Harold Eugene "Gene" Clark
(November 17, 1944 – May 24, 1991) was an American singer-songwriter and founding member of the folk rock band The Byrds. Clark was The Byrds' dominant songwriter between 1964 and early 1966, penning most of the band's best-known originals from this period, including "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "She Don't Care About Time", "Set You Free This Time", and "Eight Miles High". He created a large catalogue of music in several genres, but failed to achieve solo commercial success. Clark was one of the earliest exponents of psychedelic rock, baroque pop, newgrass, country rock and alternative country.Early lifeGene Clark was born in Tipton, Missouri, the third of thirteen children in a family of Irish, German and Native American heritage. His family moved to Kansas City where he began learning the guitar and harmonica from his father at a young age. He was soon playing Hank Williams tunes as well as material by early rockers such as Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. He began writing his own songs at age 11. By the time he was 15 he had developed a rich tenor voice and he formed a local rock and roll combo, Joe Meyers and the Sharks. Like many of his generation, Clark developed an interest in folk music because of the popularity of the Kingston Trio. When he graduated from Bonner Springs High School in Bonner Springs, Kansas in 1962, Clark formed a folk group, the Rum Runners.
Formation of The Byrds
Clark was invited to join an established regional folk group, the Surf Riders working out of Kansas City at the Castaways Lounge, owned by Hal Harbaum. On August 12, 1963, he was performing with them when he was discovered by The New Christy Minstrels. They hired him for their ensemble and he recorded two albums with them before leaving in early 1964. After hearing the Beatles, Clark quit the Christys and moved to Los Angeles where he met fellow folkie/Beatles convert Jim (later Roger) McGuinn at the Troubadour Club. In early 1964 they began to assemble a band that would become The Byrds.Gene Clark wrote or co-wrote many of The Byrds' best-known originals from their first three albums, including: "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Set You Free This Time", "Here Without You", "You Won't Have to Cry", "If You're Gone", "The World Turns All Around Her", "She Don't Care About Time" and "Eight Miles High". He and McGuinn also composed "You Showed Me", which was recorded but not released by the Byrds, and became a hit for the Turtles when they recorded it in 1969. He initially played rhythm guitar in the band, but relinquished it to David Crosby and became the Byrd's tambourine and harmonica player. Bassist Chris Hillman noted years later in various interviews remembering Gene: "At one time, he was the power in the Byrds, not McGuinn, not Crosby—it was Gene who would burst through the stage curtain banging on a tambourine, coming on like a young Prince Valiant. A hero, our savior. Few in the audience could take their eyes off this presence. He was
the songwriter. He had the "gift" that none of the rest of us had developed yet.... What deep inner part of his soul conjured up songs like "Set You Free This Time," "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," "I'm Feelin' Higher," "Eight Miles High"? So many great songs! We learned a lot of songwriting from him and in the process learned a little bit about ourselves." A management decision delivered the lead vocal duties to McGuinn for their major singles and Bob Dylan songs. This disappointment, combined with Clark's dislike of traveling (including a chronic fear of flying) and resentment by other band members about the extra income he derived from his songwriting, led to internal squabbling and he left the group in early 1966. He briefly returned to Kansas City before moving back to Los Angeles to form Gene Clark & the Group with Chip Douglas, Joel Larson, and Bill Rhinehart.
