Gene Clark Biography

Harold Eugene Clark, 17 November 1944, Tipton, Missouri, USA, d. 24 May 1991, Sherman Oaks, California, USA. After playing in various teenage groups, Clark was offered a place in the sprawling New Christy Minstrels in late 1963. He stayed long enough to contribute to two albums, Merry Christmas and Land Of Giants, before returning to Los Angeles, where he teamed up with Jim (Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby in the Jet Set. This fledgling trio evolved into the Byrds. At that point Clark was the leading songwriter in the group and contributed significantly to their first two albums. Classic Clark songs from this period include ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, ‘Here Without You’ and ‘Set You Free This Time’. Following the release of ‘Eight Miles High’ in March 1966, he dramatically left the group, citing fear of flying as the major cause.

Under the auspices of producer Jim Dickson, Clark recorded a solo album, Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers (1967), which remains one of the best ‘singer-songwriter’ albums of its era. The album featured backing from not only the Gosdin Brothers, but former Byrds bandmates Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke, frequent collaborator Doug Dillard, and Clarence White. However, it failed to sell, effectively placing Clark’s solo career in jeopardy. At this time Clark also recorded two pioneering country rock albums with Doug Dillard as Dillard And Clark.

At the end of 1968, following Crosby’s dismissal from the Byrds, Clark was re-enlisted but left within weeks due to his long-standing aerophobia. Revitalizing his career in 1971 with a superb self-titled album (also known as White Light), Clark seemed a prime candidate for singer-songwriter success, but middling sales and a lack of touring forestalled his progress. Roadmaster, which featured tracks recorded in 1969 with the Byrds alongside newer material, was only released in the Netherlands at the time. A recorded reunion with the original Byrds in late 1973 temporarily refocused attention on Clark. Soon, he was back in the studio recording a solo album for Asylum Records with producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye. No Other (1974) was a highly acclaimed work, brilliantly fusing Clark’s lyrical power with an ethereal mix of choral beauty and rich musicianship provided by some of the finest session players in Hollywood. Sales again proved disappointing, prompting Clark to record a less complex album for RSO, which was reasonably publicized but fared no better.

The irresistible lure of the original Byrds brought Clark back together with two of his former colleagues in the late 70s. McGuinn, Clark And Hillman enjoyed brief success, but during the recording of their second album, City, in 1980, history repeated itself and Clark left amid some acrimony. After this he mainly recorded for small labels, occasionally touring with other ex-Byrds as well as solo. He collaborated with Carla Olson, formerly of the Textones, and enjoyed the biggest commercial success of his solo career with the 1987 album So Rebellious A Lover. His profile was also raised by the patronage of a new generation of musicians on Los Angeles’ hip ‘paisley underground’ scene, but unfortunately this only prompted Clark to fall back on bad habits, and in 1988 he was forced to undergo surgery to have most of his stomach and intenstines removed. After years of ill health, Clark died in May 1991, only a few months after being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of the Byrds.

Since his death Clark’s status as a songwriter has dramatically increased, in a similar way to the work of Nick Drake and Gram Parsons. Those few that had always maintained that he was the ‘real’ genius behind the Byrds have had their long-held view vindicated by current popular opinion. The remastered version of No Other in 2003, together with unreleased alternative takes, further enhanced his legacy. He promised so much in the early days and only a glimmer of what was achievable was subesquently recorded amidst a downward spiral of ill health and various addictions.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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