When the original Byrds were breaking up, people figured that Roger McGuinn would be a big solo act. Sue Weil, the promoter for the Walker, was one of the first to book him. She booked him for 2 shows at the Guthrie, and as a front act, she booked Waylon Jennings. Later she confided to me that she had never heard of Waylon when she booked him.
Well, I had heard of him and so did most of the people who bought tickets, especially those wearing cowboy boots. In fact, most of the people who bought tickets had never heard of Roger McGuinn, the main act.
Waylon put on a show and a half during that first show. I liked it, and so did the audience. The first act usually played just half hour, forty five minutes, but the audience didn’t want Waylon to quit. I got an order over the backstage squawk box to bring up the house lights. It came from McGuinn. I told him I only take orders from the promoter. Sue came on and told me to bring up the lights as soon as Waylon finished the song.
When McGuinn came out for his set, the first thing he did was make a crack about how the front act must think he was the main attraction. Some people stood up and left. McGuinn just stood and stared at them. More people walked out. Finally he started to sing. A lot more people walked out. The more he sang, the more people walked out. By the end of his show, there was only about a quarter of a house. He didn’t bother to do an encore.
Between the two shows, I went backstage. I could hear McGuinn screaming in his dressing room. Waylon’s manager was standing in the hallway listening. When he saw me, the manager smiled and invited me out to the bus to have a beer. Tour buses were still scarce. First one I was ever in. The manager told everybody who I was and gave me a beer. Waylon offered me drink of tequila, I declined. Somebody passed a joint to me, I declined. Waylon hadn’t bothered to stay backstage to watch McGuinn’s set but a couple who did had already told Waylon what had happened.
Waylon’s manager filled him in the discussion between McGuinn and Sue, the promoter. McGuinn had demanded that Waylon not play for the second show. Sue said no. If he played he could only play for 15 minutes. Sue said no. He couldn’t take any encores. Sue said no again. The second show would be just as the first show. McGuinn said if that’s the case, he wouldn’t go on. Sue said fine with her. The audience seems to like Waylon better than McGuinn anyway. She was sure Waylon could do the show by himself. And, she pointed out, she would sue McGuinn for breach of contract. Sue said it would be a win-win situation for both the audience and her. Everybody in the bus laughed and hoped McGuinn would stick to his threat about not going on.
The second show of the night was no different than the first show. The cowboy-booted audience stomped and cheered Waylon on. McGuinn called the booth again and told me to bring up the houselights. I again told I only would take orders from Sue. Waylon did his gig, did one encore, and left the stage. He called the booth and thanked me, said he was leaving right away and would see me someplace down the road.
Just prior to going on, McGuinn called up the booth yet again. He told me to leave the houselights full on so he could bad mouth anybody who left early. I once again told him that I would take orders only from Sue. She came on and told me to do just the way we always do.
When McGuinn came out, instead of just going into a song, he started out by saying he was tired of listening to shit-kicking caterwauling, and asked the audience if they were in the mood for real music. Now I never heard anybody yell ‘Fire’ in a theater, but McGuinn’s words came close to it. And once again, instead of just going into a song, he bad mouthed the people leaving, which only served to have more people stand up and leave. He just stood there staring. Finally the people that wanted to leave had left, and the few that stayed waited for him to start performing. His second show was shorter than his first. Again, no encores. He just stomped off stage.
I worked Waylon many times over the years, both as main act, and as a member of the Highwaymen. The last time I worked Waylon was at Mystic Lake Casino. The sound man tried but he couldn’t resurrect the old fullness of Waylon’s voice. And Waylon didn’t bother to play the mean guitar that got him his start in show business. He just strummed it. It was obvious that the ‘good times’ had caught up with him. He never announced it but it was his last tour. The press announcement was he quit the touring to be close to his family, not that his health was failing. In the few years he had left he lost a leg to diabetes, but he showed his children the value of education. He went and got his GED diploma. He died way too young, but he left a us good music and memories.
I did work McGuinn again, once. He was front act for Bob Dylan. He behaved himself. Maybe he had finally matured. He did have some success over the years, but nothing like Waylon’s. For that matter, nothing like David Crosby whom he personally fired from the Byrds. And his personal legacy probably will never equal that of Gram Parsons, whom he also personally fired from the Byrds. Now the biggest thing going for him is his web site called FOLK DEN. I enjoy it. He is trying to keep a lot of folk songs from being forgotten. Now, I might forget some of the songs that he sings on his site; but I will never forget working him at the Guthrie, when he tried to get Waylon Jennings fired, and the two audiences fired him instead.