from Cosmic American Music News issue 1 (winter/spring) 1992
By Jean-Pierre Morisset
May 24, 1991 was the much publicized day on which Bob Dylan turned 50, but
for many people it will be remembered as a very sad date. By an ironic and
cruel twist of fate, it was the day on which Gene Clark was found dead at
his home in Sherman Oaks. He was only 46.
A gifted singer-songwriter, first as a founding member of the Byrds, then as
a solo artist, Gene Clark gave me so much pleasure through his music during
25 years that I feel today I owe the man a tribute of some importance. The
following article, covering all his public career, will hopefully make some
readers want to get more into his musical legacy. For others who, like me,
grew up to the familiar sound of his voice, it will evoke good memories.
Gene Clark was born in Tipton, Missouri, on November 17, 1944, coming from a
large family that somehow managed to encourage his independence. Though his
music was of the back-porch variety for a long time, he graduated into the
local high school rock band scene. 'We had surfbands,' he recalled, 'which
is pretty funny when you figure Missouri is about as far from the ocean as
you can get in the U.S. But surf bands were really big out there. 'Gene also
dug country and western music, admitting that at the age of four he used to
go out and sit on a sawhorse in the backyard and pretend he was appearing on
Grand Ole Opry. 'I didn't begin to play till I was 11. My dad played guitar,
tenor banjo, mandolin and harmonica, so naturally I was influenced by all
this 360degree music.'
Gene began writing and singing at 11, but instead of playing the traditional
country songs he began 'finding new chords and improvising new melodies and
lyrics using a country and western base.' He had his first band at 14, and
from there he was initiated into the professional world via a group called
the Rum Runners, which he described as 'just a bunch of college kids making
music for other college kids." He then went on to the Surf Riders,
eventually moved to Kansas City, and his next stop was the small folk
circuit in this area. It was in this scene that the proverbial bolt of
lightning struck him. Randy Sparks and the New Christy Minstrels came into
the region and spent some time in between concerts checking out the local
scene. There they found the guitarwielding Gene, liked him, and signed him
to play 12string and sing for them. It was during 1962 and, in Gene's own
words, 'It was great, like instant stardom, just like a movie!: Clerk
remained with them until December 1963, taking part in their Christmas album
and another on Columbia Records, and touring with them worldwide.
Suddenly his life changed when he heard the Beatles for the first time on
the radio. Immediately, Gene realized that their music was the future and he
very much wanted to be part of this future! A few weeks later he moved to
Los Angeles and started playing solo gigs in small clubs and hanging out at
places like the Ash Grove and the Troubadour. Three months later, he met Jim
'One night, I noticed this guy off in a corner playing Beatles songs on an
acoustic guitar. That was McGuinn. Well, I thought he was on the right track
because nobody at these places was playing Beatles songs. McGuinn and I got
together and we talked about doing a duet. My hair was already growing
longer, and he decided to grow his hair long, and we began playing and
writing together.' McGuinn remembers, 'When I ran into Gene Clark, I was
doing beatles songs with a 12-string acoustic guitar, and of course nobody
was going for it. But Gene heard it and dug it, and he came over to saying,
'do you want to start a duet, like Peter & Gordon or something?' We did
that, and very soon Dave Crosby came in.'
Thanks to Crosby, who had already cut a couple of demos at World Pacific
studios with producer Jim Dickson, Clark and McGuinn met Dickson. 'David
introduced us to Jim, who heard us and saw something in what we were doing.
We went into the studio as a trio and cut some demos.' The result of these
initial sessions would be heard years later when Gary Usher released two
songs, 'The Only Girl' (McGuinn-Clark) and 'You Movin" (Clark) on the 1969
album Early L.A. (Together Records SIT-1014).
Unsatisfied with their strongly folk-influenced sound, Clerk, McGuinn and
Crosby decided to electrify their instruments, and with the help of session
men the group, rechristened The Beefeaters by Jac Holzman of Elektra
Records, cut an optional single for the label during the summer of 1964,
'Please Let Me Love You' (Clark/McGuinn) h/w 'It Won't Be Wrong' (McGuinn)
(Elektra Records 45013). Unfortunately, it was a false start, and as the
single failed to chart, the group returned to the studios, under the
guidance of Jim Dickson, to practice and work up their repertoire which
consisted largely of stuff written by Gene, alone, or with McGuinn. In the
meantime two new musicians had been drafted permanently, former conga player
Mike Clarke on drums, and former bluegrass-mandolin player Chris Hillman on
These historic sessions of summer/fall 1964 have by now been fully
documented, following several album releases over two decades. A list of
them is worth mention here, considering that most of the early Byrds
material came from the pen of a prolific young Gene Clark. In 1969 came
Preflyte (Together Records STT1001), an 11 song collection featuring no less
than 7 compositions by Gene. 'She Has A Way,' 'The Reason Why' and 'For Me
Again' really stood as promises of good things to come! The album was soon
out of print, but in 1973 Columbia Records re-released it (KC 32183). Then,
in 1988, the good guys at Rhino Records put out another collection of early
demos under the title In The Beginning (R1-70244) with 14 songs comprising
alternative takes (acoustic or electric) of the ones from Preflyte. A
compact disk version of the album (R270244) went even further by offering
three more outtakes.
Sound In Search Of A Name
By Thanksgiving Day, November 1964, the five-man group had found its name.
McGuinn's strong reliance to airplanes, and gene's suggestion of "Birdsers,"
led to the Byrds. At the same period, producer/mentor Jim Dickson secured
them a contract with Columbia Records, and in January 1965 the Byrds were in
the studios cutting their debut single, 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (4-432.7 1). On
the flip-side was 'I Knew I'd Want You,' a brilliant ballad written by Gene.
A second single, still a Bob Dylan cover, 'All I Really Want To Do,'
followed (Columbia 4-43332). Again, the B-side was a Gene Clerk
contribution, 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better,' which would later be covered
by many artists (including Tom Petty in 1989) and became an instant Byrds
classic! Before the end of 1965 yet a third single, "Turn, Turn, Turn"
(Columbia 443424), was coupled by Gene's astonishing wedding Back and
pop-music, 'She Don't Care About Time.'
"I was the only one who was really writing a lot in those days,' said Gene.
'I didn't feel slighted that my songs were on the B-sides. Of course, I made
a lot of money. Maybe, in a way, being in the background kind of created a
mystique that, in the end, might even be beneficial. I certainly didn't
suffer that much." By the end of 1965, the Byrds had two big-selling albums
out on Columbia, Mr. Tambourine Man (CS-9172) and Turn, 7urn, Turn (CS9254).
Gene Clark's material was top stuff, 'Here Without You," The World Turns
Around Her' and 'If You're Gone,' to name a few.
At the beginning of 1966, it was decided that the Byrds' 4th single would be
a Gene Clark song, 'Set You Free This Time'(Columbia 4-43501). The number
showcased Gene's favorite style, mid-tempo and melancholy, dominated by slow
acoustic guitar and some great harmonica. But it was probably less
representative of the Byrds' sound, so it was only a minor hit. A few months
earlier, after a dinner with Brian Jones, Gene had come up with some lyrical
ideas that soon would become his most enduring classic, 'Eight Miles High.'
Gene explained, 'I had an idea for some lyrics and wrote them on a piece of
paper during the conversation with Brian. Later on I found them in my jacket
pocket on the tour bus. I took my guitar and started making up a melody for
it. I pretty much completed the song and played it for McGuinn and Crosby,
and they really liked it. There were a lot of images I got from thinking and
remembering things we'd done on the English tour. Actually, I started the
thing before we got to England, and finished it when we got back. We were
listening to a lot of Coltrane and Shankar. I felt that the arrangement idea
McGuinn came up with alone deserved co-writer credit on it. Crosby, as well,
came up with some of the lyrics. I kinda felt that all three of us wrote the
So 'Eight Miles High' (Columbia 4-43578) was the Byrds' fifth single,
released in March 1966. The song is probably the biggest Byrds' classic and
one of Gene Clark's greatest artistic achievements, destined to musical
immortality. Even before the song was on the radio, Gene announced on March
1, 1966 that he was quitting the Byrds. 'I don't like to fly on airplanes.
To be a Byrd you had to be able to fly all the time, and the pressure got
tom me. It had nothing to do with musical hassles.' Gene Clark's last
recorded contribution to the Byrds, cut on January 25,1966 (but unreleased
at that time), was the Day Walk,' another gorgeous ballad later made
available in 1987 on the Never Before album (CBS Special Products MH-70318)
and in 1989 on the CD edition (D-22808) comprising 7 bonus tracks among
which a stereo mix of the formerly mono B-side, "She Don't Care About Time.'
Out of the Byrds, Gene already had a backlog of hundreds of songs, yet he
was writing new material. all the time and was eager to start a solo career.
Strangely enough, his first move was to assemble his own band, the Gene
Clark Group, during the spring of 1966, with young guitarist Bill Rhinehart,
a founding member of the Leaves. Other members were Joel Larson on drums,
and Chip Douglas on bass, formerly with the Modern Folk Quartet. After only
two weeks together they played the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset Strip, and
finding out that Columbia Records was still interested in him outside of the
Byrds, Gene signed to the label and started working on his debut album,
exactly at the same time his former colleagues started recording sessions
for Younger Than Yesterday.
Manager, Jim Dickson decided to use session musicians instead of the stage
band, keeping only Bill Rhinehart and calling Vern and Rex Gosdin for vocal
harmonies, Glen Campbell and Jerry Kole for guitars, the Byrds own rhythm
section of Chris Hillman on bass and Michael Clarke on drums, and Leon
Russell on keyboards and arrangements. Clarence White was also involved,
giving a country-rock touch to the music way before the name was invented.
By the end of 1966, a single was released, coupling 'Echoes' with 'I Found
You" (Columbia 4-43903), and Gene even made a film to promote the main song.
With strong words and complex orchestration, it was ahead of its time and
therefore had no commercial success.
