BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles
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BYRDS v. BYRDS:
THE 20th ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE TO THE BYRDS
1984 - 1988

Gene Clark Discography

Michael Clarke Discography

John York Discography


Gene Clark Bibliography

Michael Clarke Bibliography

John York Bibliography


Reunited:
John York joined the Byrds in October of '68, well after the second departure of Gene Clark in fall of '67. But York was invited to join the Byrds back in '68 because he had played with Clarence White (and drummer Eddie Hoh) in the 1967 incarnation of the Gene Clark Group.


To read about other aspects of the concurrent solo career of Gene Clark, see Gene Clark: 1980 - 1991.

No chapter in the history of the Byrds caused as much consternation and controversy among fans and fellow Byrd alumni as the tours by various aggregations, billed as the Byrds and assorted variations thereupon, under the leadership of first Gene Clark, then Michael Clarke. Ultimately this set of pseudo-reunions prompted a competing reunion, and an unsuccessful lawsuit, by McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman. It appeared that the 1993 death of Michael Clarke had brought that chapter to a sad end, but soon after yet another set of bogus Byrds was touring with Skip Battin at the helm. Ultimately, this series of competing mini-reunions would involve every living former member of the band except Kevin Kelley.
Gene Clark spent much of 1984 touring in support of his album Firebyrd (Takoma, 1984) with a group of the same name. Clark's old buddy Michael Clarke, having left Firefall in 1981, drummed for the band. That group petered out, and near the end of the year, Clark and Clarke toured as openers for a rump version of the Band featuring Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson. Tour conversations turned to the impending twentieth anniversary of the release of "Mr. Tambourine Man." Clark contacted McGuinn, Crosby, Hillman, and Gene Parsons but none of them was interested in reviving the Byrds. (McGuinn and Hillman had worked with Clark now and then, either live or in recording sessions, in the previous two years, so they were apparently on good terms at the time. Crosby was busy just trying to stay out of prison at this point.)
By the end of 1984, Clark had reunited with two other former Byrds, Mike Clarke and John York. York had been a bassist in the Byrds, but in Clark's Tribute band, York played twelve-string guitar. Rounding out the group were a motley collection of well-known musicians. Additional guitar duties were divided between Rick Roberts, former bandmate of Mike Clarke in the Burritos and Firefall, and Blondie Chaplin, who was a Beach Boy long enough to sing lead on "Sail On, Sailor" in 1972. Rick Danko of the Band played bass.
Initially reluctant to use the Byrds name with only two originals and one latter-day member, they instead opted for "A 20th Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds." When the tour began that year, not all promoters were scrupulous about billing: in many towns the show was advertised as a "Byrds" concert. Despite the dubious provenance of the group, as this writer, who saw them in a bar in East Lansing, Michigan, can attest, at least some of the shows were surprisingly entertaining. Many of the early gigs were with the 1985 incarnation of the Flying Burrito Brothers: Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Skip Battin, Greg Harris and Jim Goodall. The two bands often commingled during the shows, which sometimes reached epic lengths.
As might be expected, the other three original Byrds all expressed dismay about Clark's activities. McGuinn told one interviewer at the time, "I don't care much for that.... It's a cheap show. It's too bad that Gene Clark can't make a living on his own name.... But I feel badly because I know he has to make a living as a musician. What else is he going to do?"*
The Tribute band toured throughout most of 1985 in more or less that form, and eventually started calling themselves the Byrds. Around year's end, the personnel changes began. Michael Clarke left in November to pursue his career as a painter. He explained his reasons for quitting: "We tried it for a year and it didn't really ever approach the big time. It's kind of a copy band. I think the band should be put to rest. I think Gene should do something else. He's very talented, he deserves something of his own to be successful."*
Replacing Clarke was Greg Thomas, late of Thunderbyrd and McGuinn Clark & Hillman. Bassist Rick Danko left to pursue another reunion of the Band, and was replaced by Carlos Bernal. (Bernal had been a roadie for the Byrds. On the ill-fated South African tour of 1968, Bernal was deputized to replace Gram Parsons on guitar.) Chaplin also left, to be replaced by Billy Darnell, who had also played with McGuinn during the '70s. Keyboard legend Nicky Hopkins, whose credits include the Quicksilver Messenger Service and sessions with the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Who, was also on board. A month later, Rick Roberts bowed out, and Hopkins stayed with the group only a few months more. Clark, York, Darnell, Thomas, and Bernal continued to play sporadically through 1986 and 1987. Clark took some time off at the end of '86 to record So Rebellious A Lover (Rhino, 1987) with Carla Olson. Meanwhile, Clark's Byrds were playing more and more shows on the oldies circuit, with reconstituted versions of the Turtles, Herman's Hermits, the Grass Roots and the Mamas and the Papas. In the fall of '87, Bernal left and was replaced by Michael Curtis.
Clark kept his band active until April of '88, when he was hospitalized due to a serious ulcer. Clark was laid up after having half his stomach and some of his intestine removed; the band played a few gigs without him. On June 16, 1988, while Clark was still recuperating, McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman played a benefit concert together for the Ash Grove. Each of the three did a set alone, then the three united onstage for a handful of Byrds oldies. Clark was in the audience; he cited his recent surgery as the reason he was unable to perform that night, although it is unclear whether he would have been welcome to take part. Notably, the three did not use the Byrds name.
Around this time, Clark decided to quit using the Byrds name. He did a few more gigs with his bandmates as the Byrds to fulfill obligations made before his surgery. Soon though, Clark was performing with the same band under the name "Gene Clark and the Firebyrds." The group sometimes played without him under the name "Maps," and the bulk of his own gigs were solo. "I really wasn't comfortable having it be the Byrds," Clark explained around the time. "When I got things back on the road for my own solo career, I figured if the other guys [McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman] don't want me to use the name, then I don't think it's the right thing to do."* It appeared that the controversy over the doppelganger Byrds had finally ended.




To read about Michael Clarke's Byrds, the McGuinn/Crosby/Hillman Byrds reunion, and the legal confrontation between them, see Byrds v. Byrds: 1989 - 1990. To read about other aspects of the concurrent solo career of Gene Clark, see Gene Clark: 1980 - 1991.



Notes

"It's a cheap show...." Morisset, "Still Flying" at 15.

"It's kind of a copy band...." Morisset, "Flying Forever Part 2" at 6.

"I really wasn't comfortable...." Morisset, "Flying Forever Part 2" at 7.


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Spinoffs | Byrds v. Byrds | 1984 - 1988

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