Many people will have heard of the 60‘s and 70‘s rock group The Byrds, known for classic hits like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ which is still played on the radio and in supermarkets today. But the Christian conversion of the group founder and leader Roger McGuinn is a lesser known fact.
Roger McGuinn is one of the few Christians in the rock’n’roll hall of fame. He is a true artist and like many musicians of his generation he still prefers to make music rather than retire. He famously developed his signature 12-string Rickenbacker sound after hearing George Harrison of The Beatles playing one on a track called ‘You Can’t Do That’ in the film Help. George returned the compliment by writing ‘If I Needed Someone’ which was based on The Byrds song ‘Bells of Rhymney’. McGuinn’s sound has influenced many, but not as many as his faith.
The story of how Roger became a Christian began back in 1977 when he found a young man sitting at the front of his house. The man said that Jesus wanted him to give Roger some songs he had written. Thinking the man was crazy, Roger didn’t accept the offer and went into the house, locking all the doors. Shortly after this, another Christian appeared at a performance in Oklahoma City. The man was smiling at him. Roger said, “Normally, I would have ignored him, but I was high on cocaine, and I found his grin rather irritating. I asked him what he was grinning about and he said, ‘The Lord just told me that you’re going to come to him.’ I thought he was crazy too!” But Soon after that, Roger ran into a friend and they ended up talking about religion and faith. He told her he believed Jesus was just one of the prophets, and that all spiritual roads spiraled to the same peak at the top of the mountain. She didn’t agree, and she told Roger that Jesus was the only way to get to God. He says, “I had never heard anyone whom I respected tell me that before. Her words left a strong impression on me.”
On 16th August that same year Elvis Presley died at the age of just forty-two. Although a ‘heart attack’ was blamed, Presley’s autopsy revealed that his body was filled with a cocktail of prescription drugs in lethal quantities, and this is what has caused Elvis’s heart to stop. Roger was taking many of the same drugs in addition to illegal drugs! The realisation that Elvis was only seven years older at the time of his death filled Roger with fear.
“I thought, ‘Man, I’ve only got seven years left,’ and I panicked. My brain began demanding that I investigate what was going on spiritually in the world. Some self-preservation instincts were kicking in.”
As soon as Roger began this search for God, he also began to suffer some spiritual oppression. He regularly suffered from a feeling that there was a very heavy weight pressing upon his chest and arms. He says, “Right after I began to experience this sensation, I met a jazz pianist named Billy. He was a Christian, and when I told him about the ‘heavy’ feeling, he thought it was spiritual oppression. He prayed with me, asking God to take the feeling away.”
But the feelings continued. Roger decided to pray about it himself. He asked God how he could be free of this awful, frightening sensation. Roger says that “…the answer came to my spirit; ‘Well, you could accept Jesus!’ I said silently, ‘All right, I accept Jesus.’ The heavy feeling left me and I could feel the Holy Spirit moving in me physically. It felt good to have Jesus in my heart.”
God had changed his whole attitude to life completely and almost immediately. He soon had a new outlook and a new purpose to life. He says that God has blessed him with a wonderful wife and a fulfilling life. They spend forty-five minutes praying and reading the Bible each day. Roger still writes songs but he now puts ‘a positive spin’ on all of his songs. He asked God whether he should move out of secular music and become a gospel singer, but God told him to remain where he was and to be a good example. “Hopefully, with the Lord’s help, I will continue to light up the darkness in a different way.”
Roger realises that he was looking for God long before he found Christ. He was searching for God during his years in the Byrds, but he believes that experimenting with LSD, marijuana, and cocaine confused him and blocked out the voice of the Holy Spirit. “I gave up taking illicit drugs when I came to the Lord. Camilla and I agreed that you can’t feel the Holy Spirit when you’re high on drugs. We always ask God to help us with our songwriting, and everything else for that matter.”
And as for the future? He says, “I would love to be able to keep playing concerts for people until I go home to be with the Lord.”
Story by Ralph Burden