Chris Hillman - vocals, bass, guitar, mandolin; Roger McGuinn - vocals, guitar; Clarence White - vocals, guitar; Bernie Leadon - vocals, guitar; Rick Roberts - vocals, guitar; "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow - pedal steel guitar; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Michael Clarke - drums, percussion; Gene Parsons - drums, percussion, vocals; Jim Seiter - percussion
Although Nashville was experiencing musical changes in the 1960s, the melding of country music elements into a rock music context actually took root in Los Angeles. Several groups, including The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, flirted with country music early on, but it was The Flying Burrito Brothers who dove farthest in. Early on, the group originally featured three ex-Byrds among its ranks in Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke and Gram Parsons, in addition to bassist/songwriter Chris Ethridge and "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, whose pioneering approach to pedal steel guitar would redefine the role of the instrument. Together these musicians created a blueprint followed by countless other bands, which would become the framework for much of modern country music today. Internally volatile from the start, the initial FBBs lineup didn't last long. By the summer of 1970, the group had experienced two significant personnel changes. In mid-1969, Ethridge departed the band and future Eagle Bernie Leadon was brought on board as a singer and lead guitarist, greatly enhancing the band's onstage sound. Following the release of the band's second album, Gram Parsons was fired due to his erratic and unreliable behavior. The group would fulfill gig obligations as a quartet for a brief while before bringing Rick Roberts on board, initially recruited not as Parsons' replacement, but as a rhythm guitarist and harmony singer. As a live band, this particular configuration would become the most consistently satisfying, but would only last another year before splintering apart, leaving Roberts and Clarke to carry on with new recruits. Chris Hillman would soon co-found Manassas with Stephen Stills and Kleinow would become one of the most in-demand session musicians in the business. Bernie Leadon would become a founding member of The Eagles, who would soon take the Burrito's formula straight to the top of the charts. But in September of 1970, with Chris Hillman as the group's de facto leader and Rick Roberts just entering the picture, the future of The Flying Burrito Brothers looked more promising than ever.
This same month would prove a pivotal time for The Byrds, as well. When many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, The Byrds' double album Untitled would rejuvenate the band's following. Containing both live and studio recordings, all four members contributed material, which displayed a solid group effort. An extensive touring schedule during this time also helped develop a new legion of fans and The Byrds were finally gaining a deserved reputation as a compelling live band. It is no wonder that this occurred, as Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram) and Skip Battin would become the most enduring lineup of The Byrds, performing and recording together from September of 1969 well into 1972. Much credit goes to McGuinn for maintaining a vision for the group and keeping this lineup together, but the secret weapon was guitarist Clarence White. It was White's innovative string bending techniques combined with McGuinn's signature sound that extended the band's explorations of country music within a heavier rock framework. White was an utterly unique talent with blazing guitar chops, a razor sharp sound and astounding musical sensibilities. He was equally potent in both acoustic and electric settings and possessed the all-too-rare ability to think in terms of a soulful, unified sound. This was a key ingredient to the cohesiveness and strength of The Byrds' live performances during this era. They would experience wildly enthusiastic audiences nearly everywhere they played, especially in Europe where their popularity had never really waned. The Byrds were one of very few bands capable of forging a spiritual and musical unity between the 1960s and 1970s, and both critics and fans agreed that this lineup was more accomplished in concert than any previous configuration of The Byrds. Released in America on September 14, 1970 and shortly afterwards in Europe, The Byrds' Untitled album conveyed a group whose future also seemed most promising.
Just three days after the release of Untitled, both The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers were booked for a series of six shows over three nights at the Whisky A Go-Go in their home town of Los Angeles. This run would also be Rick Roberts' debut with The Burritos, who were still yet to recognize the extent of his talent. The Whisky only held several hundred people and The Byrds hadn't performed there since October of 1968, so tickets were a hot commodity. Surrounded by family and friends (in addition to having a common fanbase), this run guaranteed a three-night party, playing to packed houses for every show.
