The Flying Burrito Brothers’ excellent final studio album

I’ve already reviewed two of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ albums and continue the four-part project with this review of…

The Flying Burrito Bros
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Released June 1971, Length 36:15

5 Stars

Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman left the legendary Byrds in 1968 to form the pioneering country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The FBBs’ first album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” (1969), is still beloved as one of the seminal, pioneering country-rock records (see my review here). As Parsons stumbled deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol addiction, the quality of the band’s music suffered. The FBBs’ second LP, “Burrito Deluxe” (1970), had its moments, but couldn’t compare with the band’s debut.

Hillman reluctantly fired the increasingly unreliable Parsons, replacing him with talented 21-year-old singer and songwriter, Rick Roberts (rhythm guitar). Along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar, Bernie Leadon (future Eagle) on lead guitar, and Michael Clarke on drums, Hillman (bass) and the FBBs recorded their third album, the eponymous “The Flying Burrito Bros,” affectionately dubbed “the blue album” by FBBs fans.

This album is one of my all-time favorites, but rock ‘n’ roll audiences still weren’t hip to country rock. The Eagles would change that with their debut album the following year in 1972.

Let’s take a look at the excellent “The Flying Burrito Bros” album, track by track:

  • “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16 – Hillman sings Haggard’s 1969 hit about the truckin’ life. Lots of tasty licks from Sneaky Pete.
  • “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52 – I heard Roberts sing this great tune in concert in 1974 when he was backing a solo Stephen Stills. Video below.
  • “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44 – A nice Roberts-Hillman collaboration with rollicking piano from guest Earl P. Ball. Folk legend, Bob Gibson, lends some twelve-string acoustic guitar.
  • “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08 – Hillman and Co. do an excellent cover of this 1967 Gene Clark tune.
  • “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58 – Another nice and easy Roberts-Hillman composition. Leadon provides some tasty licks on lead guitar.
  • “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40 – Hillman continues the Byrds’ legacy of paying tribute to Dylan with this cover. Guest guitarist Mike Deasy contributes the fuzz. Hillman still wasn’t confident in his lead vocals at this point and producer Jim Dickson took extraordinary measures to coax a pleasing performance from the band leader.
  • “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39 – Roberts’ very enjoyable brand of country-rock lite portends his future stint with Firefall. Gotta love Sneaky Pete’s tasteful pedal steel fills here.
  • “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23 – The band pulls out all the stops on this rockin’ tune.
  • “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33 – A slow, sad number with a very catchy chorus.
  • “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02 – An excellent song by Roberts. I love Leadon’s banjo. Listen here.

Some critics of this album complain that the songs are slow and on the understated side, but I appreciate the easy-going feel of this excellent LP. There’s simply not one dog on the entire disc. Rick Roberts was not a country music player when Hillman hired him, so the FBBs had to accommodate Roberts’ more poppish style just as he had to bend to the FBBs’ country-rock style. The result was a more commercial album than the band’s two previous LPs. The problem was few people bought it. I can understand why Hillman disbanded the FBBs in frustration after the anemic sales for the blue album. Said Hillman, “I hold this one high, way over ‘Burrito Deluxe.’ But it didn’t sell. We were done then. There was nothing we could do” (“Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers,” p. 249). The Flying Burritos Brothers and this LP, “The Flying Burrito Bros,” were ahead of their time. Make no mistake, Glenn Frey and Don Henley were watching and listening intently and taking notes. They subsequently took the country-rock baton from the FBBs and ran with it.

One more album was released under the FBBs banner to fulfill the band’s contractual obligations with A&M, the excellent live LP, “Last of the Red Hot Burritos” (see my review here). Chris Hillman would continue his music career for another 46 years, most notably as leader of the Desert Rose Band from 1987 to 1993. Rick Roberts and Michael Clarke went on to form Firefall with Jock Bartley. Roberts wrote and sang lead vocals on Firefall’s three big hits, “You Are The Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” and “Strange Way.” Bernie Leadon co-founded the Eagle’s with Frey and Henley as the band’s lead guitarist. He was replaced by Joe Walsh in 1975. Sneaky Pete Kleinow would participate in the various ersatz-FBBs reincarnations that followed.

Someday soon, I’ll review the FBBs’ semi-disappointing second album.