To make matters even worse, a bad timing at Columbia put the album, Gene
Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (CS-9418) out the same week of January 1967
as the newest Byrds album, creating an unnecessary competition between the
two camps. 'The album didn't fare too well when it first came out for a
couple of reasons. First, albums weren't getting much airplay (unless they
were by the Beatles or Stones), and there was no Rolling Stone magazine to
review it! There was confusion between me and the Byrds as to what exactly
was going on. Younger Than Yesterday came out the same week as my album and
the Byrds were on top, so they got the attention.'
If not a masterpiece, Gene's album was a truly fine record with several
outstanding tracks, among them the Leon Russell arranged 'So You Say You
Lost Your Baby," the countryfied 'Tried So Hard' and 'Keep On Pushin',' the
rocking 'Couldn't Believe Her: and 'Elevator Operator,' not forgetting the
great ballads "The Same One' and 'Echoes.' After the album's release Gene
put together another backup group to play clubs, including Clarence White on
lead guitar, John York on bass (both to become later second-generation
Byrds) and noted session drummer Eddie Hoh, but it dissolved duringmid-1967.
Still on good terms with his former mates, Gene occasionally showed up on
stage with the Byrds, but mostly he was writing songs and preparing a second
solo album for Columbia.
Other artists started picking songs from Gene's output. Both the group Rose
Garden ('Long Time' and 'Till Today') and actor David Hemmings ('Back Street
Mirror') covered Gene's songs in 1967. 'I was writing just to write during
that period. I think there were about 300 unreleased songs written during
that period. I used to lock myself in my house and just work on songs for
days. I had a little recording set up in one room and I'd just go in and put
'em on tape.'
Sessions for a second Columbia LP did start in May 1967, and two songs
destined to become a follow-up single were cut, 'The French Girl' b/w "Only
Colombe.' 'The sessions were produced by Curt Boetcher, and they were
difficult,' said Gene. 'He and I really didn't see eye-to-eye about my music
and about production.' As a result, the single remained unreleased until
both songs finally appeared in their original form on 1991's Columbia Legacy
tribute CD, Echoes (CK 48523). Gene chose to work with Leon Russell again,
this time as producer. 'Leon is one of the few producers I've worked with
who had an excellent empathy with my material. The musical ideas he came up
with always fit what I felt about my songs. He and I did a few more things
which have never come out. What it was with the second solo album is that it
never really came together. There were a lot of different ideas. I did part
of it with Leon producing. I did some of it with Gary Usher producing. It
got to where there were bits and pieces laying around.'
Let's hope that some day Columbia will dig into its vaults to exhume all
this stuff, among which are supposed to feature songs like 'One Way Road,'
'Whatever,' 'Bakersfield Train' and "Down On The Pier.' As a result of these
difficulties of installing his own career, Gene accepted in October 1967 an
offer to rejoin the Byrds, who having just fired David Crosby, were in need
of a singer/rhythm guitarist. After a promising beginning on TV shows
(Smothers Brothers and Groovy), Gene departed again after only three weeks
due to personality problems with McGuinn.
Through previous connections with producer Larry Marks (who had partly
produced his debut album), who was now working at A&M Records, Gene was
signed to the label as a solo act in early 1968. He had in mind to form yet
another backing group and in fact worked with Californian Laramy Smith, a
guy who had been hanging around with the Byrds in the mid-sixties. Together
Gene and Laramy wrote and recorded dozens of songs, among them 'Los
Angeles.' Laramy Smith, who is now living in the South of France, recently
told me on the phone that after Gene's death he went to A&M's offices in
Hollywood to try to get a tape of their joint-works of 1968, but that he
could not have it due to lawyers blocking everything in relation to Gene's
Banjos & Steel Guitars
During the spring of 1968, Gene Clark vaguely knew that he wanted to take a
more countryish orientation with his music and songwriting, but his heart
was still a little behind and in March that year, at the Derek Taylor
(former Byrds' publicist) going away party where the new Byrds were
performing, complete with wonder boy Gram Parsons and steel guitarist Jay
Dee Maness, Gene joined the group on stage for a couple of old Byrds songs.
Unfortunately, he was drunk and for the first time his alcohol problems were
exposed to the public on that occasion. Work on the A&M solo album was
stopped. 'I was in a really frustrating state at the time, and everything I
did seemed to both reflect and contribute to it.' Around June 1968, Gene
teamed up with wizard banjoist Doug Dillard, a former member of the famous
bluegrass group the Dillards, who, in 1965/66, had often opened shows for
the Byrds. Like Gene, Doug was a Missouri boy, and both bad become friends a
few years earlier. Doug had even been called to play electric banjo on
Gene's first album. Doug Dillard was just back from a tour of Europe with
the Byrds, experimenting with the Rickenbacker prototype of electric banjo.
'It was Doug's experience with the Byrds that led to our Dillard & Clark
team-up. Doug had been playing with the Byrds; in the studio and then did
the tour with them, and they wanted him to join as an official member. Doug
and I really clicked in right away with a unique approach, kind of a
contemporary bluegrass-folk thing. That hadn't really been done yet.'
So Gene and Doug went into the studios and recorded and album together, The
Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark (A&M SP4159), which was released in
October 1968. It was definitely a group effort with Clark on lead vocals,
acoustic guitar and harmonica, Dillard on banjo, fiddle and back-up vocals,
and brilliant contributions from one then unknown musician, Bernie Leadon,
on guitar, dobro, banjo and back-up vocals (of later fame with the Flying
Burrito Bros., the Eagles, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Rounding up the
lineup were David Jackson (bass, back-up vocals) and Don Beck (mandolin,
dobro). Opening with beautiful 'Out On The Side,' the only single (A&M 995)
from the album, the songs were mostly co-written by Clerk & Leadon. 'The
Radio Song' and 'Something's Wrong' are two highlights. Producer of the
whole project was Larry Marks.
'Bernie was working as an understudy on the banjo with Doug and we just sat
around and jammed a couple of times and then decided that we'd put together
a group. Somebody would come up with an idea, we'd sit around, we'd have
jams almost every evening. We'd end up in Beechwood Canyon where Doug lived
and get the banjos and guitars, and David Jackson would come in and play
bass and we'd all just start pickin', and that's how that stuff came about.'
Encouraged by the critical response to their album, Dillard & Clerk decided
to play concerts in California and the group, now called The Dillard & Clark
Expedition, opened at the Troubadour (where else!) in December 1968. Ex-Byrd
Michael Clarke, recalled from Hawaii where had been living since leaving the
Byrds a year earlier, was sitting on drums, while Bernie Leadon was in front
singing harmony with Gene and Doug and playing an electric Gibson. David
Jackson was playing a Fender bass and Doug Dillard himself played his
custom-made Rickenbacker electric banjo. Gene, explaining the change from
acoustic (on the album) to electric (on stage) said, 'Country and Western
will go on because it is definitely an established heritage of this land.
Doug and I are just an extension of that heritage and we are trying to keep
it pure. We can play electric and still keep it that way.'
Early in 1969, Dillard & Clark recorded a single coupling 'Lyin' Down The
Middle' and Elvis Presley classic 'Don't Be Cruel' (A&M 1033), again
produced by Larry Marks. In fact, the real title of the song was 'Line Down
The Middle," and it was one of the songs Gene had co-written the previous
year with Laramy Smith. Recently Laramy explained to me that Gene always
loved to change words in songs, for poetic reasons! Soon after the release
of this single, Michael Clarke left to join up with the Flying Burrito Bros.
in February 1969, and Dillard & Clerk reverted to acoustic bluegrass adding
Don Beck and Donna Washburn (the daughter of the president of the 7-Up soft
drink company). They played the small clubs in California, but never outside
of L.A., presumably because of Gene's aversion to flying. Another single
came out in June 1969, a Gene Clark composition '"y Not Your Baby' (A&M
1087), beautifully arranged with strings in addition to acoustic guitar and
banjo, still produced by Larry Marks.
During the summer of 1969, there were more personnel changes in the group.
Don Beck and Bernie Leadon (who bad co-written a classic with Gene, "Train
Leaves Here This Mornin',' which he was going to re-record a couple of years
later with his new band the Eagles) both left, their places being taken by
Byron Berline (fiddle) and Jon Corneal (drums). Electricity came back into
the group. A second album was cut with special help from Burritos' Sneaky
Pete Weinow on pedal steel guitar and Chris Hillman (who had already
contributed to the first album) on mandolin. Through The Morning, Through
The Night (A&M SP 4203), produced by Larry Marks, was released in October
1969. A little more polished and commercial than their debut record, it
proved to be very disappointing to the listener and to Gene Clark himself.
'The problem was that Doug was involved with this romance with Donna
Washburn and brought her into the fold. Doug was impressed with her talents
in one area or another, but in the area that I had to deal with I felt it
took away from what we were doing together.' The music on this album sounds
tired, rambling and very loose. The whole record is only saved by the
presence of the traditional folk song, "Pretty Polly." "A lot of the writing
that I did had some kind of spiritual things to them. It's hard to really
describe what that means, except that it was at a time when I felt that I
was doing a lot of soul searchin .'
There was little room for the moody Gene Clark in pure bluegrass. It was
time for him to move on. In December 1969, he left the band to go solo
again. All that was left from his country and western excursion was a short
haircut and a moustache! BY early 1970, word was that the original Byrds
were making peace again, especially McGuinn and Crosby, who had been
fighting a lot since David had been sacked in late 1967. The time seemed
right to organize some kind of reunion.
In May 1970, Gene Clark went into A&M studios with old Byrds' manager, Jim
Dickson as producer, to cut two of his newest compositions, 'She's The Kind
of Girl' and 'One Into A Hundred' as a projected solo single. Plans were to
have all four other original Byrds to back Gene up on both songs, but it
wasn't exactly a reunion. They all came along separately to do their part.
Remembered Gene, 'That was really the first attempt to have a Byrds reunion
album. It was really hard to get everybody together.' Due to contractual
problems with Columbia and Atlantic, A&M Records was unable to release the
single at that time, but both songs later surfaced on the Holland-only
compilation album Roadmaster (A&M 87584) now also available in CD format as
a British import (Edsel CD 198).
Following that episode, Gene played a few gigs with the Flying Burrito Bros.
