What, you might ask, did the Byrds have in common with the Grateful Dead?
Not much, as it turns out. Actually, the list of differences is pretty long -
The Byrds were a notoriously poor live band, at least until Clarence White joined. Early Byrds audiences could expect shoddy treatment.
The Dead built their reputation as a great live band – for their fans, the poor shows didn’t count, and no number of disappointments could keep them away.
The Byrds were famed for their angelic harmony singing. To this day, a stack of harmonies plus jangly guitars defines their sound.
The Dead emulated this in some of their songs...but in general their singing was not their strong-point, and was even a turn-off for many listeners. (And their guitars rarely jangled.)
The Byrds hit #1 on the charts immediately, and started their career an instant success, only to spiral downwards in popularity for year after year.
The Dead went the opposite direction, not having a big hit single for over twenty years, but becoming bigger and more popular every year regardless.
The Byrds were not a jam-band, but a pop-singles band. Hardly anything they did was even four minutes long. (They made an exception in the later live fuzz-jam versions of Eight Miles High.)
The Dead committed themselves to jamming early and often. Until 1970 rolled around, the commercial idea of hit singles and concise, polished albums was a joke to them. (Though the older they got, the more appealing the idea became.)
The Byrds were not friends before forming the group, and did not even get along. As the liner notes on their second record state, "There is little chance that a song will be recorded without a dozen fistfights and great mouthfuls of awful abuse." Which was the truth. Three years after their first album came out, three original members had quit and one had been kicked out.
The Dead, on the other hand, were a model of stability, and were mostly very close to each other. Aside from the keyboard players, the core members of the band stayed together for thirty years.
The Byrds were the most influential American group of the '60s. (Even the Beatles copied them – their stamp is all over Rubber Soul.) They were pioneers in not one, but three different genres - anyone who's played jangly folk-rock, psychedelic rock, or traditional country-rock has followed in their footsteps.
The Dead's music, in the sixties, influenced nobody outside San Francisco. In fact, they were held up as an example to be avoided!
Nonetheless, I’d like to point out some unexpected places the two bands intersected....
The Warlocks’ studio demo in November ’65 is as close as they ever got to Byrds-type music – in their selection of songs, they were heavily influenced by the ‘folk-rock’ scene around them. Early Morning Rain and I Know You Rider were straight from the folk world; Can’t Come Down was a Dylan imitation; Mindbender and The Only Time Is Now have group vocals that sound like the Warlocks might even have been listening to the Byrds. (Though group harmonies were very common in those days, and the Warlocks were not the most polished singers!) Caution, a copy of a Them song, was the hardest-rocking of the lot.
Both bands were new to electric instruments when they formed. The Byrds, like a thousand bands, formed in the wake of A Hard Day’s Night, churning out copies of Beatles and Searchers songs in quest of that Merseybeat sound, before discovering Dylan and their own strengths. Chris Hillman had been a bluegrass mandolin player, and like Phil Lesh, had never played a bass before, but soon became quite a strong bass player. The Byrds’ drummer Michael Clarke had never played drums in a band (he was hired for his looks, a common tactic in the ‘60s – Jefferson Airplane did the same thing), and started out with them playing on a cardboard box! (As McGuinn says, “Clarke didn’t know how to play the drums, but that didn’t matter.”)
Those of you who are starting new groups can take comfort from the Byrds’ “Preflyte” sessions from ‘64, which are painfully bad and show little sign of the band they would become. We’ve been spared the early Warlocks rehearsals of 1965; by the time our tape record picks up, they’re already fairly proficient, though still quite primitive. Both groups though, had no experience with rock music and had to learn ‘on the job’.
Chris Hillman says, “Everybody came from a folk music background. We all literally learned how to play together… I was a mandolin player and didn’t know how to play bass, but they didn’t know how to play their instruments either, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. None of us were rock & rollers, we were all folk musicians.”
David Crosby pointed out, “The drummer couldn't play...never could. He looked right but he never was a very good drummer… That's one of the reasons I learned to play that chop and smack kind of rhythm because I had to learn how to play drums on the guitar. Somebody had to do it, and so it was me and Chris. [The interviewer adds, “He had a really involved style of playing bass - almost like classical counterpoint more than like a standard bass part. So that probably didn't help in locking in the rhythm.”] I liked his bass work a lot - and I like Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead - another one who does exactly the same thing. The Grateful Dead is like a Dixieland band with about three or four melody lines kind of just loping through the music together.”
Crosby says when he first heard the Beatles, “It absolutely floored me – ‘those are folk-music changes, but it’s got a rock & roll backbeat. You can’t do that, but they did!’”
McGuinn had the same reaction. “I got really jazzed by the Beatles. I loved what they were doing, and they were doing a lot of passing chords… I thought, these are really folk music chord changes…and they made it into a heavy 4/4 beat. I went, ‘Ah! This is really cool.’”
McGuinn soon decided he could do the same thing on acoustic, and saw no problem with playing Beatle songs in folk clubs: “I started experimenting with the Beatle beat and putting it to various folk songs that I knew. I took it down to Greenwich Village and played it for the people down there. They weren't really into it, you know, because they're kind of purist in folk music. They thought it was kind of bubblegummy or something. One guy who owned one the coffee houses put a sign outside that said ‘Beatle Imitations.’ It was kind of embarrassing… I remember telling John Phillips about the Beatles and he put it down like it was lightweight stuff. The folkies didn't get it.”
The mix of folk songs and a rock beat was a bit too advanced for some listeners in ’64! “I was really getting a terrible audience reaction… The folk purists absolutely hated what I was doing. It was blasphemy.”
Some of Garcia’s friends in ’65 were also disappointed that he chose to play rock music instead of sticking with bluegrass. (Garcia himself later explained, “My musical bag had run out – there were no people who were really interested in bluegrass music, and nobody to play with… It was like a bankrupt scene. Musically it was interesting…but you never got a chance to play.”)
A friend of Garcia’s said, “I was thinking, ‘Why would he do this?’ Jerry could play that banjo so good, and he played in those bluegrass bands and I’d gotten to love that. It just seemed bizarre to me that anybody would want to play that electric music if he could play the banjo and guitar and mandolin. I remember being really disappointed that he had any interest at all in playing the electric guitar.”
Even Garcia’s brother was ashamed: “I was surprised when Jerry first told me he was playing with this electric band. It was like he had really gotten down on the ladder after he got married. They had a baby and he was saying, ‘I have to make gigs. So this is what I have to do.’ And I thought, ‘Jeez, this banjo player all of a sudden is lowering himself to play in a rock & roll band? Jerry, what’s happened to you?’ And he said, ‘I gotta make a buck, you know?’”
Chris Hillman ran into an old bluegrass acquaintance after joining the Byrds, looking embarrassed. “I said, ‘Hi Chris, how’re you doing?’ And he kind of held his head down and said, ‘I just joined a rock & roll band.’ I said, ‘Oh.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m playing bass. I need the money.’”
McGuinn had the same experience: “I remember a lot of resistance in the folk community to going electric. I don’t remember a lot of people who wanted to make that move. I remember telling Bob Gibson, ‘I’m gonna do rock & roll.’ He said, ‘Oh, man, you’re selling out!’ That was the attitude in the folk community.”
Folkies of the early ‘60s had rather negative feelings about pop music. Garcia explained, “I’d occasionally turn on the radio to a rock & roll station, there would be this utter pap, terrible, featureless music. That was really an insult… There wasn’t anything exciting going on, there were no new ideas.” Garcia and his friends paid little attention to the Beatles until the Hard Day’s Night movie hit; Phil Lesh thought they sounded too “clean.”
Sara Garcia said, “We were dismissing them as a pop phenomenon. Lightweight… When A Hard Day’s Night came out, we started changing our minds about the Beatles. They were a trip, and there was something inspiring about them… We could identify with that sort of irreverent off-the-wall zaniness. By the time Help came out…we saw Help twelve times and memorized every line.”
Or as Garcia put it, “All of a sudden there were the Beatles, the Hard Day’s Night movie and everything. ‘Hey, great, that really looks like fun.’ … They were real important to everybody. They were a little model of good times, especially the movies – the movies were a big turn-on… The Beatles were light and having a good time and they were good too… It was like saying, ‘You can be young, you can be far-out, and you can still make it.’ They were making people happy – that’s the stuff that counts.”
Phil Lesh had also independently seen the movie, and he has a funny description in his book of being the only male in a movie theater filled with teenage girls screaming at the screen. As Garcia said, “He went to see the Beatles movie and of course it blew his mind, and he grew his hair long and started going to the early dances, when the Byrds were playing in town.” [Which actually wouldn’t have been til May ’65.]
McGuinn, Crosby, and Gene Clark went to see A Hard Day’s Night together. As Crosby said, “I knew right then what my life was going to be… I loved the attitude and the fun of it; there was sex, there was joy, there was everything I wanted out of life, right there. They were cool and we said, ‘Yeah, that’s it. We have to be a band. Who can we get to play drums?’”
McGuinn said, “We went as a group to see A Hard Day’s Night multiple times and were totally taken with the Beatles. I liked George Harrison’s Rickenbacker 12-string, but I couldn’t find one that looked like his.” Not only did McGuinn buy his famous electric 12-string because George Harrison played one, the rest of the band did the same - “We took notes on what the Beatles were playing and bought instruments like they had.” The band even went so far as to get “black suits with velvet collars, just like our heroes the Beatles.”
Their Beatle emulation paid off – for their first concert in February ‘65, they were billed as “the US answer to the Beatles.” They were very gratified when the Beatles called the Byrds their favorite American band. (The Dead, on the other hand, were much more ‘underground’ in their aspirations and didn’t touch any Beatle material for decades, except for a couple half-hearted attempts at Hey Jude in ’69.)
McGuinn comments on how derivative the early Byrds were: “If you listen to the very early Byrds recordings on, say, Preflyte, you can hear a pronounced Beatles sound. We moved away from that gradually, after getting into Dylan material. We weren’t thinking of making a new musical style at the time, we were just trying to keep a beat... We were coming from a folk background where the beat wasn't really an important factor. But in rock, the dancers would fall down if you didn't keep the beat. We had to learn how to play in rhythm. That was our main concern, really.”
