BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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(Columbia CS-9755 / CK-9755, 1969)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 65113, 1997)

Track Listing

Released February 3, 1969. Produced by Bob Johnston. Engineered by David Diller, Tom May, Neil Wilburn. Recorded October - December 1968. Album Design: Institute for Better Vision. Photography: Mark Gottlieb, Mark/Glen Studios. "Lay Lady Lay" recorded in March 1969.

The Byrds v. 6.0
Roger McGuinn: vocals, guitar
Clarence White: vocals, guitar
John York: vocals, bass
Gene Parsons: vocals, drums, guitar, 5-string banjo

Singles from album sessions:
"Bad Night at the Whiskey" /
"Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man"
Columbia 44746
Released January 7, 1969

"Lay Lady Lay" /
"Old Blue" Columbia 44868
Released May 2, 1969

Ralph Emery:
Not all Byrds fans may realize that Ralph Emery was and is revered in country music circles. For fifteen years, Emery had a popular nighttime radio show on WSM, Nashville's foremost radio station. The Byrds actually visited WSM and did Emery's radio show. Emery initially refused to play "You Ain't Going Nowhere," then played it, but made clear that he didn't think much of it. Later Emery moved to television, where he hosted several country music shows. The best known of these was Nashville Now, seen on WTBS, the Atlanta superstation aired across much of America. He was also a regular on The Nashville Network, a country cable station.
Roger McGuinn actually appeared on Nashville Now at least once during the 1980s. Emery said something along the lines of "I'm told you once wrote a song about me." McGuinn confirmed that he had done so with Gram Parsons, at which point Emery asked, "Whatever happened to him?" and McGuinn answered that he had died many years ago. Thankfully Emery didn't make things worse by asking McGuinn to play the song, too. Since Emery is extremely knowledgeable about mainstream country music, this story may give foreign and younger readers an idea how unfamiliar the powers that be in Nashville are with Gram Parsons, notwithstanding his influence on so many country musicians by that time.

"This Wheel's on Fire":
Co-written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko, "This Wheel's on Fire" is another track from Dylan's 1967 sessions with the Band that were later released as The Basement Tapes (Columbia, 1975). The Band released their version in 1968 on Music from Big Pink (Capitol, 1968). The song was a British hit for Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity in 1969.
More recently, Siouxsie and the Banshees made the Top 20 in the UK with their cover of "This Wheel's on Fire," available on the album Through the Looking Glass (Geffen, 1987).

The film version of Candy (1968) was directed by Christian Marquand, based on the 1958 cult novel of the same name by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg. It starred Ewa Aulin in the title role and Richard Burton, Charles Aznavour, James Coburn, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Ringo Starr as the men she tempted.

Terry Southern:
Writer Terry Southern was the toast of Swinging London and Swinging Hollywood, and consorted with many of the film and rock stars from both cities. He was the author of the novels Candy and The Magic Christian, both of which were made into films with Ringo Starr and rock soundtracks. The latter novel was a favorite of Peter Sellers (who also starred in the film version), which led to Southern's work with Stanley Kubrick and Peter George on the screenplay of Dr. Strangelove (1964). Later screenwriter co-credits include The Loved One (1965), Barbarella (1968), and Easy Rider (1969).
Southern recently provided the text for two rock-related books: A History of Virgin Records (1995) and The Early Stones (1993), a collection of photos by Michael Cooper. Southern taught creative writing at Columbia University until his death in October, 1995.

"Lay Lady Lay":
Dylan wrote "Lay Lady Lay" for Midnight Cowboy (1969), but the song was not used. It turned up on Dylan's Nashville Skyline (Columbia, 1969). Not coincidentally, Dylan's country LP was produced by Bob Johnston.
Dylan himself never cared much for the song, but CBS honcho Clive Davis insisted that the song be released as a single. Davis was vindicated when the song hit the Top Ten in the US and the UK.

When recording Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Byrds had naively believed that they would augment their rock audience with the new fans won by their embrace of country music. Instead, the band failed to win over the country audience and alienated their rock fans as well. In the wake of Sweetheart's commercial failure, McGuinn rethought the band's sound.
The Byrds replaced first Parsons, then Kelley, and finally Hillman in the summer and fall of 1968, leaving McGuinn as the only original, backed by an entirely new band of Byrds. Guitarist Clarence White and drummer Gene Parsons, both experienced session men by 1968, had been hired before Hillman's departure because they could play country. McGuinn, recognizing White's skill and unwilling to jettison the country sound completely, kept them both on. Hillman left shortly before the scheduled sessions for Dr. Byrds, so to replace him, the band brought in bass player John York. York was a session man with rock credentials, including the Mamas and the Papas and the second version of the Gene Clark Group, in which he played with Clarence White.
McGuinn turned away from the traditional country sound of Sweetheart and the synthesis of rock, pop, folk, country, and electronic rock featured on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Instead, his approach hearkened back to the early days of the band -- different sounds for different tracks. Rather than experiment with three or four different genres, the band split the album between two sounds: country rock and heavy electric rock.