Above from left to right: Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs – Index

As the final dotting of all of the i’s and the crossing of all of the t’s in our six-month-long Byrds’ Top 25 Songs series, I present the index below, with the interlude and books resources posts also included. Thanks for reading, listening, and commenting!

#25 “Gunga Din” by Gene Parsons from “Ballad of Easy Rider”

#24 “Bad Night at the Whiskey” by Roger McGuinn and Joey Richards from “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde”

#23 “Changing Heart” by Gene Clark from “Byrds”

#22 “Lover of the Bayou” by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy from “Untitled”

#21 “Jamaica Say You Will” by Jackson Browne from “Byrdmaniax”

#20 “She Don’t Care About Time” by Gene Clark released only as a single

#19 “Bugler” by Larry Murray from “Farther Along”

#18 “The Bells of Rhymney” by Idris Davies and Pete Seeger from “Mr. Tambourine Man”

#17 “Natural Harmony” by Chris Hillman from “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”

#16 “If You’re Gone” by Gene Clark from “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

#15 “My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan from “Younger Than Yesterday”

#14 “Time Between” by Chris Hillman from “Younger Than Yesterday”

#13 “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by Bob Dylan from “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”

#12 “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” by Gene Clark from “Mr. Tambourine Man”

#11 “What’s Happening?!?!” by David Crosby from “Fifth Dimension”

The Byrds Top 25 Songs – Interlude

#10 “Chestnut Mare” by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy from “Untitled”

#9 “Everybody’s Been Burned” by David Crosby from “Younger Than Yesterday”

#8 “Tribal Gathering” by David Crosby and Chris Hillman from “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”

#7 “5D (Fifth Dimension)” by Jim McGuinn from “Fifth Dimension”

#6 “Renaissance Fair” by David Crosby and Jim McGuinn from “Younger Than Yesterday”

#5 “Change Is Now” by Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn from “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”

#4 “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan from “Mr. Tambourine Man”

#3 “Turn! Turn! Turn! adapted by Pete Seeger from “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

#2 “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman from “Younger Than Yesterday”

#1 “Eight Miles High” by Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, and David Crosby from “Fifth Dimension”

Books for Byrds Nerds

Below is a link to the index of my reviews of all of the Byrds’ twelve albums that I published back in 2018:

The Byrds’ Albums: 1965-1973

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs – Introduction

Rock music connoisseur, Hans, over at slicethelife is currently presenting a Beatles’ Top 100 Songs countdown. That prompted me to think about doing a Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown. The Byrds were obviously not nearly as successful and popular as the quartet from Liverpool, but they did carve out a significant niche for themselves as perhaps the most influential American rock band of the 1960s. Most folks over a certain age remember the Byrds only for their two iconic singles from 1965, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn,” but their output actually spanned from 1965 to 1973 and they influenced an entire generation of songwriters and musicians (including the Beatles and Dylan). Over the course of those eight years, the Byrds recorded twelve studio albums, which included 130 songs as well as a small number of singles-only 45s. Along the way, they pioneered such genres as folk-rock, jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic rock, and country-rock.

I initially thought it would be difficult choosing my favorite 25 Byrds songs and ranking them, but the process actually went very quickly. My choices admittedly don’t reflect the beaten path consensus – only 9 of my selections were included as part of the 22 songs collected in the The Byrds’ Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 albums. The designation of songs selected for those albums as “Hits,” especially those songs in Vol. 2, was a misnomer. The last time a Byrds tune made it to the AM Top 40 was in March 1967. The band’s roster changed significantly over the years and by 1969 Roger McGuinn was the only founding member still involved. The quality of the music declined significantly at that point, which will be noticeable by the songs that were chosen; only 7 of the 25 songs selected were recorded after the Summer of 1968.

Enough with the wordy introductions. Next Wednesday we’ll begin our The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs series with song #25 and count it down each week to song #1.

Postcript: For the index to my reviews of the Byrds’ twelve albums, see here.

Throwback Thursday: It’s amazing what the Lord can use!

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 16, 2016 and has been revised.

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Following their excellent fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (January 1968), the Byrds were at a crossroads. Members David Crosby (rhythm guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) had been fired during the “Notorious” recording sessions, leaving Roger McGuinn (lead guitar) and Chris Hillman (bass) to complete the project. Gram Parsons was subsequently hired to fill Crosby’s spot. McGuinn had wanted the next Byrds LP to be a double-album of songs representing the entire history of the American music catalog, from Appalachian jug tunes to electronic synthesizer progressive rock, but country music fans, Parsons and Hillman, had other ideas.

