"They were the most obnoxious people I think I've ever met in the whole of my life. They really were...truly hateful"
(JP on 08 May 2003)
The Byrds were formed in Los Angeles in 1965 by musicians whose background was in folk (Jim McGuinn, David Crosby) and country (Gene Clark, Chris Hillman) music, in response to the success of The Beatles in the United States. After some initial recordings under the name of the Beefeaters, they signed to Columbia Records and achieved a number one single in the US with their version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". They were promoted as America's equivalent to the Beatles, but lacked the unity and the outgoing, media-friendly qualities required to inhabit this role. Instead, they became one of pop music's major cult bands, pioneering new styles - folk-rock, psychedelia, country-rock - within the framework of tightly-produced records which rarely exceeded the three-minute limit of the standard pop single. For this reason their influence continued into the 1980s and beyond, the post-punk generations finding their work free of the excesses of many of their West Coast hippy-era successors.
Most of their memorable work was recorded between 1965 and 1970, by which time all of the original members of the band, apart from founder Roger McGuinn, had left. A feature of their career was internal fractiousness and frequent changes of personnel, which led to McGuinn finally breaking up the group in the early 1970s. An attempted revival of the original band in 1973 was unsuccessful, but its individual members went on to form numerous spin-off groups. David Crosby joined Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in Crosby, Stills & Nash, while Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman continued the country-rock fusion with their band The Flying Burrito Brothers. (Their live recording of "Devil in Disguise" was a Peel favourite of the early 1970s.) The evolution of the Byrds has been extensively documented in several full-length books, as well as by Pete Frame, who not only drew up some of his earliest Rock Family Trees to illustrate the group's history but wrote a series of lengthy articles on them in his magazine Zigzag.
Peel and The Byrds
John Ravencroft (Peel) was scheduled to introduce the Byrds at a concert organised by the radio station KMEN in the Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, in April 1966. What happened then seemed to offend him deeply and he recalled the event frequently in the 1990s and 2000s:
The Byrds were an absolutely obnoxious bunch of people. I'd obviously not met them before, and I went in to their dressing room to say, "Hello, my name's John, I'm the compère; Anything you want me to say, anything you don't want me to say...?" And they wouldn't speak to me at all, they were doing their L.A.-cool thing. Out in San Bernadino we were seen as the hicks, I'm pleased to say, because I've always been on the side of the hicks. They wouldn't speak, so I thought, what a bunch of bastards.
(from: Interview with Dave Fisher, Filler magazine, Sept. 1996)
Yet he continued to appreciate their music, featuring it regularly on the Perfumed Garden, on his early programmes for the BBC and into the 1970s. In a review of the "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" LP in International Times his mixed feelings about the Byrds - mistrusting them as people while loving their records - are clear:
Unreserved recommendations for "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" by the Byrds. I don't begin to understand what goes on in their heads but the music that comes out is undeniably a part of many people who hear it - myself included. Eleven musicians are credited on the sleeve - most of them have been part of the group at one time or another. Friends who talked to them say they have a tribal thing going which cannot help but benefit them musically and personally. I was a bit disappointed that Doug Dilard isn't on the record, but many of the things they've done for us in recent months are on it and I hope you will buy. Perhaps part of the Byrds' fall from popular grace has been the difficulty in understanding what they are all about - which isn't really important but it is hard to interest "fans" in a wraith. However we worship dreams so perhaps that is why no-one seems to feel non-committal about the Byrds.
(Peel in International Times, 23.08.1968)
The LP Peel praises here represented The Byrds' move towards a more country sound, with the involvement of country musicians, notably singer Gram Parsons and guitarist Clarence White. Peel had featured country music on Top Gear - a favourite LP of 1968 was Buffy Sainte-Marie's "I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again" - after having developed a taste for the music during his years in the USA, so he was obviously pleased by the group's new direction and the rise of country rock as a musical genre. He continued to play tracks by The Byrds until the group split up, but they rarely appeared in his playlists thereafter. When he did revisit their early records he tended to mention the incident in San Bernardino described above. By the millenium the suriviving members of The Byrds were pursuing separate careers, with Roger McGuinn returning to his roots as a performer and teacher of American folk music, Chris Hillman a successful country artist and David Crosby still working with Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. But Peel paid little attention to their newer music, preferring the band's work from their 1960s heyday.
Festive Fifty Entries
Other Shows Played
- 16 July 1967: 'Thoughts And Words (LP-Younger Than Yesterday)' (CBS)
- 22 July 1967: So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star (single) CBS
- 06 August 1967: 'Why? (LP-Younger Than Yesterday)' (CBS)
- 14 August 1967: 'Eight Miles High (7")' (CBS)
- 12 May 1968: You Ain't Going Nowhere (7" - You Ain't Going Nowhere / Artificial Energy) CBS
- 19 May 1968: Wasn't Born To Follow (LP - The Notorious Byrd Brothers) CBS
- 21 August 1968: 'The Christian Life (LP - Sweetheart of the Rodeo)' (CBS)
- 27 April 1969: 'Old Blue (LP-Dr. Byrds And Mr. Hyde)' (CBS)
- 06 December 1969: 'Deportee (LP-Ballad Of Easy Rider)' (CBS)
- 10 January 1970: 'Oil In My Lamp (LP-Ballad Of Easy Rider)' (CBS)
- 14 February 1970: 'Oil In My Lamp (LP-Ballad Of Easy Rider)' (CBS)
- 17 October 1970: 'Chestnut Mare (2xLP-Untitled)' (CBS)
- 31 October 1970: 'Truckstop Girl (2xLP-Untitled)' (CBS)
- 28 August 1971: So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star
- 14 November 1970: 'Just A Season (2xLP-Untitled)' (CBS)
- 21 January 1972: 'B.B. Class Road (LP-Farther Along)' (Columbia)
- 28 January 1972: 'America's Great National Anthem (LP-Farther Along)' (Columbia)
- 15 February 1972: 'Bugler (LP-Farther Along)' (CBS)
- Radio Luxembourg Tracklistings 1: 'B.B. Class Road (LP-Farther Along)' (Columbia)
- 19 July 1973: 'Bugler (LP-Farther Along)' (CBS)
- 04 September 1978 (Paul Gambaccini): Mr. Tambourine Man (album - America's Greatest Hits) Super Beeb
- 18 March 1996: 'Eight Miles High (7")' (CBS)
- 04 September 2003: 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better (LP-Mr. Tambourine Man)' (CBS)
- Beam Me Up, Scotty: 'C.T.A. - 102 (LP-Younger Than Yesterday)' (Columbia)