Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 20 Apr 05 19:11
Joining us today is John Einarson, a respected rock music historian and writer based in Winnipeg, Canada. He has written feature articles and reviews for Mojo, Goldmine, Discoveries, Record Collector, and Rock Express and is a frequent contributor to the Winnipeg Free Press. In addition, John has written for television and radio, hosting his own CBC radio series. John served as the driving force for the Manitoba Museums acclaimed exhibit "Get Back: A Celebration of Winnipeg Rock n Roll" and was guest curator for their successful "Linda McCartneys Sixties" photo exhibit. He is currently heard on CBC radio Saturday mornings in a regular series entitled Made in Manitoba. John has published a number of music history books including biographies of Neil Young, Randy Bachman, Buffalo Springfield, John Kay & Steppenwolf, the Guess Who, the roots of California country rock, and two books chronicling Winnipeg and Manitoba music history. His current book, Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life of The Byrds Gene Clark (Backbeat Books) documents the life of the founding Byrd and folk-rock/country-rock pioneer. John recently wrote a TV documentary on folk music legend Buffy Sainte-Marie. He lives in Winnipeg with his family where he teaches history at a private university prep school. As a former consultant for the Manitoba Department of Education, John has written or contributed to several textbooks, teaching manuals and educational kits. He has been nominated for a national teaching award for bringing history to life in the classroom. Each year John organizes a popular rock n roll revue involving over one hundred students. Our interviewer, Steve Silberman, is a writer for Wired magazine. He also co-produced the Grateful Dead's box set So Many Roads (1965-1995), and his writing has appeared in many national magazines. He is also the author of liner notes for Crosby, Stills, and Nash's Greatest Hits, David Crosby and Graham Nash's Wind on the Water and Whistling Down the Wire, the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead and Europe '72, and other recordings.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 11:22
John and everyone, welcome! It is my pleasure to have John with us here to explore the career and the life of Gene Clark, who has been somewhat of a mystery even to hardcore Byrds fans. In many ways, as David Fricke of Rolling Stone put it, Gene was "the Great Lost Byrd." Certainly Roger McGuinn and David Crosby got more attention both in the Byrds and in their later careers than Gene did, and yet Gene was the primary architect of some of the Byrds' best early work, such as "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "She Don't Care About Time." John's book, Mr. Tambourine Man, is a wonderfully written and breathtakingly in-depth investigation of Gene's work. First off, John, could you please tell us how you were first introduced to Gene's music -- I assume through the Byrds? -- and what particular qualities in his music speak to your soul?
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 11:51
Hi Steve. It's great be here. Thanks. I've been a Gene Clark fan since purchasing that first Byrds album back in the summer of 1965 and followed his career through its various ups and downs. I have always regarded him as an amazing songwriter yet a troubled artist who never gained the recognition he truly deserved. What also appealed to me as a writer was the story to his life. Plenty of drama and human interest. I found his songs deeply introspective, more so than the other Byrds at the time, and felt he was by far the most adept songwriter in the group. I'm looking forward to a lively discussion about Gene's life and career. He remains a fascinating figure and an unsung hero.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 12:15
Thanks so much, John. For the readers out there who may not be as familiar with Gene's body of work, could you please suggest a "Gene Clark 101" list of suggested tracks? Also, to begin at the beginning, it's amazing to me that Gene's career began so dramatically with the New Christy Minstrels. I'm wondering if you could talk about that a bit, and how hitting the road with a successful pop group fresh out of the small town Gene grew up in might have laid the foundation for problems he had later, dealing with fame.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 15:55
