Your Fire Burning: A List of Extant Versions of Gene’s Late-Period Masterpiece

 Your Fire Burning: A List of Extant Versions

As promised back in the days pre-COVID, I’m forging ahead with my series on Gene’s exquisite late-period masterpiece. 

The purpose of this particular instalment is to compile a list of all known versions of the song. It will be updated if new information comes to light. If you have any reliable information about a version that does not appear on this list, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to contact me at clarkophile@gmail.com.



The late Johnny Rogan once told me he was “always intrigued” by the fact that I named ‘Your Fire Burning’ as my favourite Gene Clark song. He never elaborated on that, but I’m sure he meant it in a positive way because we shared a fondness for the more poetic, idiosyncratic songs Gene wrote in the 1980s, of which it stood as the greatest of them all. (These are the songs we filed under E for “Epics,” in the strangely compartmentalized file drawers of Gene’s ‘80s oeuvre). 


I suppose one of the reasons I champion the song is because, over 30 years after Gene’s death, only a handful of versions (complete or partial) have ever surfaced. The reason for this is, of course, that at the time of Gene’s death it was a relatively new song; it simply hadn’t existed long enough to accrue a variety of interpretations—live, studio, official or otherwise—unlike, say, ‘Train Leaves Here This Morning,’ a perennial warhorse, and near-constant staple of Gene’s live set. I think it’s clear that Gene was proud of it, and felt it was an important song, but it appears that his life ended before he could record a definitive studio version. Until such time as this theory is disproved, I think it’s incumbent upon us to document the extant versions, and cherish them as the rarest of jewels.


In documenting the versions, I also wanted to determine when it was written, or, failing that, establish a logical window of time during which it was likely written. Thanks to Carla Olson, I believe I’ve done that. But it was a serpentine path to get there.


Why? Well…

Enter Rogan

This is where it gets complicated…


The funny thing about Rogan was he never actually answered the question you were asking, he answered the one he wanted you to ask. He’d insinuated that he knew when ‘Your Fire Burning’ was written, but did so without actually, you know, telling me. Let’s put that another way: Johnny Rogan was ruthlessly circumspect in the sharing of his Gene Clark facts.


That said, he did enjoy sharing enticing bits of (vaguely worded) Clark minutiae with me…the most crucial elements of which he would invariably keep to himself (I’m playing this up for comedic value, of course. In truth, however, he was very helpful, and assisted me on many occasions). 


The uncanny thing was, by design or accident, he would sometimes provide answers that created more questions than they answered: One step forward, two back. 


I’ll give you an example. At some point, I had rather offhandedly referred to ‘Your Fire Burning’ as probably the “last” song Gene wrote. Admittedly, the comment was based on the fact that, prior to the release of Silhouetted in Light in 1992, it had not been documented. I must also confess that on some level I wanted it to be the last one, because it had taken on such great personal significance for me. I bathed in the belief that it was Gene’s grand final statement in this corporeal life. That image seemed rather beautiful to me. Comforting, even.

But during one of my back-and-forths with Rogan, he began to tell me about an altogether different song—an unreleased, undocumented/unpublished, samba-flavoured song called ‘Hole in Her Mind,’ taken from an 11-1/2-minute worktape in his possession. He said that it was “v. late GC”—then indicated that ‘Your Fire Burning’ had been written “two or three years” prior. 

Johnny was, in his way, letting me know that I was mistaken about ‘Your Fire Burning’ being the last song Gene wrote.


The problem with that, however, is that I learned from Rogan—that very day, as a matter of fact—that, on the very same worktape, same session that features Hole in Her Mind,’ work is being done on an incomplete ‘Your Fire Burning.’ In fact, the final chord of ‘Your Fire Burning’ is still ringing out when Gene, as though switching radio stations on a sudden impulse, launches into a comparatively choppy and upbeat (though obviously embryonic) version of ‘Hole in Her Mind’! 

Unfortunately, at the time of our exchange, I was so awestruck with news of a previously unknown Clark original that I’d completely overlooked this apparent discrepancy.


So how do we reconcile what appears to be a contradiction in his contention that ‘Your Fire Burning’ was written “two or three years” before ‘Hole in Her Mind’ if unfinished renditions of both songs are on the same worktape?