Solo career, rejoining The Byrds and Dillard & Clark
Columbia Records (The Byrds' record label) signed Clark as a solo artist and, in 1967, he released his first solo LP, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers
. The Gosdin Brothers were selected to back Gene because they shared manager Jim Dickson, and Chris Hillman, who played bass on the album, had worked with the Gosdin Brothers in the mid-1960s when he and they were members of the Southern California bluegrass band called The Hillmen. The album was a unique mixture of pop, country rock and baroque-psychedelic tracks. It received favorable reviews but unfortunately for Clark, it was released almost simultaneously with the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday
, also on Columbia, and (partly due to his 18 month-long public absence) was a commercial failure.With the future of his solo career in doubt, Clark briefly rejoined The Byrds in October 1967, as a replacement for the recently departed David Crosby, but left after only three weeks, following an anxiety attack in Minneapolis. During this brief period with The Byrds, he appeared with the band on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
, miming to the group's current single "Goin' Back", as well as to "Mr. Spaceman". Although there is some disagreement among the band's biographers, Clark is generally viewed as having contributed background vocals to the songs "Goin' Back" and "Space Odyssey" from the then forthcoming Byrds' album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers
, as well as being an uncredited co-author, with Roger McGuinn, of "Get to You" from that album.In 1968, Clark signed with A&M Records and began a collaboration with banjo player Doug Dillard. Guitarist Bernie Leadon (later with The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Eagles), bass player Dave Jackson and mandolin player Don Beck joined them to form the nucleus of Dillard & Clark. They produced two albums: The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark(1968),
and Through the Morning Through the Night(1969).The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark
was an acoustic adventure into country rock and included songs like "Train Leaves Here This Morning", covered in 1972 on Eagles
and "She Darked the Sun", covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1970 album, Silk Purse
. Through the Morning, Through the Night
was more bluegrass in character than its predecessor, and used electric instrumentation. It also included Donna Washburn (Dillard's girlfriend) as a backing vocalist, which contributed to the departure of Leadon, and a change to a traditional bluegrass direction that caused Clark to lose interest. The Dillard & Clark song "Through The Morning Through The Night" was used in Quincy Jones's soundtrack of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah movie The Getaway
. This song, along with "Polly" (both from the second Dillard and Clark album), was also covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their 2007 album Raising Sand
. Both Dillard & Clark albums fared poorly on the charts, but they are now regarded as pioneers of country rock and newgrass genres.The collaboration with Doug Dillard rejuvenated Clark's creativity but greatly contributed to his growing drinking problem. Dillard & Clark disintegrated in late 1969 after the departures of Clark and Leadon. Clark, along with Leadon, Jackson and Beck provided backup on the debut album of Steve Young, Rock Salt & Nails,
released November 1969.In 1970, Clark began work on a new single, recording two tracks with the original members of the Byrds (each recording his part separately). The resulting songs, "She's the Kind of Girl" and "One in a Hundred", were not released at the time due to legal problems and were included later on Roadmaster
. In 1970 and 1971, Clark contributed vocals and two compositions ("Tried So Hard" and "Here Tonight") to albums by the Flying Burrito Brothers.Frustrated with the music industry, Clark bought a home at Albion near Mendocino, married, and fathered two children while living off his still substantial Byrds royalties.
White Light and Roadmaster
In 1971, Gene Clark released his second solo album. It was titled White Light
, although the fact that the name was not included on the cover sleeve led some later reviewers to assume mistakenly that it was titled 'Gene Clark'. The album was produced by the much sought after Native American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis with whom Clark developed great rapport, partly due to their common Indian ancestry. An intimate, poetic and mostly acoustic work supplemented by Davis' slide guitar, the album contained many introspective tracks such as "With Tomorrow", "Because of You", "Where My Love Lies Asleep" and "For a Spanish Guitar" (which Bob Dylan supposedly hailed as one of the greatest songs ever written). All of the material was written by Clark, with the exception of the Dylan and Richard Manuel composition, "Tears of Rage". Launched to considerable critical acclaim, the LP failed to gain commercial success, except in the Netherlands where it was also voted album of the year by rock music critics. Once more, modest promotion and Clark's refusal to undertake promotional touring adversely affected sales.In the spring of 1971, Clark was commissioned by Dennis Hopper to contribute the tracks "American Dreamer" and "Outlaw Song" to Hopper's film project American Dreamer
. A re-recorded, longer version of the song "American Dreamer" was later used in the 1977 film The Farmer
, along with an instrumental version of the same song plus "Outside the Law (The Outlaw)" (a re-recording of "Outlaw Song").In 1972, Clark assembled a backing group consisting of highly accomplished country rock musicians to accompany him on an album with A&M. Progress was slow and expensive and A&M terminated the project before completion. The resulting eight tracks, including "Full Circle Song" and "In a Misty Morning" were added to those recorded with The Byrds in 1970/71 ("She's the Kind of Girl" and "One in a Hundred") and with The Flying Burrito Brothers ("Here Tonight"), and released in 1973 as Roadmaster
in the Netherlands only.
