The Byrds

The Byrds

Postby N2yes » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:53 pm

The Byrds (formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1964) were an American rock band.

The Byrds were popular and influential through the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s. Critic Richie Unterberger declares The Byrds' most enduring contribution was "melding the innovations and energy of the British Invasion with the best lyrical and musical elements of contemporary folk music," but they also helped forge such subgenres as folk rock, space rock, raga rock, psychedelic rock, jangle pop, and –- on their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo –- country rock. After several line-up changes (with lead singer/guitarist Roger McGuinn as the only consistent member), they broke up in 1973.

Some of their trademark songs include pop covers of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger’s "Turn! Turn! Turn!", and the originals "I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better", and "Eight Miles High".

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and several band members have launched successful solo careers after leaving the group. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them #45 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

The Byrds were founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1964 by singers and guitarists Jim McGuinn (born James McGuinn III; he changed his name to Roger McGuinn in 1967, after joining the spiritual movement Subud), Gene Clark, and David Crosby. Bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke joined soon after.

McGuinn had been in a series of folk outfits including The Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio before working in New York in 1962–1963 as a songwriter for Bobby Darin. He moved to L.A. in late 1963 and began gigging at clubs such as the Troubadour but, after hearing The Beatles for the first time, saw what he later called "a gap in the market", and resolved to take "Lennon and Dylan and mix them together."

Gene Clark, who had been in the New Christy Minstrels, briefly joined McGuinn in a duo playing at The Folk Den before Crosby, who had performed with Les Baxter's Balladeers, persuaded them to let him join. The newly formed trio recorded a song, "The Only Girl I Adore", soon after naming themselves "The Jet Set" (McGuinn and Crosby were aviation buffs). As such they cut a couple of numbers, "You Movin'" and "The Only Girl". They then hired Michael Clarke (who had the right look for the part) to join on drums. Former bluegrass mandolin player Hillman, who had played with the Scotsville Squirrel Barkers, the Golden State Boys, and the Hillmen, completed the quintet. (Overall, it can be said the members were markedly influenced by the American folk music revival.)

They rehearsed and recorded extensively at the World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles under the guidance of manager Jim Dickson. This period culminated with Elektra Records releasing a single, "Please Let Me Love You" b/w "Don't Be Long", under the name "The Beefeaters". Years later, these World Pacific demos were released as the Preflyte album and even made the lower reaches of the album charts. There have since been two further archive albums culled from the World Pacific sessions, In The Beginning (1988) and The Preflyte Sessions (2001).

Folk rock

In November 1964, the band signed to Columbia Records and a few days later renamed themselves The Byrds. On January 20, 1965, they recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man", a Bob Dylan song given a full electric treatment, and effectively created folk rock. McGuinn's jangling, highly melodic guitar playing (using a 12-string, heavily compressed Rickenbacker for its extremely bright tone) was immediately influential, and has remained so to the present day. The group's complex harmony work became the other major characteristic of their sound (McGuinn and Clark alternating between unison singing and harmony, with Crosby providing the high harmony). Released in June 1965 after a long delay, this debut single reached #1 on the US charts and, a month later, repeated the feat in the UK. At the same time, their debut album Mr. Tambourine Man was released, also topping the charts. The album mixed reworkings of folk songs (most notably Pete Seeger's "The Bells Of Rhymney") with several more Dylan covers, as well as a number of the band's own compositions, mainly written by Gene Clark.

Since the band had not yet completely gelled in January, McGuinn had been the only Byrd to play on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its B-side, "I Knew I'd Want You". Instead, producer Terry Melcher hired "The Wrecking Crew", a collection of top session men including Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Leon Russell, who provided the backing track over which McGuinn added llead guitar and lead vocal, while Crosby and Clark sang harmony. By the time the album was recorded, Melcher was satisfied that the band were up to scratch, and they were to play on all the remaining tracks.

The group's follow-up single was another interpretation of a Dylan song, "All I Really Want To Do". Unfortunately for The Byrds, Cher simultaneously released her own version of the song with greater commercial success. Even though they had recorded Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" as their third single (it was played on the California radio station KFWB), The Byrds instead quickly recorded "Turn! Turn! Turn!", a Pete Seeger adaptation of a traditional melody, with some lyrics taken directly from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, and the song became the group's second US #1 single, also headlining their second album (also titled Turn! Turn! Turn!).

