Roger McGuinn – circa 1965
“So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star? / Well listen now to what I say / Just get an electric guitar / Take some time, learn how to play / And when your hands go right and your pants get tight, it’s gonna be all right” – ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ (Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman)
It is 1964 and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – the first feature film starring British pop group The Beatles – is playing in cinemas. Of course, a large percentage of those who view the film are screaming teenage girls. However, such is the breadth of the appeal of The Beatles that the movie attracts all sorts of viewers. One of those cinema patrons in Los Angeles, California, is a 22 year old American man who is making a modest living playing in coffee houses, entertaining customers with tunes on his acoustic guitar. He is already daring to include versions of some of The Beatles tunes in his shows…and annoying some folk music purists in the audience in the process. What he sees on the cinema screen is about to change his life. During the movie, George Harrison – guitarist for The Beatles –plays a twelve-string electric guitar. Most guitars are six-string instruments. Depending on who you ask, the twelve-string version is twice as hard to play, or is just as difficult, but sounds twice as good. Whatever the truth may be, the twelve-string guitar becomes symbolic of The Byrds, the band formed by Roger McGuinn, that young man in the cinema.
Roger McGuinn is born James Joseph McGuinn III on 13 July 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. He does not adopt the forename of Roger until the middle of 1967, a couple of years after The Byrds become famous. That tale will be told in due course but, for the sake of consistency, this individual will be referred to throughout here as Roger McGuinn. Just bear in mind that he was actually known as Jim McGuinn until mid-1967. Roger’s parents are James and Dorothy McGuinn. They are involved in journalism and public relations. “My parents were writers,” Roger recalls. James McGuinn, Dorothy McGuinn and Lucille Folmer co-write ‘Parents Can’t Win’ (Chicago, Pollegrini and Cudahy, 1947), a best-selling book about child-rearing. “I was raised a Roman Catholic,” Roger notes in relation to his religious upbringing. Given his parents literary inclinations, it is with some irony that Roger says, “No one realised that I needed eyeglasses until I was 12 years old.”
Roger McGuinn says, “I was 13 years old when I heard Elvis Presley [the 1950s King of Rock ‘n’ Roll] over my transistor radio while I was riding my bicycle on the streets of Chicago. He inspired me to get a guitar.” Other early influences include Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and The Everly Brothers. “I started out with rock ‘n’ roll,” acknowledges McGuinn. He attends the Latin School of Chicago. “I worked as a janitor’s assistant when I was 15. I made enough money to buy [a] Martin guitar,” says McGuinn. “The first twelve string guitar I bought was probably around 1957.” In 1957 Roger McGuinn becomes a student at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. “I went to [a] school for folk music back when I was a teenager and learned hundreds of songs,” he says. It is also at this school that McGuinn learns to play banjo.
While Roger McGuinn has a fondness for the dusty folk songs of history, he also has a fascination with technology. This involves an interest in aviation, space flight and all manner of electronic contraptions. Being a musician, McGuinn also has a passion for devices that make music and the tools used to record sounds. When considering where this fascination with technology comes from, McGuinn says, “I think my grandfather gave it to me. He was an engineer…I just started experimenting with gadgets.”
After graduation, Roger McGuinn begins playing on the coffee house folk music circuit. Within a few weeks of finishing school, McGuinn is an accompanist for The Limelighters in California. He goes on to work as a guitarist for The Chad Mitchell Trio (1960-1961) and Bobby Darin (1961). Roger McGuinn has a brief stint as a professional songwriter, working at the Brill Building in New York City and earning thirty-five dollars per week. McGuinn works as a recording session musician for singer Judy Collins in New York in 1963.
Aged 22, Roger McGuinn moves to Los Angeles, California. “I was doing Beatles’ songs with a twelve string acoustic guitar, doing folk-Beatle music, you know, and of course nobody was going for it,” he says with good humour. McGuinn begins playing solo folk sets at a club called The Troubadour. “There were quite a few little coffee houses where you could get up and play, even if you were a nobody and people would listen to you. But the Folk Den (at The Troubadour) was where they sold strings, picks and texts,” explains McGuinn. In July 1964, “Gene Clark and I would hang out there and play guitar and write songs. In fact the Folk Den is really where The Byrds started. David Crosby came in and all three of us began singing harmony. That was the core of The Byrds.”
Harold Eugene Clark (17 November 1944-24 May 1991) is born in Tipton, Missouri, U.S.A. The family surname is actually Clarke (with an ‘e’), but Gene drops this extra letter before meeting Roger McGuinn. In many accounts, Gene’s year of birth is given as 1941 rather than 1944. The source of this erroneous date is Gene Clark himself. Gene’s father was in the U.S. Army during 1943-1945 and his unit were making their way across Europe from France to Germany. Officially, Gene is conceived during a leave period from the Second World War undertaken by his father. However, sufficient doubts and rumours about Gene’s true father exist to make him sensitive about the subject. For this reason, Gene tells the media he was born in 1941 rather than 1944 to avoid any questions about his parentage. Gene Clark is the son of Kelly George Clark (or Clarke) and his wife, Mary Jeanne Clark (nee Faherty). Kelly George Clark is a groundskeeper employed by the Parks Department. He meets his (more affluent) wife-to-be while landscaping a golf course where her family are members. Gene is the third of thirteen children. The eldest child in the family is Bonnie (born on 13 March 1942). The second child, Kelly Katherine, is stillborn in summer 1943. In the order of the family’s children, then comes Gene on 17 November 1944. Following Gene is his younger sister, Nancy (born on 19 July 1946). Gene Clark grows up at 304 Morgan Street in Tipton, across the street from a funeral home. In 1949 Gene Clark begins attending a Catholic school in Baytown, Missouri. Gene’s father teaches him to play guitar and harmonica at a young age. Gene begins writing songs when he is 11. His early influences include Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and country music great Hank Williams. When Gene Clark is 15, he plays with a local group, Joe Myers And The Sharks. As a youth, Gene Clark witnesses a fatal airplane crash. This event leaves him with a life-long fear of air travel. The success of The Kingston Trio in 1959 prompts Gene to take an interest in folk music. In 1960 the Clark family moves to Kansas City, Missouri. Gene attends Bonner Springs High School across the State border in Bonner Springs, Kansas. He graduates in 1962. Gene Clark then forms a folk group called The Rum Runners. He moves on to a regional folk group called The Surf Riders. On 12 August 1963 Gene Clark joins the famed folk group The New Christy Minstrels. After working on two albums by that act, Clark quits in February 1964. Gene Clark hears The Beatles for the first time, moves to Los Angeles and meets Roger McGuinn who has followed a similar path through rock ‘n’ roll, folk music and the sound of The Beatles. McGuinn and Clark begin performing together at the Folk Den the day after they meet. The duo soon becomes a trio with the addition of David Crosby.
David Van Cortlandt Crosby is born on 14 August 1941 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. He is the son of Floyd Crosby and Aliph Van Cortlandt Crosby (nee Whitehead). Floyd Crosby is a cinematographer (i.e. cameraman). His movie credits include ‘High Noon’ (1952), ‘Reform School Girl’ (1957), ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ (1958) and ‘The House of Usher’ (1960). Aliph Crosby is an artist who comes from a prominent family in local society. David is their second child. He has an elder brother, Floyd Delafield Crosby Jr. – better known as Ethan (7 March 1937-late 1997 or early 1998). David Crosby attends University Elementary School in Los Angeles, Crave Country Day School in Montecito, Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara – and claims to have been expelled from every school he attends. “When I was 11 years old, my parents wanted me to do something besides get in trouble. So they enrolled me in sailing classes…I climbed into that eight-foot dinghy in 1952,” David recalls. “I suppose my father was an influence. I remember seeing a photo of him at home sailing a big boat to Bermuda in his 20s.” Besides sailing, music also proves an outlet for the boy’s restless energy. “I started singing in coffee houses when I was still in high school. I took a job washing dishes and busing tables (i.e. cleaning and setting tables) in the coffee house so I could be there, and would beg permission to sing harmony with the guy who was singing on stage. That was the first time I ever got on stage in front of people,” says Crosby. He begins performing in coffee houses with his brother as the teenage duo Ethan & David. Crosby graduates from the Cate School in Carpinteria. David Crosby’s parents divorce in 1960. The same year, Floyd Crosby marries his second wife, Ethan and David’s step-mother, Betty Cormack. David toys with the idea of becoming an actor and briefly studies drama at Santa Barbara City College before dropping out in favour of music. David Crosby visits Greenwich Village in New York (the biggest centre for folk music) and plays folk music with Les Baxter’s Balladeers. Crosby fathers a child ‘from a brief relationship’ with an ‘unnamed woman.’ His son, born on 15 May 1962, is adopted out – but many years later David Crosby will be reunited with his son after the boy becomes an adult. From here, David Crosby joins Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark at The Troubadour’s Folk Den in Los Angeles.
In July 1964 – the same month in which Roger McGuinn meets Gene Clark – The Beatles’ film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is released. This influential movie inspires Roger McGuinn to pick up an electric guitar. Although he had been playing Beatles songs in his sets at the Folk Den, he (like Gene Clark and David Crosby) is still a folk musician, playing acoustic instruments. He purchases a Rickenbacker electric twelve string guitar. “I practiced eight hours a day on that Ric. I really worked it,” says McGuinn.
The trio of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby begin performing under the name of The Jet Set in 1964. Jim Dickson, an associate of McGuinn, becomes the manager of the act. Dickson is ‘an ultra-hip record producer’ who ‘allows the trio some off-hours use of his studio.’ As The Jet Set struggles towards becoming an electric rock band, it becomes obvious that they will need a drummer. In the middle of 1964 that role is filled by Michael Clarke.
Michael Clarke (3 June 1946-19 December 1993) is born Michael James Dick in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. As his birth name should make clear, Michael Clarke is not related to Gene Clark. Michael’s father is an artist and his mother is a musician. Growing up in a creative household, Michael has some ‘rudimentary piano lessons’ in his youth but is ‘not an accomplished musician.’ Despite this, when he is 17 Michael Clarke runs away from home and hitchhikes down to California to become a musician. Legend has it that David Crosby discovers Clarke playing congas (a kind of drum) on the beach at Big Sur in California. In reality, Clarke is discovered by singer-songwriter Ivan Ulz who introduces him to The Jet Set. According to Roger McGuinn, he and Gene Clark decide to hire Michael because, with his blonde mop-top of hair, he looks like Brian Jones of British rock group The Rolling Stones. “[He] looked right for the part,” says McGuinn. Michael Clarke had never played drums before being assigned that role in The Jet Set.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are not the only U.K. acts making an impact in the U.S. in 1964. A veritable ‘British invasion’ of the U.S. pop charts is underway. Given the strong Beatles influence in their material, it is perhaps not too surprising that The Jet Set try to fit in with the British invasion by renaming their band The Beefeaters, a name used for the guards at the Tower of London. It is under the name of The Beefeaters that Roger McGuinn and company release their first single. ‘Please Let Me Love You’ backed with ‘Don’t Be Long’ is issued on 7 October 1964 by Elektra Records. It is commercially ‘unsuccessful,’ failing to make the charts. ‘Please Let Me Love You’ is an electric rock record, not an acoustic folk piece.
The band is fleshed out with the addition of Chris Hillman in October 1964.