Clark then left A&M to join the reunion of the original five Byrds and cut the album Byrds
(released in 1973) which charted well (US # 20). Clark's compositions "Full Circle" and "Changing Heart" plus the Neil Young covers on which he did the lead vocal work ("See the Sky About to Rain" and "Cowgirl in the Sand") were widely regarded as the standout tracks on a record which received some negative critical response. Disheartened by the bad reviews and unhappy with David Crosby's performance as the record's producer, the group members chose to dissolve The Byrds. Clark briefly joined McGuinn's solo group, with which he premiered "Silver Raven", arguably his most celebrated post-Byrds song.
On the basis of the quality of Clark's Byrds
contributions, David Geffen signed him to Asylum Records in early 1974. Asylum was the home of the most prominent exponents of the singer-songwriter movement of the era and carried the kind of hip cachet that Clark hadn't experienced since his days with The Byrds. He retired to Mendocino and spent long periods at the picture window of a friend's cliff-top home with a notebook and acoustic guitar in hand, staring at the Pacific Ocean. Deeply affected by his visions, he composed the songs that became his masterpiece, No Other
. Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye with a vast array of session musicians and backing singers, the album was an extraordinary amalgam of country rock, folk, gospel, soul and choral music with poetic, mystical lyrics. Included in No Other
are some of Clark's best compositions including "Silver Raven", "No Other", "Some Misunderstanding" and "Lady of the North". The album was praised by critics but the fact that No Other
wasn't a conventional pop/rock opus limited public appeal. Furthermore, its production costs of $100,000 which yielded only eight tracks prompted Geffen to berate Clark and Kaye. The album was minimally promoted and stalled in the charts at No. 144. Ultimately, No Other
became a favorite of rock critics, growing in popularity with each passing year. In 2013, popularity of No Other
arguably reached a fever pitch when it was revealed that members of Beach House, The Walkmen, Grizzly Bear, and Fleet Foxes among others would be performing the album in its entirety.Clark's return to Los Angeles to record the album resulted in his reversion to a hedonistic lifestyle and facilitated the disintegration of his marriage. Disillusioned by professional and marital failure, he mounted his first solo tour (by road), playing colleges and clubs with backing group, the Silverados.
Two Sides to Every Story
After the commercial failure of No Other, Clark was confused about his artistic direction. Throughout 1975 and 1976, he had hinted to the press that he was assembling a set of "cosmic" songs fusing country-rock with R&B and funk, elaborating on the soundscapes of No Other
. In 1976, he recorded a set of ten demos that combined country and folk music with a light touch of cosmic consciousness. These were submitted to RSO Records, who promptly bought out Clark's Asylum contract. In 1977, Gene Clark released his RSO Records debut entitled Two Sides to Every Story
. Once again, Thomas Jefferson Kaye produced it, but with a much more understated hand.The emotional fallout from his divorce is reflected in the album title and several of Clark's compositions: "Sister Moon", "Lonely Saturday", "Past Addresses", "Silent Crusade" and "Hear the Wind". The album also contains impressive covers of the traditional "In the Pines" and "Give My Love to Marie" by James Talley. Once again, his style of sensitive country-rock balladry failed to achieve US chart success. In a belated attempt to find an appreciative public, he temporarily overcame his travel anxiety and launched an international promotional tour with the KC Southern Band. Some six weeks before his death, Clark told interviewer Bill Wasserzieher that he considered Two Sides to Every Story
his best album, rivaled only by No Other
McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
For his British tour dates, Clark found himself on the same bill as ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, each fronting their own bands. After returning to the United States, Clark and McGuinn began touring as an acoustic duo. Eventually Hillman agreed to join them and the three signed with Capitol Records which released their self-titled debut in 1979. McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
was a rebirth in both performing and songwriting for Clark. He wrote four songs for the album: "Backstage Pass", "Release me Girl", "Feelin' Higher" and "Little Mama".Many critics felt that the album's slick production and disco rhythms didn't flatter the group, but the album reached Number 39 on the Billboard 200 and sold well enough to generate a follow up. McGuinn, Clark and Hillman's second release was to have been a full group effort entitled City
, but a combination of Clark's unreliability and his dissatisfaction with their musical direction (mostly regarding Ron and Howard Albert's production) resulted in the billing change on City
to "Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, featuring Gene Clark". Despite the turmoil, Clark penned a classic love song, "Won't Let You Down". By 1981, Clark had left, and the group recorded one more album as "McGuinn/Hillman".
