It’s my first posting day of a new month, which means it’s time once again to take a break from theological discussions and return to our monthly review of albums by the Byrds.
Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde
Produced by Bob Johnston, Columbia Records, Released March 5, 1969, Length 34:25
By the time the Byrds’ sixth album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” was released on August 30, 1968, Gram Parsons had already left the band, prompting the hiring of talented country guitarist, Clarence White, who had done significant session work on the previous three Byrds albums. Shortly afterward, drummer Kevin Kelley was dismissed in favor of White’s former Nashville West bandmate, Gene Parsons. When Chris Hillman quit the Byrds in September 1968 to join Grams Parsons in the formation of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Roger McGuinn enlisted bassist John York to fill the hole.
McGuinn’s decision to continue the Byrds after the departure of Hillman, leaving him as the only remaining founding member, was somewhat understandable. The Byrds had built a solid legacy as one of the most influential rock bands of the 1960s and McGuinn was reluctant to throw it all away. Plus, McGuinn felt obligated to fulfill the band’s contractual obligations. But several of the former-Byrds went on record saying McGuinn kept the band going strictly for the money. McGuinn has stated, in retrospect, that he wished he had folded the Byrds after Hillman’s departure.
McGuinn and his hired hands (McGuinn was the only member under contract to Columbia) recorded the seventh “Byrds” album at Columbia’s Hollywood Studio in October and December of 1968 under the direction of producer, Bob Johnston. Gary Usher had achieved tremendous results with the Byrds on their three previous albums, but when Usher was released from Columbia, McGuinn turned to Johnston who enjoyed a solid reputation after having produced both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
With the album title and graphics and the backcover photos featuring the band members peeling off space suits to reveal country outfits, the Byrds were announcing their intention to straddle modern rock/psychedelia with country, a combination the band had mastered in “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” but this album can largely be categorized as country rock, dominated by White’s virtuoso country pickin’. The Byrds later complained that Johnston’s finished recording was far too muddy with McGuinn’s twelve-string Rickenbacker often buried in the mix. But McGuinn’s Rick took a back seat to White’s Fender Telecaster after Notorious to the point where Roger essentially became the band’s rhythm guitarist to Clarence’s lead. “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” is notable for being the only Byrds album in which McGuinn sings lead vocal on every song. York provides the high vocal harmonies, but he’s definitely not in the same league with David Crosby. Parsons’ drumming sounds awkward even to an untrained ear. John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas would later take McGuinn aside and tell him, “Your drummer can’t play 4/4 time. He can’t play rock ‘n’ roll, he can only play country.”
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Clarence White #41 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and that’s a pretty solid distinction. Drummer Parsons was also a mechanical wizard and had modified White’s Telecaster with a B-bender, a device which utilizes the manipulation of the guitar shoulder strap to mechanically bend the B-string, producing a pedal steel guitar-like effect. Guitarists and enthusiasts were simply amazed at the sounds White was able to coax out of his Telecaster using the B-bender (Jimi Hendrix stated Clarence was one of his favorite guitarists), but for my taste Clarence goes way overboard with the gimmick. The two distinctive trademarks of the Byrds’ original sound, McGuinn’s jingle-jangle twelve string and pristine vocal harmonies, are largely missing on “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” and the next four albums.
“Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” was released on March 5, 1969 and sputtered at #153 on Billboard’s album chart, earning it the dubious distinction of being the Byrds’ lowest-charting album. The single, “Bad Night at the Whiskey”/”Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man,” was released on January 7, 1969, but failed to chart.
“Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” has some fine moments, but this first effort of the McGuinn-White lineup dramatically pales in comparison to the albums of the McGuinn-Clark-Crosby-Hillman Byrds. McGuinn commented years later, “I’m not too happy with (Dr. Byrds).”
- This Wheel’s On Fire (Dylan, Danko) – Clarence switches from country pickin’ to soulful fuzz on this rocked-up, Dylan number, but confessed he wasn’t up to the task. “I felt I was faking it,” said Clarence of his efforts on the song. “‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done.”
- Old Blue (Traditional) – Yech.
- Your Gentle Way of Loving Me (Guilbeau, Paxton) – White and Parsons pay homage to their former Nashville West bandmate, Gib Guilbeau. Not a bad tune.
- Child of the Universe (Grusin, McGuinn) – A more embellished version of this song was included in the soundtrack of the 1968 film farce, “Candy.” Co-writer Dave Grusin went on to a highly successful career as a soundtrack composer. I like this tune although it’s out of place on this album.
- Nashville West (Parsons, White) – Instrumental features some tasty licks from Clarence, but the hooping and hollering at the end is over the top.
- Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man (McGuinn, Gram Parsons) – McGuinn and the departed Gram Parsons penned this scathing smear of Nashville DJ, Ralph Emery, who had ridiculed the Sweetheart Byrds during their appearance on his WSM radio show the previous year. Sweetheart sessions alum, Lloyd Green, provides the pedal steel licks. Joan Baez and Jeffrey Shurtleff popularized the song with their rendition at Woodstock in 1969. Listen here.
- King Apathy III (McGuinn) – Ho-hum.
- Candy (McGuinn, York) – This was the second song written for the film, “Candy,” however this one didn’t make the soundtrack. Critics panned both of the “Candy” tunes, but I’m fond of them.
- Bad Night at the Whiskey (McGuinn, Richards) – The best song on the album. Love that vocal sustain. Listen below.
- Medley: My Back Pages/B.J. Blues/Baby What You Want Me To Do – (Dylan, McGuinn, York, Parsons, White, Reed) – York later stated the medley was included on the album to showcase the new lineup’s musical chops. Most listeners considered it as filler.
1997 CD Reissue Bonus Tracks:
- Stanley’s Song (McGuinn, Hippard) – A less than mediocre outtake. Bob Hippard had also co-written C.T.A.-102.
- This Wheel’s On Fire (Dylan) – Snappier alternate version. Clarence stated he preferred this take.
- Medley: My Back Pages/B.J. Blues/Baby What You Want Me To Do? (Dylan, McGuinn, York, Parsons, White, Reed) – Alternate version.
McGuinn and his ersatz Byrds reached an artistic nadir with “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde.” Would this be the end of the band? Tune in next month to find out.