Byrds Reunion Caps Star-Studded Benefit

Ry Cooder's guitar work glistens as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and others share stage.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Three former Byrds hooked up for the first time in 10 years this week in the first of two shows to benefit instrument dealer Fred Walecki.

Dubbed "A Gathering of the Clan," the occasion brought out a who's who, or who-ever-was, of the Los Angeles music scene. Besides the former Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Warren Zevon, Ry Cooder former Eagles Bernie Leadon and Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash all made it to the stage of the intimate Santa Monica Civic Center to help out a friend.

Walecki, who for decades has run the guitar shop Westwood Music, was recently struck with throat cancer and lost his vocal cords. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the musical community he has served for so long got together to help him offset his medical expenses.

Zevon hit the stage with "Fistful of Rain," from his latest CD, Life'll Kill Ya, and took to the piano for "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" (RealAudio excerpt). Browne joined in on harmonies, and Cooder began what would be a dazzling evening backing up scores of artists with his incendiary slide guitar work. Walecki's connection to his musical peers goes back as far as his high school days at Los Angeles' Universal High, where he was in the same class as Raitt, Randy Newman and actor Jeff Bridges, who came out next and held more than his own as he sang and played acoustic guitar on "She Lay Her Whip Down." Browne returned to the stage with longtime comrade Raitt for a classic version of "My Opening Farewell." Raitt couldn't resist commenting how "we still like to look at each other 30 years later."

While the front-line performers kept rotating, the solid back line of the band consisted of Cooder on guitar and slide, Albert Lee on guitar, drummer Ethan Johns, bassist Jennifer Condos, Andy Fairweather-Low and event co-organizer Leadon on guitars and Wix on keyboards.

Raitt kept the pace rocking as she brought out guitarist Stephen Bruton and old crony Freebo on bass for "Thing Called Love" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Give It Up or Let Me Go," on which Freebo played tuba.

Show Features Surplus Of Humor

David Crosby and Nash were up next, with Nash asking Crosby if he's had any kids since he last saw him, and if he was ready to play. Crosby replied that he's never been ready and was certainly short a few brain cells. Their good-time ribbing only enhanced their performances of "Deja Vu" and "Wooden Ships" (RealAudio excerpt).

Showing how Walecki's friendship and influence extends beyond the L.A. singer/songwriter community, opening the evening's second set were the one and only Spinal Tap. Noting that when they first met Walecki he told them to "play softer and play better," the ultimate poser band let loose with "Heavy Duty Rock and Roll" and "Big Bottom."

Contrasting musical experiences couldn't get any better as Chris Hillman of Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers fame took the stage next, joined by his Desert Rose Band partner Herb Pedersen. Their acoustic pairing turned to the ancient tones of "Down at the Old Crossroads."

The evening's big unbilled musical surprise followed next as Roger McGuinn and Crosby joined Hillman for a Byrds reunion.

Playing together for the first time in 10 years, they sounded magnificent, treating the adoring crowd to "Mr. Tambourine Man" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Turn, Turn, Turn." All three seemed to be enjoying the moment, especially the smiling McGuinn.

Americana star Harris was up next, performing "Wheels" with Hillman and reprising her first hit, "If I Could Only Win Your Love," with Pedersen on harmony vocal. While singing "Valerie," Harris was joined by Ronstadt on the tune from their Western Wall CD.

Ronstadt then delivered a belting version of Browne's "For a Dancer," and a tender take on her classic "Heart Like a Wheel."

Henley capped things off with a reworked "Boys of Summer" and the Eagles classic "Desperado."

A finale to end all finales ensued in what could've become L.A.'s biggest traffic jam. All the talent that remained in the building joined in on "Mercury Blues" and a fitting closer of "Stand by Me."

While this night was all about Walecki, one couldn't help notice how much the stage belonged to Cooder as musician after musician stood in awe watching him work.