The band traveled to Nashville in the Spring of 1968 to record what would become their next album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” The 11 songs were straight-ahead country with hardly a trace of rock n’ roll. When the band returned to LA, the record execs decided newcomer Parsons had too large of a presence on the studio tapes. A few of his lead vocals were replaced with McGuinn’s. One of the songs, “The Christian Life” (listen below), had first been released by the Louvin Brothers in 1959. McGuinn attempted an imitation of Parson’s Southern drawl on the song, which bordered on the criminal.

After its release in August, 1968, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” only reached #77 on the Billboard charts. At the time, the pioneering album was way too red-neck for the Byrds’ hippie fans while no self-respecting country fan was going to buy anything from a hippie band like the Byrds. It took a few years, but rock n’ roll audiences eventually embraced country-rock.

I became a Byrds fan shortly after the band stopped recording in 1971 and began buying up their 11-album catalog. When I listened to “Sweetheart” for the first time, I was like, “Yech! What’s with this country hillbilly stuff?” And I wasn’t at all pleased with “The Christian Life” or Hillman’s cover of  “I Am a Pilgrim.” I was a Roman Catholic and like any self-respecting cultural Catholic, I didn’t go for all that Jesus stuff.

Parsons, McGuinn, and Hillman sang those Christian songs tongue-in-cheek, as a lark, but former-Catholic, Roger McGuinn, ended up accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. I know the Holy Spirit used those two songs in my own journey to Christ.


The Christian Life

My buddies tell me that I should’ve waited
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
But I still love them and I sing with pride
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise
I like the Christian life

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
I live without them and walk in the light
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise

I like the Christian life
I like the Christian life

I Am A Pilgrim

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

I’ve got a mother, sister and a brother
Who have gone this way before
I am determined to go and see them, good Lord
For they’re on that other shore

I’m goin’ down to the river of Jordan
Just to bathe my wearisome soul
If I can just touch the hem of his garment, good Lord
Then I know he’d take me home

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

Additional Gospel songs later recorded by the Byrds would include “Oil In My Lamp” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” from Ballad of Easy Rider (1969), “Glory, Glory” from Byrdmaniax (1971), and “Farther Along” from Farther Along (1971).

See my 1400-word review of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” written in 2018 here.

Chris Hillman, pioneer of country-rock, recounts his stints in the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose Band, etc.

Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond
By Chris Hillman
BMG, 2020, 238 pp.

With the arrival of the British Invasion and “Beatlemania” in 1964, folk musicians, Jim McGuinn (twelve-string, lead guitar), Gene Clark, and David Crosby (rhythm guitar) saw the writing on the wall and united to form a rock n’ roll band. Chris Hillman, (bass guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) were added and the Byrds were born. The band had phenomenal success right out of the gate with their first recording, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” going to #1 on the singles charts and their same-titled album, released in June, 1965, peaking at #6 on the album charts. The Byrds’ unique sound, a melding of folk music and rock n’ roll, influenced a generation of songwriters and musicians.

In this very enjoyable memoir, Chris Hillman recounts his career, beginning with his boyhood years growing up in Rancho Santa Fe, California, his development as a country-bluegrass musician, and his unlikely recruitment into the Byrds at the tender age of nineteen. After several personnel changes, Hillman’s role in the Byrds grew, and he and new recruit, Gram Parsons, steered the band into country music with the pioneering album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Parsons and Hillman then broke away from the Byrds and founded the influential country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers (1968-1972).

Following the Burritos, Hillman was involved in the following notable ventures while continuing to hone his skills as a musician, singer, and songwriter:

  • Manassas with Stephen Stills (1971-1973)
  • Byrds’ founding members’ reunion album (1973)
  • Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (1973-1975)
  • Solo albums, Slippin’ Away (1976) and Clear Sailin’ (1977)
  • McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman (1977-1981)

Following MCH, Hillman returned to his country-bluegrass roots with three, small-label albums, leading to the formation of the Desert Rose Band (1985-1994), where he enjoyed his most satisfying professional success as the leader and frontman of the popular country music band.

After DRB folded, Hillman kept busy with a number of small-label releases, always including friend and ex-DRB bandmate, Herb Pedersen.

