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All About The Byrd

Thought by many to be America's answer to the British Invasion, the Byrds began their flight to stardom in Los Angeles, 1964. As the first long-haired American group to compete with the look and sound of the British Invasion bands, the Byrds were quickly acclaimed as the American complement to the Beatles by the press, multitudes of fans, and even George Harrison himself.

Edited By: Sherri Evans

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Jet Set Beefeaters Byrds
The Jet Set - Early 1964 The Beefeaters - Oct. 1964 The Byrds

The Byrds - a mix of one part Bob Dylan, one part Beatles, and the rest uniquely all Byrds - took the beats and catchy rhythms of the Beatles and melded them with message-filled political folk music to launch a new, innovative sound that was labeled "folk-rock". Although not solely responsible for creating the folk-rock genre, the Byrds were certainly more influential than any other single act for successfully blending the modern sound of the British Invasion with America's contemporary folk and pop music.

The Byrds had an insatiable curiosity about what form and direction pop music could take and led the pack with their originality. As innovaters, they became peers and equals with their mentors, and in turn, they influenced the music of Dylan and the Beatles as well. The peak years of 1965-1967 spawned a creative frenzy during which the Byrds broke the Top Forty seven times. They consistently pushed the rock envelope into new subgenres -- folk rock, psychedelic rock, and country rock. The Byrds sound was so unique that it was virtually impossible to mimic.

The original members of the Byrds consisted of Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke. Although the quintet ultimately changed the sound of rock and roll during their all too brief collaboration, amazingly, not a single original member of the band had a background in rock - rather, they emerged from the folk music circuit, bluegrass roots, and the L.A. coffeehouse scene.

James Joseph McGuinn III was born in Chicago, Illinois. Later in his career, McGuinn changed his name at the urging of an Indonesian guru who believed that a name starting with the letter "R" would better "resonate with the universe." Thanks to McGuinn's fascination with aviation he sent the guru names like "Rocket," "Retro," "Ramjet," and "Roger." Since Roger was the only "real" name submitted, that was the one selected. Although McGuinn used the name Roger professionally from that time on, he officially changed only his middle name from Joseph to Roger. Despite the name change, George Harrison always called him "Jim."

McGuinn mastered the five-string banjo and learned guitar while attending Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. He initially performed with folk groups like the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Judy Collins and also played guitar and sang backup harmonies for Bobby Darin. McGuinn became enamored with the Beatles and moved to L.A.

Gene Clark was born in Missouri and learned the guitar beginning at age nine. While performing with several folk groups in Kansas City, Clark was discovered and hired by the New Christy Minstrels. After hearing the Beatles, Clark quit the Christys, and also moved to L.A.

McGuinn was playing Beatles songs acoustically in L.A. folk clubs when Clark, approached him to form an act. Soon after, they were joined by Crosby, an L.A. native, whose unique high harmonies added a magical element to the trio's sound. Since McGuinn and Crosby were aviation buffs, they decided to call the new trio The Jet Set. With McGuinn and Crosby on guitar and Clark accompanying on tambourine, all three shared vocal duties. They recorded a demo song, "The Only Girl I Adore", which although primitive, showed great promise.

The trio next recorded a single for Elektra, (Please Let Me Love You / Don't Be Long) with the help of session musicians Earl Palmer on drums and Ray Pohlman on bass, released under the name "The Beefeaters" (chosen by Elektra president Jac Holzman because it sounded British).

By the time the single was released they had enlisted bluegrass mandolinist Hillman (who had previously performed with the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers) to play electric bass. Despite the fact that he had never picked up the instrument before, Hillman's bluegrass background enabled him to quickly develop his own unique, melodic performance style. Drummer Michael Clarke, the final member to be chosen, wasn't an accomplished musician yet and didn't even know how to play the drums. However, he looked like a combination of two of the members of the Rolling Stones and in this case it was "the look" that mattered more than his percussion skills. Without a drum kit, Clarke reportedly learned to play on a set of cardboard boxes with a tambourine taped to the top. (As a side note, "the look" really did matter - when the Byrds met the Beatles while on tour in England, John Lennon immediately took notice of McGuinn's signature rectangular "granny glasses." Soon thereafter, Lennon began sporting his own round version of the specs.)

