BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles
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GENE CLARK
With the Gosdin Bros. & the Gene Clark Group: 1966-1968



Gene Clark Discography

Gene Clark Bibliography


A few days before:
It may seem odd that Columbia would release Clark's album at the exact same time as the new Byrds LP, since they would be competing for dollars from the same pool of fans. Remember, though, that this was one of the first "solo albums" of the post-Beatles rock era. In today's world of sophisticated marketing, few labels would allow such overlapping releases.

Much-covered:
"Tried So Hard" was covered by the Chris Hillman/Rick Roberts version of the Flying Burrito Brothers on The Flying Burrito Brothers (A&M, 1971). An earlier single version of the song included guest vocals by Clark rather than Roberts.
Two years before, in December of 1968, Fairport Convention had recorded the song for the BBC. That lovely version can be found on Heyday: BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69 (Hannibal, 1987). More recently, Yo La Tengo covered the song on Fakebook (Bar/None, 1990).

A similar fusion:
The similarities between Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers on the one hand, and Younger than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers on the other, are not just coincidence: Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, Clarence White and producer Gary Usher worked on both Clark's album and the two Byrds LPs.




To read about Gene Clark's role in the Byrds, see Gene Clark, With the Byrds: 1964-1966.


The Gene Clark Group v. 1.0

Clark retreated to Kansas City for some rest and relaxation, but before long had returned to LA. Upon his return, he assembled the Gene Clark Group, which included guitarist Bill Rinehart, formerly of the Leaves; bassist Chip Douglas, formerly of the Modern Folk Quartet; and drummer Joel Larson, later of the Merry-Go-Round and the Grass Roots. Clark had a significant backlog of songs from his days with the Byrds, and kept writing more. Columbia soon signed Clark as a solo artist, and Clark hit the studio that summer.
Clark also took part in the non-stop partying that characterized the LA music scene centered around Laurel Canyon. At one such party, Gene met Michelle Gilliam Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, just then riding high after the success of "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday." Gilliam was temporarily separated from chief Papa John Phillips (and ousted from the group) during the summer of 1966. Before she reconciled with her husband in August, she and Clark had a brief but ill-starred affair, revealed many years later in her autobiography.*


Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers

Clark was still managed by Jim Dickson and Eddie Tickner, the Byrds' managers. This pair also managed the Gosdin Brothers, who had been in the Hillmen with Chris Hillman before he left bluegrass for the Byrds. Vern and Rex Gosdin could sing harmonies and and were competent on a host of stringed instruments, having played in bluegrass groups since the '50s. Hillman and Mike Clarke were recruited as rhythm section. This core group was augmented by an eclectic assortment of musicians, including Rinehart and Douglas from the Gene Clark Group and some other prominent session men: guitarists Clarence White (who had backed the Gosdins on some singles for Bakersfield International), Jerry Cole, and Glen Campbell; banjo player Doug Dillard; drummer Earl Palmer; and keyboardists Leon Russell and Van Dyke Parks. CBS staff producers Larry Marks and, later, Gary Usher produced, with help from Russell and Dickson.
The first single from the album, "Echoes" / "I Found You", was released in December of 1966. "My inspirations [for the album], as I remember, were Rubber Soul and early Mamas and Papas," Clark observed*, and the single shows the influence of both groups. The A-side, arranged by Russell for 32-piece orchestra, is an example of the psychedelic baroque being introduced in 1966 by the Beatles (with a piano part that anticipates "I Am the Walrus"). The flip shows the influence of both groups: it's got pretty, close harmonies over a riff that sounds like the Beatles playing a blues figure. (Dig the "Taxman" reference in the intro and Hillman's terrific bass work.) The single was probably a year ahead of its time, and with little label support, it failed to chart.
The LP was released in February 1967, only a few days before the Byrds' fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday. Inevitably, Columbia's promotional muscle went to the band instead of its alumnus, and the album fared poorly. This was a shame, as it was a fine release with several strong tracks, including both sides of the single, "So You Say You Lost Your Baby," "Keep On Pushing," and best of all, the much-covered "Tried So Hard." In part because of the country credentials of the Gosdins, White, Dillard and Campbell, this album is often referred to as a "country rock" album. In fact, only "Tried So Hard" and "Keep On Pushing" could be categorized as country rock. But these songs are tied with Hillman's contemporaneous Younger Than Yesterday compositions as among the very first examples of that genre. Although Clark has credited Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band for pointing him in the direction of country rock, this album was released several months before the ISB hit LA in spring of '67; the ISB's album would not appear until early '68. Thus, Clark deserves independent credit for being one of the first rock musicians to reincorporate country music into rock.
The rest of the album is well-done Beatles pop ("Elevator Operator" with its "Paperback Writer" vocal break, "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" with its "Eleanor Rigby" strings), leavened with some fine but subdued country and bluegrass picking by White, Dillard and Campbell. It was an innovative album that paved the way for the next Byrds album, Notorious Byrd Brothers, which explored a similar fusion of rock, country, and orchestration.
Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers was known as Echoes in the UK, remixed and re-released as Early L.A. Sessions (Columbia, 1972), and included in its entirety as part of the CD compilation Echoes (Columbia/ Legacy, 1991).


