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The Byrds

The Byrds

Origin Los Angeles, California
Country United States
Years active 1964-1973
Genre(s) folk rock
space rock
psychedelic rock jangle pop
country rock
Label(s) Columbia records
Members Roger McGuinn
David Crosby
Gene Clark
Chris Hillman
Michael Clarke
Keven Kelley
Gram Parsons
Clarence White
Gene Parsons
John York
Skip Battin
John Guerin

The Byrds (formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1964) was an American rock group.

Bridging the gap between the socially and spiritually conscious folk music of Bob Dylan and the fresh sounding hybrid pop of The Beatles, The Byrds are widely considered to have been one of the most important and influential bands of the 1960s. Throughout their career, they helped forge such subgenres as folk rock, space rock, raga rock, psychedelic rock, jangle pop, and - on their 1968 classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo - country rock. After several line-up changes (with lead singer/guitarist Roger McGuinn as the only consistent member), they broke up in 1973.

Some of their trademark songs include pop covers of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn," and the originals "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", and "Eight Miles High."

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several band members have launched successful solo careers after leaving the group.


The Byrds were founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1964 by singers and guitarists Jim McGuinn (born James McGuinn III, July 13, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois) (he later changed his name to Roger McGuinn), Gene Clark (born Harold Eugene Clark, Nov.17, 1944 in Tipton, Missouri; died May 24, 1991), and David Crosby (born David Van Cortland Crosby, Aug. 14, 1941, in Los Angeles). Bassist Chris Hillman (born Dec. 4, 1944 in Los Angeles) and drummer Michael Clarke (born Michael Dick, June 3, 1946, in NYC; died Dec. 19, 1993) joined soon after.

McGuinn had been in a series of folk outfits including the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio before working in NYC in 1962-63 as a songwriter for Bobby Darin. He'd journeyed to L.A. in late 1963 and began gigging at clubs such as the Troubadour but, after hearing The Beatles for the first time, he resolved to take "Lennon and Dylan and mix them together".

Gene Clark, who'd been in The New Christy Minstrels, briefly joined McGuinn in a duo playing at The Folk Den before Crosby, who'd performed with Les Baxter's Balladeers, persuaded them to let him join. The newly-formed trio recorded a song, "The Only Girl I Adore", soon after naming themselves The Jet Set. As such they cut a couple of numbers, "You Movin' " and "The Only Girl". They then hired Michael Clarke (who had the right look for the part) to join on drums. Bluegrass mandolin virtuoso Hillman, who'd played with the Scotsville Squirrel Barkers, the Golden State Boys, and the Hillmen, completed the quintet.

Elektra Records recorded some demos with the band and released a single, "Please Let Me Love You", under the name The Beefeaters. Years later, these demos were released as Preflyte and even made the lower reaches of the album charts.

In November, 1964, the band signed to Columbia Records and a few days later renamed themselves The Byrds. On January 20, 1965 they recorded "Mr Tambourine Man", a Bob Dylan song that they gave the electric treatment to and at a single stroke created Folk-Rock. McGuinn's guitar-sound (played on a 12-string, heavily compressed Rickenbacker) with its jangling melodicism, was immediately influential and has remained so to the present day. In June, the song reached #1 on the US charts and a month later repeated the feat in the UK. At the same time, their debut album Mr Tambourine Man was released and virtually provided the template for the entire folk-rock movement.

The group's follow-up single was another distinctive interpretation of a Dylan song, "All I Really Want To Do". Unfortunately for them, Cher released her version just before their's and she received the greater commercial success.

The Byrds then proceeded to record "Turn, Turn, Turn", a Pete Seeger adaptation of a traditional melody, with some lyrics taken directly from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song became the group's second US #1 single and headlined their second album, also titled "Turn Turn Turn". McGuinn's distinctive 12-string guitar work plus their impeccable vocal harmonies produced the group's widely recognised signature sound. Their first two albums benefited from a bright-sounding production by Terry Melcher who was also known for his work on Paul Revere and the Raiders albums. The Byrds also performed their own compositions and in Gene Clark included a major songwriter; his songs include "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."

By the end of 1965, the band were moving away from the simple folk-rock that they had pioneered into more abstruse territory. On Dec.22, 1965, they made their original recording of "Eight Miles High", possibly the first fully-blown psychedelic recording (although contemporaneous efforts by The Yardbirds were in a similar vein). The song was widely regarded as a "drug" song (although the band deny this) and its relatively modest success when a re-recording was released as a single (US # 14) has been attributed to the resulting airplay bans on some radio-stations. Gene Clark, who had provided the melody and the majority of the song's lyrics, left the band in March 1966, partly due to a fear of flying but also because he wanted to go solo. He was signed by Columbia and formed the short lived Gene Clark Group.

