Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A&M Records Spotlight: Doug Dillard and Gene Clark - Out On The Side/Train Leaves Here This Morning

Out On The Side

Train Leaves Here This Morning
[originally posted, November, 2008]
Enigmatic. That might be the best word to describe Gene Clark. Unlucky, under appreciated, brilliant, secretive, phobic, handsome, distant, pioneer, shy, obtuse, complex. These words also describe the gentle throated Clark. For most, the word that comes to mind when they hear the name Gene Clark is...who? Okay, let me give a little back story on Clark before we move on to this week's song.

Gene Clark, while his name remains unrecognizable to most, has perhaps one of the most recognized voices in rock history. That's because Gene Clark, once a singer for the dreadful New Christy Minstrels (that's him singing beautifully at 2:03), was all-too-briefly, a founding member of The Byrds. From 1964-1966, Gene Clark was the smooth baritone voiced, tambourine tapping, harmonica playing, center-stage standing, lanky frontman of the world's coolest looking band, The Byrds. His voice created the perfect bottom to David Crosby's falsetto and Roger McGuinn's nasal midrange. But more than that, Clark was The Byrds' most prolific songwriter. In an era of American bands rushing to perform their best Beatles knock-off, Clark wrote (and sang) unique songs that owed as much to his rural Missouri roots as to any other influence. Lyrically his songs were introspective and approached the subjects in a roundabout manner that forced the listener to puzzle together the real meaning. Musically, Clark's Byrds-era songs, such as the stunning Set You Free This Time, featured unexpected chord progressions and strangely slow tempos that felt as if they had been slowed down after the recording was complete. So it was, at the height of The Byrds' success, Clark flew the nest. Nobody is quite sure exactly why. The most oft-told story is that his fear of flying forced him to leave The Byrds (we pause for the irony to sink in). But other stories include his stage fright forcing him out of the picture, his sense of guilt at receiving song-writing royalties when others, notably the loudly caustic Crosby, received none. Others say the seeds of dissatisfaction were sown when his (and The Byrds') standout song, I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better, was demoted to the flip-side of their second single in favor of a far lesser Dylan cover. It would happen again on the third single, where Clark's beautiful She Don't Care About Time would be relegated to the flip-side of a single (albeit the brilliant Turn, Turn, Turn).

Regardless of the reason, Clark left after the second album. Using The Byrds as his studio musicians, Clark released a handful of spotty, but poorly received singles as a solo artist. Quickly released from an impatient Columbia Records, Clark teamed up with bluegrass banjo-phenomenon Doug Dillard, seen here in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show performing his own composition. (Interestingly, fellow Byrds alumnus, Clarence White also appeared on the Andy Griffith Show! He's just off of Andy's shoulder.) As the Dillard & Clark Expedition, the two embarked on what may be the first ever country-rock group. Future Flying Burrito Brothers and Eagles member, Bernie Leadon joined on guitar, Michael Clarke (no relation) of the Byrds on drums. In 1968 they released their first single and one of Clark's best compositions ever, Out On The Side. I ran across it in a record store on 13th Street in Denver, Colorado the year after Gene Clark had died. I had never heard any of the solo work of Clark before. As a huge Byrds fan, and with Clark's obituary still in my mind, I plunked down $2 and walked home. I dropped the needle on the turntable and heard Andy Belling's Hammond organ open with a F#m chord as Clark lyrically inserts himself into the song as if we are catching him in mid-conversation. Leadon and Dillard harmonize as well as McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman could have done as the song rolls along with Clark's trademark dark, lumbering minor chord progressions. The lyrics, as obtuse as any he has written: "I have fallen through the black nights it seems/with the times that I've lied. And I've watched your thoughts stray into dreams/when you're not satisfied. But when the door closes before my eyes/Oh, I will cry/just to know you are going to stay, out on the side." Sixteen years later, it is still one of my favorite songs ever and that one $2 single has seen more plays on my turntable than can be counted.

