When the Flying Burrito Brothers introduced me to Bluegrass music

Last week, I wrote a post about my appreciation for Bluegrass music (see here) and that appreciation all began with the LP…

“Last of the Red Hot Burritos”
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Producer: Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Release date: May, 1972, Length: 34:45

5 Stars

The Flying Burrito Brothers had already crashed and burned as a band by the time this album was released in 1972. Ex-Byrds, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, had formed the group back in 1968, hoping to pursue their dream of melding country music, R&B, and rock-and-roll. Their debut LP, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” remains a pioneering classic (see my review here), but Parsons’ descent into drug and alcohol addiction quickly spelled trouble. Their sophomore release, “Burrito Deluxe,” was uneven, and their Parsons-less, eponymous third album, although pleasant, was uninspiring. After four years, with zero commercial success, Hillman had had enough and decided to pull the plug. To fulfill their contractual obligations, the band released this live album.

I liked it a lot and it ranked right up there as one of my most-played LPs back in my high school heydays. At its end, when this album was recorded, the band consisted of Hillman on bass and lead vocals, Rick Roberts on rhythm guitar and vocals, Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar, Kenny Wertz on guitar and banjo and vocals, and another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke on drums. For the short Bluegrass set, Byron Berline (fiddle) and Roger Bush (upright bass) came out on stage and helped out.

Side One

  • “Christine’s Tune (aka Devil in Disguise)” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:54 – A great tune from the band’s debut album with plenty of tasty pedal steel licks from Perkins.
  • “Six Days on the Road” (Earl Green, Carl Montgomery) – 3:03 – The boys do their rendition of this classic truck driving ditty. The song had been a #2 country hit for Dave Dudley in 1963 and was a staple in Burrito concerts.
  • “My Uncle” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 2:20 – Another song from the band’s debut; a lament about being drafted during the Vietnam War.
  • “Dixie Breakdown” (Jimmie Lunceford, Don Reno) – 2:17 – With this tune and the following two, Hillman and the Burritos add Berline and Bush to the mix and do it up Bluegrass style. This is a classic 1958 bluegrass song from Don Reno. Hillman contributes an excellent mandolin solo.
  • “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (Louise Certain, Gladys Stacey Flatt, Jerry Organ, Wayne Walker) – 2:20 – Roger Bush does a nice job on lead vocals on this 1925 classic. It doesn’t get much “rootsier” than this.
  • “Orange Blossom Special” (Ervin T. Rouse) – 3:39 – Byron Berline and his fiddle shine on this 1938 classic. I thoroughly enjoyed these three Bluegrass numbers and it’s clear from the live recording that the audience did as well.

Side Two

  • “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (Homer Banks, Deanie Parker) – 3:20 – The Burritos deftly put a country spin on this 1966 Stax-Memphis, driving R&B soul tune. Yeah, Al Perkins could play.
  • “High Fashion Queen” (Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons) – 3:22 – From their “Burritos Deluxe” album.
  • “Don’t Fight It” (Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper) – 2:56 – Another countrification of an R&B tune, this one written by Wilson Pickett in 1965.
  • “Hot Burrito #2” (Chris Ethridge, Gram Parsons) – 4:35 – One of the best songs from the band’s debut LP.
  • “Losing Game” (James Carr, Dennis Weaver) – 2:59 – Hillman struggles a bit with his vocals on this R&B song written by Memphis soul artist, James Carr, in 1967.

Postscript: Back when album covers were considered works of art, this LP cover was a simply a thing of beauty. Credit goes to famous album cover illustrator, Joe Garnett. Being the completist that I am, I’m going to have to review the Burrito’s 2nd and 3rd studio LPs somewhere down the road.

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How a Yankee New Yorker became a fan of Bluegrass Music

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a birthday bash for my wife and after everybody left, I crawled into bed and aimlessly surfed the cable channels as is my nightly custom. When I got to PBS, I saw they were broadcasting a documentary about the history of Bluegrass music. Are you kidding me? I love Bluegrass music! I watched the show for about thirty-minutes until I started to fall asleep, but caught the entire thing via on-demand the next day. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of Blugrass, you’ll really enjoy this documentary:

Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music
Produced by Kentucky Educational Television
PBS premier, August 30th, 2019, Length: 1 hr 58 min
To view online see here.

So how does a person born and raised in Western New York become a fan of “hillbilly” Bluegrass music?