Hillman intermixes his professional history with many personal reflections including the inevitable internecine squabbles with bandmates. Hillman was sixteen when his father committed suicide in 1961, which scarred the boy and fueled ugly rages throughout his life. Hillman claimed to have accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1973, through the witness of Christian bandmate, Al Perkins, but would eventually “convert” to the legalistic sacramentalism of his wife, Connie’s, Greek Orthodox church.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Being a long-time fan of the Byrds and their offshoots, I already knew many of the stories, but Hillman does provide some fresh insights. The preliminaries are a bit too long for my taste. Hillman doesn’t actually document his initiation into the Byrds until page 67, nearly one-third of the way through the book, but that’s a minor criticism. The takeaway is the interesting story of a very shy, young musician of limited abilities, who, despite plenty of adversity, determinedly persisted and made himself into a remarkable talent and showman. No one in attendance at those early Byrds concerts in 1965, including his bandmates, would have guessed that the shy bass player with his back to the audience would go on to carve out a distinguished, fifty-five-year career. Those in the know recognize Chris Hillman, now age 75, as one of the principal pioneers of the country-rock sound, which would later be successfully commercialized by the Eagles.

Chris Hillman today

Status of the other founding members of the Byrds: Gene Clark (d.1991) and Michael Clarke (d.1993) died from drug and alcohol abuse. After achieving fame and success as a member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, David Crosby nearly ended his life due to drug addiction before spending five-months in prison and drying out in 1986. He continues making albums and touring. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn also became heavily involved with drugs. In 1977, with his life spiraling out of control, McGuinn accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He also continues to record and tour and publicly profess his faith. See my post about McGuinn here. For my reviews of all twelve of the Byrds’ albums, see my index here.

Below: The Byrds’ recording of “Time Between,” written by Chris Hillman, from the 1967 album, “Younger Than Yesterday.” That’s guest artist and future Byrd, Clarence White, masterfully delivering some very tasty country guitar licks. Nope, that’s not a pedal steel guitar Clarence is playing, it’s a 1954-model Fender Telecaster modified with a B-Bender.

Fundamental-ish

Fun-da-men-tal-ish
By Dr. Jeff Farnham
Sword of the Lord Publishers, 2019, 139 pp.

2 Stars

I saw this short book advertised in “The Sword of the Lord” recently and thought it might be interesting to read independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) pastor, Dr.* Jeff Farnham’s (formerly of LaGrange Baptist Church, LaGrange, Indiana) views on IFB churches that he contends have compromised their status from being fundamentalist to “fundamental-ish,” i.e., still teaching the fundamentals of the faith, but compromising on important secondaries.

In his opening section, Farnham rebuts the appeal to “Christian liberty” as an excuse to compromise fundamentalist principles. He argues that wise and mature fundamentalists must continue to uphold their convictions even more strongly so as not to be stumbling blocks to the weaker, less mature brethren.

Farnham then gets into the meat of the book; the specific areas where he believes compromising fundamentalists have become fundamental-ish:

Worship Music – Farnham is distressed that some compromising IFB pastors are incorporating Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and drums into their worship music. Farnham notes that CCM music employs “a syncopated thumping that accents the off-beat and diminishes the downbeat and creates agitation.” He judges all such music to be “spiritually oppressing and sensually provocative” (p.61). Farnham notes that IFB pastors in the past commonly referred to such music as “jungle music,” and while he acknowledges that many would find that term to be “racially insensitive,” he believes it is accurate.

Attire – Farnham judges that compromising IFB churches are allowing and encouraging people to wear inappropriate clothing. Amidst some other, superfluous examples, the PRIMARY issue for Farnham boils down to whether women should be able to wear pants. Farnham doesn’t believe so, citing Deuteronomy 22:5. He attempts to rebut all opposing rationale.

Education, Entertainment, Employment – Farnham contends that fundamental-ish compromisers allow their children to be educated at godless public schools and that they prioritize worldly entertainment and employment (working on Sundays) over God, church, and an obedient Christian lifestyle.

Church Names – Farnham bemoans the fact that some IFB churches have removed “Baptist” and/or “Church” from their names, opting instead for such compromised, culture-pleasing titles as “The Potter’s House” or “Messiah Fellowship.”

