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Gene Clark Biography

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Harold Eugene Clark (born Tipton, Missouri, November 17, 1944 - died May 24, 1991) was an American singer-songwriter, and one of the founding members of the folk-rock group The Byrds.

Gene Clark is best remembered for his association with the Byrds between 1964 and 1966 but there was much more to his body of work than that legacy. He was a prolific songwriter and a singer with a distinctive plaintive style who created a large catalogue of music in several genres which failed to achieve great commercial success. He was one of the earliest exponents of baroque pop, newgrass, country rock and alternative country.

One of 13 children, born in rural Missouri, Clark began learning the guitar at age nine and was soon picking out Hank Williams tunes, as well as material by early rockers such as Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. Before long, he was writing his own songs, and at 13 cut his first record with a local rock & roll combo, Joe Meyers and the Sharks. Like many of his generation, Clark developed an interest in folk music after the popularity of the Kingston Trio. Soon Clark began performing with several folk groups working out of Kansas City at the Castaways Lounge, owned by Hal Harbaum, where he was discovered by the New Christy Minstrels, who hired him for their ensemble. After hearing the Beatles, Clark quit the Christys and moved to Los Angeles where he met a fellow folkie/Beatles convert Jim McGuinn (he would later change his name to Roger) and in 1964 they began assembling a band that would come to be known as The Byrds.

Gene Clark wrote most of The Byrds' best-known originals, including: "Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Set You Free This Time", "Here Without You", "She Don't Care About Time" and "Eight Miles High" and was one of the group's strongest vocalists. However, the combination of Clark's dislike of traveling (including a chronic fear of flying) and resentment by other band members that his songwriting income made him the best-paid individual led to internal squabbling and, in early 1966, Clark left the group. After a torrid affair with Michelle Phillips, he briefly returned to Kansas City before returning to Los Angeles to form the Gene Clark Group.

Columbia Records, (the label the Byrds recorded for), signed Clark as a solo artist and, in 1967, he released his first solo LP, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, a mixture of pop, country rock and psychedelic baroque tracks. Unfortunately for Clark, the album was released almost simultaneously with the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday and, partly due to Clark's public absence for nearly a year and a half, the album failed commercially. With the future of his solo career in doubt, Clark briefly rejoined the Byrds, in 1967, as a replacement for the departed Crosby but left again, after only 3 weeks, following a panic attack in Minneapolis when required to board an aircraft.

In 1968, Clark signed with artist-friendly A&M Records and began a collaboration with banjo player Doug Dillard as Dillard and Clark. With guitarist Bernie Leadon (later with The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles), they produced two Bluegrass-flavored albums: The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark and Through the Morning Through the Night both of which fared poorly on the charts. The timing of such crossover material was undoubtedly a little premature for current popular tastes (the song "Through The Morning, Through The Night" was later used on the soundtrack of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah movie The Getaway). In hindsight, Dillard and Clark, together with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Poco and The Byrds can be credited as prime influences on later soft country rock performers such as The Eagles and Firefall.

In 1970, having left Dillard & Clark in yet another quixotic search for pop stardom, Clark began work on a new single, by recording a pair of tracks with the original members of the Byrds (each laid down his part separately). The resulting songs, "She's The Kind Of Girl" and "One In A Hundred", were not released, due to legal problems, at that time, and they were included later on Roadmaster. Frustrated with the music industry, Clark purchased a clifftop coastal home in Mendocino, disavowed alcohol, married and fathered two children while living off his still substantial Byrds royalties.

In 1970 and 1971, Clark contributed vocals and also two of his compositions ("Tried So Hard" and "Here Tonight") on albums by the Flying Burrito Brothers. It has been rumored that Clark was invited to replace Gram Parsons and/or Leadon as frontman of the group; in John Einarson's country-rock history Desperados, Chris Hillman indicates that the group briefly considered this but balked after seeing Clark's reluctance to leave the solitude of Mendocino.

It wasn't until 1971 that a further Gene Clark solo set finally emerged, White Light produced by Native American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. A largely acoustic work, the album contained many introspective tracks such as "With Tomorrow", "Because Of You", " Where My Love Lies Asleep" and "For A Spanish Guitar" (hailed by Bob Dylan as a song he would have been proud to compose). All of the material was written by Clark, with the exception of the Dylan number "Tears Of Rage". Launched to almost universal critical acclaim, the LP failed to gain commercial success, except in Holland, where it was also voted album of the year.

In spring of 1971, Clark was commissioned, by Dennis Hopper, to contribute the tracks "American Dreamer" and "Outlaw Song" to Hopper's film project, "The American Dreamer". Both songs encapsulated the most characteristic qualities of mid-to-late period Clark: melancholy and self-reflective.

In 1972, Clark assembled a backing group to accompany him on a further album, with A&M. The resultant eight tracks, together with those recorded with The Byrds in 1970/71 and another with The Flying Burrito Brothers, were belatedly released as Roadmaster but puzzingly, only in the Netherlands, where it became a best seller.

Clark then left A&M to rejoin the original Byrds and cut the album Byrds (1973) which charted well (US # 20). Clark's compositions "Full Circle" and "Changing Heart" were widely regarded as the superior tracks of a record which received overwhelmingly negative critical response. Disheartened by the bad reviews and unhappy with David Crosby's performance as the record's producer, the group members chose to dissolve The Byrds. Clark briefly joined McGuinn's solo group, with whom he premiered "Silver Raven", arguably his most recognizable post-Byrds opus.