While I was growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. in the 1960s, my older sisters always had their Beatles records blasting from the family phonograph. Having a mind of my own, I eventually adopted the Byrds* as my favorite band, but other musical forms piqued my interest as well. I can clearly remember hearing the opening theme music of “The Beverley Hillbillies” television comedy when it premiered in 1962 and being absolutely fascinated by the lightning-quick banjo picking of Earl Scruggs (accompanied by guitarist, Lester Flatt). Flatt and Scruggs caught my attention again, as well as the rest of the nation, when their Bluegrass tunes were featured in the 1968 film, “Bonnie and Clyde.” Then there was the popular “Dueling Banjos” song featured in the 1972 movie, “Deliverance.” No, I didn’t have any Bluegrass records yet, but I definitely liked the sound.

Chris Hillman started out very young as a Bluegrass mandolin player, but was drafted into rock and roll as the bassist for the Byrds in 1964. With Hillman on board, the Byrds did take some notable excursions into country music, but he quit the group in 1968 andCapture14 attempted to combine rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music with his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The experiment, documented by three studio albums, was artistically brave and noteworthy, but a commercial failure. Hillman and the FBBs ended their four-year run with the release of the live LP, “The Last of the Red Hot Burritos,” in 1972. The latter-day Burritos had begun including a Bluegrass set within their concerts and this album featured three Bluegrass performances, “Dixie Breakdown,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I loved it. I mean, really loved it. No, I didn’t run out and buy a bunch of Bluegrass albums, but I definitely had an affinity for the music. Hmm. Do I sense an album review coming up in the near-future?

Years passed by and as I was walking through Borders Book Store in 1995, a new CD wasCapture15 being played through the store’s sound system; “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection,” a retrospective of the early recordings of Bluegrass artist, Alison Krauss. Wow! Great music! I bought that CD and eventually also bought Krauss’ five-album back catalog and stayed current with her new releases.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the artists and some of the history of the Bluegrass genre. Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with taking various strains of Appalachian roots music and melding them into Bluegrass beginning in the 1930s. In Bluegrass, you’ll often hear songs with Gospel themes. Hillman has continued to feature Bluegrass on his solo albums. I generally don’t buy CDs anymore, but I will make an exception for a new Krauss album (although she’s sadly been crossing over into mainstream music more and more). Mandolinist, Sierra Hull, is pretty good, too.

So, that’s how a Yankee, born and raised, improbably became a fan of Bluegrass music.

*The lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McQuinn, came from a folk background. He didn’t know any better and multiple-finger picked his twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar like he had his banjo, creating a unique, “jingle-jangle” sound that became the band’s signature.

Remembering the Summer of 1969: Part 2 – the Manson Murders

This past Wednesday, we took a look back fifty-years ago to the heady days of the summer of 1969, when many young people naively saw the Woodstock music festival as a part of the dawning of a new era of peace, love, and universal brotherhood. See here. But just one week prior to the festival, a communal hippie “family” was wreaking havoc twenty-eight hundred miles away in Los Angeles, California; a calamity that would subsequently help to deflate the dreams of the “Woodstock Nation.”

Charles Manson (1934-2017) had been in and out of prisons throughout his young life, beginning in 1951 at the age of seventeen. When he was released from prison in 1967, he had spent more than half of his life behind bars. Manson, a charismatic personality, gradually attracted a large number of followers to his clan, mostly young, female runaways. Manson convinced his impressionable disciples that he was the “second coming” of both Jesus Christ and Satan, and they submitted to his absolute control. In Manson’s twisted mind, he believed the United States was headed towards a race war and that his role was to incite it.

An aspiring singer, songwriter, and musician,* Manson had previously been rejected by influential LA record producer, Terry Melcher (producer of five of the Byrds’ twelve albums). On August 8th, Manson sent four of his communal “family” members to Melcher’s former home to murder the occupants as part of his race-war strategy and probably also to instill fear into Melcher. Actress, Sharon Tate, eight-months pregnant, and four others were brutally killed. The following evening, Manson drove the same four followers plus two others to another house, eleven miles from the previous homicide, where they murdered a married couple and staged the scene as another faux racial attack.

Following the two grisly “events,” the entire Los Angeles area went into panic mode. The police investigation was slow going, but clues eventually led to the Manson clan and arrests were finally made in the first week of December 1969. The trial began on June 15, 1970 and the proceedings turned into a daily media circus with Manson and his brainwashed followers performing on cue for the press. But on January 25, 1971, Manson and the direct perpetrators of the LA murders were convicted and subsequently sent to prison for life.

The young people of the nation scratched their heads. Hippies living in communes were NOT supposed to be mass-murderers. The Manson murders revealed the Aquarian ideal of peace, love, and universal brotherhood had a very dark underside. In addition to the Manson killings, the Altamont Free Concert festival, held on December 6, 1969, which was planned as a “West Coast Woodstock,” was also marked by violence and murder.

