BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles
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ARTISTS COVERED BY THE BYRDS

R - Z


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Jimmy Reed

Pete Seeger

Jules Shear

Merle Travis

Porter Wagoner

Doc Watson

Larry Williams





Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed, like so many other blues singers, migrated from Mississippi to Chicago after the war. In the '50s and early '60s he had a string of urban blues hits on the Vee Jay label that became hits on the R&B and even the pop charts. Those songs, including "You Don't Have to Go," "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby," "Honest I Do," "Baby, What You Want Me To Do," "Big Boss Man," and "Bright Lights, Big City," became cornerstones in the repertoire of the British blues revivalists like the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and Them.
"Baby What You Want Me To Do" has been covered by Elvis Presley, Neil Young and Them, among others; the Byrds did a version on Dr. Byrds.


Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was a contemporary of Woody Guthrie, who was for a time in the early '40s part of Seeger's group the Almanac Singers. As a member of the Weavers during the early '50s, Seeger enjoyed considerable commercial success with such songs as the Leadbelly tune "Goodnight Irene.
Although folk purists accused them of selling out by using overly-sweet arrangements (both before and after Seeger's 1957 departure from the group), the Weavers paved the way for the early '60s folk movement, in which McGuinn, Clark, Crosby, and Gram Parsons all began their musical careers. During his many years as a performer, Seeger wrote such folk standards as "If I Had A Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
Having come from the pioneering wartime generation of Guthrie and Leadbelly, and having paid dearly for his principles -- Seeger and the Weavers were black-listed in the mid '50s for their refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee -- Seeger was considered an elder statesman of the folk music world by the time the Byrds recorded "The Bells of Rhymney" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (Seeger also arranged "I Come and Stand at Every Door.") McGuinn cited Seeger as one of the biggest influences on his career, along with Elvis Presley and Bob Gibson, in the 1965 band profile "Life-Lines of the Byrds."
Seeger's current label has a site devoted to Pete Seeger's most recent release, and there is a fan site known as The Pete Seeger Appreciation Page.


Jules Shear

Jules Shear is a power pop performer and songwriter. He fronted Jules and the Polar Bears for two albums of well-written pop rock in the late '70s. He wrote "If We Never Meet Again" on McGuinn's Back from Rio (Arista, 1991).
Shear's first solo record, Watch Dog (EMI America, 1983) contained "All Through the Night," a hit for Cyndi Lauper, and "If She Knew What She Wants," a hit for the Bangles. Shear released several other albums, solo and with a new outfit, the Reckless Sleepers, without much success. He also served as host of MTV Unplugged during its first season, when the show was primarily a vehicle for alternative rockers.


Merle Travis

Though Merle Travis received a composer's credit for "I Am A Pilgrim" (covered by the Byrds on Sweetheart), "Pilgrim" is actually an old folk number. Travis learned the song from his mentor and neighbor, Mose Rager, who had heard it from a black singer whose name was unrecorded.
Today, Travis's version of the song can be heard on The Best of Merle Travis (Rhino, 1990), but it originally appeared on his classic album, Folk Songs of the Hills (Capitol, 1947), along with other traditional songs like "Nine Pound Hammer," and Travis originals that sounded every bit as timeless, like the haunting "Dark as a Dungeon" and "Sixteen Tons," which would be an enormous hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955. (Travis remade all four of those songs with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their landmark set, Will the Circle Be Unbroken (United Artists, 1972).)
Travis popularized a style of guitar playing that came to be known as "Travis picking," in which the index finger picked the melody on the treble strings while the thumb plucked a syncopated rhythm part on the bass strings. He learned his picking technique from Rager, another neighbor named Kennedy Jones, and a third neighbor, Ike Everly, the father of Phil and Don.
Other country guitarists like Chet Atkins adopted "Travis picking," as did early rockers like Elvis Presley's guitarist Scotty Moore and the Everly Brothers.
Travis had several other hits during the '40s and '50s, and a small part in the movie From Here to Eternity in 1953.
Like his contemporary Hank Williams before him and like Gram Parsons, whom he outlived by ten years, Travis was a troubled soul who sought refuge in alcohol and pills, with unfortunate consequences in his musical career and his personal life. He managed to shake these vices late in life, and died at age 66 in 1983.


Porter Wagoner

Porter Wagoner has been a major force in country music since 1955, when "Satisfied Mind" became his first hit, climbing all the way to Number 1. Both the Byrds and Gram Parsons and the Shilohs covered the song in 1965, and many others have done so since. That same year, Wagoner released standard, "The Green, Green Grass of Home," which has been covered by hundreds, including Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, and the Flying Burrito Brothers (on Sleepless Nights (A&M, 1976)).
Wagoner became a television personality in the '60s, and from 1968 to 1974 recorded many hit duets with Dolly Parton, who got her start with Wagoner's act. Wagoner now hosts Opry Backstage for TNN.


Doc Watson

Doc Watson was born in North Carolina in 1922. A proponent of old time mountain music, he developed a unique style of guitar playing, in which that instrument took the lead fiddle part. Before Doc Watson, the guitar had been primarily a rhythm instrument; Watson's style opened new vistas for young bluegrass musicians. Not least among these was Clarence White, upon whom Doc Watson was a profound influence.
Watson came to national attention in the early '60s, playing Greenwich Village folk clubs like Gerde's Folk City and concerts like the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. At the 1964 festival, Watson and Clarence White put on a guitar clinic together.
Watson's mobility had been limited by his blindness, but in the mid '60s his son Merle began to accompany him on rhythm guitar and drive him to gigs. Together the two Watsons have been a consistent draw on the bluegrass and folk circuit ever since.
The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers both covered songs associated with Watson in 1971. The Byrds did "Nothin' To It" on Earl Scruggs, His Family and Friends (Columbia, 1971), and the Burritos did "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" on Last of the Red Hot Burritos (A&M, 1972).
Soon after, Doc Watson played on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken (United Artists, 1972). Watson deserves a large share of the credit for the success of that effort. Doc and Merle Watson also recorded many albums for the Vanguard, Poppy and United Artists labels.
This is my favorite among the several sites devoted to Doc Watson.


Larry Williams

Larry Williams got his start playing piano for Lloyd Price at Specialty Records in the '50s. When Williams got a chance to record, he scored several hits, including "Short Fat Fannie" and "Bony Maronie." In 1959, he was arrested for possession of narcotics and dropped from Specialty.
In the early '60s, the Beatles drew attention to Williams by covering his songs, "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," "Bad Boy," and "Slow Down." Williams worked as a producer during these years.
In 1967, Larry Williams began a second career in a Sam and Dave- style duo with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. The two scored a minor hit in 1967 when they added lyrics to the Cannonball Adderley instrumental, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," written by Joe Zawinul. An album with Watson followed, Two for the Price of One (Okeh, 1967).
Williams returned to the underworld in the '70s, which may have had something to do with his apparent suicide in 1980.


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