The Dead also soon learned the importance of the beat - Garcia said in 1967, “We still feel that our function is as a dance band – our greatest value is as a dance band and that’s what we like to do. We like to play with dancers. We like to see it, and really, nothing improves your time like having somebody dance. Just pulls the whole thing together, and it’s also a nice little feedback thing. [The interviewer adds, “I’ve heard the people stomping on the floor…everybody’s in the band!”] That’s the ideal situation…when that’s happening, it’s really something special.”
McGuinn and Garcia were both former folkies, and the folk influence lingered long for both of them. McGuinn had a habit early on of borrowing Pete Seeger songs (like Turn Turn Turn, and Bells of Rhymney), and was fond of traditional folk ballads (like John Riley or Wild Mountain Thyme) – Garcia drew from a much wider range of sources; his knowledge of folk music wasn’t used much in the Dead, but came out more in his later collaborations with Grisman.
Both McGuinn and Garcia liked old sea shanties - the song Jack Tarr the Sailor, done in the Byrds' droney-dirge style on their Ballad of Easy Rider album, is the same song as Off to Sea Once More from Garcia/Grisman's Shady Grove album.
McGuinn, in fact, has a Folk Den on his website which he keeps updated with free new recordings of traditional folk songs – a couple recent ones are Goin’ Down the Road and Frozen Logger! (Dylan collectors will note how many of these songs were also done by Dylan in his bootlegged folk wanderings.)
Though McGuinn’s guitar-playing can’t really be compared to Garcia’s, he had an original, distinctive style – many of his solos (especially from ‘66/67) are freaky classics, and he sounds like he’s inventing a new language. His playing on the Eight Miles High/Why single was a groundbreaking departure, and its influence can be heard all over the Velvet Underground’s first album, recorded just a month after the single’s release. (Lou Reed went to a Byrds show later that year, and claimed in 1968, “To this day, no one has done a better solo than Eight Miles High…the Byrds are divine.”) Another favorite solo of mine is in Change Is Now, an amazing trance drone, and even more its instrumental outtake called ‘Universal Mind Decoder’, which is basically one long, trippy guitar solo.
One thing McGuinn shared with Garcia was that he’d previously played in acoustic folk bands, and this affected how he approached the electric guitar. He’s noted in interviews that part of his guitar style was derived from “a lot of the folky stuff, like the Travis picking.” Some of it came from banjo playing, the ‘rolling’ aspect:
“The sound that I have on the electric 12-string came about because I played the 5-string banjo…so I’d developed a number of rolling pick patterns that I applied to the electric. So if you listen to the rhythm work…you’ll hear a rolling arpeggio pattern underneath. Then we overdubbed the lead break.”
Garcia also said, “My taste in music is kind of informed by the banjo in a way. I like to hear every note. I like the clarity and separation of notes… I work on the electric guitar, the top strings anyway, like a banjo sometimes. My intention with some of my soloing is to get something that's like the banjo in terms of the clarity.”
Here’s the best article on Garcia’s banjo playing and how it related to his electric-guitar work:
(Coincidentally, both players were also apt to quote from Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' - McGuinn did it in the solo for She Don't Care About Time, and Garcia slipped hints of it into jams now & then, for instance in the 10/19/73 Morning Dew or the 11/30/73 Dark Star intro...)
The Byrds called themselves an eclectic band, who couldn’t be put into one bag. The Dead (though they were singlemindedly psychedelic from ’67-69) soon became expert at jumping from genre to genre with each song. Garcia said as early as ’67, “We’ve stolen freely from everywhere…we have no bones about mixing our idioms or throwing stuff back and forth from one place to another. So you might hear some very straight traditional, classical-style counterpoint popping up in the middle of some rowdy thing.”
The Byrds had a tendency to jumble different styles into one song – a rock beat might suddenly go into a country waltz and back again, and they were equally happy to dabble in jazz lines, spacy drones, string quartets, or pedal steel parts. Of course by 1967 rock music was getting more baroque, so the Byrds were not alone in layering their songs with trumpets & violins & celestes. (They were, though, one of the first bands to use a synthesizer, which in ’67 was truly futuristic.)
One reviewer pointed out in ‘67, “The Byrds’ eclecticism is awesome: C&W, science fiction, light jazz touches, finger-picking rhythms, pop-rock, and touches of strings all play their part on this album. Yet if one doesn’t listen closely, he may not notice even a fraction of the incongruities…and therein lies the Byrds’ ability to assimilate everything that they touch.”
One example of the Byrds’ creative mixing approach is their instrumental outtake of the traditional John Riley, where they speed up the song into a psych-jazz-folk piece, McGuinn playing a continuous skittering guitar solo where the lyrics would be. Their approach to psychedelic rock was very different from the Dead’s, as they stuck to short songs (but not always catchy, and sometimes even freestyle), with heavy reliance on studio effects like phasing and backwards guitars.
Just as the Dead became fascinated by the tempos of Indian music, the Byrds earlier became vocal champions of Ravi Shankar, even holding a press conference in March ‘66 where they showed off a sitar and talked about the influence of ragas on their music. (Ironically, they never used a sitar, though some of McGuinn’s solos were meant to sound like one. Many bands adopted Indian elements around this time – for instance, the Butterfield Band was developing their raga-inspired East/West instrumental - but ‘raga rock’ turned out to be a brief phase.)
The Byrds, like the Dead, were also devoted jazz fans, especially of John Coltrane. The liner notes to their first album state that Chris Hillman “plays John Coltrane solos on the mandolin.” Eight Miles High was, of course, a direct tribute to Coltrane, with McGuinn trying to play his guitar like a saxophone. The Byrds even rehearsed a version of Miles Davis' Milestones (and a snippet can briefly be heard in a TV documentary on youtube), but sadly it wasn’t released, the tape was lost, and no recording survives. (Remarkably, Miles Davis had been the person who convinced Columbia Records to sign up the Byrds! So this may have been intended as another tribute.)
McGuinn commented on the group’s changes: “We knew about getting locked into a bag like so many groups did. They had success for a while and they were locked into their bag, and their bag just fell down and they fell down with it. We would do a Houdini from every bag that we got locked into with handcuffs on. We'd pick the locks and jump out of the bag. Tah-dah! Here we are in the country field; here we are in the rock field; here we are in the jazz field - we're doing a number on the public which they didn't really take too well, but at least we didn't get locked into a bag. We're not folk-rock - you can't say that about us any more, really.” (from this interesting 1970 interview - http://www.vincentflanders.com/roger-mcguinn-interview.html )
So the Byrds were quite an experimental and open-ended band for a time, particularly when Crosby was throwing in his weird songs. If Mr Tambourine Man was the birth of a thousand jangles, the 1966 Fifth Dimension album is the Byrds’ most varied album, where their Indian fascination and space-cowboy-rock tendencies are the clearest – in some songs, McGuinn utters flurries of freestyle-jazz guitar solos, in others they harmonize over sweet orchestrated folk tunes. They stayed in full creative bloom through the next two albums from 1967, Younger Than Yesterday and the Notorious Byrd Brothers – usually considered their best albums, these are smoother, gentler, and more consistent. (The Byrds CD reissues with bonus tracks are essential, as several B-sides and good tracks were left off the albums.)
Both the Byrds and the Dead had a hidden appreciation for country music, and each was to take an abrupt turn into the country style, alarming their audiences. (The Byrds lost theirs, but the Dead fans stayed faithful.) The Byrds went through quite a transition in ‘68, as the psychedelic-folkie Byrds phased out and the country-rock Byrds came to stay.
Chris Hillman said of the Byrds’ psych/folk phase, “That was more Roger’s deal. I would play on it, but it wasn’t something I was involved in…. He had that side of him, musically, that was not my style of music. It really wasn’t something I loved that much. But I was a player, and that’s his material, so I supported it. But I sort of dragged him into the country stuff, so it works both ways.”
Hillman found a supporter when the band hired Gram Parsons (as a jazz-piano player!) - “Having Parsons in the band was great for me. I love country music, and now I had an ally, and we sort of nudged Roger along. Roger never really liked that kind of music…”
McGuinn talked about Parsons after he left the band in ‘68: “He was going to be in the group, but it didn’t work out. While he was with us, which I consider a great thing, he led us into this direction headlong, which we would never have done. We were afraid to commit ourselves. It was a little foreign to us…but we have always jumped around in different forms, so we dove into it.”
(He later gave this famous summary: “We hired a piano player – and it turned out to be Parsons – a monster in sheep’s clothing – and he exploded out of this sheep’s clothing – God! It’s George Jones! In a big sequin suit!”)
McGuinn explained the band’s sudden switch to country on Sweetheart of the Rodeo in ‘68: “It’s sort of a backlash from the psychedelic scene, which I’m personally saturated with. We’ve been somewhat influential in starting that kind of stuff, raga-rock and jazz-rock, before it was really appreciated, and a year later these groups did it up and made a great success with it. Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon, so we wanted to get off.”
A couple years later, though, McGuinn was getting a bit tired of country: “I’m fed up to the gills with country music. I don’t care if I never sing another country song in my life… It’s not my style, really. I can do a shot, but I don’t feel at home with it, because I’m a city boy from Chicago. I have more of a love for old-time folk and jazz. I was sort of pressured into country music.”
The Dead also famously took a turn away from nonstop acid jams in ‘69/70 and started doing folkier country/rock tunes (which I talked about quite a bit in my acoustic-sets post). Garcia explained, “We were into a much more relaxed thing…and we were also out of our pretentious thing. We weren’t feeling so much like an experimental music group, but were feeling more like a good old band.” Rock Scully also said, “After all those years of mind-gumming psychedelics we were all actually beginning to crave the normal.” Mickey Hart felt much the same: “I thought, what a wonderful thing – acoustic guitars. It was cold out there in the feedback, electric GD world. It was a great cold, a wonderful freeze, full of exploratory moments and great vision, but here we were exploring the soft side… I remember how warm and fuzzy it made me feel.”