One thing is for sure, Gene Clark was a musician's musician, a songwriter's songwriter. His reach touched many musicians. Between '66 and '74, Clark returned again and again to lend the Byrds his vocal skills as well as his penmanship, most notably co-writing and singing on the ground breaking recording of Eight Miles High, a song that documents his nervous breakdown on an airplane approaching London. The members of the Byrds likewise appeared on numerous solo recordings of Clark's. But the shadow he cast was much greater than just that of The Byrds. The stomach churning Eagles first recording was a cover of a 1968 Gene Clark song, The Train Leaves Here This Morning. And today his songs continue to get fresh play, as proven by the success of Robert Plant's and Alison Krauss' stunningly popular Raising Sand album which features no-less than two Gene Clark compositions: the droning Polly, Come Home and the country waltz of Through The Morning, Through The Night, both solo-era compositions. Dylan allegedly first hatched the idea to go electric after he appeared on stage with The Byrds in Los Angeles. And in a master becomes student moment, the Beatles' If I Needed Someone was a musical tip of the hat to The Byrds, whom the fab-four had watched record Bells of Rhymney and I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better in April of '65.

Clark's most famous band, The Byrds were inducted into the R-n-R Hall of Fame and spawned some of the most famous names in the business. Roger McGuinn carries on as the modern face and voice of the Byrds. David Crosby went on to become one of the most recognized names in the business. Chris Hillman and fellow-Byrd Gram Parsons formed the cult favorite, Flying Burrito Brothers using Gene Clark's guitarist, Bernie Leadon, who later went on to form the Eagles. Gene Clark? He died in 1991 at the far too young age of 48. A friend of mine had interviewed him for a publication called Ugly Things just a few years prior. He described to me a mellow, Earthy, nearly penniless man who clearly was drinking too much and living purposefully in anonymity. In the somber interview Clark distanced himself from his success with The Byrds and rejected the efforts to put him in the pantheon of great songwriters. That's his opinion. Mine is quite different of course.

8 comments:

  1. Great post. That first Dillard and Clark album has a lot of strong songs. I've also come to appreciate the Gene Clark with the Gosdin Bros. album more, though it doesn't rank with his Byrds material.

    I read a good biography of Gene a couple years ago called "Mr. Tambourine Man." John Einarson wrote it. He interviewed just about everybody who knew Gene well (or didn't, as I guess he would conclude). It's the same story: shy, insecure, overwhelmed with instant fame, unable to deal with the egos of the other Byrds (especially Crosby). There was a lot of jealousy coming from the other Byrds due to his role as sex symbol, his writing talent, and his resultant royalty checks. Very depressing story, but well-told.

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  2. "She Don't Care About Time" is simply sublime. Maybe the best thing the Byrds ever did. Ok, "Eight Miles High" probably get that honor, but "She Don't.." is has always been a personal favorite.

    Also,Clark's "The Day Walk (Never Before)" is a masterful psych-folk gem and,inexplicably,remained unreleased until an 1989 compilation of rare tracks called,"Never Before" emerged.

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  3. david crosby is such a little turd

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  4. Anonymous. Many people share your opinion. I have never met the man, so I'll just say, yeah that's what I hear.

    I noticed the link to the song didn't work when you had originally posted this comment. I have fixed that error and you can now actually hear the song. How about that for some dandy flowers?

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Got to see him once in his later years and was alternately pleased and disappointed. I had one friend who booked him as a die hard fan describe him as moody and difficult.
    His first solo LP remains highly regarded favorite of mine with both the Dillard & Clark Expeditions close behind. They were a part of the time I was listening to Poco, Flying Burritos, Steve Young, Gram Parsons with the ISB, and alomost anything else with a pedal steel guitar and vaguely country rock tendencies.
    How ever, 'No Other' on Asylum circa 1974 is in my top 5 of all time records and continues to please.
    I think I've had or heard everything (just about) legally released by Gene and yes there were more disappointments but always high moments even on Roadmaster, the first A&M Solo LP (often referred to as 'White Heat'), Firebyrd (Tacoma), Two Sides To Every Story (RSO) and the Carla Olsen collaborations on Rhino.

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  6. Thanks for stopping by and leaving good comments, Duncan. Hope you'll continue to haunt these halls. We also did a piece on the Dillard and Clark Expedition's Polly. Check it out if you get a chance.

    http://ontheflip-side.blogspot.com/2010/12/song-of-week-polly-dillard-and-clark.html

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  7. Brilliant song - Out On The Side. Love the intro, and his tender singing.

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