(who were down to a quartet, Gram Parsons having recently departed) during
the summer of 1970, and at one point it was believed that Gene was going to
become a permanent member of the group! But, of course, he didn't. The only
result of this short-lived alliance was the Burritos recording Clark's
"Tried So Hard" as their next single (A&M 1254, September 1970) with Gene
singing the bass part of the back-up vocals in a version different from the
one that was later used on the Burritos' third album where Gene's voice was
replaced by Rick Roberts' voice. Nothing much happened for Gene during the
rest of 1970, except he was writing songs for a forth-coming album.
In January 1971, Gene walked into the studio where the Flying Burrito Bros.
were recording, and he offered them a brand new song, 'Here Tonight,' which
they immediately cut with Gene on lead vocal and Bernie Leadon, Rick Roberts
and Chris Hillman on sweet harmonies. A marvelous song, classic Clark, and
coincidentally classic Burritos. 'During that period there was a lot of
interchanging going on. People were doing sessions with each other. As far
as "Here Tonight," I don't think it's the only thing I recorded with the
Burritos. We were all signed to A&M at the time, just happened to go in the
studio and do it, so those things happened quite often.'
But once again the song didn't find an immediate release. Fortunately, it
was made available in 1974 on the compilation Close Up The Honky Tonks (A&M
SP-3631), and also on the already mentioned Roadmaster LP.
Meanwhile, Gene had been preparing himself for a new chapter in his career.
He bad moved to the woods north of San Francisco to assess his situation. He
had been writing more of those poetically complex, subtly introverted songs
which had been his trade-mark since the early Byrds, and in March 1971 Gene
was ready to cut all album. He booked some session time at the Village
Recorder Studios with Jesse Davis as producer, and everything he laid down
(except a cover of "Stand BY Me') was released in August of that year as
White Light (A&M SP-4292). Tile record was well received among rock critics,
but A&M didn't exactly promote the album too convincingly and Gene Clark
himself didn't do too many concerts, so it soon sank without a trace.
Nevertheless people, who like me, possess that album gave themselves hours
of pleasure listening again and again to "Spanish Guitar," "With Tomorrow,'
'Where My Love Lies Asleep' or any of the six other tunes, including Bob
Dylan's 'Tears Of Rage.' It should be noted that White Light was voted Album
of the Year by Holland's rock critics.
During the very same period, in the spring of 1971, Gene also did the music
for a Dennis Hopper film called American Dreamer. I got a call from Dennis
about the movie. He and I had already been friends for some time. He was
kinda hangin' around with me and Doug and Bernie. He'd asked me if I'd write
a couple of songs for the film and I said yes, of course. Dennis had wanted
me involved in Easy Rider in 1969, but Peter Fonda wanted McGuinn to work on
that. Peter and Dennis didn't get along, and McGuinn didn't want me working
on the picture if he was involved. So I never did Easy Rider, but Dennis had
me do two songs for American Dreamer, just me with an acoustic guitar and
harmonica. Then a director named David Berlatsky took the same two songs and
put them into a movie called The Farmer (1977, starring Gary Conway), so
people have heard them in there too! The two songs in question are called
'The American Dreamer' and 'Outlaw Song' respectively and they were released
on the original soundtrack album of American Dreamer (Mediarts 41-12).
White Light & Reunion
Gene Clark went back to Mendocino, living in pastoral splendor, got married
and wrote more songs. In January 1972, Gene was reportedly back in Los
Angeles from his Mendocino retreat with his wife and new-born boy. Around
the same time, rumors of a reunion of the original Byrds became stronger,
with talk' of a one album-only deal arranged by David Geffen of Asylum
Records! Still, Roger McGuinn was touring with the current version of the
Byrds, and Clerk was on the eve of starting session for another A&M album.
When he entered the studios in April 1972, he was accompanied by Sneaky Pete
Kleinow (pedal steel), Chris Ethridge (bass), who had been taking part in
the previous album already, Michael Clerks (drums), plus Clarence White
(lead guitar), Byron Berline (fiddle) and Spooner Oldham (keyboards). A new
producer was engaged in the person of Chris Hinshaw, a former assistant of
Gene recorded a newly arranged version of 'She Don't Care About Time,' an
expanded, slower, interpretation of the Byrds' 1965 song, and seven
originals, the best being 'In A Misty Morning," I Remember The Railroad,'
and particularly "Shooting Star.' 'The sessions were a lot of fun, but it
was hard to get i t together the way it was. It was a misunderstood album,'
regretted Clark. 'The record company didn't like it when I was finished with
it. They didn't see any commercial value in it and they sort of shelved it.
I was proud of the writing and proud of the bunch of people I had playing.
Those were great sessions.' It was a stifling period, and soon Gene Clark
left A&M Records.
Meanwhile, over at Columbia records, someone had the idea of re-releasing
Gene's first album of 1967feeling that now its time had come. When Gene
heard about the project, he suggested that all of 'the original eight-track
recordings should be remixed and at least some vocals re-recorded. After a
week in Columbia's L.A. studios in late spring of 1972, Gene and co-producer
Jim Dickson emerged with an improved and quite different album. The result
sounded less like a folk-rock album and more like a progressive country
album. "Remixing was pretty necessary. We brought out some things you
couldn't even hear on the original tapes. It serves as an interesting
picture of growth as it was taking place. We were all just a little bit
ahead of our time, I think. No country-rock sold well until after 1969."
So the album, aptly titled Early L.A. Sessions (Columbia KC 31123), came out
in July 1972 with a re-sequencing in the order of the tracks, and one of
them, "Elevator Operator," was even removed as Gene felt, strongly that it
did not measure up to the others. Many fans, myself included, felt instead
it was a regrettable omission, and even if the album featured newer vocals
it hadn't the magic of the original 1967 release, which fortunately has
since been made available again in CD format, both in the USA on Columbia
and England on Edsel/Demon!
On May 22, 1972, Gene Clark was scheduled to perform at the Amsterdam Rock
Circus held at the Olympic Stadium in Holland, following the exceptional
success in that country of his White Light album. He had to cancel his
participation because apparently, having not paid some taxes, he was not
allowed to leave the States. Gene had not been playing in Europe since
August 1965 with the Byrds, and it would take another 5 years before
European fans would enjoy him on a stage.
A few months later, the original Byrds reunion took place and Gene found
himself together with his former colleagues at Wally Heider's Studios, where
the recording of a new album started in November 1972. Everyone (except
drummer Michael Clarke) brought their own songs, but it is interesting to
note that the Byrds decided to give more room to Gene and let him sing four
of the eleven tracks selected for the album. It was as if they all wanted to
give a chance to Clark, who had never reached any kind of commercial status
on his own. Gene sang two Neil Young songs on the LP, 'Cowgirl In The Sand'
and 'See The Sky About To Rain,' having no small reverence to Neil as a
songwriter. But Gene also had two of his own compositions on the album.
'Full Circle' wasn't really a new song, because he had originally recorded
it for his own solo album a few months earlier, but it made up perfectly on
such a reunion record and should haven given the LP its main title.
'Changing Heart' was a beautiful country ballad which suited the Byrds well.
Gene later commented on the album. "The Byrds reunion LP was thrown
together. We were all doing different things at the time. Chris Hillman was
touring with Manassas, I was working on a film score, Michael Clarke came in
from Hawaii, Roger had the other Byrds on the road. It was called the Byrds,
but it was real difficult to get everybody together. Nobody wanted to
rehearse, consequently the album isn't as good as it could have been. We
just didn't take time to work on the material. There are cuts where, on the
vocals, there are no Byrds except me and David Crosby. There was a lot of
that kind of stuff going on.'
Meanwhile, the reactions to the album, Byrds (Asylum SD-5068), when it came
out in March 1973 were mixed. Touring plans for the original Byrds depended
upon the success of the album, which they optimistically hoped would earn
gold record status. In the States, two singles were culled from the album,
'Full Circle' (Asylum 11016),and two months later 'Cowgirl In The Sand'
(Asylum 11019), both having Gene Clerk as lead-singer. But they failed to
make any chart impact. By the summer the album had sold 400,000 units, and
the possibility of a tour was said to depend on Crosby's commitments with
CSN&Y. As a matter of fact, everyone had gone back to what they were into
before the reunion.
Gene, besides the Byrds thing, had been signed to Asylum as a solo artist
and it was time for him to prepare his next album. The only distractions
were a few gigs on the road as part of the Roger McGuinn band, notably in
June 1973 for 14 shows at the Troubadour in L.A., nine years after the first
meeting of the two men at the very same place. During this stint, the two
musicians shared McGuinn's house high up in the hills overlooking the
Pacific Ocean. It was during these concerts that Gene introduced a brand new
song he'd just written, 'Silver Raven,' possibly his greatest ever. 'It
actually came about from a news story that was about some satellite, or
something, they had discovered. They said they couldn't figure out where it
came from. It was beyond our solar system. They were getting signals from it
that they said were about 100 years ahead of our technology.'
No Other Masterpiece
After a lengthy period of preparation Gene entered the studios in April 1974
with producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye to cut what, to this day, is considered
as his masterpiece No Other(Asylum1016).'The whole album was written when I
had a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. I would
just sit in the living room, which had a huge bay window, and stare at the
ocean for hours at a time. I would have a pen and paper there, and a guitar
or piano, and pretty soon a thought would come and I'd write it down or put
it on tape. In most instances, after a day of meditation looking at
something which is a very natural force, I'd come up with something.'
'That album was a unique trip,' said Clark. 'I have to say it was one of the
most incredible albums ever. I was really disappointed that it wasn't more
successful. I think it was misunderstood, generally, by the public and the
media." Released in September 1974, the final product was not exactly the
complete album that was recorded during 5 months. 'It was originally a
13-track album, but we weren't able to do a double-record (David Geffen
having vetoed such a project), and so the rest of the songs were left
unfinished. because of the length of the cuts, we couldn't include them.'
At this point it is interesting to refer to producer Tommy Kaye's comments
on these sessions.' Gene played me the songs and I just flipped out. It was
a very expensive record to make, but 'Silver Raven' and 'No Other' are like
my answer to Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, as a producer. David Geffen was
furious because there were only eight cuts on the album. It went to place 86
with a bullet in Billboard and sold about 70,000 units in the first three
weeks, but Geffen just dropped it and wouldn't get behind it. He wouldn't
give us any money to go on tour or to subsidize a band or anything.'
