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The Byrds speak on

Gene Clark

An article by Monty Smith


Roger McGuinn - Mojo 2017

McGuinn comments on Gene leaving the Byrds after an airplane panic attack:
"We thought we could soldier on with just the four of us .... But Gene was the chick magnet .... Many years later (co-manager) Jim Dickson .... told me a story of him and co-manager Eddie Tickner, taking Gene aside with the idea of going solo, making him another Elvis or something. So maybe there was more to it than fear of flying ....".

Chris Hillman

He'd come out on stage with his tambourine, and it was like Prince Valiant coming to save the maiden

Laramy Smith in an e-mail 2010
(on the song Lyin' Down The Middle)

PEOPLE, here is the scoop.
Gene Clark always played around with words and especially words of other people. When I disbanded "Phoenix" to create the group " Arizona ", I told Gene not to use this song, the next week it's being played on the radio hitting the charts at number 3 on country stations in California.
The original copyright in 1968 the title is a "Line Down The Middle". I wrote the song in January of 1968 while leaving Woodstock, where I had lived for a year.
When I hit the road I wrote songs while I was driving. The song is about the dotted line that runs down the middle-of-the-road on highway 80 that runs from the East Coast to the West Coast. 3000 miles comes from a distance between New York and LA. and I was going to LA at the invitation to join Gene Clark and form a new group with him at A&M Records in Hollywood.
We named the group "Phoenix". Members included Wayne Brun's on drums and Aron Vanderwhordt on base. Gene Clark and I started writing songs in different direction's. I wanted to do mainly country rock and Gene wanted mainly folk and bluegrass material so he continued on with Doug and they were Dillard and Clark.

Gene Clark renamed this song "lyin down the middle" to refer to someone lying down on the middle of the highway, yup he was a drug addict and alcoholic and a scorpion egomaniac.

well that's all folks, so long from Laramy Smith

David Crosby - Byrdwatcher 1998

I really liked Gene a lot, man, he was a good guy. It was very sad. I was sad that he died, I was sad about how he died. Same thing got him that almost got me. And he had been warned, you know. They told him that if he drank anymore, he would kill himself. And I think he knew that, and I think he just poured down a bottle on purpose. And I find that very distressing. He was an enormously talented guy. And a sweet guy, nice guy. And that's all.

You know, it might be age... I don't really think so. I think (the pressure) it had to do with him being very much a product of a huge family in Missouri.
And he, uh... I think he listened to too many people that told him stuff that wasn't true. I think he was manipulated by people again and again. I think it was sad, because he had a real talent. 

Chris Hillman - Richie Unterberger ca 2000

I really played on just about every record Gene did, even Dillard and Clark, and the last one with Carla Olson, which I thought was a really good record, by the way. The first one ('Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers', 1967), I don't remember. I think what happened was, it was a little overproduced, but I can't remember the darned thing. But hey, he was interesting. Interesting writer. I mean, this guy was not a well-read man. But it was like he would pull these beautiful poetic phrases out of nowhere. And I'd go, where is he getting this? It's real interesting. He really wrote some great stuff, even in McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, he wrote some..."Backstage Pass." That was wonderful. Just a fabulous set of lyrics.

Roger McGuinn - Vincent Flanders 1970

Gene Clark is earlier in the picture, right? Well, it was a combination of things. David was sort of riding and hounding him. David had a better background in the English language, sciences, mathematics, and other things. He took advantage of those things to make Gene feel inferior. Gene is really an intelligent person, but he's not well educated. He's a nice guy and he's a bright cat really -- underneath it -- but he's hung up and awkward and like a country boy -- you know what I mean? Like he's not really a city slicker. And Crosby like took advantage of his country background, of Gene's country background, and sort of hounded him into giving up the guitar, in the beginning so David would get to play it.

David wasn't playing guitar at first -- Gene was. It worked for about a year-and-a-half. Gene went flying with us and everything. But one day all the pressure and a bunch of bad experiences with a chick Gene went through with -- after all this he had a crisis on an airplane just about to close the doors and take off for New York from LA. We were all going to do a Murry the K special. Gene flipped out on the airplane, man -- couldn't stand it, got off the airplane. We said, 'Hey man, if you get off the airplane, if you can't fly you can't be in the group any more.' Gene said, 'I know that, but if I stay on it I'll go crazy,' so he split.

Chris Hillman - Musicangle 2004

I don't remember (Gene Clark rejoining the Byrds during the Notorious era). I mean, I'm serious, maybe one gig or something. He came in and he came out. It's almost like he came in through the door and went right back out again. So quickly, it was like ... I can't even remember. It was so brief, it was like a wind hitting you.

David Crosby - Musicangle 2004

I think he (Gene Clark) was way ahead of his time. His changes. He didn't know the rules so he just wrote what he felt and he didn't know the rules musically or grammatically or any kind- he had no idea what the rules were, so he just wrote exactly what he felt, and I think he had a freedom about it that produced incredible music.

Yea he was a good singer.... I think Roger was better. Roger was a very good story teller.

Other people were telling him he could be the next Elvis and that he was... you know, that he didn't... the standard thing...the same shit that fucking Yoko whispered in John's ear 'you don't need those guys, you're a star'. Jesus Christ, think about it. The two guys who could have had any two women on earth...... My god!!! And Gene was afraid of airplanes. We were going to a gig, we all got on the airplane he was very very nervous, he'd probably gotten himself chemically enhanced before he got on and he was sitting there and he too high or whatever it was, he panicked and got off the plane. And Roger's response was 'if you can't fly, you can't be a Byrd.'

Gene was never meant for that man (the Hollywood star system). If Gene had instead gone to Nashville, he probably would have been a huge star because he was good looking- a good looking young guy. A good singer and a good writer and he had a charisma, you know? He was a great guy.