Gene Clark's canon of recorded tracks, both released and unreleased (more about that as we explore Gene further) is quite impressive making it tough to pick a definitive "best of" list. Fans have their particular favourites, myself included, but for the novice start first with the Byrds' I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better, She Don't Care About Time, Set You Free This Time, and Eight Miles High (I know, I know, there are plenty more examples of Gene's Byrds best but these are as good a place as any to jump in). These represent Gene's evolution from your standard boy/girl/love themes to more minor key abstract Dylanesque poetry, something Gene excelled in. From his immediate post-Byrds solo career, Echoes remains definitive off his 1967 debut album Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers, a slice of Dylanesque alienation musing on being cut adrift from the Byrds. So You Say You Lost Your Baby is right up there, too. Both bear gorgeous Leon Russell arrangements. When Gene teamed up with Douglas Dillard in 1968 they created some of the finest early country rock (even before that phrase was coined) on their two albums (the first with future Eagle Bernie Leadon). From this teaming I would suggest With Care From Someone and Something's Wrong as well as the lush Why Not Your Baby. Solo once again, Gene's 1971 White Light album is a stark, minimalist folk masterpiece that remains on many critics' best of lists. From A Spanish Guitar and With Tomorrow are fine examples of Gene at his acoustic best. Although the sessions were scuttled before completion in 1972, Roadmaster (later released in the Netherlands) represents a return to country rock but with a more introspective lyric turn. Full Circle Song remains a standout along with In A Misty Morning, both backed by the finest of the LA country rock fraternity. I'm not as big a fan of the Byrds reunion album but his follow up solo effort, No Other (1974), was and remains Gene's high water mark for many fans despite the controversial garish cover. Here Gene's musings on life, fatherhood and family up in Mendocino find full embellishment under Tommy Kaye's elaborate arrangements. Strength of Strings, From A Silver Phial and Lady of the North are superb examples of the creative collaboration between Gene and Tommy (it's tough not to include every song on this album). Following the breakup of his marriage Gene poured his heart out in Two Sides To Every Story (1977). Past Addresses, Sister Moon and Silent Crusade are aching examples of Gene's melancholy heartache backed by more simple arrangements by Kaye. What followed next was a bit of a fallow period punctuated by the McGuinn, Clark & Hillman reunion in 1979-80 (not much to recommend there, in my opinion, other than perhaps I Won't Let You Down). Firebyrd in 1984 brought a bit of a comeback as a solo artist and boasted Gene's own magnificent tour de force rendition of Mr. Tambourine Man. Superb! Teaming with Carla Olson in 1987 for So Rebellious A Lover was a positive shot of energy for Gene's flagging career and standout tracks include Gypsy Rider, Del Gato (written with brother Rick), and a moving cover of the traditional Fair and Tender Ladies. I'm sure I've left out somebody's favourites (the mini-Byrds reunion in the studio in 71-72 yielded two terrific tracks: One In A Hundred and She's The Kind of Girl as well as Gene being backed by the Burritos on Here Tonight - all are worth searching out). And I haven't even mentioned the unreleased stuff! How's that for a long-winded "Gene Clark 101" lesson?
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 16:11
That's exactly what I was looking for, John, thanks so much. We're all going to have a good time hunting down and hearing those tracks. I just listened to "Something's Wrong" from the Dillard & Clark sessions on your advisement, and it really is an exquisite song, with a particular flavor of melancholy that is not like anyone else's. I know that the Byrds reunion album was considered a commercial failure as well as personally disappointing to the artists and a nightmare band interaction -- MUCH more on that later! -- but I do want to say that I have always loved Gene's Full Circle and Changing Heart from that record. Is that Gene singing lead on (See the Sky) About to Rain? (I confess with much hesitation that I rather like that record, even knowing what I know about it from reading your book. While a few of the cuts are obviously crap -- notably Born to Rock and Roll -- I think Cowgirl in the Sand turned out pretty beautifully. But more on that later.) OK, big question. You tell an amazing story about the first time that Gene heard the Beatles, which I'd like to ask you to retell here because I think a lot of people will relate to it. Please also expound a bit on the effect that the sudden popularity of the Beatles had on the folk scene that Gene came out of. Thanks.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 16:12
By the way, I invite all you readers out there in greater Webland to email me questions to ask John. Please put CLARK in the subject line to help me sort through the mail. Thanks so much!
