McGuinn is best known for being the lead singer and lead guitarist of The Byrds, an American rock band that flourished from 1964 through 1973. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The Byrds. The band boasted a signature sound featuring harmony singing mixed with McGuinn’s innovated jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.
Among the band's most enduring songs are their cover versions of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!” along with the self-penned originals, “Eight Miles High,” "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," "Ballad of Easy Rider" and "Chestnut Mare."
According to McGuinn’s bio, provided by Skyline Music, the innovative guitarist was already a veteran of the New York and Los Angeles music scene when he co-founded The Byrds with Gene Clark and David Crosby in 1964.
Prior to forming the Byrds, McGuinn toured and performed folk music with the Limeliters, Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin as a guitarist and banjo player. He was also the musical director and guitarist on “Judy Collins #3.”
McGuinn, a Chicago native, studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music and was active on Chicago's folk scene, where he was strongly influenced as a teenager by Bob Gibson. Within a few weeks of finishing high school, McGuinn was working with the Limeliters in California, playing guitar and banjo on their album "Tonight: In Person." McGuinn is also on the Chad Mitchell Trio's albums "Mighty Day on Campus" and “The Chad Mitchell Trio at the Bitter End.”
After touring with singer Bobby Darin, McGuinn moved to New York at Darin's request to work for his publishing company, TM Music, in the fabled Brill Building as a songwriter. He and Frank Gari co wrote the song "Beach Ball" and performed it with Darin, as the City Surfers in July 1963. After hearing the Beatles for the first time at the Brill Building, McGuinn began playing folk songs to a rock beat in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village. His experiments in merging folk and rock didn't please the folk purist, so he moved to Los Angeles to work at the Troubadour. It was after an opening set for Hoyt Axton that Gene Clark approached McGuinn with appreciation for his new musical blend. They started writing songs together in the folk den of the Troubadour.
It wasn't long before David Crosby joined them and added his unique concepts of harmony to the duo, thereby completing the underpinnings for one of the most influential bands of the '60s. Within a few months, McGuinn, Clark & Crosby were looking to expand their group. Conga player Michael Clarke was recruited because he looked like two of the Rolling Stones. Mandolin player Chris Hillman was asked to join the group and to learn how to play the bass guitar. During a Thanksgiving dinner the band settled on the name "Byrds," and success was just around the corner.
Columbia Records signed the Byrds in January 1965 and they recorded their first No. 1 hit, "Mr. Tambourine Man." In 1968 McGuinn and Hillman hired Gram Parsons and headed for Nashville where they recorded the now critically acclaimed "Sweetheart of the Rodeo."
McGuinn disbanded the Byrds in 1973 to pursue his dream of a solo career. He made five solo albums on Columbia Records. McGuinn rejoined Gene Clark and Chris Hillman in 1978 on Capitol Records for three albums. In 1981 McGuinn decided it was time to return to his folk roots and began touring solo acoustic.
Arista records released "Back From Rio" in 1991, a rock album that included his friends, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Elvis Costello, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Penn and John Jorgensen. After touring extensively to support the album he returned to his roots – folk music.
In November 1995, McGuinn began recording and uploading to the Internet a series of traditional folk songs to his website. The recordings are available for free download at the FOLK DEN section of McGuinn's official website mcguinn.com.
The autobiographical one-man show, "Live from Mars," was released on Hollywood Records in November of 1996. The album includes two studio tracks, "May The Road Rise To Meet You," and "Fireworks," recorded in Minneapolis with members of the Jayhawks. McGuinn’s next CD was recorded on Appleseed Recordings, titled “Treasures From The Folk Den.” The CD offered favorite songs from the Folk Den with the added bonus of duets with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Josh White Jr. and Frank and Mary Hamilton. It was nominated for a Grammy in 2002 in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album.
On April 1, 2004 McGuinn released a CD, which he called “Limited Edition” because he sold it only via the Internet and at his live performances. “Limited Edition” is an eclectic blend of rock and roll, traditional folk music, new compositions and hip-hop.
In 2011, McGuinn released “CCD.”
According to the album notes, “CCD” reflects McGuinn’s love of sea shanties. His intricate finger work on various stringed instruments and the haunting quality of his Irish heritage vocal style will take the listener back to the days when mighty sailing ships explored the seas from the Kamchatka Bay to the Greenland whaling fisheries.
The CD is wrapped in an eight-panel package that compliments the music. Along with photos of the ocean and three sailing ships, each song is briefly explained, enabling listeners to enjoy the intricate and historical lyrics as their feet tap to the rhyme of the waves.
McGuinn was reportedly honored to be able to do a small part in preserving these songs of the sea on this CD. Following the release of “CCD,” McGuinn was asked what he thought his legacy would be. His response was not what one might expect – “The Byrds.” Instead, McGuinn said he hoped to be remembered for using the modern age of technology to help keep the songs of old from vanishing in the wind.