On this day in 1941, Harold Eugene Clark, better known as Gene, was born in Tipton,
Mo. Clark played percussion and guitar and was an original member of the Byrds, the
American band that pioneered folk rock and country rock.
At age 14, Clark formed his own group, the Sharks. He next played with the Surf Riders
before joining the folk group the New Christy Minstrels. Clark met fellow future-Byrd
David Crosby at Los Angeles' Troubadour Club, and they soon hooked up with ex-Chad
Mitchell Trio singer Roger (born James) McGuinn and ex-Green Grass Group bassist
Chris Hillman. Drummer Michael Clarke rounded out the lineup. The quartet was initially
named Jet Set, and later the Beefeaters, before the members decided on the Byrds.
At their formation in 1964, the Byrds were inexperienced on electric instruments, but
jazz-great Miles Davis liked their sound and suggested that Columbia Records sign
them. A year later, the Byrds met Bob Dylan, who spoke highly of them and gave them
"Mr. Tambourine Man" to record. The single, which hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K. in
mid-1965, featured McGuinn on guitar with session musicians also playing and the other
Byrds singing. The Byrds' tight harmonies on the cut, coupled with the electric
instruments, resulted in one of the first true examples of folk rock.
In 1966, folk-giant Pete Seeger set phrases from Ecclesiastes to music, which the Byrds
turned into the smash hit "Turn! Turn! Turn!" The band's first two LPs -- 1965's top-10
Mr. Tambourine Man and 1966's top-20 Turn! Turn! Turn! -- both featured
new songs by Clark, such as "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," and are now considered early
Later in the year, the Byrds took one of the first stabs at psychedelia with the top-20
href="http://www.addict.com/music/Byrds,_The/Eight_Miles_High.ram">"Eight Miles High"
High"(RealAudio excerpt). The song's allegedly drug-inspired lyrics caused it
to be banned by many radio stations. McGuinn's guitar-playing on the track was
influenced by the "free jazz" of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane.
Soon after the single's release, Clark quit the Byrds, ostensibly because of his fear of
flying. Though losing one of their chief songwriters and lead singers was a big blow, the
Byrds carried on. McGuinn's growing control over the band soon caused a break with
Crosby; later, the country-rock visionary Gram Parsons briefly joined the band.
Although Clark played with the Byrds again briefly after Crosby's departure from the
band, he drastically reduced his profile on the music scene for the rest of his life. Soon
after he left the Byrds, Clark released the acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful,
Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. As Dillard and Clark, he and banjo-player
Doug Dillard, who occasionally played with the Byrds, recorded two albums.
Clark's 1971 LP White Light was released at the height of the singer/songwriter
explosion, but it didn't catch on either. The original Byrds quartet, including Clark,
re-formed for one album in 1973. Then Clark issued the highly acclaimed No
Other on Asylum Records, but it was another commercial failure. After one more
unsuccessful LP, Clark re-teamed with McGuinn and Hillman for 1979's McGuinn,
Clark and Hillman and the following year's City.
But the ex-Byrds soon began disagreeing again and the trio disbanded. Clark spent the
rest of his career infrequently recording for small labels and made two folk albums with
former Textone Carla Olson. Clark was ill during the last few years of his life and died in
1991, four months after the Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Despite their brief time together, the Byrds were true rock innovators because of their
brilliant melding of Beatles-like rock with folk structures, highlighted by McGuinn's highly
original 12-string guitar-playing.
Other birthdays: Gordon Lightfoot, 60; Bob Gaudio (Four Seasons), 56; Martin Barre
(Jethro Tull), 52; Jim Babjak (Smithereens), 41; Harry Rushakoff (Concrete Blonde), 39;
RuPaul, 38; and Ronnie DeVoe (New Edition, Bell Biv DeVoe), 31.