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  • Carl Z.
    Byrds boxed set gives refreshing angle on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 15, 2006
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      Byrds boxed set gives refreshing angle on the jingle jangle

      By Louis R. Carlozo
      Tribune staff reporter
      Published November 14, 2006

      Beatle George Harrison introduced the world to the Rickenbacker
      12-string electric guitar -- a revolutionary rock instrument for 1964
      -- with the chiming, timeless chord that opens "A Hard Day's Night."

      But it took a Chicago native, a 1960 Latin School graduate, an Old
      Town School of Folk Music student trained on banjo, to take the
      instrument to iridescent regions eight miles high and beyond.

      "It's not an easy instrument to master, especially the Rickenbacker,
      because the neck is so narrow," says Byrds founding member Roger
      McGuinn, whose music is celebrated on the CD/DVD package "The Byrds:
      There Is a Season" (Columbia/Legacy, $54.98). "I personally like the
      sound of it, the harpsichord quality of it. And when I saw George
      Harrison in `A Hard Day's Night,' I went out and traded in my Gibson
      12-string acoustic that Bobby Darin had given me; he had hired me as a
      12-string player."

      McGuinn's "jingle jangle" sound, as he calls it, dominates much of
      this four-CD, single DVD set, which traces the Byrds' evolution
      through the folk-rock movement to country-rock -- two spheres where
      the band became a pioneering force. Even today, bandmate and bassist
      Chris Hillman credits McGuinn with being the glue that sealed four
      very disparate musicians (including vocalist Gene Clark, drummer
      Michael Clarke and guitarist-vocalist David Crosby).

      "Roger was the best musician in the bunch," Hillman says. "He had been
      a session musician before the Byrds and he had to be right on the
      money timewise. To this day, I hold him in high regard as a great

      Not that Hillman was a slouch. Numerous authorities (including Stuart
      Shea, author of the recently published "The 1960s' Most Wanted")
      consider Hillman one of the most innovative bassists of the decade, up
      there with Paul McCartney and the Who's John Entwistle. But Hillman, a
      mandolin prodigy before joining the Byrds, sounds self-effacing
      discussing his entrance into the group.

      "David was going to be the bass player, but it wasn't comfortable for
      him," Hillman recalls. "I was probably the 15th guy they called, I
      don't know. But I saw something magical in the way they were doing
      things, so I bluffed my way in. And thank goodness I did."

      Speaking of bluffing, all of the 10 songs on the bonus DVD are
      lip-synced affairs from '60s TV. Still, that doesn't make them any
      less delightful to watch. The clip for "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"
      features the Byrds squeezed between two faux-brick towers crowned by
      caged go-go dancers -- their gyrations so frenetic it looks like the
      set will collapse on the boys at any moment.

      McGuinn recalls those video shoots with some amusement: "We had fun
      with those shows, we would always crack up when we did them. And we
      would trade clothes; sometimes I would wear Crosby's cape and he would
      wear my glasses. I just watch them and it brings back a lot of fun.
      Plus they're delightfully dated, with the dancers doing the frug in
      the background."

      Hillman compares the era to the 1996 Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You
      Do!," which depicts a fictional '60s group that hits it big overnight.
      "That was what the Byrds was like. That was who we were, and what we
      were," he says. McGuinn finds the movie analogy apt, though it brings
      back memories of a more manic sort.

      "The girls, the fans were actually pretty brutal," McGuinn recalls.
      "They tried to rip your clothes off, they stole my license plates,
      they tackled me running from the gig to my car. You thought you were
      in physical danger. It was before good security. Or monitors. Our
      first amplifier was basically a home stereo system."

      The Byrds, as Tom Petty writes in the liner notes, gave fans of
      American rock something to be proud of in the British invasion days.
      But remarkably, the original lineup never even made it to the two-year
      mark. Clark left after a nervous breakdown in early 1966; Crosby was
      fired by McGuinn and Hillman the following year, around the same time
      Clarke left. Crosby, of course, went on to greater fame in a certain
      supergroup with Stephen Stills and company, and the Byrds would later
      discover and recruit such legendary talents as Gram Parsons and
      Clarence White.

      Two original Byrds, Clark and Clarke, died shortly after the Byrds
      were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. To be sure,
      McGuinn and Hillman thrived long after the Byrds called it quits in
      1973. Through his Folk Den Project, started in 1995, McGuinn continues
      to preserve and record folk music gems, while Hillman has garnered
      praise for his work in the Desert Rose Band.

      What both men so astutely observe is that the Byrds, unlike the
      Beatles, were a collection of five musicians who didn't come up
      through the musical ranks as teenage friends: As soon as the band was
      formed, it was on a worldwide stage.

      "The worst analogy would be that it would be like having four
      ex-wives," Hillman laments. "Maybe things are best left sealed. But I
      miss Gene and Michael more than I can tell you. There is no animosity
      between us."
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