Well, I suppose much would depend upon how one determines the point at which a song has been well and truly “written.” On the worktape, ‘Your Fire Burning’ is about 90% complete. Gene was grappling with the “break the chains” line (at one point he ad libs what sounds like “and be on earth” before quickly replacing it, on-the-fly, with “break the chains”). Elsewhere, he was experimenting with phrasing/cadence in the verses and chorus. But the melody, arrangement (including his beloved “Bee Gees moment!”—see Glossary) were all in place. Meanwhile, the rendition of ‘Hole in Her Mind’—which, you’ll recall, Rogan had described as “v. late G.C.”—appeared on the worktape in a rudimentary, embryonic form—a mere song sketch. So I believe Rogan was saying that ‘Hole in Her Mind,’ in its most complete form, came later on (I’m guessing late 1990/early 1991). He went on to say that he had a lot of information about the song, including a “fully realized” arrangement on a reel-to-reel recording:


“It's a dark song with a v. upbeat melody and much more fully realized later with prominent guitar and Mexicana melody and stuff…GC was doing his melancholic meditations AND stuff like this at the end.”


It would be interesting to learn what information he had in his possession about “Hole in Her Mind,” but the current status of Rogan’s archives is unknown.


Narrowing the time frame

In my 2009 Shindig! cover story on Gene Clark, Carla shared the story of how she heard ‘Your Fire Burning’ for the first time:

Recently, Carla was kind enough to provide further information about the approximate date of the evening in question (whereupon I also came to learn that Gene Clark was a fastidious cook, who demanded perfection in his oil-and-lemon salad dressing):


I remember we were at Gene’s. He liked to make steaks and salads for dinner, and I remember it as really hot, so [the presentation of the song] was maybe September 1989. He played us “Your Fire Burning” and was still working a bit on the lyrics.

I don’t recall us performing it before [February 3, 1990] McCabe’s, but [I do] remember coming up with the answer lines spontaneously, maybe at rehearsal at Gene’s with Dave Provost and Duane Jarvis before the show. Gene was known for alternative lyrics on his own shows but usually we matched phrasing pretty close.

So, checking against whatever set lists I’ve seen from the period, and remembering Rogan’s comment that it was written “two or three years” before the “v. late” appearance of a more complete ‘Hole in Her Mind,’ I’m comfortable in dating the actual composition of ‘Your Fire Burning’ to late summer 1989.  In spite of the minor fixes that remained, we may conclude that Gene felt ‘Your Fire Burning’ was at least ready for presentation in September of 1989. How long it took him to reach this point is unknown. An 18-song bootleg of Gene & Carla’s June 16th, 1989 appearance at McCabe’s does not include ‘Your Fire Burning,’ which would seem to indicate that it would soon be/was in the process of being written. 

Studio Version?

There’s very little evidence to suggest that Gene recorded, let alone attempted, a polished studio take of the song. Since we know it was played live on February 3, 1990, I’ve often wondered why on earth it was passed over during the ill-fated 1990 sessions with John Arrias. It was clearly superior to the workmanlike material that was recorded (e.g. “Look Who’s Missing Who”; Tommy Kaye’s “Shades of Blue”). No one, to my knowledge, has ever indicated that there’s a (studio) recording of it.


No one, that is, except Gene himself. 


Tantalizingly, while introducing the song at the Cinegrill, Gene says: “I’m going to sing a new song for you. Actually—well, it’s not that new. Well, it is recorded but it’s not out. Let’s put it that way.


So you tell me, what does that mean? Is there an extant studio version?


It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? In any event, here are the versions I’m aware of: 

Known versions 

1. Undated home recording 1989, The Otsego Kitchen, 14747 Otsego, Sherman Oaks, Ca (11:36)

‘Your Fire Burning’ | ‘Hole in Her Mind’ 

Carla Olson: Gene had a little cassette machine, almost like an old answering machine. He liked using his Microverb for the delay and recorded in his kitchen as there was a lot of tile in the floor and walls!
Oh, and clip-on lights everywhere to see the black controls.

Above: Alesia Microverb II, similar to the one 
Gene used in his kitchen recordings 
at his Otsego residence.

2. KNBR San Francisco, 1990 (2:16)

From the unofficial, fan-created 7-CD Gene Clark Box Set, circa 2001

There’s very little information about this version. It’s not a full performance (notice brief running time); sounds like it was possibly played as a musical outro after the interview segment heading into an advertisement (the fade is abrupt).


3. Gypsy Angel (Evangeline 2001) “The Otsego Kitchen,” 14747 Otsego, Sherman Oaks, Ca 1989 (7:51)

This fully developed version would appear to have been recorded on same equipment as mentioned in #1 above.  It is the second officially released version. Some find Gene’s beloved echo a bit off-putting, but I just like to get inside, try to appreciate how he heard it, what it meant for him.





4. Silhouetted in Light/In Concert McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, Ca, February 3, 1990 (6:41)


Going by Carla’s recollection, this was recorded approximately five months after Gene presented it to her and Saul over dinner the previous September. I shared my personal thoughts about this version in this post, from February 2020. 

Dignified, majestic, profoundly moving, it is the primary reason this blog exists.