Christopher Hillman is born on 4 December 1944 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. He is the third of four children. Chris grows up in the family’s ranch home in San Diego County. “My dad founded the ‘Rancho Santa Fe Times’ and won a lot of journalism awards,” Chris recalls. Chris’ older sister Susan introduces him to country music and folk music after she returns from college in the late 1950s. “Country and bluegrass and folk were my foundation,” Hillman acknowledges. (Bluegrass is a U.S. form of roots music taking strands from both country and folk. It is perhaps less sentimental than country and less political than folk with more emphasis on instrumental skill.) Chris’ mother encourages his interest in music and buys him his first guitar. When he is 15, Chris also learns to play the mandolin. A member of the lute family, the mandolin is plucked like a guitar, but it is smaller and has a sweeter, more fragile tone. It is a little larger than a ukulele, but has a much richer and more full-bodied sound than that instrument. When Chris Hillman is 16, his father commits suicide. Despite this tragedy, Chris continues to pursue his interest in music. He joins The Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (1961-1963) with whom he records one album, ‘Blue Grass Favorites’ (1962). Hillman moves on to The Golden State Boys, an outfit that changes its name to The Hillmen (late 1962-July 1964). This quartet consists of: Vern Gosdin (vocals, guitar), his brother Rex Gosdin (vocals, bass), Don Parmley (vocals, banjo) and Chris Hillman (mandolin). Although the group does not release any recordings during their active lifespan, years later ‘The Hillmen’ (1969) serves as a record of their music. The Hillmen are managed by Jim Dickson – who also manages The Jet Set a.k.a. The Beefeaters. Dickson also produces The Hillmen’s 1969 album. After The Hillmen disbands, Chris Hillman briefly plays with Green Grass Revival. He considers quitting music and enrolling at the University of California in Los Angeles – but then is asked to join The Beefeaters. Despite never having played bass before, Chris Hillman is asked to take on that role in the group.
Although they are not yet known as The Byrds, the five founding members – and the definitive line-up – are assembled in October 1964: Roger McGuinn (vocals, guitar), Gene Clark (vocals), David Crosby (guitar, vocals), Chris Hillman (bass, vocals) and Michael Clarke (drums).
A recording contract is signed with Columbia Records on 10 November 1964. Two weeks later on 26 November 1964 the group gathers for Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Ed Tickner, manager Jim Dickson’s business partner (and so co-manager of the group). Some dissatisfaction is expressed with the names The Jet Set or The Beefeaters. Ed Tickner suggests The Birds as a new name. However, ‘bird’ is British slang for ‘girl’ – as all are aware in this era of the British invasion. The group don’t fancy being mocked as ‘The Girls.’ As an alternative, Tickner offers The Burds, a purposeful misspelling – but no one likes that. Roger McGuinn comes up with The Byrds. This evokes The Beatles similarly altered spelling of ‘The Beetles’. However, the use of ‘y’ for ‘i’ also suggests The Byrds’ folk music roots. Ye olde English, as found in many traditional folk tunes, spells words like ‘thys.’
The music of The Byrds is usually described as folk rock. They may even be the first folk rock act. As the name implies, folk rock is a merger of folk music and rock music. The homespun, narrative poetry of folk is welded to the rock elements of electric guitar and pounding drums. “The Byrds weren’t rock ‘n’ roll guys, we were kinda…folkies who took it a step further,” says bassist Chris Hillman. The impact of The Beatles’ rock music on the Byrds is clear. “The original Byrds were very much Beatles-inspired, and then we gradually got our own sound,” says vocalist and guitarist Roger McGuinn. At this time, the premier folk artist is probably American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan. In the wake of The Byrds’ success, Dylan will also become a folk rock artist, but in 1964 he is more clearly a folk musician. “It was Dylan meets The Beatles,” says McGuinn, neatly summarising folk rock. Subsequently, The Byrds will also record psychedelic rock and country rock, but more on those genres later.
A key component of The Byrds’ sound is the twelve string electric guitar played by Roger McGuinn. It provides a remarkably complex, sun-dappled, gentle tone to even their most propulsive pieces. ‘The jangling twelve string guitar sound of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker is permanently absorbed into the vocabulary of rock.’
The music recorded by The Byrds is a mix of original compositions from within the band and songs written by outside authors. Almost every member of The Byrds will contribute to the songwriting and many of them will also sing lead vocals. All five of the original Byrds author some pieces, thought it must be admitted that drummer Michael Clarke’s contribution in that field is much slimmer than his comrades. If there is a central figure in the group it is Roger McGuinn. Not only is his guitar work the band’s hallmark but his ‘Lennon-meets-Dylan’ vocals are immediately distinctive (‘Lennon’ being The Beatles’ John Lennon). Yet, in singling out McGuinn, care must be taken not to underrate the chemistry within the original quintet. Each plays a vital and notable role in the band’s sound. The most significant source of outside compositions for The Byrds is folk rock icon Bob Dylan. The Byrds record a number of Dylan songs – and they do so with taste and sympathy. Some traditional folk tunes also show up as do songs written by professional songwriters of the 1960s.
Some demo recordings made by the nascent Byrds surface later as the album ‘Preflyte’ (1969) (US no. 84), issued on 29 July.
Although raised as a Roman Catholic, in January 1965 Roger McGuinn is initiated into the Indonesian religion called Subud.
The Byrds’ manager Jim Dickson gets hold of an acetate of a Bob Dylan song that Dylan has yet to release in his own right. According to one version of the legend, it takes a visit to the recording studio by Dylan himself to convince The Byrds to record the tune.
In March-April 1965 The Byrds play a residency at Ciro’s Le Disc nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Bob Dylan puts in an appearance with The Byrds one night during this residency, blowing harmonica with the band.
Columbia Records releases the first proper Byrds single on 12 April 1965. It is ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1) b/w ‘I Knew I’d Want You’. ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is the previously unreleased Bob Dylan song obtained by Byrds’ manager Jim Dickson. (Dylan’s own version is on the album ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965) which was released in March. So, although it was unreleased at the time of The Byrds’ recording session, by the time McGuinn and company issue the track, Dylan’s original is in the marketplace.) On ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, Roger McGuinn’s twelve string electric guitar cuts through a pillow-like haze of harmony vocals. The lyrics refer to a “Jingle jangle morning,” but journalists everywhere are soon borrowing the terminology to describe McGuinn’s ‘jingle jangle’ guitar sound. Roger McGuinn renders the verses in a sleepy drawl that contrasts with the livelier group harmonies of the chorus. The Byrds’ version of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is definitely more rock-oriented than Dylan’s acoustic original. The Byrds’ take on the song is produced by Terry Melcher, the son of actress Doris Day. Although McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby sing on the recording, McGuinn is the only member of the quintet who actually plays on the recording session. Terry Melcher was unsure of musical ability of The Byrds. If this seems a bit harsh, bear in mind that Chris Hillman had never played bass before joining The Byrds and Michael Clarke had never played drums before joining the group. The session men used on ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (and the flipside) are: Jerry Cole (guitar), Leon Russell (piano), Larry Knechtel (bass) and Hal Blaine (drums). ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ reaches no. 1 on the U.S. chart on 20 June 1965 but manages two weeks atop the British chart, 11 July 1965 to 18 July 1965. The song stays on the U.S. charts for thirteen weeks. The B side of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is Gene Clark’s ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, a brooding and enigmatic tune.
The Byrds’ second single is released on 14 June 1965. It is ‘All I Really Want To Do’ (US no. 40, UK no. 4) b/w ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’ (US no. 103). ‘All I Really Want To Do’ is a 1964 Bob Dylan song. As with their first single, Roger McGuinn provides the vocal and the song is given a peppy, upbeat treatment. Part of the reason why it fares poorly on the charts in comparison to ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is that a rival cover version of the song is issued by Cher and so sales and airplay are split between the two versions. In an attempt to compensate, the B side – Gene Clark’s ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’ – is given a promotional push. ‘Exuberant and defiant in its cynical romanticism,’ ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’ may well be Gene Clark’s best song for The Byrds. It is recreated, almost note for note, by Tom Petty in 1989, which gives an indication of its timeless appeal.
In 1965 Byrds’ leader Roger McGuinn begins wearing a pair of sunglasses in narrow rectangular frames. He looks like a character from a Charles Dickens story who has landed on a sunny beach. McGuinn’s specs become the group’s visual trademark.
The Byrds’ debut album, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (1965) (US no. 6, UK no. 7), is released on 21 June. Like nearly all of their albums, this disc is issued by Columbia Records. The album is produced by Terry Melcher. The songs on this set include the four tracks previously issued on singles: ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, ‘All I Really Want To Do’ and ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’. Although session musicians were used on ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, all other tracks on this album feature the playing of the five members of The Byrds. In addition to the title track and ‘All I Really Want To Do’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ includes The Byrds’ renditions of two other Bob Dylan songs, ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’ and the resplendent ‘Chimes Of Freedom’. Dylan recorded both those songs in 1964. Gene Clark pens the mournful ‘Here Without You’. Clark co-writes with Roger McGuinn the stop-and-start ‘It’s No Use’ and the hopeful ‘You Won’t Have To Cry’. ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’ is a cover version of a 1958 song by folk artist Pete Seeger, though Seeger took the lyrics from a 1938 poem by the Welshman Idris Davies. Rounding out the disc are ‘Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe’, a previously unrecorded song by the female singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon, and an unlikely cover version of Vera Lynn’s 1939 song ‘We’ll Meet Again’, a World War Two anthem. In the notes, Roger McGuinn explains the sound of The Byrds: “The sound of the airplane in the forties was a rrrrrrrroooooaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh sound and [Frank] Sinatra and other people sang like that with those sort of overtones. Now we’ve got the krrrriiiiisssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh jet sound, and the kids are singing up in there now. It’s the mechanical sounds of the era”. ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ is probably The Byrds’ best album because it defines the genre of folk rock with its harmonies and ringing guitars. It is new and fresh and right.
From 3 August 1965 to 17 August 1965 The Byrds undertake their first tour of the United Kingdom. During this visit, they meet both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The single released by The Byrds on 1 October 1965 is their best. It is ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (US no. 1, UK no. 26) b/w ‘She Don’t Care About Time’. Like ‘Bells Of Rhymney’ from ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ is written by folk music artist Pete Seeger (who originally recorded it in 1962). However, in this instance, Seeger adapts the lyrics from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything / Turn! Turn! Turn! / There is a season / Turn! Turn! Turn! / And a time to every purpose under heaven.” Sung by The Byrds in group harmony, the song counsels that there is “A time to build up / A time to break down,” and, as U.S. troops go to war in Vietnam, “A time for peace / I swear it’s not too late.” Here is The Byrds at their best; it is an ‘instant classic, featuring more great chiming guitar lines and ethereal, interweaving harmonies’ as well as a profound message. ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ tops the U.S. singles chart for three weeks, 5 December 1965 to 19 December 1965. The B side of the single is Gene Clark’s ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, a song of romantic longing and heartfelt fascination. Cruelly, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ is not on The Byrds’ next album due to ‘group politics and record company policy’; it turns up on a number of latter day compilation sets of the best of The Byrds’ works.
