‘It was like a dream’: For the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, association with Bob Dylan went way past ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’

The musical partnership between Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn is no doubt most associated with breakout 1960s-era covers like the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But, McGuinn collaborated extensively with Dylan into the next decade, working on 1973’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and touring with him in the mid-1970s.

It’s a period McGuinn looks back on with great fondness. Pat Garrett, for instance, was home to “one of my favorite songs that he ever wrote, which was ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,'” McGuinn tells the BBC. Appearing with Dylan on stage, meanwhile, “was like a dream. It was incredible,” he adds.

These were the days of the now-famous Rolling Thunder Revue shows, and “we had about 100 people on the road; it was an entourage,” McGuinn says. “We toured in these busses. Back in the Byrds days, we toured in these busses that had all of the seats in them. Frank Zappa figured out that it would be much more comfortable if you take out all of the seats, and put in beds and couches and TVs and things. So, Bob rented Frank Zappa’s bus; it was a bus called Phydeaux.”

There, on one of those endless bus rides, McGuinn would find himself seated next to Joni Mitchell — and that’s how McGuinn came to cover her song “Dreamland” for his 1976 solo album Cardiff Rose. McGuinn essentially plucked it out of an overstuffed notebook of leftovers. “I said, ‘Joni, do you have any stray songs?'” McGuinn remembers. “And she said, ‘Wow, McGuinn, I’ve got this one song you might be able to use, but there’s a line in it I’m not sure about — I wrapped that flag around me like a Dorothy Lamour sarong.’ But I used it anyway. We changed the name [to Errol Flynn], and it worked out.”

Besides the charttopping “Tambourine Man,” the Byrds also covered his “My Back Pages,” “All I Really Want to Do,” “Chimes of Freedom,” “Spanish Harlem Incident,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” among others. McGuinn has also released his own versions of “Golden Loom,” “Up to Me” and, on 1975’s Roger McGuinn & Band, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

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