The Byrds

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The Byrds (formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964) was an American rock group.

Bridging the gap between the socially and spiritually conscious folk music of Bob Dylan and the complex pop of The Beatles, The Byrds are considered one of the quintessential bands of the 1960s. Throughout their career, they helped forge such sub genres as psychedelic rock, jangle pop, folk rock and – on their 1968 classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo – country rock. After several line-up changes (with lead singer/guitarist Roger McGuinn as the only consistent member), they broke up in 1973.

Some of their trademark songs include pop versions of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger’s "Turn, Turn, Turn," and the originals "I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better," and "Eight Miles High", a song which includes a subtle reference to the band the Small Faces who the Byrds at one time toured with.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several band members have launched successful solo careers after leaving the group.

The Byrds were founded in Los Angeles, California in 1964 by singers and guitarists Jim McGuinn (he later changed his name to Roger McGuinn), Gene Clark, and David Crosby. Bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke joined soon thereafter. The band's manager was Jim Dickson. Always the leader of the group, McGuinn came out of a folk music background, but, inspired by the Beatles, recast the Byrds as a pop-music group, one that is regarded as among the most accomplished, and experimental, of the era.

They achieved fame in 1965 as the first American rock group to challenge the Beatles, interpreting (and making hits out of) Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn", a song taken directly from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and popularized by folk singer Pete Seeger. McGuinn's guitar work, heard to great advantage on these two singles, became the group's signature. They also performed their own compositions, and in Gene Clark possessed a major songwriter; his songs include "The World Turns All Around Her", "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "Set You Free This Time." The 1966 McGuinn/Crosby/Clark song "Eight Miles High" is regarded as one of the most innovative top-forty singles in the history of popular music. By the time of 1967's Younger Than Yesterday LP and its single "So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star" the Byrds had progressed into one of the most forward-looking pop groups of the time, showing the influence of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane. Their 1968 The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which featured compositions by the group as well as by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, is today regarded as their masterpiece. By this time both Clark and Crosby had left the group, with Hillman and Clarke soon to follow. Gram Parsons joined the group to record another album usually rated as a classic, 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which featured their ironic, distanced take on the country music of the Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard, as well as compositions by Parsons and by William Bell.

By 1969 and Ballad of Easy Rider, the group included bassist John York, drummer Gene Parsons and guitarist Clarence White. "Jesus Is Just Alright" from that album was issued as a single, and, in a similar arrangement, became a hit for the Doobie Brothers four years later. The group also recorded an excellent version of Jackson Browne's "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood" during the Easy Rider sessions, but it remained unreleased for some twenty years. The title track, written by McGuinn and Dylan for the movie Easy Rider, was one of their most affecting performances. In a sign of continuing turmoil within the group, York left in September 1969, replaced by Skip Battin. Clark, Clarke, Crosby, and Hillman all briefly rejoined in late 1972 to cut the anti-climatic reunion album Byrds before the group was officially dissolved by McGuinn in 1973.

There were disputes over which members owned the rights to the "Byrds" name in the late 1980s. Clarke and Clark toured under the Byrds' name at that time. To soldify their claim to the name and prevent any non-original members from using the name, McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby staged a series of Byrds' reunion concerts in 1989 and 1990 including a famous performance at a Roy Orbison tribute concert where they were joined by Bob Dylan for "Mr. Tambourine Man." These shows led to McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby recording four new studio tracks for the boxed set The Byrds in 1990.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Gene Clark died later that year, with Michael Clarke following him two years later.


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