The Byrds  

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The Byrds were an American rock band. Formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964, The Byrds underwent several lineup changes, with frontman Roger McGuinn remaining the sole consistent member until the group's disbandment in 1973.

Their trademark songs include covers of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "My Back Pages" and Pete Seeger’s "Turn! Turn! Turn!", as well as the originals "I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Eight Miles High" and "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star."

The Byrds were popular and influential during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band melded the British Invasion sound with elements of contemporary folk and pop music. They also helped forge such subgenres as folk rock, space rock, raga rock, psychedelic rock, jangle pop, and –- on their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which featured Gram Parsons –- country rock.

In 1991 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them #45 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Several band members went on to successful solo careers after leaving the group.



Folk rock

Inspired by the success of the Beatles, Roger McGuinn had been playing Beatles songs acoustically in Los Angeles folk clubs when Gene Clark approached him to form a duo. David Crosby joined them in a group they called the Jet Set, and they were joined by drummer Michael Clarke and mandolin-player-turned-bassist Chris Hillman in a band they named The Beefeaters. In November 1964 the group signed to Columbia Records and a few days later renamed themselves The Byrds.

On January 20, 1965, The Byrds recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man", a Bob Dylan song given the full electric treatment, and effectively created folk rock. McGuinn's jangling, highly melodic guitar playing (using a 12-string, heavily compressed Rickenbacker for its extremely bright tone) was immediately influential and has remained so to the present day. The group's complex harmony work became the other major characteristic of their sound (McGuinn and Clark alternating between unison singing and harmony, with Crosby providing the high harmony). Released in June 1965 after a long delay, this debut single reached #1 on the U.S. charts and repeated the feat in the U.K. shortly thereafter. At the same time, The Byrds' debut album Mr. Tambourine Man was released, reaching #6 in the U.S. and #7 in the U.K. The album mixed reworkings of folk songs (most notably Pete Seeger's "The Bells Of Rhymney") with several more Dylan covers in addition to the band's own compositions, mainly written by Gene Clark.

Since the band had not yet completely jelled in January, McGuinn was the only Byrd to play on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its B-side, "I Knew I'd Want You". Rather than using band members, producer Terry Melcher hired The Wrecking Crew, a collection of top session men including Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Leon Russell, who provided the backing track over which McGuinn added lead guitar and lead vocal while Crosby and Clark sang harmony. By the time the album sessions started, Melcher was satisfied that the rest of the band was competent to record, and they played on all the remaining tracks.

The group's follow-up single was another interpretation of a Dylan song, "All I Really Want To Do". Unfortunately for The Byrds, Cher simultaneously released her own version to greater commercial success. Even though they had recorded Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" as their prospective third single (it was played on the California radio station KFWB), The Byrds instead quickly recorded "Turn! Turn! Turn!", a Pete Seeger adaptation of a traditional melody, with some lyrics taken directly from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, and the song became the group's second U.S. #1 single, headlining their second album (also titled Turn! Turn! Turn!).

As with their debut, this album was characterized by harmony vocals and McGuinn's distinctive guitar sound, highlighted by Terry Melcher's bright-sounding production. This time they featured more of their own compositions and now had a major songwriter in Gene Clark; his songs from this period, including "The World Turns All Around Her", "She Don't Care About Time", "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" and "Set You Free This Time", are widely regarded as amongst the best of the folk-rock genre.


By the end of 1965 the band had tired of the pure folk-rock sound and began to experiment. On December 22, 1965 they recorded "Eight Miles High", generally considered the first full-blown psychedelic recording (although many contemporaneous groups, notably The Yardbirds, were moving in a similar direction). It was widely regarded as a "drug" song (despite its lyrics actually describing an airplane flight and a concert tour of England), and its relatively modest success (US #14, UK #24) has been attributed to the resulting airplay bans by some radio stations (though the unfamiliar and slightly uncommercial sound of the track is another possible factor). While the groundbreaking lead guitar work was actually an attempt by McGuinn to replicate the free jazz saxophone style of John Coltrane, the record was often referred to as "raga rock". (In fact, it was the B-side "Why?" which drew more directly on Indian raga influences.)

Gene Clark left the band in March 1966, partly due to a fear of flying which made it impossible for him to keep up with the band's itinerary. Clark had witnessed a fatal airplane crash as a youth, had a panic attack on a plane in Los Angeles bound for New York and refused to board. McGuinn told him, "You can't be a Byrd, Gene, if you can't fly." Clark was subsequently signed by Columbia as a solo artist and went on to forge a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful body of work.

The Byrds' third album, Fifth Dimension (5D), released in July 1966, built on the new sound the band had created, McGuinn extending his exploration of jazz and raga styles on tracks such as "I See You" and Crosby's "What's Happening?!?!", respectively. The campaign in U.S. radio to clamp down on "drug songs" affected several of the tracks, including "Eight Miles High" and "5D," and limited the album's commercial success (#24 US).

