1972 was a bit of a transition year for Clarence White. Even though The Byrds were nominally a going concern, most of their touring commitments were completed by May, though they did several weekend runs later in the year. The main reason activity came to a halt was because Roger McGuinn was negotiating a reunion of the original Byrds, which would happen first at Roger’s house in August, and then at Wally Heider’s studio in October.
The Byrds were on borrowed time, although that wasn’t widely known until a rumor leaked to the press accidentally on purpose in late January. Therefore, when the band convened at Columbia Recording in mid-January, White probably didn’t realize that only 3 studio dates remained for his iteration of the band. In fact, if you look at it from the other direction, The Byrds were essentially coming off a 3-year hot streak of activity. From February 1969 through December 1971, the band released 5 albums, 8 singles (9 if you count “Bad Night At The Whisky”/”Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man,” released Jan ’69) and they played hundreds of shows throughout the world.
Byrds – Lost My Drivin’ Wheel
Rec date: January 12, 1972
“Lost My Drivin’ Wheel” is a cover of obscure Canadian folksinger, David Wiffen, whose original, released in 1971, was simply titled, “Driving Wheel.” If I had to guess, I’d say that McGuinn got turned onto the song via Tom Rush, who covered the song on his self-titled 1970 LP and opened for The Byrds in ’72. Good song, solid arrangement, McGuinn sings with purpose, and Clarence (panned left) is on fire. It sounds like Dylan’s New Morning by way of Skynyrd (a year before Skynyrd’s first helping, by the way). It also sounds like a song that My Morning Jacket should be covering.
The song never appeared on a Byrds album, but it was on McGuinn’s solo debut, which came out the following year. Is it possible that McGuinn was saving this for his solo record all along? It doesn’t feel like a song for the reunion Byrds and the Clarence Byrds were out of the question, so that doesn’t leave many options.
MARCH 1972: COUNTRY SUITE
Byrds – Acoustic Set + Interview
Recorded in Nashville, March 9, 1972
Host: Billy Edd Wheeler (the guy who wrote the Cash/Carter duet, “Jackson”)
Taken from Billy Edd Wheeler’s TV show, Country Suite, this video essentially captures the country/bluegrass portion of The Byrds’ stage show. The acoustic set piece was common in this era of The Byrds and quite frankly a smart move. When you have a Clarence White in your band, why wouldn’t you adjust your setlist to highlight his bluegrass guitar leads? And you get to highlight Gene’s versatility at the same time. Mandolins and banjos are gonna get swallowed up in a rock context, but by deliberately introducing a discrete “country suite,” you get the best of both worlds.
The acoustic set was one of my favorite parts of the show. We were all originally folkies or bluegrass guys, so it was good to go back to our roots in wooden music. We started doing the acoustic set shortly after this version of the band started, so it was a pretty well-established part of the show by this point.”
–Roger McGuinn in the Live At Royal Albert Hall, 1971 liner notes
:14-2:47 – Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
Skip Battin sings lead on this Flatt & Scruggs standard and everyone except Roger takes a 4-bar solo. Clarence rips off a sweet mandolin run (1:08-1:21) that would’ve made Roland proud, Skip follows up with a little country bass funk (1:22-1:34), and Gene drops the Scruggs hammer (2:02-2:15) in the turnaround into the final verse.
Battin had such a natural feel for country, I wish he’d dipped his pen in rootsy ink more often. Given all those silly Kim Fowley co-writes on the later Byrds albums, it certainly couldn’t have hurt. The irony is that Skip came to rock ‘n’ roll from the country side of the fence, which he explained in a revealing interview with the Record Mirror right around the time this gig took place.
I was playing country rhythm guitar as a profession when this rock ‘n’ roll thing came out of rockabilly music. I met a guitarist who was playing this new type of music – after (Bill) Haley – and it was much louder. The drums didn’t seem to be necessary to it. When I saw an electric bass I was amazed. I switched over to it and went right to work. I had a couple of hits with The Pledges and some, including ‘Cherry Pie,’ with Skip & Flip (referenced in Part 6, Easy Ridin’ in ’69).
–Skip Battin in the Record Mirror, February 5, 1972
2:50-3:56 – Black Mountain Rag
I discussed “Black Mountain Rag” in Part 8, Strap Yourself to a Tree with Roots: 1970, and it went something like this.
Roger: Wanna play “Black Mountain Rag?”
Clarence races up and down the neck for about 20 seconds, before finally looking over at Roger, who’s standing still. “You gonna join me?”
Roger: Naaah. It’s cool, man. Knock yourself out.
4:05-7:24 – Mr. Tambourine Man
This song has an interesting history. Shortly after hearing Dylan sing it at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964, Kentucky Colonels manager, Jim Dickson, brought a demo of “Mr. Tambourine Man” to Clarence White, in hopes he’d record it with the Colonels. Clarence turned him down, so Dickson took the song to the other band he managed, The Jet Set. They were receptive to the number and promptly turned it into a a chiming rock anthem for a generation of proto-hippies, but not before changing their name to The Byrds.
From 1965-68, The Byrds played “Tambourine” more or less like the omnipresent single, but by the late ’60s it evolved into a heavy rock jam, occasionally as part of a medley with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High.” In my opinion, neither of these “bigger” versions quite worked, and the medley is a little too Vegas for my tastes. However, beginning in late 1970, the song transformed into the beautiful acoustic rendition you see above, with McGuinn and White on acoustic guitars, and Battin on wandering bass.
7:37-8:37 – Interview
Roger: I grew up in Chicago, but I went to a place called the Old Town School of Folk Music in the late ’50s. I was one of the first people to graduate from it. Clarence has been in traditional music for a long time. Wanna tell him?