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (1965) (US no. 17, UK no. 11), The Byrds’ second album, is released on 6 December. Like their first album, this set is produced by Terry Melcher. The album of course includes the title track, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ Gene Clark writes and sings a trio of songs on this album: the plaintive ‘Set You Free This Time’ (US no. 79, UK no. 63), the love-struck ‘The World Turns All Around Her’ and the stately regret of ‘If You’re Gone’. When ‘Set You Free This Time’ is issued as a single, the flipside is another track from this album, ‘It Won’t Be Wrong’, co-written by Roger McGuinn and Harvey Gerst. This piece has neat echoes of The Beatles in its instrumentation, though the harmony vocal is closer to Bob Dylan. McGuinn and David Crosby co-write ‘Wait And See’, a bright song of love. The rest of ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ is drawn from authors outside The Byrds. There are two Bob Dylan songs present on this disc, 1963’s ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ and an enlivened take on 1964’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’. Roger McGuinn handles the lead vocal for both Dylan numbers as well as the traditional folk tune ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’, which McGuinn redrafts as a tribute to slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Porter Wagoner’s 1955 country music lament ‘Satisfied Mind’ is reworked to good effect by The Byrds but this disc’s most oddball cover is ‘Oh! Susannah’, Stephen Foster’s 1848 minstrel song. Although ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ is described as ‘not as strong as their debut,’ it is a very creditable extension of The Byrds’ folk rock sound.
Over the years, The Byrds’ leader Roger McGuinn marries four times. However, apart from the most recent of those marriages, the dates and details of those unions are largely absent from public record. All that can be offered here are some estimated dates of McGuinn’s first three marriages based on what information is available.
Roger McGuinn’s first marriage (1965?-1969?) is to Ianthe Dolores DeLeon. They have two sons. Their elder son is Patrick McGuinn (born on 19 October 1966) who, as an adult, becomes an independent film-maker.
In February 1966 vocalist Gene Clark leaves The Byrds. There are multiple reasons for Clark’s departure. The most commonly cited reason is his fear of flying. The Byrds’ growing success requires them to undertake more air travel to perform shows further afield. Clark is still haunted by the fatal plane crash he witnessed as a youth. This problem comes to a head when Gene Clark has a panic attack before a flight to New York with The Byrds. Roger McGuinn’s response to the problem is, “You can’t be a Byrd, Gene, if you can’t fly.” The irony of a member of a band called The Byrds being scared to fly appeals to many historians. However, Gene Clark also suffers ‘increasing isolation within the band.’ There is ‘resentment within the band that Gene’s songwriting income had made him the wealthiest of the group.’ Other reputed factors include ‘nervous exhaustion’ and ‘the deterioration of his relationship with band leader McGuinn.’
The Byrds’ next single is released on 14 March 1966. It is ‘Eight Miles High’ (US no. 14, UK no. 24) b/w ‘Why’. ‘Eight Miles High’ was recorded prior to Gene Clark’s exit and Clark is listed as co-author of the song, sharing credit with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. The song is banned by many radio stations for its alleged drug connotations that ‘advocate recreational drug use.’ The Byrds insist that it is not a drug ‘high,’ but a comment on their 1965 promotional airline trip to London, the “Rain grey town / Known for its sound” referred to in the lyrics. Chris Hillman’s bass rumbles ominously beneath the brooding vocals, but it is Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo that is striking. Bravely verging on a discordant collapse, the strangled chords and wayward lines are inspired by the work of the great jazz saxophone player John Coltrane, as well as Indian music. The overall effect is similar to watching a film of a broken window run backwards, as the fragments of glass reassemble into a whole. Just as ‘Eight Miles High’ threatens to dissolve into chaos, it steadies from the guitar solo back into the vocal as Michael Clarke rediscovers the song’s propulsive drum beat. ‘Eight Miles High’ ‘heralds the birth of psychedelia’, a style of that aurally simulates the effect of taking mind-altering drugs. It is also The Byrds’ last single to make the top twenty chart. The flipside of the single is ‘Why’, a showcase for David Crosby, though he shares songwriting credit with Roger McGuinn.
The Byrds decide not to replace Gene Clark, but continue on as a four-piece band.
In 1966 Byrds guitarist and vocalist David Crosby fathers a daughter by Jackie Guthrie. Their child is adopted out and becomes Erika Keller.
‘Fifth Dimension’ (1966) (US no. 24, UK no. 27) is the title of The Byrds’ third album. Produced by Allen Stanton, this disc is released on 18 July. It contains ‘more ground-breaking folk rock and psychedelia’ from the four Byrds. Roger McGuinn writes and sings the title track, ‘5D (Fifth Dimension)’ (US no. 44). Again, as with ‘Eight Miles High’ (also on this disc), the song draws fire for its supposed drug references: “All my two dimensional boundaries were gone.” McGuinn argues that this lazily expansive track is actually a musical adaptation of physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. If that sounds a bit weird, McGuinn also offers the jovial ‘Mr Spaceman’ (US no. 36), a plea to a visiting U.F.O. to “Please take me along / I won’t do anything wrong.” Playing along, The Byrds’ managers take out a one million dollar policy with Lloyds of London, insuring them against the band’s non-return from outer space. For all this cosmic folly, the album still finds space for the delicate ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, a traditional folk song first recorded by Francis McPeake in 1957. ‘Captain Soul’ is a group composition and so is one of only two Byrds songs co-written by the band’s drummer, Michael Clarke. Bassist Chris Hillman steps up on ‘Fifth Dimension’, taking Gene Clarke’s place as the group’s third vocalist, harmonising with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. Although this album has plenty of interesting material, The Byrds’ ‘popularity begins to wane…By late 1966, the group is all but forgotten by the mainstream pop audience.’
On 9 January, The Byrds release their fourth album, the Gary Usher produced ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ (1967) (US no. 24, UK no. 37). The opening song, ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ (US no. 29), is a witty look at the “Riches and fame / And the public acclaim” as well as “The agent man” and the company that is there “To sell plastic ware.” The crowd sounds on the song come from a 1965 Byrds concert and the trumpet is played by South African musician Hugh Masakela. ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ is co-written by Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman. McGuinn offers another reading of a Bob Dylan song; 1964’s ‘My Back Pages’ (US no. 30) ‘is the album’s elegiac centrepiece.’ The words of ‘My Back Pages’ thematically tie into the album’s title: “Ah, but I was so much older then / I’m younger then than now.” Perhaps the most important change in The Byrds on ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ is the growth in the contributions of bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist David Crosby. Hillman writes and sings both ‘Have You Seen Her Face’ (US no. 74) and ‘Time Between’, songs that ‘simultaneously revive The Byrds’ early magic and foreshadow their adventures in country rock.’ ‘Time Between’ also features guest guitar work by Clarence White, who will later become a member of The Byrds. David Crosby’s ‘Why’ is salvaged from the B side of ‘Eight Miles High’ and here shares space with a second song co-written by Crosby and McGuinn, the sparkling ‘Renaissance Fair’. Alone, Crosby contributes the ‘ravishing noir ballad’ ‘Everybody’s Been Burned.’ Although ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ is creatively well regarded, the band is ‘unravelling commercially and internally.’
On 16 June 1967 the three day Monterey Pop Festival begins. It is one of the first major gatherings of rock talent and The Byrds are amongst those on the bill. During The Byrds’ set on 17 June, guitarist David Crosby hijacks the microphone to make pronouncements on drugs and politics. His rant results in The Byrds being excluded from the documentary film being made about the festival. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman are ‘irritated by what they see as Crosby’s overbearing egotism and his attempts to dictate the band’s musical direction.’ Adding to the aggravation, without consulting his bandmates, the next day Crosby joins Buffalo Springfield on stage, filling in for the departed Neil Young.
The Byrds’ business arrangement with their managers, Jim Dickson and Eddie Tickner, is dissolved on 30 June 1967. Subsequently, Larry Spector handles their business affairs, but the group manage themselves to a large degree.
In mid-1967 The Byrds’ leader officially changes his name to Roger McGuinn. Up to this point, he had been known as Jim McGuinn. A devotee of the Indonesian religion Subud since January 1965, McGuinn accepts that the adoption of a new name ‘signifies a spiritual rebirth for the participant.’ Subud’s founder, Bapak (meaning ‘father’), tells McGuinn to choose a name beginning with the letter ‘r’. The aviation freak submits a list of ten names littered with the likes of retro and rocket, but Bapak chooses the only standard name on the list: Roger (though it is, of course, also an acknowledgement used by pilots in radio transmissions). And so Jim McGuinn becomes Roger McGuinn.
The David Crosby song ‘Lady Friend’ (US no. 82) is issued as a one-off single by The Byrds on 13 July 1967. Although the track is latterly viewed as ‘excellent’ and ‘built around the vintage three part vocals of Crosby, [Roger] McGuinn and [Chris] Hillman,’ it still ‘fails to win a place on their next album’ of new material.
‘The Byrds’ Greatest Hits’ (1967) (US no. 6), their first compilation album, is issued on 7 August.
The recording of The Byrds’ fifth original album is a tempestuous process. During the recording sessions, drummer Michael Clarke quits in August 1967. His decision is based on ‘disputes with his bandmates and dissatisfaction with the material that the songwriting members of the group are providing.’ Guitarist David Crosby is the next to go. The self-confessed ‘troublemaker’ finally exhausts the patience of his colleagues. In October 1967, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman drive to Crosby’s house and fire him – though another account has it that Crosby’s dismissal takes place on 9 November 1967. Crosby is removed because of ‘conflicting egos.’ He uses the cash settlement from the rest of the group to buy a sailboat and indulge his passion for being on the waves. Former Byrd Gene Clark returns to the band – but only for three weeks before leaving again due to his still troublesome fear of flying. Drummer Michael Clarke returns to complete the recording sessions for the Byrds’ fifth album. Once that task is done, he is ‘informed by McGuinn and Hillman that he is once again an ex-member.’
The album that emerges from these difficult recording sessions is ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ (1968) (US no. 47, UK no. 12), released on 13 January. This album, like its predecessor, is produced by Gary Usher. The single from the album is ‘Goin’ Back’ (US no. 89). It is written by husband-and-wife songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Goffin and King work at the Brill Building songwriting factory where Byrds leader Roger McGuinn briefly worked in the early 1960s. ‘Goin’ Back’ was first recorded by British singer Dusty Springfield in 1966. It is a charmingly nostalgic view of childhood – but David Crosby had thought it unworthy of The Byrds’ talents. It is just another example of the album’s torturous creation. Goffin and King also supply another track on this album, the maverick anthem ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’. ‘Artificial Energy’, co-written by Roger McGuinn, Chis Hillman and Michael Clarke, is described as an ‘anti-drug song,’ but it is hard to see it that way. While ‘Eight Miles High’ and ‘5D (Fifth Dimension)’ may be ambiguous on the topic, the very title of this piece, its explicit reference to “Coming down off amphetamines” and the woozy horns, all argue that it is about chemical adventures. Equally spacey is ‘Dolphin’s Smile’, co-written by Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn (the last-named having shed his trademark dark glasses by this time). Bassist Chris Hillman’s offerings, ‘Natural Harmony’ and ‘Old John Robertson’ (the latter co-written with McGuinn) are contrastingly grounded. ‘Draft Morning’, credited to Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn, has a more political slant than prior Byrds’ songs, with its sidewise glance at youths being called up for military service in Vietnam. Gene Clark provides backing vocals on ‘Goin’ Back’. David Crosby appears on only five tracks (including ‘Dolphin’s Smile’, ‘Old John Robertson’ and ‘Draft Morning’). The recordings on this album are fleshed out by session musicians. Curiously, this album is probably The Byrds’ most hi-tech effort. Technophile Roger McGuinn is one of the first rock musicians to make use of a Moog synthesiser, applying its electronic effects to ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’, ‘Artificial Energy’ and ‘Natural Harmony’. Gary Usher’s production job uses ‘the most advanced electronic gear of the day’ as well as phasing and other psychedelic tricks. The end product ‘mixes electronic experimentation and folk rock mastery with aplomb.’
