Martin HD7 guitar sitting on his lap. I understand this show will also air before the October 2011 United Kingdom tour.

The Crystal Serenity’s voyage to Tahiti had one stop in Hawaii where we enjoyed lunch with a dear friend. The rest of the time we were on the open ocean until the mountains of Moorea appeared on the early morning horizon.

Roger spent 13 days without checking email or getting telephone calls. Wow … he didn’t even miss it! Maybe I shouldn’t have written that comment - his reputation as a “techie” could be in jeopardy. Oh well, anyone 55 million years old doesn’t really have to worry about his reputation.