The Byrds' third album, Fifth Dimension (5D), released in July 1966, wasn't as overtly psychedelic as might have been expected from its name, but it provided further evidence that The Byrds weren't content to churn out endless reruns of "Mr Tambourine Man". Although slightly diminished by the inclusion of some substandard and atypical material, "5D" contained much adventurous and memorable music thus rendering it a landmark work. Unfortunately, the US radio anti-drug movement had branded several of the tracks such as "8 Miles High" and "5D" as "drug songs" and this move undoubtedly limited the album's commercial success (#24 US).

Patently irritated by the manufactured, overnight success of the uncontroversial Monkees, they then recorded a satirical dig at the music business - "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star". The song achieved modest success as a single and also kicked off their fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday. In some quarters, this is regarded as their best album. While it does contain some of their loveliest compositions, including the Crosby piece "Everybody's Been Burned", Dylan's "My Back Pages" and a quartet of Chris Hillman classics ("Have You Seen Her Face", "Time Between", "Thoughts And Words, "The Girl With No Name"), it also features Crosby's indulgent and jarring "Mind Gardens" and McGuinn's novelty "CTA-102".

In June 1967, Crosby accompanied rival band The Buffalo Springfield on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival and proceeded to utter both pro-drug and JFK assassination conspiracy statements, to the annoyance of the other Byrds. In October, during the recording of their fifth album, Crosby refused to participate in taping a Goffin-King number "Goin' Back" in preference to his more controversial "Triad". The simmering tensions within the band finally errupted and the other group members fired Crosby, who subsequently received a considerable cash settlement. Gene Clark briefly rejoined but left after a mere three weeks after refusing to board an aircraft while on tour. Michael Clarke also quit during these sessions, mainly due to disputes with Crosby during the recording of "Dolphin's Smile". Studio drummer Jim Gordon was drafted in to complete his parts. The superb bluegrass guitarist Clarence White contributed significantly on several tracks and soon became a permanent band member.

The resulting album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was released in Jan. 1968 and contains some of the band's most ethereal music. Most of the tracks mixed folk-rock, country, psychedelia and jazz to produce an eclectic opus which dealt with many contemporary themes such as peace, ecology, freedom, drug use, alienation, relationships 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.

The Byrds were now a duo but quickly recruited Hillman's cousin, Kevin Kelley, as drummer and then, in a fateful decision for their future career-direction, hired Gram Parsons to play keyboards. With the aid of Hillman, Parsons persuaded McGuinn to take the Byrds into a territory they'd only sporadically covered before - Country-Rock.

The Byrds had virtually invented Folk-Rock three years earlier. Now, remarkably, they were involved in the genesis of yet another genre. On Feb. 15, 1968 they 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 because he refused to play to segregated audiences. At the same time, Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released, in their new country vein, but most of Parson's vocals were replaced by either McGuinn or Hillman because of legal problems with Parson's previous record company. The album was commercially unsuccessful but contains the yearning Parsons classic, "Hickory Wind", a couple of Dylan tunes from "The Basement Tapes", as well as songs from such unlikely sources as The Louvin Brothers ("The Christian Life"). It's often cited (somewhat dubiously) as the first Country-Rock Album but is certainly the first by a "name" band.

Hillman left in October to join Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Kelley also quit at this time and McGuinn was left on his own. He hired virtuoso guitarist Clarence White who recommended Gene Parsons to play drums and John York to join on bass. The resulting quartet recorded another Country-Rock album, Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde, and released it in Feb. 1969 to poor US sales and great UK success.

In October 1969 came Ballad of Easy Rider. "Jesus Is Just Alright" from that album was issued as a single and, in a similar arrangement became a hit for The Doobie Brothers, four years later. The group also recorded an excellent version of Jackson Browne's "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood" during the recording sessions 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 movie Easy Rider and is recognized as one of their most affecting performances.

In 1970, The Byrds released the double album "Untitled" which charted well in the UK and acceptably in the US. "Untitled" was a combination of studio and live performances and produced such excellent tracks as "Chestnut Mare" and "Lover of the Bayou".

1971 yielded "Birdmaniax" which was a commercial and critical disappointment.

