October ’68 – Dillard and Clark: A Most Exellent Journey

Dillard & Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark

Continuing from my previous post featuring the great songwriter and Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, today we’re celebrating the second Clark record after setting out on his own, though technically it’s not a solo album.  The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was released 50 years ago this month, just a couple of months after what is widely considered the seminal introduction to the country rock genre – the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – and a few months after the lesser-known Safe at Home by Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band.  The album features a collaboration of Clark with banjo and fiddle virtuoso Doug Dillard of the famous bluegrass family and group, the Dillards, as well as future Burrito Brother and Eagle, Bernie Leadon.

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I shared some background on Clark in my tribute here, and in Doug Dillard he found not only a freewheelin’ partner in crime in the emerging country rock genre, but also a fellow native of the Show Me State of Missouri.  Dillard (1937-2012) hailed from Salem, a couple of hilly hours away from Clark’s hometown of Tipton.  The Dillards were an established bluegrass act in the early 1960’s when they landed a recurring role as the fictional bluegrass group The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show, appearing at various times from 1963-66.

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The Dillards as The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show.  Doug is at bottom left.

This first Dillard and Clark album was a collaborative effort.  Though Clark took on the bulk of the songwriting, credits were shared with the multi-instrumentalist Dillard, as well as Leadon, who added banjo and guitar – the connection being Leadon’s previous involvement in the same San Diego teen bluegrass band as future Byrds member and Clark band mate Chris Hillman, who also contributes mandolin on two tracks on this album.

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Due to the group’s personnel and timing of its release, The Fantastic Expedition… has understandably been compared with the Byrds great country rock achievement, not to mention that of the Flying Burrito Bros. the following year.  No doubt, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, this Dillard and Clark debut, and the Gilded Palace of Sin make for a great triple listening experience.  But whereas the Byrds and Burritos albums lean heavily on the pure country element, The Fantastic Expedition… features more of a bluegrass flavor complimented by vintage country.

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This album flows beautifully.  While Sweetheart of the Rodeo, as great as it is, does sound to me like a rock band playing country – especially on the tracks where McGuinn’s vocals are recorded over Parsons’ original takes – Dillard and Clark sound more seasoned at what they were doing, and they were.  In his AllMusic review, Mark Deming writes, “…they created a mature and confident sound that was exciting, thoughtful, and deeply soulful in a way those better-known albums were not.”

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Have a listen to the opening track, Clark’s Out on the Side, for example.  I wrote in an earlier post that I don’t comprehend exactly what Gram Parsons’ term “Cosmic American Music” means, but crank this track or listen through headphones.  Its harmonies and heavy-yet-quiet pattering drums are as “cosmic” as anything you’ll hear in the country rock genre.  Frankly, the same goes for the the second song, She Darked the Sun, with its lyric:

She walked into my life with her cold evil eyes
With the length of her mind she darked the sun

From there the tracks vary in tempo, and it’s hard to imagine the musicians having anything but a great time laying them down.  The whole album is a perfect combination of virtuoso playing and some of the strongest singing of Gene Clark’s career.  Other favorites for me are Train Leaves Here This Morning – a song which makes me think of riverboats on the Mighty Mississippi during simpler times – featuring Donald Beck’s mandolin, With Care from Someone and The Radio Song, both with Andy Belling’s cool electric harpsichord, and In the Plan with its fantastic harmonies.

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On stage at the Troubadour (L-R):  Bernie Leadon, Michael Clarke, Gene Clark, Doug Dillard.

Because of Clark’s refusal to tour due to his fear of flying, Dillard and Clark’s live presence was limited to a few notoriously drunken performances at L.A.’s Troubadour.  They would follow-up with a second and final album a year later which was less acclaimed but still very good.  As a common theme running throughout the work of Gene Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was a bolt of lightning and clap of thunder that relatively few people saw or heard.  It came about as a result of informal jamming between Gene and Doug, and with the rest of the band they fine tuned their sound into something timeless.  Again from AllMusic’s Deming:

Time has been kinder to this album than most of the genre’s founding works, and it’s a work rooted in tradition while reveling in freedom and new ideas and making the most of them all.

Cosmic, man.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Out on the Side
  2. She Darked the Sun
  3. Don’t Come Rollin’
  4. Train Leaves Here This Morning

Side Two:

  1. With Care from Someone
  2. The Radio Song
  3. Git It On Brother
  4. In the Plan
  5. Something’s Wrong

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fantastic_Expedition_of_Dillard_%26_Clark

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-fantastic-expedition-of-dillard-clark-mw0000783755

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dillard_%26_Clark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dillards

Gene Clark: The Byrd Who Wouldn’t Fly

It’s a rainy day in early October 2018, and Gene Clark still hasn’t received his full due.  It is happening, though.  Slowly but surely.  And, it’s somewhat remarkable considering we’re over 50 years removed from the first hits which he wrote, and it’s mostly the result of extremely well curated archival releases on small labels, well-written biographies and video documentaries, acknowledgements from current artists, and good ‘ol grass-roots efforts.

