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The Byrds

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AboutThe Byrds /ˈbɜːrdz/ were an American rock band, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964.[1] The band underwent multiple lineup changes throughout its existence, with frontman Roger McGuinn (known as Jim McGuinn until mid-1967) remaining the sole consistent member, until the group disbanded in 1973.[2] Although they only managed to attain the huge commercial success of contemporaries like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones for a short period in the mid-60s, the Byrds are today considered by critics to be one of the most influential bands of the 1960s. Initially, they pioneered the musical genre of folk rock, melding the influence of the Beatles and other British Invasion bands with contemporary and traditional folk music. As the 1960s progressed, the band was also influential in originating psychedelic rock, raga rock, and country rock.

The band's signature blend of clear harmony singing and McGuinn's jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar has continued to be influential on popular music up to the present day. Among the band's most enduring songs are their cover versions of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)", along with the self-penned originals, "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Eight Miles High", "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star", "Ballad of Easy Rider" and "Chestnut Mare".

The original five-piece lineup of the Byrds consisted of Jim McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals), Gene Clark (tambourine, vocals), David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), Chris Hillman (bass guitar, vocals), and Michael Clarke (drums). However, this version of the band was relatively short-lived and by early 1966, Clark had left due to problems associated with anxiety and his increasing isolation within the group.[8] The Byrds continued as a quartet until late 1967, when Crosby and Clarke also departed the band. McGuinn and Hillman decided to recruit new members, including country rock pioneer Gram Parsons, but by late 1968, Hillman and Parsons had also exited the band. McGuinn elected to rebuild the band's membership and, between 1968 and 1973, he helmed a new incarnation of the Byrds, featuring guitarist Clarence White among others. McGuinn disbanded the then current lineup in early 1973, to make way for a reunion of the original quintet. The Byrds' final album was released in March 1973, with the reunited group disbanding soon afterwards.

Several former members of the band went on to successful careers of their own, either as solo artists or as members of such groups as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band. In the late 1980s, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke both began touring as the Byrds, prompting a legal challenge from McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman over the rights to the band's name. As a result of this, McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman performed a series of reunion concerts as the Byrds in 1989 and 1990, and also recorded four new Byrds' songs.

In January 1991, the Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an occasion that saw the five original members performing together for the last time. McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman still remain active but Gene Clark died of a heart attack in May 1991, and Michael Clarke died of liver failure in December 1993.

The nucleus of the Byrds formed in early 1964, when Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby came together as a trio. All three musicians had a background rooted in folk music, with each one having worked as a folk singer on the acoustic coffeehouse circuit during the early 1960s. In addition, they had all served time, independently of each other, as sidemen in various "collegiate folk" groups: McGuinn with the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio, Clark with the New Christy Minstrels, and Crosby with Les Baxter's Balladeers. McGuinn had also spent time as a professional songwriter at the Brill Building in New York City, under the tutelage of Bobby Darin. By early 1964, McGuinn had become enamored with the music of the Beatles, and had begun to intersperse his solo folk repertoire with acoustic versions of Beatles' songs. While performing at The Troubadour folk club in Los Angeles, McGuinn was approached by fellow Beatles fan Gene Clark, and the pair soon formed a Peter and Gordon-style duo, playing Beatles' covers, Beatlesque renditions of traditional folk songs, and some self-penned material. Soon after, David Crosby introduced himself to the duo at The Troubadour and began harmonizing with them on some of their songs. Impressed by the blend of their voices, the three musicians formed a trio and named themselves the Jet Set, a moniker inspired by McGuinn's love of aeronautics.

Crosby introduced McGuinn and Clark to his associate Jim Dickson, who had access to World Pacific Studios, where he had been recording demos of Crosby. Sensing the trio's potential, Dickson quickly took on management duties for the group, while his business partner, Eddie Tickner, became the group's accountant and financial manager. Dickson began utilizing World Pacific Studios to record the trio as they honed their craft and perfected their blend of Beatles pop and Bob Dylan-style folk. It was during the rehearsals at World Pacific that the band's folk rock sound—an amalgam of their own Beatles-influenced material, their folk music roots and their Beatlesque covers of contemporary folk songs—began to coalesce. Initially, this blend arose organically, but as rehearsals continued, the band began to actively attempt to bridge the gap between folk music and rock. Demo recordings made by the Jet Set at World Pacific Studios would later be collected on the compilation albums Preflyte, In the Beginning, The Preflyte Sessions and Preflyte Plus.

Drummer Michael Clarke was added to the Jet Set in mid-1964. Clarke was recruited largely due to his good looks and Brian Jones-esque hairstyle, rather than for his musical experience, which was limited to having played congas in a semi-professional capacity in and around San Francisco and L.A. Clarke did not even own his own drum kit and initially had to play on a makeshift setup consisting of cardboard boxes and a tambourine. As the band continued to rehearse, Dickson arranged a one-off single deal for the group with Elektra Records' founder Jac Holzman. The single, which coupled the band originals "Please Let Me Love You" and "Don't Be Long", featured McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby, augmented by session musicians Ray Pohlman on bass and Earl Palmer on drums. In an attempt to cash in on the British Invasion craze that was dominating the American charts at the time, the band's name was changed for the single release to the suitably British-sounding the Beefeaters. "Please Let Me Love You" was issued by Elektra Records on October 7, 1964, but it failed to chart.

In August 1964, Dickson managed to acquire an acetate disc of the then-unreleased Bob Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man", which he felt would make an effective cover for the Jet Set. Although the band was initially unimpressed with the song, they began rehearsing it with a rock band arrangement, changing the time signature from 2/4 to a rockier 4/4 configuration in the process. In an attempt to bolster the group's confidence in the song, Dickson invited Dylan himself to World Pacific to hear the band perform "Mr. Tambourine Man". Impressed by the group's rendition, Dylan enthusiastically commented "Wow, man! You can dance to that!", and his ringing endorsement erased any lingering doubts that the band had over the song's suitability.

Soon after, inspired by the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, the band decided to equip themselves with similar instruments to the Fab Four: a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar for McGuinn, a Ludwig drum kit for Clarke, and a Gretsch Tennessean guitar for Clark (although Crosby commandeered it soon after, resulting in Clark switching to tambourine). In October 1964, Dickson recruited mandolin player Chris Hillman as the Jet Set's bassist. Hillman's background was more oriented towards country music than folk or rock, having been a member of the bluegrass groups the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, the Hillmen (also known as the Golden State Boys), and, concurrently with his recruitment into the Jet Set, the Green Grass Group.

Through connections that Dickson had with impresario Benny Shapiro, and with a helpful recommendation from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the group signed a recording contract with Columbia Records on November 10, 1964. Two weeks later, during a Thanksgiving dinner at Eddie Tickner's house, the Jet Set decided to rename themselves as "The Byrds", a moniker that retained the theme of flight and also echoed the deliberate misspelling of the Beatles.

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