During Thanksgiving dinner 1964, the band finally settled on the name "Byrds". At this point, according to McGuinn, the Byrds' first major challenge was to get together and really learn how to play rock 'n' roll as a group; the second was to get a stroke of luck, which came in the form of jazz legend Miles Davis. Upon hearing the Byrds, Davis got them a contract with Columbia Records, based on the contingency that they record a successful single. The Byrds' second break came in a roundabout way from Bob Dylan. There was a song that Dylan had planned to use on his next record, but later dropped it due to someone singing out of tune on the track. The song was too folksy, played in 2/4 time, had four verses, and was about five minutes long. The song was "Mr. Tambourine Man."

It certainly didn't sound like a Beatles song and Crosby didn't like it at all. He said, "Radio will never play a song like that!" The group agreed; however, McGuinn had an idea for a new arrangement. He added a Bach-like intro on his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar and changed the time signature to 4/4 time like a Beatles' song. McGuinn also suggested that they cut down the length of the song to one verse. They picked the verse with "Boot heels wandering" because it reminded them of "Beat poet," Jack Kerouac. The plan worked: the debut single release of "Mr. Tambourine Man" quickly flew to # 1 on the U.S. charts.

Since the band had not yet completely gelled by January '65, McGuinn was the only Byrd selected to play along with the seasoned studio musicians on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its B-side, "I Knew I'd Want You." However, by the start of the album sessions, the Byrds were up to the challenge and the group played on all the remaining tracks.

While tracking the Byrds' first single, "Mr. Tambourine Man," McGuinn developed his Rickenbacker guitar's signature "jingle-jangle" sound. "The 'Rick' by itself is kind of thuddy," said McGuinn. "It doesn't ring. But if you add a compressor, you get that long sustain." McGuinn also translated some of his banjo picking techniques learned at the Old Town School to his 12-string style. He noted that "by combining a flat pick with metal finger picks on my middle and ring fingers, I discovered I could instantly switch from fast single-note runs to banjo rolls and get the best of both worlds."

"I'll never forget hearing "Mr. Tambourine Man" for the first time on the radio," said fellow musician Tom Petty to Rolling Stone in 2004, "McGuinn told me he took that guitar sound from A Hard Day's Night, but McGuinn was a banjo player, and he played the Rickenbacker in this rolling, fingerpicking style - no one had really tried it before." The Byrds were one of the few American groups that the Beatles were friendly with and had a dialogue with. George Harrison admitted that "If I Needed Someone" was his take on the Byrds' "The Bells of Rhymney."

The group's follow-up single was another interpretation of a Dylan song, "All I Really Want To Do". However, when Cher simultaneously released her own version of the song and achieved greater commercial success than the Byrds, the group made a change in the plans for their next release and quickly recorded a Pete Seeger adaptation of a traditional melody. The song became the group's second U.S. #1 single, and headlined their second album (also titled Turn! Turn! Turn!).

This album included all the harmonious vocals and McGuinn's distinctive guitar sound from the Byrds' debut album. In addition, Gene Clark was becoming a gifted, accomplished songwriter -- his highly regarded songs from this period 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".

The Byrds' next hit single, "Eight Miles High," explored a psychedelic sound and when released, flew to #14 on the U.S. charts despite (or because of) being banned from most radio stations due to alleged drug references. Actually, "eight miles high" is the flying altitude reserved for military aircraft. Rather than a drug reference, the lyrics were referring to the flight to England for a concert tour. It was during this recording session for "Eight Miles High" that McGuinn experimented with and developed his second innovative style of electric guitar playing -- an interpretation of John Coltrane's free jazz saxophone style with a hint of the droning sound of a sitar thrown in. "Eight Miles High" is considered by many to be the original quintet's peak as a band.

Before recording 1966's innovative album "Fifth Dimension", The Byrds suffered a major loss with the departure of Clark, their primary songwriter. Clark left the band, largely because his fear of flying made touring a routine terror, but also due to the stress and pressures developing between the band members. Unlike the Beatles, who had a history of friendship and sticking up for each other, the Byrds never had time to become friends - it was always "each Byrd for himself." When Clark had a panic attack on a plane in L.A. bound for New York, he had to get off. McGuinn told him, "You can't be a Byrd, Gene, if you can't fly."

This now placed all the group's songwriting responsibilities in the hands of Crosby and McGuinn. The two were both team members and competitors. However, the group managed to continue on by following the same Byrds formula. Hillman now had an opportunity to come into his own, and he composed his first song, "Time Between" on "Younger Than Yesterday." He even replaced Clark in the harmony department. Hillman said, "On '5D' I'm singing double lead with Roger. It almost sounds like Gene never left."

Unfortunately, friction had been brewing between Crosby and the other Byrds. Things finally came to a head in 1967 when disagreements caused Crosby to frequently skip sessions.

