Roger ‘Jim’ McGuinn – ‘Mr Tambourine man’

The Byrds

Most people will have heard of the 60‘s and 70‘s rock group The Byrds, known for classic popular songs like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Turn Turn Turn’, ‘Eight Miles High’ and ‘Chestnut Mare’. They have become more influential in the decades following their success than in their heyday. New Wave rock groups of the early 1980’s together with ‘indie’ bands in the 1990’s often cite The Byrds (and McGuinn’s illustrious twelve-string electric guitar sound) as major influences. But the Christian conversion of the group founder and leader Roger McGuinn is a lesser known fact.

The rock’n’roll hall of fame has a growing number of Christians in the list, including McGuinn. He is a true artist and like many musicians of his generation he still prefers to make music rather than retire. He 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.

Prophetic words

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.”

The death of Elvis and seven years

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 had caused Elvis’s heart to stop. Thirty-five year-old 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.”

Searching for God

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,

“…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 almost immediately. He soon had a new outlook and a new purpose. 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.”

The Holy Spirit

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.”

Jesus is Just Alright

The 1930’s Gospel song ‘Jesus is Just Alright’ was recorded by The Byrds in 1969 and included in their album from the film ‘The Ballad of Easy Rider’. Although only a minor hit, the single was very influential and was recorded later by a many other artists including The Doobie Brothers. Roger was not yet following Christ in 1969, but the lyrics reveal the influence of the Saviour of the World on this musical genius a decade before he became a Christian.

Jesus is just alright with me
Jesus is just alright
Jesus is just alright with me
Jesus is just alright

I don’t care what they may say
I don’t care what they may do
I don’t care what they may say
Jesus is alright, oh yeah
Jesus is alright

Jesus. He’s my friend
Jesus, He’s my friend
He took me by the hand
Led me far from this land
Jesus, He’s my friend

Jesus is alright with me
Jesus is alright
Jesus is alright with me
Jesus is alright

LINK below: The Byrds playing ‘Jesus is Just Alright’

The Byrds, ‘Jesus is Just Alright’

Story by Ralph Burden

photo attribution: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic Share Alike License. photo: Roger McGuill in 1972 by Dan Volonnino
Pin It

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

« »

Scroll to top