By 1970, the Byrds would have a little break in their show for some songs with acoustic guitar & banjo, folk things like Pretty Boy Floyd and Black Mountain Rag, and a Dylan song or two. The Dead were doing the same thing, though their songs were selected from a larger bag and their acoustic sets kept getting longer. (And, for that matter, even the noisy Led Zeppelin had little acoustic sections in their shows by 1970!)
Meanwhile, back in ’68 Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had left the Byrds and formed a band that would be even more country, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The two bands would play together in ‘reunions’ occasionally. (At that point there were more Byrds in the Burritos than there were in the Byrds!) There was one famous occasion where the Burritos opened for the Dead, which has been released and possibly inspired Garcia to take up the pedal-steel again. Here’s a post about it:
Compared to the gracefulness of the Byrds’ albums, it’s surprising to hear the raucous, ramshackle punkiness of their 1967 Monterey show (released on Rhino’s Monterey box set, although I Know My Rider was left out). Unfortunately, we don’t have any earlier Byrds shows (save for a tame Swedish radio appearance). But numerous audience reports describe a live band that was very different than you’d imagine:
“They were so loud – they were just incredibly loud. It parted your hair right down the middle.”
“They were loud…it was deafening in there. I remember being disappointed when I heard their records, actually. The production sound…was all very smooth; it didn’t have nearly the grinding sort of Zeppelin-esque power they had displayed when I heard them live. There was more of the heavy-metal quality to what they were doing…than you might think by listening to the records.”
“The music was loud…the amplifiers were turned up all the way. The Byrds weren’t always musically precise with playing their songs, but they generated a wall of noise which seemed to envelop you.”
“I’d see people get up and leave, because it was so loud they couldn’t stand it. A lot of times, they’d have their amplifiers on stage behind them so loud they were drowning out their own vocals… Somebody’d turn up, and somebody next to him would notice, and they’d turn up a notch or two. It was competitive…a wall of noise up there.”
One TV producer complained to the Byrds that the sound was distorted. “The group looked at me like I really didn’t understand. ‘The music has to be loud, man!’… Each member of the group reached down and turned their speakers back up to full volume… I looked up at the control room window and saw my audio man being blown back in his seat.”
One hostile English reviewer called the Byrds “an appalling racket” - “They were relaxed almost to the point of disinterest… The singers’ voices were totally inaudible, drowned by the pounding thump of the drums and the ear-splitting twang and jangle of the 12-string guitar.”
McGuinn simply says, “We were undisciplined. Most bands could probably play more harmoniously than we did. We would all turn it up to 11 and kind of blast each other out. It was a matter of, ‘I can’t hear myself, man, I gotta turn it up more.’”
It was an era, of course, when rock bands in general wanted to get louder and louder – Hendrix and the Who also blasted their way through Monterey. Part of the philosophy was that the music would be more intense if audiences didn’t just hear the music, but were vibrated by it. The Dead were no exception. (As Garcia said many years later to Grisman, “On this planet, louder is better!”)
Garcia talked quite a bit about dealing with the volume of electric instruments in his 1967 interview with Ralph Gleason – Gleason said, “People get very hung up about the volume.”
Garcia replied, “That’s true. Because it’s very loud! … I think of it as being a sensory overload… We’ve spent two years with loud and we’ve spent six months with deafening! … In order to hear yourself play, you have to be a little bit louder. And you can see what happens. Everybody starts to turn up a little bit, so by the end of the night, everybody’s creeped up so they’re real loud.” (He claimed, “I think we’re moving out of our loud stage,” but that was a couple years off.)
The Dead were always very relaxed and casual onstage, and at least in the early years were friendly with their audiences. They even spoke sometimes! The Byrds, stars from the start, took a similar casual approach to their live shows, but without the friendliness. One reviewer described them: “They didn’t walk on – they wandered on, with that unique air of detached vagueness… They drifted across the stage in a seemingly aimless fashion, but each went to his allotted place and plugged in. Nothing was hurried, everything was casual and slow-paced.”
In a 1965 rock show, this was unprecedented, and some audience members were startled by this behavior. Some were disappointed that the band was “utterly static” and “made no attempt to communicate with the audience” - and even worse, “after each song, they get together…for a long and usually heated discussion about what they’re going to play next.” One former fan wrote, “They were terrible. The sound was awful, they didn’t bother to introduce any of the songs [!], they tuned up onstage [!!], they had no talent or personality.” Some people were shocked that the Byrds would actually start a concert by tuning up for a few minutes: “they were actually tuning their guitars onstage between numbers – most unprofessional!”
Things went downhill from there, though. The Byrds were always remote and aloof onstage, and never really acknowledged or spoke to audiences, but by 1967 they appeared utterly indifferent to the world. (Crosby responded to this by becoming a motormouth onstage, as we hear at Monterey.)
Chris Hillman admits, “We were better in the studio than we were onstage. We became too lackadaisical onstage.”
Reviewers in ’67 complained, “Onstage they seemed bored, tired, brought-down, and completely out of touch with the audience.” “They seemed to alienate themselves from the audience…you felt free to take it or leave it, listen or drift… They didn’t seem really interested in what they were playing.”
Even their old manager admitted, “I never went to gigs anymore because I couldn’t stand being ashamed of the way they played. They played sloppy music.” Their press agent felt the same: “The Byrds, one of the best groups in the world, were again terrible in the Whiskey a Go Go. I cannot work it out. They seem to have a death-wish.”
Crosby, soon to leave the band, took it the hardest: “Roger would stop in the middle of a song to look at his watch and see how much more time he had to do in the set… My band was turning into a shuck… We would tell people that they should come watch the Byrds play, and then the Byrds would come there and be a mechanical windup doll. They didn’t play fuck. We would get through a set – forty minutes long, just barely – of material that we had done so many times we were ready to throw up with it. We were bored, we were uptight, uncommunicative…”
McGuinn explains (though he’s talking more about ’65 here), “We were a better studio band then a stage band, for the simple reason of lack of experience on the stage. We'd been in the studio for a year but we hadn't been on the stage for more than a month or two [sic]. When we first went out on the stage, the little girls were screaming because we had a number one hit, and you didn't have to worry about performing. But when they stopped screaming, they were listening, and that was a problem.”
Crawdaddy magazine had a (mostly incomprehensible) review of the Byrds in 1967, outlining their dilemma:
“Everybody knows that the Byrds are an odd case. Only the Byrds, amongst modern rock stars, have managed to change their status from stardom to cultural heroism. That is, as one 45 after another didn’t make it, their quality still kept up. And this maintained the fierce loyalty of several hundred thousand knowing fans. Not enough to make them traditional rock stars…but enough to keep their name in circulation. So when the Byrds recorded So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star [with its screaming girls], there was some real irony at work… Who could possibly scream at the Byrds? That’s just not their thing… The Byrds have sounded so bad live… Everybody knows that they could do it well live… But recently they haven’t bothered. The performance quality has become gratuitous.”
This changed after ’68. Though the studio albums became ever more mediocre, the live band improved dramatically after Clarence White joined. (Changing drummers also helped a lot.) The Byrds may already have become a ‘nostalgia act’ to some extent (McGuinn being the only original member left, and plenty of old hits in the set), and they were never the hottest band on the circuit; but their later live shows are far more enjoyable than the dull stuff they were doing in the studio.
The Grateful Dead were known to mix up the songs from night to night, so no two shows were the same – the Byrds, on the other hand, settled on a fixed repertoire, so on any given tour, mostly the same songs would be performed every night. That was as true in ’71 as in ’66, so it must have led to some creative burnout… (McGuinn was never the most prolific songwriter, being more of an adapter, so good collaborators were ideal for him to produce his best work – and songwise, he didn’t really have them in the later Byrds.)
Garcia never really mentioned the Byrds, as far as I’ve seen (not that he’d have any reason to!) – but in his 1967 interview with Ralph Gleason, they did talk about the dance scene a bit. Gleason felt that the live Byrds didn’t turn him on, and the dancers simply looked ‘freaky’ rather than ‘hip.’ (The Byrds had brought their own retinue of L.A. dancers with them when they first went to San Francisco. Incidentally, when Gleason actually wrote about the Byrds show in May ’65, he wrote, “The wild and exotic Byrd-watchers on the floor at the Peppermint Tree were a gas… It is by no means a formal thing. Everybody goes out there and wails away in his or her own individual fashion, and the dancers generally ignore each other.”)
In ’67 Gleason concluded, “Those bands from L.A. still do it wrong,” saying that they were only ‘studio’ bands. And Garcia agreed – “Why is it that San Francisco is so much groovier a place?” His idea was that “in the early dances, everybody was a part of the band. Everybody was stomping on the floor, and waving their arms around. And that was a good feeling… They don’t have any dance things in L.A. The extent of dancing in Los Angeles is ten feet off the floor in a glass cage… Your car is where you live in L.A. The car radio is where it’s at…because if you don’t have an automobile, you’re not even alive in Los Angeles. And their scene is real isolated – they don’t have a community in L.A. There is no place, there is nothing down there. And that’s the truth. We were down there…”
Los Angeles had quite a negative reputation in San Francisco as a “super-uptight plastic” city. Pigpen pointed out, “The only good thing about L.A. is they’ve got about a thousand television stations.” Garcia agreed, “Nothing much else going on. We stayed in the house there, afraid to go out on the streets.” Phil Lesh had a similarly negative memory of L.A. in his book, calling it an “industrial wasteland, populated only by machines and cops.” They seem to have had a similarly low opinion of the L.A. music scene: “the right look, but zero substance…”
The Dead and the Byrds rarely crossed paths in their tours. For the most part, the only events they both appeared at were big festivals where they played on different days, and probably had little if any contact –
Monterey Pop Music Festival – the Byrds played June 17 ‘67; the Dead played the next day.
Newport Pop Festival – Both bands played on August 4 ’68, among many other bands.
Vancouver Pop Festival – The Byrds played Aug 22 ’69; the Dead may have played on the 24th.
New Orleans Pop Festival – The Byrds played on August 31 ’69; the Dead played the next day.