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 16:25
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 17:01
Thanks Steve. To get back to your second question about Gene's sudden leap to the big time, as Kansas City Star reporter and book reviewer Brian Burnes termed it, being plucked from obscurity by the New Christy Minstrels was Genes Lana Turner story. How could he possibly turn it down? The Christys were the biggest thing in folk/pop music in the summer of 1963. If he had passed up the offer to join what future did he face? Working at a golf course tending greens? Becoming a mechanic or machine operator? (mention of him considering university in old stories are false) All the while singing in Kansas City clubs? This was his ticket out of a dead end life with no future. He didnt have to think twice. The other side of the coin, though, was that Gene was ill-prepared for life in the fast lane the constant touring and performing. Shy, introspective, he was nonetheless thrust into a highly competitive environment and expected to keep up with the other seasoned ensemble members all jostling for attention from the audience. He didnt last long with the Christys because he couldnt cope with the demands expected of him and, according to some ex-members, saw the writing on the wall and quit before he was fired. This same scenario would play out again in the Byrds. Chris Hillman always maintains that Gene would have been better off if he had stayed in Kansas, married his high school sweetheart, taken a regular job and written songs for himself. As unsuited as he was for fame, Im not sure Gene would have been satisfied with the simple rural life in Kansas.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 17:13
Yes, that's Gene singing on Neil Young's See The Sky About To Rain which is one of the standout tracks on what is generally regarded as a lacklustre album (odd, though, that the coda at the end of that track is markedly louder than the song for some reason - anyone else ever notice that? It leaps out at you). All the Byrds agree that Gene emerged the strongest on that album, and unlike Hillman or McGuinn, he wasn't saving his best songs for a solo album although he secured a solo deal on the strength of his contributions on the reunion album. Incidentally, CSNY drummer Johnny Barbata insists that he played on some of that album along with bass player Wilton Felder and that Neil also sang backup on some tracks (Gene also stated this in interviews). Gene discovering the Beatles is a cute story full of the innocence of the period. He was on the road through Canada with the Christy's when he heard the Beatles on the radio (keep in mind that the Beatles broke earlier in Canada than in the US) and was suitably smitten. Back in the US a few weeks later (this would be late February, 1964 after the Ed Sullivan appearance by the Fab Four)he chanced upon a jukebox in Virginia with She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand on it and kept popping coins in all night long trying to figure out what the Beatles magic was, listening intently and deconstructing each of the songs. He was hooked (along with several million others) and left the Christy's within days. He headed west to form a Beatles-type group and met McGuinn soon after at the Troubadour. But that's getting ahead. Oddly enough, the two initially intended on forming a Peter & Gordon/Chad & Jeremy duo before running into Crosby.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 17:20
Interesting that you mention the melancholy flavour of "Something's Wrong" by Dillard & Clark as the song represents Gene's longing for the simpler days when he and his brothers had the entire Swope Park greenspace in Kansas City as their own exclusive playground. Gene's childhood imagination was given free reign over the orchards, hills, rugged mountains and bramble brush of 1800 acres of wilderness at the time. We all look back longingly at the carefree days of our youth knowing that we can never recapture them again. Gene's brother David insists that this song says much about Gene and his upbringing as well as the lifestyle he found himself in by 1968.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 21 Apr 05 17:33
Those are great stories, John. I have also noticed that the See the Sky coda is not just louder than the song, but louder than the whole rest of the album. It has a strange effect -- as if an enormous silver guitar suddenly dropped from the clouds. Sometimes I enjoy the effect, and other times it leaves one wishing that the whole album sounded that vivid. But getting back to earlier in the chronology, you say: > Oddly enough, the two initially intended on forming a Peter & Gordon/Chad & Jeremy duo before running into Crosby. Until I read your book, I never realized how crucial Gene was to the early Byrds. He was, in a real sense onstage, their frontman, in part because he was an extremely handsome guy; in a much deeper sense, he was essential to laying the foundations of the Byrds' entire musical approach. I'd love it if you could tell us what elements Gene brought to the nascent Byrds. To put it another way, what would the Byrds have lacked if he hadn't been there?
John Einarson (johneinarson) Thu 21 Apr 05 18:58
While the Byrds are best known for giving birth to folk rock (although it could be argued that others had already experimented with a merging of folk with rock earlier), it wasn't really Gene who brought the folk element to the embryonic group. When Gene and Roger (Jim at the time) McGuinn first hooked up in what Roger believes was March 1964, Roger brought the folk element to the duo while Gene contributed the pop/commercial sensibility. Despite Gene's recent experience in the New Christy Minstrels, or perhaps because of it given their wholesome commercial folk appeal to all ages, Gene wasn't steeped in folk music the way Roger was having worked with Judy Collins and backing other performers in the folk idiom. It's important to make that distinction. Roger had the folk pedigree more than Gene. Gene wouldn't have been the one to suggest "The Bells of Rhymney" or "Turn! Turn! Turn!" But, on the other hand, Roger wouldn't have been the one to write "Here Without You" or "I Knew I'd Want You" which were less folk rock and more pop-oriented and British Invasion-influenced. It was a winning combination, obviously. Gene