With the departures of David Crosby and Michael Clarke, The Byrds is reduced to the duo of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. In order to undertake a tour of U.S. colleges early in 1968 to promote ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’, McGuinn and Hillman hire Hillman’s cousin Kevin Daniel Kelley (25 March 1943-6 April 2002, born in Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A.) (drums). However, the three-piece line-up with Kevin Kelley doesn’t work too well. Early in 1968 The Byrds expand again to a quartet with the addition of Gram Parsons. Although hired as a keyboards player, Gram Parsons soon switches to guitar.
Gram Parsons (5 November 1946-19 September 1973) is born Ingram Connor III in Winter Haven, Florida, U.S.A. His parents are Ingram Cecil Connor II and his wife, Avis Connor (nee Snively). Gram’s father is a World War Two flying ace who, after the war, becomes the owner of a box-making factory in Waycross, Georgia. Avis Snively is the daughter of John Snively, a citrus fruit magnate who owns roughly one-third of all the citrus fields in Florida. Both Ingram and Avis Connor develop serious problems with alcohol. The family lives in Waycross, Georgia, but Avis returns to her home State of Florida to give birth to her son. Gram has a younger sister, Little Avis.
Gram Parsons learns to play piano when he is 9 years old. Gram’s father, Ingram Connor II, commits suicide two days before Christmas 1958. Gram is 12 years old at the time. Avis Connor remarries. Her second husband is Robert Parsons. Gram and Little Avis both take on their step-father’s surname. Gram Parsons attends Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. He switches to Winter Haven High School but then returns to Bolles. During his high school years, Gram’s sweetheart is a girl named Margaret Fisher. In the same period, Gram Parsons begins his career as a performing musician. When he is 14, he joins a local rock group called The Pacers – who soon change their name to The Legends. They play in clubs owned by Gram’s step-father in the Winter Haven area. In 1963 Gram Parsons changes his path, switching from rock music to folk music. With a folk group called the Shilos, he gigs around New York’s Greenwich Village area during 1964-1965. Gram’s step-father has an extra-marital affair in 1965. On 5 June 1965 Gram Parsons graduates from Bolles School. On the same day, 5 June 1965, his mother dies from cirrhosis of the liver after years of heavy drinking.
Gram Parsons is admitted to Harvard University where he studies theology. It is while he is at Harvard that Gram Parsons develops an interest in country music. After one semester, Parsons drops out of Harvard and, in 1966, goes to New York City with a new band he has formed. The International Submarine Band is, arguably, the first country rock band. Parsons pioneers a fusion of rock music and his new interest, country music. This innovation sees him known years later as ‘the father of country rock.’ The International Submarine Band consists of: Gram Parsons (vocals, guitar), John Neuse (guitar), Ian Dunlop (bass) and Mickey Gauvin (drums). This line-up cuts two obscure singles, ‘Sum Up Broke’ and ‘The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!’, and then moves from New York to Los Angeles. In L.A. Parsons becomes romantically involved with aspiring actress Nancy Ross. Ironically, Parsons steals her away from ex-Byrd David Crosby whom she had been dating. The International Submarine Band undergoes a line-up reshuffle in 1967. The new look band consists of: Gram Parsons (vocals, guitar), John Neuse (guitar), Chris Ethridge (bass) and John Corneal (drums). This configuration records an album in December 1967. Gram Parsons leaves the group in February 1968, before the album is released, and goes on to join The Byrds. The first country rock album, ‘Safe At Home’ (1968) by The International Submarine Band, is not released until March.
Byrds leader Roger ‘McGuinn muses upon the exciting possibility of a double album that will play as nothing less than a history of contemporary music evolving from traditional folk and country to jazz and electronic music.’ However, under the influence of new member Gram Parsons, The Byrds go in a country rock direction. Bassist Chris Hillman is quick to agree to the idea of country rock. ‘McGuinn has some reservations,’ but is persuaded to go along with the idea.
On 15 March 1968 The Byrds play a set at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, the premier country music venue. However, the group receives a harsh reception. The conservative audience is not impressed by a bunch of hippie ‘longhairs.’ During an interview with country music disc jockey Ralph Emery of Nashville’s WSM radio program, The Byrds are mocked for their attempt to play country rock. Despite these difficulties, Gram Parsons struggles to take control of The Byrds, even alienating the previously supportive Chis Hillman in the process.
The Byrds play a charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, on 7 July 1968. During this trip, Gram Parsons makes friends with U.K. rock band The Rolling Stones. The Byrds announce plans to tour South Africa. Rather than go to South Africa, a country governed by the racially discriminatory practice of apartheid, Gram Parsons quits The Byrds. Although this makes Parsons sound morally principled, some historians suggest that his decision had more to do with wanting to hang around with The Stones. Gram Parsons’ stint with The Byrds lasted for about six months but its impact and influence is more substantial than the comparatively brief time suggests.
The Byrds’ tour of South Africa begins on 29 July 1968. Minus Gram Parsons, the band presses roadie Carlos Bernal to substitute on guitar. The ‘tour is a disaster…having to play to segregated audiences.’ “I…knew it was a fascist country,” admits Roger McGuinn, but the hope seems to have been to subvert the problem. Apartheid continues in South Africa until 1994. The Byrds get ‘bad publicity and death threats’ for the trip. Even after they leave South Africa, The Byrds find the press and public in the U.S. and U.K. are not impressed with them either.
On returning to the U.S.A., The Byrds recruit Clarence White, a ‘prodigiously talented musician whose nimble-fingered picking adds yet another dimension,’ to join them as a guitarist.
Clarence White (7 June 1944-15 July 1973) is born Clarence Joseph LeBlanc in Lewiston, Maine, U.S.A. He comes from French-Canadian ancestry. The family Anglicises their surname to White since LeBlanc roughly translates from French as ‘the white.’ Clarence’s father, Eric LeBlanc Sr., is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica. Unsurprisingly, his children also display an aptitude for music. Clarence has two brothers, Eric Jr. and Roland, and two sisters, Joanne and Rosemarie. Clarence White begins to play guitar when he is 6 years old. He briefly switches to ukulele (since its neck is smaller and easier for the little boy to manage), but soon returns to guitar. In 1954 the White family moves to Burbank, California. The three lads form a group called Three Little Country Boys (1954-1962): Eric White Jr. (vocals, bass, banjo), Roland White (vocals, mandolin) and Clarence White (vocals, guitar). Sometimes their sister, Joanne, joins in, playing double bass. In 1957 the White boys add two more members: Billy Ray Latham (banjo) and LeRoy Mack (dobro). (The dobro is an instrument that looks similar to a guitar but it has a round metal plate under the strings on the main body. It produces a steelier tone with a more pronounced twang.) With five members, the act sensibly changes its name from Three Little Country Boys to The Country Boys. In 1961 Eric White Jr. leaves The Country Boys because he is getting married. Taking his place is Roger Bush (double bass). The Country Boys cut three singles from 1959 to 1962 without any notable success. In 1963, the group changes its name to The Kentucky Colonels and releases the album ‘The New Sound Of Bluegrass America’ (1963) early in the year. A fiddle player, Bobby Sloan, is added to the line-up. The Kentucky Colonels’ second album, ‘Appalachian Swing!’ (1964), is issued in July and consists entirely of instrumentals. The two White brothers take time out for a side project. ‘Dobro Country’ (1964) is released late in the year and is credited to Tut Taylor, Roland White and Clarence White. The success of The Byrds prompts The Kentucky Colonels to go electric in mid-1965. Bobby Sloan exits the group and is replaced by Scotty Stoneman (fiddle) and a drummer is hired. The transition proves too difficult and The Kentucky Colonels disband on 31 October 1965. Around this time Clarence White marries. He and his wife, Susie, have two children: Michelle (born in 1966) and Bradley (born in 1970). Clarence White undertakes work as a session musician from 1966 to 1968. In this capacity, Clarence White plays on The Byrds’ albums ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ (1967) and ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ (1968). However, session work alone is not sufficient to occupy Clarence White. The Kentucky Colonels is reborn (1966-1967) with a line-up of: Eric White Jr. (vocals, bass, banjo), Roland White (vocals, mandolin), Clarence White (vocals, guitar), Dennis Morris (rhythm guitar), Bob Warford (banjo) and Bobby Crane (fiddle). This incarnation appears on ‘Kentucky Colonels 1966’ (1979), an album not released until more than a decade later. In July 1967 Clarence White signs a solo contract and releases two ill-fated singles: ‘Tango For A Sad Mood’ b/w ‘Tuff And Stringy’ and ‘Grandma Funderbunk’s Music Box’ b/w ‘Riff Raff’. In mid-1967 Clarence White begins playing gigs with a group called The Reasons. However they soon change their name to that of the venue where they first play: Nashville West. The line-up of Nashville West is: Clarence White (vocals, guitar), Gib Guilbeau (vocals, fiddle), Wayne Moore (vocals, bass) and Gene Parsons (vocals, drums). The restless Clarence White also plays with a country bar band called The Roustabouts. And then he joins The Byrds…
‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ (1968) (US no. 77) is released on 30 August. This is the third consecutive Byrds album produced by Gary Usher. ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ is the country rock album the group has been working on. Although, technically, ‘Safe At Home’ (1968) by The International Submarine Band (which was released five months earlier) is the first country rock album, ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ is ‘probably the first album to be widely labelled as country rock.’ The album cover for ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ is taken from a catalogue for western gear, cowboy apparel. Gram Parsons was still a member of The Byrds during the recording sessions for this set. He sings lead on some tracks, but not as many as first intended. ‘Legal hassles [with The International Submarine Band’s record label] forced the removal of most of Parsons’ lead vocals’ – though some theorise that a jealous Roger McGuinn may have had a hand in that decision too. Parsons sings ‘Hickory Wind’, a homesick tune he co-wrote with Bob Buchanan, and the Luke McDaniel penned honky tonk number ‘You’re Still On My Mind’ (“An empty bottle, a broken heart, and you’re still on my mind”) as well as writing ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ (sung by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman). Roger McGuinn reinvents two 1967 Bob Dylan compositions, ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ and ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ (US no. 74, UK no. 45), as country music songs quite successfully (Dylan’s own versions are not released until 1975 and 1971, respectively). Bob Dylan will later try his hand at country rock on ‘Nashville Skyline’ (1969). Among Roger McGuinn’s other lead vocals on ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ is his take on folk singer Woody Guthrie’s 1939 song ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’. Chris Hillman too delves into the past. The bass player takes the lead vocal for the traditional tune ‘I Am A Pilgrim’ and ‘Blue Canadian Rockies’, a song first recorded by Gene Autry – the cowboy singer and actor – in 1952. New Byrd Clarence White appears on guitar on ‘Blue Canadian Rockies’ – but as a session musician at the time of the recording. On this album, the dominant sound is not Roger McGuinn’s twelve string electric guitar, but the weeping sound of a pedal steel guitar, familiar from many a lachrymose country ballad. On release, ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ is ‘shunned by rock fans and country purists alike’, but the country rock style will be more fully exploited by other artists in later years.