Roger Mc Guinn - Star Magazine 1999

Gene didn't talk much about his roots.
Gene was quite confident at first. It wasn't until David Crosby undermined Gene's confidence that he began to question his ability as a guitar player. His singing was always strong.

Chris Hillman - Star Magazine 1999

He never talked to me very much about his younger days.

Gene was very confident singing and writing at the onset. However, his confidence wavered a bit as we became more popular.

David Crosby - Guitar Player Magazine

Roger, Christopher and I were the essential parts. When Gene left, it was a great loss as a writer but not so much as a singer or performer.

Roger McGuinn - Johnny Rogan Timless Flyght

Gene Clark didn't really know how to keep time at all, at all. He was playing tambourine: Cah, Cah, Taw! He was just spastic on the tambourine. I'm glad he left, actually. I'm glad everybody left.

David Crosby - CS&N Biography 1984

I had to (play rhythm guitar) because Gene just couldn't keep time, couldn't play on the beat. I'd been playing rhythm guitar in coffeehouse quite awhile, so it was natural for me. We needed someone to keep the beat, because Michael (Clarke) barely knew how to play drums.

I had nothing against Gene personally, and never set out to hurt him. I liked him a lot. But he couldn't keep a beat. His tambourine playning was driving me crazy.

David Crosby - CD Liner Notes 1996

Gene did try to emulate the Beatles and he would try to play folk changes. His songs had good chord structures. You'll notice that they never had just three chords, there were several chords involved, and they were good chord structures with good melody. Gene had a pretty good way of stringing the melody across chords.

Chris Hillman - Ben Fong Torres Book 2005

Just give you an example of what Gene had to go through, the only thing that kept Crosby at bay was Gene's physical size. When Gene left and I started singing, I'll never forget Crosby turning to me, we were doing a vocal session, and saying to me, 'If you're going to sing with us, you have to sing in tune'. David had that thing about him. If anybody threatened him or he perceived it as a threat, he would lash out. And David Crosby was lucky that none of us popped him. He was really asking for it. It was the most different set of people with diverse backgrounds you could find, that was the five of us.

Chris Hillman - Full Circle Magazine 1991

He was a friend of mine
We lost Gene the other day. It doesn't matter how or why. He's just gone. I think we lost Gene in 1967. I know I never did find that young innocent kid from Bonner Springs Kansas again. And he so touched my life back then. At one time he was the power in the Byrds, not McGuinn, not Crosby - it was Gene who would bust through the stage curtain banging on a tambourine coming on like a young Prince Valiant. A Hero, our Savior. Few in the audience could take their eyes off this presence. I know, I was hiding in the back next to Michael, watching, waiting-.He was the songwriter. He had the -gift- that none of the rest of us had developed yet. He had control over the demons who constantly stalk us. And then something happened to the kid from Kansas. He grew up, he lost his grip. The demons were set free! And he never regained his balance again. Oh, there were still moments of brilliance through the years, 'Dillard & Clark', solo albums, even the first 'McGuinn, Clark & Hillman' album-What deep inner part of his soul consured up songs like 'Set You Free', Feel A Whole Lot Better', I'm Feeling Higher', 'Eight Miles High'. So many great songs! We learned a lot of songwriting from him and in the process a little about ourselves. I think the city (L.A.) ate him up and spit him out. He suffers no more-..He left me a lot of wonderful memories and allowed me to share a small part of his life. I'm so glad we all made peace on that rainy night last January, our final moment of glory. The Byrds have flown away. I'll miss them-Chris Hillman.

Michael Clarke - Full Circle Magazine 1991

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn too late they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Dylan Thomas

As you well know, Gene and I were quite close. For 21 years he was like a brother to me.
I only have a few words I wish to say. Gene was an artist, a true expressionist. Expression is man's most potent interment of progress. His success is inevitably measured or limited by his ability to communicate his thoughts to others. Gene Clark was one of the most successful, and loving people I ever met. A continuous battle raged between Gene and himself, which in the end found its way on to paper and into song, where it settled. He was never bothered with the -trendy- or popular, for the moment type of music. His style was never inimical, but limitless and different. In my opinion Gene Clark has earned, along with all the other folk heroes, a seat in the 'Folk Heroes Hall Of Fame', and a permanent place in all our hearts. Thank you. Michael Clarke, '91.

John York - Bill Wasserzieher 1993

I guess I met Gene Clark first when I was playing with the Mamas and Papas (1967). Gene needed a band to play some shows so he got me and Clarence White and Eddie Hoh on drums. I only remember us playing a few shows. I know we played a lot of Gene's songs and I remember thinking they were really good. But we played a lot of things. There was one night at the Whiskey when Gene didn't feel like he was connecting with the audience, so after the first three numbers we just played blues the whole night.

(In the 1980s), Phil Seymour, who's a friend, was playing drums for Carla Olson in the Textones and they were at the Palomino Club. Phil wanted me to come down and Gene Clark and Michael Clarke were there. They said they were putting together a tribute band and they needed one more Byrd. They asked will you do it, and I said sure. They had Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Blondie Chaplin and Rick Roberts, and later on there were personnel changes and Nicky Hopkins joined. We started out as Tribute to the Byrds but some of the promoters would just put the Byrds in their ads.

(We played a lot) through 1985, 1986, 1987 and even later, excepts when Gene wasn't well. To show you what kind of guy he was, we had a two week gig in Reno, Nevada and we all thought he was really sick. We wanted him to cancel the shows but he wouldn't do it. The day we got home he went into the hospital and had his stomach operation. Later on Gene and I worked as a duo in 1989.

Article and Interview w. Gene Clark