The hope of the Aquarian dream of the summer of 1969 turned out to be a mirage. But there is real hope and His name is Jesus Christ! The Bible, God’s Word, says that we are all sinners and that we all deserve eternal punishment. But God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus Christ, God the Son, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died for our sins on the cross. But He rose from the grave, defeating sin and death, and now offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who repent of their sin and accept Him as Savior by faith alone. Won’t you trust in Jesus?

Postscript One: Convicted Manson family killers, Charles “Tex” Watson and Susan Atkins both professed to have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior while in prison. I read Atkins’ book, “Child of Satan, Child of God,” thirty years ago. She died in prison in 2009. Were Atkins’ and Watson’s professions of faith genuine? I don’t know, but I do know Jesus Christ will save ANYONE who repents of their sin and trusts in Him as their Savior by faith alone.

Postscript Two: The entire nation was shocked fifty-years ago by the brutal and ritualistic Manson “family” murders, but murder has since become quite commonplace in the United States. There were 17,000 murders in the U.S. in 2017. Mass-shootings are becoming an everyday occurrence. As of Aug. 5, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S. this year. And let’s not forget the GENOCIDE of 60,000,000 babies killed since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

*Two rock artists who had tried to help Manson land a recording contract were Dennis Wilson (d. 1983) of the Beach Boys and Neil Young.

Fifty-years of The Gilded Palace of Sin

The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Larry Marks, A&M Records, Released February 6, 1969, Length: 37:24

5 Stars

The Byrds had recorded the groundbreaking country-rock album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” in 1968, but personal and artistic differences led members Gram Parsons followed by Chris Hillman to leave the band shortly afterwards. The two country music enthusiasts soon teamed up again to realize their vision of country and rock-and-roll fusion with the formation of the  Flying Burrito Brothers. For a couple of months, Parsons and Hillman holed up together in a rented house dubbed “Burrito Manor” in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley and wrote a collection of excellent tunes. With Hillman on rhythm guitar and Parsons on acoustic guitar and keyboards, they rounded out their sound with the addition of Chris Ethridge on bass and Pete “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on pedal steel guitar (four session drummers were used on the debut LP). A&M Records was attempting to beef up its rock and roll footprint at the time and unwittingly signed the Burritos, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

When “The Gilded Palace of Sin” was released in early-1969, it landed with a huge thud, peaking at only #164 on the Billboard 200. Rock and roll audiences were not quite ready for the synthesis of country and rock music. But recording artists and music enthusiasts are keenly aware of this excellent pioneering effort.

The Burritos’ legacy was a short one. Their second studio album was disappointing as Parsons descended deeper and deeper into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse. Hillman fired Parsons in 1970 and released the third and final Burritos studio LP in 1971. After two uneven solo projects (both prominently featuring a relatively unknown, young vocalist by the name of Emmylou Harris), Parsons died of a drug-overdose in 1973. Hillman would go on to have a long career, most notably as the front man for the successful country group, The Desert Rose Band, from 1985 to 1994.

While the Flying Burrito Brothers’ tenure was brief, music fans have been enjoying the “The Gilded Palace of Sin” for fifty years.

Side One

  • Christine’s Tune (Parsons, Hillman) – A bitter diatribe lambasting the former founder of the Byrds’ fan club who was meddling in the band members’ already-troubled marriages. A great tune. As in the rest of the album, Hillman’s steady harmonies perfectly complement Parson’s more adventurous and fragile lead vocals. Sneaky Pete’s rocked-up pedal steel solos are overdone here, but most of his contributions on this disc are excellent.
  • Sin City (Parsons, Hillman) – Hillman takes aim at the Byrds’ money-grubbing, former manager, Larry Spector. This is a country-rock classic that has been covered by many artists over the years. In this case, “Sin City” isn’t Las Vegas, but Los Angeles, and the former manager is portrayed as the much-anticipated object of the Lord’s retribution. Listen here.
  • Do Right Woman (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Parsons included this and another Moman-Penn penned “Southern Soul” tune immediately following, showing his interest in fusing country, rock, and blue-eyed soul into a gumbo of “Cosmic American Music.” That’s David Crosby providing some vocal harmonies.
  • Dark End of the Street (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Sneaky Pete’s use of the pedal steel guitar as a rock-and-roll lead guitar was radically innovative.
  • My Uncle (Parsons, Hillman) – Parsons received his draft notice in the mailbox during the height of the Vietnam War, prompting this tongue-in-cheek promise to head “for the nearest foreign border.” Parsons subsequently received a 4-F deferment. He was actually the very last person in the country the U.S. Army would have wanted in uniform. In this song, Hillman goes back to his bluegrass roots with some nice mandolin weaving around Sneaky Pete’s tasty steel licks.