Like their debut, the album was characterised by harmony vocal and McGuinn's distinctive guitar sound, highlighted by the bright-sounding production of Terry Melcher. This time they featured more of their own compositions and now had, in Gene Clark, a major songwriter; his songs from this period, including "The World Turns All Around Her", "She Don't Care About Time", "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" and "Set You Free This Time", are widely regarded as amongst the best of the genre.


By the end of 1965, the band had exhausted the folk rock sound, and began to experiment. On December 22, 1965, they recorded "Eight Miles High", generally considered the first full-blown psychedelic recording (although many contemporaneous groups, notably The Yardbirds, were moving in a similar direction). It was widely regarded as a "drug" song (despite its lyrics being about an airplane flight and a concert tour of England), and its relatively modest success when it was released as a single (US #14, UK #24) has been attributed to the resulting airplay bans on some radio stations (though the unfamiliar and slightly uncommercial sound of the track is another possible factor). While the groundbreaking lead guitar work was actually an attempt by McGuinn to replicate the free jazz saxophone style of John Coltrane, the record was often referred to as "raga rock" - in fact, it was the B-side "Why?" which drew on Indian raga influences.

Gene Clark left the band in March 1966, partly due to a fear of flying which made it impossible to keep up with the band's itinerary. He had witnessed a fatal airplane crash as a youth and had never gotten over it. He had a panic attack on a plane in L.A. bound for New York and had to get off. McGuinn told him, "You can't be a Byrd, Gene, if you can't fly." He was signed by Columbia as a solo artist and went on to forge a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful body of work.

The Byrds' third album, Fifth Dimension (5D), released in July 1966, built on the new sound the band had created for "Eight Miles High", McGuinn extending his exploration of jazz and raga styles on tracks such as "I See You" and Crosby's "What's Happening?!?!" respectively. The campaign in US radio to clamp down on "drug songs" affected several of the tracks, such as "Eight Miles High" and "5D," and limited the album's commercial success (#24 US).

Allegedly irritated by the overnight success of manufactured groups such as The Monkees, the group next recorded the satirical and slightly bitter dig at the music business, "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star", which again broke new ground musically, featuring a brass part played by the South African musician Hugh Masekela. The song achieved modest success as a single and also kicked off their fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday. The LP was more varied than its predecessor, and has been widely praised for tracks such as Crosby's sinister ballad "Everybody's Been Burned", a cover of Dylan's My Back Pages" (later released as a single), and a quartet of Chris Hillman numbers which showed the bassist emerging fully formed as a country-oriented songwriter ("Have You Seen Her Face", "Time Between", "Thoughts And Words", "The Girl With No Name"). However, many critics feel that the album suffers in parts from (possibly drug-induced) self-indulgence, especially on tracks such as "CTA-102", a McGuinn novelty song about alien life, and Crosby's lengthy recitation "Mind Gardens."

Line-up changes

By 1967 there was increasing tension between the band members, McGuinn and Hillman becoming irritated by what they saw as Crosby's overbearing egotism, and his attempts to jockey for control of the band. In June, when the Byrds performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, Crosby sang the majority of lead vocals, and to the intense annoyance of the other members gave lengthy speeches between every song, on subjects such as the JFK assassination and the benefits of giving LSD to "every man, woman and child in the country". He then added insult to injury by performing later with rival band Buffalo Springfield (filling in for Neil Young). His stock within the band dropped further following the commercial failure of his first A-side, "Lady Friend", released in July (US #82). In October, during the recording of the fifth Byrds album, Crosby refused to participate in taping the Goffin-King number "Goin' Back" in preference to his more controversial "Triad", a song about a ménage à trois. The simmering tensions within the band finally erupted and in 1967 the other group members fired Crosby, who subsequently received a considerable cash settlement, and soon after began working with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, forming the hugely successful supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash. Gene Clark briefly rejoined The Byrds to take his place, but left three weeks later, after again refusing to board an aircraft while on tour. Michael Clarke also quit during these sessions, partly due to disputes with Crosby during the recording of "Dolphin's Smile". Studio drummer Jim Gordon was drafted in to complete his parts. The bluegrass guitarist Clarence White contributed significantly on several tracks, later becoming a permanent band member in 1968.

