BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles
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1954-1965 | 1965-1968 | Nashville West | 1968-1973 | NEXT PAGE

CLARENCE WHITE
With the Byrds and After, 1968-1973


Clarence White Discography

Clarence White Bibliography



Other four members:
Muleskinner was assembled by fiddler Richard Greene and consisted of Greene, guitarist Clarence White, mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist Peter Rowan and banjoist Bill Keith. All four have been leaders in the movement to extend the musical bounds of bluegrass, variously known as newgrass, jazzgrass, progressive bluegrass, or Dawg music.
These five were acquainted through a complex web of collaborations. Keith, Greene and Rowan were all in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the mid '60s, Greene and Rowan at the same time. Keith and Greene both spent time in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band. Grisman, who in the early '60s had played in the Even Dozen Jug Band with Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian, later played in rock band Earth Opera with Rowan. Rowan and Greene then played together in a country rock band, Seatrain, from 1969 to 1972.
By 1973, the time of Muleskinner, all five of the group's members were interested in combining bluegrass with material and playing techniques borrowed from jazz, rock, and various strains of world music. Keith had already introduced a radically new style of banjo playing he called "chromatic," that would prove influential in years to come.
The ties among these musicians continued after their Muleskinner project ended. Rowan, Grisman, and, on occasion, Greene all participated in Old and in the Way, another casual bluegrass group that also featured Vassar Clements on fiddle and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on banjo. Old and in the Way recorded a live LP for Rounder.
In 1974, Grisman and Greene played in yet another ad hoc band: the Great American Music Band aka the Great American String Band. Others who played at one time or another in this never-recorded combo include Garcia, Clements, and Taj Mahal.
Since the '70s, Keith, Greene and Rowan have released solo albums, with Rowan's veering toward western and cowboy music. (The Desert Rose Band recorded Rowan's song "Undying Love" in 1991.) Keith also became involved in the publication of Frets magazine.
Meanwhile, Grisman achieved considerable success with the musical gumbo he calls "Dawg music." In 1975, the David Grisman Quintet formed, featuring Tony Rice on guitar. The debut, The David Grisman Quintet (Kaleidescope, 1977) showed off full-fledged Dawg music for the first time, and sold a remarkable 80,000 copies. Since then, Grisman has released several albums with the Quintet or Quartet, with jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli, and solo. Other musicians who were later part of the Grisman Quintet include guitar and fiddle prodigy Mark O'Connor and bassist Rob Wasserman. Grisman remains a trailblazer among mandolin players.


Gram Parsons:
 Those present at Clarence White's funeral described Gram Parsons as being very depressed at the service. According to Chris Ethridge, Parsons told his minder and friend, Phil Kaufman, "Phil, if this happens to me, I don't want them doing this to me. You can take me out to the desert and burn me. I want to go out in a cloud of smoke."* Sadly, Kaufman was required to follow his friend's instructions only two months later.




To read about Clarence White's career from 1965 to 1968, see Clarence White Plugs In. 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.


WITH THE BYRDS

In July of 1968, the Byrds returned home from their disastrous tour of South Africa in support of Sweetheart. Gram Parsons had abandoned the tour in England, forcing McGuinn, Hillman and Kelley to tour without him. Roadie Carlos Bernal was actually pressed into service to replace Parsons on the South African gigs. The Byrds had to find a new guitarist before a gig at the Newport Pop Festival in late July, someone who could handle both their older rock material and the country sound of their brand new material. Hillman, eager that the band not abandon country, pushed for his friend White, and by late July White was an official part of the band. Nashville West dissolved without White, but by October White had succeeded in getting his old bandmate Gene Parsons added as the official drummer for the Byrds.
 As a full-fledged band member, White played on all Byrds albums from Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde in 1968 to Farther Along in 1971. His distinctive guitar work, both acoustic and electric, provides many of the best moments of this period in the Byrds' existence. Unfortunately, White's skills were rarely used to full advantage on these albums. Some good work was obscured by poor production on albums like Dr. Byrds and Byrdmaniax. Thankfully, the reissued versions of Dr. Byrds and Ballad of Easy Rider allow listeners to hear White's work more clearly.
 White had both the skill and the disposition to make himself indispensable to McGuinn, who might otherwise have been inclined to abandon country music completely (and White with it) after Hillman's departure. White's skillful playing and his affinity for the drumming of Gene Parsons helped make the later Byrds a powerful live act. White was the only full-time Byrd other than McGuinn by February 1973, when McGuinn finally dissolved the group. Other than McGuinn, no other Byrd had a longer tenure in the group.