was already writing prolifically producing a dozen songs a week and the new group needed original material (listen to the Preflyte sessions: it's almost all Gene's songs - Crosby and McGuinn were barely writing then). Early demos of seven of those songs recorded by Jim Dickson that summer reveal Gene's songs as pop-oriented, not folk. He brought that to the table and that became part of the Byrds' magic combination. But with the success of "Mr. Tambourine Man", McGuinn became the voice of the Byrds and folk-rock, namely that characteristic jingle-jangle 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar and folk-oriented lyrics. Gene may have been the handsome one in the centre who drew the screams from the girls but record labels like to back a winner and to them McGuinn's voice and guitar became the distinctive sound of the Byrds. Thus began Gene's retreat from the group. What's amazing is that Gene was writing some of his best Byrds material by the time of the "Turn! Turn! Turn!" album yet being shut out of the writing, limited to only 3 songs while inferior tracks by McGuinn and Crosby were chosen over "She Don't Care About Time" and "The Day Walk". Go figure. What Gene brought to the original Byrds was, first and foremost, songwriting (he dominated their debut album and contributed the best songs to the second album) and a distinctive minor key melancholy sound, a visual presence, focus and appealing image onstage, and a unifying force (it was Gene, the others point out, who was insistent that the group carry on during the lean months before Tambourine Man). Also, Gene was a team player. He relinquished the rhythm guitar for the good of the group, relinquished the lead singer role for the good of the group, and was willing to relinquish his dominance of the songwriting again for the good of the group's internal harmony.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Fri 22 Apr 05 05:59
Further to "Gene Clark 101", a good place to start is the UK released 2-CD Gene Clark A&M/Universal compilation "Flying High" which covers the Byrds to Gene and Carla with selected tracks. Also, the Australian Raven Records single CD compilation "American Dreamer" is worth picking up, too. Both offer a solid introduction to Clark's body of work though will be imports over here and a little harder to find.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 22 Apr 05 08:04
Great stuff, John, thanks. I know what you mean about this: > a distinctive minor key melancholy sound Listening to "Here Without You" on The Preflyte Sessions, you can hear that sound nearly fully formed, and what a beautiful song it is. I will say though that I've heard some of Crosby's pre-Byrds demos from a couple of years earlier, and he was already groping toward that sound too; when he met Gene, Crosby must have felt he was a kindred musical spirit in that way, though I know they had their ego-battles that proved devastating to Gene's role in the group. "She Don't Care About Time" is a fantastic song. To get meta here for a moment, I want to ask you: Why do we still care about the Byrds? What accounts for their longevity in both the public imagination and the critical imagination (if that's not an oxymoron)? I've even heard several critics say that the Byrds was the last good band that Crosby was in, which is obviously uber-muso hipster hyperbole, but why is it that, in some ways, the Byrds seem less dated that some of CSN's stuff? And what was it about what Gene brought to the table in particular that have kept them sounding fresh after 40 years?
John Einarson (johneinarson) Fri 22 Apr 05 10:39
One of the unique features of the Byrds characteristic sound was David Crosbys harmonies that rode above Gene and Rogers often unison vocals. And the blending of Davids voice with Genes was quite special. Several of Genes Byrds songs feature these two voices together and David even stated to me that he loved singing Genes songs and blending his voice with Genes. Often its Davids harmony that creates the ethereal melancholy quality in Genes Byrds songs. I dont think David gets enough credit for his contributions to the Byrds distinctive sound. Certainly he added much to Genes tracks. One of the reasons for the Byrds longevity some 40 years on is the fact that they presented a fresh new left turn in pop music with their blending of folk lyrics - poetry and substance - with a British Invasion rock beat and presentation. Beat with brains. In doing so they forged a whole new subgenre, namely folk rock (a much-maligned term however one that nonetheless remains identifiable with a style and sound associated with the Byrds). Mr. Tambourine Man was poetry set to a rock beat (Roger claims its Dont Worry Baby). And that influence continues to be felt in pop/rock music today. The Byrds helped make pop/rock music more of an art form than merely boy/girl themes. They were innovators at a time of imitators. Another reason is that their songs have become touchstones to particular times and eras and just hearing the opening notes to Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn! or Eight Miles High can instantly conjure up images of the sixties. In addition, those songs resonate with a timely message still today. Manager Jim Dickson always cautioned the young Byrds to make music they will still be proud of 25 years later. In other words, music that has substance and can stand the test of time. Its 40 years later and that music remains in our consciousness. The message in Turn! Turn! Turn! is as relevant today as it was in 1965, sad to say. As latter day Byrd John York remarked, people will still be listening to Turn! Turn! Turn! long after were dead. An additional factor is, of course, the various Byrds members and the careers they carried on after the Byrds. Each has carved out their own unique place in music history and popular culture beyond the Byrds. Furthermore, there are so many artists today who continue to cite the Byrds as a seminal influence on them, such as REM for example. There is a direct line of influence from so many contemporary artists that traces back to the Byrds.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 22 Apr 05 11:22
Very well stated, John, thanks. The influence of Dylan on the Byrds was obvious, but what would you say was the influence of the Byrds on Dylan, and what role did Gene play in that?
