|Chris Hillman - Connect Savannah, Jim
Reed, November 2008
So many of my friends have fallen by the
wayside. Two friends in the Byrds have died and Gram. But it was by their
own choice! No one put a gun to their head. I could have been a statistic,
but I never lost my sense of decency.
The Byrds weren't really a rock band. We just plugged the instruments
into the wall and started learning! (laughs) We had no blueprint or preset
idea in our minds at all. I think I can look back at that band today
-which is almost 45 years later- with pretty clearly. You know, The Byrds,
we never got really rich. We did quite well relative to the time, but what
I'm most proud of that far outweighs any monetary gain is that we left a
musical path for everyone to follow. Be it the Eagles, or Bruce
Springsteen or Tom Petty - who has always acknowledged it. I mean, I don't
even know anything about Kenny Chesney, except that he's a huge country
star. But I saw an interview the other day where he was saying that he
felt there wouldn't even be any country music today without The Byrds,
because we had folks like Vern Gosdin -who was an old band-mate and friend
of mine- open up for us. It was a very nice sentiment.
All of my bands have had their defining moments. It's just that the
Byrds were the most well-known of them all. As I like to say, it seems
I'll never get fully out of the nest. (laughs) We had a wonderful man
named Jim Dickson who was our manager. He drilled into our heads to go for
substance more than anything. He told us we should try to make music we
could listen to in 30 or 40 years and be proud of, rather than to go into
the "boys and girls" territory. Of course, since we had such gifted
songwriters as Gene Clark and Roger and -a little later on- myself to an
extent, it worked out well.
Roger McGuinn - Barnes & Noble 2006
The thrill of being No. 1 with the Byrds was great, but it had some
side effects that were not wonderful, like the pressure. It was kind of a
dizzying experience. But this is just wonderful; there's nothing bad about
it. I feel great now in my life.
I have two favorite spots in the Byrds' career. The first was the
excitement of going from zero to 60 in two seconds. We were starving
musicians on the streets of L.A., taking buses around, living from the
charity of (manager) Jim Dickson, who would buy us cheeseburgers once a
day, and that's how we stayed alive, and then we were meeting the Beatles
and having No. 1 hits and hanging out with Dylan, and going to a height
that few people can imagine.
Memories of the Byrds as told to
In July 2005, I wrote the first
"Roadie Report" for Roger's web page. I wasn't sure I wanted this personal
road diary to come under scrutiny of the world, but several different
prompts set me to writing. After a few BLOG entries, I received an email
from Jim Dickson, the godfather of the BYRDS, asking if I would like to
write about some of his memories. I was honored and curious. Many
different writers have chronicled the story of the Byrds in detail. I
didn't feel I could add much to those details, but sometimes as we travel
the world together, Roger will reflect on a memory I haven't heard.
In May 2006, I
began incorporating Jim Dickson's memories into the BLOG. This summer
hiatus seemed like a fine time to share some more of the stories I have
heard along the way about a magical time in the history of music. I will
not be documenting a detailed description of the BYRDS history, just a few
of the memories of old friends.r>
Bob Hippard, Hoyt
Axton's road manager, almost didn't recognize Jim McGuinn as he walked
toward him from the airline gate. This 21 year old who had toured two
continents, played Carnegie Hall, been on national television, performed
with world renowned musical artists, recorded on hit records now looked
like a vagabond. His hair was long and combed forward, his big black
crumpled raincoat looked huge over his thin frame and his pale skin was a
sharp contrast to the warm southern California sun, but there was a glint
of expectation in his eyes and in his walk.
Jim's finances were at
an ebb, so Bob drove him to Hoyt Axton's house. Bob had arranged for Jim
to stay at the guesthouse, where Hoyt's mother, Mae Axton, resided when
she was in town. They deposited Jim's bags and musical instruments in the
pool enclave. As they walked back to the car to go search for a bite to
eat, Hoyt greeted them in the driveway. This down home Oklahoma boy
grabbed Jim's hand and invited them both into his home for refreshments.
After hours of munching and smoking a vast quantity of imported Indian
hemp, Bob reminded the musicians they both had a show the following night.
The Troubadour Club in West Hollywood was one of folk music's hot
spots in town. Jim had spent many hours on previous sojourns in Hollywood
practicing his craft and meeting other artisans in the front room of the
club, The Folk Den. Hoyt had recorded his album, "The Balladeer," in the
club and was always a welcomed artist.