Clarence: I (came from) bluegrass music and just started fooling around with rock ‘n’ roll about 3-4 years ago. It’s fun.
I’M A TRAVELING GUITAR PICKER
As in years past, Clarence appeared on several recording sessions, including his third straight Arlo Guthrie album (Hobo’s Lullaby). Here he kicks things off with his usual monster riffage and offers an understated solo from :47-1:01.
Arlo Guthrie – Mapleview (20%) Rag
Clarence White – acoustic lead guitar
Byron Berline – fiddle
Doug Dillard – banjo
Arlo Guthrie or Jim Dickinson (?) – piano
Roger Bush – acoustic bass
Jim Keltner – drums
Really though, this track is all about the ensemble, and it features a veritable Mount Rushmore of progressive bluegrass. White, Berline, Dillard, and Bush all helped bridge twang and rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s and you’d be hard-pressed to find four more significant figures in west coast bluegrass circa ’72. Add in the mighty Jim Keltner on drums and either Arlo or Jim Dickinson on piano — it could be either, but my money is on Guthrie — and you have two minutes of instrumental bliss.
Gene Clark – Roadmaster
“I spend my days drivin’ on the highway
And when the show is over I gotta do it my way
Look out, honey, ‘cause the Roadmaster’s on the road”
Largely recorded between April and June –- though 3 tracks date to May 31, 1970 — Roadmaster is a Gene Clark album that was only released in Europe, despite featuring various Byrds, Burrito Brothers, our old friend Byron Berline, and of course, CW. The most surprising name involved in the sessions is Spooner Oldham, who lends his funky electric piano to the title track. Clarence weaves in and out of the title track with atypically bluesy riffs, including a double-tracked guitar solo from 2:39-2:58.
I have to laugh at Clark not only writing this song, but titling his album, Roadmaster. Gene quit The Byrds at their commercial peak because he hated flying and his career was forever damaged because he couldn’t be trusted to tour with any sort of regularity. Let’s just say that during the entirety of his 30-year career, he was slightly more accessible than J.D. Salinger. That the title track is an ode to the road is high comedy. It worked because the band, especially Clarence, is top flyte and Clark was such a great and underrated singer.
Skip Battin – Ballad Of Dick Clark
“Dick Clark” comes from Skip’s 1972 solo debut, the 3rd Byrd to release an album under his own name. That may not seem like much of an achievement, but #3 means Battin put out a solo record before McGuinn, Hillman, White, and both Gram and Gene Parsons. Honestly, Clarence White shredding all over this song (and album) is the best thing about it. As a songwriter, Skip Battin was a hell of a bass player. Sorry Skip fans. If I wanted to hear novelty songs, I wouldn’t have given away my Weird Al Yankovic vinyl collection.
MCGUINN SHITS ON BAND
“I wanna get out of country music. I’ve always gone through a lot of different bags of music, mostly because I don’t want to be classified. I guess I’ll always be an experimental folk musician of some sort. (I want to get into) more rock ‘n’ roll, man, and synthesizer, like, well, back to where we left off at Notorious Byrd Brothers. That’s what I want to get into. I know I’m capable of it, it’s just I feel that I’ve been loaded down by people who weren’t sympathetic or tolerant of that in me.”
–Roger McGuinn, Crawdaddy!, 1972
Byrds – Bag Full Of Money
Rec date: August 1972
Written by McGuinn and Jacques Levy, “Bag” comes from the last Byrds session to feature McGuinn, White, and Battin. On drums is John Guerin (pictured left), who replaced Gene Parsons in June, and on pedal steel is studio whiz, Buddy Emmons. What’s interesting to me is that while McGuinn publicly disavowing his country direction, “Bag” proves that it was a genre for which he was ideally suited. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, his bandmates were doing him a favor by poo-pooing his ridiculous excursions into synth-rock, especially knowing what we know about the synthesizer’s impact on ’70s rock. Or, does McGuinn feel cheated that he wasn’t able to beat Mannheim Steamroller to the punch? And as I’ve pointed out previously, whose fault is it that he all but stopped writing songs? Battin’s songs were mostly terrible, but at least he was trying his best. What was McGuinn’s excuse? Oh right, his bandmates “weren’t sympathetic or tolerant.” That makes sense.
STORIES WE COULD TELL
Everly Brothers – I’m Tired Of Singing My Songs In Las Vegas
“I’ve been wanting to quit for three years now and it’s finally time to just do it. I’m tired of being an Everly Brother. I still like to sing ‘Bye Bye Love’ sometimes, but I don’t want to spend my life doing it. I’ve got to find something else.”
–Don Everly, 1973
Clarence renewed his association with the Everly Brothers for their solid 1972 album, Stories We Could Tell. Here he’s panned right, offering up a bevy of sweet bender licks that counterpoint John Sebastian‘s harmonica riffs, panned left. In fact, Sebastian not only wrote the brilliant title track, but the album was recorded in his living room (pictured below).
“Las Vegas” was written by songwriter, Dennis Linde, but it could’ve easily been written by either Phil or Don, perfectly summing up their boredom and frustration with the nostalgia circuit, let alone each other. This frustration culminated in their initial break-up about a year later. In fact, it’s a very eerie coincidence that their final show took place at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, on Saturday, July 14, 1973. A few hours later and about 90 miles away, Clarence White was killed by a drunken dipshit outside of BJ’s in Palmdale. To my knowledge, no one else has noted the geographical and historical proximity between the last Everlys gig and the last Clarence gig, but there it is.
NEXT TIME: THE TRAGIC DEATH OF A MUSICAL GENIUS