Recent years have seen this album re-released on CD, and songs like those
mentioned above plus 'Strength Of Strings,' 'Some Misunderstanding: on 'Lady
Of The North,' have gained in fullness. With the technical possibilities of
today, we can only hope that some inspired person at Elektra/Asylum will
find the 5 unreleased songs and put them together with the other 8 to offer
us, finally, the real No Other.
Following the release of the album, Gene adopted a new attitude and decided
to become a performing artist again. He put together a backing group called
the Silverados, comprising Roger White (guitar), John Guthridge (piano),
Duke Bardwell (bass) and Mark Singer (drums), doing mostly small clubs and
college gigs, playing old and new songs, and covering stuff like 'You Really
Got A Hold On Me.' A band version of 'Feel A Whole Lot Better" was often the
highlight of these gigs. On October 19, 1974, he was sitting with David
Crosby in the audience at the Troubadour where Roger McGuinn was performing,
and for an encore the three men found themselves on stage singing Gene's
classic tune 'Eight Miles High.'
It was now 1975, and in his time off from touring Gene started doing demos
of the songs he had been writing for his next Asylum album. Gene made a demo
of five or six songs, paid by his record company, and when they heard them
at Asylum they told Gene that they didn't hear anything. In fact, they gave
him his release and once again Gene Clark was without a label. Rather than
looking for another deal right away, Gene and his producer/friend, Tommy
Kaye, decided at the beginning of 1976 to start recording on their own
account and to wait until it was almost finished before offering it to
Work progressed at Fidelity Recording Studios in February and March 1976,
and among the musicians present at the sessions were former Burritos AI
Perkins (pedal steel), and Byron Berline (fiddle), plus old partner Doug
Dillard (banjo). Other guys involved were guitarists Jeff Baxter and Jerry
McGee, plus keyboard player Mike Utley. Said producer Tommy Kaye, 'We wanted
to have just ten songs and the very first two we cut we ended up not using.
On 'The Daylight Line' and 'Wheel Of Time,' we didn't have Jim Fielder on
bass or Sammy Creason on drums and it just wasn't working right. If they had
been there in the first place, we may have ended up using those two cuts.
The were both Gene's songs and had a kinda bluegrass feel. Gene had started
to cut the album with his Silverados, but its one thing to play live and
another to record in the studio.' As everybody knows, Gene always was a
prolific writer. Another stage favorite of that period, which didn't make it
on a record, was 'Mat Is Meant Will Be.' Gene loved doing public domain
stuff occasionally, and included 'Long Black Veil' in his repertoire at that
When recordings were finished, Gene and Tommy went label shopping. There was
a lot of interest from Columbia, but the deal wasn't right. Then there was
interest from Warner Bros., but again the deal wasn't right. Finally they
landed a contract with RSO Records, and the album, ready for a September
1976 release, was held back until February 1977 to avoid competition with
albums on the same label by Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. The day after the
completed album, Gene Clark, now sporting a full, bushy beard, returned to
his ranch in Northern California. Having disbanded the Silverados, he
started assembling another band among local musicians and friends. On
September 18, 1976, he performed a gig in Yorkville billed as Gene Clark and
the Mendocino Rhythm Section, a band consisting of Billy Shea (lead guitar),
Peter Oliva (bass) and Andy Kandanes (drums), plus a piano player and conga
player. A reviewer reported that the music bad really changed, almost
everything having a Latin-salsa or disco flavor. Even Gene's vocal stylings
had changed and the set included the strangest version of' Eight Miles High"
ever beard. That date was probably just an experimentation for Gene, who had
explained in an early 1976 interview, 'There seems to be a coming together
of country and rhythm and blues idioms right now, and that could mean
something. I dream about it happening. I like experiments. I've always had
that fascination for going after something which is a little bit different,
but still in that area where people can dig it.'
Two Sides To Every Story (RSO 1-3011) was in the shops in February 1977, and
it marked a departure from No Other! 'I purposely did the album that way
because I wanted to give a little commercial value to it, so that more
people might pay attention to it.' As each album before, it had its high
points, especially the graceful 'Sister Moon,' with nice harmonies from
Emmylou Harris herself, 'Hear The Wind" with its great steel guitar break,
courtesy of Al Perkins, and 'In The Pines' with its almost Dillard & Clark
bluegrass atmosphere. But it didn't meet critical acclaim from the rock
press and made nothing, commercially speaking.
By then, Tommy Kaye had bought an electric guitar, moved to Mendocino and
joined Gene's band, now called the Kansas City Southern Band. Both were
writing together and did several new songs in their shows like 'Blue Diamond
Miners' and "Denver or Wherever.' Plans to follow up the RSO album included
recording these songs, as well as "Release Me Girl," and using the road
band. As it turned out, things were going to develop slightly differently.
McGuinn, Clark & Hillman.
In March 1977, the British press announced the news of a joint package tour
to start in Dublin on April 27 and featuring, on the same bill, but
separately as solo artists, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gene Clerk. For
Gene it was going to be his first public appearance in European 12years,and
other countries, including France (with a stop in Patis on May 7), were
planned. The tour effectively started in Great Britain with 16 musicians
involved in three different bands! For the rock press and for all the
fanzines, it meant great opportunities to be able to talk to a cult figure,
to a living legend, Gene Clark, in person. And Gene, who was really enjoying
the trip (even if drinkin' too much), agreed to do as many interviews as he
On April 30 and May 1, 1977, Gene Clerk opened the show for Hillman, and top
act McGuinn, at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The show Gene and his
excellent band put on was powerful and memorable. Only a driving version of
"Kansas City Southern," and the quiet "Sister Moon,' were played from the
new album. 'Silver Raven' and "She Darkened The Sun' represented the old
stuff and the rest of the 40 minutes set was all unheard before material,
including the mythical 'Blue Diamond Miners, "Hula Bula Man' and 'Release Me
Girl.' Then what everybody had expected happened. At the end of Roger
McGuinn's concert, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman wobbled out with tea towel
festooned heads, a la Rolling Thunder Review, to join in versions of "So You
Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star,' 'Feel A Whole Lot Better," 'Mr. Tambourine
Man" and 'Eight Miles High.'
This on/off gathering of old friends was spontaneous, but a few months later
it would give Gene a new turning point in his career. For the time being
though everything was not that fine because after only 5 dates in the United
Kingdom, the whole tour was interrupted after a dispute between the
promoters and Hillman's manager, even before reaching continental Europe, to
my (and thousands of others) big disappointment. Traces of this event
remained, as BBC radio recorded the Odeon concerts for broadcast later the
same year and a bootleg album of excellent soundboard quality later
surfaced, unfortunately featuring only two live songs by Gene Clark. Let's
hope someone at the BBC remembers where the tapes were archived and someday
releases the whole Gene Clark and K.C. Southern Band gig on their new label.
By early August 1977, rumors began to filter in California that the Byrds
were reforming. Indeed Chris Hillman had dropped into Studio Instrumental
Rentals and jammed for a week with Roger McGuinn, Rick Vito and Greg Thomas.
Gene was soon informed of this secret Byrds revival plan, and the next day
he flew down from Northern California and committed himself to the project.
In mid-September Clerk disassociated from the RSO label, just like McGuinn
had asked for, and received a release from Columbia. The main problem was to
get Chris Hillman involved, as he just had a new solo album out on Asylum to
promote. Later in September Gene Clark took the stage at the Hollywood
Canteen with an acoustic guitar to perform a few songs. Roger McGuinn was
next in line. He played his own solo set, and then it was Roger and Gene
together on acoustic guitars. For an hour they stayed together and played
songs doing the harmonies, Roger up front with Gene's baritone backing him
up. Once again, it was absolute magic! A few weeks later they had a tour
lined-up, and both played stone-cold sober.
On December 6, 1977, they performed without backup at the Boarding House in
San Francisco, Gene on acoustic guitar and Roger on Rickenbacker electric 12
string. After a few songs they invited on stage a special guest, David
Crosby. By January 1978, the acoustic duo of McGuinn and Clerk and turned
into and acoustic trio, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. They played their first
set on January 27 at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, a small 300 seat
club, with little fanfare! But this set, with Gene on acoustic guitar and
Chris on mandolin, confirmed these ex-Byrds were still major figures in
American rock 'n' roll. It was a special night! Not long after this show,
the trio appeared again at the Boarding House in San Francisco on February
8, 1978, but it was to be an even bigger event. Gene Clerk too the stage
alone firstly, delivering beautiful versions of' Release Me Girl' and
'Silver Raven.' Hillman and McGuinn followed with mini solo sets. Then the
trio opened with 'Chestnut Mare' and, immediately after, introduced an
original Clark song never heard before, the superior 'Crazy Ladies,'
followed by an interesting version of 'Train Leaves Here This Mornin'.' At
this point in the show, they were again joined on stage by David Crosby, who
stayed till the end, making the evening the nearest thing to a full Byrds
reunion at this period. This very show was later released on a bootleg album
titled Doin' Alright For Old People (Excitable Record Works 4506), a must
for Clark fans (because of "Crazy Ladies') and Byrds fans (because it showed
the four original members in top form).
Later in February 1978, McGuinn, Clerk and Hillman were billed at the Roxy
in Los Angeles and things were beginning to evolve. The evening began
modestly when Gene came on stage with only an acoustic guitar. After a
couple of solo numbers, including 'Silver Raven,' McGuinn came out, took the
guitar from Clark and sang two songs himself. It was then that Clark
returned with Chris Hillman on bass and Greg Thomas on drums. McGuinn gave
the acoustic guitar back to Clerk and picked up his 12-stringelectric
Rickenbacker. The magic was complete when David Crosby came on again, taking
his place between Gene and Roger. Their performance was followed by the
biggest ovation ever seen at, the Roxy. lasting more than eight minutes!