During "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" recording sessions, the group suddenly became a duo. Crosby was gravitating towards his friendship with Stephen Stills, and was dismissed from the Byrds in October 1967 by McGuinn, who felt that there was no room in the Byrds for divided loyalties. Clarke quit shortly thereafter, leaving almost nothing left of the Byrds. Hillman wryly referred to "The Notorious Bird Brothers" as "the best record ever made by a band in the middle of breaking up." But he and McGuinn again persevered. Hillman said, "When Gene left, we moved on. Even without David and Michael, at that point Roger and I had been doing it so long we didn't think continuing was a problem." But of course, it was.

At this point, the Byrds recruited Hillman's cousin, Kevin Kelley as drummer, but quickly realized that the trio arrangement wasn't going to work. In 1968, Gram Parsons signed on and helped create the groundbreaking Byrds album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," to which many attribute the rise in popularity of country rock. Ultimately, Parsons left to hang out with the Rolling Stones, Kelly quit soon after. Following the release of "Sweetheart," Hillman also left and joined up with Parsons to form the country-rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers. (Unfortunately, after achieving success, Parsons fatally overdosed at age 26.) Before Hillman left, he recommended to McGuinn to bring guitarist Clarence White into the Byrds. White brought along drummer Gene Parsons.

In 1969, McGuinn's solo version of the "Ballad Of Easy Rider" appeared in the "Easy Rider" film of the same name, while a full band version was the title track for the album released later that year.

After several more personnel changes, including John York and Skip Battin, and disappointing studio album releases, the group disbanded in 1973, with Chris Hillman playing bass with the band for their final show in February of that year.

In January of 1991, the Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the original lineup of McGuinn, Clark, Crosby, Hillman and Clarke played a few songs together. Gene Clark died shortly thereafter on May 24, 1991, and Michael Clarke died on December 19, 1993.

With seven Top Forty singles released in two years and eleven classic studio albums produced for Columbia, no band - except, of course, the Beatles - achieved so much in so brief a time as did the Byrds. Despite the disappointments, arguments, desertions and the amazing ability to reinvent themselves, the Byrds remained one of America's most exciting and important bands long after they stopped being the biggest.

In recognition of the Byrds achieving #45 on Rolling Stone's list of "The Immortals - The Greatest Artists of All Time," Tom Petty had this to say: "They're part of what drew me to Los Angeles and made me want to be in a band. I got to see the Byrds once at the West Palm Beach pop festival on the same bill with the Rolling Stones. In the beginning, that was the original blueprint for the Heartbreakers -- we wanted to be a mix of the Byrds and the Stones. We figured, "What could be cooler than that?"

Byrds 1965


Ed Sullivan Show - 1965
Ed Sullivan Show - 1965

Mr Tambourine Man 45 cover
Mr Tambourine Man

Turn! Turn! Turn! 45 cover
Turn! Turn! Turn!

Eight Miles High 45 cover
Eight Miles High

Poster - May 1967
Poster - May 1967

My Back Pages 45 cover
My Back Pages

You Ain't Going Nowhere 45 cover
You Ain't Going Nowhere

Poster 1968
Poster - 1968

Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons

Chestnut Mare 45 cover
Chestnut Mare

Clarence White
Clarence White

Roger McGuinn 1970
McGuinn - 1970
Original Lineup:
1964 - 1966
Jim (Roger) McGuinn - guitar, vocals
Gene Clark - tambourine, vocals, harmonica
David Crosby - guitar, vocals
Chris Hillman - bass, vocals
Michael Clarke - drums
Other members: 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 - 1973)
John Guerin - drums (1972 - 1973)
Joe Lala - drums (1973)
Byrds Studio Albums/Songs:
1. Mr. Tambourine Man - 1965
   1. Mr. Tambourine Man
   2. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better
   3. Spanish Harlem Incident
   4. You Won't Have to Cry
   5. Here Without You
   6. The Bells of Rhymney
   7. All I Really Want to Do
   8. I Knew I'd Want You
   9. It's No Use
10. Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe
11. Chimes of Freedom
12. We'll Meet Again

