The Byrds was formed around 1964-65 in Los Angeles. The Byrds had perfected their blend of folk and rock when their debut single, "Mr. Tambourine Man," topped the charts in mid-1965 . Jim McGuinn (later Roger), David Crosby, and Gene Clark were all young veterans of the folk-pop scene. They were inspired by the success of the Beatles to mix folk and rock; McGuinn had already been playing Beatles songs acoustically in Los Angeles folk clubs when Clark approached him to form a new band. David Crosby soon joined to make them a trio, and they made a primitive demo as the Jet Set that was nonetheless bursting with promise. With the help of session musicians, they released a single on Elektra as the Beefeaters that, while a flop, showed them getting quite close to the folk-rock sound that would electrify the pop scene in a few months.
The Beefeaters, soon renamed the Byrds, became a quintet with the addition of drummer Michael Clarke and bluegrass mandolinist Chris Hillman, who was enlisted to play electric bass, although he had never played the instrument before. The band was so lacking in equipment in their early stages that Clarke played on cardboard boxes during their first rehearsals, but they determined to master their instruments and become a full-fledged rock band (many demos from this period would later surface for official release). They managed to make a demo of a new Dylan song, "Mr. Tambourine Man"; by eliminating some verses and adding instantly memorable 12-string guitar leads and Beatlesque harmonies, they came up with the first big folk-rock smash. For the "Mr. Tambourine Man" single, the band's vocals and McGuinn's inimitable Rickenbacker were backed by session musicians, although the band themselves (contrary to some widely circulated rumors) performed on their subsequent recordings.
The first American group to compete with the British Invasion bands visually as well as musically, the Byrds soon were the American counterpart to the Beatles by the press, legions of fans, and George Harrison himself. Their 1965 debut LP, Mr. Tambourine Man, was a fabulous album that mixed stellar interpretations of Dylan and Pete Seeger tunes with strong, more romantic and pop-based originals, usually written by Gene Clark in the band's early days. A few months later, their version of Seeger's "Turn Turn Turn" became another number-one hit and instant classic, featuring more great chiming guitar lines and ethereal, interweaving harmonies. While their second LP (Turn Turn Turn) wasn't as strong as their debut full-length, the band continued to move forward at a dizzying pace. In early 1966, the "Eight Miles High" single heralded the birth of psychedelia, with its rumbling bass line, and a frenzied McGuinn guitar solo that took its inspiration from John Coltrane and Indian music.
The Byrds suffered a major loss right after "Eight Miles High" with the departure of Gene Clark, their primary songwriter. The reason for his resignation, ironically, was fear of flying, although other pressures were at work as well. "Eight Miles High," amazingly, would be their last Top 20 single; many radio stations banned the record for its alleged drug references, halting its progress at number 14. This ended the Byrds' brief period as commercial challengers to the Beatles, but they regrouped impressively in the face of the setbacks. Continuing as a quartet, McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman would assume a much larger part of the songwriting responsibilities. The third album, Fifth Dimension, contained more groundbreaking folk-rock and psychedelia on tracks like "Fifth Dimension," "I See You," and "John Riley," although it mixed sheer brilliance with tracks that were oddly half-baked or carelessly executed.
Younger Than Yesterday, which included the minor hits "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "My Back Pages" , was another high point with Hillman really showing his songwriting and lead-vocal abilities. By 1967 Crosby wasn't getting along so well with McGuinn and Hillman and he was ousted durings the recordings of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Gene Clark was brought back for a few weeks but by the end of 1967, Mike Clarke was also gone. In the midst of this chaos they continued to sound as good as ever on Notorious. This was another effort that mixed electronic experimentation and folk-rock mastery with elements of country music.
As McGuinn and Hillman rebuilt the group one more time in early 1968, McGuinn began working with the idea of creating a double album that would play through history of contemporary music, evolving from traditional folk and country to jazz and electronic music. They hired singer guitarist Gram Parsons as new member. Under Parsons' influence, however, the Byrds were soon going full blast into country music, with Parsons taking a large share of the guitar and vocal chores. In 1968, McGuinn, Hillman, Parsons, and drummer Kevin Kelly recorded Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which was probably the first album to be widely labeled as country-rock.
Opinions among Byrds fans of this album are ,mildly spoken, divided . Some see it as a natural continuation of the group's innovations, others as a regrettable departure from the band's trademarks. No doubt that it marked the end of the "classic" Byrds sound of the 1965-1968 period. Parsons left the band after about six months.
Chris Hillman also left the Byrds by the end of 1968 to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons. As the only original member Roger McGuinn recruited member to form a new version of the Byrds. Most significant new member was the extraordinary gifted guitarist Clarence White. White had as a session musician appeared on all Byrds album since "Fifth Dimension". The new Byrds continued to make great albums, but never again topped the singles charts. In 1973 the band split up
The original Byrd line-up reunited to do a single album late 1973. At that time Clarence White had tragically been killed by a drunken driver, while loading gear into a truck.
Source: All Music Guide
Roger McGuinn: Born 1942, vocals, 12 string-guitar and songwriter. McGuinn was the key-member and driving force of the Byrds
Gene Clark: Born 1941, rhythm-guitar, vocals and songwriter. Clark most the chief song-writer in the original Byrds. He left in spring 1966, but appeared now and with band in the following years. Clark was back with the re-united Byrds in 1973
David Crosby: Born 1941, guitar and vocals . Crosby had a fine voice and wrote occasionally fine songs for the band. He was ousted during the records of the fifth album.
Chris Hillman: Born 1942, bass, mandolin, banjo and vocals. Hilmann is a very gifted musician and songwriter and his personal style was a very important part of the Byrds-sound. Left in 1968. Wrote fine songs for the reunion album.
Mike Clarke: Born 1943, drums. Clarke left after the fifth album, but was back for the re-union album
Clarence White: Born 1944, guitar and vocals . Great guitarist who also gave some memorable lead-vocal performances pn the latter-day Byrds albums.
Gram Parsons: Born 1946, guitar, vocals and songwriter. Parsons ,who has become a legend in country-rock, only appeared on "Sweetheart of the Rodeo"
John York: Bass and vocals. Appears on "Dr Byrds", "Ballad of Easy Rider" and "Live at the Filmore 1969".
Kevin Kelly: Born 1945, drums. Appears only on "Sweetheart of the Rodeo"
Gene Parsons: Born 1944, drums and vocals. Parsons was with the Byrds from 1969-73
Skip Battin: Born 1934, bass and vocals . With the Byrds from 1969-73.
The Byrds 1964-68