"Bad Night at the Whisky" /
"Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man"

The single reflects McGuinn's bifurcated strategy. The A-side was the heavy "Bad Night at the Whiskey," the most effective of the LP's electric numbers. The ethereal "ahhhhh" vocals contrast effectively with the fat, lumbering bass and bluesy guitar. Despite a now-ludicrous line about "bringing my soul brothers down," the song boasts a strong melody, a solid McGuinn vocal and tasteful bluesy guitar from White.
The flip, "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," showed the country side of the new Byrds. McGuinn and Gram Parsons wrote the song during their British tour, shortly before Gram Parsons's departure. It's a pointed flip-of-the-byrd to Nashville deejay Ralph Emery, a leading Nashville DJ who gave the Byrds a chilly reception when they visited his radio show in March.
The song's broad humor is reminiscent of the work of Ray Davies -- not the subtle wit that characterized his more sympathetic character sketches in the late '60s, but the heavy-handed mockery in early Kinks songs like "Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion."
Musically, the song is a throwback. Rather than utilizing the full-blown traditional arrangements of Sweetheart, on "Truck Drivin' Man," the Byrds use Lloyd Green's steel and Clarence White's picking to give the song a countrified feel, much as they used White's guitar on older tracks like "Girl with No Name" and "Old John Robertson." Meanwhile, McGuinn sings both vocal parts in a slightly cornpone drawl. Both the words and the music of the ambivalent "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" embody McGuinn's love/hate relationship with country music. (Joan Baez, another folk performer who has "gone country" from time to time, performed "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" at Woodstock, where her accompanist dedicated the track to California's governor at the time, Ronald Reagan.)

Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde

The album continues with the same space cowboy dichotomy as the single -- it's even reflected in the packaging. The title features "Dr. Byrds" in a futuristic computer-style typeface and "Mr. Hyde" in the style of a "Wanted" poster from the old West. The back cover shows the band landing in the desert in spacesuits, changing into cowboy outfits, and riding off into the sunset.
The electric "Dr. Byrds" sound stars in "This Wheel's on Fire," an unreleased Bob Dylan track with loud, fuzz-toned guitar work from White and nimble bass playing from York. White's remarkable, country-derived arpeggiating builds to a solo that shows why Jimi Hendrix held White in such high regard as a guitarist. A faster, more acoustic version of "Wheel" is appended to the 1997 reissue as a bonus track. It's a revealing snapshot of White's journey from country picker to the heavy rock guitarist featured on the LP version of the song.
The heavy sound also dominates most of the album closer, "Medley: My Back Pages/B.J. Blues/Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do," a tedious blues jam that shows the limits of the heavy genre the Byrds (and many others) were exploring in 1968. An alternate version of this track also appears on the reissue; it feels a bit lighter and looser, but it's not a great improvement upon the original.
The lighter, acoustic "Mr. Hyde" sound appears in "Old Blue," a traditional song (probably learned from Bob Gibson's version) about a good dog. Don't be distracted by the goofy handclapping; instead, listen for the brilliant interplay between McGuinn and White on guitar. The next tune, "Your Gentle Ways of Loving Me," is an unassuming country rock number written by two old friends of Gene Parsons, Gary Paxton and Gib Guilbeau. Parsons introduced the song to the band and might have been considered as the song's vocalist -- note that McGuinn's vocal actually mimics the style of Gene Parsons in places. "Nashville West" is a sprightly barn-dance instrumental borrowed from White's and Parsons's former group of the same name. An alternate version of this instrumental also appears on the 1997 reissue.
Three of the songs do combine the electric and acoustic approaches. The best of these is "King Apathy III," an argument for the country life as an antidote to the L.A. rock scene, in which each electric verse is answered by an acoustic chorus. The other two songs were written for the soundtrack to the movie Candy (1968), a sex farce based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg. The song by the same name is a slight track with a weak melody, and was not used in the movie. Acoustic picking dominates, but on the bridge White lets loose with a bluesy electric guitar solo. "Child of the Universe," co-written by McGuinn and soundtrack king Dave Grusin, was used in the film. The soundtrack version adds brass and orchestration to the mix. The Dr. Byrds version is simpler, electric but not at all heavy, with lyrics of the cosmic variety that McGuinn had favored since "5D." "Child" is marred by a kickdrum, reverbed for no apparent reason to sound like distant cannon-fire.

