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Clarence White Discography
To find out about Clarence White's early years, see Clarence White: With the Kentucky Colonels, 1954 - 1965. White's concurrent musical activities without Parsons are covered in Clarence White Plugs In: 1965 - 1968.
Gene Parsons and Gib Guilbeau Meet
Clarence White and the Gosdin Brothers
Nashville West had its roots in an informal partnership between multi-instrumentalist Gene Parsons and fiddler Gib Guilbeau. In the early '60, these two had played together in a country band called the Castaways. In 1965, Parsons and Guilbeau began doing session work together. In late 1965 or early '66, Parsons and Guilbeau were called in to do a session for the Gosdin Brothers.
The Gosdins had played with Chris Hillman in the Golden State Boys, who were later called the Hillmen. Hillman, now a success as bassist for the Byrds, was producing the Gosdins session. To play electric guitar, Hillman brought in Clarence White, formerly the guitarist in the Kentucky Colonels. The Colonels had played the same Southern California folk club circuit as the Golden State Boys, and Hillman had known White since 1960.
The song was called "One Hundred Years From Now," backed with "No Matter Where You Go (There You Are)," and it was issued on Edict. (The A side is not the Gram Parsons song by the same name from Sweetheart of the Rodeo.) By this time, both the Gosdins and Clarence White had, like Hillman, moved beyond their bluegrass roots to electric music; arguably, this single is one of the earliest examples of country rock. (In late '66, Hillman, White and the Gosdins would do the sessions behind Gene Clark that became Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (Columbia, 1967).)
Bakersfield International Productions
White got along well with Parsons and Guilbeau, and the three began doing sessions together regularly, though not exclusively. They had a close relationship with Gary Paxton, a singer, songwriter and producer who had a few early '60s hits as "Flip" in Skip and Flip. ("Skip" was future Byrd Skip Battin.) Paxton had also sung the novelty hit "Alley Oop." Paxton had two publishing companies, Maverick Music and Garpax Music, and a production company called Bakersfield International Productions.
White, Parsons and Guilbeau became the house band for Bakersfield International Productions, and played behind a succession of small-time country acts. Many of these sessions ended up on low budget releases and exploitative covers albums, such as Guitar Country on Jasico, by "Bakersfield's Big Guitars." It would appear that Paxton sold these sessions to other labels to finance projects closer to his own heart.
Guilbeau, Parsons and White also wrote and performed in various combinations under various names. Sometimes these tracks were also licensed to other record companies. For example, the single "Home of the Blues" / "Lodi" was issued on Strawberry Records under the name "Cajun Gib Guilbeau" (and later reissued as part of a Gib Guilbeau LP, Toe Tappin' Music (Shiloh, 1978).) "Empty Words of Love" / "In the Morning" was issued on Happy Tiger Records as a Gib Guilbeau single. (Years later these two tracks appeared with an album's worth of contemporaneous songs, misleadingly labeled as a Flying Burrito Brothers release, Burrito Country (Brian, 1979).
Tuff and Stringy
Around this time, Parsons and White together invented an ingenious device that gave an electric guitar the sound of a steel: the Parsons/White Stringbender. White wanted to bend his high B-string a full tone, but needed a third hand to do it when he wasn't playing in open position. Parsons, an amateur machinist, devised an apparatus to pull or drop White's B string, which they built into White's '54 Telecaster. The Stringbender enabled White to play what sound like steel guitar licks on his Telecaster, which quickly became a key part of his signature sound. (Today Stringbenders are still available for Fender guitars. See the official Stringbender website for more details.)
While Parsons was creating the Stringbender, Paxton was creating his own label, Bakersfield International Records. Its first release was "Louisiana Rain" / "Sweet Suzannah" by "(Gib) Guilbeau & (Gene) Parsons." These two Guilbeau-penned tracks were then released on Alshire with an album's worth of other songs as Cajun Country by "Gib Guilbeau." (The Alshire LP was reissued on Dutch Ariola years later.)
The label's next release was by the Gosdin Brothers, "Hangin' On'" / "Multiple Heartaches." Somehow this record eventually broke into the Country Top 40, provoking major label interest in the duo. The label's third single was by Clarence White: "Tango for A Sad Mood" / "Tuff and Stringy," both guitar instrumentals composed by Paxton. "Tango" received a bit of airplay, and ironically, Ralph Emery used the song as theme of his radio show for a time. (On his first album as a Byrd, White would play on "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," a biting song directed to Emery, who had been unfriendly to the Byrds during their Nashville visit.)
The fourth single on Bakersfield International was by vocalist Wayne Moore: "Hey Juliana" / "Rocks In My Head." Soon after came a follow-up single by the Gosdins, "She Still Wishes I Were You" / "There Must Be Someone." Gene Parsons would sing the latter song on the Byrds album Ballad of Easy Rider. Another Clarence White single followed, again with two instrumentals. The White composition "Grandma Funderbunk's Music Box" was the A side, with "Riff Raff" by Paxton and Parsons on the flip.
By this time the Gosdin Brothers had signed to Capitol. White, Parsons and Guilbeau still backed them a pair of singles, "Till the End" / "Louisiana Man" and "I Remember" / "Just Like the Wind," and their album Sounds of Goodbye (Capitol, 1968). Gary Paxton also had a deal with Capitol, and released a pair of singles. The first featured Guilbeau's song "Miles and Cities" backed with a cover of Ernie K-Doe's hit, "Mother-In-Law." The second featured "Goin' Through the Motions," a Paxton/Guilbeau song, backed with "You Got To Do the Best You Can (With What You've Got)."