New guitarist Clarence White convinces Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman to dismiss drummer Kevin Kelley in favour of Gene Parsons, with whom White had worked in the band Nashville West.
Gene Victor Parsons is born on 4 September 1944 in Morongo Valley, Mojave desert, California, U.S.A. He is not related to former Byrd Gram Parsons. Gene Parsons is a multi-instrumentalist who is a singer, songwriter, banjo-player, guitarist and drummer. He starts his music career in the duo Guilbeau & Parsons with fiddle player Gib Guilbeau. Both of them move on to the group Nashville West (1967-1968) with Clarence White.
The latest version of The Byrds is together less than a month before bassist Chris Hillman quits. Hillman comes to blows on 15 September 1968 with Larry Spector, The Byrds’ business manager, whom Hillman accuses of financial mismanagement. According to Byrds leader Roger McGuinn, ‘Hillman throws his bass on the floor and walks out for good.’ Aside from McGuinn, Hillman was the last remaining member from the five-piece Byrds founded in 1964. From this point, ‘essentially The Byrds name is a front for Roger McGuinn and backing band.’
John York is brought in to replace Chris Hillman as The Byrds’ bassist and vocalist.
John Foley York is born on 3 August 1946 in White Plains, New York, U.S.A. Before joining The Byrds, the bass player works with some other interesting acts. John York is in a band called The Bees (1965-1966). This act releases two singles – 1965’s ‘Leave Me Be’ and 1966’s ‘Forget Me Girl’. This means that John York is in both The Byrds and The Bees! York works with Doug Sahm in a 1966 version of The Sir Douglas Quintet. This line-up cuts the (non-charting) single ‘She Digs My Love’ in 1966. John York also plays in the touring band of former Byrds vocalist Gene Clark. York joins The Byrds in September 1968.
‘Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde’ (1969) (US no. 153, UK no. 15) is released on 5 March. The title is appropriate because the contents of the disc are divided between country rock and psychedelic rock. The album is produced by Bob Johnston. ‘Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde’ has the distinction of being the only Byrds album on which Roger McGuinn provides all the lead vocals. ‘Bad Night At The Whiskey’, co-written by Roger McGuinn and Joseph Richards, is the nominal single from the album – though it doesn’t chart. The almost obligatory Bob Dylan cover version this time is ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’. Dylan co-wrote the song in 1967 with Rick Danko, bassist of The Band, though Dylan’s version is unreleased until ‘The Basement Tapes’ (1975). The tender-hearted ‘Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me’ is co-written by Gib Guilbeau and Gary Paxton. Guilbeau was in Nashville West with new Byrds guitarist Clarence White and drummer Gene Parsons. Speaking of that band, this album has a track called ‘Nashville West’, co-written by White and Parsons. The other newcomer to the band’s line-up, John York, co-writes ‘Candy’ with Roger McGuinn. The album’s highlight is ‘Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man’, co-written by Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons before Parsons left The Byrds. This is a witty jibe at Ralph Emery, the country music disc jockey who gave the group a hard time in 1968. “And why he don’t like me / I can’t understand,” sings McGuinn in mock despair, though – in reality – he is unconcerned by the opinions of a “Drug store truck drivin’ man / He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan.” Lloyd Green plays the pedal steel guitar on this country rock tune.
On 2 May 1969 The Byrds issue a stand-alone single. It is a cover version of the 1967 Bob Dylan song ‘Lay Lady Lay’ (US no. 132) – though Dylan’s version doesn’t surface until July 1969. Producer Bob Johnston adds a female choir to The Byrds’ version of the song. This earns the group’s displeasure and brings to an end Johnston’s association with The Byrds.
Gary Usher, one of The Byrds’ former record producers, issues ‘Preflyte’ (1969) (US no. 84) on his own label, Together Records, on 29 July. ‘Preflyte’ is a collection of 1964 demo recordings by the embryonic Byrds made before their official debut.
Bass player John York is asked to leave The Byrds in September 1969. York ‘had become disenchanted with his role in The Byrds and voiced his reluctance to perform material that had been written and recorded by the group before he joined.’
Replacing former bassist John York is the eleventh – and final – official member of The Byrds, Skip Battin.
Clyde ‘Skip’ Battin (18 February 1934-6 July 2003) is born in Gallipolis, Ohio, U.S.A. He is the eldest of The Byrds by a significant margin. Battin is seven years older than his nearest rival, David Crosby (born 14 August 1941). Battin starts his music career in 1956 with Gary Paxton in a group called The Pledges. He and Paxton then become the pop duo Skip & Flip (1959-1962). Skip & Flip place some singles on the U.S. pop charts, though the level of their success varies wildly. Their singles include: 1959’s ‘It Was I’ (US no. 11) and ‘Fancy Nancy’ (US no. 71) and 1960’s ‘Cherry Pie’ (US no. 11) and ‘Hully Gully Cha Cha Cha’ (US no. 109). ‘After a few years out of the music industry,’ Skip Battin returns in 1967 with a group called Evergreen Blue Shoes that records one album. Battin’s next stop is joining The Byrds.
The line-up of The Byrds assembled in October 1969 is: Roger McGuinn (vocals, guitar), Clarence White (guitar, vocals), Skip Battin (bass, vocals) and Gene Parsons (drums, vocals). Although this may not be the most famous incarnation of The Byrds, it turns out to be the most stable and longest-lasting.
‘Ballad Of Easy Rider’ (1969) (US no. 36, UK no. 41) is released on 10 November. This set is produced by Terry Melcher, the man who produced The Byrds’ albums ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ This album was completed before the departure of John York, so he is the bassist on this disc. The title track, ‘Ballad Of Easy Rider’ (US no. 65), was created for the film ‘Easy Rider’ (released on 14 July 1969). The movie promoted the hippie counter-culture of the time. The version of ‘Ballad Of Easy Rider’ included on the film’s soundtrack is a solo acoustic performance by Roger McGuinn as opposed to the version by The Byrds on this album. In either case, the song is a reflective and hushed piece. Officially, ‘Ballad Of Easy Rider’ is written by Roger McGuinn – but, unofficially, it is co-written by McGuinn and Bob Dylan. Also present on this album is a cover version of Dylan’s 1965 song ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’. ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ (US no. 97), a 1966 gospel song first recorded by The Art Reynolds Singers, is given a solid, rocking treatment here. Byrds drummer Gene Parsons offers ‘one of the best contributions,’ ‘Gunga Din’. Bassist John York is represented with ‘Fido’, his only solo songwriting credit with The Byrds.
Early in 1970 The Byrds’ business manager Larry Spector (with whom former bassist Chris Hillman had a violent disagreement) is removed. The Byrds’ former managers, Jim Dickson and Eddie Tickner, are brought back.
Byrds leader Roger McGuinn joins forces with Broadway theatre impresario Jacques Levy and the pair draft a country rock stage musical called ‘Gene Tryp’. Those plans fall apart and the musical is never performed. However some songs from the project turn up on subsequent Byrds albums.
‘(Untitled)’ (1970) (US no. 40, UK no. 11) is released on 14 September. This is a double album. The first disc consists of live recordings; the second disc is laid down in the recording studio. ‘(Untitled)’ is co-produced by Terry Melcher and Jim Dickson. One of the live tracks is ‘Lover Of The Bayou’. It is co-written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy and is salvaged from the aborted musical ‘Gene Tryp’. ‘Lover Of The Bayou’ is also a good example of the dexterity of guitarist Clarence White. Side two of the live disc is a sixteen minute version of The Byrds’ 1966 hit ‘Eight Miles High’. The strongest song from the studio disc is ‘Chestnut Mare’ (US no. 121, UK no. 19). Like ‘Lover Of The Bayou’, this Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy composition comes from ‘Gene Tryp’. Though the song’s apparent transposition of women and horses is irksome, it might be in character for the musical.
Roger McGuinn’s second marriage (1970?-1972?) is to Linda Gilbert. She is an actress. After her marriage to McGuinn ends, Linda Gilbert goes on to marry actor David Carradine in February 1977.
‘Byrdmaniax’ (1971) (US no. 46) is released on 3 June. The album is co-produced by Terry Melcher and Chris Hinshaw. The album includes overdubbed strings, horns and a gospel choir – none of which is done with the band’s consent. This conflict leads to a falling out between The Byrds and Terry Melcher and Melcher’s resignation as their record producer. This album includes The Byrds’ version of ‘Glory Glory’ (US no. 110), a traditional spiritual song from 1928. The whimsical ‘I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician’ is another Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy offcut. The Byrds is the first recording act to release a version of ‘Jamaica Say You Will’. The song’s author, upcoming singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, does not release his own version of ‘Jamaica Say You Will’ until 1972.
Beginning in May 1971, The Byrds undertake a tour of England and Europe. One of the group’s roadies, Jimmi Seiter, joins them on stage in an unofficial capacity as a percussionist. This arrangement lasts until August 1971 when Seiter leaves. The English tour includes a gig at the Lincoln Folk Festival on 24 July 1971. The Byrds are booked to play an acoustic set at the festival but, contrary to expectations, they are the only act on the day to play an electric set. To maximise on the profile generated by their U.K. visit, ‘The Byrds Greatest Hits Volume II’ (1971) is released in the U.K. only on 29 October. The U.S. release of this compilation album does not occur until more than a year later.
‘Farther Along’ (1971) (US no. 152) is released on 17 November. This album is produced by The Byrds themselves. This disc contains a mixture of country rock and ‘a style indebted to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll.’ The title track, ‘Farther Along’, is sung and arranged by guitarist Clarence White. It is a Christian song from 1911 (copyrighted in 1937) composed by the Reverend W.A. Fletcher and J.R. Baxter. It lends a certain grace to the tone of the project. Roger McGuinn’s ‘Tiffany Queen’ is inspired by his wife, Linda Gilbert – though the riff bears some similarity to The Rolling Stones’ 1968 hit ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. The charming ‘Antique Sandy’ is co-written by The Byrds and their former roadie/percussionist Jimmi Seiter. Bassist Skip Battin co-writes ‘America’s Great National Pastime’ with the colourful Kim Fowley. ‘Byrdmaniax’ and ‘Farther Along’ are considered to represent The Byrds at their ‘lowest ebb of creativity.’
In July 1972 The Byrds’ drummer Gene Parsons is fired. He was having disagreements with Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and was accused of not playing well enough. For his part, Parsons felt underpaid. The morale in the band sinks to a new low. Los Angeles session musician John Guerin is brought in on drums and stays with The Byrds up to January 1973, but is never officially a member of the group. Another session musician, Dennis Dragon, is a temporary replacement on drums after Guerin’s tenure ends.
‘The Best Of The Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II’ (1972) (US no. 114) is released on 10 November. This compilation album was released to only U.K. audiences the previous year.
Late in 1972 the five original members of The Byrds – Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke – reconvene. David Crosby urges McGuinn to disband the other version of The Byrds.