5. The Cinegrill, Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood, California, April 13, 1991 (8:34)

The stunning performance at the Cinegrill is the best indication as to how a full-band arrangement might have come together in the studio. If the 6:41 version on Silhouetted in Light hinted at a return to the No Other-like epic, then the Cinegrill version confirms it—and then some. 


Clocking in at over eight-and-a-half minutes—not a second of it wasted—‘Your Fire Burning’’s length surpasses even “Some Misunderstanding” (8:09), and still goes by in a flash. 


This is not the measured, poised, and gentlemanly Gene Clark from Mountain Stage, reacting to polite applause with a refined, sincere, “How nice.” The Cinegrill is raw and unfiltered, loose and untamed, the stuff of high drama, definitely not for the faint of heart. Gene lurches and lashes out like Lear on the stormy heath, out on the end of time. It is a passionate, gut-wrenching, soul-stirring performance. It is a man near the end of this life pleading for love in life, well into the beyond.


Above: Drummer Rick Schlosser
(Discogs.com bio).

And while the Firebyrds and 20th Anniversary of the Byrds bands amounted to a bunch of guys going through the motions, the band Gene assembled at the Cinegrill was his best yet, anchored by the incisive, propulsive playing of drummer Rick Schlosser (Van Morrison, Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart) and keyboardist Stewart Elster (Donna Summer, Melissa Manchester, Rickie Lee Jones, Chaka Khan, Nicolette Larson, Glen Campbell). In YFB, Schlosser gives a masterclass in sympathetic backing, anticipating changes with dramatic, powerful fills and meaningful accents that somehow keep everything rooted and orderly, even as he’s pushing the song forward.

For his part, Elster’s uncommonly elegant performance recalls Nicky Hopkins’ playing on the Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” echoing and accentuating the desperate pleas within Gene’s tortured vocal lines (“Listen, little darlin’…”). Both performances share the same effortless grace and beauty.

Above: Undated photo of Stewart Elster,
from EntireProductions.com.

6. Kai Clark, with Carla Olson - Silver Raven (2020)

If Gene’s Cinegrill performance was akin to a high-wire act without a net, then Kai’s resembled an upstart magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat. Before this, I would not believed anyone could have done justice to YFB. With all due respect to the Bee Gees, this was Gene Clark’s moment. There are some songs you just can’t cover because they are synonymous with the writer and his/her original performance.

But Kai (with Carla’s comforting presence) pulled off the ultimate magic trick. Not only did he acquit himself nicely, he honoured his father in a way that moves me very deeply.

So that’s it. This is all we have. Again, if you have reliable information about another version, I invite you to contact me at clarkophile@gmail.com.


Comments

Unknown said…
Great piece, Tom. Ever since reading it, my earworms have been (alternately) "Your Fire Burning" and ... "Words" by the Bee Gees! It would appear the "Bee Gees Moment" is transferrable. My intro to "Your Fire Burning" was the live album w/Carla, which I love, but listening to the Cinegrill version again today, I'm with you, what a spectacular testament to Gene's power as a singer & songwriter.

Thanks for all you do.

Murray Tonkin
Anonymous said…
Thank you for providing background on one of my favorites. I hope that Johnny Rogan's partner preserves his files and that one day his information on these gems can be shared.
Paul said…
A very enjoyable and insightful discussion. I have four of the six recordings. I do not have the 1989 home recording and have never heard "Hole in Her Mind". The 1990 radio version seems to be a fairly high quality recording. The vocals and guitar are clear and compelling, but the abrupt end is less than ideal. You are correct that the vocal echo on the Gypsy Angel version is considerably too much. The guitar playing sounds very good, with a nice Byrds-like, ringing quality early in the song. However, that ringing quality seems to disappear a few minutes into the song, giving the impression that the guitarist was tiring or something. Overall, the In Concert version appears to be the definitive recording. Clark's powerful, yet crackling, voice makes this recording an emotional powerhouse. The musical backing, Carlas Olson's backing vocals, and the excellent sound quality add effectively to Clark's delivery. Kai Clark's recording is very good, especially the arrangement of the backing instruments. His vocals seem a little too forced and don't have nearly the emotion of his father, but it is very enjoyable nonetheless. I have seen a 47 minute Cinegrill recording with eight songs, but none are "Your Fire Burning". It does include "Life and Times" which is another heartbreaker, and the last recorded Clark song that I'm aware of. The video is pretty awful, likely a poor transfer from VHS, but it's pretty cool to see Clark perform. The audio is OK, except for a significant background buzz, which also exists on the box set version of "Life and Times". Overall, the Cinegrill performance is quite good; not nearly the disaster that some have described. Clark does appear to be in very poor health though.
Paul said…
Found the Cinegrill recording on YouTube. Terrific version!
The Clarkophile said…
I included a link to the Cinegrill version, and other available versions, in my piece.