Side Two

  • Wheels (Hillman, Parsons) – Parsons’ paean to motorcycles following a minor accident with his BSA bike. He sings, “I’ll turn to Him who made my faith so strong.”
  • Juanita (Hillman, Parsons) – His woman left him and he’s lower than the floor; the grist for about 90% of country music songs.
  • Hot Burrito #1 (Ethridge, Parsons) – Speaking of a song about a woman leaving her man, Parsons scores the very best vocal of his short career with this lament dripping with palatable pathos. Ethridge brought the melody to Parsons who added the lyrics. Listen here.
  • Hot Burrito #2 (Ethridge, Parsons) – What? Yet another song about a broken relationship? Yes, and another Ethridge melody with lyrics by Parsons. An outstanding Parsons vocal. The improbably titled Hot Burrito #1 and #2 are the finest songs on a great album.
  • Do You Know How It Feels (Parsons, Barry Goldberg) – The fourth song in a row about a relationship breakup. Parsons sings in a traditional Country-Western style. Co-writer, Goldberg, would have a long career and eventually end up in Stephen Stills’ The Rides.
  • Hippie Boy (Hillman, Parsons) – Hillman talk-sings through a dirge about a hippie and “redneck” trying to find common ground over the death of a hippie boy. The song was generally a plea for the generations to be more tolerant towards each other at the time of the turbulent sixties and specifically a plea for the country music community to be more accepting of “hippies” like Parsons and Hillman.

There are references to the Lord throughout the album, and much of that no doubt can be attributed to Parsons’ upbringing in Waycross, Georgia, deep in the Bible Belt. Parsons, like many other people, knew ABOUT the Lord Jesus Christ, but he didn’t KNOW Him. Parsons tried to find peace, truth, and fulfillment in the bottle, the pill box, in music, and in fame, but there was no lasting peace or redemption to be found in those things.

Chris Hillman Reflects on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ at 50
https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8496642/chris-hillman-flying-burrito-brothers-gilded-palace-sin

 

Bob Dylan’s Christian “phase”

As I’ve mentioned previously, I began working at Kodak in 1976 at one of its huge manufacturing plants here in Rochester N.Y. I started out in the warehouse division with a great bunch of guys. Forty-plus years later, I still remember them very well. One of the guys was Jim Moon, a large, strapping man with an equally big smile. Jim had a few Christian-themed items boldly posted above his desk, so I knew he was one of those “crazy” born-agains. We had a few conversations about religion, although it would be several years later that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

One day in conversation with Jim, the subject of Bob Dylan came up. Dylan had been an international cultural icon beginning with his folk-protest albums released in the early-1960s. I had not been a fan of Dylan’s music directly, however my favorite band, the Byrds, had covered several of his songs, most notably, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But Dylan was making waves again in the late-1970s by claiming to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. I remember Jim taking great satisfaction in the fact that such a popular icon as Dylan had accepted Christ.

Dylan recorded two Christian-themed albums, “Slow Train Coming” in 1979 and “Saved” in 1980 (see photo above). I had no interest in listening to those albums at the time they were released. I subsequently heard roundabout that Dylan eventually put his “Christian period” behind him, but I never forgot about it, especially after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983.

A few months ago, I mentioned to my wife about Dylan’s “Jesus phase.” We briefly discussed whether he had really accepted Christ at the time or whether it was all a disingenuous “experience”? Still curious, a couple of weeks ago I played “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved” via our Amazon Echo. Wow! There are actually some outstanding songs on those albums, once you get past Dylan’s raggedy voice. Hmm, Dylan certainly “sounded” like he understood the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. I then proceeded to read some articles that examined Dylan’s “Gospel period.” Turns out he had heard about the burgeoning “Jesus movement” in Southern California from some of his friends and at a 1978 concert in San Diego, Dylan picked up a cross that someone had thrown on stage. He claimed that later that evening in his hotel room he had a mystical experience in which Jesus appeared to him. That “encounter” was followed with studies at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship near Los Angeles. If you know anything about the Vineyard churches, you know they’re all about religious experientialism and emotionalism with some Gospel parlance thrown in. The two Jesus albums followed, along with concerts where Dylan preached to his puzzled audiences. But Dylan backed away from his “Jesus phase” after 1981. He took up Orthodox Judaism for awhile, and eventually settled into a widely-inclusive, “whatever works for you” religious relativism (see articles far below).

“Whoever said I was Christian? Like Gandhi, I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, I’m a Moslem, I’m a Hindu. I am a humanist.” – Bob Dylan, 1983

I’m not able to see inside Bob Dylan’s soul, but from his own words it appears he most probably had a false religious experience in 1978. I’m guessing Dylan knew ABOUT Jesus, but didn’t KNOW Jesus. That should not be surprising because the Lord said there will be many tares within the church. Some stay a short time, while others park themselves on a pew for the temporal duration.