As Christians, we all have beliefs and opinions regarding these secondary issues. The IFB movement no doubt represents the most conservative of viewpoints. I attended an IFB church from 1983 to 1991 and the focus and constant brow-beating over the “dos and don’ts” is a bitter memory. The IFB is no doubt in steep decline compared to those days and this book testifies to the increasing squabbling and infighting as the movement struggles to survive and an ever-growing number of IFB pastors fail to “hold the line.” Some readers of this review may be surprised that pants and short hair on women are still issues. Yup, they are in the IFB. Farnham doesn’t mention it in this book, but another disturbing characteristic of IFB churches is their idolatrous propagation of American Christian nationalism. Whether IFB pastors like it or not, the term, “fundamentalist,” is resoundingly understood as a pejorative by the general public these days. The movement’s prideful loyalty to that other-era term is a stumbling block to the Gospel it professes to desire to sow.

Farnham has a few good points. As Christians we can rationalize and become too chummy with the world. But the IFB’s extremism and “majoring on the minors” breeds a “bunker mentality” that pits the Christian against the world rather than fostering an emissarial approach to the world.

Recommended only for those curious about the current state of the IFB movement.

*IFB pastors stereotypically love to append their honorary doctorate titles to their names.

Throwback Thursday: Turn! Turn! Turn! Roger McGuinn and Jesus

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 24, 2016 and has been revised.

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As a young teen, I became a huge fan of the rock group, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young). I was such a dedicated admirer that I even began exploring the back-catalogs of the members’ previous bands, including David Crosby’s stint with the Byrds. I eventually became a bigger fan of the Byrds than CS&N.

The Byrds came together in 1964 with Jim McGuinn on lead guitar and vocals, Gene Clark on vocals, David Crosby on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Hillman on bass, and Michael Clarke on drums. They were all folk musicians who had seen the writing on the wall with the rising tide of Beatlemania and attempted to make the switch to rock ‘n’ roll. Their resulting sound, with the instantly-identifiable, jingle-jangle of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar and Crosby’s high vocal harmonies, was a unique blend of folk and rock; a synthesis of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

The Byrds’ first two albums were wildly successful and influential, but the band’s popularity gradually waned as rock music began drifting toward a “heavier” sound. Over the years, band members came and went and by 1968, McGuinn (pronounced mik-gwin) remained as the only founding member. But McGuinn and his hired hands continued to release albums and tour as the Byrds until 1973 when he disbanded the group to begin his solo career.

At the peak of the Byrd’s popularity, McGuinn, a former Roman Catholic, began dabbling in Subud, a form of Eastern religiosity, and subsequently changed his first name from Jim to Roger in 1967 as part of his initiation. The Byrds’ recorded repertoire included a large number of songs with a spiritual theme, which no doubt reflected McGuinn’s restless spiritual search: Turn! Turn! Turn!, 5D, I Am A Pilgrim, The Christian Life, Oil in My Lamp, Jesus Is Just Alright, Glory Glory, and Farther Along.

Drugs were a staple of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and McGuinn was a regular imbiber. By 1977, heavy drug use had brought McGuinn to the lowest point in his life. Elvis Presley’s drug-induced death in August of that year was a wake up call. McGuinn thought to himself, “That could have easily been me.” The Holy Spirit was working in McGuinn’s life and after talking with some Christian friends, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Being a huge Byrds fan at the time (and currently still), I thought McGuinn’s acceptance of Christ and becoming one of those “born-agains” was some very strange and disappointing stuff. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit was using McGuinn’s conversion, along with many other people and things, to also prod me along. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior six years later in 1983.

McGuinn’s witness continued to affect my life. Five years ago (2015), I was reading an online article in which Roger described how he and his wife had a daily devotion time together, during which they read a Psalm, a Proverb, and a chapter from the Old and New Testaments and prayed. My wife and I had never had a daily devotion time together. I suggested it to my wife and she gladly agreed and it’s been a huge blessing in our lives ever since!

At the age of 78, Roger continues to tour and delight audiences. Nobody plays the twelve-string quite like him.

Just one look, back, at the Hollies

It’s time for a little pandemic lockdown frivolity!

The Hollies: Look Through Any Window, 1963-1975
Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2011, 120 minutes

4 Stars

I’ve told the story several times about how I became a fan of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young) back in 1969 at the age of thirteen. I liked the group so much that I delved into the back catalogs of the members’ previous bands; David Crosby’s Byrds and Steve Stills’ (and Neil Young’s) Buffalo Springfield. To each their own, but of the three amigos, I liked Graham Nash’s songs the least. They were way too heavy on the saccharine for my taste. But being the nerdy completist that I was, I also lightly delved into the back catalog of Nash’s previous band, the Hollies.

