The Gene Clark Connection (Updated 12/14/14)

In the movie Cloud Atlas, the common theme is the interconnectedness of humanity; how certain people are drawn together at different points in time. There was a similar storyline in Little Big Man, when Jack Crabb (no relation) keeps running into past associations in his travels through the west. There have been a few of those in my life, but the one that comes to mind right now is the Gene Clark connection.

If you are an old rock’n’roll fan like me you’ll remember Gene Clark. He was the lanky guy with the tambourine in The Byrds. I saw them at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento a week after their debut album was released in May of 1965. Gene was a top notch singer and songwriter, but he was overshadowed by Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. He left the band after the second album to pursue a solo career.

I remained a fan through the years and was thrilled when I found his new album No Other at the record store at the Greenbriar Mall, Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974. I was living there with Charlie Williams, Bill Smart and Doc Halstead, and we were in the process of reforming the Carrie Nation band. Our heroes were bands like Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, and of course, The Byrds.

So it was a pleasant surprise when the band recorded their second demo tape with engineer Tony Reale, who was also the recording engineer on No Other. He told us he enjoyed working with Clark, but hated the producer, Thomas Jefferson Kaye. (Wish I still had a clean copy of those sessions. All we have are a few scratchy cassettes.)

About the same time, Doc was hitchhiking down the road with his trademark cowboy hat and an acoustic guitar. Another musician pulled over and gave him a ride. It turned out to be Vern Gosdin, who with his brother had recorded an album with Gene Clark aptly titled Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers.

The years went by: Carrie Nation briefly flirted with the Big Time before breaking up in 1977. Charlie moved to Marin County and joined the band “Mistress”, the band started by Greg Douglass, then lead guitarist with the Steve Miller band. After Douglass left, they added two more guitarists and eventually signed a recording contract with RSO records.  The first album was to be produced by…you guessed it…Thomas Jefferson Kaye.

Mistress was going to record a song Charlie and I had written called “Letter to California”, so I went to Marin to watch the sessions. Kaye decided to add banjo to the song and recruited Doug Dillard, who had made an album with Gene Clark called The Incredible Expedition of Dillard and Clark . We had a rollicking good time.

After all that, I figured that someday, I would have to connect with Gene Clark himself, but it was not meant to be. Gene passed away in 1991. If he had lived, I can well imagine that he would have played in Grass Valley. After all, Roger McGuinn played here recently, and David Crosby was here a few years ago.

I thought that with his death, the connection was broken. Then tonight, for no good reason, I googled his name and discovered that a documentary of his life called The Byrd Who Flew Alone had just been released. When it becomes available to the public, you can be sure I’ll check it out. It will finally bring some closure to a quest that began forty-three years ago.

UPDATE 12/14/14 – Well, it took a little longer than I thought to pick up that DVD, but it finally arrived yesterday and we watched it last night. It is an unvarnished look at a very talented, but flawed human being who never quite lived up to his potential. He left us with some great music, and for me, some great memories of the people we knew in common. As his ex-Byrd bandmate Chris Hillman notes in the documentary, there is finally closure. RIP, Gene Clark. Thank you.

(Look for info links in comments.)

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10 Responses to The Gene Clark Connection (Updated 12/14/14)

  1. Chris Peterson says:

    It appears that Tony Reale’s dislike of TJKaye wasn’t shared by Clark, who used him several times as a producer. And Mr. Kaye, (Hey Little Girl in the High School Sweater), showed he could still write with Dixie Flyer on the Mistress album. I thought what he did with your song, Letter To California was fantastic, and so much so that it was placed in the enviable position of last song of side two; the spot that was usually held by consensus as the production’s pick of the litter. I still see that song as a hidden gem, yet to be discovered by some enterprising artist in the future.

    I also remember, while working and living with Rick in Marin, going out to an East Bay venue to see the Greg Douglass Band, only to be pleasantly surprised that the new Mistress band at Uncle Charlie’s in San Rafael was much better after his split. (Not to mention the band that opened for them there; a yet unsigned group called Huey Lewis and the News.)

    And it was at that time that I met my wife, some 30 years ago. Good times.

  2. Chris Peterson says:

    And, of course, you know you can order the CD exclusively through:

    http://foursunsproductions.com/Gene-Clark-Documentary/ for a little over $20.

    • rl crabb says:

      Thanks for the link, Chris. Those clips are great.

      • Chris Peterson says:

        Yeah, I especially like the one where TJKaye says he was offered a choice of producing an album for Gene Clark or Jackson Brown, and chose Clark.

        • rl crabb says:

          Tommy Kaye was a poster boy for the self indulgent rock star image of the seventies and eighties. He married the heiress of Budget Rent-a-car, which gave him access to the rental cars he wrecked and abandoned from coast to coast. When I heard Katy Perry’s new song “Roar”, it reminded me of him. That’s what TJ used to call his forays into excess. “Tommy’s on a roar tonight,” we were fond of saying. In fact, that’s what he planned to call his album, which was released under a different title after his passing.
          Also worth noting; Crosby and Nash opened their set at the Vet’s Hall with “Eight Miles High”, a Byrds song about flying into London co-written by McGuinn, Crosby and Clark -who was terrified of flying. That was another reason he quit the band.

          • Chris Peterson says:

            Must have been confusing when TJKaye and “Swami” Tommy Johnston were around at the same time.

            Thank God Joe Walsh pulled out of his dive, or I’d have no rock star favorites to admire.

            Their afflictions bring a whole new meaning to “the roar of the crowd.” I had enough trouble, for a while, just being an everyday screw up. Had I been rich and famous; I’d probably be dead.

  3. rlcrabb says:

    I finally got around to getting the DVD (thanks to Mary Ann) and it is a wonderful trip through the highs and lows of Clark’s career. Five stars.

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