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I must admit, I’m symbolic of how Gene has been overlooked by mainstream music fans over the years.  Though I was born a few years after Clark’s first and most important stint with the Byrds, I became a fan of that band at a young age – yet I had no idea until the 1990’s that Gene Clark was from my home state of Missouri and that he had written some of the Byrds’ earliest hits.  So, how did he become another unsung troubadour, a “songwriter’s songwriter,” who died too young, a somewhat obscure figure to the masses?  Call it a combination of personal choices, phobias, and bad luck.

Gene Clark was born in the small, central Missouri town of Tipton on November 17, 1944.  Early on, his family moved to the Kansas City area.  By the time he graduated from Bonner Springs High School he was a folk music convert in a band called the Surf Riders.  While playing a gig in Kansas City, he was discovered late one evening by members of the New Christy Minstrels (whose lineup included Barry McGuire) who hired him on the spot and with whom he recorded two albums in the early-mid 1960’s.  Upon hearing the Beatles for the first time, he quit the group and moved to L.A. where he met Jim McGuinn at the Troubadour Club, and the seeds of the Byrds were sewn.

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The classic Byrds lineup (L-R):  Hillman, Crosby, Michael Clarke, McGuinn, and Gene Clark.

From 1964-66, the biggest singles recorded by the Byrds not written by Bob Dylan were written by Clark, including Set You Free This Time, I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better, Eight Miles High, and She Don’t Care About Time.  But internal issues within the Byrds led to Clark quitting just as the band took flight.  These included their management’s decision that McGuinn would sing the major singles, including the Dylan covers.  Additionally, Clark’s fear of flying (which Crosby alluded to in the song Psychodrama City) was an obvious hindrance to touring.  Finally, there was resentment of the others toward Clark due to the songwriting royalties he was receiving while they were still struggling – something McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman acknowledge today as due to their immaturity at the time.  They were all so young and talented, and extremely ambitious.  Something had to give.

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Clark, showing the master where the new direction of music was headed.

Clark’s first solo album (though co-credited), Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, was a critical success.  It’s a fully realized, damn-near perfect country rock album right out of the gate.  Unfortunately, it was not promoted well and was released very close to the same time as his former band the Byrds’ Younger than Yesterday, which meant his record was mostly overlooked by the media and public.  Add to this his refusal to tour, and his fate as a solo artist was mostly set.

Going forward, he would release six more critically acclaimed albums, including his next two with Doug Dillard.  He also returned, along with David Crosby, to the Byrds for one final attempt at a reunion album in 1973, but it was a flop.  Additionally, he joined McGuinn and Hillman for a brief period.  But by the 1970’s, Gene’s time in the studio became sporadic.  He purchased a home in northern California and mostly avoided the L.A. scene, living off Byrds royalties.  He married and started a family, but his consumption of alcohol and other substances which drag a fellow down increased until he was mostly forgotten.

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Clark, circa 1974

Sadly, his final straw came about as a result of something which should’ve been the instigation of a Gene Clark revival:  the release of Tom Petty’s version of I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better on his 1989 Full Moon Fever album.  Clark became flush with cash from songwriting royalties thanks to Petty, but he was also heavily addicted, and there his money and health went.  In January of 1991, all five original Byrds put aside their differences and took the stage for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.  Four months later, on May 24, 1991, Gene Clark died of heart failure at the age of 46.

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One final hurrah:  the original Byrds lineup at the R&R Hall induction in January 1991.  Four month later, Clark (far right) was no longer with us.

There would be no latter career mega-group participation for him, nor would there be well orchestrated, 21st century, sober, smaller theater tours for the next generation (or two) of his fans to express their appreciation for the brilliant music he made.  There would be, however, a legion of fans and critical acclaim, both growing by the day, as well as a legacy of some of the greatest songwriting of all time.  Some of this can be heard on two recent releases consisting of amazing, previously unheard Clark recordings.

There would also be inevitable comparisons to other songwriting troubadours who left us too soon, namely Gram Parsons.  The thing is, if you aren’t already familiar with Gene Clark, you’ll have to discover him on your own.  Like Gram, Townes Van Zandt, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, etc., you’re not likely to hear Gene Clark on the radio.  But he’s not hard to find.  In fact, his music’s been around us all along.

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Full Circle:  Gene Clark’s final resting place in Tipton, MO, a couple of country miles from where I grew up.

As the main theme of my blog, begun in 2018, is 50th anniversaries of album releases, I missed out on celebrating Clark’s first solo album released in 1967 which I mentioned above.  Here it is in all its 28 minute folk/country/psychedelic/baroque-pop glory:

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Echoes
  2. Think I’m Gonna Feel Better
  3. Tried So Hard
  4. Is Yours Is Mine
  5. Keep on Pushin’
  6. I Found You

Side Two:

  1. So You Say You Lost Your Baby
  2. Elevator Operator
  3. The Same One
  4. Couldn’t Believe Her
  5. Needing Someone
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A very nice documentary by Four Suns Productions, complete with interviews with McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman.

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-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Clark

http://foursunsproductions.com/Gene-Clark-Documentary/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Clark_with_the_Gosdin_Brothers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Byrds#Ersatz_Byrds_and_further_reunions_(1989%E2%80%9391;_2000)