During this COVID-19 quarantine, I was looking to fill some time and stumbled across this documentary on Amazon and decided to queue it up on the turntable for a spin for nostalgia’s sake.

Graham Nash and Allan Clarke grew up as grammar school mates in Manchester, England and both had a talent for singing. With the rise of rock and roll, the pair aspired to forming their own band. The duo founded the Hollies in 1962, and after several personnel changes, they cemented their hit-making line-up in 1966 with Clarke as the lead vocalist and frontman, Nash on rhythm guitar (barely) and vocals, Tony Hicks on lead guitar and vocals, Bernie Calvert on bass guitar, and Bobby Elliot on drums. The band had phenomenal success in the U.K.  – 18 Top Ten singles – and to a lesser degree, in the States (6 Top Ten). The Hollies were especially noted for their unique vocal blend with Nash’s high harmonies nicely complementing Clarke’s tenor lead and Hicks rounding out the bottom.

Like the Beatles and most of the other bands that were part of the early years of the British Invasion (1964-1967), the Hollies were strictly a pop band that played songs with simple melodies and simple lyrics for their teeny bopper audiences. But whereas the Beatles and others progressed into more sophisticated musical forms, the Hollies largely stayed in their bubble-gum lane. A frustrated Nash prodded the group to expand their horizons, resulting in the slightly-adventurous albums, “Evolution” (1967) and “Butterfly” (1967), but the increasing tensions caused him to finally part with the band in 1968 and begin his tenure with CSN&Y.

This documentary traces the history of the Hollies from their start to their less-successful, post-Nash years. There’s interesting interviews with Nash, Clarke, Hicks, and Elliot. Twenty-two song performances are included in the video. Some are live and some are lip-synched. The only criticism I have of this documentary is that each song is played in its entirety. Many of the lesser-known songs should have been sampled and the interview segments expanded.

Clarke retired from the band in 2000 and Hicks and Elliot soldier on as the Hollies with journeymen filling the slots. The Hollies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Hollies’ 18 U.K. Top Ten singles:

  • 1963 – Stay
  • 1964 – Just One Look – Here I Go Again – We’re Through
  • 1965 – Yes I Will – I’m Alive – Look Through Any Window
  • 1966 – I Can’t Let Go – Bus Stop – Stop, Stop, Stop
  • 1967 – On A Carousel – Carrie-Anne
  • 1968 – Jennifer Eccles
  • 1969 – Sorry Suzanne – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother
  • 1970 – I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top
  • 1974 – The Air That I Breathe
  • 1988 – He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother (re-release)

Three “shoulda been Top Tens”: One of my favorite Hollies songs, “Dear Eloise” (1967), wasn’t released as a single in the U.K. and only made it to #50 in the U.S. Although it performed only modestly in the U.K. (#32), “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” (1971) was a huge #2 hit in the U.S.  The excellent “Long Dark Road” (1972) was released only in the U.S. and peaked at a disappointing #26.

Postscript: As the documentary ends and the closing credits roll, an excellent 1971 rendition of the Hollies singing “Amazing Grace” a capella plays in the background.

Crosby vs. McGuinn: Year 52

I’m not one to pay much attention to soap operas, but I’ve been observing this one for fifty years…

Growing up back in the 1960s, my five older sisters always had a Beatles LP spinning on the turntable. But I eventually blazed my own trail by becoming a fan of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which led to exploring David Crosby’s back-catalog with the Byrds. I really loved the Byrds with their signature sound of Roger McGuinn’s jingly-jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar complemented by Crosby’s high vocal harmonies. But I also learned there had been tremendous discord in the camp. Laid-back McGuinn was the de facto leader of the group, however, the free-spirited, outspoken Crosby constantly grated against that. As Crosby developed as a songwriter, the conflicts and tensions escalated to the point that McGuinn and Byrds’ bassist, Chris Hillman, drove to Crosby’s house one afternoon in 1967 and fired him from the band.

