Gene Clark – 1972

Further north from Texas, in Tipton, Missouri, lies the hometown of ex-Byrds singer and songwriter, Gene Clark. Together with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, they were largely responsible for creating the first strains of country-rock as we know it. Gene Clark was always the most mysterious, and when switched on, the most talented out of all the brilliant musicians in the Byrds. From 1972’s Roadmaster I’ll highlight two of his tracks one “Here Tonight” the late night driver, and “She’s the Kind of Girl” the more laid back, reflective song, showing briefly his immense gift of using country music to create some kind of great feeling music.

Gene Clark from early on in his career had such a unique gift for combining his country background into whatever type of music he put his mind into. Its no wonder early Byrds, Clark compositions like “She Don’t Care About Time” and “Eight Miles High” still resonate to this day. To get to the point he got to during the recording of Roadmaster he had already traveled a road many would have deemed he should have gotten lost in. At the the height of the Byrds’ popularity, Gene Clark both driven by his fear of flying and for his disdain of playing Dylan covers, when he thought his compositions could be as good or better, up and quit the Byrds near about Fifth Dimension time. Gone were his compatriots in arms who had allowed him to get a unique kind of vocal harmonization and instrument playing that went so well with his quasi-country rock songs. Now left to his own devices he had to step up to the forefront and own up to it all.
What he did was mine a new kind of country sound, one sharing its roots with rock, with the country side bearing more of the lean. Of course, his music was never truly monetarily successful or popular within the music industry. His early work though, with the Gosdin Brothers and now bluegrass banjo legends the Dillards formed the foundation of country-rock on which various other groups like Pure Prairie League, Poco, and Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds would draw inspiration from. Once you hear this extremely laid back, harmony laden country sound its not hard to hear how many other groups would use that as its base for the Easy Rider-type of songs that you’ll shortly hear in the future highlighted on this blog. 
Roadmaster Cover

For Gene, as his career continued came his first true solo album, White Lighthe finally a realized unique vision, then further along in No Other took it to place no one knew that it was able to go, but for Roadmaster (the album in between those two) he was at a bit of a standstill. The album itself, full of outtakes from previous recordings and some, truth be told, half-finished songs wasn’t quite as good as these other two…but in it lay these two tracks I, and a few others, dug the heck out of. 

These two be-a-u-ties somehow succinctly strike notes right down the line evoking some sort of grandeur of what could have happened if the Byrds stuck it out together with Gene to follow his muse. “Here Tonight” is the gorgeous slide guitar lead country strummer, doo-doo-dooing you to stay back home. What’s the point of traveling in the rain when you can stay at home and enjoy some country comforts? The music itself is just pure musical comfort food. Whether its the rich vocal harmonizing, the slathers of buttery slide guitar, its colorful piquant chimey guitars and small things adding up to big things, it just feels darn good in the ear to hear for a good while.

“She’s the Kind of Girl” is the slow burning shimmering pining opener from Roadmaster, serving to evoke all sorts of early Byrds overtones. With the renewed help of the Byrds (McGuinn and Hillman) themselves, they create all these drawn out harmonies, ringing with bell-like guitars, soft flutes and gentle graceful music, while Gene is left to detail why he wishes some gal didn’t have to go and leave him. Through this song, you see how sometimes you gotta make someone feel that hospitality to make them want to stay awhile, even Gene’s homecoming song realizes this. Anyway, two songs more through and done, but man, don’t you just feel that much more closer to feeling like riding down the country? Tomorrow, I’ll set you onwards more through that journey South, with the help of someone who came from spitting distance from where I used to live.

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Listen to She’s the Kind of Girl at Grooveshark.

Bonus track time, the Gene Clark-era Byrds performing his “Set You Free This Time” from Turn Turn Turn, still a damn amazing song 40-some odd years later:

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