Band: The Byrds
Gene Clark died aged forty-six on 24th May 1991 and was buried at Saint Andrews Cemetery in his birthplace of Tipton, Missouri USA, under a simple headstone inscribed "Harold Eugene Clark – No Other". The coroner declared he succumbed to "natural causes" brought on by a bleeding ulcer.
Gene was born Harold Eugene Clark on 17th November 1944 in Tipton, Missouri, the third of thirteen children in a family of Irish, German, and American Indian heritage. His family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where as a boy he began learning to play the guitar and harmonica from his father. He was soon playing Hank Williams tunes as well as material by early rockers such as Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. He began writing songs at the age of eleven. By the time he was fifteen, he had developed a rich tenor voice, and he formed a local rock and roll combo, Joe Meyers and the Sharks. Like many of his generation, Gene Clark developed an interest in folk music because of the popularity of the Kingston Trio. When he graduated from Bonner Springs High School, in Bonner Springs, Kansas, in 1962, he formed a folk group, the Rum Runners.
Gene Clark was invited to join an established regional folk group, the Surf Riders, working out of Kansas City at the Castaways Lounge, owned by Hal Harbaum. On 12th August 1963, he was performing with them when he was discovered by the New Christy Minstrels. They hired him, and he recorded two albums with the ensemble before leaving in early 1964. After hearing the Beatles, Gene Clark quit the New Christy Minstrels and moved to Los Angeles, where he met fellow folkie and Beatles convert Jim (later Roger) McGuinn at the Troubadour Club. In early 1964 they began to assemble a band that would become the Byrds.
Gene Clark wrote or co-wrote many of the Byrds' best-known originals from their first three albums, including "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Set You Free This Time", "Here Without You", "You Won't Have to Cry", "If You're Gone", "The World Turns All Around Her", "She Don't Care About Time" and "Eight Miles High". He initially played rhythm guitar in the band, but relinquished that position to David Crosby and became the tambourine and harmonica player. Bassist Chris Hillman noted years later in an interview remembering Gene Clark, "At one time, he was the power in the Byrds, not McGuinn, not Crosby—it was Gene who would burst through the stage curtain banging on a tambourine, coming on like a young Prince Valiant. A hero, our savior. Few in the audience could take their eyes off this presence. He was the songwriter. He had the 'gift' that none of the rest of us had developed yet.... What deep inner part of his soul conjured up songs like 'Set You Free This Time,' 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better,' 'I'm Feelin' Higher,' 'Eight Miles High'? So many great songs! We learned a lot of songwriting from him and in the process learned a little bit about ourselves."
A management decision gave McGuinn the lead vocals for their major singles and Bob Dylan songs. This disappointment, combined with Gene Clark's dislike of travelling , including a chronic fear of flying, and resentment by other band members about the extra income he derived from his songwriting, led to internal squabbling, and he left the group in early 1966. He briefly returned to Kansas City before moving back to Los Angeles to form Gene Clark & the Group with Chip Douglas, Joel Larson, and Bill Rhinehart.
Columbia Records signed GeneClark as a solo artist, and in 1967 he released his first solo album, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. The Gosdin Brothers were selected to back him because they shared the same manager, Jim Dickson, and because Chris Hillman, who played bass on the album, had worked with the Gosdin Brothers in the mid-1960s when he and they were members of the Southern California bluegrass band the Hillmen. The album was a unique mixture of pop, country rock and baroque psychedelic tracks. It received favorable reviews, but unfortunately for Gene Clark it was released almost simultaneously with the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday, also on Columbia, and partly because of his 18-month absence from public attention was a commercial failure.
With the future of his solo career in doubt, Gene Clark briefly rejoined the Byrds in October 1967 as a replacement for the recently departed David Crosby but following an anxiety attack in Minneapolis, he left after only three weeks. During this brief period with the Byrds, he appeared with the band on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, lip-synching the group's current single, "Goin' Back"; he also performed "Mr. Spaceman" with the band. Although there is some disagreement among the band's biographers, Gene Clark is generally viewed as having contributed background vocals to the songs "Goin' Back" and "Space Odyssey" for the forthcoming Byrds' album The Notorious Byrd Brothers and was an uncredited co-author, with McGuinn, of "Get to You", also from that album.