The resulting album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was released in January 1968, and despite its troubled genesis, contains some of the band's gentlest, most ethereal music. The record mixed folk rock, country, psychedelia and jazz, often within a single song, and attempted to deal with many contemporary themes such as peace, ecology, freedom, drug use, alienation and mankind's place in the Universe. It included the song "Wasn't Born to Follow", which featured on the Easy Rider Soundtrack. Over the years, The Notorious Byrd Brothers has gained in reputation, and is often considered the group's best work, while the contentious incidents surrounding its making have largely been forgotten.

Now reduced to a duo, The Byrds quickly recruited Hillman's cousin Kevin Kelley as drummer and the band went out on tour in support of The Notorious Byrd Brothers as a trio. After realizing that the trio arrangement wasn't going to work, McGuinn and Hillman, in a fateful decision for their future career-direction, hired Gram Parsons, originally to play keyboards (he later moved to guitar). With the aid of Hillman, Parsons persuaded McGuinn to change direction again, and take up a style with which they had previously only dabbled - country music.

Country rock

On February 15, 1968, they played at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the first group of longhairs ever to do so, and immediately started recording their next album in a wholly country style, with Parsons choosing and singing many of the songs. However, on July 29, Parsons quit the band just before they flew to South Africa because he refused to play to segregated audiences. At the same time, Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released, most of Parsons' vocals being replaced by either McGuinn or Hillman due to legal problems with Parsons' previous record company. The album was commercially unsuccessful on its release (US # 77), but contains the yearning Parsons song which has become a standard, "Hickory Wind", as well as a couple of Dylan tunes from his then-unreleased Basement Tapes collection, and more traditional songs from such unlikely sources as The Louvin Brothers ("The Christian Life"). It is the first country-rock album to be released by an established rock band, coming six months before Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline". (The first country rock album was arguably released by Gram's International Submarine Band on the indie record label that later created legal problems for Gram with the Byrds.)

Kevin Kelley left not long after Gram Parsons and in their places, McGuinn and Hillman hired drummer Gene Parsons and guitarist Clarence White, who had both played in Nashville West. This new lineup played two shows together in October before Hillman quit to join Gram Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers. McGuinn, now the only original member left, hired bassist John York to replace Hillman and the resulting quartet recorded the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album and released it in February 1969 to poor US sales and moderate UK success.

In July 1969 The Byrds were the headliner of the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City's Central Park, along with Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and Patti LaBelle. They re-appeared at the festival in 1970 and 1971.

In October 1969 came the Ballad Of Easy Rider album. "Jesus Is Just Alright" from that album was issued as a single, which, in a similar arrangement, became a hit for The Doobie Brothers, four years later. The group also recorded a version of Jackson Browne's "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood" during the recording sessions, but it remained unreleased for some twenty years. The title track was composed by McGuinn (expanding on a verse line written by Bob Dylan) as the music theme for the 1969 hippie movie Easy Rider, and the album sold well off the back of the movie's huge success. By the time this album was released, John York had left the band because his girlfriend objected to his going out on the road. He was replaced by bassist Skip Battin, who had some chart success in 1959 as half of the duo Skip & Flip.

In 1970, The Byrds released the double album (Untitled), which charted well in the UK and acceptably in the US. (Untitled) featured one disc of live recordings and one of studio performances such as "Chestnut Mare", "All The Things" and "Lover of the Bayou". It also included a 16-minute live version of "Eight Miles High".

In 1971 they released the Byrdmaniax album, which was a commercial and critical disappointment, largely due to inappropriate orchestration which was added to many tracks without the band's approval by producer Terry Melcher. Also in 1971 came the release of the Farther Along album. The title track of that album, sung by Clarence White (with the rest of the group harmonizing), would became a prophetic epitaph for both White and Gram Parsons. (In July 1973, White was killed by a motor vehicle while he was loading equipment after a gig in Palmdale, California. Soon afterwards, Gram Parsons died, as a result of an overdose of morphine and alcohol, in the Joshua Tree Motel, California.)