The one show they played together was the “Rock Jubilee” in Houston on October 5 ’69, along with Poco and Jefferson Airplane. As the shows were delayed by several hours, the Byrds had to play a short set and the plug got pulled on the Airplane at 10pm, so it’s likely the Dead didn’t play for very long either. (Unless they were the reason for the delays!)
There is at least one Byrds show that Jerry Garcia went to watch – at the legendary Ash Grove club in Los Angeles in late August, 1970. This would have stirred up many memories for Garcia – he’d frequently gone to see the Kentucky Colonels with Clarence White & Scotty Stoneman play at this club back in 1965; and the opener for the band was Freddie King, who had been a huge influence on Garcia’s guitar playing. (King played TWO versions of Hideaway during his set on August 25 – which is up at Wolfgang’s Vault in their Ash Grove show collection. The Byrds’ set from August 23, with some country guests, has been bootlegged as the “Ash Grove”. Also on the bill was Robbie Basho, a wonderful fingerstyle guitar-player in the mystical-Fahey vein.) Newspaper reviewers at the show were amazed by King’s hot blues set, but called the Byrds a “somewhat disinterested garage band” who “offered little to get excited about, save for the guitar
wizardry of Clarence White.” (Garcia may have gone mainly to catch up with Clarence…)
There were several songs both bands played, mostly covers.
Not Fade Away - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FtWm0AehGk (Shindig ’65)
The Byrds only briefly played Not Fade Away live in the early days, Rolling Stones-style (as a tribute to the Stones). They never recorded it - but in Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe (on their first album) they also borrowed the Bo Diddley beat, particularly in the tremolo-laden outro.
Captain Soul - The Byrds were not much affected by r&b, but this instrumental was based on Lee Dorsey's tune Get Out Of My Life Woman. Coincidentally, that was the same tune the Dead used to revamp Viola Lee Blues (including that famous lick), so there's a strong resemblance. (Actually, these two tracks sound much more similar to each other than to the original. I haven’t heard another version that sounds quite like these two.) If you care to, you can sing Viola Lee to the Byrds' instrumental!
I Know My Rider - This is one folk song they shared. (Hillman: “An old folk song that we were just kicking around. Everybody used to sing that in the old folk days.” McGuinn: “We all knew it from playing around in the Village in different coffeehouses.”) I like the Byrds' arrangement more than the Dead's (it rocks, whereas the Dead just shuffle) - the Byrds were not so thrilled with it, and their version wasn’t released til decades later. The Dead’s jangly ’66 version sounds more like the Byrds, making it possible that one group might have heard the other live early on; but apparently the Byrds took their inspiration from the Beatles’ Paperback Writer!
The song was widespread in the folk circuit, and these are a couple earlier pre-rock examples -
He Was A Friend Of Mine – This became something of a traditional song in the early-‘60s folk boom, though different singers tended to vary the lyrics or arrangement. The Byrds’ treatment is openly about JFK, the Dead’s version more a vague death poem, in keeping with Garcia’s taste. (The Dead based their version on Mark Spoelstra’s variation, which I haven’t heard.) The Byrds' vocals are immeasurably better than the Dead's, although their version lacks the guitar solos!
This is the oldest version I know of, recorded in a Texas prison in the ‘30s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35NQkumxbfo
And Dylan’s version - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkk2sEAs7Vo
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Byrds became known for their numerous Dylan covers, but this was the only one the Dead also covered in the sixties. As with many Dylan songs, Garcia made this his own. Though the Byrds recorded this early on, they rejected it, and a very dull remake was released years later on the Ballad of Easy Rider album (in the sleepy late-Byrds style), so their better original version wasn't heard for decades.
Sing Me Back Home - The Dead were latecomers to the country-rock trend. The Byrds had shown some country twinges on their first few records, but in '68 Gram Parsons shoved them wholly into country music, and they picked up this Merle Haggard song. It can be heard on their Live at the Fillmore February '69 album - the Flying Burrito Brothers also did it, and the Dead adopted it a couple years later, Garcia turning it into a slow dirge the way he liked (similar to Friend of Mine).
Haggard’s original - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN5d4TY-wHM
Gram Parsons - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOuhrCRfQJA
Eight Miles High - True, the Dead never played this. But, Garcia and Lesh rehearsed this with David Crosby for a show in December 1970, and an interesting recording survives. The thought of even a quasi-Dead tackling this Coltrane-inspired song is tantalizing. Unfortunately, Garcia doesn’t sound very comfortable with the song, and his solo isn’t as inspired as we might like. (I’d guess it wasn’t played in the shows…)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99iOr6hEV_0 (from 1:20 to 5:10)
After Clarence White joined the Byrds, they started jamming this song out – one example is on the Untitled album; this is a shorter version:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKhI09XO5R0 - Eight Miles High, live 9/23/70
The Dead and the Byrds were both notorious drug bands. One reviewer who met the Byrds in ’65 noticed, “What strikes us is how, er, disoriented they are… Especially in the case of Michael Clarke. At one point, I find him slumped in a backstage corridor trying to assemble his drum kit. An hour later, he’s still at it.” (A problem the Dead also frequently faced in the early days!)
In the case of the Byrds, they denied that Eight Miles High had anything to do with drugs (without much success), but by ’67 the outspoken Crosby was championing LSD onstage at Monterey, and they even wrote a song about speed. (That’s not to mention the evening with the Beatles in ’65 when McGuinn, Crosby, Lennon, and Harrison sat in a bathtub blasted on acid, playing 12-strings and talking about sitars – a night which would later inspire both Harrison’s sitar craze and Lennon’s song She Said She Said.)
I think we can safely assume that the Byrds drifted through the sixties in a haze of pot and acid just like the Dead, Beatles, and most other rock bands, and will say no more about that.
Chris Hillman's song The Girl With No Name was about the young delinquent known as Girl Freiberg, a friend of Crosby’s who also inspired Steve Miller's song Quicksilver Girl, and hung out in the Quicksilver Messenger Service circle. Apparently Hillman also had a run-in with her! There are more details about her here -
Here’s a picture of her and Pigpen - http://ia351407.us.archive.org/0/items/uploaded/Street_Pig__-tigerbolt-1967pig.jpg?cnt=0
She can also be seen in the photo section of McNally's Dead bio with the Olompali crowd in ‘66, about age 17 and wearing not very much.
She’s also written a reflection on those times –
Although the Byrds and the Dead, as groups, did not hang together socially, there were a couple strong personal connections.
The two bands had a mutual friend in Bob Dylan, though at different times.
The Byrds, of course, were the first rock band to cover a Dylan song, opening many doors. As anyone knows who’s heard of the Newport Folk Festival boos or the “Judas!” cry, folk and rock were separate worlds before ’65, and bringing them together was a huge step. Rock music before ’65 was not known for its lyrics - a large strand of folk music was all about the words, particularly Dylan’s words.
Hunter: “We’ve got to give Dylan credit for being the guy who really opened the door to being literate in music. That was his door and we thank him very much for opening it.”
Garcia: “He sure did. He gave rock & roll the thing I’d wished it had when I was a kid – respectability, some authority. He took it out of the realm of ignorant guys banging away on electric instruments and put it somewhere else altogether… Dylan is the guy who allowed the music to become what some of us hoped it could be.”
McGuinn remembers, “I’d seen Dylan in the Village, and I wasn’t really a big fan of his. He was basically a Woody Guthrie imitator when I saw him in ’61, ’62… I remember him from Gerde’s [in New York] when he was sort of scuffling… I was working and had some bread – he wasn’t. He was into the in-group kind of thing and I wasn’t… I represented a commercial folk-group, and that wasn’t groovy…”
Crosby was also unimpressed by the early Dylan – like many people, he was put off by the singing: “I thought he was a great writer then, [but] didn’t like his voice… I didn’t really get him until Roger translated him for me…he made Dylan come alive for me. All of a sudden I realized the real potential of those songs, because I wasn’t listening to Dylan’s voice, which I found sort of irritating.” (The Byrds initially did not even want to cover Mr. Tambourine Man, but their producer insisted on it!)
McGuinn continues, “Next time I saw Dylan was in L.A. after the Byrds were working together, and we showed him our arrangement of Mr Tambourine Man, and he said, ‘Wow, man, you can dance to that.’ He couldn’t believe the transition it had gone through. In fact, we sang him some of his other stuff at Ciro’s and he didn’t even recognize them. And we got to be friends after a while… He said he really liked what I was starting to do with my music. He thought I’d got my own style going, and he dug it. I didn’t think he would. He didn’t start influencing me until I started singing his material. As I got into it I started to appreciate it. I started to feel what he felt…sort of a rebellious, funky attitude... We had this saving grace that we were doing something with it, aside from just copying it…it was modulated to somewhere else, electrically.”
Dylan was an early supporter of the Byrds. (Of course, thinking of all those royalties couldn’t have hurt!) He was surprised on first hearing them, that his songs could be turned into dance music – “They do it well,” he said at their Tambourine Man rehearsal. He helped convince them that recording Mr Tambourine Man was worthwhile (though he hadn’t even put it on album yet); and at one of their early shows in March '65 he sang and played harmonica for a song or two – his first appearance onstage with a rock group in the ‘60s. (The Byrds look thrilled to be with him.)
He pronounced the next day, “They’re doing something really new now. It’s like a danceable Bach sound. Like Bells of Rhymney. [Which they hadn’t recorded yet.] They’re cutting across all kinds of barriers… If they don’t close their minds, they’ll come up with something pretty fantastic.” (Pretty high praise from him, for a fledgling pop group with no records out!)
The Byrds went on to cover a bunch of Dylan songs over the years – perhaps too many – and became known as Dylan interpreters. On their second album, Dylan was impressed by their cover of Lay Down Your Weary Tune, according to McGuinn: “Hey, this sounds really good. This has some feeling.” (His own version wouldn’t be released for over twenty years.)