Cajun Gib & Gene
During this period, White began to play live dates with Guilbeau and Parsons, who performed as "Cajun Gib and Gene" and had a steady gig at the Jack of Diamonds in Palmdale, California. "We played seven nights a week there, and we played a double shift on Sunday," Gene Parsons remembered almost twenty years later. "We played from noon until six, we took a couple hours off, came back and played nine 'til two. Seven days a week we drove back and forth to Palmdale, which was about 80 miles, so we were quite busy boys."*
In 1967, White, Parsons and Guilbeau decided to formalize their partnership and become a full-fledged group. They recruited bassist and vocalist Wayne Moore, a labelmate who had played with Parsons and Guilbeau in the Castaways. The quartet had a residency playing country rock at a club called the Nashville West in El Monte, California. They soon adopted the club's name as their own. Occasionally, friends would sit in with the group, including Glen D. Hardin on keyboards and steel guitarists Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Lloyd Green. Gram Parsons also sat in with the group occasionally.
Nashville West circa 1967. (L to R) Gib Guilbeau, Clarence
White, Wayne Moore, Gene Parsons. Courtesy Sierra Records.
Ten years later, Sierra Records released an album made from a live recording of one the band's El Monte gigs, called, naturally enough, Nashville West (Sierra, 1978). "I had a Sony two-track, and I hooked it up, partly to the sound system and partly to the microphones, and just let it run and recorded the whole night," Parsons recalled. "There's a lot that never got on the album, thank goodness."*
The album offers a revealing glimpse of a lost chapter in the history of country rock. White's unique electric playing style was completely mature at this point, although he doesn't use the Stringbender on the recording. The arrangements foreshadow the first Flying Burrito Brothers album later that year: this is country music played with the attitude and heavier beat of rock.
The track list includes a few originals, including White's instrumental single, "Tuff and Stringy"; "Nashville West," another instrumental that would reappear on Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde; and two Guilbeau compositions, "Sweet Susanna" and "Louisiana Rain." The rest of the album is made up of recent country hits, as one might expect of a band playing long hours to clubgoers. Some are crossover hits, like Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" and two Glen Campbell songs: "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" by Jimmy Webb and "I Wanna Live" by J. D. Loudermilk. Others are pure country, including the Waylon Jennings hits "Mental Revenge" and "Love of the Common People," "Green, Green Grass of Home" by Porter Wagoner, and "Sing Me Back Home" by Merle Haggard. Finally, the album includes two songs that had been '60s hits for Johnny Rivers, Chuck Berry's "Memphis" and Tom T. Hall's "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water" (also a 1965 hit for Charlie Rich).
Sierra Records reissued Nashville West in 1997, with several bonus tracks: the traditional songs "C.C Rider," and "Columbus Stockade Blues," "Mom & Dad's Waltz" (a hit for Lefty Frizzell in 1951), and Guilbeau's "Louisiana Rain."
The 1997 reissue of Nashville West.
Courtesy Sierra Records.
Given the music on the album, it's easy to see why Gram Parsons considered the group to be kindred spirits. In March of 1968, shortly after Gram Parsons joined the Byrds, White played on his third Byrds album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, on which his guitar work played a prominent role. "When we were working at the Nashville West the Byrds would come and sit in with us, because they were studying country music and we were one of the hottest country rock bands in Southern California at that time, and they came to study us," says Gene Parsons.*
Later that summer, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, who were thinking of leaving the Byrds, actually recorded some sessions with White, Gene Parsons and Gib Guilbeau. Gene Parsons described the session as a "prototype Burrito Brothers."* Discussions never really reached the serious stage before the Byrds left for their South African tour.
Nashville West didn't get the chance to become successful in its own right. When the Byrds returned from South Africa without Gram Parsons in July of that year, they asked White to replace him. Hillman instigated the recruitment of White into the group, as he had initiated White's participation in the earlier band sessions. He was adamant that the Byrds keep a country component in their music, and he and McGuinn knew that White could handle both rock and country guitar.
A few weeks later, White was able to leverage Gene Parsons into the group, since neither he, McGuinn, nor Hillman was happy with the drumming of Kevin Kelley. Ironically, though Hillman had pushed for the hire of musicians who could play country, he quit a few weeks after Gene Parsons joined. (Later, he and Gram Parsons invited the pair to join the Flying Burrito Brothers, but they liked their chances better with the Byrds and stayed put.)
Guilbeau continued to do sessions, eventually working with Linda Ronstadt. That job led to the formation of Swampwater with John Beland in 1969, then to a team-up with Sneaky Pete Kleinow in Cold Steel a few years later. In 1974, Guilbeau reunited with Gene Parsons in the Columbia version of the Flying Burrito Brothers.
The contemporaneous activities of Clarence White without Parsons are covered in Clarence White Plugs In: 1965 - 1968. The career of Clarence White and Gene Parsons with the Byrds will be treated in the forthcoming Byrds History Section. Clarence White's role in the Byrds, his Byrds-era sessions, and his post-Byrds work are the subject of Clarence White, With the Byrds and After: 1968 - 1973.
"We played seven nights a week..." Claybaugh at 8.
"I had a Sony two-track..." Claybaugh at 8.
"When we were working..." Claybaugh at 8.
"Prototype Burrito Brothers..." Fong-Torres, Hickory Wind at 100.
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