Gene Clark - Flying Forever

 

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

(Roger) McGuinn.

 

'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

bass.

 

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

song.'

 

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

estate!

 

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

Terry Melcher.

 

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

record companies.

 

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

time too.

 

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

could.

 

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

guitar!

 

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

Hillman.

 

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

or July.'

 

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

all.'

 

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

Papas!

 

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

Byrds.

 

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

benefit concert.

 

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

prime time.'

 

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

on harmonies.

 

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.

 

Flying Forever

 

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...'