Written by Larry Murray
Produced by The Byrds
From “Farther Along,” Columbia Records, November 17, 1971
The Byrds’ tenth album, “Byrdmaniax,” had been an artistic disaster to put it mildly. Producer Terry Melcher’s heavy-handed orchestral and choral overdubs were intended to salvage the weak material, but only added to the misery. In an attempt to right the floundering ship, Roger McGuinn and his hired hands, Clarence White, Skip Battin, and Gene Parsons entered CBS’s London studio while on tour, just one month after the release of “Byrdmaniax,” to record and self-produce their next album, “Farther Along.” However, the McGuinn-White Byrds had very little left in the creative tank at that point and “Farther Along,” the band’s last album, turned out to be a disappointment as well.
Nevertheless, there was one gem in the mix and that was song #19 on our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Bugler,” written by Larry Murray. Murray had been a member of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers bluegrass band along with future Byrd and Flying Burrito, Chris Hillman, and future Flying Burrito and Eagle, Bernie Leadon. Clarence White brought Murray’s poignant tune to the Byrds.
White recorded his lead vocal track at the initial London recording sessions, but realized he had a great song on his hands and re-recorded his vocals and added the mandolin a month later at a follow-up session at Columbia’s Hollywood studios. That’s multi-instrumentalist, Gene Parsons, contributing the emotive pedal steel guitar licks.
Buglar is a sadly sweet song about a boy and his dog. The hound dies after being hit by a vehicle on the highway and the boy’s mom consoles her son, telling him Jesus took Bugler to Heaven. Sketchy theology aside, this tune is guaranteed to leave a lump in your throat. Sadly, Clarence White himself was struck down by a drunk driver in July 1973, while loading his music gear into his car after a gig, two years after “Bugler” was recorded.
Postscript: I’ve listened to Clarence sing about Bugler the Bluetick Hound for forty-eight years, but didn’t know that the Bluetick Coonhound (see photo above) was an actual dog breed until I researched this post.