Jim was going to open the
show, then singer songwriter; Roger Miller would precede Hoyt. Jim was
tired when he sat down on the lone stool on stage. He began to quietly
sing the Scottish folk song "Wild Mountain Thyme" but he became energized
when he incorporated a Beatle beat to the lyrics. He loved it, but the
audience didn't. There was no response when he finished the song. The rest
of the 30 minutes dragged on.
Roger Miller was tuning up in the
small dressing room, when a very dejected Jim walked in and sat down on
the other chair. "Jim, I liked what your doing out there." Roger smiled at
Jim as he shook his head. "I watched you for awhile and I noticed
something." Roger softly spoke. "You got mad at the audience. They notice
when a singer doesn't like them. You might do a lot better if you didn't
show how upset you are when they don't appreciate what you're trying to
do." Roger left the dressing room. Jim could hear the enthusiastic
applause greeting Roger Miller. He knew he needed to take the advice he
had been given and change his attitude.
The next couple of nights
were not any easier for Jim, but his attitude changed. He was ready to
work hard with the hope some lone person would understand where he wanted
to take his music.
One night, someone did. Gene Clark, a newcomer
to town, fresh from the Missouri folk circuit, was in the audience. As
soon as Jim was off stage, Gene went to find him. This soft spoken, good
looking, dark-haired musician was excited about Jim's innovative way of
combining folk songs to the Beatles' beat. Jim's spirits lifted and they
both agreed to meet the next day in the Folk Den to write some songs.
The collaboration between Jim and Gene was electric. Gene's lyrical
genius and Jim's musical knowledge took these two hungry artists to new
heights. Their voices blended beautifully as they sang the new songs they
penned. When Jim began playing one of the new songs, "You Showed Me," he
felt his guitar move with an almost spiritual energy. He knew something
wonderful was happening.
TwTwo days into their song writing
adventure, while they were jamming in the Folk Den, a student actor turned
folk musician, heard them singing. He walked over and added an incredible
harmony. During Jim's first trip to Los Angeles in 1960 to accompany the
Limeliters, he had spent a couple of weeks hanging out with this
actor/singer. As the trio's voices blended with a harmonic brilliance,
their eyes flashed at each other with looks of wonder. Something awesome
was happening. David Crosby hyperly shouted, "We make beautiful music
together!" Jim wasn't sure he wanted to work with this high-energy
songbird. David saw Jim's hesitation and slyly mentioned he had a friend
who would let them use his recording studio for free. Jim's qualms were
Jim Dickson was a producer for World Pacific
Records. One of his productions, "12 String Guitar" sold several hundred
thousand copies, enough to save the label from bankruptcy. World Pacific's
owner, Dick Bock, rewarded Dickson with the key to the studio to use for
his own purposes whenever there were no paying sessions on the schedule.
Dickson went in search of new talent to record demos in the studio.
One night at the Unicorn, L.A.'s first coffeehouse, he heard David Crosby
singing and being ignored by the audience. He was struck by the quality of
David's voice. Dickson's first recordings with David were with studio
musicians. It was a standard practice to use the pros when recording. Jim
had recently finished recording sessions with Dino Valente in a rock and
roll format and decided to record David in a like manner.r>
Unfortunately, the tapes embarrassed David because folk music was the
genre of the moment. Dickson wasn't able to secure a recording deal for
David, so he suggested he should switch from lead singer to a harmony
singer. David had been in Lex Baxter's Balladeers and resisted the
direction. In the meantime, David kept a suitcase in Dickson's garage and
slept on different people's couches.
One day David arrived at the
World Pacific studios high with excitement. He had found two guys he
wanted to sing harmony with and if Dickson would get involved he was sure
they would let him.
Dickson was familiar with Jim McGuinn, but had
never heard of Gene Clark. David told Dickson he would only be a singer
because both of the guys were much better guitar players than he was.
David's method of guitar playing was of the school of Travis Emundson -
just learn the chords when you need them for the song you want to sing.