Rehabilitation, Firebyrd, and So Rebellious a Lover
Clark moved to Hawaii with Jesse Ed Davis to try to overcome his drug dependency, remaining there until the end of 1981. Upon his return to L.A., he assembled a new band, the Firebyrds, and, in 1982, proceeded to record what would eventually become the album Firebyrd
. While waiting for Firebyrd
to be released, Clark joined up with Chris Hillman and others in an abortive venture called Flyte which failed to secure a recording contract and was quickly dissolved. Firebyrd's
eventual release in 1984 coincided with the emergence of jangle rockers like R.E.M. and Tom Petty who had sparked a new interest in the Byrds. Clark began developing new fans among L.A.'s roots-conscious Paisley Underground scene. Later in the decade, he embraced his new status by appearing as a guest with The Long Ryders, in a session arranged by album producer Henry Lewy at band member Sid Griffin's suggestion, and by cutting an acclaimed duo album with Carla Olson of the Textones titled So Rebellious a Lover
in 1986, which was produced and arranged by noted session drummer, Michael Huey. A few of the album's compositions ranked with Gene's best: Gypsy Rider and Del Gato.
Later career, illness and death
In 1985 Clark approached McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman 1984 regarding a reformation of The Byrds in time for the 20th anniversary of the release of "Mr. Tambourine Man". The three of them showed no interest. Clark decided to assemble a "superstar" collection of musicians, including ex-Flying Burrito Brothers member Rick Roberts, ex-Beach Boys singer/guitarist Blondie Chaplin, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of The Band, with ex-Byrds Michael Clarke and John York. Clark initially called his band "The 20th Anniversary Tribute to The Byrds" and began performing on the lucrative nostalgia circuit in early 1985. A number of concert promoters began to shorten the band's name to "The Byrds" in advertisements and promotional material. As the band continued to tour throughout 1985, their agent decided to shorten their name to "The Byrds" permanently, to the displeasure of McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman. Clark eventually discontinued performing with his own "Byrds" band, but drummer Michael Clarke then continued on with Skip Battin (occasionally using ex-Byrds York and Gene Parsons, also), forming another "Byrds" group, prompting McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby into going on the road as "The Byrds" to attempt to establish claim to the rights to the band name. Their effort failed at the time, and Gene Clark, primarily due to his involvement with the act that didn't include them, was not included in their reunion. David Crosby finally secured rights to the band name in 2002.In 1987 So Rebellious a Lover
became a modest commercial success but Clark began to develop serious health problems; he had ulcers, aggravated by years of heavy drinking (often used to alleviate his chronic travel anxiety). In 1988 he underwent surgery during which much of his stomach and intestines had to be removed.A period of abstinence and recovery followed until Tom Petty's cover of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" on his 1989 album Full Moon Fever
yielded a huge amount of royalty money to Clark who quickly reverted to drug and alcohol abuse. The Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January 1991, where the original lineup performed several songs together, including Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better".However, Clark's health continued to decline as his drinking accelerated. He died of natural causes on May 24, 1991 at age 46. The coroner declared he succumbed as a result of "natural causes" brought on by a bleeding ulcer. He was buried at Saint Andrews Cemetery in Tipton under a simple headstone inscribed "Harold Eugene Clark - No Other."In 2013 a documentary about Gene's life and career entitled "The Byrd Who Flew Alone" was released featuring contributions from family, friends and the three surviving original members of The Byrds as well as latter-day Byrd John York. In this documentary it is revealed that Clark was suffering from throat cancer at the time of his death.