1964 in Los Angeles, CA - Disbanded 1973
Although they did not attain the huge success of the Beatles,
Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys other than for a short
time in the mid-'60s, time has judged the Byrds to be
almost as influential as those groups. They were not solely
responsible for devising folk-rock, but were certainly
responsible for melding the innovative energy of the British
pop invasion with the lyrical and musical elements of
contemporary folk music. The jangling, 12-string guitar
sound of leader Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker became one
of the standart elements of rock. Often described in their
early days as a hybrid of Dylan and the Beatles. The Byrds'
innovations have echoed nearly as strongly through subsequent
generations featuring jangling guitars and dense harmonics.
the Byrds had perfected their blend of folk and rock by
the time their single, "Mr. Tambourine Man," topped
the charts in mid-1965, it was something of a miracle
that the group had managed to form in the first place.
Not a single member of the original quintet had extensive
experience on electric instruments. They were inspired
by the success of the Beatles to mix folk and rock. McGuinn
had already been playing Beatles songs acoustically in
Los Angeles folk clubs when Clark approached him to form
an act, according to subsequent recollections, in the
Peter & Gordon style. David Crosby soon joined to make
them a trio, and they made a primitive demo as the Jet
Set that was nonetheless bursting with promise. With the
help of session musicians, they released a single on Elektra
as the Beefeaters that, while a flop, showed them getting
quite close to the folk-rock sound that would electrify
the pop scene in a few months.
Beefeaters, soon renamed the Byrds, and became a quintet
with the addition of drummer Michael Clarke and bluegrass
mandolinist Chris Hillman, who , although he had never
played the instrument before, was enlisted to play electric
bass. The band were so lacking in equipment in their early
stages that Clarke played on cardboard boxes during their
first rehearsals, but they determined to master their
instruments and become a full-fledged rock band (many
demos from this period would later surface for official
release). They managed to procure a demo of a new Dylan
song, "Mr. Tambourine Man"; by eliminating some
verses and adding instantly memorable 12-string guitar
leads and Beatlesque harmonies, they came up with the
first big folk-rock smash. For the "Mr. Tambourine
Man" single, the band's vocals and McGuinn's easily
recognisable Rickenbacker, were backed by session musicians,
though the band themselves performed on their later recordings.
the first long-haired American group to compete with the
British Invasion bands visually as well as musically,
the Byrds were soon anointed as the American counterpart
to the Beatles by the press, legions of fans, and George
Harrison himself. Their 1965 debut LP, Mr.
Tambourine Man, was a fabulous album that mixed
stellar interpretations of Dylan and Pete Seeger tunes
with strong, more romantic and pop-based originals, usually
written by Gene Clark in the band's early days. A few
months later, their version of Seeger's "Turn! Turn!
Turn!" became another number one hit and instant classic,
featuring more great chiming guitar lines and ethereal,
interweaving harmonies. While their second LP (Turn!
Turn! Turn!) wasn't as strong as their debut full-length,
the band continued to move forward at a dizzying pace.
In early 1966, the "Eight Miles High" single heralded
the birth of psychedelia, with its druglike (intentionally
or otherwise) lyrical imagery, rumbling bass line, and
a frenzied McGuinn guitar solo that took its inspiration
from John Coltrane and Indian music.
Byrds suffered a major loss right after "Eight Miles
High" with the departure of Gene Clark, their primary
songwriter and, along with McGuinn, chief lead vocalist.
The reason for his resignation, ironically, was fear of
flying, although other pressures were at work as well.
"Eight Miles High," amazingly, would be their last
Top 20 single; many radio stations banned the record for
its alleged drug references, halting its progress at number
14. This ended the Byrds' brief period as commercial challengers
to the Beatles, but they regrouped and continued as a
quartet. McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman assumed a much larger
chunk of the songwriting responsibilities. The third album,
Fifth Dimension, contained
more groundbreaking folk-rock and psychedelia on tracks
like "Fifth Dimension," "I See You," and
"John Riley," although it (like several of their
classic early albums) mixed sheer brilliance with tracks
that were oddly half-baked or carelessly executed.
