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The Byrds speak on

The Notorious Byrd Brothers



David Crosby - ByrdWatcher 1998

(On the Byrds are credited for inventing folk rock, raga rock, jazz rock, space rock, country rock, punk rock).

I don't think we invented any of that shit. I think they were just desperately trying to label us, and I never wanted to be labeled. We always fought being labeled because it is a function where somebody can dismiss you because they can say, "Oh, that's a ...," and they can stop thinking about it. So what you want to do is try to refuse the label. They kept trying to label us; every time we turned around, they came up with a new one. And it's a bunch of bullshit. What we were was a good singer/songwriter band. And pretty creative. We pushed the envelope a lot for that early on.

I'm sure there's a demo someplace, man of 'Draft Morning'). Who has it, I have no idea.
You know what, that whole thing, that song and "Dolphin's Smile," I guess, they were both on that record, right? (The Notorious Byrd Brothers').

Which is the record they tried to pretend I wasn't on. [Laughs.] I'm on it. It was not a comfortable parting of the ways. They threw me out. And they were not nice about it. And they did take songs that I co-wrote, and music that I made, and tried to pretend that I wasn't there. Or at least give the impression that I wasn't there, which was unkind, but understandable under the circumstances. They were under the influence of some very bad people at the time, and they were told that they needed to give the impression that they were just as strong without me as they had been with me. And I don't think... I know that's not how Christopher feels about me and I don't think that's how Roger feels about me now. I think it was just a bad feeling at the time, and I am sure I contributed to it as much as anybody. I was not an easy guy at that point. I was pretty much of a punk and had an enormous attitude and thought I was a lot better than I probably was, and wanted to be... to have a larger share of things. And I was starting to write fairly good stuff. When they tossed me out I was writing "Wooden Ships" and "Guinnevere" and "D-j- Vu."

('Lady Friend' having been left out of the album) That frustrated me more. That was when I realized that I was really up against them, because I thought, "Man, this is good as anything else there -- at least." And it should have been used.

 When I saw what we were able to do in the studio in just a couple of days in Nashville for the Boxed Set, it made me really wonder what would happen if Roger and Chris and I got together and tried to create some new music. Because I think you know we're past all that crap. I have enormous respect for Roger and I would gladly fly wingman to him. [Pauses.] When we got together for the Byrds reunion, I was throwing my weight around too much.

Chris Hillman - Richie Unterberger ca 2000

Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers weren't such big-selling albums when they came out, but now they're regarded as great records, among the Byrds' very best. Has it surprised you that they've endured so well over time?

To some degree it has. I have to feign ignorance here. I don't remember everything on Notorious. Younger Than Yesterday I do, that was my album in that sense that I started to come out of my shyness and contribute more. And I think we did some of the very first country-rock on Younger Than Yesterday. I think with Clarence [White], "Girl with No Name," "Time Between," stuff like that, that was our country-rock statement of the time. Notorious, I've talked to more people over the years who have said that's their favorite Byrds album. And there was Roger and I in the breach, having had our fallout with David in finishing this record with Gary Usher. Gary Usher was very good at the time, a very good producer to work with, and opened all kinds of ideas. I like those albums. I can't remember every single song on there. But there were things like "Draft Morning" that were really interesting.

But the band just starting its descent into hell then. One of the Byrds compilations that Bob Irwin put together, he includes an argument we're having in the studio with Mike Clarke. And it's sad. It's a funny thing to listen to, but then it's sad because Gary's dead, Usher, who was the producer on the date, Mike's dead, and you go, my God. But that's where it started to lose...Dickson was gone. We didn't have the schoolteacher leading us into the classroom. It started to splinter. But yes, in hindsight, yeah, those are good records. They were good. And McGuinn's always been a real joy to work with. He's a real professional in the studio.

Roger McGuinn - Vincent Flanders 1969

Yeah, we did the Moog Raga. It's in the can at Columbia, it's in the library and will never be released because it's out of tune -- that's the only reason. You have to stack with the synthesizer. Stacking, for those of you who don't know about what it is, it's putting one layer or channel of tape over another -- overdubbing. It was a stacked thing. We first put down the tambura sound, then we put down the melody line. The melody line was out of tune with the tambura sound. the 'whaangyang' sound was all right, but when we put the 'dodooyadoooyaa' I was doing it on a linear controller on the Moog. Man, it's really hard. It's like learning to play the violin immediately -- you play it across from right to left. Like it's horizontal and you play it by pushing your finger down on a Teflon strip about a half-inch side and about 1/5 of a millimeter in thickness and it's about one millimeter off the graphite undercoating -- what it is is a big potentiometer.

And so I put black grease pencil marks on the strips to find the notes, but sill my ear was a little off that night is what it was. I just wasn't hearing in tune correctly the night that we did it and we never got to return to it and clean it up. Like I can do it better now from scratch because I know the synthesizer inside out -- electronically. My only hangup, as I say again, is the keyboard. I'm not a keyboard cat. I'm waiting for a guitar neck to come out or otherwise I have to make one myself and I'm not in town long enough to really get involved in the project -- it'd take six months to get a working guitar neck.