1972 was the final year of the country rock Byrds combo when McGuinn decided to terminate the arrangement. Their farewell album was the generally inconsequential "Farther Along" whose traditional gospel title track became a prophetically fitting tribute to Clarence White and Gram Parsons.

McGuinn, Clark, Clarke, Crosby, and Hillman all briefly reunited, in late 1972, to cut the anti-climactic reunion album Byrds before the group was officially dissolved by McGuinn in 1973.

Tragically, in July 1973, Clarence White was killed by a motor vehicle while he was loading equipment after a gig in Palmsdale, California. Soon afterwards, Gram Parsons died, as a result of a heroin overdose, in the Joshua Tree Motel, California.

Subsequently, there were disputes over which members owned the rights to the "Byrds" name in the late 1980s. Clarke and Clark toured under The Byrds' name at that time, and from 1989 through most of 1993 Clarke toured occasionally as "The Byrds Featuring Michael Clarke" with former Byrd Skip Battin along with newcomers Terry Jones Rogers and Jerry Sorn. To soldify their claim to the name and prevent any non-original members from using the name, 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, the 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 band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Gene Clark died later that year and, two years later, Michael Clarke succumbed to liver disease brought on by alchoholism.

Though both Hillman and Crosby have expressed an interest in working with McGuinn again on future Byrds projects, McGuinn is currently committed to his folk music career.


  • Roger McGuinn (born James Joseph McGuinn, III) (guitar, vocals, banjo, Moog synthesizer) (1964-1973)
  • David Crosby (guitar, vocals) (1964-1967, 1972-1973)
  • Gene Clark (tamborine, vocals, harmonica, guitar) (1964-1966, 1967, 1972-1973)
  • Chris Hillman (bass, vocals, mandolin) (1964-1968, 1972-1973)
  • Michael Clarke (born Michael James Dick) (drums, harmonica) (1964-1967, 1972-1973)
  • Kevin Kelley (drums) (1967-1968)
  • Gram Parsons (born Cecil Ingram Connor, III) (guitar, keyboards, vocals) (1967-1968)
  • Clarence White (guitar, vocals, mandolin) (1968-1973)
  • Gene Parsons (drums, vocals, banjo, harmonica, guitar) (1968-1972)
  • John York (bass, vocals, piano) (1968-1969)
  • Skip Battin (born Clyde Battin) (bass, vocals) (1969-1973)
  • John Guerin (drums) (1972-1973)

Album discography

  1. Mr. Tambourine Man (21st June 1965) US #6; UK #7
  2. Turn! Turn! Turn! (6th December 1965) US #17; UK #11
  3. Fifth Dimension (18th July 1966) US #24; UK #27
  4. Younger Than Yesterday (20th February 1967) US #24; UK #37
  5. The Byrds' Greatest Hits (7th August 1967) US #6;
  6. The Notorious Byrd Brothers (3rd January 1968) US #47; UK #12
  7. Sweetheart of the Rodeo (22nd July 1968) US #77
  8. Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (3rd February 1969) US #153; UK #15
  9. Ballad of Easy Rider (27th ctober 1969) US #36; UK #41
  10. (Untitled) (16th September 1970) US #40; UK #11
  11. Byrdmaniax (3rd June 1971) US #46
  12. Farther Along (17th November 1971) US #152
  13. The Best of The Byrds: Greatest Hits, Volume II (November 1972) US #114
  14. Byrds (March 1973) US #20; UK #31
  15. The Byrds (October 1990) US #151
  16. Live at the Fillmore - February 1969 (February 2000)
  17. The Byrds Play Dylan (June 2002)
  18. The Essential Byrds (April 2003)
  19. The Very Best Of (June 2006)


  • Tom Petty, whose early single "American Girl" was sometimes mistaken by some listeners for a Byrds outtake or reunion recording, has covered "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star" and "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better".
  • Hüsker Dü covered "Eight Miles High" on an early single.
  • Robyn Hitchcock, who counts the Byrds as one of his biggest influences, has covered numerous of their songs both live and on record, amongst them, "Bells Of Rhymney", "Chimes Of Freedom", "Draft Morning", "Eight Miles High", "Feel A Whole Lot Better", "Hickory Wind", "Mr. Spaceman", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Wild Mountain Thyme" and "You Ain't Going Nowhere".
  • Roger McGuinn testified on July 11, 2000 for a U.S. Senate committee that The Byrds never received the royalties they were promised for their biggest hits, "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn"; they only received an advance that was split five ways and only amounted to "a few thousand dollars" per bandmember.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - The Byrds