The Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF) announced its inaugural class of inductees in September 2023. The first induction ceremonies will take place in April although an exact date has not yet been announced. This is the fourth in a series of articles about FARHOF’s inaugural class and again focuses on the Duo or Group of Musicians category. This category recognizes performers whose initial impact on the genre was at least 25 years prior to the year of Induction.
To everything there is a season. The Weavers brought folk music back to the forefront of the public conscience in the post-World War II era. As their season in the sun began to fade, Peter, Paul, and Mary – with their emphasis on individual vocal personalities – reclaimed folk’s potency as a social, cultural and political force. Folk music was experiencing another revival at the dawn of the decade of the sixties.
Another music form was experiencing a revival of its own as the mid-sixties arrived, one that threatened folk music’s appeal to the younger generation. The Beatles ushered in the British Invasion. Rock’n’roll, which had been weakened by the deaths of some of its brightest stars and tarnished by the payola scandals of the late fifties, experienced a renaissance and entered its golden age.
For The Byrds, it was their season. Jim McGuinn (later known as Roger McGuinn), Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke came together in 1964 Los Angeles seeking a sound that would put them on the music map. All, except Clarke, had some experience with folk, bluegrass, and even country music. Their focus on high harmonies, ringing guitar work, and studio techniques plus a meeting with Bob Dylan would soon propel them to the top of the music charts.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” hit Number One in the summer of 1965. According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was a time of “unparalleled Top Forty magnificence.” The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride,” the Rolling Stones’ “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction,” and Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” set the tone that year. “Mr. Tambourine Man” was transformed from Dylan’s sleepy, dreamlike, fantasy filled musing folk ballad to one with a rock edge to it, filled with high harmonies. Upon hearing the recording before its release, Dylan enthusiastically commented, “Wow, man! You can dance to that!”
The press coined the term “folk-rock” to describe the Byrds sound. Thus, folk music again experienced a rebirth if not a revival.
The list of well known songs recorded by the Byrds is impressive:
- Turn! Turn! Turn!
- I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better
- All I Really Want To Do
- My Back Pages
- Eight Miles High
- You Ain’t Going Nowhere
- So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star
The Byrds original line-up did not stay together long. McGuinn remained the sole consistent member of the band through 1973. He was considered by many to be the leader of the group but in reality Clark, Crosby, and Hillman all took turns along with McGuinn to sing lead vocals.
Gene Clark, who’d become the band’s primary songwriter, left the group in February of 1966. His abrupt departure was partly due to his fear of flying but a more significant factor was the deterioration of his relationship with McGuinn.
David Crosby left in 1967, as did Michael Clarke. Crosby’s ego was wearing on McGuinn and Hillman, and his disputes with McGuinn along with his attempts at influencing the direction of the band ruffled more than a few feathers. Clarke also had disputes with McGuinn and was increasingly dissatisfied with the material being written. Chris Hillman would leave the Byrds in 1968 due to financial misappropriation by their management.
The Byrds would continue in one incarnation or another into the 21st Century. Additional members included Gram Parsons and Clarence White. During Parsons’ time with the band they developed a country-rock sound that would be a precursor to the Eagles, Poco, the Stone Canyon Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Pure Prairie League, and Buffalo Springfield.
Their legacy perhaps is greater than the sum of their hits. In addition to folk-rock and country-rock, some consider them to be in the forefront of progressive rock. Music historian Domenic Priore put it in his book Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in 60s Hollywood: “Few of The Byrds’ contemporaries can claim to have made such a subversive impact on popular culture. The band had a much larger, more positive impact on the world at large than any Billboard chart position or album sales or concert attendance figure could possibly measure.”