On 10 February 1973 Byrds bassist Skip Battin is dismissed by Roger McGuinn because, allegedly, Battin’s playing is not good enough. The Byrds’ best known bassist, Chris Hillman, is persuaded to rejoin the band for two shows on 23 and 24 February. Hillman brings with him Joe Lala, a drummer with whom he has been working. After a ‘shambolic under-rehearsed’ show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on 24 February 1973, The Byrds disband.
The decks are now cleared for a full-scale reunion of The Byrds’ most famous line-up.
‘The Byrds’ (1973) (US no. 20, UK no. 31) is released on 7 March. This album is the only Byrds disc issued on the Asylum label as the band, for the first time, departs from the Columbia label. ‘The Byrds’ is produced by David Crosby. The single from this album is Gene Clark’s ‘Full Circle’ (US no. 109), a song he previously recorded on his January solo album ‘Roadmaster’ (1973). Also present on this disc is a cover version of the 1969 Neil Young song ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’.
‘The Byrds’ receives a ‘negative critical reception.’ ‘It is one of the first, and one of the most flagrant examples of the futility of a great band reuniting in an attempt to recapture the lightning one last time.’ The reunited Byrds quietly split up again, without ever appearing on stage together again.
The Byrds’ musical legacy is subsequently repackaged in compilation albums such as the following: ‘History Of The Byrds’ (1973) (UK no. 47); ‘The Byrds’ (1990) (US no. 151) [a four CD box set]; and ‘Full Flyte 1965-1970’ (1990). The Byrds are inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Their legend is kept alive by further compilations including ‘The Essential Byrds’ (2003) and ‘There Is A Season’ (2006) [A four CD plus DVD box set].
But what happens to the eleven former members of The Byrds?
The Byrds’ former leader, vocalist and guitarist Roger McGuinn embarks on a solo career. He plays his first solo gig at New York’s Academy of Music on 29 May 1973. “When I first went from a band situation to a solo situation, it was quite an adjustment to make,” he acknowledges. McGuinn releases the following solo albums: ‘Roger McGuinn’ (1973) (US no. 137); ‘Peace On You’ (1974) (US no. 92); and ‘Roger McGuinn & Band’ (1975) (US no. 165). Roger McGuinn is one of a number of performers in the cast of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in a tour starting on 29 October 1975. After this, McGuinn releases ‘Cardiff Rose’ (1976) and ‘Thunderbird’ (1977). He reunites with fellow former Byrds Gene Clark and Chris Hillman as the trio McGuinn, Clark And Hillman (1977-1980). The album ‘McGuinn, Clark And Hillman’ (1979) (US no. 39) yields the single ‘Don’t You Write Her Off’ (US no. 33), written by McGuinn. By their second (and final) album, ‘City’ (1980) (US no. 136), the act is being credited as Roger McGuinn And Chris Hillman Featuring Gene Clark. Roger McGuinn resumes his solo career, releasing these albums: ‘Back From Rio’ (1991) (US no. 44) [which includes ‘King Of The Hill’, a duet with Tom Petty]; ‘Limited Edition’ (2004); and ‘CCD’ (2011). In later years, Roger McGuinn seems to be content as a travelling folk music troubadour. He has ‘repeatedly denied any interest in performing again under the name of The Byrds.’
Roger McGuinn’s third marriage (1973?-1976?) is to Susan Bedrick. McGuinn abandons the Subud religion in 1977. He starts reading the Christian Bible again and undertakes Bible studies. On 17 January 1978 McGuinn meets Camilla Spaul, an aspiring actress. She is at first sceptical of McGuinn’s interest in Christianity, but the pair soon become practicing Christians. Like Roger, she ‘also overcomes drug use through Jesus.’ Camilla Spaul becomes Roger McGuinn’s fourth wife on 1 April 1978, less than three months after the couple first meet. Camilla becomes Roger’s unofficial manager and roadie as well.
Former Byrds vocalist Gene Clark starts his post-Byrds career with the album ‘Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers’ (1967). It may be recalled that Rex and Vern Gosdin were members of The Hillmen, the pre-Byrds band of Byrds bassist Chris Hillman. Gene Clark returns to The Byrds in October 1967 – but only for three weeks. Clark then forms a partnership with banjo player Doug Dillard. This pairing results in two albums: ‘The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark’ (1968) and ‘Through The Morning, Through The Night’ (1969). Following this come the solo albums ‘White Light A.K.A. Gene Clark’ (1971) and ‘Roadmaster’ (1973). Gene Clark takes part in the ill-fated reunion of the classic Byrds line-up in 1973. After this falls apart, Gene Clark returns to his solo career with the album ‘No Other’ (1974) (US no. 144). In 1975 he tours with Roger White (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Duke Bardwell (bass, backing vocals, acoustic guitar) under the banner of Gene Clark And The Silverados. Clark then releases the solo album ‘Two Sides To Every Story’ (1977). Next comes the trio of McGuinn, Clark And Hillman and the albums ‘McGuinn, Clark And Hillman’ (1979) (US no. 39) and ‘City’ (1980) (US no. 136). Gene Clark resurfaces with ‘Firebyrd’ (1984). He tours with Pat Robinson and former Byrds bassist John York under the banner of CRY. Years later, ‘After The Storm’ (2000) by CRY, is released. In 1985 Gene Clark tours with a ‘Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to The Byrds’ alongside Rick Roberts, Blondie Chaplin, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, John York and Michael Clarke. He departs this controversial act and makes a duet album with Carla Olson, ‘So Rebellious A Lover’ (1987).
After Gene Clark’s musical partnership with Doug Dillard ends, Clark has a ‘growing drinking problem.’ Gene Clark’s girlfriend circa 1969 is Donna Washburn. In 1970 Clark marries Carlie Lynn McCummings. They move to Albion, California (near Mendocino), and remove themselves from the temptations of Los Angeles. Gene and Carlie have two sons, Kelly and Kai (the latter born in 1974). After the release of his album ‘No Other’, Gene Clark returns to the hedonistic lifestyle in Los Angeles and his marriage disintegrates. His reduced role on ‘City’, the album credited to Roger McGuinn And Chris Hillman Featuring Gene Clark, is due to Clark getting into heroin in 1980. He retreats to Hawaii until the end of 1981 to get off drugs. It is only partially successful. Gene Clark is described as an ‘alcoholic and poly-drug user.’ By 1987 he is suffering from ulcers and alcohol dependency. Gene Clark contracts throat cancer but his death on 24 May 1991 is attributed to natural causes. Gene Clark was 46 at the time of his passing.
Three live albums of Gene Clark’s performances are posthumously released: ‘Silhouetted In Light’ (1992) – with Carla Olson; ‘In Concert’ (2007) – with Carla Olson; and ‘Silverado ’75: Live & Unreleased’ (2008).
Former Byrds guitarist and vocalist David Crosby is best known for his subsequent work with Crosby, Stills & Nash, a ‘semi-acoustic soft rock [act] with an accent on vocal harmonies’ formed in March 1968. His collaborators in this trio are Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. Stills comes from the group called Buffalo Springfield with whom Crosby made a guest appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Graham Nash is from the British pop group The Hollies. Crosby, Stills & Nash are intermittently joined by Neil Young, the ex-Buffalo Springfield member for whom Crosby filled in at the Monterey Pop Festival. There are periods when Crosby, Stills & Nash are disbanded (e.g. August 1970-May 1974, February 1975-1977), times when Crosby and Nash work as a duo and times when David Crosby is a solo act. David Crosby’s post-Byrds recording career looks like this: ‘Crosby, Stills & Nash’ (1969) (US no. 6, UK no. 25) (by Crosby, Stills & Nash); ‘Déjà vu’ (1970) (US no. 1, UK no. 5) (by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young); ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ (1971) (US no. 12) (by David Crosby); ‘4 Way Street’ (1971) (US no. 1, UK no. 5) (a live album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before they split up); ‘Graham Nash David Crosby’ (1972) (US no. 4) (by Crosby and Nash); ‘The Byrds’ (1973) (US no. 20, UK no. 31) (by The Byrds); ‘Wind On The Water’ (1975) (US no. 6) (by Crosby and Nash); ‘Whistling Down The Wire’ (1976) (by Crosby and Nash); ‘CSN’ (1977) (US no. 2, UK no. 25) (by Crosby, Stills & Nash); ‘Daylight Again’ (1982) (US no. 8) (by Crosby, Stills & Nash); ‘American Dream’ (1988) (US no. 16) (by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young); ‘Oh Yes I Can’ (1989) (US no. 104) (by David Crosby); ‘Live It Up’ (1990) (US no. 57) (by Crosby, Stills & Nash); ‘Thousand Roads’ (1993) (US no. 133) (by David Crosby); ‘After The Storm’ (1994) (US no. 98) (by Crosby, Stills & Nash); and ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’ (1995) (a live album by David Crosby). At this point, David Crosby adds another act to the mix. CPR (1996-2004) is a trio consisting of David Crosby (vocals, guitar), Jeff Pevar (guitar) and James Raymond (piano). James Raymond is Crosby’s son (born on 15 May 1962) and given up for adoption, but now reunited with his biological father. So let’s return to David Crosby’s recording career: ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour’ (1996) (by David Crosby, a disc of live performances given in 1989); ‘Live At Cuesta College’ (1998) (a live album by CPR); ‘CPR’ (1998) (by CPR); ‘Live At The Wiltern’ (1999) (a live album by CPR); ‘Looking Forward’ (1999) (US no. 26, UK no. 54) (by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young); ‘Just Like Gravity’ (2001) (by CPR); ‘Crosby & Nash’ (2004) (US no. 142) (by Crosby and Nash); and ‘Croz’ (2014) (US no. 36) (by David Crosby).
Even before leaving The Byrds, David Crosby had fathered two children: James Raymond (born on 15 May 1962) and Erika Keller (born in 1966). The name of James’ mother is not publicly known; Erika’s mother is Jackie Guthrie. In 1967 David Crosby dates singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Christine Hinton, described as Crosby’s ‘long-time girlfriend,’ is killed in a car wreck in 1969. In 1975, Debbie Donovan gives birth to a daughter, Donovan (sometimes known as Ann), by Crosby. As an adult, Donovan Crosby becomes an artist. On 28 March 1982, after driving his car into a highway divider, David Crosby is arrested in Los Angeles for possession of Quaaludes and drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence of cocaine and carrying a concealed .45-caliber pistol. Unrepentant, Crosby says, “I’m not ashamed of being stoned. I was stoned for every bit of music I’ve ever played. Every record, every performance. If they can match the music, let them criticise it. Anybody who can’t ain’t got no f***in’ right to tell me nothin’ about getting’ high.” Crosby is arrested for cocaine possession in 1985. He spends eleven months incarcerated at the Texas State Penitentiary and undergoes a detox and rehab program. On 16 May 1987 David Crosby marries Jan Dance. David and Jan go on to have a son, Django (born in July 1995). ‘Long Time Gone: The Autobiography of David Crosby’ is co-written with Carl Gottlieb and published by Doubleday on 15 October 1988. In 1995 David Crosby has a liver transplant. Crosby’s elder brother Ethan commits suicide in late 1997 or early 1998. The date is unclear because Ethan’s body is not found until May 1998. In January 2000 singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge announces that the two children – Bailey Jean (born on 10 February 1997) and Beckett (born in November 1998) – birthed by her female partner Julie Cypher, are the result of a sperm donation from David Crosby. Technically, he is the biological father of those children. In 2002 David Crosby obtains the rights to the name of The Byrds (for more on this, refer to the section on Michael Clarke). In March 2004, David Crosby is arrested at a hotel in Times Square, New York, and charged with possessing marijuana, a firearm, ammunition and a knife. ‘Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived to Tell It,’ David Crosby’s second autobiographical book co-written with Carl Gottlieb, is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on 7 November 2006.