The Parable of the Wheat and Tares – Matthew 13:24-30
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13%3A24-30&version=ESV

Postscript: Jim Moon wasn’t a youngster in 1979 and has most probably gone on to be with the Lord at this point. He had no idea at the time, but his testimony was one of the many things the Holy Spirit used to lead me to salvation in Christ several years later. Are you letting the light of Jesus shine through you like Jim Moon? Just keep planting the seed and leave the rest to the Lord.

The year Bob Dylan was born again: a timeline
See article here.

Bob Dylan, Recovering Christian
See article here.

CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadors II: The Whole Enchilada

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup
By David Browne
Da Capo Press, 2019, 465 pages

5 Stars

What? Another book about CSN&Y? This year is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the seminal singer-songwriter “supergroup,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). To commemorate the milestone, two excellent biographies were recently published. Fortunately for my wallet, our local library system has both books on its shelves. Three weeks ago, I reviewed Peter Doggett’s book, which focused mainly on the band’s first five years, 1969 to 1974 (see here). In contrast, David Browne’s book spans the entire life of the band, the whole messy enchilada, from 1969 to 2015, discontinuous and painful as it was.

Following the releases of their highly-successful eponymous debut album in 1969 and “Déjà Vu” the following year, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was arguably the most popular rock and roll band on the planet (made possible only by the official break-up of the Beatles in April 1970). However, the reasons for the band’s great success also precipitated it’s downfall. The old saying about “too many chefs in the kitchen” certainly applied to CSN&Y; a volatile combination of four very talented and very strong-willed performers with contrasting temperaments. Copious drug use added to the constant disharmony. Unable to perform as a unit, CS&N put their energies into solo projects, although Crosby and Nash remained on friendly terms and recorded several albums together. Young, a prolific songwriter, was able to achieve an unusual degree of success on his own and increasingly distanced himself from CS&N.

Crosby, Stills and Nash were able to occasionally put animosities aside and unite briefly for various projects, but Crosby’s spiraling heroin addiction was a major impediment. After having spent five months in prison in 1986 on drugs and weapons convictions, Crosby was released and (somewhat) sober, but CS&N found that their style of music was increasingly out of favor with the MTV generation. From 1988 to 1999, the trio released multiple joint and solo projects of uneven quality to a declining audience. I had already stopped listening to CS&N back in 1977 because the political rants began to grate on me. By the early 00s/aughts, CS&N had largely devolved into a touring oldies band.

After their phenomenal initial success, CS&N began their very long and sometimes tortuous decline. Browne devotes 303 of the book’s 418 pages of text to that post-1970 decline. Being the nerdy, former-fan that I am, I found that information very interesting. Most readers wouldn’t.

It’s revealing that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young won’t be reuniting this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary because of the bitter acrimony between the ex-members. It’s easy to sing about peace and love, but “the heart [of man] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

CSN&Y: Squabbling Troubadours

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
By Peter Doggett
Atria Books, 2019, 359 pages

5 Stars

My five older sisters always had the record player or radio constantly playing in the house when I was growing up, but I began listening to AM Top 40 in earnest for myself in 1969 at the age of thirteen with my inexpensive Panasonic AM radio/cassette player combo. My oldest sister happened to be in college that year and she came home for winter break with a box of her roomate’s LPs in tow. Flipping through the albums, I was intrigued by three grungy looking hippies; David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, on the cover of their eponymous debut and gave it a spin. Wow! I was captivated by the trio’s songcraft and soaring vocal harmonies. No more Top 40, bubble-gum pop music for me. Neil Young joined the group before they went on tour and I became a hardcore fan of CS&N and CSN&Y and all of their various solo and collective permutations and faithfully bought ALL of their albums (see far below) for the next eight years. I was such a dedicated fan that I even collected the back catalogs of their previous bands – the Byrds (Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stills and Young), and, to a lesser extent, the Hollies (Nash) – and would subsequently become a lifelong fan of the Byrds. CSN&Y had a huge fanbase, which began with their appearance at the 1969 Woodstock festival from whence they were subsequently crowned the “voice of a generation.” 

However, after the release of their “CSN” album in 1977, I lost interest in the group. Why? Their music seemed to grow stale and their never-ending political rants began to grate. In recognition of the group’s 50th anniversary, a couple of biographies were just published, including this one by music journalist, Peter Doggett, who focuses mainly on the first five years of the band (I’m currently reading the second biography). I thought I knew all the stories pretty well, but Doggett provides a lot of interesting new information.