Allegedly irritated by the overnight success of manufactured groups such as The Monkees, the group next recorded the satirical and slightly bitter dig at the music business, "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star", which again broke new ground musically, featuring a trumpet part played by the South African musician Hugh Masekela. The song, written by McGuinn and Hillman, achieved modest success as a single and also led off their fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday. (It is now regarded as a rock classic.) The LP was more varied than its predecessor and has been widely praised for tracks such as Crosby's sinister ballad "Everybody's Been Burned", a cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages" (later released as a single), and a quartet of Chris Hillman numbers which showed the bassist emerging fully formed as a country-oriented songwriter ("Have You Seen Her Face", "Time Between", "Thoughts And Words", "The Girl With No Name").

Lineup changes

By 1967 there was increasing tension between the band members, McGuinn and Hillman becoming irritated by what they saw as Crosby's overbearing egotism and his attempts to jockey for control of the band. In June, when The Byrds performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, Crosby sang the majority of lead vocals, and to the intense annoyance of the other members gave lengthy speeches between every song on the JFK assassination and the benefits of giving LSD to "every man, woman and child in the country." He further irritated the band by performing with rival band Buffalo Springfield, filling in for Neil Young. His stock within the band deteriorated even more following the commercial failure of his first A-side song, "Lady Friend", released in July (US #82). In October, during the recording of the fifth Byrds album, Crosby refused to participate in taping the Goffin-King number "Goin' Back" in preference to his own "Triad", a controversial song about a ménage à trois.

The simmering tensions within the band finally erupted and in 1967, with an in-studio argument between Crosby and Clarke. In the middle of the argument, McGuinn and Hillman also picked on Clarke; Clarke angrily quit, with session drummer Jim Gordon replacing him for the remainder of the album. When the group went to record Goin' Back, Crosby refused to participate, considering the song to be inferior. Fed up, McGuinn and Hillman fired Crosby. (Crosby subsequently received a considerable cash settlement and soon after began working with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, forming the hugely successful supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash.) Gene Clark briefly rejoined The Byrds as substitute, but left three weeks later after again refusing to board an aircraft while on tour. Byrds historians disagree on whether or not Clark participated in the recording sessions for the upcoming album. On the final album, Crosby and Clarke both ended up playing on several tracks each. The bluegrass guitarist and future Byrd Clarence White, who had also played on Younger Than Yesterday, contributed significantly on the tracks "Wasn't Born to Follow" (later included on the Easy Rider soundtrack) and "Change is Now."

The resulting album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was released in January 1968, and despite its troubled genesis contains some of the band's gentlest, most ethereal music. The record mixed folk rock, country, psychedelia and jazz, often within a single song, and attempted to deal with many contemporary themes such as peace, ecology, freedom, drug use, alienation and mankind's place in the universe. Over the years The Notorious Byrd Brothers has gained in reputation, while the contentious incidents surrounding its making have largely been forgotten.

Now reduced to a duo, The Byrds quickly recruited Hillman's cousin Kevin Kelley as drummer and the band went out on tour in support of The Notorious Byrd Brothers as a trio. After realizing that the trio arrangement wasn't going to work, McGuinn and Hillman, in a fateful decision for their future career direction, hired Gram Parsons, originally to play keyboards (he later moved to guitar). Hillman was an excellent mandolin player and had played in several notable bluegrass bands, and soon he and Parsons persuaded McGuinn to change direction again and take up a musical style in which The Byrds had previously only dabbled - country music.

Country rock

On February 15, 1968, The Byrds played at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the first group of longhairs ever to do so, and immediately started recording their next album in a wholly country style, with Parsons choosing and singing many of the songs. However, on July 29, Parsons quit the band just before they flew to South Africa, stating that he refused to play to segregated audiences. At the same time, Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released with many of Parsons' lead vocals being replaced by either McGuinn or Hillman due to legal problems with Parsons' previous record company. The album was commercially unsuccessful (US #77), but contained the yearning Parsons song which has become a standard, "Hickory Wind", as well as a couple of Dylan tunes from his then-unreleased Basement Tapes collection, and more traditional songs from such unlikely rock and roll sources as The Louvin Brothers ("The Christian Life"). Sweetheart of the Rodeo is often described as the first country-rock album to be released by a major rock band, coming six months before Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline. (The first country-rock album was arguably released by Parson's International Submarine Band on the same indie record label that later created legal problems for Parsons with The Byrds.)

After Parsons' departure, McGuinn and Hillman hired guitarist Clarence White, who had played on a few tracks of every Byrds album since Younger Than Yesterday. The new lineup had only been together for a very short time when White persuaded McGuinn and Hillman to replace Kevin Kelley with Gene Parsons (no relationship to Gram Parsons), who had played with White in Nashville West, another pioneering country-rock band. This new lineup played two shows together in October before Hillman quit to join Gram Parsons in creating the Flying Burrito Brothers. McGuinn, now the only original Byrd left, hired bassist John York (who had been working in the Sir Douglas Quintet) to replace Hillman, and the resulting quartet recorded the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album and released it in February 1969 to poor U.S. sales and moderate U.K. success.

In July 1969 The Byrds were the headliner of the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City's Central Park, along with Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and Patti LaBelle. They appeared at the festival again in 1970 and 1971.