Nevertheless, it soon became clear that the Byrds were, after all, not going
to reform. It was learned that David Crosby was signing to Columbia as a duo
with Graham Nash, and that Crosby, Stills & Nash were preparing for a summer
tour. So McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, back to an all-acoustic format, opened
the Canadian leg of Eric Clapton's tour that winter. 'We blew them away!'
exhulted Gene. 'There were audiences of up to 25,000 people and us going on
with acoustic instrumental We got standing ovations!" During the spring of
1978, the band reverted to electricity and gave assorted concerts in the USA
thinking of themselves as a permanent unit and preparing to record together.
By June, they were signed for a tour of Australia and New Zealand which went
down extremely well, from Wellington to Auckland, from Sydney to Melbourne.
Strangely enough, they were billed as 'The Founders of the Byrds,' instead
of McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, and the trio was augmented by
drummer/vocalist George Grantham, formerly of Poco.
By November 1978, Roger, Gene and Chris were at Criteria Studios in Miami,
with Ron and Howard Albert producing their debut album. Shortly after, it
was announced that the group had signed a contract with Capitol Records, and
in February 1979, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman (Capitol 11910) was released.
The trio not only avoided calling themselves the Byrds, but they also
avoided sounding like the Byrdsl Not a Rickenbacker in sight, and McGuinn's
contributions were minimal, but Gene Clerk was given much room as the album
featured no less than four of his originals! 'Little Mama' with an
interesting melodic shift on the chorus, "Backstage Pass' with a haunting
melody line, 'Feelin' Higher' (co-written with his lady Terry Messina) with
a Latin groove, and 'Release Me Girl' (co-written with Tommy Kaye) with a
disco pattern making it totally different from the version he performed
earlier with his own band or even acoustically. Good songs all, but it was
such a waste to leave "Crazy Ladies' unrecorded when McGuinn, Clerk and
Hillman had included it in their live act since the ear before!
To promote their album, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman took their show to Europe
in February 1979 as a five piece group, including newcomer John Sambataro on
lead guitar, and drummer Greg Thomas (who had taken part in the LP
sessions). To the joy of many Byrds fans (myself included), the group on
stage didn't sound at all like on the album, but instead like a well-fueled
edition of the Byrds, running through the catalogue of old hits and
performing the new songs in a much more natural way for them. On February
12, they played Le Palace in Paris and I had the chance to spend several
hours with them. It was to be the one and only time I met and spoke to Gene
Clerk. I have two strong memories of the man which still haunt me today,
probably both reflective of the man's personality. I had been hanging around
at the hotel with Roger and Chris during the afternoon, and nobody knew
where Gene was. When we left for the sound cheek, Gene was still absent and
I was beginning to wonder if he had some health problem. The sound check
started without him, Roger and Chris seemingly not annoyed.
Suddenly, when they went into the first notes of 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' out
of nowhere arrived Gene, jumping on stage and looking fresh and relaxed.
This was such a star entrance that I was amazed, and the three men looked in
perfect harmony. Later in the evening, as Le Palace was packed with people
sitting on the floor, I remarked from the wings that Gene was there, seated
among all those people, totally unnoticed. The lights went out and he was
still there, but when the curtain of the theatre went up, maybe half a
minute later, Gene was on stage to the right of Roger with his acoustic
The album produced a minor hit during the spring of 1979 with a McGuinn
song, then 'Little Mama' was on the B-side of the second single (Capitol
4739) in June, and 'Backstage Pass' was the third single(Capito14763) in
August, but both Clark songs failed to be chart hits. In August 1979,
McGuinn and Hillman began to appear on stage in the states without Gene, who
was reportedly seriously ill following a mouth infection. He returned
briefly, but in September he informed Roger and Chris that he would no
longer tour with them as he was unable to adjust to the pressure of being on
the road all the time. He made a vague attempt to return in November 1979
for the group's second album City (Capitol 12043) being recorded in Miami,
again with the same producers. He contributed one of the best songs of the
record, 'Won't Let You Down,' and one of the strangest, 'Painted Fire,' but
after a few hours of studio work with his two partners he was gone, and by
the end of the year McGuinn, Clark and Hillman were just McGuinn and
When the album City (Capitol 12043) was rushreleased in January 1980, Gene
Clark had moved to other places. 'The last time I saw Roger and Chris'
performance in L.A., there was only about one-third of an audience there. I
was really shocked. The bottom just dropped out of the industry. So right
after the City album I split and went to Hawaii for a year just to get out
of the whole thing. I played a couple of local clubs in Hawaii, but didn't
really pursue anything. The break was just to cool out, clear my head and
get my thoughts together. After that I came back to Northern California,
lived there for a year.'
In 1982, Gene started work on a new solo album at San Francisco's Different
Fur Recording studios, using Andy Kandanes (his former drummer from the
Mendocino Rhythm Section days) and Tommy Kaye as co-producers. This album,
Firebird (Takoma 7112) wouldn't be released until 1984 though. 'I started
the album in 1982, but we didn't get it finished until 1983. At least it was
a project. I had something to work on and so I was pleased about that.
Anyway one thing led to another and through some friends of mine we got a
deal with Takoma and the record came out in 1984.' The album renewed
interest in Clark's career throughout Europe, where the LP was a
highly-prized U.S. import and in the States. Clark was still very much into
his Byrds heritage, cutting a long version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and
re-recording his own 'Feel A Whole Lot Better." But the strong moments of
this record are new compositions, "Something About You Baby," "Rain Song" or
"Blue Raven,' not forgetting Tommy Kaye's 'Vanessa."
'Although redoing' Feel A Whole Lot Better' wasn't strongly on my mind at
first, so many people had asked me to do it that I figured it would probably
be a good thing to do so... 'Something About You Baby' sounds a lot like
McGuinn Clark & Hillman intentionally; it was Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen
and me singing on that, a great trio!... During the time we started to make
the album there was so much rain it started to get us all down, so I wrote a
song about it... 'Blue Raven' was written in one night; that's Bud Shank on
flute who played on 'California Dreamin" by the Mamas and the Papas..."
During the fall of 1982, Gene and Herb Pedersen occasionally jammed with the
acoustic duo of Chris Hillman and AI Perkins, and on two very memorable
nights, December 17 and 18 the same year, the four musicians played the
Palomino in North Hollywood, augmented by Emmylou Harris! That led in early
1983 to a group project. 'I worked with producers Jim Dickson and Eddie
Tickner, and with Michael Clarke, Chris, Herb and Al. We went into the
studio, made a few tapes and we did a couple of shows in Los Angeles.'
Incidentally, Al Perkins, to whom I talked in Paris in October 1991,
revealed the following facts: 'You may not know, but we tried an
experimental band called Flyte in 1983. [Among the songs that were recorded
by the group were 'No Memories hangin "Round"(Rodney Crowell),'100 Years
From Now'(Gram Parsons),'Still Feelin' Blue' (Gram Parsons), 'I'll Feel A
Whole Lot Better' (Clark) and 'The Letter' (Wayne Carson Thompson).] They've
been trying to get approval from everyone to release the tapes we did to
experiment in the studio to see if there was a potential for a group...
There is a lawyer trying to put that together. It's something that I don't
know if Gene would have wanted to be released or not. There may be some
things that can be remixed...' Tapes of this experiment have probably been
circulating during the mid-eighties, because I have a beautiful version of
the Byrds' 'One Hundred Years From Now' done in three-part harmonies with
gorgeous pedal-steel-guitar. What a fine tribute to Gram Parsons, and Gene
Clark always said he had great respect for Gram.
Of course, the group project fell down when Hillman, Pedersen and Perkins
decided to return to their acoustic adventures. Gene Clark and Michael
Clarke were left with nothing to do, so we decided to go on tour together.
'We were certain that there had to be some work somewhere, so we got a few
guys together and went out on the road. The original Firebyrds were me,
Michael Clarke, Mark and Matt Andes. It was an awfully hot rock'n'roll
group, and although we didn't make a lot of money or anything, at least we
were getting something started.' On June 23, 1983, the Firebyrds made their
debut at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California, and in July they
were praised by the San Diego Weekly for their appearance at the Belly Up
Tavern. Unfortunately, Mark Andes soon departed to join the group Heart on a
world tour, and he was replaced on bass by Peter Oliva (who had already
worked with Gene in the Seventies, and with ex-Byrd Gene Parsons more
recently). After a while the group added a fifth member, Trace Harrill, on
rhythm-guitar. Before the end of the year he was gone and replaced by
Michael Hardwick (who, with Michael Clarke, had played earlier in the Jerry
Jeff Walker band): besides electric guitar this fellow also played
steel-guitar, giving the Firebyrds a more country-rock oriented sound.
Billed as Gene Clark and the Firebyrds, the group played the Lone Star Cafe
in New York on February 8, 1984 to good reviews. 'Kansas City Southern" was
a crowd pleaser, pulsing along with a drive that neither the Byrds nor even
McGuinn's mid-Seventies Thunderbyrd ever achieved. The band, for his own
pleasure obviously, offered a fair rendition of "So You Want To Be A
Rock'n'Roll Star" and succeeded on a ten minute performance of "Eight Miles
High.' Michael Clarke revealed himself as a higher powered rock and roll
drummer than in his days with the Byrds. Gene said at the time: 'We went out
on a very long tour with this group across the U.S.A. and back across
Canada. I think that altogether we did three, maybe four, tours which all
went over real good.' Of course, having a new album out with the same name
as the touring band helped a lot and made Gene a credible force to concert
promoters. On another date, February 1, 1984 at the Biggi's Club in
Cleveland, Ohio, the band gave rousing versions of two Dillard & Clark
classics, 'She Darked The Sun" and 'Train Leaves Here This Morning,' plus a
surprise rendition of the Turtles big hit 'You Showed Me' (a Clark/McGuinn
composition from the early Sixties), as well as Rodney Crowell's 'He Did it
Wrong Right There' and the Beatles' 'She Loves You.'