The Gene Clark Group v. 2.0

After the album's release, Clark put together a second Gene Clark Group with Clarence White, a young bassist named John York who had played live behind the Mamas and the Papas, and session drummer Eddie Hoh. This version of the group was also short-lived, as Clark's unwillingness to fly limited the Group's appearances to Southern California.
During 1967, Clark recorded a number of other sessions which have yet to be released. He has referred in interviews to sessions with Leon Russell, with Gary Usher, and with Hugh Masekela for Columbia. We can only hope that the resolution of all legal issues connected with Clark's estate will clear the way for the release of some of this material.
Two Columbia tracks from that period have been released. In May of 1967, Clark went into the studio with psychedelic boy wonder Curt Boettcher to record two tracks for release as a single, "Only Colombe" and "The French Girl." Clark and Boettcher clashed over the recordings, but both tracks are worthy efforts that continue in the chamber pop tradition of "Echoes." For some reason they were shelved until 1991, when they appeared on Echoes. "The French Girl" is mislabeled as a Clark composition; in fact it's a cover of an Ian and Sylvia song.


The Byrds v. 3.0

After leaving the Byrds, Clark demonstrated real ambivalence about his former band. More than once, he turned up at Byrds concerts drunk and tried to get onstage with them. It wasn't so surprising that he would be interested in rejoining them.
Things had changed for both Clark and the Byrds by October of 1967. He and the band had both dispensed with the management services of Jim Dickson and Eddie Tickner, and had signed up with Larry Spector, who also represented Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. McGuinn and Hillman had just sacked David Crosby, midway through the recording of Notorious Byrd Brothers, so it made sense to bring back a proven songwriter who could play rhythm guitar and had some cachet with the band's fans and label -- especially since the last two Byrds singles had missed the Top 40 by a wide mark.
For his part, Clark's career had clearly stalled -- he had recorded only one unsuccessful album in the eighteen months since leaving the band. He convinced himself and the band that he could handle the responsibilities of Byrd-dom, now that their fan base had gone from millions of screaming teens to a few hundred thousand collegiate music buffs. He also insisted that he could control his fear of flying.
It seemed logical: they shared the same management and label, and they needed each other. Clark came back to the band in mid October. He didn't take part in any of the recording sessions then underway, but he played a number of live shows and appeared on The Smothers Brothers and another TV show called Groovy. Then, on a trip to Minneapolis, Clark panicked and refused to get on the flight to their next stop, New York. He took a train back to LA and promptly got himself trapped in an elevator for several hours. Along with his fear of flying, Clark had a fear of enclosed spaces, so this episode was the last straw in his very bad three-week experience with the Byrds. By early November he had left the group again.


Gene Clark Solo

By the beginning of 1968, Larry Marks had moved from Columbia to A&M. Marks had produced portions of Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, and persuaded A&M to sign Clark as a solo artist. With the help of a young LA musician named Laramy Smith, Clark recorded a dozen tracks for A&M in early '68. Sid Griffin is reportedly preparing a CD of previously unreleased Clark solo material which may include these '68 sessions.
In March of '68, Clark showed up drunk at a farewell party for Byrds publicist Derek Taylor. Clark got onstage with the Sweetheart Byrds and embarassed himself publicly. Following this setback, Clark took a few months to regroup. He was beginning to toy with the idea of exploring country music more fully.



The forthcoming Byrds History Section will discuss the activities of the Byrds at the time of Clark's brief reunion. To follow Clark's career in 1968, see Dillard & Clark. To pick up Clark's solo career after Dillard & Clark, see Gene Clark, the Solo Years: 1970-1973.



Notes

Michelle Phillips affair. Phillips at 84.

"My influences..." Griffin, Echoes at 6.


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Band Members | Gene Clark | 1966-1968

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