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Roger McGuinn talks about the writing rockers of Rock Bottom Remainders

roger mcguinnRoger McGuinn of folk rock legends the Byrds teams with Dave Barry, Amy Tan and other authors in the Rock Bottom Remainders. (John Chiasson)

By Stephen Lowman

You know that dream you’ve always had? The one where you see "The Joy Luck Club" author sing backup for a campy band that covers '60s pop hits such as “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”? Well, lit-rock friends, for two nights this week that dream will come true. Mercifully, they’re not even checking for proof of MFA at the door!

Amy Tan is just one author who has scaled the top of the bestseller list but hasn’t become too cool to risk making a fool on stage. Dave Barry (lead guitar), Mitch Albom (keyboard), Scott Turow (we hear the thriller writer will be sporting a wig as well as singing vocals), and "The Color of Water" author and former Post reporter James McBride (saxophone) are a few of the others performing in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

They all play in a band called The Rock Bottom Remainders (named after the publishing industry term for those deeply discounted books you see languishing in store bins). It was formed 18 years ago and has allowed a number of big-name writers to indulge their rock-and-roll fantasy — if only for a few nights. Proceeds this year will go to Haitian relief efforts, World Vision and America’s Promise Alliance.

Roger McGuinn, lead singer of The Byrds, will also make an appearance at the D.C. shows. He’s a musician with literary chops, too. Mystery writer Carl Hiaasen named the dog in his book "Sick Puppy" after him. In fact, a decade ago at a signing for the book it was Hiaasen who convinced the musician to play with The Rock Bottom Remainders. I got him on the phone to ask McGuinn a few questions about the band.

(Roger McGuinn knew who Deep Throat was? After the jump...)

So what can we expect from The Rock Bottom Remainders?

Well, you never know what to expect with the band. Usually what happens is they come out and do a few '50s and '60s rock standards and then I come out and do a few Byrds songs with them. Then we all kind of jam at the end. It’s always a blast. It’s like hanging out with people from Mensa. It’s totally unpredictable.

Do you get to D.C. much? Have any good tour stories from the city when you were with The Byrds?

I’ve played a lot of shows in the area over the year. Back in the Nixon era I had a briefcase phone. I was playing around with it and started talking about Deep Throat and stuff like that because I knew those frequencies were being monitored for key words. The next day at the airport these guys in suits and sunglasses came up to me and asked if they could examine my briefcase.

You’re kidding me!

I’m not kidding you! This was probably ’72 or ’73.

What kind of phone was this?

It was basically like a two-way radio. It was a commercial product but it was kind of rare. People didn’t really have them.

So how rock-and-roll are the Remainders? How do they compare with The Byrds?

They do things that rock bands don’t do. Like, they get up early. They will get up at 5 or 6 in the morning to catch a 7 o’clock plane. In The Byrds we didn’t get up until 1 or 2 in the afternoon and catch a night flight. As far as the fun, it’s a lot more fun with the Remainders. Everyone is so bright and creative.

dave barryDave Barry, left, and Ridley Pearson are two of the more talented musicians in the all-author band.

Let’s name names. Which writers have the most musical talent?

Dave Barry plays pretty good guitar and sings pretty well. Ridley Pearson is a real solid bass player. As far as singing, Mitch Albom is good and his wife Janine is an excellent singer.

What did you think of his book Tuesdays With Morrie?

I loved it. It was poignant.

The Rock Bottom Remainders play Tuesday at Sidney Harman Hall. Newsman Sam Donaldson will host this show, which starts at 8 p.m. On Wednesday they play at the 9:30 Club. Show starts at 8:30 p.m.

By David Malitz  |  April 20, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Rock Bottom Remainders, Roger McGuinn, The Byrds  
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Yes, but Roger only rated a 96 on "Turn, Turn, Turn" when he sang it with Amy Tan's karaoke machine.

Posted by: hlabadie | April 21, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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