In 1968, Gene Clark signed with A&M Records and began a collaboration with the banjo player Doug Dillard. Guitarist Bernie Leadon (later with the The Flying Burrito Brothers and the The Eagles), bassist Dave Jackson and mandolinist Don Beck joined them to form the nucleus of Dillard & Clark. They produced two albums, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968) and Through the Morning, Through the Night (1969).
The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark was an adventure in acoustic country rock; it included the songs "Train Leaves Here This Morning" (a collaboration between Clark and Leadon prominently covered by the latter in 1972 on The Eagles' debut album) and "She Darked the Sun" (covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1970 album Silk Purse). In contrast, Through the Morning, Through the Night was more indebted to traditional bluegrass but employed electric instrumentation. By this juncture, Dillard's girlfriend Donna Washburn had joined the group as a backing vocalist, a factor that precipitated the departure of Leadon. The shift to traditional bluegrass also caused Gene Clark to lose interest. Written by Gene Clark, the title song was used by Quincy Jones in the soundtrack of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah film The Getaway; it was also covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, along with "Polly," another Clark-penned track from the album, on their 2007 album Raising Sand. Both albums by Dillard & Clark fared poorly on the charts, but they are now regarded as seminal exemplars of the country rock and newgrass genres.
The collaboration with Dillard rejuvenated Gene Clark's creativity but greatly contributed to his growing drinking problem. Dillard & Clark disintegrated in late 1969 after the departures of Gene Clark and Leadon.
In 1970, Gene Clark began work on a new single, recording two tracks with the original members of the Byrds (each recording his part separately). The resulting songs, "She's the Kind of Girl" and "One in a Hundred", were not released at the time, because of legal problems; they were included later on the album Roadmaster. In 1970 and 1971, Gene Clark contributed vocals and two compositions ("Tried So Hard" and "Here Tonight") to albums by the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Frustrated with the music industry, Gene Clark bought a house in Albion, California, near Mendocino, married former go-go dancer and Bell Records production assistant Carlie Lynn McCummings in June 1970, and fathered two sons (Kelly and Kai) while subsisting in semiretirement on his still-substantial Byrds royalties throughout the early 1970s. These were augmented by income from The Turtles' 1969 American Top Ten hit "You Showed Me", a previously unreleased composition by McGuinn and Gene Clark from 1964 rearranged for the band by Chip Douglas. A graduate of Indiana State University, McCummings corrected Gene Clark's grammatical errors and assisted the singer-songwriter in improving his diction and elocution.
In 1985, Gene Clark approached McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman regarding a reformation of the Byrds in time for the 20th anniversary of the release of "Mr. Tambourine Man". The three of them showed no interest. Gene Clark decided to
assemble a "superstar" collection of musicians, including ex-Flying Burrito Brothers and Firefall member Rick Roberts, ex-Beach Boys singer and guitarist Blondie Chaplin, ex-Band members Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, and ex-Byrds Michael Clarke and John York. Gene Clark initially called his band "The 20th Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds" and began performing on the lucrative nostalgia circuit in early 1985. A number of concert promoters began to shorten the band's name to "the Byrds" in advertisements and promotional material. As the band continued to tour throughout 1985, their agent decided to shorten the name to "the Byrds" permanently, to the displeasure of McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman. Gene Clark eventually discontinued performing with his own "Byrds" band, but drummer Clarke continued on with Skip Battin (occasionally with ex-Byrds York and Gene Parsons), forming another "Byrds" group, prompting McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby to go on the road as "the Byrds" in an attempt to establish a claim to the rights to the name. Their effort failed this time; Gene Clark was not included in the reunion, primarily because of his involvement with the act that didn't include them. Crosby finally secured rights to the name in 2002.
So Rebellious a Lover, a duet album with the roots rock singer Carla Olson, released in 1987, was a modest critical success, but Gene Clark was increasingly afflicted with serious health problems, including ulcers and alcohol dependence. In 1988, he underwent surgery for the removal of much of his stomach and intestines.
A period of abstinence and recovery followed until Tom Petty's cover of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", on his album Full Moon Fever (1989), yielded huge royalties to Gene Clark, who quickly resumed using crack cocaine and alcohol. The Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January 1991, at which the original lineup performed several songs together, including, perhaps paradoxically, Gene Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better".
<<go to top>>
Do you like this website? If so, then please copy and email the link: http://www.rockapaedia.com
to your friends and colleagues and aquaintances.
song: 'I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better'
written by Gene Clark, performed by the Byrds