Former Byrds drummer Michael Clarke at first has a short stint in Hawaii after being dismissed from The Byrds in 1967. In Hawaii, Clarke works as a painter – a landscape artist (it may be recalled that Clarke’s father was an artist) – and works in a hotel. Returning to music, Clarke plays briefly with Dillard And Clark (the duo of banjo-player Doug Dillard and ex-Byrd Gene Clark). Michael Clarke then joins ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman in country rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers (1969-1973). (More details about The Flying Burrito Brothers can be found in the sections on Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin below.) With The Flying Burrito Brothers, Michael Clarke appears on the albums ‘Burrito Deluxe’ (1970), ‘The Flying Burrito Brothers’ (1971) (US no. 176) and ‘Last Of The Red Hot Burritos’ (1972) (US no. 171). Clarke joins in the reunion with his former bandmates that yields the album ‘The Byrds’ (1973) (US no. 20, UK no. 31). In 1974 Michael Clarke is one of the founding members of a new country rock band called Firefall. The line-up of the group is: Rick Roberts (vocals, guitar), Jock Bartley (guitar), Larry Burnett (vocals, guitar), Mark Andes (bass, vocals) and Michael Clarke (drums). In 1977 they are joined by David Muse (saxophone, flute, harmonica, keyboards). During Clarke’s tenure with Firefall (1974-1981), the group releases the albums ‘Firefall’ (1976) (US no. 28), ‘Luna Sea’ (1977) (US no. 27), ‘Elan’ (1978) (US no. 27) and ‘Undertow’ (1980) (US no. 68). During the same period, Firefall also score with a number of hit singles: 1976’s ‘Livin’ Ain’t Livin’’ (US no. 42) and ‘You Are The Woman’ (US no. 9); 1977’s ‘Cinderella’ (US no. 34) and ‘Just Remember I Love You’ (US no. 11); 1978’s ‘So Long’ (US no. 48) and ‘Strange Way’ (US no. 11, AUS no. 45); 1979’s ‘Goodbye I Love You’ (US no. 43); and 1980’s ‘Headed For A Fall’ (US no. 85) and ‘Love That Got Away’ (US no. 50). After leaving Firefall, Michael Clarke plays in the backing band for Jerry Jeff Walker (1981-1982) and then plays in ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s backing group The Firebyrds (1983-1985). Michael Clarke and Gene Clark are both involved in 1985’s ‘Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to The Byrds’, an act that also features Rick Roberts, Blondie Chaplin, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and John York. Gene Clark quits after 1985, but Michael Clarke tours with The Byrds Featuring Michael Clarke (1987-1993). Fellow ex-Byrds John York and Skip Battin play with this version of the band.
Michael Clarke dies due to liver failure on 19 December 1993 ‘from a lifetime of hard drinking.’ He was 47 years old. In his last years, Clarke’s girlfriend was Susan Paul. Michael Clarke had become, almost by accident, the custodian of The Byrds name, touring with versions of that band in his final years. Long time Byrds leader Roger McGuinn continues to profess that he has no interest in touring as The Byrds. McGuinn speculates that The Byrds name would be owned by Michael Clarke’s estate. To redress this odd circumstance, McGuinn agrees to go on the road with David Crosby and Chris Hillman – the only other surviving members of the classic Byrds line-up – to reassert their claim to the name. Once this goal has been achieved, the trio part company. Since McGuinn remains adamant in his disinterest for using The Byrds name, David Crosby – as the next earliest member – obtains the rights to the name of The Byrds in 2002.
Former Byrds bassist Chris Hillman joins fellow ex-Byrd Gram Parsons in a new country rock band, The Flying Burrito Brothers (for more information on The Flying Burrito Brothers, refer to the sections about Michael Clarke, Gram Parsons, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin). Although by now best known as a bass player, Chris Hillman is credited with vocals, mandolin and guitar in the original Flying Burrito Brothers line-up, leaving Chris Ethridge (from Gram Parsons’ earlier International Submarine Band) to play bass on their debut album, ‘The Gilded Palace Of Sin’ (1969) (US no. 164). Ethridge leaves before the second album, ‘Burrito Deluxe’ (1970), so Chris Hillman resumes his familiar position as bassist from that set forward. Gram Parsons leaves after ‘Burrito Deluxe’, but the group continues. The line-up for ‘The Flying Burrito Brothers’ (1971) (US no. 176) is: Rick Roberts (vocals, rhythm guitar), Chris Hillman (vocals, bass, mandolin), Bernie Leadon (vocals, guitar, dobro) [Leadon later joins The Eagles], ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums). ‘Close Up The Honky Tonks’ (1974) (US no. 158) is a compilation of the best of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Chris Hillman is part of another group during his last days with The Flying Burrito Brothers. Manassas (Fall 1971-October 1973) is a project spearheaded by Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame. The seven members of the group are: Stephen Stills (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chris Hillman (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Al Perkins (pedal steel guitar, vocals), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels (bass), Joe Lala (percussion) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Manassas issue two albums: ‘Manassas’ (1972) (US no. 4), a double album, and ‘Down The Road’ (1973) (US no. 26), which includes the Stephen Stills song ‘Isn’t It About Time’ (US no. 56). Again, Chris Hillman is part of another group during his last days with Manassas. This is the ill-fated last days of The Byrds in 1972-1973, including the reunion disc ‘The Byrds’ (1973) (US no. 20, UK no. 31). Following that comes The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (September 1973-April 1975). This act consists of: J.D. Souther [John David Souther] (vocals, guitar, drums), Chris Hillman (vocals, bass, mandolin), Richie Furay (vocals, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards, flute), Al Perkins (pedal steel guitar, dobro), Joe Lala (percussion) and Jim Gordon (drums) (1973-1974)/Ron Grinel (drums) (1975-1976). Two albums are released: ‘The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band’ (1974) (US no. 11) – which includes Richie Furay’s ‘Fallin’ In Love’ (US no. 27) – and ‘Trouble In Paradise’ (1975) (US no. 39). Chris Hillman goes on to make two solo albums, ‘Slippin’ Away’ (1976) (US no. 152) and ‘Clear Sailin’’ (1977) (US no. 188). A 1977 British tour reunites Hillman with fellow ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark under the name of McGuinn, Clark And Hillman. Chris Hillman detours for the album ‘Ever Call Ready’ (1978) with the band of the same name before recording ‘McGuinn, Clark And Hillman’ (1979) (US no. 39). The second album by the trio, ‘City’ (1980) (US no. 136), is credited to Roger McGuinn And Chris Hillman Featuring Gene Clark, indicating the reduced role of the last-named. After that, McGuinn, Clark And Hillman falls apart. Chris Hillman makes two more solo albums, ‘Morning Sky’ (1982) and ‘Desert Rose’ (1984). The name of the latter album seems to be the inspiration for the country rock act The Desert Rose Band (1987-1991). The frontline of this act is: Chris Hillman (vocals, bass, mandolin), Herb Pedersen (vocals, guitar, banjo) and John Jorgenson (guitar, mandolin, dobro). Backing them up are Bill Bryson (bass), Jay Dee Maness (pedal steel guitar) (1987-1990)/Tom Brumley (pedal steel guitar) (1990-1991) and Steve Duncan (drums). Although The Desert Rose Band may be considered a country rock band, most of their success is on the country music charts rather than the pop charts. The Desert Rose Band release the following albums: ‘The Desert Rose Band’ (1987); ‘Running’ (1988); ‘Pages Of Life’ (1990) (US no. 187); ‘True Love’ (1991) and ‘Life Goes On’ (1993). For the next stage in his career, Chris Hillman alternates between solo albums, albums co-credited to Hillman and his fellow former Desert Rose Band member Herb Pedersen, and albums on which Hillman and Pedersen are joined by Larry Rice and Tony Rice. In order, Chris Hillman’s albums follow this pattern: ‘Bakersfield Bound’ (1996) (by Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen); ‘Out Of The Woodwork’ (1997) (by Larry Rice, Tony Rice, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen); ‘Like A Hurricane’ (1998) (by Chris Hillman); ‘Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen’ (1999) (by Larry Rice, Tony Rice, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen); ‘Way Out West’ (2003) (by Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen); and ‘The Other Side’ (2005) (by Chris Hillman). In 2008 The Desert Rose Band reforms for a tour. The line-up for this excursion is the classic version of the band with Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel guitar.
In 1979 Chris Hillman marries Connie Pappas Hillman. They have two children: Catherine and Nicholas.
Former Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley dies from natural causes on 6 April 2002. He was 59 years old.
Former Byrds vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Gram Parsons forms the country rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers in December 1968. The original four-piece line-up is: Gram Parsons (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chris Hillman (guitar, vocals, mandolin), ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar) and Chris Ethridge (bass, piano, backing vocals). Parsons worked with Hillman previously in The Byrds and with Ethridge previously in The International Submarine Band. The original quartet records the debut album ‘The Gilded Palace Of Sin’ (1969) (US no. 164). Various session drummers are employed during the making of the album. The group has a ‘unique sound…[but one that is perhaps] too close to pure country for many rock-oriented listeners.’ “We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band that sounds like a country band,” boasts Gram Parsons. The group undergoes a line-up shuffle for their second album, ‘Burrito Deluxe’ (1970). The revised version of The Flying Burrito Brothers is: Gram Parsons (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chris Hillman (bass, vocals), Bernie Leadon (vocals, guitar, dobro), ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums). Like Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke is a veteran of The Byrds. Gram Parsons leaves The Flying Burrito Brothers in April 1970, before the release of ‘Burrito Deluxe’ later the same month. The Flying Burrito Brothers continues through various incarnations, but without the man whose vision created the act. Gram Parsons releases two solo albums, ‘G.P.’ (1973) and ‘Grievous Angel’ (1974) (US no. 195). Emmylou Harris, who goes on to become a significant country rock artist in her own right, provides backing vocals on these albums. ‘Grievous Angel’ is described as ‘a truly magnificent album.’ If Parsons can take some credit for helping to invent country rock, it is said that ‘he perfected it here’ on ‘Grievous Angel’.