McGuinn tells the story of one of Dylan’s suggestions for their second album: “I’m sorry about Oh Susannah. That was a joke, but it didn’t come off, it was poorly told. It was a private joke between Dylan and I, actually. I was riffing with this song – we were trying to rock anything, and Stephen Foster was a funny thing to rock with. Dylan said, ‘Yeah, you gotta do that on your next album, right?’ He didn’t really think I would; he didn’t think I had the guts to do it. So I said, ‘OK,’ and I did it. It was a bomb…it didn’t come out well. We could have done it much better.” (Chris Hillman agreed: “A waste of tape…we were under pressure and rushed.”)
Bad idea, in retrospect, the kind of thing Dylan would do on Self Portrait… But one thing the Byrds had in common with Dylan was the habit of putting innocuous filler on albums when more promising songs were sitting unreleased - and at 11 songs each, their albums were none too long anyway. But this was one result of the band’s arguments, compromises, and the need to record at speed and keep the albums rolling out twice a year: quality control slipped sometimes. (“Politics,” says McGuinn.)
As for Dylan going electric, McGuinn understandably claims, “I think he got his inspiration from us. We had taken one of his songs and done it without sacrificing too much of the aesthetic value, and this confirmed his suspicions that rock was possible for him.” I don’t know if they really influenced him that much (the Beatles and the Animals, and the urgings of producer Tom Wilson, were also in his mind), but it’s notable that he was thinking of switching to rock music at just the time he met them. In fact, his first electric sessions for Bringing It All Back Home in January ‘65 took place the same week the Byrds recorded Tambourine Man! (He recorded the song just five days before they did.)
Michael Bloomfield said of the Highway 61 sessions that July: “He had heard records by the Byrds that knocked him out. He wanted me to play like McGuinn. That’s what he was shooting for…the Byrds sound was what he wanted to get in his sessions.” If so, he didn’t quite get it! But it would become typical over the years for Dylan to enter the studio with one sound in mind and end up recording something completely different.
A few years later in ‘69, Dylan quietly contributed a couple lines of lyrics to the song Ballad of Easy Rider (a song very much in his new ‘pastoral’ style). The Byrds planned to record an album with Dylan in 1970 – as McGuinn said, “We don’t have any concept in mind. He just said to bring some of our stuff and he’d bring some of his. He said he hasn’t been writing much lately…” (At the time Dylan was floundering around in the studio, recording Self Portrait.) But for some reason, they never got together. McGuinn stayed friends with Dylan – Dylan played harmonica on his first solo album; McGuinn played guitar on the Pat Garrett soundtrack in ’73, went on the Rolling Thunder Revue in ‘75/76, guested at the 11/22/80 show, and later on, opened shows during Dylan’s fall ’87 tour with the Heartbreakers.
Dylan’s relationship to the Dead is a bit more mysterious - I’m not sure how much contact he had with the band before ‘86. The earliest contact I know of was when he saw their 7/18/72 show (it’s been said he was even thinking of touring with them, but that seems unlikely). Dylan was also one of the performers at the 3/23/75 benefit show. Sometime around then, he started a behind-the-scenes friendship with Garcia, though neither of them ever talked about it that I know of. (Mountain Girl mentions Dylan visiting Garcia’s home in the early ‘70s.)
Garcia, like McGuinn, was not into Dylan’s early albums. “I never used to like Bob Dylan until he came out with electric music…I sure liked that a lot more.” Garcia liked Bruce Langhorne’s guitar-playing on Bringing It All Back Home, and also liked that “Dylan was getting a little less heavy, he was having a little more fun. That was a nice change. And another thing that turned me on a lot was when I saw Bob Dylan on television, on the Les Crane show [in February ‘65].” Dylan played Baby Blue with Langhorne (a song that struck Garcia right away), and played his usual put-on games with the amused host. Garcia was taken by Dylan’s trippy demeanour and “insane raps. Beautiful mad stuff…we couldn’t believe it.” (The show was taped and bootlegged, and there’s a transcript of the zany banter here, though it doesn’t quite convey the charm of the tape: http://www.interferenza.com/bcs/interw/65-feb17.htm Dylan seems rather giddy,
and isn’t yet as impatient or hostile as he’d be in many interviews over the next year, some of which are also compiled on that website.)
Garcia said later, “Back in the folk music days I couldn’t really dig his stuff, but on Bringing It All Back Home he was really saying something that I could dig… It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, we did that from the very beginning because it was such a pretty song.” Weir also sang She Belongs To Me in ’65; but otherwise the Dead didn’t cover Dylan’s songs much until the ‘80s, when a flood of Dylan songs started creeping into their sets.
Garcia played at Dylan’s shows a few times, much later on (11/16/80, 5/5/92, and 6/25/95) – in the 1980 show, Dylan introduced him: “I’ve played with him a few times before. I’m a great admirer and fan of his and support his group all the way.” Garcia was already doing lots of Dylan covers in his band, but it’s a surprise to hear that he’d ever played with Dylan (Garcia never mentioned it), or that Dylan listened to the Dead. But they seem to have been close already – the story of Garcia’s appearance at the 1980 show is told in Greenfield’s Dark Star bio (page 240). Apparently the idea was just to sell more tickets for the show (Dylan was in his Christian phase and driving people off in droves), but Garcia was excited about going – “I want to go down there and play.” Afterwards, he admitted, “Dylan didn’t know I was coming. But it was worth it. Because it has always been my dream.” It left quite an impression on Dylan as well – at Garcia’s funeral, he simply said to Koons, “He was there for me when nobody was.”
Though the Dylan/Dead tour in 1987 was not a high point for either of them, Dylan called the tour a turning point for him that rejuvenated his approach to live shows – “The Dead did a lot of my songs…they did it better than me. Jerry Garcia could hear the song in all my bad recordings, the song that was buried there.” According to him, the Dead “taught me to look inside these songs I was singing that actually…I couldn’t even sing… I had a hard time grasping the meaning of them… I realized that they understood these songs better than I did at the time.”
Garcia said of Dylan: “He wasn’t writing too much then, still isn’t. I think he was looking for a new direction in which to take his songs… We talked about people like Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi Sheiks, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Gus Cannon, Hank Williams. We tried a few of those things out at rehearsal. I showed Bob some of those songs: Two Soldiers, Jack-a-Roe, John Hardy, and some others. Trouble was, Bob seemed to prefer to do these rather than rehearse his own songs.”
One way Dylan and Garcia connected was through their love of traditional music (something they both shared with McGuinn), so it’s time for a little digression into the folk world, and how these musicians got there. Though all of them had been fans of rock & roll’s first boom in the ‘50s, by the time the early ‘60s rolled around they were raving folkies…
Garcia said in ’67, “When Joan Baez’s first record came out I heard it and I heard her fingerpicking the guitar. [McGuinn and Dylan were also impressed by Baez.] I’d never heard anything like it before, so I got into that, and I started getting into country music, old-time white music. Mostly white spiritual stuff, white instrumental music, and I got into fingerstyle, the folk-music-festival scene. I was very heavy into that for a long time, and I sort of employed a scholarly approach and even went into the South with tape recorders, recording bluegrass bands. I spent about three years playing bluegrass banjo; that was my big thing, and I almost forgot how to play the guitar… And then I got into a jug-band, and I took up the guitar again.”
Chris Hillman followed a similar trail: “I really liked the more traditional stuff… As I kept delving into more roots-oriented things, with Leadbelly and the Weavers and Pete Seeger, then I discovered old string-band music – not bluegrass, but old stringbands. And then I heard the New Lost City Ramblers [a group Garcia admired as well] and I just fell in love with the mandolin. I just loved that stuff – my peers thought I was crazy. It wasn’t popular; I was an oddball… The minute I heard Flatt & Scruggs I just went crazy. I thought that it was the most fantastic energy of music I ever heard.”
Garcia talked more about how discovering old folk/blues 78s led him to bluegrass: “Once I found out there was such a world, I met guys who were into 78s and collected them. So I had access to them and I could mine that resource. But I had no consciousness of it before the Folkways stuff came out. For me it was the Harry Smith anthology that showed me that there was this vital, rich, primitive form with these guys sawing away on their fiddles and banjos and singing in these creaky old voices. That was very exciting for me… Getting into that world was like opening a magic door, because I met all these people who had live tapes of bluegrass. That’s what really did it for me, because live, the music sounded so energized and so beautifully detailed.”
McGuinn was a bit less descriptive about his attraction to folk: “Around the time I started getting interested in folk music, rock & roll became more bubblegum. It had less integrity. Folk music offered a good alternative, because the stories were good, the melodies were good, there was a lot of folklore behind the songs. Plus it just had sort of a cool factor to it.” [‘Cool’ meaning underground, bohemian, non-mainstream.]
Garcia had a similar comment: “When I was away from rock & roll it was going through the whole Frankie Avalon, Fabian phase, and all this plastic nonsense. And it didn’t have much vitality. I sort of lost interest in it ‘cause the vitality, the energy in it had gone into other channels. For me, it was in folk music… I didn’t feel that rock & roll was going to be my vehicle for communication. When I got into folk music, I never got into it behind the lyrical content…what I really got into was the instrumental parts... I heard something that was more satisfying to me than rock & roll was.”
Dylan had (briefly) been a rock & roll player in the ‘50s, but flipped: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store…that was in ’58 or something like that. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustic guitar… From Odetta, I went to Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, little by little uncovering more as I went along. Finally, I was doing nothing but Carter Family and Jesse Fuller songs. Then later I got to Woody Guthrie, which opened up a whole new world… It took me a long time to realize the New York crowd wasn’t that different from the singers I’d seen in my own hometown…people like the Stanley Brothers, on the backroad circuit, playing for a few nights. If I had known then what I do now, I probably would have taken off when I was 12 and followed Bill Monroe.”
Dylan gave a somewhat tongue-in-cheek explanation of the folk lure in ’65: “I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow. Obviously I'm not a hard-working cat. I played the guitar, that was all I did. I thought it was great music. Certainly I haven't turned my back on it or anything like that… Folk music is the only music where it isn't simple. It's never been simple. It's weird, man, full of legend, myth, Bible and ghosts. I've never written anything hard to understand (not in my head anyway) and nothing as far out as some of the old songs. They were out of sight.”