Paul Beaver, the west coast franchise for Moog, is allegedly trying to make one. I don't know if he will or not or how he'll work it. It's a difficult proposition because of the mechanics involved. You'd have to have switches that are small enough to put six across per fret -- on the guitar neck -- which is very small. In fact, they don't make switches that small yet. They make little buttons that small, but the switch itself is about an inch long so logistically it can't be done that way.

I had a solution in my head that I haven't proposed to anyone in the electronics field. My solution was to make a converter that would take the actual tone of the guitar through a preamp and then convert it into a voltage that would control the oscillators. It sounds good, but it would be hard to do.

Roger McGuinn - Musicangle 2004

I enjoyed working with Usher and it was great fun in the studio. We were kind of Beatles-influenced, I don't know if it was Revolver or Rubber Soul, but we were influenced by one of those. I think they'd released something that didn't have separations between the tracks, so I think that was the inspiration for that. It was just a real artistic expression, freedom of expression. It was a lot of fun to be able to do things that were off the wall like that.

We were kind of a trio by then. Michael left right after this, but he didn't sing. Chris and I were the only singers. He had to jump into the harmony vocals slot when I sang lead and I had to harmonize when he sang lead. It was a good thing for Chris. We started writing together; we wrote a lot of songs together.

He (Michael Clarke) was just tired of the whole thing -- the little girls weren't coming around as much any more and that was what he was in it for.

Graham (Parsons) kinda speared it into the country direction.

Chris Hillman - Musicangle 2004

(Michael Clarke left) and Jim Gordon finished it ('The Notorious Byrd Brothers'). Jim was a great drummer. Unfortunately, he went crazy and addled his mother. Otherwise, he was a fine musician. (laughs). Really. You listen to him on "Layla," and he wrote the whole piano piece ending. He was a great musician, but, boy, was he out there. I spent a year on the road with him, I know.

He was the groove kid. A terrific drummer. Mike had it in him to be that good; he just didn't have the discipline. He didn't work at it. He could've been a great musician. He could've been a great actor, too. But he was an undisciplined guy. Lazy. It's a waste all around.

The day he tried out for the Burritos he was really good, and he'd done his homework, and he was playing great. It just didn't work out -- he was being seduced by the negative things and

I don't remember (Gene Clark rejoining the Byrds). 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.

At that point, David (Crosby's) heart wasn't in it. He was hanging out more with the other groups, and the funny thing is that I'm the guy who took him to see the Springfield when they played at the Whiskey. I said, "Come with me and watch this band." And he didn't think they were very good. The other thing that tickles me to this day is that when we would be riding about with the Byrds, he'd be raving about the sitar. I said, "You wanna hear an instrument that has a sliding scale? Here: steel guitar!" and I'd punch a country station and he hated it. Of course, he was playing it on "Teach Your Children." And he did a good job, actually. He wasn't a steel player,, but he did a good job on that song.

Roger McGuinn - CD Liner Notes 1996

We messed up the vocal (on -Artificial Energy'). We did it electronically . We were trying for a hard sound which we've never had. We sang it and then we took some kind of gadget  that some guy brought in that we rented for 50 bucks. You plug into it and it distorts, but the voices came out more like Donald Duck than we wanted. The brass section was just studio cats and then we phased their stuff so it came out a little more soulful.

It's ('Change Is Now') another one of those guru-spiritual-mystic songs that no-one understood.

We were just playing a country song ('Old John Robertson') and, all of a sudden, this harpsichord and baroque section walked in and sat down and played the break. Then they packed up their gear and split-We decided to leave it in.

It was my idea to do the 'be-de-lum, be-de-lum' introduction (on 'Dolphin's Smile'). That was my fingernails on the neck of the Rickenbacker guitar.

David Crosby - CD Liner Notes 1996

They just casually rewrote it ('Draft Morning') and decided to take half the credit.

Roger McGuinn - Rick Menck Book

The horn players (on 'Artificial Energy') were so straight they sounded like the Harry James Big Band. We had to do something to make them swing.

Roger McGuinn - John Einarson Mr. Tambourine Man 2005

The credit is wrong. Gene (Clark) and I wrote that song ('Get To You'). Gene came over to my house on Alimore Drive. It was right after we had fired David. David had been accusing Chris and me of not being good enough musicians to play with him anymore. So I was going to show David: 'Oh yeah? Well, I'm going to write a song in 5/4 time, man, and intersperse it with 6/8 time. I'll show you'. It was kind of my trying to show David that I was a better musician than he thought I was.. So I was working on the chord progression when Gene came over and we started working on the song, the actual lyrics, making it about a trip to England like we did in 'Eight Miles High'. So, yeah, Gene and I wrote that song but I don't know how the credit got mixed up. The bureaucrats at Columbia Records got it wrong. I didn't have my hands on the credits.

Chris Hillman - John Einarson Hot Burrito 2008

We needed to reinvent ourselves, which we probably could have done after 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers' if McGuinn and I had been smart enough at that point and tried to recapture that initial drive and passion when we formed the band four years earlier. I'm sure Clarence White would have been a pivotal part of that. If that had been the case The Byrds probably would have had an incredible career through the 70s.