Clarence White circa 1970.
Courtesy Sierra Records.


SESSION WORK: DON'T
GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB


During his four-and-a-half year stint with the Byrds, White kept a few other irons in the fire. He participated in various one-off reunions of the Kentucky Colonels. He also continued to do session work. Below is a list of albums (and a few non-LP singles) on which Clarence White is known to have appeared during and after his time with the Byrds. In a few cases the recording dates may have taken place shortly before White joined the Byrds.

   Christmas Spirit      "Christmas Is My Time of Year" / Will You
                            Still Believe in Me" / (White Whale, 1968)
   Linda Ronstadt        Hand Sown Home Grown (Capitol, 1969)
   The Everly Brothers   "I'm On My Way Home" / "Cuckoo Bird" (RCA, 1969)
   Arlo Guthrie          Running Down the Road (Reprise, 1969)
   Joe Cocker            Joe Cocker (A&M, 1969)
   Randy Newman          12 Songs (Reprise, 1969)
   Freddie Weller        Games People Play (Columbia, 1969)
   The Monkees           "Steam Engine" (outtake, Colgems, 1969)
   Phil Ochs             Greatest Hits (A&M, 1970)
   Sneaky Pete Kleinow,  Suite Steel (Elektra, 1970)
      Rusty Young,
      Red Rhodes,
      Jay Dee Maness,
      Buddy Emmons
   Joel Scott Hill,      L.A. Getaway (Atco, 1971)
      John Barbata,
      Chris Ethridge
   Jane Getz             Mother Hen (RCA, 1971)
   Rita Coolidge         Rita Coolidge (A&M, 1971)
   Marc Benno            Minnows (A&M, 1971)
   Paul Siebel           Jack Knife Gypsy (Elektra, 1971)
   The Everly Brothers   Stories We Could Tell (RCA, 1972)
   Arlo Guthrie          Hobo's Lullabye (Reprise, 1972)
   Jackson Browne        Jackson Browne (Asylum, 1972)
   Skip Battin           Skip Battin (Signpost, 1972)
   Gene Parsons          Kindling (Warner Bros., 1973)
   Arlo Guthrie          Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys (Reprise, 1973)
   Maria Muldaur         Maria Muldaur (Reprise, 1973)
   Country Gazette       Don't Give Up Your Day Job (United Artists, 1973)
   Gene Clark            Roadmaster (Ariola, 1973)
   Terry Melcher         Terry Melcher (Reprise, 1974)



Muleskinner.
Courtesy Sierra Records.


AFTER THE BYRDS: MULESKINNER, THE
NEW KENTUCKY COLONELS & SILVER METEOR


After the break-up of the Byrds in 1973, Clarence White was in great demand. In February of 1973, while the Columbia Byrds were winding down, White was one of the young musicians assembled as a one-off band to back Bill Monroe on a local TV show. Monroe's bus broke down, so the band played the gig without him. The result was a one-shot album, Muleskinner (Warner Bros., 1973), that showed off White's bluegrass licks. Muleskinner is now regarded as a milestone in the growth of progressive bluegrass, and each of the band's other four members -- Richard Greene, Bill Keith, Dave Grisman and Peter Rowan -- has become an important figure in that movement. Sierra has since reissued the LP on CD, and more recently also issued a CD and a video of the live performance, both called Muleskinner Live.


Muleskinner Live.
Courtesy Sierra Records.

