McGUINN, CLARK & HILLMAN:
Three Byrds Land in London
Recorded live Spring 1977
McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
"Don't You Write Her Off" / "Sad Boy"
US #33 / UK --
"Surrender to Me" / "Little Mama" (US)
"Surrender to Me" / "Bye Bye Baby" (UK)
US -- / UK --
"Backstage Pass" / "Bye Bye Baby" (US)
ROGER McGUINN-CHRIS HILLMAN featuring GENE CLARK:
"Street Talk" / "One More Chance"
US -- / UK --
"City" / "Deeper"
US -- / UK --
"Turn Your Radio On" / "Making Movies" (US)
"Love Me Tonight" / "King for a Night" (US)
McGUINN, CLARK & HILLMAN:
Return Flight I
Contains songs from McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, City, and McGuinn/Hillman.
Return Flight II
Contains the rest of McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, City, and McGuinn/Hillman.
The precise reasons for Crosby's absence from McGuinn, Clark and Hillman are somewhat murky.
Referring to Crosby, McGuinn told one writer in '79: "He said he'd come and then again he said he wouldn't. He was for it until Stephen Stills pulled him aside and said, "You don't want to do that, David."*
Crosby's version of the story was different: "When they were cutting in Miami as McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, I flew there on purpose to see them, and go in and ask them if I could sing. And I did. And they didn't want me to.... I came in there real nice and I was humble.... It was all three of them refused.... It hurt me that they didn't want me to sing because I wanted to do it."*
A look at Crosby's career at this point reveals a reason his colleagues might have been wary. About three months after the McGuinn, Clark & Hillman sessions in late '78, Crosby reunited with Graham Nash to record an album in LA. Crosby interrupted one session when his freebase pipe fell and he stopped playing to retrieve the broken pieces. Believing that Crosby's addiction to freebase was now interfering with his ability to make music, Nash called a halt to the sessions and broke up the team.
By contrast, McGuinn had given up substance abuse after his return to Christianity in late '77, and Hillman had adopted a clean-living lifestyle as well. Clark was struggling with his own demons at this point, initially with some success. Who could have blamed them if they had been reluctant to bring in a partner with a serious drug problem?
To find out about the '70s solo work of McGuinn and Clark just before joining MC&H, see Roger McGuinn: 1974 - 1977 and Gene Clark: 1974 - 1977. A profile of Chris Hillman is forthcoming.
Long, Long Time
In early 1977, Roger McGuinn was touring with Thunderbyrd; Gene Clark was gigging with his Kansas City Southern Band in support of his solo LP, Two Sides to Every Story (RSO, 1977); and Chris Hillman was playing shows with his own group in preparation for the imminent release of his second solo album, Clear Sailing (Asylum, 1977). That spring, a clever European promoter booked the three bands as a package, knowing that Byrds fans would turn out in the hope of seeing an onstage reunion. Most of those concert-goers didn't get their reunion, but a few at London's Hammersmith Odeon did on April 30th and May 1st. After the Thunderbyrd set, Clark and Hillman joined McGuinn onstage for a handful of Byrds songs. The two London shows were taped for the BBC and were heavily bootlegged. An official release finally emerged recently as Three Byrds Land in London (Windsong, 1997). There were no further onstage reunions, though, apparently due to an attack of nerves by Clark at the next few shows. Unfortunately for the European fans, the tour was aborted after a handful of UK shows when a dispute erupted between Hillman's management and the tour promoters. Still, this tour set the stage for a more permanent reunion of the three.
Despite the problems on their joint British tour, in August Hillman spent a week jamming with McGuinn, as well as Rick Vito and Greg Thomas of Thunderbyrd. Clark joined the two, and the three started seriously discussing a joint project. McGuinn had already sought and received a release from his contract with Columbia and disbanded Thunderbyrd; Clark did the same with RSO and the Kansas City Southern Band in September. Hillman's solo LP had just come out in May, though, so getting out of his deal with Asylum was more problematic.
During the last months of 1977, McGuinn and Clark toured together with only their acoustic guitars for accompaniment. On several gigs, Chris Hillman joined the other two, and in December of that year, David Crosby joined the pair for a show at the Boarding House in San Francisco on December 6, 1977.
Surrender to Me: McGuinn Clark & Hillman
By January 1978, Hillman's solo LP had peaked at a disappointing #188, and he was able to get out of his contract with Asylum. He joined McGuinn and Clark permanently, debuting at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California on January 27th. On February 8, Crosby joined all three, again at the Boarding House. He stayed on for most of the show, which became the bootleg Doin' Alright for Old People (Excitable, 1978). Later that month, Crosby joined them for another show at the Roxy in L.A.
McGuinn, Clark and Hillman then played an acoustic opening set for the Canadian leg of Eric Clapton's tour, where their set was well-received by the stadium-sized audiences. In the spring of '78, the band did a series of US shows, then embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Interestingly, the three were billed on that tour as "The Founders of the Byrds," raising the possibility that they might eventually record under the Byrds name. (Poco drummer George Grantham backed the group on that trip.)
Finally, in late 1978, the trio signed a lucrative six album deal with Capitol (without Crosby) and reconvened to record their first LP, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman (Capitol, 1979). The three declined to use the Byrds name in part because of a gentlemen's agreement, made at the time of the 1973 reunion album, that the Byrds name would only be used if all five originals took part. In any event, judging from their statements at the time and the sound of the album, the three were determined to prove that they were not the Byrds.
