L.A. rock band, The Byrds were the “most important” American music group. I would be foolish not to give mention to The Doors, The Beach Boys, Van Halen and Guns n’ Roses…but I’ll stick to my guns as far as being the most important… They were first to steal Bob Dylan’s songs in the early days and made them their own… The band would constantly morph in sound and personnel; while becoming a true component of the psychedelic music scene. Through inspiring harmonies and songwriting they became the beacon of light for the great Tom Petty, The Eagles and Arthur Lee & Love… The list continuously grows as the decades roll by. …But the person whose contribution was the greatest was the understated Clarence White. In a short time became one of L.A.’s top session people plus he had set the stage for country rock by transferring that dynamic precision of melodic symmetry to the electric guitar. He was able to pivot country music into rock and roll.
Clarence White and The Byrds
As a top session man in the Sixties,White played backup on the Byrds‘ 1968 landmark, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Though the album was a commercial disaster it received critical acclaim. It was described as “Cosmic American Music” by reviewers in Great Britain yet never entered the charts there. It twas’ the first album that included the very young Gram Parsons to play piano and guitar who was recruited by Chris Hillman . Conceptually. the record was a way to bring Americana music to the masses. Clarence White’s contribution brought a full-bodied rock elation to his California-inflected Nashville chops. “He never played anything that sounded vaguely weak,” said the Byrds’ leader and founder, Roger McGuinn. “He was always driving… into the music.” The guitar interplay between McGuinn’s jangling Rickenbaker and White’s trailblazing ‘b” string bending Fender Telecaster gave way to musical euphony.
Clarence White’s Infamous Fender Telecaster…
The Byrds entered 1971 heading in opposite directions. Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman exit; but as a live unit there was no question that the band was at its career apex. The Clarence White-Gene Parsons-Skip Battin rhythm section was borderline monstrous. If anything, Roger McGuinn was the musical weak link of The Byrds; a disturbing trend that would replicate itself in the studio. McGuinn’s abandonment of the songwriting and band leading process had afforded to commercially bankrupt albums. Long time Byrd’s producer, Terry Melcher fell into the abyss with cocaine, alcohol and a new friendship with Charles Manson. White had the chops and to compare him to Hendrix, Clapton,Page, Ray Vaughn and Beck isn’t a rhetoric aberration.
The Byrds’ 9th album which was a double disc that had one live disc and one studio. Terry Melcher submitted the project to Columbia Records A&R and had written on a scrap of paper.. “Untitled”; so that was thealbum title! The live sides started with the McGuinn penned song, “Lover of the Bayou”. The song was set up during the American Civil War and was intended for a scene in which the eponymous hero is working as a smuggler, bootlegger, and a gun runner for both the Confederacy and the Unionists. Unbeknownst to McGuinn..the song’s theme appeared to become a divining rod for the Ant-War movement in Viet Nam. It was later covered by Tom Petty and Mudcrutch. The live album of included a fifteen minute jam version of “Eight Miles High”. The studio disc contained the quintessential Byrd song, “Chestnut Mare”. The album had something new, something old and something borrowed; but overall it allowed the Byrds find their own fully evolved ”Wall of Sound”. All because of Clarence White!
On the evening of Saturday, July 14 1973, Clarence and his brother Eric had dinner with their mother in Lancaster,
CA. ..before heading out to play at a rundown country bar, BJ’s in Palmdale which was about 10 miles away. The band ended sometime after midnight and probably around 1:00 am, the White brothers were loading their gear into their car. To this point, it was a fairly typical and uneventful Saturday night. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a woman named Yoko Ito was being thrown out of the Jack Of Diamonds bar for being a disheveled drunken waste of maggot DNA. Ito (who was also allegedly pregnant at the time) got in her car, tore ass down Palmdale’s main drag, jumped a curb and slammed into Clarence..He was thrown about 20-30 feet, went into an immediate coma and died the next day. He was 29 years old and destined to rock and roll infamy. Ito only received a one-year suspended sentence (!!!) and had her driver’s license taken away. Are you fucking kidding me?!? White left behind a wife, two kids, four siblings, both parents, and a legion of brokenhearted friends and fans.