While toiling away at the next issue of Modern Acoustic (tentatively scheduled for early April), I've been spending my late nights with an interesting read on the beginnings of folk-rock. As many baby boomers do, I have a soft spot for that mid-'60s-early '70s rock -- though I certainly don't have a big desire to listen to the music constantly. But I do enjoy reading about its history. Last year I read about the whole Laurel Canyon scene in a book by Michael Walker. Actually, I thought that the book, "Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood," was quite lacking, especially multiple sources, but it gave a flavor of the era.
A much better read is "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by Richie Unterberger. It delves into the folk scene of the '50s and takes you through the folk-rock boom of the '60s. Among those interviewed for the book are Roger McGuinn, Judy Collins, Donovan, John Sebastian, Arlo Guthrie and Richie Furay -- all major players in the changing folk scene. There are secondary-source interviews from Dylan and members of the Beatles -- major players in the "revolution." He does a great job of setting the scene, getting inside the recording sessions (via interviews), and offering multiple sources for his major points.
Most of the major stuff is common knowledge, but is was important to have it reiterated in such detail. Among them:
*The album "Meet the Beatles" was the most influential album to any folkie who converted to folk-rock. Apparently just about every musician who heard the album was stopped dead in their tracks and went out and bought an electric guitar. A quote from Roy Marinell, who went on to co-write "Excitable Boy" with Warren Zevon: "I heard 'I Want to Hold My Hand.' That was the turning point for me. When they hit that lick" -- he mimes the riff George Harrison plays during the verses -- "Oh my God, what is that? That was when it changed for everybody. Everybody started playing the Beatles."
*The electric 12-string, first heard on record in "A Hard Day's Night," became the folk-rock instrument of choice. Roger McGuinn, of course, made it famous with the Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man."
*Dylan really did shock the world going electric at Newport (though the Pete Seeger/axe thing is still up for debate). It provided the incentive for bands to get louder and more adventurous. Dylan's albums "Bringing It All Back Home" and "Highway 61 Revisted" blew the doors off even folk-rockers, and completely alienated his folkie fans. One critic called "Like a Rolling Stone" "the longest six minutes since the invention of time" and predicted it would "offend folk purists" and "is unlikely to appeal to pop fans because of its length, monotony, and uncommericial lyric."
I love that stuff.
The Byrds, circa 1965