It’s tough enough when a group has one prima donna, but CSN&Y had four by design. Although they were the #1 rock group in the world after the release of their second album, “Déjà Vu,” their demise was already guaranteed. These guys made millions by singing about peace and love, but after their initial start, they couldn’t stand being in the same room together. Copious drug intake and hyper-inflated egos fueled the interpersonal animosity and the declining quality of the music. The internecine squabbling within CSN&Y was symbolic of the false promises of the Woodstock Nation. Yes, there is peace eternal and perfect brotherhood, but they are only found in salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

CS&N (and occasionally with Y) periodically joined together to pay the bills from 1977 until 2015, although they had largely devolved into an oldies band. Crosby then permanently alienated his bandmates with some rather infelicitous remarks. However, freed from the restricting confines of CS&N, Croz has recorded four interesting solo albums in the last five years.

Just for grins, I plugged my memory battery into my CPAP machine and came up with the list below of all of the CSN&Y records that I bought between 1969 and 1977. Rather than spend a lot of time reviewing the albums, I’m providing just a simple 1-to-5 star rating:

  • Crosby, Stills, and Nash (1969) – CS&N  5 Stars
  • Neil Young (1968, remixed and re-released in 1969) – Young  3 Stars
  • Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) – Young  4 Stars
  • Déjà Vu (1970) – CSN&Y  5 Stars
  • Stephen Stills (1970) – Stills  4 Stars
  • After the Gold Rush (1970) – Young  4 Stars
  • 4 Way Street (1971) – CSN&Y (live)  4 Stars
  • If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) – Crosby  3 Stars
  • Songs for Beginners (1971) – Nash  4 Stars
  • Stephen Stills 2 (1971) – Stills  3 Stars
  • Graham Nash/David Crosby (1972) – Crosby and Nash  4 Stars
  • Stephen Stills/Manassas (1972) – Stills and Manassas  5 Stars
  • Harvest (1972) – Young  5 Stars
  • Wild Tales (1973) – Nash  2 Stars
  • Down the Road (1973) – Stills and Manassas  1 Star
  • Time Fades Away (1973) – Young (live)  1 Star
  • Byrds (1973) – Crosby and the other four original bandmembers 2 Stars
  • On the Beach (1974) – Young  2 Stars
  • Wind on the Water (1975) – Crosby and Nash  4 Stars
  • Stills (1975) – Stills  3 Stars
  • Stephen Stills Live (1975) – Stills (live)  3 Stars
  • Tonight’s the Night (1975) – Young  1 Star
  • Zuma (1975) – Young  3 Stars
  • Whistling Down the Wire (1976) – Crosby and Nash  2 Stars
  • Illegal Stills (1976) – Stills  2 Stars
  • Long May You Run (1976) – Stills and Young  1 Star
  • CSN (1977) – CS&N  4 Stars
  • Live (1977) – Crosby and Nash (live)  3 Stars

Yup, twenty-eight albums was A LOT of recorded output for four guys in eight years. They cranked ’em out like pizzas.

The Byrds’ Albums – 1965-1973

I had the pleasure of reviewing all twelve of the Byrds albums over the previous twelve months. Below is a handy listing with links to the reviews:

Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) 5-stars
The Byrd’s debut album ushers in folk-rock and is met with critical and popular acclaim.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/the-byrds-take-flyte-and-dylan-and-the-beatles-take-notice/

Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965) 4-stars
The band’s sophomore album is good but lacks the sparkle of the debut disc.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/folk-rock-102/

Fifth Dimension (1966) 3.5-stars
Gene Clark’s departure opens up opportunities for David Crosby and the band breaks out of its folk-rock mold to explore new musical genres with mixed results.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/the-byrds-awkwardly-break-out-of-the-folk-rock-mold-with-fifth-dimension/

Younger Than Yesterday (1967) 5-stars
Chris Hillman’s development as a songwriter helps the band to fire on all cylinders.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/younger-than-yesterday-an-underappreciated-work-that-would-be-recognized-decades-later/

The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968) 5-stars
The band remarkably produces its finest album in the midst of the departures of Crosby and Clarke.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/the-notorious-byrd-brothers-the-byrds-crumble-just-as-they-peak/

Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) 4-stars
Newcomer, Gram Parsons, hijacks the Byrds down to Nashville. A pioneering country-rock album.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/parsons-hijacks-the-byrds-to-nashville/

Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969) 2-stars
Hillman and Parsons quit and McGuinn goes it alone with hired hands, including talented country guitarist, Clarence White.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/mcguinn-pushes-forward-with-hired-hands-including-a-very-talented-guitarist/

Ballad of Easy Rider (1969) 2-stars
McGuinn and the ersatz Byrds attempt to leverage their connection to the popular counter-culture film.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-byrds-and-the-ballad-of-easy-rider-resurgence-or-hype/