Crosby went on to bigger things with CS&N, but the resentment and discord never completely healed. By 1969, McGuinn was the only founding band member remaining, but he kept the ersatz Byrds going until 1973. His subsequent solo career achieved only so-so success and he spiraled into heavy drug use. In 1977, at rock-bottom, former-Roman Catholic, McGuinn, accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior! At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh, no! McGuinn has become one of those born-agains!”

McGuinn and Crosby have kept in touch – barely – over the years and participated together in a few (very) short-term projects, however McGuinn keeps a bit of a distance. He has repeatedly resisted Crosby’s MANY overtures to reunite the remaining Byrds (himself, Crosby, and Hillman) for a concert tour. On the occasion of the band’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the Byrds noticeably did not reunite because of McGuinn’s reluctance. McGuinn has explained in a couple of interviews that he declines to be yoked with unbeliever Crosby in another venture (2 Corinthians 6:14). I’m sure that McGuinn deals with many unbelievers in his ongoing solo career, but the thing about Crosby is he’s still very pushy, spews obscenities in his regular conversation, and constantly tokes marijuana.

Despite their differences, McGuinn has had nothing but kind remarks to say to, and about, his former bandmate, but Crosby’s recent documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” has reopened old wounds. Crosby, who is well-known for his frequent and blunt chatter on Twitter, recently blocked McGuinn from his account. Well, he’s undoubtedly hurt that McGuinn refuses work with him.

The McGuinn-Crosby friendship/feud has been played out in public for 52 years. Why should we even care about this on-again, off-again soap opera? Because it’s an amazing irony. Crosby still crusades for peace, love, and harmony in his songs and tours, but he’s not going to find it outside of Jesus Christ.

Note how the Tweeter below supports Crosby’s decision to block his old bandmate by scoffing at McGuinn for proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel in a tweet he posted back in March:

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David Crosby Does Not Want to Read Roger McGuinn’s Tweets
https://www.spin.com/2019/12/david-crosby-roger-mcguinn-twitter-block/

The birth of “folk-rock” in the hills of Los Angeles

Echo in the Canyon
Directed by Andrew Slater and featuring Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Jakob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, and Lou Adler
Greenwich Entertainment, 2018, 82 min

4 Stars

In the early-1960s, young people gravitated to two types of music; there was rock-and-roll for teeny boppers and the “unsophisticated,” and there was folk music for college students and the “socially conscious.” Both groups eyed each other and their music with contempt. But when the Beatles came to America in 1964 and took the country by storm with their infectious brand of rock-and-roll, a few young folk musicians took notice.

In Los Angeles, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn hooked up with fellow struggling folkies, Gene Clark and David Crosby, to form the Byrds and together they created a synthesis of folk music and rock-and-roll. It was one of those rare moments of “game-changing” creativity. The new style of music, dubbed “folk-rock,” was a huge success and had a powerful influence. Both the Beatles and Bob Dylan, folk music’s premier troubadour, were paying attention and changed course; the Beatles became more cerebral and Dylan plugged in. Young musicians and songwriters who were hip to the new sound flocked to Los Angeles where it was “happening.” With some serious paychecks now coming in, Crosby bought a house in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and was followed by many other like-minded artists. For a brief period, 1965-1968, Laurel Canyon was THE place to be.

Former record company executive, Andrew Slater, put together this documentary to capture some of the excitement of that particular time and place. Host, Jakob Dylan (son of Bob), takes the audience on a journey that includes archived footage and interviews. Dylan and his young friends (Beck, Jade Castrinos, Justine Bennett, Regina Spektor) ruminate on the impact the Laurel Canyon sound had on popular music and perform some of the old chestnuts in concert.

I had been meaning to catch “Echo in the Canyon” at Rochester’s art house movie theater. Having missed it there, I was pleased to see it was already available via Amazon Prime videos. Being an old Byrds/Buffalo Springfield fan, I really enjoyed this documentary. But I was even happier when I listened to my wife describe the film to one of our sons over the phone the next day. She told him the Laurel Canyon musicians sang about peace, love, and universal brotherhood, but they couldn’t get along themselves. Hey, that’s my line! Yup, Jesus Christ is the ONLY answer.

Postscript: Many have asked why one of Laurel Canyon’s most celebrated former residents and artists, Joni Mitchell, is conspicuously missing from this documentary? Well, Joni has been scathingly critical of Bob Dylan in several interviews and I’m sure Jakob Dylan was not enthusiastic about featuring her in any form or fashion. Peace? Love? Harmony?