(In one famous ‘66 interview he offered this description: “Traditional music comes from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans who turn into angels – they’re not going to die…”)
Garcia also talked about the weirdness of folk lyrics – song verses that were “nonsense insofar that if they have any sense, it’s so deeply symbolic we don’t know what it’s actually about… Not knowing is part of what makes it so evocative. The mystery is part of what makes it interesting to me… It was the power of the almost-expressed, the resonant. It seemed to speak at some level other than the most obvious one, and it was more moving for that reason, since you don’t know what it’s about.”
He mentioned Lord Randall as an example of an old English ballad where the storyline has been boiled down to a few compressed verses: “The versions that made it to Appalachia were like two hundred years after the fact…you only get three or four verses, but they’re so rich in weirdness because they’re the ones that made enough of an impression that they could last through the generations.”
(Lord Randall, of course, was the ballad Dylan had in mind when composing A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, compressing his narrative into a series of images ‘rich in weirdness.’)
Perhaps coincidentally, all three artists took a turn back towards folk music in the ‘90s. Garcia was prompted by playing with David Grisman to pull out a lot of old dusty tunes from the attics of his memory. (Sometimes he’d even drop an instrumental Handsome Cabin Boy into the Dead’s spaces, for instance on 9/22/87, 9/12/90, and 3/17/93.) Dylan also started reviving folk rarities in his live shows now and then, and even recorded two fine acoustic folk albums on his own in ‘92/93, as if the past 30 years hadn’t happened. McGuinn, as mentioned earlier, started his ongoing Folk Den project of recording one folk song every month for the internet public.
Dylan wrote a letter to Garcia in '95, suggesting another traditional-music project:
"My record company is doing a Jimmie Rodgers tribute album - you don't have to yodel - there's plenty of songs where he doesn't yodel - but if you want to yodel, that's OK too - Anyway one of the performers on this record will be me and of course the perfect song for me is Blue Eyed Jane and it's included with this letter - Didja hear my version of Two Soldiers? Anyway if it's not too much to ask, think about a Jimmie song - let me know something in some kind of incalculated time - whatever you decide is OK with me - "
(Two Soldiers, of course, was the song Garcia showed Dylan - he recorded it with Grisman, and Dylan promptly put his own version on World Gone Wrong.)
As the Jerrysite says: “Garcia reportedly read the letter backstage at a Dead show before giving it to a tech. With a weakened voice and ill health, Garcia did a session for the tribute album, his last studio recording. [He chose Blue Yodel #9.] Two weeks later he died. ‘Given its connection to Jerry’s last recording session I would say it’s a very important item,’ said Dennis McNally. ‘I don’t know pen-and-ink letters Dylan has written to anyone or to Jerry but I can't believe there’s been many.’”
Dylan would soon write his striking eulogy for Garcia: “To me he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know.”
After his tour with the Dead, Dylan started pulling out more rare songs and expanding his setlist. Famously, he started the “Never-Ending Tour,” which some have felt was inspired by the Dead’s example. As Dylan said, “It didn’t occur to me until we did those shows with the Grateful Dead, if you just go out every three years or so like I was doing for a while, that’s when you lose touch. If you’re going to be a performer, you’ve gotta give it your all.” And to some extent the spirit of the Dead seeped into his shows in the ‘90s, as Dylan’s band started jamming out the songs more with long solos. He even did a few Hunter/Garcia covers (Friend of the Devil, Alabama Getaway, West LA Fadeaway) - and when he started closing his sets with Not Fade Away, though he’s a big Buddy Holly fan, it sounded like a nod to the Dead.
Ironically, Dylan could have seen the Dead as far back as ’65, had his tour schedule been different. At his San Francisco press conference in December, he showed a poster Bill Graham gave him for the Mime Troupe benefit and dance concert at the Fillmore on 12/10/65, featuring the Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society, and ‘many other friends’, saying, “I would like to go if I could, but unfortunately, I won’t be here. If I was here, I’d certainly be there.”
As it turned out, the Warlocks were among the ‘other friends’ who showed up to play. Ralph Gleason wrote an evocative article on the event, which is reprinted at deadlists. (It’s worth remembering that in those days, dances were forbidden in San Francisco without a permit.) Meanwhile that weekend, the Byrds were appearing on the Ed Sullivan show to play their hit singles.
The story according to the Dead books is that the Warlocks came bearing their new name that night – and when Bill Graham refused to list them as the Grateful Dead, they agreed to go on as “Formerly the Warlocks.” I suspect this is a mistaken memory, as Gleason simply calls them the Warlocks, and it was for their next Fillmore show, on 1/14/66, that they first appeared on a poster as the “Grateful Dead (Formerly the Warlocks)”.
We’ll let Jerry Garcia introduce Clarence White:
“Clarence was important in my life both as a friend and as a player. He brought a kind of swing - a rhythmic openness - to bluegrass, and a unique syncopation. His feel has been incorporated by a lot of other players, but nobody has ever quite gotten the open quality of his rhythm. In the bluegrass world, the instruments characteristically are on top of or slightly in front of the beat. Bluegrass is a kind of forward-leaning music. Clarence’s playing was way in the back of the beat, and so added an openness that was really breathtaking… Clarence had wonderful control over the guitar. He's the first guy I heard who really knocked me out.”
“Clarence made it look like playing was the easiest thing in the world. He was special, the kind of guitar player who comes along once in a while.”
Garcia first admired Clarence in the bluegrass world, but in the Byrds Clarence was equally adept in playing electric rock music. One fan who saw them in ’69 says, “Clarence White’s style was unique. He had taken his bluegrass roots, electrified them, and added some Don Rich-influenced Bakersfield twang. Then he combined these elements with a unique behind-the-beat syncopated style. Listening to him play that night, I thought he sounded like no other guitar player I’d ever heard. Many of us 17-year-olds were guitar players who were totally awed by the band, especially Clarence’s amazing licks. We had never heard anyone play like that, and what he was doing remained a mystery until years later, when I learned he was playing a B-bender.”
McGuinn confirms that “Jimi Hendrix came backstage once to shake his hand,” telling Clarence how much he admired his playing. Guitar-players would flock to Byrds shows and stand in front of Clarence, staring at him in amazement. Bassist John York jokes about the “wall of guitarists” and says, “He was very adventurous – and fearless – you listen to some of those solos, the way he played is just phenomenal, the energy level. He had fluidity, he had a kind of syncopation where he could just bounce through things, so he could create a rhythm on top of a rhythm. He could create a guitar line that just sounded fierce – so he constantly blew our minds.”
Check out the Byrds’ Live at the Fillmore February 1969 album – the band sounds deceptively ragged and twangy, and McGuinn’s singing is surprisingly desperate. But Clarence’s guitar style (and sometimes McGuinn’s) sears through everything, and he knows when to turn on the fuzz. It’s hard to believe that someone whose first love was acoustic bluegrass picking could pull out these effortless paint-peeling solos – as the show goes on, you can hear the crowd cheering after each solo! Garcia may well have taken note of the way Clarence’s solos leap out aggressively from otherwise calm country tunes.
Of course, Clarence was by nature a non-flashy sideman, stoic in that bluegrass fashion, whose role was to support the songs and back the band – he wasn’t a “lead” guitarist the same way Garcia was, and his solos always stayed within concise bounds, which is one reason he may not be too well-known outside bluegrass & Byrd-fan circles.
One Byrd-fan who saw them in ’70 remembers: “I had not really heard much of him till that show....and proceeded to get blown away....he did stuff I haven't seen anyone do before or since....and what struck me was how motionless the guy was onstage...the hands moving around the guitar and that right heel tapping was the ONLY movement I saw...”
Drummer Gene Parsons says, "When we played together in the Byrds, Clarence was always experimenting with new licks. He'd leave these big holes - these anticipated beats -- and he'd just kind of leave you hanging out in the middle of nowhere. And then all of a sudden he'd come up from underneath, in a totally unexpected place, and really stretch out. That's what was always exciting about his playing. He'd knock you right out of your seat."
Tony Rice, an ace acoustic guitarist and frequent David Grisman collaborator, admits: “I couldn’t play like him. I still can’t play like him. Nobody else can, either.”
Here’s one good introduction to Clarence White –
(And this short page focuses on his early acoustic development –
There is lots of live Kentucky Colonels material available, since folkies tended to be ardent tapers – here is a White Brothers bluegrass set from April 1967 –
Clarence was unusual for guitarists in that he excelled in three different playing styles – acoustic bluegrass picking (like Doc Watson), then the twangy Telecaster country style (like James Burton), then heavy rock music with the stringbender (like no one, since he was the first to play one). With the stringbender, a device he and Gene Parsons invented, he could bend the B-string while playing, which made the guitar sound like a pedal-steel with its multiple bent notes. Garcia, like many other players, must have been intrigued by the sound.
Garcia talked about Clarence’s variety: "Clarence was the first guy to get a lot of mileage out of the stringbender. But, he also played fingerstyle cross-picking, which was a big departure for him because he was a flatpicker on the acoustic. He played almost like a bluegrass banjo player on the electric guitar. He also took advantage of the light setup and the Telecaster snarl to get a kind of nasty, biting sound."
In the late ‘50s Clarence started listening to jazz guitarists Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, and absorbing their playing. Django in particular became a major influence. As one Django site says, “Many of Clarence's signature licks derive from Django's intricate syncopations, arpeggio runs, and frequent use of open strings.” Clarence was amazed by Django’s playing, got a reel of Django solos and studied it intently, learning solos note-for-note off the tape and adopting many of Django’s licks and techniques. One of Clarence’s friends reports, “I know by the time the Colonels had Scotty Stoneman playing with them in 1965 that Clarence was already using Django licks off of that tape. Because some of the stuff he did in Julius Finkbine’s Rag and Alabama Jubilee was directly off this tape of Reinhardt’s stuff.”