 White further renewed his acquaintance with acoustic picking when he reunited with brothers Roland and Eric for a tour of Europe as the White Brothers (also called the New Kentucky Colonels). Herb Pedersen and then Alan Munde played banjo with the New Colonels. A show from Sweden formed the basis of The White Brothers: The New Kentucky Colonels Live in Sweden, 1973 (Rounder, 1977).
 Upon his return from Europe, White worked on tracks for a solo project. Four of these songs, finished but for the electric lead parts, emerged on Silver Meteor (Sierra, 1980). In June, the New Kentucky Colonels were part of a country rock road show, along with Country Gazette, Gene Parsons, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Chris Ethridge, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. White also served as the musical director for those shows.


FARTHER ALONG

A month later, on July 14, the Colonels played a gig near Palmdale, California. As the brothers were loading equipment into a car afterward, Clarence White was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Roland White dislocated his arm when he vainly attempted to pull Clarence out of harm's way; brother Eric also witnessed the accident.
 The funeral was held on July 19, 1973 at a Catholic church in Palmdale, California. After the priest performed the burial rites, Bernie Leadon and Gram Parsons began to sing "Farther Along." Soon many of the mourners joined in on the country gospel standard, which both the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers had recorded. Clarence White's standout track on the last Byrds album became his own epitaph.


FAREWELL BLUES

In more than one interview, Roger McGuinn has called Clarence White the best musician he ever worked with. Bluegrass musicians have praised White's touch, his tone, and his timing; his use of syncopation, his bluesy flourishes, and his unfailing precision. As an acoustic and as an electric guitarist, his leads were unfailingly inventive. With the Stringbender, White invented an entirely new sonic vocabulary for the guitar. "Clarence made it look like playing was the easiest thing in the world," said old friend Jerry Garcia. "He was special, the kind of guitar player who comes along once in a while."*
 Garcia's words are, if anything, an understatement. Few other guitarists can claim to have mastered acoustic bluegrass, electric country, and rock guitar. But Clarence White didn't just master those styles; he reinvented bluegrass guitar and influenced every "progressive bluegrass" player that followed. Then he taught himself to play James Burton-style country and rock on the electric and in short order was extracting steel licks from his Fender. Then, for good measure, he invented an entirely new vocabulary for the electric guitar using the Stringbender invented for him by Gene Parsons.
 "When we played together in the Byrds," recalled Gene Parsons, "Clarence was always experimenting with new licks. He'd leave these big holes -- these anticipated beats -- and he'd just kind of leave you hanging out in the middle of nowhere. And then all of a sudden he'd come up from underneath, in a totally unexpected place, and really stretch out. That's what was always exciting about his playing. He'd knock you right out of your seat."*.
 White's death at 29 left a void in the music world -- but it was also a deep personal loss for his friends. "Clarence was my best friend. You couldn't have met a more honest, really nice fellow," said Gene Parsons.* "I quit playing for two years after his death because he was such a big inspiration."*


KNOW MORE ABOUT IT

Nearly all of Clarence White's non-Byrds work is currently available on the Sierra Records label or through their catalog. Sierra is currently preparing for the release of a boxed set called From Bakersfield to Byrdland, which will feature 2 CDs with tracks ranging from White's work with the Country Boys right up through his solo work in '73. A video will also be included, the bulk of it being an episode of a guitar instruction program that featured White as a guest. Sierra also specializes in the work of Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, and Gene Parsons. Anyone interested in these artists should check out their website (temporarily offline as this is written but due back soon) at www.sierra-records.com. You can also write for the Sierra catalog at the following address:

 Sierra Records
 P.O. Box 5853
 Pasadena, California 91117-0853

You can also request their catalog by e-mail at sierra@sure.net.



Notes

"...[A] cloud of smoke." Fong-Torres, Hickory Wind at 191.

"He was special..." Delgatto, Frets at 58.

"...[R]ight out of your seat." Petreysik at 83.

"Clarence was my best friend." Petreysik at 83.

"I quit for two years..." Barenberg, Frets at 25.


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Band Members | Clarence White | 1968-1973

Welcome | News | LPs | History | Members | Spinoffs | Related | Reference | Sanctuary | About | NEXT SECTION

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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