Gram Parsons becomes a father in August 1968 when his girlfriend, Nancy Ross, gives birth to their daughter, Polly. The relationship between Gram and Nancy does not appear to last much longer. ‘In 1969 [Gram Parsons] dives deep into substance abuse, which he supports with his sizable trust fund.’ By 1971, Gram Parsons has a ‘much younger girlfriend, aspiring actress Gretchen Burrell.’ Gram and Gretchen marry in 1971, but the ‘relationship [is] far from stable.’ Gram Parsons rekindles his relationship with his high school sweetheart, Margaret Fisher. Parsons separates from Gretchen and ‘friends claim that Parsons was preparing to commence divorce proceedings.’ In summer 1973, Gram Parsons’ home in Topanga Canyon, California, burns to the ground as a result of a fire started by a stray cigarette. That same summer, after completing recording of ‘Grievous Angel’, Gram Parsons takes a vacation at Joshua Tree National Monument in California. After returning from his holiday, Gram Parsons dies from an overdose of morphine and tequila on 19 September 1973. Although he was rushed to Yucca Valley Hospital, Parsons was pronounced dead on arrival. Gram Parsons was 26 at the time of his death. Parsons’ stepfather, Bob Parsons, plans to give Gram a funeral in Louisiana but does not intend to invite any of the singer’s friends from the music industry. Phil Kaufman, Gram Parsons’ road manager, enlists the aid of Michael Martin, a former Byrds roadie, and together they steal the body. To honour Gram’s wishes, they give him a makeshift cremation at his chosen resting place, the Joshua Tree National Monument in south-eastern California. Since there is no law against stealing a dead body, Kaufman and Martin are fined seven hundred and fifty dollars for stealing the coffin.
Former Byrds guitarist and vocalist Clarence White joins a bluegrass supergroup called Muleskinner in 1973. The other members are Peter Rowan (guitar), David Grisman (mandolin), Richard Green (fiddle) and Bill Keith (banjo). They release one album, ‘Muleskinner’ (1973), in the latter half of the year. In April 1973 Clarence White moves on to The White Brothers (a.k.a. The New Kentucky Colonels). As the name suggests, this reunites Clarence White with his brothers, Roland and Eric Jr. Rounding out the group are Herb Pedersen (guitar) and Alan Munde (banjo).
After a White Brothers show in Palmdale, California, Clarence White and his brother Roland White are loading up their equipment when, at two a.m., a drunk driver strikes and kills Clarence on 14 July 1973. Clarence White was 29 years old. He dies two months before the death of Gram Parsons, the man Clarence White replaced in The Byrds.
Former Byrds drummer and vocalist Gene Parsons records a solo album, ‘Kidling’ (1973). He then joins a later incarnation of The Flying Burrito Brothers, the country rock band created by former Byrd Gram Parsons that includes ex-Byrds Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke in its list of former members. When Gene Parsons joins them in November 1974, The Flying Burrito Brothers line-up is: Joel Scott Hill (vocals, guitar), ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar), Gib Guilbeau (vocals, fiddle), Chris Ethridge (bass) and Gene Parsons (vocals, drums). They record the album ‘Flying Again’ (1975) (US no. 138). Chris Ethridge exits before their next disc and is replaced on bass by another ex-Byrd, Skip Battin. This edition of The Flying Burrito Brothers issues ‘Airborne’ (1976). Gene Parsons leaves the group in 1978. He records another solo album, ‘Melodies’ (1979). Gene Parsons next surfaces as one half of the duo Parsons Green with his wife, Meridian Green. ‘Birds Of A Feather’ (1988) is credited to Parsons Green. Haywire is the name of a group made up of: Gene Parsons (vocals, drums), Joe Craven (fiddle), Bill Douglass (bass) and Will Siegel (dobro). Haywire release the album ‘Nature Quest: Bluegrass Christmas’ (1998). Parsons Green put out a concert recording, ‘Live From Casper’ (2001), and – the same year – Gene Parsons issues a solo live album, ‘In Concert – I Hope They’ll Let Us In’ (2001). ‘Hillbilly Zen’ (2002) is co-credited to Gene Parsons and British singer-songwriter Julian Dawson.
Former Byrds bassist and vocalist John York works with an act called The Museuns (1974-1976). They release a single, ‘Train In The Desert’. In the mid-1980s, John York tours with ex-Byrd Gene Clark and Pat Robinson under the name of CRY. One album is released by CRY – but not until many years later. In 1985 John York is part of a ‘Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to The Byrds.’ (For more on this refer to the Gene Clark section.) John York issues a series of albums; sometimes as a solo act, sometimes with a partner. John York’s output looks like this: ‘Sacred Path Songs’ (1991) (by John York); ‘Clan Mother Songs’ (1992) (by John York and Jamie Sams); ‘Claremont Dragon’ (1998) (by John York); ‘After The Storm’ (2000) (by CRY: Gene Clark, Pat Robinson and John York); ‘Family Tree’ (2001) (by Family Tree i.e. John York and fellow former Byrds bassist Skip Battin); ‘West Coast Revelation’ (2001) (by John York and Kim Fowley); ‘Koto’ (2003) (by John York and Yukiko Matsuyama); ‘Arigatou Baby’ (2006) (by John York); and ‘Trippin’ The 60’s: The Show Songs Live’ (2009) (by John York and Barry McGuire).
Former Byrds bassist and vocalist Skip Battin records a solo album, ‘Skip’ (1972). He then joins a version of country rock band New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Battin appears on three albums by that band: ‘Brujo’ (1974) (US no. 68), ‘Oh What A Mighty Time’ (1975) (US no. 144) and ‘New Riders’ (1976) (US no. 145). From there, Skip Battin joins another country rock act, The Flying Burrito Brothers. This outfit was founded by ex-Byrd Gram Parsons and, over the years, fellow ex-Byrds Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke and Gene Parsons pass through their ranks. Skip Battin appears on the following albums by The Flying Burrito Brothers: ‘Airborne’ (1976), ‘Close Encounters To The West Coast’ (1978), ‘Live From Tokyo’ (1979), ‘Hearts On The Line’ (1981), ‘Hollywood Nights 1979-82’ (1983), ‘Cabin Fever’ (1985) and ‘Live From Europe’ (1986). Skip Battin tours with a version of The Byrds lead by ex-Byrds drummer Michael Clarke in the years 1987-1993. Fellow ex-Byrds bassist John York is also part of this act. Skip Battin is on ‘Live On Stage’ (1993), an album by New Riders Of The Purple Sage. ‘Family Tree’ (2001) is credited to Family Tree (a.k.a. the duo of former Byrds bassists Skip Battin and John York).
Skip Battin dies on 6 July 2003 from complications resulting from Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative failure of the brain’s memory leading to a loss of bodily functions and death. He was 69 years old. Skip Battin appears on two posthumously released albums: ‘Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, TX, 6/13/75’ (2005) by New Riders Of The Purple Sage and ‘Topanga Skyline’ (2012), a Skip Battin solo album recorded in 1973 but unreleased until 2012.
The sound of Roger McGuinn’s twelve string guitar made The Byrds instantly recognisable. Their best work was in 1965-1966 when they pioneered folk rock. After that brief time, their commercial success diminished markedly. But time has been kind to their heritage. The Byrds’ forays into psychedelic rock and country rock are now correctly seen as highly significant. ‘The Byrds are rightly regarded as the premier American rock group of the mid-late 1960s with a body of work whose range, depth and originality still impresses’. ‘The music of The Byrds endures because of a synchronism of taste, technique, intelligence and inspiration that, now as then, seems to resonate with the jingle jangle of destiny itself’.
- wikipedia.org as at 21 June 2016
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll’, ‘The Byrds’ by Bud Scoppa, ‘Folk Rock’ by Paul Nelson (Plexus Publishing Limited, 1992) p. 309, 310, 311, 312, 315
- oprah.com – ’20 Questions with The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn’ by Melissa Hellstern (21 April 2010)
- worldcat.org as at 29 June 2016
- brainyquote.com as at 29 June 2016
- ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (U.S. rock magazine) – ‘The Rolling Stone Interview: Roger McGuinn’ by Ed Ward (‘Rolling Stone’ issue #6 (24 February 1968)) (reproduced on rollingstone.com)
- Notable Names Database – nndb.com – as at 28 June 2016
- biblio.org – Byrds FAQ List (Frequently Asked Questions) – copyright 2012 Roger McGuinn
- ‘The Essential Byrds’ – Sleeve notes by Alan Bisbort (Sony Music, 2003) p. 2, 4, 5, 7
- ‘No Depression – The Journal of Roots Music’ (U.S. magazine) – ‘Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark’ by Ed Ward (30 June 2005) (reproduced on nodepression.com)
- ‘Inside the LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation Part XVII (of 16)’ by David McGowan (3 July 2010) (battleofearth.wordpress.com)
- ‘The Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 44, 90, 102, 103, 104, 109, 131, 136, 147, 214, 218, 247, 338
- Internet Movie Database – imdb.com – as at 27 June 2016
- biography.com – ‘David Crosby’ – no author credited – as at 27 June 2016
- ‘Full Flyte – 1965-1970’ – Sleeve notes by Johnny Rogan (Raven Records, 1990) p. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 35, 52, 53
- chrishillman.com – copyright 2016 Chris Hillman
- allmusic.com – ‘The Byrds’ by Richie Unterberger as at 24 June 2016
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia Of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 47, 178
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 62, 75
- ‘The History Of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 78, 79
- ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – Sleeve notes by Roger McGuinn (Columbia Records, 1965) via 2 (above) p. 310
- songkick.com as at 3 July 2016
- trulyamazingwomen.com – no author credited – 2015 The Incandescent Group LLC
- famousbio.com as at 28 June 2016
- ‘16’ (U.S. magazine) – ‘Byrd Ball’ – no author credited (February 1967) via 15 (above) p. 7
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 50, 51, 57, 70
- googletranslate as at 19 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘Gram Parsons’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 29 June 2016
- discogs.com as at 20 July 2016
- clarencewhiteforum.com – Interview with Michelle White conducted by ‘Racer800’ (4 December 2008)
- americansongwriter.com by Davis Inman (27 February 2012)
- facebook.com – Acejukebox (16 December 2014)
- myheritage.com – no author credited – as at 28 June 2016
- rockmemorabilia.com – copyright 2001-2011
- allmusic.com – ‘Roger McGuinn’ by Jason Ankeny as at 12 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘McGuinn, Clark And Hillman’ by Bruce Eder as at 12 July 2016
- celebrityaccess.com – ‘Industry Profile: Camilla McGuinn’ by Bob Grossweiner, Jane Cohen (1998-2016 Gen-Den Corporation)
- ‘People’ (U.S. magazine) – ‘Drugs Made and Nearly Ended Ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn; Then he Turned, Turned, Turned to God’ by Rich Wiseman (‘People’ No. 16, Vol. 11 (eleven) – 23 April 1979) (reproduced on people.com)
- whosdatedwho.com as at 28 June 2016
- clarkophile.blogspot.com.au – ‘Interview with Kai Clark’ by Tom (?) (22 May 2011)
- allmusic.com – ‘David Crosby’ by Jason Ankeny as at 12 July 2016
- goodreads.com as at 30 June 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘The Flying Burrito Brothers’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 12 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘Firefall’ by Steve Huey as at 14 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘Chris Hillman’ by Jason Ankeny as at 12 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘The Desert Rose Band’ by Steve Huey as at 12 July 2016
- die.augenweide.de as at 17 July 2016
- allmusic.com – ‘New Riders Of The Purple Sage’ by Bruce Eder as at 12 July 2016
- metrolyrics.com as at 17 July 2016
Song lyrics copyright Essex Music of Aust. Pty Ltd. with the exceptions of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (Sony / ATV Music Publishing Australia); ‘5D (Fifth Dimension)’ (Universal / MCA Music Publishing Pty Limited, Mushroom Music) and ‘You’re Still On My Mind’ (Glad Music Co.)
Last revised 23 July 2016