The Lost Studio Sessions Companion, Part 5: 1970/1972/1982
Happy Birthday, Gene!It's fitting, and I must say rather moving, that Sierra's long-awaited The Lost Studio Sessions is being released today on what would have been Gene's 72nd birthday. So in that same spirit I'm going to wrap up discussion of the remaining sessions on the album just as it's landing in everyone's mailbox. (If you haven't yet ordered a copy I suggest you do so immediately. We need to support the people who are looking after Gene's legacy. This is important work being done on Gene's behalf.)
Order from Sierra directly.
"She Darked the Sun" (with The Flying Burrito Brothers)
Recorded in spring of 1970 before Gram Parsons' firing, this spirited remake of the Dillard and Clark track (itself recorded less than two years before) constituted another brief reunion with erstwhile Byrds buddies Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke. I wish we knew more about the circumstances under which this session came together, or what prompted Gene to re-record it, but what the track does reveal quite clearly is how truly bulletproof Gene's songwriting is: recorded fast or slow, drums or no drums, the song is flawlessly constructed; potentially adaptable to any kind of arrangement. Sneaky Pete shines.
Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms/She Don't Care About Time/Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky/Bars Have Made a Prisoner Out Of Me
Recorded July-September 1972, Wally Heider Studio 4
Produced by Chris Hinshaw and Terry Melcher
Musicians: Clarence White, Eric White Sr., Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Spooner Oldham, Byron Berline, Michael Clarke, Claudia Lennear and friends.
The late Jim Dickson once told Sierra Records' John Delgatto that Gene never sang better than he did during these sessions. He may have been speaking of Gene's torchy reading another song recorded during his Dillard and Clark days, Bill Monroe's "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms." While the D&C version was recorded at breakneck speed and sung rather poorly by Doug, Gene slows things down to the familiar Gene Clark Ballad™ tempo, with tremendous results. Who knew such bittersweet beauty could be wrung from these lyrics?
Elsewhere, "She Don't Care About Time," recorded with Roger McGuinn, sounds like an informal run-through of Gene's Byrds standard.
"Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky" will be familiar to fans of Roadmaster, as it's a stunning alternate take on "Rough and Rocky." Gene's voice has "the spook" -- that eerie, otherworldly quality that made him so special. A tossup as to which version I prefer.
"Bars Have Made a Prisoner Out of Me" is my least favourite on the album. I just think it was a poor choice and ill-suited for Gene's brooding, romantic style.
One Hundred Years From Now/ (The) Letter/ Still Feeling Blue/No Memories Hangin' Round/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better
NYTEFLYTE - Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, Al Perkins, Michael Clarke
The only output from this blink-and-they're-gone group -- besides the oft-booted gig at the Palomino in 1982 -- is this five-song demo.
The production touches betray an obvious attempt at commerciality, as does the inexplicable reliance on old material. Gene's reading of Rodney Crowell's "No Memories Hangin' Round" should have been enough to guarantee a record deal straight out of the gate, but alas it was not to be.
Very nice to hear Gene's takes on the two Gram Parsons songs.
As for the remake of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," the existence of the NyteFlyte recording helps us to put into proper perspective the reason why Gene rerecorded the song for inclusion Firebyrd. A lot of people have made the assumption that it was purely a cynical, even desperate, move to include it -- along with the remake of "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- and evidence of an overreliance on past glories. After all, the 1980s were fairly brutal on most members of the Byrds and others who were stars in the 1960s. But since Gene had already resurrected the song with NyteFlyte in 1982 -- the same year that Firebyrd was recorded -- one can at least understand his rationale, and give him the benefit of the doubt.
And even it was a purely cynical move, can you blame him?
As for the performance, the one thing that strikes me in this and the other songs is how ordinary Michael Clarke's drumming became over time. His doofus-savant routine in the Byrds included both painful mishaps ("Psychodrama City") and some truly inspired work ("Eight Miles High"). But you could always count on Michael to drive a band (one need only refer to the remake of "She Darked the Sun," discussed above). Listen to his relentless playing on the Byrds original recording of "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", and then the NyteFlyte cut. On the latter he is content to rest easy on the backbeat and let the song come to him, instead of seizing the moment and driving it forward as he did when young and rambunctious. I guess he sounds more professional here, but I miss the open-hi-hatted freneticism of the early days.
But to be fair, NyteFlyte's raison d'être was not to mimic the Byrds of 1965. It was a laudable, if prematurely launched, attempt to create a new country sound. So while not everything works here (you can take that to mean "The Letter") I'm glad these tracks are at last seeing an official release.
Sadly, it was the last time Messrs. Clark, Clarke and Hillman would ever record together. And for that reason alone these recordings are precious to me.