Untitled (1970) 3-stars
Might be the best of the five weak albums from the McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/the-mcguinn-white-byrds-peak-with-untitled/

Byrdmaniax (1971) 1-star
Almost unlistenable. Producer Terry Melcher added keyboards and choirs post-production in an attempt to save the unsavable.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/byrdmaniax/

Farther Along (1971) 1.5-stars
The faux Byrds on life support. The forgettable swan song of the McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/the-collapse-of-the-ersatz-mcguinn-white-byrds/

Byrds (1973) 3-stars
The disappointing reunion of the five original members didn’t come close to meeting expectations.
https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/the-byrds-disappointing-swan-song/

By the way, Roger McGuinn, the leader of the Byrds and the only member to appear on every album, accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. See here. His testimony was one of the many influences used by the Holy Spirit to eventually lead me to Christ as well.

The Byrds’ Disappointing Swan Song

Byrds
The Byrds
Produced by David Crosby, Asylum Records, Released March 7, 1973, Length: 34:54

In the summer of 1971, discussions began amongst the founding members of the Byrds regarding a reunion album and possible follow-up tour. The five original members – Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke – hadn’t recorded together since January 1966. The project gained steam with the backing and encouragement of David Geffen, president of Asylum Records. Sessions began on October 16, 1972 and ended November 15 while McGuinn was still touring with the latter-day Byrds line-up. In February 1973, McGuinn finally pulled the plug on the ersatz “Columbia” Byrds.

The release of “Byrds” on March 7, 1973 had been eagerly anticipated by fans of the band. Crosby had achieved world-wide fame as a member of the hugely successful supergroup, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, while McGuinn, Hillman, and Clark were all recognized as talented singers and songwriters in their own right. “Byrds” peaked at a very respectable #20 on the album charts. Singles, “Full Circle”/”Long Live the King” was released on April 11 and reached #109 while “Cowgirl in the Sand”/”Long Live the King” was released in June but failed to chart.

I remember being overjoyed at the news of the reunion of the founding members and eagerly anticipated the album with high expectations. I rushed to Midtown Records in downtown Rochester, New York to pick up the album on the day of its release. I wasn’t the only excited fan. Copies of “Byrds” were literally plastered all over the store. I didn’t know it then, but the cover photos were taken at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles where McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby had first gotten together in 1964. The photos told quite a bit about the music inside with Crosby taking center stage and McGuinn shoved off to the side with a lost look on his face. After I played the LP a few times, I had the same reaction as critics and fans; I expected much more than this. Plans for a follow-up tour fell apart after the lukewarm and negative reviews. Years later, the Byrds gave various reasons for the albums shortcomings: not enough time, better material kept aside for solo projects, and fear of stepping on each other’s toes. It’s a bland album with only a few shining moments that relies far too heavily on covers (TWO Neil Young tunes?). McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker, a trade mark of the Byrds’ sound, is largely buried in the mix as are Clarke’s drums, but I do enjoy Hillman’s mandolin. Years later, McGuinn, who had always been credited as the “leader” of the band, complained that nominal producer Crosby had deliberately minimized his contributions to the reunion album as a “coup d’état” in retaliation for his 1967 firing.

“Byrds” is not a bad album. I would argue it’s better than any post-Sweetheart recordings from the ersatz, McGuinn-White Byrds. But outside of Clark’s two tunes it certainly did not live up to expectations. The Byrds had a great opportunity with this album but dropped the ball. Regrettably, the five would never record together as a group again. We can only imagine what this album could have been if McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman had actually taken the time to develop some good songs under the direction of a talented producer who didn’t have an axe to grind and who valued the Byrds’ legacy.

Side One:

  • Full Circle (Clark) – Gene Clark starts off the album with a great acoustic tune. Lot’s of Hillman mandolin.
  • Sweet Mary (McGuinn/Levy) – Not one of the better McGuinn/Levy tunes. McGuinn sings about his failed marriage. Again, lots of Hillman mandolin.
  • Changing Heart (Clark) – Gene’s take on his disappointing solo career. A largely acoustic tune featuring Gene’s harmonica. McGuinn’s electric Rick has some moments, but is buried too deep in the mix. Another good song.
  • For Free (Mitchell) – Crosby gives a nice vocal but this cover was a poor choice for the album.
  • Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll (McGuinn) – A mediocre tune. McGuinn must have thought this was a great song and tried it again on his third solo album.

