I finally had a chance to read “Mr. Tambourine Man, The Life and Legacy of the Byrd’s Gene Clark”. Gene was a gifted singer/songwriter/guitarist and a founding member of the groundbreaking Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Byrds. Gene wrote two of The Byrds’ biggest hits; “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” (which was subsequently covered by Tom Petty) and “Eight Miles High”. During his tenure with The Byrds (the original line-up consisted of Gene, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke), Gene Clark hung out with musicians like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan as well as Hollywood’s most famous actors, writers and directors. Although he never eclipsed his early commercial success with The Byrds, Gene continued to write and record great songs until his untimely death at 46 in 1991.
One of Gene Clark’s final projects was a duo with Carla Olson, a Texas singer/songwriter best known as a member of The Textones. Gene and Carla released an excellent album in 1987 called “So Rebellious A Lover” and played many concerts before and after “So Rebellious A Lover” came out. When they hit Nashville just after their record’s release, Dave Durocher, the drummer from Breathless (we changed our name after being signed by CBS Records) and I were recruited as their rhythm section.
We spent a week rehearsing with Gene & Carla and then performed with them at Nashville’s Summer Lights Festival, taking the stage immediately after our band’s set. I recently found a cassette recording of that show, and two of the songs as well as some between song banter are now available for your listening pleasure.
After the concert, the members of Breathless, Carla, Gene, Saul Davis (Carla & Gene’s manager) and the folks from Bug Music (who were handling Gene’s song catalog and managing Breathless) organized a post-concert get together at an uptown restaurant. Even though Gene and I seemed to hit it off pretty well, I could hardly believe it when he asked me to give him a ride to the party.
After loading my bass rig, accessory bag and bass guitars into the back of my Toyota pickup truck, I told Geno that I was ready to go. As we pulled out of the backstage area, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind stopping at my apartment briefly while I unloaded my gear because I didn’t want my stuff sitting in the vehicle while we were all inside the restaurant. Not only did he not mind, he insisted on helping me cart my equipment out of the truck, into the elevator, up 11 floors, down the hall and into my digs. Here’s this guy who’s about as big as you can get in the music business, wheeling my Mesa Boogie 2×15 speaker cabinet around like a roadie. That’s how Gene Clark was. A gentleman.
By the way, Gene Clark had stories. He knew everybody. While we were schlepping my gear, he was telling me about conversations he had with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Mark Hamill, and writing the song that became “Eight Miles High” with Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. When I told him that I liked his tunes best on the early Byrds records as well as the first “McGuinn, Clark and Hillman” album, he confessed that he disliked McGuinn, Clark and Hillman’s slick album production and that he hated McGuinn’s “Don’t You Write Her Off” which was chosen as the album’s single.
Looking back, I wish I had asked him a lot more questions. Perhaps I should have suggested playing some more shows with him too. Unfortunately that was the last time I saw Gene. Several years later when I heard that Gene Clark had passed away, I phoned Saul Davis who was kind enough to fill me in on what had been happening with him. After hanging out with Gene for a week, talking with Saul immediately after he died and reading “Mr. Tambourine Man”, I think I have a greater understanding of Gene Clark. He was an extremely complicated man whose life played out like a Greek tragedy. Many rock historians insist it was Gene Clark and not Gram Parsons who first combined rock, country and bluegrass music, paving the way for mega bands like The Eagles. I recently created a 21-song playlist of my favorite Gene Clark songs and I can’t stop listening to it. He was an amazing singer/songwriter and a wonderful but often tortured human being who was never fully appreciated while he was alive. He’s sorely missed by everyone who knew him.