In October 1969 the band released the Ballad Of Easy Rider album. The single from the album was "Jesus Is Just Alright", which in a similar arrangement became a hit for The Doobie Brothers four years later. During those recording sessions the group also recorded a version of Jackson Browne's "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood", but it remained unreleased for some twenty years. The title track was composed by McGuinn (expanding on a verse line written by Bob Dylan) as the music theme for the 1969 hippie movie Easy Rider, and both album and single sold well off the back of the movie's huge success. By the time the album was released, John York had left the band because his girlfriend objected to his going out on the road. He was replaced by bassist Skip Battin, who had some chart success in 1959 as half of the duo Skip & Flip.

In 1970 The Byrds released the double album (Untitled), which charted well in the U.K. and acceptably in the U.S. (Untitled) featured one disc of live recordings and one of studio performances such as "Chestnut Mare", "All The Things" and "Lover of the Bayou". It also included a 16-minute live version of "Eight Miles High".

In 1971 they released Byrdmaniax, which was a commercial and critical disappointment, largely due to inappropriate orchestration which was added by producer Terry Melcher to many tracks on the album without the band's approval. Also in 1971 came the release of Farther Along. The title track of that album, sung by Clarence White with the rest of the group harmonizing, would became a prophetic epitaph for both White and Gram Parsons. In July 1973, White was killed by a motor vehicle while he was loading equipment after a gig in Palmdale, California. Soon afterwards, Gram Parsons died as a result of an overdose of morphine and alcohol, in the Joshua Tree Motel, also in California.

On May 13th, 1971 the Byrds lineup of Roger McGuinn, Gene Parsons, Clarence White and Skip Battin appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall, to critical acclaim. The full concert, including a number of encores, was issued in 2008 on CD for the first time.

McGuinn toured with the Byrds through 1972, with L.A. session drummer John Guerin replacing Gene Parsons. Two Byrds recordings exist with this lineup: live versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Roll Over Beethoven", recorded for the soundtrack to the movie Banjoman. The final recording sessions involving all four of the latter-day Columbia Byrds were for Skip Battin's 1972 album, Skip; Guerin was on drums. McGuinn appeared on only one track, "Captain Video" - evidently Battin's tribute to his erstwhile employer.

Skip Battin and John Guerin either quit or were fired after the February 10, 1973 show in Ithaca, New York, and were replaced by Chris Hillman and Joe Lala, respectively, for The Byrds' final two shows on February 23 (Burlington, Vermont) and 24 (Passaic, New Jersey).

Reunions (1973–1990)

The five original Byrds all briefly reunited in late 1972 (while McGuinn was still on tour with the CBS version of the Byrds) to cut the reunion album Byrds. The album came out in March 1973, less than a month after the Columbia version of the Byrds played their final show. The album garnered mixed reviews, and a planned tour with the original five Byrds to support it never materialized.

In the late '70s McGuinn, Clark and Hillman worked on and off as a trio (modelled on CSNY and, to a lesser extent, The Eagles), touring and recording two albums, and scoring a top 40 hit ("Don't You Write Her Off") in 1978. Some of the earlier and later live shows were advertised by unscrupulous promoters as Byrds reunions. By 1979 Clark had departed and the two others recorded an album as McGuinn-Hillman.

In the late 1980s there were disputes over which members owned the rights to the "Byrds" name. Clarke and Clark toured separately under The Byrds name at that time, and from 1989 through most of 1993 Michael Clarke toured occasionally as "The Byrds Featuring Michael Clarke" with former Byrd Skip Battin and newcomers Terry Jones Rogers and Jerry Sorn. To solidify their claim to the name and prevent any non-original members from using it, McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby staged a series of Byrds reunion concerts in 1989 and 1990, including a famous performance at a Roy Orbison tribute concert where they were joined by Bob Dylan for Mr. Tambourine Man. These shows led to McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby recording four new studio tracks for the boxed set The Byrds in 1990. During that year, a legal action against Clarke and his booking agent failed, a judge ruling that Clarke's group had toured successfully. Eventually, a settlement was reached, preventing any entity not including McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby from using the name "Byrds".

The Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. The original lineup of Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn was honored at this induction. Gene Clark died later that year, and two years later Michael Clarke succumbed to liver disease brought on by alcoholism.

Though both Hillman and Crosby have expressed an interest in working with McGuinn again on future Byrds projects, no such reunion has occurred and all three have successful individual careers.


  • Roger McGuinn – guitar, vocals (1964–1973)
  • Gene Clark – tambourine, guitar, vocals, harmonica (1964–1966, 1967, 1973)
  • David Crosby – guitar, vocals (1964–1967, 1973)
  • Chris Hillman – bass, vocals (1964–1968, 1972-1973)
  • Michael Clarke – drums (1964–1968, 1973)
  • Kevin Kelley - drums (1968)
  • Gram Parsons – guitar, piano, vocals (1968)
  • Clarence White - guitar, vocals (1968–1973)
  • John York – bass, vocals (1968–1969)
  • Gene Parsons – drums, vocals (1968–1972)
  • Skip Battin – bass, vocals (1969–1972)
  • John Guerin – drums (1972–1973)
  • Joe Lala - drums (1973)


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Byrds" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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