BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles
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Clarence White Discography

Clarence White Bibliography

Dylan's songs:
According to White, he heard the same demo as the original Byrds for "Mr. Tambourine Man" in about 1964: "I had gotten a demo of 'Tambourine Man' even before I guess Dylan had put it on record -- it was a demo that Bob Dylan and Jack Elliot made. And Vanguard and Folkways, labels like that, were interested in me doing a guitar instrumental album -- that's how I got a hold of material like that -- but most of the guys in the [Colonels] weren't interested in doing a song like 'Tambourine Man.' They were just more interested in doing straight, old time bluegrass music."*

For the story of the Kentucky Colonels, see Clarence White: The Kentucky Colonels.

You Don't Need A Weatherman To
Know Which Way the Wind Blows

Clarence White had always kept one ear cocked to music outside of bluegrass. Country pickers Don Reno and Joe Maphis, jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, and rocker Chuck Berry were all influences on his style. While his fellow Colonels were mostly interested in straight bluegrass, Clarence was ready to try something new. "It wasn't so much that I was getting bored with acoustic bluegrass," he explained later. "I could feel so many new things in the air. I wanted to get in the stream of a new kind of music that combined what you could call a 'folk integrity' with electric rock."*
 In a separate interview, White elaborated on this theme: "It wasn't so much getting bored with [bluegrass] as seeing something else coming along at that time -- as if it had reached a peak at that time and the only thing that could have happened was what happened -- electrifying folk music, or even electrifying bluegrass music, which could have still been called folk rock. But a lot of it had to do with the material, too -- Dylan's songs; everything was timed just right, I think. With his material and the Byrds -- all previously folk musicians -- it was just a great idea."*
 White purchased a '54 Fender Telecaster in 1965 and began learning to play it. He sought out and befriended such electric guitarists as country virtuoso Jimmy Bryant and rocker Duane Eddy. Most importantly, he got to know the man who would become an important influence at this stage: James Burton. Burton got his start with Ricky Nelson; indeed, Burton's rockabilly licks bolstered the teen idol's musical credibility considerably. In the early '60s, Burton earned a comfortable living as a session man on both country and rock records.
 White set out to become a session guitarist as well. He had to modify his touch with the right hand, get the hang of the tone and volume controls, and switch from open chording to doing fretwork with his left hand. Yet, before too long, he was dazzling listeners with his electric work. "I met him when he'd been playing the electric guitar about a year, and I was amazed at what he could do," remembered Gene Parsons. "He'd just taken the capo off it and was starting to learn to play barre chords up and down the neck. Once he pulled the capo off he really got down to it. He was bending strings all over the place and trying to make it sound like a steel guitar."*

Clarence White circa 1966.
Courtesy Sierra Records.

Session Work

White met Gene Parsons and his partner Gib Guilbeau on a session for the Gosdin Brothers in late '65 or early '66. Before long he was doing sessions with them regularly and playing with Parsons and Guilbeau as "Cajun Gib and Gene." In time the three became the house band for Gary Paxton's Bakersfield International label. The exploits of White, Parsons and Guilbeau are described in the Chapter devoted to Nashville West.

Trio and the Kentucky Colonels

White was also active outside his partnership with Parsons and Guilbeau. For a few months in 1966, he played in a country group called Trio with Roger Bush and Bart Haney. Nor had White completely abandoned either bluegrass or the acoustic guitar. In 1966 he played with brothers Roland and Eric in a new version of the Kentucky Colonels. Backing them up were Dennis Morris on rhythm guitar, Bob Warford on banjo, and at times Bobby Crane on fiddle. Some live shows from this period are captured on The Kentucky Colonels: 1965-1966 (Rounder, 1976) and The Kentucky Colonels featuring Clarence White (Rounder, 1980). Through Clarence's new friend Guilbeau, this version of the Colonels came to Paramount, California to cut a demo session in the studio of Dale Davis. These demos never secured the Colonels a record deal, but they were issued many years later on The Kentucky Colonels: 1966 (Shiloh, 1978). This group of Colonels played sporadically until 1967, when Clarence was offered a spot with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Clarence declined, but recommended Roland for the job. When Roland joined Monroe as a guitarist, the Colonels dissolved again.

Change Is Now: The Byrds
And The Gene Clark Group

In late 1966, Clarence White took part in two sets of sessions that would change his future dramatically. Chris Hillman called Clarence White to add guitar to the songs "Time Between" and "The Girl With No Name." Hillman and White had first met as teenagers when the Colonels played the same circuit as the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, Hillman's first group. They had the opportunity to meet again in 1966 when Hillman produced the first single by his former bandmates the Gosdin Brothers, on which White played guitar. White's playing on the Byrds sessions gave the two Hillman songs a more country feel than any previous Byrds number, and are among the earliest examples of country rock.
 Around the same time, both White, Hillman, and the Gosdins were also doing sessions for ex-Byrd Gene Clark's first solo album. Those tracks, also among the earliest country rock songs, appeared on Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (Columbia, 1967). In the spring of 1967, White gigged around LA briefly with the second version of the Gene Clark Group -- which also included future Byrds bassist John York.
 During this period, White played on a few other important sessions, including Rick Nelson's Country Fever (Decca, 1967); Pat Boone's Departure (Tetragrammaton, 1968); and Johnny Darrell's California Stop-Over (United Artists, 1968).
 In November of '67, White played on sessions for Notorious Byrd Brothers, adding his distinctive guitar to "Change Is Now," "Wasn't Born to Follow," and "Get to You." In April and May of 1968, White was one of several session musicians to play on Sweetheart of the Rodeo. His playing can be heard on "The Christian Life," "Blue Canadian Rockies," and "One Hundred Years From Now." Unbeknownst to either White or the Byrds, he would be a full-fledged band member in just a few short months.

Clarence White's work with Gene Parsons in Cajun Gib and Gene, as a session man, and in Nashville West, is treated in the Chapter on Nashville West. White's tenure in the Byrds will be chronicled in detail in the forthcoming Byrds History Section. The next Page, Clarence White: With the Byrds and After, 1968-1973 addresses his role in the band, his Byrds-era sessions, and his work after the group's demise.


"Folk integrity..." Delgatto, Frets at 14.

"...[I]t was just a great idea." "Clarence White Remembered" at 27.

"Mr. Tambourine Man." "Clarence White Remembered" at 26.

"I was amazed..." Sievert at 20.

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Band Members | Clarence White | 1965-1968

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McGuinn | Clark | Crosby | Hillman | Clarke | Kelley | Gram Parsons | White | Gene Parsons | York | Battin | NEXT CHAPTER

1954-1965 | 1965-1968 | Nashville West | 1968-1973 | NEXT PAGE

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