Garcia was also a Django fan. Back in ’67 he said he’d been listening to a lot of Django records. Later on he said if he could, “I’d follow around Django Reinhardt, the gypsy guitarist. I have every single one of his records. Most of what he plays is hard to understand, no matter how much I’ve listened to it. Either he’s got fingers a half a mile long or - I just don’t know how he’s doing it. And he played all this with a messed-up left hand. His technique is awesome. Even as good as players are today, nobody has come up to the state that he was playing at - that whole fullness of expression, the combination of having incredible speed and giving every note a specific personality. The other guy I’d like to hear live is Charlie Christian, who had an incredible mind, just a relentless flow of ideas. He was the first guy who played through he changes the way horn players would. He had that sense of where everything goes harmonically. He had
an incredible intensity and a hip tone. To my ears, his playing still sounds very modern.”
Clarence is also said to have studied Joseph Spence, another of Garcia’s favorites. Chris Hillman said of Clarence’s playing, “He got a lot of it probably from listening to Joseph Spence, the Bahamian guitarist who had this incredible sense of time.”
Garcia first became acquainted with Clarence by seeing the Kentucky Colonels (with Clarence & Roland White) in the early ‘60s. Garcia was thrilled with them, and went to see them as often as he could. On their CD Livin’ in the Past, Garcia introduces the Colonels at a November ’64 show as “the best young bluegrass band in America.”
Sandy Rothman talks about their spring ’64 trip together, when Garcia and Rothman decided to travel cross-country taping bluegrass shows:
“During this time we heard about the upcoming tour for the Colonels – they were booked at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and they were planning to drive across the country in their station wagon (with the bass on top). Jerry Garcia and I had an idea to drive along with them in another car, and they said OK. We left from Los Angeles (in Jerry's white '61 Corvair) and stopped for a few days in Missouri, where Clarence and Roland had some relatives (French Canadians) in the Ozarks. We had lots of parties and played a lot of music together. The Colonels went to the East Coast but Jerry and I went to Ohio and Indiana to see the Osborne Brothers and Bill Monroe. (I wish we had gone to Newport with the Colonels, but I ended up playing guitar for Bill Monroe that summer while Jerry drove back to the West Coast by himself.)
“While we were travelling across the country in two cars, we sometimes changed passengers and drivers in the cars; sometimes we would ride with the Colonels or they would ride with us. One time I remember we decided to pull into a gas station and play the same tune (in different cars) on guitar and mandolin to see if anyone would notice. I don't think anyone noticed, but we thought it was very funny. We tried to make it look like we didn't know each other - both cars just happened to have someone playing musical instruments (and the same song!).”
Ironically, both Clarence and Garcia were soon to shift gears. When Garcia returned from the trip with his stash of bluegrass tapes, having failed to talk to Bill Monroe and dissatisfied with the bluegrass opportunities in the Bay area, he decided to drop bluegrass and start up a jugband with some other folkie freaks, including Bob Weir and Pigpen.
As for the Kentucky Colonels, they also found opportunities drying up over the next year as the folk-music scene changed. In 1965, they were even forced to “plug in” and get a drummer! The band didn’t last long after that. Clarence, though, was eager to embrace electric music:
“It wasn’t so much that I was getting bored with acoustic bluegrass. I could feel so many new things in the air. I wanted to get in the stream of a new kind of music that combined what you could call a ‘folk integrity’ with electric rock.”
“I wanted to electrify folk music. I’d suggested it in ’64, but none of the other guys [in the Kentucky Colonels] thought it was a good idea…”
“I had gotten a demo of Tambourine Man even before Dylan had put it on record [they and the Byrds’ future producer had all seen him play it at that Newport Festival in ‘64]…but most of the guys in the band weren’t interested in doing a song like Tambourine Man. They were more interested in doing straight, old-time bluegrass music.”
“So in ’66 I bought a Telecaster and started playing country music, getting more power and using bigger amps… It was like learning a completely different instrument, and I began to do a lot of studio work. [Clarence did many studio sessions for Bakersfield country acts, and his Nashville West band perked up many ears – including some future Burrito Brothers - so he played a part in California’s slide towards country-rock.] Some of the first sessions I did were with the Byrds, because I used to know Chris Hillman – he was a bluegrass musician, and we’d played together a lot at jams and parties. He got me to do their sessions…then he asked me to join the band.”
McGuinn later claimed, “He always wanted to be in the Byrds. He kinda felt like he missed the boat, because he was doing Dylan stuff with the Kentucky Colonels before the Byrds.” (This might not be strictly true. But Chris Hillman, in his mandolin days, had played a Dylan cover with his bluegrass band in ’64.)
The world was introduced to Clarence’s new style on the Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde album, as he swooped through their menacing version of This Wheel’s On Fire.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av89p1rRSLc (from the Playboy After Dark TV show)
(Ironically, Clarence didn’t like what he played on the album version. “I felt I was faking it… That’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. It’s horrible. I wasn’t ready for it. I wanted someone else to play lead on that.”)
And from the same show, an example of Clarence doing the pedal-steel sound on his guitar in You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere –
From that point, the Byrds’ shows improved dramatically from their original lineup, while their studio albums kept getting duller. Aside from the Untitled live sides from 1970, a couple live albums have been released - one from the Fillmore in ’69 (half of which is country songs), one from the Royal Albert Hall in 1971 (which has little country, and more of that early-‘70s light-rock feel).
The Byrds’ one step into the jam-band world was Eight Miles High – after Clarence joined, they sometimes stretched it out into a 15-20 minute extravaganza as a show-closer (though much of that was a rather unnecessary drum/bass interlude). This wasn’t really a melodic or exploratory jam, it was more about the funky rhythm - Clarence and McGuinn would play dueling guitars, weaving between Clarence’s hard-edged spirals and blasts from McGuinn’s 12-string, all dissolving in a distorted blur.
According to Chris Hillman, who was always more of a traditional country fan, “The music the Byrds went on to make after that was pretty bad. You listen to the later Byrds with Clarence and it’s so loud. The beauty of Clarence White was…where he didn’t use that pull-string gadget and just played straight out of his amp. It was beautiful. His acoustic playing? Unbelievable. But in the Byrds he fell into that loud rock thing… The twenty-minute Eight Miles High was awful.”
When the Byrds split up in 1973, Clarence played in Muleskinner, a ‘progressive bluegrass’ group with David Grisman & several Bill Monroe alumni – some of whom were playing at the same time in Old & In the Way. Since the two bluegrass bands shared three members, it’s tempting to think how easy it might have been for Garcia and White to play together. What was left of the Byrds finally broke up for good that February, and White decided to rejoin the Kentucky Colonels. He was on tour with the Colonels that July when he was killed by a drunk driver.
For those who’d like to follow Clarence’s career, these are some more pages about his work -
http://www.ebni.com/byrds/memcw1.html (in several sections)
http://www.flatpick.com/Pages/Featured_Artist/clarence.html (focuses on his bluegrass work)
http://www.adioslounge.com/search/label/Clarence%20White (an unmatched, ongoing series covering Clarence year-by-year with sound samples - to read chronologically, go to the oldest posts first)
“Paul Kantner and I and David Freiberg used to live together, down in Venice. I went and started the Byrds with McGuinn…and then Paul started the Airplane. And then David got together…and started Quicksilver. So I was tapped into each new band that started in San Francisco. And as soon as there was a Grateful Dead, I heard about it…”
“I had heard of them playing down on the Peninsula, there was another name they went under first – the Warlocks. I had heard, ‘There are these guys down there who are really out there.’ That was like honey to a bee to me…I didn’t encounter them until they were full-blown as the Dead.”
“I think I heard about Garcia playing even before that down in Palo Alto, at some little club down there. But as soon as they started playing, we started to hear about them, and then I went to visit 'em when they were still living on Ashbury. I liked them right away, because they were totally outrageous and obviously completely crazed. And that was just my style. I remember thinking, God, this kid Weir is too young to be in this band, isn't he? I mean, do you have like a note from his parents or something?”
“Paul Kantner gave me their first album, and I loved it…I knew they were kindred spirits immediately. I started playing with them early on, when Mickey joined the band, and they had the place up in Novato. I first met them when they were still living at 710, but we didn’t play that time. I just hung out with them, talked, and liked them a lot.”
Crosby was soon impressed by their commitment to their music: “They didn't let the peripheral stuff pull 'em away from it. They didn't give a hoot how much money something made; they didn't give a damn what the reviews were; they were not in it for chicks, glory, money, fame; they did not make the ‘I must be smart - look how many people are listening to me’ mistake; they kept intensely focused on music.”
Crosby was a link between the Los Angeles and San Francisco music scenes - (the only Byrd who was regarded as an honorary San Franciscan, I think). Aside from being in the Byrds, he also played with Buffalo Springfield, shared songs with Jefferson Airplane, and hung out with Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Dead. (Crosby also shared a serious interest in drugs with Garcia, a non-musical issue, but one which would severely affect them both in the decades to come.) After he was kicked out of the Byrds in ’67, Crosby drifted for a while, getting high and hanging out, until CS&N hit sudden superstardom in ’69.
Crosby and Stills spent a lot of time at Mickey Hart’s ranch that year, singing away the days. Garcia said, “Hearing those guys sing and how nice they sounded together, we thought, ‘We can try that. Let’s work on it a little.’ [Hunter added, “We can double-track vocals too, dammit!”] I’d worked in the studio with them [he recorded the pedal steel for Teach Your Children on 10/24/69] and we spent some time hanging out. So it was like an inspiration – here’s a direction we haven’t really explored.”
Crosby says, “They had listened to us a lot… It’s very generous of them to credit us with it, but we never sat them down in a room and said, ‘Okay, now, you sing this, you sing this.’ That never happened. Those guys are brilliant. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they evolved their own version of it. They just credited us to be nice.”
In 1969, Stephen Stills played with the Dead onstage a couple times (on 10/25/69 and 12/10/69), but I don’t recall Crosby appearing. Tom Constanten, though, remembers Crosby playing at the 12/10 Thelma Theater show.
Crosby was asked in his Rolling Stone interview (spring 1970), “Would you dig working with Jerry Garcia?”