John Einarson (johneinarson) Fri 22 Apr 05 11:35
According to Gene and Dylans mutual friend actor Jason Ronard, Dylan was asked Did you make Gene Clark famous? and he said, No, Gene Clark made me famous, and he meant the Byrds doing Mr. Tambourine Man because it encouraged Dylan to go electric. Dylan was also quoted back in the 60s as remarking that Gene Clark interested him more and more because of his songwriting. Gene was an unabashed Dylan acolyte in the mid to latter 60s, deeply influenced and inspired by Dylans poetry. But did Gene influence Dylan? Hard to say and Bob isnt doing many interviews.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 22 Apr 05 12:40
(note: offsite readers with comments or questions can send them to <email@example.com> to have them added to this conversation)
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 22 Apr 05 16:40
John, could you please talk about some of the pressures that were brought to bear on Gene in the Byrds, which finally resulted in his early departure from a very successful band?
John Einarson (johneinarson) Fri 22 Apr 05 17:08
The increasing demands on his time and the loss of any sense of privacy, anonymity, or independence coupled with fanatical adulation at every turn weighed heavily on 20 year old Gene Clark in the summer of 1965 as "Mr. Tambourine Man" became a worldwide phenomenon. Being cast alongside the Beatles and Rolling Stones and associating with them like rock dieties yet still feeling inadequately prepared or deserving of that elevation and attention contributed further to a tense situation. The media and fans hung on his every word as if he had all the answers and sycophants attended to his every whim. Added to that were the stresses and strains of the evolving relationships between the five members, the jealousies (Gene earned more money from songwriter royalties than the others), and the power plays within the group. The constant flying brought further stresses as he already had an aversion to that mode of travel. Drugs amplified these tensions and pressures for Gene (he experienced a bad trip, the others recall, that left an indelible scar on his delicate psyche). Quite simply, Gene was ill-prepared for the level of fame thrust upon him so quickly. Remember the Beatles and Stones had been together for a few years and 'paid their dues' in clubs struggling to work their way up whereas the Byrds played a couple of small gigs then Ciro's was their breakthrough followed by Tambourine Man, all in the space of 6 months (sure, theyd been together since late summer 1964 but didnt gig until much later). Its no wonder he freaked out by early 1966.
from JAMES DUSEWICZ (tnf) Sat 23 Apr 05 15:10
James Dusewicz writes: With so much published information out there on Gene Clark a part of the public record(since his days as A Byrd). Were you limited by your publishing company as to how many pages you could write? Sincerely, jimd firstname.lastname@example.org James Dusewicz
John Einarson (johneinarson) Sat 23 Apr 05 15:34
There actually isn't much out there published on Gene Clark. There is Johnny Rogan's big Byrds book and my earlier book on country rock (Desperados) has much on Gene but his story is largely a mystery (and what is out there is often shrouded in myth and misconception) until now. Obviously the publishers weren't able to put out a 500 page tome and the manuscript was long (hence the smaller print). We chose not to include a discography because we didn't want to shorten the text of the story in order to accommodate it. The book is more of a full biography of a life and career than a sessionography anyway. I would have liked more photos but we did 32 in the end. But I'll give credit to Backbeat Books for never coming to me and saying "You've got to chop it down." I think the story is allowed to develop effectively.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Sat 23 Apr 05 15:49
Incidentally, good to have you here, James. Nice to see some "Gene pool" people joining in. I have to commend the members of the Gene Clark internet list for all their support during the researching of the book. Many provided clippings, reviews, interviews, tapes and CDs. I couldn't have done it without you folks (and you are listed in the acknowledgements in gratitude). That's the great thing about the internet; you can meet like-minded people who share your tastes in music. There's a whole Gene Clark network out there.
John Einarson (johneinarson) Sat 23 Apr 05 15:57
Further to the "Gene pool" members, I've got to mention Pam Richardson's song "Tipton's Vein of Silver" written about Gene. My compadre Buddy Woodward suggested I listen to Pam's lyrics for possible inclusion in the book (good on ya, mate) and as soon as I heard Pam's moving tribute I knew it had to conclude the book, and it does so perfectly. Very moving (I've had people tell me they cried at the end). I'm honoured to have Pam's lyrics printed in the book. Thanks Pam. By the way, Pam's got a new CD coming out that's terrific.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Sat 23 Apr 05 16:40
This is a wonderful discussion. I am big 60's folk rock fan. John, thank you for sharing your insights into Gene and the Byrds. I am looking forward to further discussion and will ask some questions when the time is right. Steve, tftp.
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