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.)