He replied, “Man, I would. Now I think Jerry Garcia probably needs me like he needs a third eye. Excuse me, a fourth. He has a third. But I would be just so knocked-out to play, or sing, or do any kind of music with that dude….and he’s not the only one. What about Lesh? Have you really considered what kind of a musician Phil Lesh is? I would like to make a record sometime with him playing classical music on an electric bass. He is certainly one of the most virtuoso string instrument players on the planet. Somebody somewhere, sooner or later, has got to realize that the Grateful Dead is one of the best bands in the world… On a good night, the Dead is as good as it gets.”
As it turned out, he did play with them at several shows over the next couple years - 7/14/70, 8/19/70, 9/10/72, and 12/31/72. He was also present during the 8/14/71 encore, when the Dead played Happy Birthday for him, though I don’t think he plays in that show. He also participated in a jam session with the Dead that was taped that month:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-08-21.hartjam.aud.17179.sbeok.shnf (with Cippolina)
In early 1975, when they were working on Blues for Allah, Crosby spent time with them in the studio. “They were trying to rehearse, and I would go over and drag along my Stratocaster and cause trouble. I would go in and they would be trying to record, and I would cause trouble. I would go in and say, ‘Aah, you guys don't have a real rhythm guitar player.’ Which endeared me to Bob forever, I’m sure. But I would go in there and…try to involve myself with them.”
This is one taped date where Crosby led them through rehearsals of a couple of his songs:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd75-03-17.sbd.vernon.10111.sbeok.shnf (with Ned Lagin)
(One of the songs they do, Low Down Payment, was based on a jam on the Eleven. And several years earlier, Crosby’s song Tamalpais High may have come out of the Dead’s Main Ten riff – in one outtake, Garcia even teases the Main Ten.)
Crosby was also supposed to play with the Dead during the 3/23/75 show, but dropped out.
Going back a few years, Crosby had already worked quite a bit with Garcia and Lesh - in December ’70, Garcia, Lesh and Hart formed a short-lived band with Crosby. As Garcia tells it, “We had a little band called David and the Dorks. He was the star, and it was his trip that we were doing. It was right around the time he was in the Bay Area a lot ... we did maybe two or three shows ... they weren't announced or anything; we just went in there on a Monday night and had a lot of fun, and the sound was cool. In fact, that was the core of the band that played on David's album.”
There is a tape of one of their Matrix shows (and a rehearsal), usually dated 12/15/70. It’s dominated by Crosby’s songs, so Garcia is more of a sideman here; but we do get the first versions of two of his songs, Bertha and Bird Song. (Bertha has an interesting early guitar arrangement that was dropped, and a different Crosby harmony.) The highlight of the show is probably Garcia’s final five-minute solo on Laughing, which I would urge everyone to hear.
Garcia also spent a lot of time in the studio with Crosby at the end of 1970, recording If I Could Only Remember My Name. They were part of the Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra (PERRO), a loose collective of members from the Dead, the Airplane, Quicksilver, and CSN&Y – they first recorded Paul Kantner’s Blows Against the Empire album, then moved on to Crosby’s album. According to Crosby, that album turned out to be a Crosby/Garcia co-production: “He gave so much of himself to that record.”
Crosby has said, “Jerry Garcia is responsible for that record a very great deal. He was there night after night after night…thinking, listening, talking - you know, acting as a friend, saying ‘Hmmm, man, what if you, how did you, why don't you try a little more, and....’ And he would play. He played on a lot of stuff. That record is the only place on record, that I know of, that he and Jorma Kaukonen ever played together... That's one of the first times that [Garcia] did pedal steel too. I think the first time he put it on a record was on Deja Vu, on Teach Your Children. [Actually, Garcia had played pedal-steel for Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album shortly before.] But he played it on Laughing, too. A beautiful, strange thing that he played. Lesh played great on that, too.”
Chris Hillman has a little comment on that: “We were on tour with the Byrds in 1965 and David was going on and on about the sitar – about how it used sliding scales, it had no frets, and all that. So I said, ‘Listen to this,’ and I hit the radio until I found a Nashville station and some steel guitar. David exploded. He said, ‘I hate that corny, stupid shit!’ And then four years later he’s got Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel on Teach Your Children.”
http://wecouldbeflying.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/jerry-week-day-5-you-know-im-crazy-but-i-aint-real-dumb/ - has a few links, to the live David & the Dorks show, and to a David Gans/Steve Silberman radio show where several If I Could Only Remember My Name outtakes were played – an instrumental Cowboy Movie (with Garcia and Neil Young trading solos), the Wall Song (with a long ending jam), Tamalpais High (a long instrumental outtake where Garcia plays the Main Ten), and Kids & Dogs (the acoustic duet between Garcia & Crosby).
Through the links you can also find these songs mixed in with the “PERRO sessions”, a group of mostly Crosby songs recorded with the usual suspects on a few days in January 1971 (after If I Could Only Remember was finished, I think) – a rundown of the circulating tape is here: http://www.philzone.com/philbase/perro.html
These are unfinished rehearsals - for Dead followers, they’re most notable for the first rehearsal version of Loser (with fiddle), the first version of the Mind Left Body pattern, an alternate Eep Hour, a Jorma & Jerry guitar jam, and Garcia singing the long, hypnotic Mountain Song mantra. (Parts of these are also on youtube, for those who’d like to stream.)
Crosby has talked about the Dead’s jams: “They have always believed in the magic content of music - that anything is possible at any moment. That's why they've always managed to keep their door open to the incredible peaks that they sometimes hit. They hit valleys too. The only dependable grade of music that you can deliver every day is mediocre. They're not interested in that, any more than I am. So they leave the door open wide, and take incredible chances. And as a result, they've hit musical peaks that probably no one will ever touch. They've also played some dogshit, but they know that. They want those peaks, and they keep themselves open.”
This is a good David Gans interview with Crosby (I’ve already quoted a lot of it) -
AND IN THE END…
Well, to those of you who’ve made it this far in our ramble through some musical cross-currents of the sixties, we’ve almost reached the end. I’ll just wrap it up with a little return to the beginning. The Byrds’ legendary spring ’65 run at Ciro’s club in Hollywood (pretty much their first live shows) also marked the first mass appearance of the ‘freak’ audience that would embrace the Dead and the Acid Trips a year later. A couple descriptions of the scene:
“The Byrds were the catalyst for a new freaky movement that was happening among the artists, the poets, and the freaky film people. Some kind of magic happened…and the streets were lined with people.”
“There were queues up and down Sunset Strip of desperate teenagers, clamoring to get in. The dance floor was a madhouse. A hard core of Byrd followers – wayward painters, disinherited sons and heirs, bearded sculptors, misty-eyed nymphs and assorted oddballs – suddenly taught Hollywood to dance again.”
“There were hardcore fans who followed them around every night… When we arrived in Hollywood and saw the scene the Byrds were into, it was a completely new and revolutionary thing. It appeared to be a giant party with no lines drawn between the show on the stage and the show on the dance floor… We were entering into an exciting new adventure with real beatniks and hippies. It seemed to be a secret community of serious artists and freaks who were drawn together by their mutual love of something we hadn’t experienced before.”
One intellectual Los Angeles Free Press writer wrote this description of the group in April 1965, when they had been playing live for only two months:
“There is only one such group as the Byrds… Their singular method is so unique…the technique and honesty of folk music, the joy and immediacy of rock & roll, and the virtuosity of jazz. It becomes hypnotically imperative to all who hear – reflected in the brushfire emergence of enthusiastic fans who wildly proselytized an experience which indelibly touched them…The Byrds have gone through the Beatles and into a totally novel and fascinating place. They successfully united an audience of average teenagers, Bach, Bartok, and Cage aesthetics, folkniks, sophisticated middle-agers, rock & roll devotees, and serious hippies into one joyous commitment… What the Byrds evoke is an Enlightenment in the full psychedelic sense of the word… They all crossed over to find freedom and delight – and their discovery of it is ours… The mode of dancing which the Byrds incite is a thing of open loveliness to behold and a state of ecstasy to involve yourself
in. Dancing with the Byrds becomes a mystic loss of ego and tangibility; you become pure energy someplace between sound and motion, and the involvement is total. Their first record…just doesn’t compare to the direct gestalt of music, dancers, aura, and communication.”
I’m sorry I have not been able to post for so long. This took a while, though…
This is an essay about the connections between the Byrds AND the Dead, so I left out a lot of background on the Byrds. There were lots of interesting Byrds-stories that could be told – how they started, their quarrels, Crosby’s behavior, etc. – but this was not the place for them.
There are several good printed sources:
Christopher Hjort’s book So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star – The Byrds Day By Day was invaluable. One of the best books ever compiled on any band.
Richie Unterberger’s two books on ‘60s folk-rock (Turn Turn Turn and Eight Miles High) are pretty much essential reading if you’re interested in ‘60s music.
Johnny Rogan’s book The Byrds – Timeless Flight was helpful.
(Crosby had this to say about it: “Rogan is not actually a very good source. Johnny Rogan thinks he knows everything, and he speaks with great authority, but he is repeatedly wrong. If you sit down with that book, I can show you 24 mistakes in the first 7 pages. He comes off as if he really knows everything, and he is an opinionated little son of a bitch, but he is continually misinformed. And I would like to go on record as saying "Do not take Johnny Rogan as an accurate source, because he damn well isn't." He can't even spell names, let alone get facts right.”
Of course, Crosby’s memories are not always accurate, either… He has his own autobiography, though.)
On the web, Roger McGuinn has a humorous little intro to the Byrds’ story on his site –
This is the best Byrds site (though it is incomplete, and hasn’t been updated in 11 years) -
It includes detailed album info, and little bios of several of the Byrds, and these classic words: “The Internet was created by a coalition of the military, academia and the defense industry so that Deadheads and Dylanologists would be able to trade tapes more efficiently.”
I feel the Byrds’ story is best told through their own interviews – one good compilation of interviews is here –
There are lots of Roger McGuinn interviews around the web – these are a couple of the most informative Byrds-related ones –
And one with Chris Hillman –
Crosby interviews are always entertaining, but usually don’t go into the Byrds much –
The MusicAngle site ran a series of interviews with the Byrds -
The Dead’s quotes come from the usual places.