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TIMELESS FLYTE-A TRIBUTE TO THE BYRDS!
The largest tribute EVER to the Byrds, this is Volume 1 (Reflyte) in a four volume series featuring great artists of today's Rock, Pop and Alternative contemporary scene interpreting great Byrds classic songs.
John Einarson, author of "Mr. Tambourine Man-The Life And Times Of Gene Clark, writes:
Imagine a world with no Byrds.
What if the Byrds had never existed?
How would the course of popular music have unfolded had Kansas country boy Gene Clark, fleeing the narrow confines of the New Christy Minstrels’ homogenized folk-pop in early 1964, not chanced upon another ex-folk acolyte, Chicago-born Jim (Roger) McGuinn formerly with the Limeliters and Bobby Darin, at the Troubadour?
And if yet another folk music refugee, LA brat David Crosby, had not chipped in a harmony part to their Peter & Gordon-style duo? Or die hard bluegrass aficionado Chris Hillman had remained with The Hillmen, content to peel off rapid fire mandolin solos; or if Michael Clarke had not been walking down that street or that beach (depending on who’s telling the story) and not been spotted by Crosby?
How would the music world, both then and now, have suffered from the absence of this seminal California group?
While a handful of folkies had already begun testing the uncharted electric folk waters once the Beatles hit these shores, it was the Byrds who defined the signature sound universally identified as folk-rock – that chiming jingle-jangle Rickenbacker electric 12-string and rich harmonic blend. They were the avatars of a new style, direction and substance, popularizing a wholly original genre of rock music for the plethora of artists who followed in their wake. Their sterling electric Don’t Worry Baby-inspired rendition of Dylan’s rambling folk chestnut Mr. Tambourine Man gave courage to its creator to dive headfirst into the uncharted folk-rock waters himself.
With Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! The Byrds shifted rock ‘n’ roll away from pedestrian boy-girl, cars, surfing and beach bunny themes giving it a truly literary sensibility, a marriage of poetry to a British Invasion beat. Theirs was the new sound of California, steeped in folk roots pumped through Fender Dual Showmans to gyrating patrons at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip. In doing so they influenced the kingpins themselves, The Beatles, who were unabashed Byrds fans (just listen to If I Needed Someone).
Virtually every recording artist since (not just those who wear their Byrds influences on their sleeves like REM, the Stone Roses and Tom Petty) owes a debt of gratitude to the Byrds for turning rock ‘n’ roll into a true art form. “I remember a promotion guy asking me for the lyrics to Mr. Tambourine Man so he could give it to a disc jockey in San Francisco,” recalls CBS promo man Billy James. “It was poetry, it wasn’t She’s So Fine.”
Not content to rest on these extraordinary accomplishments, the Byrds turned folk-rock on its ear in 1966 with Eight Miles High, an aural assault on the senses like nothing heard or conceived before or since. This was music without context, without borders, and, like a year earlier with folk-rock, without a name or label. Boldly integrating John Coltrane freeform jazz with Ravi Shankar’s hypnotic Indian ragas in the fluid guitar lines of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker, once again it was the Byrds pointing the way to what would be known variously as raga-rock, acid-rock, and ultimately psychedelia a full year before all those San Francisco groups became synonymous with that epithet. “The guitar break was obviously a tribute to John Coltrane,” McGuinn acknowledges. “That’s one of my favorite guitar things I’ve done.”
Even before the psychedelic wave crested, it was the Byrds again at the forefront bringing it all back home to a simpler roots-based American music, daring to bridge the deep cultural divide that separated rock music and country music by embracing both Nashville and Bakersfield on an album that marks ground zero for country-rock and later alt.country and Americana: 1968’s landmark Sweetheart of The Rodeo. While others were content to wet their feet in country music, dabbling in its familiar textures, the Byrds dove in all the way.
With Sweetheart of The Rodeo and the albums that followed it, the Byrds became the first top echelon group to wholly embrace and legitimize country music making it hip for the hippies and leading the way for all the SoCal A&M/Asylum Records stable to follow. “It all begins with the Byrds,” asserts Hillman on the roots of country-rock, “and I will argue that point with anybody. We took the ball downfield and the Eagles took it into the end zone for ten touchdowns.”
This time though it wasn’t McGuinn’s Rickenbacker but newcomer Gram Parsons’ heart-on-his-sleeve voice and Clarence White’s distinctive stringbender twang defining an entirely fresh, innovative sound that propelled the group through several albums. Today’s crop of country music artists weren’t weaned on Hank, Lefty and Buck but on the Byrds and their many offshoots, and through them connected the dots back to their traditional roots.
So where would popular music be today without the Byrds? Folk-rock? Acid-rock? Psychedelic-rock? Country-rock? Alt. country? And all those inspired and influenced by their music, including the artists on this tribute? Enough said.
And what of the Byrds’ offspring? Without their success as his springboard Crosby might never have hooked up with Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young – and maybe no Stills and Young either as the Buffalo Springfield got their earliest breaks via the patronage of the Byrds). Master of the minor key melancholy ballad, Gene Clark would never have teamed up with Douglas Dillard in their trailblazing Expedition, nor duet with Carla Olson on their seminal ‘80s roots album. ‘New Country’ would not have been transformed by Chris Hillman’s hit making Desert Rose Band. Country-rock’s own ill-starred Hank Williams, Gram Parsons might have continued to toil in the woefully neglected International Submarine Band. Nor would he and Hillman have hitched their wagons as revered country-rock renegades the Flying Burrito Brothers. Clarence White may have remained a respected yet largely anonymous session player; not to mention Firefall, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, CPR, Thunderbyrd, Firebyrd and on and on.
