Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



US folk-rock, then country-rock group formed '64 in LA Original lineup: Jim McGuinn (b 13 July '42, Chicago), vocals, guitar; Gene Clark, vocals, percussion, guitar; Chris Hillman, bass, mandolin, vocals; Michael Clarke (b 3 June '43, NYC; d 19 Dec. '93 of liver disease), drums; David Crosby, guitar, vocals (see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). McGuinn had worked with the Limelighters, Chad Mitchell Trio, sessioned with Judy Collins; Clark with New Christy Minstrels; Crosby with Les Baxter's Balladeers; Hillman with bluegrass groups (see his entry). McGuinn, Clark and Crosby met at the Troubador folk club in LA, formed a trio called the Jet Set, as the Beefeaters made a flop single on Elektra, then with Hillman and Clarke (who was inexperienced but looked right thanks to Beatle haircut) changed their name to the Byrds. Early tapes issued '69 in LP Preflyte; their breakthrough came with a song they didn't like at first, Bob Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man'. Prod. Terry Melcher knew it would be a hit, Columbia was lukewarm, and everything depended on being allowed to release it: Dylan okayed it and it was no. 1 both UK/USA summer '65. The same year they hit no. 40 USA/4 UK with Dylan's 'All I Really Want To Do', no. 1 USA/no. 11 UK with 'Turn, Turn, Turn', a biblical text set by Pete Seeger. They never made the top ten again, but it was the era of a switch in public and critical emphasis from singles to albums: their first four LPs all went top 30, and others which didn't sell particularly well at the time are still selling today. Mr Tambourine Man '65 followed by Turn, Turn, Turn '66; Clark left early '66 (joined Doug Dillard), McGuinn and Crosby taking over lead vocals; Fifth Dimension '66 saw move from folk rock to more 'progressive' material (single 'Eight Miles High' a harbinger of acid rock) often written by McGuinn. McGuinn and Crosby were no longer getting along musically, latter left '67; Clarke left, toured with Dillard and Clark, then Flying Burrito Bros (see Gram Parsons), helped form Firefall. McGuinn changed his name to Roger for religious reasons. New drummer Kevin Kelley (b '45, CA) joined for Younger Than Yesterday '67 (uneven LP incl. Hillman's 'So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star', Dylan's 'My Back Pages'), stayed until '68, as did Gram Parsons, the most important Byrd after the original members: he was a heavy infl. on the Notorious Byrd Brothers and milestone Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (both '68, the last described as one of the first country-rock LPs), though his work was not much in evidence because of contractual commitments; he left for political reasons on eve of South African tour.

Tumultuous musical experimentation, too many drugs and personality clashes meant constantly changing lineups; it was a miracle they lasted as long as they did, yet they retained their identity and influence on rock. Hillman left to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons and others; McGuinn regrouped with bassist John York, soon replaced by Clyde 'Skip' Battin (b 2 Feb. '34, Gallipolis OH; had pop hit 'Cherry Pie' '60 in duo Skip and Flip), drummer Gene Parsons (b '44, LA; unrelated to Gram), Clarence White (b 6 June '44, Lewiston, Maine; d 14 July '73) on guitar: last two from bluegrass group Nashville West, White also from Kentucky Colonels ('60--66). White and Gene Parsons were Byrds late '68 to '73, Battin from late '69 to '73, making this lineup the most stable, but with lower sales: LPs incl. Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde and Ballad Of Easy Rider (both '69, the last cashing in on McGuinn's vocal contribution to film soundtrack); (untitled) '70 was two-disc half-live, half-studio album incl. McGuinn's highly rated 'Chestnut Mare', which with 'All The Things' and 'Just A Season' was written for musical Gene Tryp (an anagram of Peer Gynt) which was never produced. After Byrdmaniax '71 and Farther Along '72 (both overproduced) they disbanded '73. Gene Parsons made solo Kindling '73 for WB, joined re-formed Burritos; White re- formed the Kentucky Colonels but was killed by a drunken driver (it was not a good year for ex-Byrds: Gram Parsons died two months later). McGuinn re-formed the original quintet for The Byrds '73 on Asylum (all others on Columbia USA) but the magic was gone. Though influential at the time, they are easily overrated: with vocal harmony and some good songs their most important contribution (thanks to Gram Parsons) was introducing a country feel to a pop audience; their Dylan covers were pedestrian compared to the originals and their 'ringing' guitars could be called 'jangling'. Country rock went on to find greater integrity; Hillman, Crosby, Clark and Gram Parsons all did better work elsewhere. Battin made an eponymous LP on Signpost '73, and two more (Navigator and Don't Go Crazy) which appeared only in Italy. Gene Parsons made Melodies '79 on Sierra; McGuinn did Roger McGuinn '73, Peace On You '74, Roger McGuinn And Band '76, Cardiff Rose '76 and Thunderbyrd '77, all CBS; McGuinn, Clark and Hillman made eponymous LP '79 on Capitol, followed by City '80, also McGuinn And Hillman '80. McGuinn's Back From Rio '90 was on Arista; there were CD compilations of his solo albums on Columbia Legacy; Live From Mars '96 on Hollywood preserved his now well- honed solo act. See also entries for individuals.