2. Turn! Turn! Turn! - 1965
   1. Turn! Turn! Turn!
   2. It Won't Be Wrong
   3. Set You Free This Time
   4. Lay Down Your Weary Tune
   5. He Was a Friend of Mine
   6. The World Turns All Around Her
   7. Satisfied Mind
   8. If You're Gone
   9. The Times They Are a-Changin'
10. Wait and See
11. Oh! Susannah
3. Fifth Dimension - 1966
   1. 5D (Fifth Dimension)
   2. Wild Mountain Thyme
   3. Mr. Spaceman
   4. I See You
   5. What's Happening?!?!
   6. I Come and Stand at Every Door
   7. Eight Miles High
   8. Hey Joe
   9. Captain Soul
10. John Riley
11. 2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)
4. Younger Than Yesterday - 1967
   1. So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
   2. Have You Seen Her Face
   3. C.T.A.-102
   4. Renaissance Fair
   5. Time Between
   6. Everybody's Been Burned
   7. Thoughts and Words
   8. Mind Gardens
   9. My Back Pages
10. The Girl with No Name
11. Why
5. The Notorious Byrd Brothers - 1968
   1. Artificial Energy
   2. Goin' Back
   3. Natural Harmony
   4. Draft Morning
   5. Wasn't Born to Follow
   6. Get to You
   7. Change Is Now
   8. Old John Robertson
   9. Tribal Gathering
10. Dolphin's Smile
11. Space Odyssey
6. Sweetheart of the Rodeo - 1968
   1. You Ain't Going Nowhere
   2. I Am a Pilgrim
   3. The Christian Life
   4. You Don't Miss Your Water
   5. You're Still on My Mind
   6. Pretty Boy Floyd
   7. Hickory Wind
   8. One Hundred Years from Now
   9. Blue Canadian Rockies
10. Life in Prison
11. Nothing Was Delivered
7. Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde - 1969
   1. This Wheel's on Fire
   2. Old Blue
   3. Your Gentle Way of Loving Me
   4. Child of the Universe
   5. Nashville West
   6. Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man
   7. King Apathy III
   8. Candy
   9. Bad Night at the Whiskey
10. Medley: My Back Pages/B.J. Blues/Baby What You Want Me to Do
8. Ballad of Easy Rider - 1969
   1. Ballad of Easy Rider
   2. Fido
   3. Oil in My Lamp
   4. Tulsa County
   5. Jack Tarr the Sailor
   6. Jesus Is Just Alright
   7. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
   8. There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To
   9. Gunga Din
10. Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
11. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins
9. (Untitled) - 1970
Disc 1 (live)
   1. Lover of the Bayou
   2. Positively 4th Street
   3. Nashville West
   4. So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
   5. Mr. Tambourine Man
   6. Mr. Spaceman
   7. Eight Miles High
Disc 2 (studio)
   1. Chestnut Mare
   2. Truck Stop Girl
   3. All the Things
   4. Yesterday's Train
   5. Hungry Planet
   6. Just a Season
   7. Take a Whiff on Me
   8. You All Look Alike
   9. Welcome Back Home
10. Byrdmaniax - 1971
   1. Glory, Glory
   2. Pale Blue
   3. I Trust
   4. Tunnel of Love
   5. Citizen Kane
   6. I Wanna Grow up to Be a Politician
   7. Absolute Happiness
   8. Green Apple Quick Step
   9. My Destiny
10. Kathleen's Song
11. Jamaica Say You Will
Byrdmaniax album cover
11. Farther Along - 1971
   1. Tiffany Queen
   2. Get Down Your Line
   3. Farther Along
   4. B.B. Class Road
   5. Bugler
   6. America's Great National Pastime
   7. Antique Sandy
   8. Precious Kate
   9. So Fine
10. Lazy Waters
11. Bristol Steam Convention Blues
12. Byrds - 1973 (Reunion of original members)
   1. Full Circle
   2. Sweet Mary
   3. Changing Heart
   4. For Free
   5. Born to Rock 'n' Roll
   6. Things Will Be Better
   7. Cowgirl in the Sand
   8. Long Live the King
   9. Borrowing Time
10. Laughing
11. (See the Sky) About to Rain
Early Demos
1. Preflyte - Released 1973, Recorded 1964
   1. You Showed Me
   2. Here Without You
   3. She Has A Way
   4. The Reason Why
   5. For Me Again
   6. Boston
   7. You Movin'
   8. The Airport Song
   9. You Won't Have To Cry
10. I Knew I'd Want You
11. Mr. Tambourine Man