The Byrds’ body of work remains both influential and essential, not preserved in amber or trapped in some nostalgia time warp, as vital today as it was some 40 years ago. Their music continues to resonate across generations, eras, timelines, and cultures. “That music is greater than any of us,” notes latter day Byrd John York on the band’s legacy, “because when we’re all gone people will still be playing Turn! Turn! Turn!”
“The thing that [manager] Jim Dickson drilled into our heads,” offers Hillman, musing on the enduring impact of the Byrds, “was, ‘Go for substance. Go for depth in your material.’ And he was absolutely right. He used to tell us, ‘Do something you’re going to be proud of in ten years.’ That’s a very important concept to instill in nineteen or twenty year old kids.”
McGuinn concurs. “I’m very proud of our work together. Like Dickson said we did work that not only stands up ten years later but forty years later.”
John Einarson is author of “Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark” (Backbeat Books, 2005)
SOME LINER NOTES ON THE SONGS AND ARTISTS ON "REFLYTE""
ERIC SORENSEN, noted "jangle" rock journalist and Project Manager for this disc offers a track by track commentary for this Second Volume of TIMELESS FLYTE- A Tribute To The Byrds (Reflyte):
“You Showed Me” – Venus In Bluejeans. Never mind the soft-rock versions of this song recorded by the Byrds and popularized by the Turtles! Venus In Bluejeans combines Les Fradkin’s sonic production with the Phil Spector girl-group sound, and voila – you’ve got a very lively, forceful version of this tune!
“Turn! Turn! Turn!” – GAT. Graham Allman Talbot is a solo artist that I discovered through a jangly music page on the mp3 website. Graham can play Rickenbacker 12-string guitar with the best of ‘em, and his vocals/pop compositions often warrant comparison with George Harrison. Hence, this version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” could have been the song’s British companion hit in 1965.
“She Has A Way” – the Freddie Steady 5. Freddie Krc is one of the sweetest guys in the indie pop community. Together with longtime pal Cam King, Freddie has hit a “home run” on this Preflyte-era song. Freddie has recorded tons of excellent material as a solo artist and with the many bands he has been associated with, but I think that this may be his finest recorded song ever! This version really demonstrates how much the 1964 Byrds endeavored to capture the sound of the Beatles.
“I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” – the Shambles. Bart Mendoza has been a stalwart in the San Diego pop music scene for over 20 years. I was the beneficiary of his taste in music whenever I would check out the “power pop” selections in the Hillcrest Off The Record store location that he worked at. I finally met Bart in person back in late 90s, and when I requested to hear this song at a live show, Bart and the Shambles performed a raucous garage band version of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.” This studio recording is much smoother and it reminds me of the Flamin’ Groovies version, but the track still possesses the clean pop charm I associate with Shambles songs.
“You Won’t Have To Cry” – Rob Smith with James Cooper. A superb contemporary power pop take on this early Byrds track - with musical and production support from Michael Carpenter.
"It Won't Be Wrong" - Roger & Jim. Indie pop artists Rich Horton (AKA Rich Arithmetic) and Bill Retoff, joined by Retoff's bandmate Dan McKenzie, join forces again under the "Roger & Jim" moniker (they did this once before on Full Circle: A Tribute To Gene Clark) to cover a nugget from the Byrds' early-era playlist. They do a swell job of capturing the sweetness and innocence that was associated with this song when they first heard it as teens.
“She Don’t Care About Time” – Michael Carpenter with Marty Rudnick. Talented Aussie singer/songwriter/musician/producer Michael Carpenter embraced this project with such enthusiasm that he recorded his own track, and then performed on and produced three other tracks! Michael has released two compilations of cover songs, Songs of Other People Volume One (which includes his own take on “Chimes Of Freedom”) and Songs of Other People Volume Two, and he has contributed tracks to numerous tribute discs. Those who are familiar with Michael’s cover songs know that he enjoys being highly interpretive … while still being reverential to the original material. He takes this same vibrant approach to “She Don’t Care About Time” … and its classical references.
“If You’re Gone” – Ol’ Yeller. I have every album by this Minneapolis alt-country band, but I didn’t extend an invitation to them until I discovered that they had recorded a track for the Groover Records Gene Clark tribute disc The World Turns All Around Him. Ol’ Yeller frontman Rich Mattson nails the Gene Clark vocals on this track. It’s nice to know that the next generation of indie musicians appreciates the marvelous repertoire of material that Clark and the Byrds initiated four decades ago.
“Set You Free This Time” – the Conniptions. Imagine a sing-along version of this Gene Clark ballad … late at night, in a small bar. The Conniptions elected to go with a loose interpretation of this song – considered by many to be among Gene Clark’s most poignant ballads.
“The World Turns All Around Her” – Tim Lee 3. A very nice true-to-the-original version of this song. Even though they are only a trio, the band recorded a version that sounds just as rich and full as the original version.
“He Was A Friend Of Mine” – the Retros. This quartet has to be one of the finest pop groups around without a full-length CD to their credit. They have built a following due to the fact that Retros songs have been included on previous tribute discs and pop compilations, and the band has appeared at International Pop Overthrow shows in Los Angeles. They sound like a group of angelic choirboys on their version of Roger McGuinn’s homage to President John F. Kennedy.
“Bells Of Rhymney” – Tony Poole. Wow! Tony’s terrific version of this song brings back the emotions that I felt when I first heard the Byrds’ version of this song in 1965. The guitar work and the vocals are superb. If you have ever heard Starry Eyed & Laughing’s crisp, ringing version of “Chimes Of Freedom,” you will not be surprised by Tony’s skills on this track. If you haven’t heard Starry Eyed & Laughing’s “Chimes Of Freedom,” seek it out.