Gene and his group toured for the better part of 1984, prompting new groups
to hear and appreciate his work. The Californian group, 3 O'clock, recorded
'Feel A Whole Lot Better,' and Husker Du did the same with 'Eight Miles
High.' At the same period Gene Clark made connections with two fine L.A.
bands the Textones and the Long Ryders. 'A fellow came to my show and he
happened to manage these groups. His name was Saul Davis, and I got together
with him and he started working as a manager with me. That's how it got set
up.' In June 1984, as Gene and Firebyrds played a gig at Madame Wong's in
L.A., the Textones' lead singer/guitarist Carla Olson, joined them on stage
to harmonize on a couple of songs, Carla remembered: 'Saul Davis was my
manager and we went to Madame Wong's place and saw Gene. Toward the end of
the set, Tom Slocum (who was working for Gene) came up to me and said, 'My
don't you get up on stage and sing with Gene at the end of the set. He's
going to do 'Feel A Whole Lot Better' and you can sing!' I said he doesn't
even know me... Tom dragged me onstage and when the lead break on the song
came along, Gene turned around and looked at me and said what is your name.
I went, Carla, nice to meet you...' Soon after, Gene returned the favor by
adding some backup vocals to the Textones 'Midnight Mission album (A&M/Gold
Mountain) which was released in August.
In August 1984, Gene went to visit Roger McGuinn who was performing an
acoustic concert at McCabe's, and eventually both men finished the evening
on stage together doing several Byrds' classics. As opening act for McGuinn,
the Long Ryders also gave an acoustic set and met Gene. A few weeks later,
both the Firebyrds and the Long Ryders shared the bill at a country club
date in LA. and Gene reportedly said it was the best gig he ever did. Not
long after he was asked to appear on a new album the Long Ryders were
working on. 'Saul just gave me a call one day to say that Sid Griffin and
the guys wanted me to go down and lend my pipes to 'Ivory Tower,' which I
was happy to do. Saul brought me over a copy and I listened to it for an
afternoon and did it... I went down and sang on the session. I like the Long
Ryders as guys and I like their approach. I think it's kind of cool.' This
album, Native Sons (Frontier 10 13) was released in 1984 also
. Although there were plans for the Firebyrds to record a group album that
year, nothing came out, but we can assume the group, with Gene, went in the
studios on several occasions to cut demos, as tapes have been circulating
from that period. Toward the end of 1984 though, the Firebyrds were starting
to fall apart. 'The problem was there were more offers for me as a solo act
than there were to bring the Firebyrds out. So what happened was Michael
Clarke and I went out with the Band, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth
Hudson, and I did a solo opening slot for them for a couple of tours.' It
was during that period that a new idea developed. 'We all began to see a lot
of each other, started talking and came up with the idea that we should do a
tribute (to the Byrds) because it was twenty years since 'Mr. Tambourine
Man' came out,' explained Gene. 'We called up Hillman and McGuinn, put the
word out to them, but in both their cases, they had prior commitments which
they really wanted to go ahead and complete. We invited Gene Parsons too,
but he held back also.'
Byrds or Byrds Tribute
So in February 1985, Gene and a group featuring Michael Clarke (drums), Rick
Danko (bass, vocals), Rick Roberts (guitar, vocals), John York (12-string
guitar, vocals), and Blondie Chaplin (lead-guitar, vocals) assembled under
the banner '20th Anniversary Tribute To The Byrds' and embarked on a three
week tour of the U.S.A. On February 13, they played New York's Lone Star
Cafe. On February 17, they were at Boston's The Channel, a little later at
Detroit's Harpo's, then at the Beverly in L.A., to name just a few dates.
Everywhere they were extremely well-received and got much media exposure. To
add more dimension to the event, they chose to take on the road with them,
as opening act, the latest version of the Flying Burrito Bros. which
comprised Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal-steel-guitar), Greg Harris (vocals,
guitar, bardo, fiddle), Skip Battin (bass, vocals) and Jim Goodall (drums).
Of course, the musicians of both groups joined together in various
combinations each night. Back in 85, and excited Gene Clark reported: 'The
show is pretty long, it's a good three hours, We do all the old classics,
but we're working on new material as we're going along. We played all the
major cities and it just went like crazy. The shows were sold out and we
were playing anywhere from 500 seater dinner clubs to 3000 in some of the
places, which is a lot without much prior notice.'
Many tapes of this tour exist, and one can only hope that some good sound
board recording or radio broadcast will someday surface on a live CD. Gene
Clerk was naturally always the star of the show, singing his own classics
('Feel A Whole Lot Better, "Set You Free This Time,' 'Full Circle,' 'Eight
Miles High') as Byrds' songs from after his original departure ('So you Want
To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star' or 'You Aint Going Nowhere'), or even non-Byrds
songs ('Knockin' On Heaven's Door,' 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken")... There
was much argument on the use of the Byrds' name by this group. Some people
felt that no Byrds could exist without the presence of Roger McGuinn and his
electric Rickenbacker 12-string and voice. Other people insisted on the fact
that Gene Clark had been the founder of the Byrds, the soul of the group
during its early days. Many others, like me, were only too happy to see this
bunch of great musicians back into action, and on no occasion were they a
let down. So many talents together could not do wrong!
In March 1985, the tribute tour stopped to allow Gene to fly to England
where he had been signed as the opening act for a whole I,indisfame tour. On
more than twenty dates, Clark performed with just an acoustic guitar,
delighting, fans with moving versions of' Spanish Guitar," "Rain Song,'
'Silver Raven,' 'Here Without You,' 'World Turns All Around Her" and
introducing "Gypsy Rider," and an unexpected Dylan cover, 'Gates Of Eden.'
While in England, Gene talked to the press: "When I get back to the states
(in April) ... we'll rent a rehearsal studio for a couple of days in Denver
or Boulder. We're then going to go right back out and start to work our way
down the coast to end up in Los Angeles. We're also going to Europe in June
These plans for a Europe tour didn't materialize that year, but the group
went on touring the U.S.A. during the summer and fall. On June 6, 1985 at
their appearance at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia, Gene came out
first alone with his acoustic guitar to play 'Why Did You Leave Me Today,' a
new composition he was to record later. By late summer, the concert
promoters had abandoned the 20th Anniversary Tribute banner, and were just
booking the group as the Byrds! Rick Danko left to rejoin the Band and he
was replaced on bass by Carlos Bernal (a former Byrds road manager back in
1968). It also became clear that there would not be any original Byrds
reunion. Clark himself declared: 'That's next to impossible. What you have
is so much inner conflict in that group. Even though we can get together for
a short period of time and be friendly, it's very difficult. I can't see
that group getting back together... I can understand that Roger McGuinn has
done if for so long, he's just tired of it. I don't think he really feels
the fire anymore and I do feel it's the same way with Chris Hillman. They've
had it. They'd rather do their own projects. I wouldnt count on a reunion at
Both McGuinn and Hillman, when interviewed on their feelings towards the
Byrds group touring without their blessing, had only hard words against Gene
and Michael. But during private conversations, and I happened to have had
one with each of them at the time, they agreed that they couldn't deny Gene
a living, and that they still respected him as an artist and songwriter!
David Crosby had other problems to deal with.
In 1984 Gene began the most long-lasting writing partnership of his career
with Pat Robinson. (Pat, a Saul Davis management client has had his songs
covered by a wide variety of artists including Joe Cocker, Laura Branigan,
Billy Burnette, Rocky Burnette, Moon Martin, Dwight Twilley, Phil Seymour,
Gus Hardin, and many more.) Together they wrote over 50 songs during the
next six years including; 'After The Storm," 'Dangerous Games, "Immigrant
Girl, "The Panther,' 'The Sleep Will Return,' 'Washington Square,' and
'Without You I Can't Lose.'
Also about this time Gene, Pat and former Byrd John York formed a writing
and recording entity called CRY. Among the songs that the three of them
wrote together and recorded were 'Christine,' 'I Need To Fly,' and 'Ma"
Sue,' as well as 'Somewhere After Midnight' (Clark and Robinson), 'A Rose Is
A Rose' (Robinson and York), and 'You Just Love Cocaine' (York).
A project which Gene did not reveal in 1985, but which did take place, was
recording sessions with the Textones. With Saul Davis, his manager, as
executive producer, Gene went into the Criterion studios during the fall of
1985 to cut several songs with the group fronted by Carla Olson. During the
following years, four of these songs were made available: an early, and
superior, take of 'Gypsy Rider' was on a flexi-disc offered by Bucketfull Of
Brains and later compiled on a collectors-CD called Time Will Show The Wiser
(Trad 00 l): another song, 'Lover's Turnaround': (written by Gene and Tommy
Kaye) was added as a bonus track on the British CD edition of So Rebellious
A Lover (Demon CD 89): yet another was to be found on a CD-compilation by
the Textones called Back In 7Yme (Demon CD 179) under the title of Jokers
Are Wild' (written by one Pat Robinson): finally, on a U.S. compilation CD
by the Textones called Through The Canyon (Rhino 70898) can be found 'Day
For Night,' a Clark original never heard before, with Carla Olson on backing
vocals. The other two songs, recorded and as yet unreleased from these
sessions, were 'Winning Hand,' and a version of 'Why Did You Leave Me
Today,' both Clark compositions. The Textones were augmented for these
sessions by steel guitar veteran Ed Black (Linda Ronstadt, Tracy Chapman)
and Pat Robinson on piano.
Even if in interviews Gene mentioned strong possibilities for his Byrds
group to record an album of all new stuff, he had other projects in. his
mind. 'I've already been working on a project with new material and I have
almost a whole album full of things recorded. I definitely have plans for a
solo album, but it does depend on the timing now and how the tour goes. You
never know, maybe an album might come out of the
othergrouptoo.'InSeptember1985,the'Byrds'played mostly their catalogue of
hits at California's Roadhouse in Windsor, Ontario. They gave more dates in
Canada during October and November, even performing at Ody's in Warren
without Gene Clark, who had gone back ill to his home in California. In
November, shortly after a gig in Toronto at the Diamond, Michael Clarke, who
had been spotted saying things like 'this is the best band so far because
we've got it all together really well and we're feeling like it's right-we
call it the Fun Tour of'85,'suddenlyquitthe band! Soon after, he was
explaining: 'We tried it for a year and it didn't really ever approach big
time. It's kind of a copy band. I think the band should be put to rest.. I
think Gene should do something else. He's very talented. lie deserves
something of his own to be successful." Very interesting comments, if you
consider that only three years later Clarke was to go on tour as the Byrds
with only John York and Skip Battin joining him in the line-up. After
Michael's retirement, drummer Greg Thomas (formerly of Roger McGuinn's
Thunderbyrd and McGuinn Clark & Hillman) was called by Gene to round up the
band. At the same period Blondie Chaplin also left, and when the 'Byrds
'played the Zephyr in Salt Lake City on January 18, 1986, they had a new
guitarist, Billy Darnell, playing a beautiful electric Rickenbacker
12-string. 'Backstage Pass' was performed as well as two new
Clark/York/Robinson compositions, 'Mary Sue' and 'Christine." During an
interview the same day, Gene said: 'Yes, there is an album in the plan. I
don't know what it will be called. I don't think it will be called the
Byrds. There is some new music that we've all been working on and eventually
within the next few months we'll get in a studio and do something. It's kind
of a new group, the next extension of the Byrds tree. We're writing
material, we've got a bunch going. We've got some really good songs, and the
sound of the group is great. I'm looking forward to the next step."
