The Byrds’ Photo Opus: Strictly for the Byrds Nyrds

Today, we’re taking a break from theological discussions with some 1960’s frivolity.

The Byrds: 1964-1967
By Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, and Scott Bomar
BMG Books, 2022, 396 pp.

5 Stars

When most people think of the Byrds, they generally think about those two great #1 hit singles from 1965, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” but the band had a nine-year, twelve-album run in which they pioneered folk-rock, jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic-rock, and country-rock. Fifty-seven years later, rock ‘n’ roll historians and musicologists are still discussing the Byrds and their influential legacy.

BMG Publishing had amassed a large collection of Byrds photographs for ex-Byrd, Chris Hillman’s 2020 autobiography (see my review here). Someone at BMG got the bright idea of compiling the unused photos for this much-anticipated, massive, nine-pound, 13″x11,” 400-page, coffee table, photo-history, primarily of the band’s early years, 1964-1967.

Jim (later Roger) McGuinn (lead guitar), Gene Clark, and David Crosby (rhythm guitar) were folk singers and musicians who enviably observed the meteoric rise of the Beatles in 1964 and banded together to form their own rock ‘n’ roll band, also adding Chris Hillman (bass) and Michael Clarke (drums). But their folk sensibilities couldn’t be entirely suppressed and a syncretization of folk and rock ‘n’ roll was born. Both the Beatles and Dylan took notice and changed their styles (see “Rubber Soul” and “Like a Rolling Stone”) and a multitude of copy-cat bands jumped on the folk-rock bandwagon.

There’s 500 photos in this behemoth publication, mostly taken during the band’s early years, 1964-1967, as the title indicates, along with some pics at the end documenting the ill-fated 1973 reunion album sessions, the 1990 Roy Orbison Tribute and recording sessions for the first Byrds box set, and the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Interspersed among all of the photos is limited commentary from surviving members McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby.*

I’ve been a Byrds fan for fifty years and most of the photos were new to me. As I journeyed through this photo-tribute, I noticed how the members’ demeanors noticeably changed from initial happiness and exuberance to frustration, drudgery, and weariness. As the years passed, these guys liked each other less and less. Clark quit in early-1966. Crosby was fired in October of 1967, with Clarke departing a few weeks after him. Hillman quit in 1968, leaving McGuinn as the only founding member until he folded the band in 1973.

Some photos are great, others are “meh” (including a few that are out-of-focus), but this monster is a must-have for Byrds nyrds. Casual fans, save your money. You’ll be bored after a few pages.

Some observations:

  • I would have included the band’s pivotal “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968) period as part of this photo collection, with the introduction of Gram Parsons and the band’s total immersion into country-rock. That said, the publisher did well by avoiding the 1969-1973 McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds altogether.
  • Chris Hillman repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly complains about having to straighten his naturally kinky hair to emulate the Beatles’ Prince Valiant mop-top look. One comment would have been more than enough. Where was the editor???
  • I would have liked to have seen a few photos acknowledging the ill-fated 1979-1980 McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman project.
  • The boys generally avoid taking cheap shots at each other, although there are a few slights tucked in here and there.
  • There are no photographs of the members with their former-girlfriends or ex-wives, no doubt a pragmatic concession to current marital practicalities (McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby collectively selected/curated which photos would be included).
  • It would have been nice if BMG had used the Byrds’ paisley logo from their “Fifth Dimension” and “Younger Than Yesterday” albums for the book’s cover instead of the non-descript, “THE BYRDS.”
  • On page 327, Hillman states the band fired their manager, Jim Dickson, following their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967. That had me confused because McGuinn has repeatedly claimed the band fired Dickson shortly before or during the “Younger Than Yesterday” sessions in late-1966. See here. McGuinn alleges he was driving along La Cienaga Boulevard in Los Angeles and, while stopped at a traffic light, ex-manager Dickson pulled up alongside and suggested the band cover Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” The band actually did record that song in studio on December 5–8, 1966. I did some googling and subsequently found an article in which Dickson confirmed he was in fact fired following Monterey in June of 1967.

*The Byrds’ surviving founding members, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and David Crosby, did not reunite in 2015 for the band’s 50th anniversary as many fans had hoped for. McGuinn and Hillman could not be persuaded to perform again with the irascible Crosby.

L to R: Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke posing for a photographer in 1965.
Above: That’s me doing some very heavy lifting. Byrds Nyrds Unite!

9 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Photo Opus: Strictly for the Byrds Nyrds

  1. Wow another book on the Byrds! The band’s infighting reminds me that sin interfere with so much we do with others, not just only with politics nor in ministry but also in entertainment and music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and the comments! We’ve discussed it before, but I can’t help but think of the great irony that the Byrds and many other bands of that period were very critical of “the establishment” in regards to racial injustice and the war in Vietnam, but the band members could not get along themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crissy. The book is a “must-have” for Byrds nyrds, but as with most things, the anticipation outmatches the end result (a future post).
      The last recording/performance by the Byrds was in 1973 when I was a junior in high school, so I never got to see the band perform. Let me put my Byrds nyrd cap on and recall. I did see McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman when they performed together as a group in 1977. I saw McGuinn several times as a solo act and saw Crosby several times as part of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I actually got to meet Chris Hillman in 2004 when he performed at the Mayville Bluegrass Festival, about 140 miles from us.

      Like

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