Indeed, avoiding the sound of the '65 to '67 Byrds was one of several mistakes made with the 1973 reunion album which would be repeated on the new LP. Another mistake made on both records was modeling themselves too closely on Crosby Stills & Nash. For example, this time around, the threesome hired Ron and Howard Albert to produce, and recorded at Miami's Criteria Studio. The Albert Brothers had produced Crosby Stills & Nash's commercially successful reunion album, CSN (Atlantic, 1977), at Criteria (as well as engineering Manassas (Atlantic, 1972) for Stills, Hillman and company in 1972.) The Alberts thought it would be unwise to try and recapture the old Byrds sound -- they wanted something more "contemporary." Ironically, the result was an album that sounds more dated in 1997 than any of the first six Byrds albums.
"That was the Albert Brothers' decision, to make it sound different," McGuinn said many years later. "They said they didn't want it to sound like the Byrds, and that meant I couldn't play my guitar or sing! I was a sideman in that group."* Underutilizing McGuinn is yet another mistake that had marred the reunion album. The Alberts also avoided having Byrdsy harmonies by backing each lead singer with anonymous vocalists rather than the other principals.
Disco-fied rhythms, slick production, and ultra-wide collars made the album more Bee Gees than Byrds. This isn't just hyperbole; percussionist Joe Lala and uncredited synth player Blue Weaver were both regulars on the Bee Gees' '70s LPs. String and horn arranger Mike Lewis had worked with Firefall, and more than one track on the album evokes that band's treacly pop. Beneath all the sugar, there are a few songs that sound as if they might have been worthy, including "Don't You Write Her Off" by McGuinn and his old partner Bob Hippard, and "Release Me Girl" by Clark and his old partner Thomas Jefferson Kaye.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these flaws, the album made #39 in the US, and the single, "Don't You Write Her Off" got to #33 -- the first significant chart placing for McGuinn or Clark since the Byrds. Critical reception was considerably less favorable. Another ominous portent was the performance of the follow-up singles -- Hillman number "Surrender to Me" in June, then Clark's "Backstage Pass" in September -- neither of which charted.
One More Chance: City
Despite the unByrdsy sound of the album, the group clearly was not ready to write off their history. Their live shows continued to feature a fair helping of old material, as well as Byrdlike arrangements of the new songs. Mike Clarke sat in with the band at a couple appearances in April '79, showing that the possibility of a reunion might still have been on the table. Even more tantalizing was the signing of Crosby to Capitol as a solo artist later in '79. It seems likely that the label was thinking of a reunion, even if the ex-Byrds were not.
Those hoping for a five-man reunion were dismayed when the three-man reunion began to fray. Clark was absent from live gigs beginning in August. His absence was attributed to a painful abcess of the gums. Clark returned for a few gigs in September, but when he bowed out again after just a few shows, it became clear that the problem was something more than a mouth infection.
In November of '79, the three returned to Criteria to begin work on their second album, again with the Alberts. Clark contributed two songs, "Painted Fire" and "Won't Let You Down." Unfortunately, Clark proved unable to live up to the sentiment of the latter song; he left the band shortly after the sessions began. Hillman described the circumstances leading to his departure: "Gene started to go nuts again, so the second album, we were trying to keep him in line, like 'Come on, Gene, don't do this. You're getting crazy again,' and we tried to do this second album and it was horrible, couldn't even get him to sing."* Clark was suffering from the familiar difficulties with road life, aggravated as in the past by some hard living, and complicated this time by the break-up of his marriage. He retreated to Hawaii for a year to regroup. (To follow the career of Gene Clark after leaving his colleagues again, see Gene Clark: 1980 - 1991.)
The sleeve of their second release, City (Capitol, 1980), released in January, confirmed the fears of fans: the LP was credited "Roger McGuinn-Chris Hillman-Featuring Gene Clark." There was one upside to Clark's absence, however. Without the distraction of Clark's various problems, McGuinn and Hillman were able to override the Albert Brothers and go for a more Byrdsy sound. Their live experiences convinced them that in spite of the commercial success of the first LP, they had been wrong to avoid all their musical strengths. Unfortunately, the material was not much stronger than on the previous effort.
This time there was no Top 40 single. Both Hillman's "Street Talk" and McGuinn's "City" missed the charts. The album only made it to #136, a disappointing follow-up to the Top 40 success of the first album.
Ain't No Money: McGuinn/Hillman
Later that year, McGuinn and Hillman made one more attempt. McGuinn-Hillman (Capitol, 1981) was produced not by the Alberts, but by legendary Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler. At the time, Wexler was (unlikely though it might seem) Hillman's brother-in-law: Wexler's then-wife, Renee Pappas, is the sister of Hillman's wife Connie. Wexler and his protege, Barry Beckett, had just produced two albums for Bob Dylan, the second of which included a cover of "Satisfied Mind."
Wexler was unimpressed with the duo's new compositions, and had the pair cover songs by other songwriters like Graham Parker and Rodney Crowell. "They're great producers," Hillman said later. "But looking back, Jerry was trying to turn us into Sam and Dave or something."* The resulting album completely failed to chart, as did the singles, "Turn Your Radio On" and "Love Me Tonight." After a few more months of touring, McGuinn and Hillman decided to call it quits, and with that, the ill-fated collaboration among ex-Byrds was over.
To follow the careers of McGuinn and Clark, see Roger McGuinn: 1981 - 1991 and Gene Clark: 1980 - 1991. A profile of Chris Hillman is forthcoming.
"He said he'd come..." Peterson at 7.
"When they were cutting..." Rogan, Timeless Flight at 190.
"That was the Albert brothers..." Ruhlmann, "McGuinn" at 32.
"Gene started to go nuts..." Ruhlmann, "Hillman" at 36.
"They're great producers..." Ruhlmann, "Hillman" at 36.
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