This certainly was an indication that Gene had never thought of trying to
record under the name Byrds by himself. He acted as if he was following two
separate projects: one was touring and making better money than as a
soloist, the other was moving to new musical areas with or without the
musicians he was touring with. Anyway the 'Byrds' gigs went on, and when
they played North Hollywood's Palomino in April 1986, Rick Roberts was no
longer with them. On June 10, 1986, the group was back for two shows in Salt
Lake City, and according to a big old fan, sounded even tighter and
introduced another new Clark/Robinson song 'Carry On.' York mentioned that
this title, as well as 'Mary Sue," had been put on a demo tape already. On
July 5, the group played at the Liberty weekend in New York and got good
reviews - in terms of musicianship, the band cooked, and Gene Clark and John
York enjoyed themselves. The five musicians seemed to have finally evolved
into a permanent unit. A long tour of Europe was booked, to open on October
4, 1986 in Hatfield, Great Britain, and to continue with many more dates
until the end of November. But it was cancelled. Why?
So Rebellious A Lover
Once again, Gene Clark changed his plans, and instead of bringing his
'Byrds' to our old continent, he decided to record his long-awaited next
solo album, or more exactly a duo-album with Carla Olson, the girl
singer/guitarist fronting the Textones. In October 1986 Gene and Carla
recorded their acoustic collaboration at Control Center Studios in L.A. and
enlisted, among others, the help of pedal-steel-guitarist Ed Black, Long
Ryder Stephen McCarthy on dobro, and Chris Hillman on mandolin. Of this
short collaboration with Chris, Gene reported that "the vibe was real good.
He really liked the songs, let me say that. He didn't attempt to write or
co-write anything, he just came in and played ' The record was produced by
J. Michael Huey. (Huey was a member of the Classics IV, and later played
drums on record and on tour for a variety of artists including Juice Newton,
Chris Hillman, and Glenn Frey.) Gene and Carla went to Nashville to promote
the album, and in addition to doing a concert with Rosanne Cash they also
performed three songs on the TV show Nashville Now; "The Drifter," 'Gypsy
Rider,' and 'Almost Saturday Night."
On the reasons behind a duet album with a girl, Gene said: "I had been
approached by a lot of different people to get together with a female
artist. Then when the Carla Olson situation came along it seemed to feel
natural, because neither of us were having to force the issue. It was there
and we both had a love for that kind of music." While different labels were
being approached for the release of the album, Gene Clark took his Byrds
back on the road at the end of 1986. But, sadly, the enthusiasm of promoters
and concert goers had vanished, and the press was even beginning to develop
some hostility, so Gene and his band were reduced to taking part in
nostalgia packaged tours, and in December they were part of a California
Dreamin' caravan including alternative line-ups of the Turtles and Mamas and
As 1987 arrived, Gene and his group were still giving sporadic dates. They
played as varied gigs as the Palomino, the opening ceremony of the Miss USA
pageant in New Mexico, and Disneyland on March 7! Then they joined the
Turtles 'Happy Together' tour, playing in sold out arenas. And even with a
stable lineup since the spring of 1986, nothing seemed to be goin to happen
as far as a group album was concerned. But Gene had other things to take
care of. In April his album with Carla Olson, So Rebellious A Lover, was
released in the States (Rhino 70832) and in England (Demon). A month
earlier, Gene and Carla had previewed several of the songs by performing
together at a Santa Monica club called At My Place, starting with acoustic
guitars and harmonica and being later joined by a drummer, a bassist and a
keyboard player. As soon as it was released, the album got very positive
responses everywhere in the press. Gene himself commented on the choice of
songs included: ' 'Gypsy Rider' is a motorcycle song. I happen to like
motorcycles and it's just the feeling you get when you're riding them. 'Fair
and Tender Ladies' is a traditional song I heard a long time ago in
different versions. I put several songs in one bag in that arrangement, just
old folk songs. 'Why did You Leave Me Today is just a story song. I had an
idea for it when I was driving through southeast Texas. 'I'm Your Toy (Hot
Burrito # 1)' is one of my favorite songs of all time. I've always wanted to
do it. 'Del Gato' was written over ten years ago sitting at the ranch with
my brother Rick one day. We were reading some books about outlaws in the
west. The album title came from a line in there."
Here was a new Gene Clark album, something you could listen to again and
again. Gene was quite excited by this duo experience. 'I feel if we do
another album, which we are planning to do, we will probably have more time
to write more material, electrify it maybe a little bit more, put a bit more
kick into it, even though that doesn't mean every cut has to be like that."
Gene's affirmations were confusing, because the apparent success of the new
album, at least artistically, didn't prevent him from going on touring with
the socalled Byrds during the spring and summer of 1987, as part of a
Classic Superfest featuring also Mark Lindsay, the Grass Roots and Herman's
Hermits. Due to the number of acts, the Byrds were limited to five songs,
and reduced to fourth billing on a kind of Sixties revival. Newspapers were
embarrassed reviewing those shows, but when interviewed, Gene was always
positive and optimistic. "The group is tight and I'm very fortunate to have
the people that I've got. I think the Byrds' music is as timely now as it
ever was. I've never wanted to do a nostalgia thing. I like doing new music,
and I've always had new products out. But then I saw how many people
genuinely wanted to hear the music, not just the generation who grew up with
the Byrds, but a whole new generation. I think we've recaptured the feel and
the sound very authentically. If I didn't feel it was working, I wouldn't
continue it. How long we will remain the Byrds I can't say, because when we
originally went out this was actually a tribute and we didn't even call it
the Byrds. We have lots of our own original material which we may record at
the end of this year. I doubt that we'll put out a record as the Byrds.
Hopefully, this will all turn into a new band with a new direction.' By the
end of the summer though, the group underwent a further line-up change when
bassist Carlos Bernal left to be replaced by Michael Curtis. In San Diego,
during the fall of 1987, the Byrds shared the bill with the Roberts-Meisner
band (a new group with Rick and Randy sounding like Firefall). According to
Billy Damell, the Byrds were pursuing a record deal, possibly with Rhino
Records, too, but by the end of the year no plans had materialized.
1988 began with good news. A second Gene Clark and Carla Olson recording was
reportedly on the way, with a planned June release date. Songs slated for
inclusion were Gene's 'Love Wins Again' and 'Mary Sue,' as well as 'Keep
Searchin',' written by Del Shannon, who was also to guest on the record with
ex Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. The project was cancelled when Gene
underwent surgery in April 1988, losing half his stomach and some intestines
due to ulcers. These health problems also prompted the end of his group of
He later explained: "I really wasn't comfortable having it be the Byrds, but
touring under the name was an opportunity that wasn't available to me in any
other way. When I got things back on the road for my own solo career, I
figured if the other guys don't want me to use the name, then I don't think
it's the right thing to do.' Never one to let anything stop him, Gene was
soon back on his feet and on June 17,1988, he was in the audience at the Ash
Grove in Hollywood, California, to watch his former mates Roger McGuinn,
David Crosby and Chris Hillman perform together as the final act of a
Soon after, however, Gene resumed his solo career. He said he was scheduled
to do some recording in mid September for a rock album, described as being
'contemporary with a good modern beat, but not disco dance music, with good
lyrical songs,' and that he also planned a country album. Gene performed at
the Palomino on September 22, 1988, accompanied by the Firebyrds (Billy
Damell, John York, Michael Curtis) for a little over an hour and his
repertoire included 'Shades of Blue,' a new song co-written by Clark and
Tommy Kaye, as well as another new one 'My Marie' (Clark/Robinson). On
September 28th, Gene began an east coast tour in Kansas City. He appeared on
October 4th on the TV show Nashville Now. The next day, he played at Dylan's
Cafe in Washington D.C., accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and
harmonica. In November 1988, Gene returned to the studio with
producer/friend Thomas Jefferson Kaye.
