‘It just popped up’: Roger McGuinn on the Byrds’ happenstance beginnings

Roger McGuinn says the Byrds came together by nothing more than happenstance, and they were named in much the same way. Even today, he’s at something of a loss as to how their legend was born — though it started with the late Gene Clark, and then David Crosby.

Slowly, but surely, something magical was happening.

“It was a gradual process,” McGuinn tells Halli Casser-Jayne. “It kind of grew organically. Nobody put an ad in The LA Times saying, ‘We’re holding auditions for this new band.’ So, it was Gene and I, writing songs. Then David came along, and he said he wanted to be in our band and we said, well, we didn’t really have a band. And he said, ‘if I can be in your band, I know this guy who has a recording studio that we can use for free.’ I said, ‘OK, you’re in.’ So, we had a trio.”

At first, they moved forward in that format, McGuinn says, but “it wasn’t sounding right. We decided we needed a bass player and a drummer.” That led to the addition of Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman, and the Byrds were finally born. Next, however, they had to get some decent instruments. Then, a record deal. And then — finally a name.

“We were playing with different names,” McGuinn says. “I was into aviation, so I thought maybe something with a jet.” Their late producer/manager Jim Dickson, however, shot that down. “So, we were sitting around — and we came up with the name ‘Byrds,'” McGuinn says. “It just popped up.”

After that? Well, then their Hall of Fame career got underway.

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