It was late at night, when David brought Jim and Gene to the World
Pacific studio. Dickson asked them to sing a few songs. He felt their
vocal sound was worth his time, since vocal blend was the most difficult
achievement for a group. Their pseudo English accents did cause him to
wonder about their motivation
Jim and David begged Dickson to go
with them to a movie they had seen, "A Hard Days Night." He finally
understood the accents. The lads were excited about the movie.
the sidewalk outside the theater, while McGuinn was busy explaining to
Dickson his realization that most of the Beatles' songs were based on folk
chords, David was swinging around a lamp pole like Gene Kelly and yelling,
"I want to be a Beatle!" McGuinn was also excited about George Harrison's
guitar. When he first heard the sound, he was sure it was a 12-string
guitar, but in the movie it only looked like a 6-string from the front.
Then, George turned sideways and Jim could see it was a Rickenbacker
electric 12-string guitar! This veteran 12-string player had to have one
of those magical instruments at any cost.
A few days later, David
and Roger were standing on Hollywood Boulevard talking about how to become
a band like the Beatles. David felt he could play bass, but they needed to
find a drummer. They felt it was important for everyone to look English.
As they were talking, a guy came strutting down the street who looked just
like two of the Rolling Stones rolled into one package. They both pointed
and said "him!"
It was an 18-year-old who was calling himself
Michael Clarke. Roger had seen him in San Francisco playing bongos and
they asked Michael if he could play drums. "Sure," he half-heartedly
answered. They took him to the studio, configured some cardboard boxes as
drums and set a tambourine up for the snare drum. Michael sat down with a
pair of sticks and began practicing.
David quickly realized he
couldn't concentrate on harmony while playing the bass. He asked Dickson
to get another player. Dickson had recorded with an accomplished mandolin
player named Chris Hillman. He first encountered Chris with the Bluegrass
group, Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, then the Golden State Boys with Vern
Gosdin. Their latest Dickson recording at World Pacific was the album,
which became "The Hillmen" featuring Vern and Rex Gosdin, Don Parmley, and
Dickson felt Chris's musicianship and the way he supported
vocals would make him a good candidate to learn to play the bass, so he
invited Chris to a rehearsal.
Dickson wasn't planning on recording
with the bass and drums, but did want them for live performances. He
formed a business partnership with the original three musicians. He
quickly realized in order for the partnership to survive, he would have to
feed the lads who had no money or jobs. "Guess I have to feed you now,"
was the line Dickson used when he felt the late night session was over.
Hamburgers were the reward for a good night's work.
The group was
making progress. Dickson used his own money to bring in some studio
musicians to play on two songs: "Please let Me Love You" and "Don't Be
Long." He sold the songs to Elektra Records and told Jack Holzman to
choose a name, but don't identify the members. He chose the name
"Beefeaters." Maybe it was the "British Invasion" or a gin bottle on the
desk inspiring the moniker.
The group"s ability to perform live was
still in question. They booked a show at the Troubadour. David played
without an instrument and the result was an awkward singer slinking around
the stage in the style of a chubby Mick Jagger. The audience was not
impressed. David quickly grasped he wasn't going to be the next rock
screamer and he needed the protection of a guitar. He joined McGuinn in
lamenting about Gene's tempo changes. Gene felt songs were more dramatic
if they were sung in a slower tempo. This habit drove the perfectionist
musician, McGuinn, to distraction. Bobby Darin had impress upon Jim the
importance of timing and to hear a song drag out of tempo was tough for
him. The timing issue was the point David chose as a tool to undermine
Gene's confidence as a guitar player. David had to quickly learn all the
chords to the songs and Gene grabbed a tambourine as a prop. It was the
beginning of the major rifts which often plagued the band: personalities,
perfection and politics.
By then Dickson felt there was a future
for the group and brought Eddie Tickner into the partnership to handle the
business end. They needed money for instruments and the lads wanted to
have suits like the Beatles. Eddie found a very wise investor with an
available $5000 whose heirs still collect 5% of the initial royalties to
Dickson drove McGuinn, Clarke and Crosby to the music
store. Jim carried his Pete Seeger model 5-string banjo and Gibson
acoustic 12-string guitar, a gift from Bobby Darin. He wanted a
Rickenbacker 12-string and was willing to trade in both of his instruments
to get one.
After the instrument purchases, Dickson dropped Jim off
at the Padre hotel. Mae Axton had come to town, so Bob Hippard found Jim a
room at the Padre Hotel for $4.00 a night. The moonbeams danced around the
room as Jim played the guitar until he fell asleep, propped up against the
pillow of the bed holding his new prize possession.