McGuinn toured with the Byrds through 1972, with LA session man John Guerin replacing Gene Parsons. Two Byrds recordings exist with this lineup, live versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Roll Over Beethoven", recorded for the soundtrack to the movie Banjoman. The final recording sessions involving all four of the latter-day Columbia Byrds were for Skip Battin's 1972 album, Skip; Guerin was on drums. McGuinn appeared on only one track, though, "Captain Video" - evidently Battin's tribute to his erstwhile employer.

Skip Battin and John Guerin either quit or were fired after the February 10, 1973 show in Ithaca, New York, and were replaced by Chris Hillman and Joe Lala, respectively, for the Byrds' final two shows on February 23 (Burlington, Vermont) and 24 (Passaic, New Jersey).

Reunions (1973–1990)

The five original Byrds all briefly reunited in late 1972 (while McGuinn was still on tour with the CBS version of the Byrds) to cut the reunion album Byrds. The album came out in March 1973, less than a month after the Columbia version of the Byrds played their final show. The album garnered mixed reviews, and a planned tour of the original five Byrds to support it never materialized.

In the late '70s, McGuinn, Clark and Hillman worked on and off as a trio (modelled on CSNY and, to a lesser extent, The Eagles), touring and recording two albums, and scoring a top 40 hit ("Don't You Write Her Off") in 1978. Some of the earlier and later live shows were advertised by unscrupulous promoters as Byrds reunions. By 1979 Clark had departed and the two others recorded an album as McGuinn-Hillman.

Subsequently, there were disputes over which members owned the rights to the "Byrds" name in the late 1980s. Clarke and Clark toured separately under The Byrds name at that time, and from 1989 through most of 1993 Michael Clarke toured occasionally as "The Byrds Featuring Michael Clarke" with former Byrd Skip Battin along with newcomers Terry Jones Rogers and Jerry Sorn. To solidify their claim to the name and prevent any non-original members from using the name, McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby staged a series of Byrds reunion concerts in 1989 and 1990, including a famous performance at a Roy Orbison tribute concert where they were joined by Bob Dylan for Mr. Tambourine Man. These shows led to McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby recording four new studio tracks for the boxed set The Byrds in 1990. During that year, a legal action against Clarke and his booking agent failed, the judge ruling that Clarke's group had toured successfully. Eventually, a settlement was reached, preventing any entity not including McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby from using the name "Byrds".

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. The original line-up of Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn was honored at this induction. Gene Clark died later that year and, two years later, Michael Clarke succumbed to liver disease brought on by alcoholism.

Though both Hillman and Crosby have expressed an interest in working with McGuinn again on future Byrds projects, McGuinn is currently committed to his folk music career.

This was one remarkable band, made especially true for their harmonies which afforded them a truly unique sound. One could easily make the claim that many famous bands emerged as a result of having been influenced by The Byrds. They were a superb act and so perfect for their era.
"Master of images-Songs cast a light on you"

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Re: The Byrds

Postby N2yes » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:56 pm

Here's but one of many reasons why they were so great!
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Re: The Byrds

Postby Relayer » Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:12 am

Thanks man, that really takes me back, you dont see or hear that much in todays music, maybe it's uncool or something but, these guys had a little more to share in what they were saying and they way they said it.

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Re: The Byrds

Postby Greenglade's Frog » Thu May 01, 2008 8:39 pm

One of the ultimate L.A. bands

The Byrds - Eight Miles High n 1966
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Re: The Byrds

Postby sound_chaser » Thu May 01, 2008 10:45 pm

Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers have to be the ultimate Byrds albums. And the extra songs on the remasters make them even better. I can't believe that Crosby's song, Triad, was vetoed from NBB, because it is one of the most beautiful songs the band ever did. The song finally turned up on the Jefferson Airplane album, Crown of Creation and was also recorded by C.S.N.Y for the live Four Way Street album.

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