READ ALL ABOUT IT (and how and why it didn't happen) HEREUNDER


Roger McGuinn interview with Ed Ward in Rolling Stone, 1970

EW: Does the latest Dylan (Self Portrait) puzzle you any?

RM: Not at all. I understand it thoroughly.

EW: Really?

RM: Well, I'm more on the inside of it than most people because we were supposed to work with Dylan at the time. I got a call from Clive Davis, president of Columbia, saying, "How would you like to work with Dylan?" and we'd previously discussed doing albums with other Columbia artists and so I said, "Sure thing, let's get together. Just tell me when and where." So I called Dylan and he wasn't there, but he returned the call and said, "Did Clive Davis call you about doing an album?" and I said, "Yeah, but I don't know what we'd do. Do you have any ideas?" and he said, "No, I haven't thought about it myself. Maybe if you come in with some of the old stuff and I do too that'll be all right." I think he meant some of his old stuff, so it would be all his publishing. So I said, "Well, the only thing we could do is go into the studio and see what happens, right?" And I asked him if he had any material to spare and he said no, that he was kind of hard up, that he hadn't been writing as much as he used to and I mentioned that we all get fat and lazy and he laughed. And we wound up the conversation by saying that we'd be in touch with each other, nothing definite.

So we got to New York and did a couple of gigs - Felt Forum and Queens College - and that took care of the weekend. By Monday we were still in town, but waiting for some kind of word. Finally the guys took a 12:00 plane back to the Coast. And at 1:00 I got a call from Billie Wallington, a friend of mine at Columbia, and she said that the session was in Studio B at 2:30. Well, I explained to her what the situation was, and she called Dylan and he was pissed off that we didn't have the courtesy to sit around and wait for his phone call. Well, the crux of it all was that Clive was supposed to come down to the show the night before but he didn't show up, and we could have settled it all right there. The other thing was a political thing with Bob Johnston. We'd fired him as our producer, right, and Bob Johnston, as producer, is responsible for notifying the musicians of the time of the session within 12 hours. It's a union regulation. He knew where we were, but he didn't call us and Clive didn't call us. Like I say, it was political.

What I think it would have amounted to is that we would have been backup musicians for Dylan, like the Band, on a couple of cuts on his new album, which he never mentioned to us. He said it could be a separate album, the Byrds and Dylan, and I asked him what kind of billing we'd get on it and he said well, he didn't know, but Clive assured me that we'd be getting at least 33 percent billing on it.

I would have liked to have done it, if it had worked out at all. In view of the circumstances, I'm just as glad that we didn't get on...this...particular...album...that came out, because it was poorly prepared, that's my opinion. He came into the studio prepared to use a lot of outtakes from Nashville Skyline and a lot of the Isle of Wight stuff, which is just a remote, just a live recording rather than anything musically good. The New York stuff, "Wigwam" and a lot of those, are pretty good.

So I understand the album thoroughly. I understand why there are repeats to fill time because he didn't have enough new material to do it, why he used a lot of old folksongs that everybody's known for 10 or 12 years.

EW: Why is he claiming he wrote them?

RM: He's probably taking publishing on them as re-arrangements of public domain material. It's a standard trick. I've done it myself. But I usually make a few changes. "Old Blue." That's one.