Side Two:

  • Things Will Be Better (Hillman, Taylor) – A catchy, throw-away. At least we can hear McGuinn’s Rick.
  • Cowgirl in the Sand (Young) – This cover is one of the best songs on the album. Clark and the Byrds give a soaring vocal performance. Listen here.
  • Long Live the King (Crosby) – One of Crosby’s weakest tunes ever. Crosby led the crusade to record this album, but his contributions are noticeably weak.
  • Borrowing Time (Hillman, Lala) – Another Hillman throw-away. Years later he completely dismissed his two contributions to this album.
  • Laughing (Crosby) – Why would Crosby include this song? A far superior version with Jerry Garcia shining on pedal steel guitar had previously appeared on Crosby’s spacey 1971 solo album.
  • (See the Sky) About to Rain (Young) – Byrds chronicler, Johnny Rogan, believes the guitar crescendo at the end of this number is the high point of the album, but I don’t care for this song at all. Two Neil Young covers was one too many.

Fans of the Byrds were universally disappointed by this highly-anticipated reunion album. It reminds me that the things of this world can never fully satisfy. We will only find lasting satisfaction in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Well, folks, that’s the last Byrds album and the last of my reviews. I’ll be posting a summary of all the albums with links to my reviews down the road. Thanks for accompanying me on this year-long flyte!

The end of the road for the ersatz McGuinn-White Byrds

The last album of the McGuinn-White Byrds borrows the name of a Gospel hymn for it’s title.

Farther Along
The Byrds
Produced by The Byrds, Columbia Records, Released November 17, 1971, Length 32:02

Deeply annoyed with the heavy orchestration and gospel choir backup vocals added by producer, Terry Melcher, to their previous album, “Byrdmaniax,” Roger McGuinn and his ersatz Byrds hired hands (Clarence White, Gene Parsons, Skip Battin) were anxious to record a simpler, pared down response. The band self-produced the eleventh Byrds album, “Farther Along,” while touring in England in July 1971, only one month after the release of “Byrdmaniax.”

“Farther Along” was released on November 17, 1971 and peaked at #152 on the album charts, making it the second-worst performance by a Byrds album, charting only slightly ahead of  the #153 position by “Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde.” The single, “America’s Great National Pastime”/”Farther Along,” was released on November 29, but failed to chart.

Several of the songs on “Farther Along” featured a 1950s rock-and-roll theme. There’s very little to recommend about this album. In my opinion it’s the Byrds’ worst effort. After the release of this album, as the McGuinn-White Byrds sputtered to an end, McGuinn would fire drummer Parsons in July 1972 (to be replaced by John Guerin and others) and bassist Battin in mid-February, 1973. McGuinn officially dissolved the McGuinn-White Byrds just prior to the March 1973 release of the reunion album from the five founding members.

Side 1

  • Tiffany Queen (McGuinn) – McGuinn pays tribute to Chuck Berry. Catchy but unoriginal.
  • Get Down Your Line (Parsons) – Parsons stumbles badly with this loser.
  • Farther Along (traditional arranged by White) – Another Gospel song recorded by the Byrds. The Lord used these Byrds renditions of Gospel hymns along with many other things and people to eventually draw me to Him. Listen to the Byrds’ version of “Farther Along” here.
  • B.B. Class Road (Parsons, Dawson) – For years, music writers questioned why McGuinn had allowed roadie “Dinky” Dawson to sing lead on this throwaway tune when it was actually Parsons performing the vocal. Has my vote for the very worst Byrds song.
  • Bugler (Murray) – Excellent tune. Clarence does a nice job on the vocals given his limitations. Song writer Larry Murray was a member of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, which also featured ex-Byrd, Chris Hillman. Listen here.

Side 2

  • America’s Great National Pastime (Battin, Fowley) – More of the same Tin Pan Alley piano-driven schlock Battin-Fowley brought to “Byrdmaniax” (Tunnel of Love, Citizen Kane).
  • Antique Sandy (McGuinn, Battin, Parsons, White, Seiter) – Has a few moments.
  • Precious Kate (Battin, Fowley) – McGuinn sings this mediocre Battin-Fowley number.
  • So Fine (Otis) – The Byrds cover this 1959 single from the Fiestas.
  • Lazy Waters (Rafkin) – A pretty good tune from folkie, Bob Rafkin, but Battin’s vocals are overdone.
  • Bristol Steam Convention Blues (Parsons, White) – A simple bluegrass tune.

2000 CD reissue bonus tracks

  • Lost My Drivin’ Wheel (Wiffen) – McGuinn and session musicians.
  • Born to Rock and Roll (McGuinn) – The Byrds and Charles Lloyd on sax.
  • Bag Full of Money (McGuinn, Levy) – McGuinn, White, Battin and drummer John Guerin.
  • Bristol Steam Convention Blues (Parsons, White) – Alternate version

Next month we will review the Byrds’ final album, the 1973 reunion misstep recorded by the five original founding members of the band.