2. Preflyte Sessions (2CDs - 40 songs) - Released 2001, Recorded 1964
Preflyte album cover
Live Albums
1. Live at the Fillmore - February 1969 - 2000
   1. Nashville West
   2. You're Still on My Mind
   3. Pretty Boy Floyd
   4. Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man
   5. Medley: Turn! Turn! Turn!/Mr. Tambourine Man/Eight Miles High
   6. Close up The Honky Tonks
   7. Buckaroo
   8. The Christian Life
   9. Time Between
10. King Apathy III
11. Bad Night at the Whiskey
12. This Wheel's on Fire
13. Sing Me Back Home
14. So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
15. He Was a Friend of Mine
16. Chimes of Freedom
2. Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971 - 2008
   1. Lover of the Bayou
   2. You Ain't Going Nowhere
   3. Truck Stop Girl
   4. My Back Pages
   5. Baby, What You Want Me to Do
   6. Jamaica, Say You Will
   7. Black Mountain Rag / Soldier's Joy
   8. Mr. Tambourine Man
   9. Pretty Boy Floyd
10. Take a Whiff (On Me)
11. Chestnut Mare
12. Jesus Is Just Alright
13. Eight Miles High
14. So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
15. Mr. Spaceman
16. I Trust
17. Nashville West
18. Roll Over Beethoven
19. Amazing Grace
Compilation Albums
1. The Byrds Greatest Hits - 1967
2. The Best of The Byrds: Greatest Hits, Volume II - 1972
3. 3 Byrds in London (Live) - 1977
4. The Byrds Play Dylan - 1980
5. The Original Singles: 1965 - 1967, Volume 1 - 1980
6. The Original Singles: 1967 - 1969, Volume 2 - 1982
7. The Byrds (Box Set - 4CDs - 90 songs) - 1990
8. The Very Best of The Byrds - 1997
9. Super Hits (Byrds) - 1998
10. The Essential Byrds (2 CD Set) - 2003
11. The Byrds, America's Great National Treasure (10 songs) - 2006
12. There Is a Season (Box Set - 4CDs - 99 songs) - 2006
1. The Byrds - Goin' Back - Greatest Hits
- Released 2005
2. The Byrds - Special Edition EP
- Released 2006
4. The Byrds - Video Collection (3 Dvd Set! TV Appearances, Live & Solo!)
- Released 2006
3. The Byrds: Under Review
- Released 2007
4. The Byrds - Tambourines And Twelve-Strings
- Released 2007

The Greatest Byrds Songs
1. Mr. Tambourine Man
2. Eight Miles High
3. Turn! Turn! Turn!
4. My Back Pages
5. So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star
6. I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better
7. 5D (Fifth Dimension)
8. Ballad Of Easy Rider
9. Chestnut Mare
10. Mr. Spaceman

11. All I Really Want To Do
12. Jesus Is Just Alright
13. You Ain't Going Nowhere
14. Set You Free This Time
15. Goin' Back
16. Glory, Glory
17. Full Circle
18. Wasn't Born To Follow
19. Lay Lady Lay
20. Old John Robertson

Placements On DDD Lists (as of 09/08):
Greatest Rock Artists - #61
Most Influential Rock Artists - #25
Greatest Rock Songwriters - #147 (McGuinn, Clark, Crosby)
Greatest Rock Guitarists - #198 (Roger McGuinn)

Greatest Rock Albums:
#108 (Sweetheart of the Rodeo)
#169 (Mr. Tambourine Man)

Greatest Rock Songs of the '60s:
#21 (Mr. Tambourine Man)
#51 (Eight Miles High)
#103 (My Back Pages)
#128 (Turn, Turn, Turn)

Greatest Rock Songs:
#53 (Mr. Tambourine Man)
#446 (Turn! Turn! Turn!)

Greatest Rock Ballads:
#124 (Ballad of Easy Rider)

Greatest Rock Albums of the '60s:
#36 (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo)
#45 (Mr. Tambourine Man)
#127 (Fifth Diminsion)
#134 (Turn! Turn! Turn!)
#147 (The Notorius Byrd Brothers)

Greatest Folk Rock Songs:
# 1 (Mr. Tambourine Man)
# 3 (Turn! Turn! Turn!)
# 23 (My Back Pages)
# 34 (So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star)
# 52 (I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better)
# 85 (Ballad Of Easy Rider)
# 90 (Goin' Back)
# 95 (Here Without You)

Greatest Country Rock Songs:
# 5 (You Ain't Going Nowhere)
#29 (One Hundred Years From Now)
#43 (Time Between)
#53 (Wasn't Born To Follow)
#63 (Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man)
#75 (Hickory Wind)
#83 (Full Circle)
#88 (Old Blue)

Greatest Psychedelic Songs
#35 (Eight Miles High)
#49 (Mind Gardens)

Wildest, Wackiest, Craziest & Quirkiest Songs
#66 (CTA 102)

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