What made The Byrds one of the best bands of any era? The individual members, songs, production, and vision all stick out in my mind.
The Byrds originally consisted of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke. Other members over the years include Gram Parsons, Kevin Kelley, Clarence White, Gene Parsons, John York, and Skip Battin.
Among these, only McGuinn was the constant presence from the beginning. He, along with Gene Clark and David Crosby, founded The Jet Set (renamed The Byrds shortly after) in 1964 as folk-based group heavily influenced by the Beatles. Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke were added to create the original ensemble. Line-up changes were frequent over the years. David Crosby went on to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Gene Clark went solo. Kelley went to join Fever Tree. Hillman and Clarke left to join The Flying Burrito Brothers, along with Gram Parsons and later, Battin. Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver loading out after a gig. Gene Parsons invented the innovative B-Bender (StringBender) with Clarence White and since then, custom-installs them in his northern California shop (along with excellent solo work, as well as with the Mendocino Quartet).
Author’s note: Many years ago (1974?), I wrote to Gene Parsons asking for information on his StringBender, and told him of my intention to form my own small record label. He answered me upon his return from a trip, wished me well, and told me that they could send the big record labels to hell for all he cared! I was off to the races after that…
The Byrds were always blessed with great songs. All band members made valuable contributions over the years. These are but a sampling:
Gene Clark- “Here Without You”, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”, “The World Turns All Around Her”, “Full Circle”
Roger McGuinn- “Mr. Spaceman”, “Ballad of Easy Rider”, “5-D”, “Chestnut Mare”, “Lover of the Bayou” (the last two written with Jacques Levy), “You Showed Me”, and “You Won’t Have To Cry” (both written w/ Gene Clark)
David Crosby- “Everybody’s Been Burned”, “What’s Happening?”, “Why?”, “Eight Miles High” (w/ Clark and McGuinn)
Chris Hillman- “Have You Seen Her Face”, “Girl With No Name”, “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star”, “Time Between”, “Old John Robertson” (last two songs w/McGuinn)
Michael Clarke- Co-wrote “Captain Soul” and “Artificial Energy”
John York- “Fido”, “Candy”
Gram Parsons- “Hickory Wind”, “Drug Store Truck-Drivin Man”, One Hundred Years From Now”, “Lazy Day”
Kevin Kelley- “All I Have Are Memories”
Gene Parsons- “Gunga Din”, “Get Down Your Line”, “Nashville West” (w/ Clarence White)
Clarence White-“Green Apple Quick Step”, “Bristol Steam Convention Blues” ( both w/Gene Parsons)
Skip Battin- “Well, Come Back Home”, “America’s Great National Pastime”, “Precious Kate” (last two w/Kim Fowley)
Last, but certainly not least, Bob Dylan. Although not a member, The Byrds’ first hit was Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”. The band would record many Dylan songs over the years, often doing a more-accessible version than the writer.
The Byrds’ production was first-rate. They were particularly noteworthy as being a music bridge spanning folk, rock, country, and pop.
Jim Dickson may have been self-taught at production and music, but his productions 12-String Guitar Vol. 1 (&2) were best-sellers, featuring Glen Campbell and the Dillards. He produced excellent demos for the Jet Set (soon to be The Byrds) at World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles. He became their manager and happened to obtain an acetate copy of the unreleased Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man”. He suggested they record that for their debut single. Dylan heard them do it, loved it, and the wheels were in motion.
Columbia records signed the Jet Set; two weeks later, they renamed themselves The Byrds. Terry Melcher, staff producer at Columbia Records (and son of actress Doris Day) was given the task of producing their first two albums with the fore-mentioned song, and “Turn, Turn, Turn” the titles (and hits) of those albums. He also produced “Ballad of Easy Rider”, “(Untitled)”(along w/Dickson), and “Byrdmaniax”, too. (Melcher also produced the hits for Paul Revere and the Raiders.)
Allen Stanton (5th Dimension) and Gary Usher (Younger Than Yesterday, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (my favorite), and Bob Johnston (Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde) also produced quality albums for the band. They self-produced “Farther Along”, another fine effort. Quality songs, quality production-what’s not to like?
Vision was a huge factor with The Byrds’ success. They moved from folk-to rock-to pop-to psychedelic-to country-even to experimental music with ease. There is no better example than “Sweetheart of the Rodeo“, released in 1968. This album was a bold move straight into country music, “ushering” in (the producer was Gary Usher) the country-rock movement. Their (Untitled) album was a double, one live and one studio recording- unheard-of at the time.
Just go through their catalog, album to album and you can listen for yourself what I’m talking about. If you love music, you won’t be disappointed!
© 2019 J. Mark Witters Skyypilot.com