Than Yesterday, (1967) which included the small
hits "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and
"My Back Pages" (another Dylan cover), was another
high point, Hillman and Crosby in particular taking their
writing to a new level. In 1967, Crosby would assert a
much more prominent role in the band, singing and writing
some of his best material. He wasn't getting along so
well with McGuinn and Hillman, though, and was jettisoned
from the Byrds partway into the recording of The
Notorious Byrd Brothers. Gene Clark, drafted into
the band as a replacement, left after only a few weeks,
and by the end of 1967, Michael Clarke was also gone.
Remarkably, in the midst of this chaos (not to mention
diminishing record sales), they continued to sound as
good as ever on Notorious. This was another effort that
mixed electronic experimentation and folk-rock mastery
with aplomb, with hints of a growing interest in country
McGuinn and Hillman rebuilt the group one more time in
early 1968, McGuinn mused upon the exciting possibility
of a double album that would play as nothing less than
a history of contemporary music, evolving from traditional
folk and country to jazz and electronic music. Toward
this end, he hired Gram Parsons, he has since said, to
play keyboards. Under Parsons'
influence, however, the Byrds were soon going full blast
into country music, with Parsons taking a large share
of the guitar and vocal chores. In 1968, McGuinn, Hillman,
Parsons, and drummer Kevin Kelly recorded Sweetheart
of the Rodeo, which was probably the first album
to be widely labeled as country-rock.
as to the merits of Rodeo remain sharply divided among
Byrds fans. Some see it as a natural continuation of the
group's innovations; other bewail the loss of the band's
trademark crystalline guitar jangle, and the short-circuited
potential of McGuinn's most ambitious experiments. However
one feels, there's no doubt that it marked the end, or
at least a drastic revamping, of the "classic" Byrds sound
of the 1965-68 period (bookended by the Tambourine Man
and Notorious albums). Parsons, the main catalyst
for the metamorphosis, left the band after about six months,
partially in objection to a 1968 Byrds tour of South Africa.
Hillman left the Byrds by the end of 1968 to form the
Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons. Although McGuinn
kept the Byrds going for about another five years with
other musicians (most notably former country picker Clarence
White), essentially the Byrds name was a front for Roger
McGuinn and backing band. Opinions, again, remain sharply
divided about the merits of latter-day Byrds albums. McGuinn
was (and is) such an idiosyncratic and pleasurable talent
that fans and critics are inclined to give him some slack;
no one else plays the 12-string as well, he's a fine arranger,
and his Lennon-meets-Dylan vocals are immediately distinctive.
Yet aside from some good echoes of vintage Byrds like
"Chestnut Mare," "Jesus Is Just Alright,"
and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," nothing from
the post-1968 Byrds albums resonates with nearly the same
effervescent quality and authority of their classic 1965-68
original quintet actually got back together for a one-off
reunion album in 1973; though it made the Top 20, it was
a classic example of the futility of a great band reuniting
in an attempt to fan the dying flames of a once burning
original Byrds continued to pursue solo careers and outside
projects throughout the 1970s and 1980s. McGuinn, Clark,
and Hillman had some success at the end of the 1970s with
a contemporary variation on the Byrds' sound; in the 1980s
Hillman enjoyed mainstream country success with the Desert
Rose Band. The Byrds' legend was tarnished by squabbles
over which members of the original lineup had the rights
to use the Byrds name; for quite a while, drummer Michael
Clarke even toured with a "Byrds" that featured no other
original members. The Byrds were inducted into the Rock
& Roll Hall of Fame in 1991; Gene Clark died several months
later after battling with drug problems, and Michael Clarke
died in 1993, permanently ending the prospect of a further
reunion of the original quintet.
purchased several books and Cd's from Amazon.com,
we've always found their service fast and efficient. We
have no hesitation in recommending them as being both
more economic and more convenient than purchasing products
in a shop. We are delighted to bring you this treasured
opportunity to own some of our favourite songs.