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The Byrds, American band of the 1960s who popularized folk rock, particularly the songs of Bob Dylan, and whose changes in personnel created an extensive family tree of major country rock bands and rock supergroups.
Among the pioneers of folk rock, their popularity in the mid-’60s rivaled that of the Beatles. The Byrds’ characteristic sound was McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.
Names before the Byrds include: the Jet Set, the Beefeaters. They misspelled “Byrds” as their nod to the Beatles.
They’re distinctive sound came naturally soon after they started performing together. “We had come out of folk music, so we had a sense of time and rhythm,” Chris Hillman said in an interview. “It was just basically transposing it into an electric format.”
When Clark left the band, the media was told it was because he had a fear of flying; a quote by McGuinn saying, “You can’t be a Byrd if you can’t fly” made the rounds.
Clark debunked this in a 1983 interview. “The fear of flying wasn’t why I quit the group,” he said. “When you’re 19, 20 years old and you start on a fantasy, then six months later you’re hanging out with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it can cause you to become a little disturbed. The reason for the group’s breakup was much less the fear of flying than it was we were too young to handle the amount of success that was thrown at us all at once.”
Crosby went on to fame in Crosby, Stills and Nash. Parsons and Hillman formed the Flying Burrito Brothers.
White was a former bluegrass guitarist.
The Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 16, 1991, the same night the US began airstrikes on Baghdad.
Roger (Jim, as he was known then) McGuinn, had been in the New Christy Minstrels before joining the Byrds.
David Crosby recalled to Uncut magazine how The Byrds started: “I started going up and hanging out with Roger and Gene, we would sing together at The Troubadour,” he said. “Gene was from a family of 11 from somewhere like Mississippi, he had no clue what the rules were, so he would just do it in a way that somebody else hadn’t thought of. And Roger was so smart, who listened to and go, ‘Well, we could just do this and this to it,’ and boom, it’s a record! I almost hate giving Roger as much credit as I do, but you can’t deny it – he was a moving force behind that band, and he did create the arrangements for the songs.”
During the late 1940s, Roger McGuinn’s parents, Jim and Dorothy, wrote a best-selling book which was a satire of Baby And Child Care, Dr. Spock’s famed child-rearing manual. McGuinn recalled to Mojo: “It was called Parents Can’t Win and it was based on their experiences trying to raise me using child psychology and how it backfired all the time. It was considered very topical and sold well.”
Roger McGuinn recalled to Mojo that he once had a jam session with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in New York but “couldn’t get a note in edgewise.” He added that he’s comfortable with his own style rather than trying to keep with his guitar heroes – “I really like the sound of a Rickenbacker.”
When Chris Hillman received an offer to join a new band, The Byrds, as bass guitarist, he agreed despite never having picked up the instrument before. Writing in his memoir, Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond, Hillman explained he was aware of how talented band members Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby were. So, when he was invited to audition, he lied and said he knew how to play the bass. “Total bluff, the greatest poker bluff ever,” Hillman declared.
The Byrds’ debut single, a version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” went to number one in 1965, breaking the British Invasion’s year-long dominance of Top 40 airplay and record sales in the United States. They introduced Dylan’s songwriting to a new, commercially empowered, teenage pop audience and, in the process, established Los Angeles as the creative hotbed of a new, “mod,” distinctly American style of rock. The Byrds’ trademark sound—a luminous blend of 12-string electric guitar and madrigal-flavoured vocal harmonies—spiked the Appalachian folk music tradition with the rhythmic vitality of the Beatles and the sunny hedonism of southern California. On early albums, the Byrds covered Dylan, Pete Seeger, Porter Wagoner, and Stephen Foster with a jangly clarity that reflected young America’s changing mood and its fantasies of a Pacific Coast utopia.
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