The Byrds Battle On
1989 started badly, when it was learned that McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman
were on the eve of playing a couple of concerts together to establish their
legal right to control the name Byrds. The reason of this sudden move was
that they couldn't accept the fact that former drummer Michael Clarke had
already begun steps to register the name Byrds as his own trademark, and was
preparing to assemble a touring band! Explained McGuinn: 'We got Gene Clark
to atop using the name and we were feeling OK about it, but then a promoter
in Florida convinced Michael Clarke to go out with some kids off the street
and call it the Byrds.' Gene stayed away from the legal battle, and as a
result was quite surprised and disappointed at not being invited to join
Roger, David and Chris for the three concerts they gave as the Byrds in
Ventura, San Juan Capistrano and San Diego. Gene issued the following
statement: 'The best thing would be for the five people to sit down and come
to some sort of agreement. At least a few hundred thousand people would love
to see the original Byrds, and to give it to them right now would be the
And as if the Byrds' problem was not enough, Tommy Kaye backed out of his
producer's work on Gene's album project after only four tracks were
completed, among them one entitled 'On The Run.' Gene soldiered on, also
negotiating with several labels. Simultaneously, he started on May 9 a small
tour and his morale was high. Gene was pretty excited by the tribute Tom
Petty had just paid to him by recording a great version of 'Feel A Whole Lot
Better' on his solo album Full Moon Fever (MCA 6253). On May 11, 1989, Gene
played the Iron Horse Coffee House in Northampton, Massachusetts with an
electric hollowbody acoustic guitar through a large amp, and besides his
familiar repertoire, he also sang Dylan's 'My Back Pages,' Tom Paxton's 'The
Last Thing On My Mind,' and 'Satisfied Mind." The following month, Gene was
billed again at McCabe's in Santa Monica on June 16, and what started as a
solo gig with just Gene and a musician called Steve Bruton, from Kris
Kristofferson's band, on guitar and mandolin, finished as a Gene Clark and
Carla Olson gig, augmented by a former Textones bassist, David Provost, ex
of both the Textones and Dream Syndicate, currently of the Droogs. On this
occasion, another new song was presented by the duo, 'Broken Hearts and
Broken Dreams,' written by Diane Baumgartner, which was to appear in 1990 on
Carla's first solo effort, Carla Olson (Still Sane 9207-2/Germany) with Gene
Before the summer, a tour of England was arranged for Gene. It was due to
start on October 4 and some continental Europe dates were to be announced
later. Gene also remained very optimistic about a Byrds reunion involving at
least four of the five original members, so optimistic that he even shelved
his half completed new album until after such a reunion, and was writing
songs specifically for future Byrds recordings. Gene's European tour was
cancelled when he fell ill three days before departure. Still, in 1989, Gene
and Carla Olson took time to go in the studio together to cut Phil Ochs"
Changes' which was to be included later on a compilation called True Voices
(Demon 165) released in England only at the beginning of 1991. Plans to
record a second album with Carla were reactivated on this occasion, and work
was supposed to start in March 1990.
At the beginning of 1990, Gene Clark completed a recording studio with
professional equipment in his home, The studio was designed to be capable of
recording a full size band, but Gene mostly worked with an acoustic sound in
it. On February 3, Gene and Carla gave a drummer-less electric concert at
McCabe's, previewing several songs destined to their upcoming joint album,
as well as the classic "Will The Circle Be Unbroken.' Among the songs that
were "previewed" were: Gene's "Your Fire Burning," and Carla and George
Callins "Photograph.' This concert is now the Demon Records album:
Silhouetted In Light. When the news of a benefit tribute concert to Roy
Orbison featuring a Byrds reunion arrived, many anxiously waited to see if
Gene Clark was going to be involved, but when he failed to appear with
McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman at the Universal Amphitheatre on February 24,
1990, it became clear that the three others kept him away with a vengeance!
Gene maintained a low profile during the following months, occasionally
performing small California gigs, like a Beatles night at L.A.'s Club
Lingerie on April 8, 1990, where he sang 'I Need You,' and others with Carla
Olson. By June, work on their second album had still not started. He had
just written a new song, 'From Darkness,' which he hoped the girl-group
Wilson Phillips would record on their next album. Gene still appeared
anxious to resolve differences with the other Byrds and get on with a
reunion. He felt, being the one who, with McGuinn, had started the whole
thing in 1964, he deserved a place in the group of 1990.
Later the same year, the Byrds were nominated for possible induction into
the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In conjunction with this event, CBS records
announced that they were planning to release a tour-CD boxed set to appear
before the end of the year. But Roger McGuinn, who acted as musical director
on the project made sure Gene would be kept away. Gene's involvement was
scandalously limited to answering a few questions for Columbia Records on
the phone. And, to make matters worse, when McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman
booked three days of studio time in August 1990 in Nashville in order to cut
four new Byrds songs for the set, they did not invite Gene to the sessions.
Gene played at the Palomino on September 22, helped by guitarist Garth
Peckington, and again, Carla Olson joined him for the last few numbers, but
there was no talk of a new album this time. On November 7,1990, Gene and
Carla were the high point of the Birthday Tribute to Gram Parsons held at
the Palomino, performing an acoustic set of quality.
Approximately at the same time, the Byrds were officially inducted into the
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Gene's comments in the L.A. Times went: 'I
always hold that hope that we could get rid of all the problems that stand,
between us, lay down our pride and just play music and enjoy it.' By then,
the Byrds boxed set The Byrds (Columbia/Legacy 48773) was in the shops, and
Gene's contributions were restricted to six songs: 'Feel A Whole Lot
Better,' 'The World Turns All Around Her,' and "Eight Miles High' in their
original well known takes, plus a different version of 'She Don't Care About
Time" with an harmonica solo, and two songs not originally available on
early Byrds' albums, 'She Has A Way' and 'The Day Walk.' Two incredible
omissions were 'Set You Free This Time' and 'If you're Gone,' when such
inferior post-Clark material was selected instead! In November 1990,
Columbia rereleased Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers in CD format on
their Special Products series (CSP-A 2618), but used the original mono
masters, pretending that they were of superior sound quality to the stereo
masters, which was absurd. An alternate mix 'Tried So Hard" was added as a
bonus track, but it didn't add much.
A few days before the induction ceremony on January 16, 199 1, Gene had not
heard from anyone and he didn't know if the five original Byrds would be in
attendance. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony took place at
the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City in front of more than 1000 famous
guests. At the mini-press conference preceding the evening, only McGuinn,
Crosby and Hillman were present. But at the dinner, they were joined by Gene
Clark and trouble-boy Michael Clarke. The five men went on stage to accept
their awards, and Gene's acceptance speech was as follows: 'I think really,
for myself, gratitude is the main thing, I've got to be really thankful to
the people in my life who have supported me through the years, through my
good and bad, and especially my brothers who are on stage with me and who
I've enjoyed playing with more than anyone else in the whole world. And
especially to my beautify lady Terri, who has been the most support to me in
my whole life. Thank you all very much and I'm proud to be here.' After the
formalities, McGuinn picked up his 12-string Rickenbacker, Hillman grabbed a
bass and all five Byrds sang 'Turn Turn Turn' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'
'Feel A Whole Lot Better' closed the mini-set with Gene Clark on lead
vocals, of course! The Byrds made peace that night, but a war (a real one)
started, as the Americans began their air strikes on Iraq.
Gene returned to his solo career and, in March 1991, he was hoping to
finally begin work with Carla Olson on their follow-up album which was
supposed to include 'Your Fire Burning' and 'Love Wins Again," both
Clark-penned plus 'Pledge To You' (Clark/Olson) and 'Rock Of Ages'
(Clark/Olson/Nold). Additional songs that were planned for the Clark/Olson
LP included Gene's 'Kathleen,' and 'Dark Of My Moon," Carla And Danny Tate's
'When I Was Your Dream,' Carla's 'Number One Is To Survive," and a Gene and
Carla collaboration entitled 'The Road Of No Return.' Gene had lined up a 10
date concert tour of England in July.
Taking advantage of the upswing the Byrds' publicity was starting to give to
his own career, Gene got an engagement in April 1991 at the Cinegrill in
Hollywood for a five night stint. After opening each gig on acoustic guitar,
Gene was soon joined by his new electric band, guitar, piano, bass and
drums. Highlights included recently recorded 'Your Fire Burning' and 'Life
And Times,' plus rollicking uptempo versions of 'Eight Miles High' and 'Feel
A Whole Lot Better. 'There were fine renditions of Dvlan's 'I shall Be
Released" and the Beatles"Don't Let Me Down,' as well as old Dillard & Clark
favorites "She Darked The Sun" and Train Leaves Here This Morning." Closing
song was "Mr. Tambourine Man " Unfortunately, not many people attended these
concerts, as if no one had been informed that Gene Clarke was playing there.
Another problem was that Gene was heavy on alcohol during these dates. Carla
performed three songs with Gene on opening night of his five night Cinegrill
engagement. So these shows were to be both the last of their collaborations
and sadly ,the last shows of Gene's life.
At the end of April. a much better looking Gene, only drinking 7-Up, was in
attendance at the Whiskey Club where Roger McGuinn was performing, promoting
his new Arista album. Gene was optimistic, working on the songs for the
soundtrack of the movie Tainted. He had hopes to work with McGuinn again,
not in a Byrds situation, but as songwriters. And McGuinn, who over the
years, had paid some continuous tribute to Clark by always including 'Feel A
Whole Lot Better' in his groups' or solo sets up to this year, didn't even
invite Gene on stage when he sang 'Mr. Tambourine Man' during that show,
which was a national satellite broadcast! Nevertheless, Gene was really up.
Something was happening for him. Music was coming back to him with a whole
new energy. But on May 24, 1991, Gene Clark left the show forever. Around 12
noon, he was found dead on the floor by his bassist. What happened? Booze
seemed to be the general consensus.
Gene Clark's death didn't provoke much press coverage, unfortunately, as the
importance of his role in the formative years of the Byrds and their musical
heritage (Tom Petty, R.E.M. etc... ) has yet to be fully discovered. Roger
McGuinn said: 'He was very instrumental in the formation of the Byrds. If it
hadn't been for Gene discovering what I was doing at the Troubadour, the
Byrds may never have happened.' David Crosby issued this statement: 'We are
deeply saddened by the loss of a friend and fellow artist. He will be missed
by many...' Chris Hillmans tribute was more human and emotional: 'At one
time he was the power in the Byrds... He was the songwriter, he had the gift
that none of the rest of us had developed yet... We learned a lot on
songwriting from him and in the process learned a little about ourselves...
He suffers no more. He left me a lot of wonderful memories and allowed me to
share a small part of his life... I'm so glad we all made peace on that
rainy night last January, our final moment of glory...' Finally, Michael
Clarke wrote: 'Gene was an artist, a true expressionist... A continuous
battle raged between Gene and himself.. In my opinion, Gene Clark has earned
a seat in the Folk Heroes Hall Of Fame, and a permanent place in all our
hearts.' Gene married only once in his life, to Carly. Together they had two
sons, Kelly and Kai. He did not re-marry.
Sid Griffin wrote the words which sum up the general feeling of all those
who admired Gene Clark, and I'll let him conclude this biography. 'If the
career of Gene Clark was a mere blink in the public eye, then it should he
remembered his landmark achievements are exactly that, landmarks by which
future generations will travel routes previously cleared by Tipton's finest
son. His voice will continue to be heard, his songs will continue to be
performed. He's with us still...'