None of the eight Byrds reissues has benefitted from remastering more than Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. In its original version, the murky production of Bob Johnston obscured many of the new band's strengths. Despite Johnston's impressive credentials -- including production work with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash -- his work on Dr. Byrds was downright bizarre. The whole album was a muddled mess; the reverb was so thick that even the acoustic songs sounded like they had been recorded in a tub of goo. The band members themselves expressed disappointment with the album's sound, blaming Johnston's laissez-faire production style.
The 1997 reissue removes much of the sludge (though a few of the vocals still sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a well). White's uncanny guitar picking is now crystal clear, even on the fuzz-toned cuts like "Wheel." McGuinn's 12-string is audible on cuts like "Nashville West," where once it was buried. The heavier songs, which tended toward bombast in the original versions, sound taut and muscular now. The album that emerges is, if still not up to the standard of the first six Byrds albums, a very good piece of work.
True, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde has more filler (e.g., "Candy," "Medley") than any previous Byrds LP. It also plays down some of the elements that defined the Byrds' sound through previous versions of the band, like the lush harmonies and the sound of McGuinn's 12-string. But the album has several very good songs, including "Bad Night at the Whiskey," "This Wheel's on Fire," "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," and "King Apathy III." It avoids the non-McGuinn vocals that would drag down some later releases. It features the workmanlike Gene Parsons/John York rhythm section. And best of all, it has the masterful guitar work of Clarence White.
Though the album's virtues are more apparent now, the murky production of the original LP obscured much of what was good about the post-Sweetheart Byrds. It would remain for the new band to show what it was capable of.

Dr. Byrds Outtakes

One outtake from the Dr. Byrds sessions appeared on The Byrds Boxed Set. "Stanley's Song" is an uninspired country rocker with saccharine lyrics, and would not have improved the LP. The 1997 reissue also includes this number, along with alternate versions of "Wheel," "Medley," and "Nashville West."

"Lay Lady Lay"

After the release of Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde in February of 1969, the Byrds returned to the studio with Bob Johnston to record Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," which became their next single.
The arrangement is undistinguished, eschewing the steel guitar that provided such a powerful hook on Dylan's original. Instead, White's subdued but sensitive guitar work provides the instrumental base. On the vocal, McGuinn imitates Dylan imitating Johnny Cash. Unfortunately, without the consent of the group, Johnston added a cheesy female backing chorus to the song, making "Lay Lady Lay" something of an embarassment to the band. The version on the Boxed Set and the '97 reissue deletes the unneeded embellishments, giving some idea how the Byrds intended the song to sound. (It would have been nice if the single version had also been added to the reissue; completists must now find the single or The Byrds Play Dylan.) The unwanted alteration of "Lay, Lady, Lay" was the last straw for the band, who resolved that on their next album, they would work with a more sympathetic producer.

To Ballad of Easy Rider...

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Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"This Wheel's on Fire":
Bob Dylan & Rick Danko
Rec. date: December 4, 1968

"Old Blue":
Traditional, arranged by
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: October 7, 1968

"Your Gentle Ways of
Loving Me":
Gary Paxton & Gib Guilbeau
Rec. date: October 14, 1968

"Child of the Universe":
Dave Grusin & Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: December 4, 1968

"Nashville West":
Gene Parsons & Clarence White
Rec. date: October 15, 1968

"Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man":
Roger McGuinn & Gram Parsons
Rec. date: October 8, 1968

"King Apathy III":
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: October 7, 1968

Roger McGuinn & John York
Rec. date: December 4, 1968

"Bad Night at the Whiskey":
Roger McGuinn & Joseph Richards
Rec. date: October 15, 1968

"My Back Pages":
Bob Dylan
R. McGuinn, J. York
Gene Parsons & C. White
"Baby, What Do You
Want Me To Do"
Jimmy Reed
Rec. date: December 4, 1968

1997 Bonus Tracks:
"Stanley's Song":
Roger McGuinn & Bob Hippard
Rec. date: October 16, 1968
Also on the Boxed Set.

"Lay Lady Lay":
(alternate version)
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: April 18, 1969
Also on the Boxed Set.

"This Wheel's On Fire"
(version one):
Rec. date: December 4, 1968
Previously unreleased.

"My Back Pages" / "B.J.
Blues" / "Baby, What Do
You Want Me To Do"
(alternate version -- take 1)
Rec. date: December 4, 1968
Previously unreleased.

"Nashville West":
(alternate version --
Nashville recording)
Rec. date: October 21, 1968
Previously unreleased.

Other tracks from album sessions:
"Child of the Universe":
Rec. date: October 14, 1968
Appears on Candy soundtrack
with additional orchestration

Unreleased tracks from
album sessions:


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Byrds Albums | Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde

Welcome | News | LPs | History | Members | Spinoffs | Related | Reference | Sanctuary | About | NEXT SECTION

Mr. Tambourine Man | Turn! Turn! Turn! | Fifth Dimension | Younger | Notorious | Sweetheart | Dr. Byrds | Ballad | (Untitled) | Byrdmaniax | Farther Along | Byrds | Beginning | Never Before | Box | NEXT CHAPTER

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This page was last revised on July 30, 1997.