Once more solo and on the basis of the quality of his Byrds contributions, in early 1974, Clark signed with David Geffen's Asylum Records. Asylum was the home to the most prominent exponents of the singer-songwriter movement of the era and carried the kind of hip cachet that Clark had not experienced since his days with The Byrds. He retired to Mendocino and spent long periods at the picture window of his living room with a notebook and acoustic guitar in hand, staring at the rolling Pacific below. Deeply affected by his visions, he composed numerous songs which would serve as the basis for his only Asylum LP, the aptly titled No Other. Recorded with a vast array of session musicians and backing singers, the album was an amalgam of country rock, folk, gospel, soul and choral music with poetic, mystical lyrics but it was not well received by many contemporary critics who categorised it as an overproduced baroque indulgence. Because "No Other" was not a conventional pop/rock opus, its chances of success were greatly minimised by Clark's relative obscurity. Furthermore, it was released with only eight tracks, although Clark had hoped to release the set as a double album with additional material. However, the huge recording costs infuriated Geffen, who ended the sessions after recording costs skyrocketed into the $100,000 range, leaving five songs unrecorded. Shortly thereafter, Clark drunkenly assailed Geffen and the label refused to expand or promote the album which then stalled in the charts. In recent years, it has been rediscovered and championed by many listeners and critics who have dubbed it a "lost masterpiece". On a more personal note, the singer's return to Los Angeles and his adoption of the hedonistic lifestyle of the era resulted in the disintegration of his marriage. In spite of these setbacks, he mounted his first solo tour, in an attempt to salvage No Other, playing colleges and clubs with backing group the Silverados.

Throughout 1975 and 1976, Clark hinted to the press that he was assembling a set of "cosmic Motown" songs fusing country-rock with R&B and funk, elaborating upon the soundscapes of No Other. A set of ten demos were submitted to Asylum, who promptly bought out Clark's contract.

In 1977, Clark released his RSO Records debut entitled Two Sides to Every Story. The record was another characteristic offering of his form of country rock balladry but failed to achieve US chart success. In a belated attempt to find an appreciative public, he overcame his fear of flying, temporarily, and launched an international promotional tour. For his British dates, Clark found himself booked with ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, the success of which led the three to sign with Capitol Records who released their self-titled debut in 1979. The slick production and disco rhythms didn't flatter the group and the album was both a critical and commercial disappointment. Subsequently, a combination of Clark's unreliabilty and his dissatisfaction with their musical direction resulted in the billing change, on their next LP "City", to "Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, with Gene Clark". By 1981, Clark had left and the group briefly continued on as "McGuinn/Hillman."

Clark stayed on the sidelines, for several years, assembling a band called Flyte which failed to score a record deal, finally re-emerging in 1984 with a new band and an album named Firebyrd. The rising popularity of jangle-rockers such as R.E.M. and Tom Petty sparked a new interest in the Byrds, and Clark began developing new fans among L.A.'s roots-conscious paisley underground scene. He embraced his new status by appearing as a guest with the Long Ryders and cutting a duo album with Carla Olson of the Textones titled So Rebellious a Lover in 1987.

Rebellious was well-received and became a modest commercial success (it was the biggest selling album of Clark's solo career), but Clark began to develop serious health problems; he had ulcers, aggravated by years of heavy drinking (often used to alleviate his chronic travel anxiety, likely caused by undiagnosed panic disorder), and in 1988, he underwent surgery, during which much of his stomach and intestines had to be removed. Clark also lost a certain amount of goodwill among longtime Byrds fans when he joined drummer Michael Clarke for a series of shows billed "A 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Byrds." Many clubs simply shortened the billing to "the Byrds" and the pair soon found themselves in an ugly legal battle with Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman over usage of the group's name. The Byrds set aside their differences long enough to appear together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January of 1991, where the original lineup played a few songs together, including Clark's "Feel a Whole Lot Better." However, Clark's health continued to decline as his drinking accelerated and on May 24, 1991, not long after he had begun work on a second album with Carla Olson, Gene Clark died at the age of 46, the coroner declaring that he succumbed as a result of "natural causes" brought on by a bleeding ulcer. He was buried, in Tipton, under a simple headstone inscribed "Harold Eugene Clark - No Other".

Gene Clark's inability to receive greater popular recognition of his musical output in his lifetime may be attributed to several factors: the unfortunate timing of much of his work which usually predated contemporary musical tastes; the constantly changing nature of his music which precluded the formation of a loyal following (ranging the gamut from folk-rock and psychedelia to disco and alternative country); his erratic personality and lifestyle (drunken tirades at social gatherings, including one in the mid-1970s against ardent supporter Bob Dylan) possibly caused by undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which alienated professional and fan support; his chronic fear of flying which severely limited the personal promotion of his music. It may also surprise listeners that the man who authored the metaphysically "deep" Zen-like lyrics of such efforts as White Light and No Other rarely read.

In spite of his personal problems, it is apparent that Clark's continued support by both the plethora of distinguished musicians who continued to back his projects (and include him in theirs) and his ability to maintain major label recording contracts far past his commercial prime indicate the high esteem he was accorded by both fellow musicians and recording executives alike.

Currently, Clark's legacy continues with the re-issue of his original albums and the release of compilation works. The recent releases of separate American and Australian tribute CD's by a wide ranging group of contemporary artists suggests that his work is still widely appreciated.
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