Logistically, these shows were challenging as The Byrds' P.A. system was designed for much larger venues and because, between the two groups, there was a lot of equipment. Strict time constraints required the downtime to be minimal, so all equipment from both bands (including two drum kits) needed to be squeezed onto the tiny Whisky A Go-Go stage. To accommodate the Byrds' P.A., cabinets were wired to multiple locations around the room. Each 90-minute show was structured with the FBBs performing a 45-minute opening set, immediately followed by a 45-minute set by The Byrds. This basic format continued throughout the run until the final night, when the two groups hatched a plan for the late show. For this final show of the run, the FBBs would begin their set as usual, but after several songs, they invited The Byrds out for an informal jam session that lasted the rest of the night.
Until now, this event has been relegated to the stuff of legend, but presented here are the complete recordings of that very set, recorded by Byrds' sound engineer Dinky Dawson. Despite the challenging circumstances of such a tiny room, Dawson's soundboard cassette masters manage to capture a great deal, with all of the instruments and vocals audible. The balance is not perfect, but in this instance, the good far outweighs the bad. Surprisingly, the recording is also in stereo, with McGuinn and Hillman's vocals panned to opposite channels, allowing listeners to clearly enjoy each individually, as they sing together for the first time in years. The setlist is a Byrds-lover's dream, containing material from both Sweethearts Of The Rodeo and The Notorious Byrd Brothers albums, in addition to classic early material. Despite the unrehearsed and somewhat intoxicated nature of these performances, it is obvious these musicians are having an awful lot of fun together. Seemingly eager to dig in to every song, downtime is kept to a minimum, as The FBBs and The Byrds collaborate on nearly an entire show for the first time ever.
The set begins much like the other shows of the run, with The Flying Burrito Brothers kicking things off. Although new recruit Rick Roberts is on board, it is Chris Hillman who is clearly the front man here, taking the majority of the lead vocals. The recording misses the first minute or two, beginning at the tail end of the opening number, "The Train Song." A collaboration between Hillman and Gram Parsons, this was issued as a single and wouldn't appear on an album until the posthumous Close Up The Honky Tonks compilation years later. A fine cover of Jesse Winchester's "Payday" follows in celebratory style, with Bernie Leadon delivering a hot guitar solo. Things continue heating up on Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "Wake Up Little Susie," which every harmony singer of the era knew from The Everly Brothers' classic hit. The FBBs leave the Everly's acoustic approach behind in favor of a harder rocking rendition that recalls Nick Ashford's "I Don't Need No Doctor." New recruit Rick Roberts gets a showcase next with his signature song "Colorado," featuring acoustic guitars and beautiful pedal steel work. "Colorado" makes it clear that a formidable new talent has joined the Burrito's ranks and it's no wonder this song would soon be covered by many higher profile artists, including Linda Ronstadt. This is followed by John D. Loudermilk's psychedelic country tune, "Break My Mind," another popular song among the Los Angeles country rocker contingency.
At this point, the FBBs invite The Byrds onstage, but after realizing they are not quite ready, deliver one more number on their own. This song, "Trying To Reach My Goal" is a fine rearrangement of the 1962 hit by Jamaican soul artist Alton Ellis and is a prime example of the Burritos' love for R&B and soul music, which was also a key ingredient to their sound. Following this rarity, the four members of The Byrds join The Burritos onstage and the remainder of the night features all of these musicians performing together.
The jam session kicks off with a number familiar to both groups, Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." With Leadon delivering the opening riff and McGuinn and Hillman sharing lead vocal duties, this is a high-spirited warm-up exercise that makes it obvious that these musicians intend on having plenty of fun together. Without missing a beat, this segues directly into a soulful "You Don't Miss Your Water." Featured on The Byrds' Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album, this song features McGuinn on lead vocals with everyone else contributing harmony vocals. White and Leadon both contribute leads without stepping on each other's toes and they are complimented by Sneaky Pete's equally sensitive pedal steel work.
Playing his signature Rickenbacker, McGuinn leads the way into the Gene Clark-penned Byrds gem, "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." McGuinn and White each take a solo in this number. With the original Byrds rhythm section and Hillman, Roberts and Parsons all adding harmony vocals, this harkens back to the very beginning of The Byrds' sound. A wonderfully engaged reading of Gram Parsons' signature song, "Hickory Wind," follows. Hearing McGuinn and Hillman sing this together - not to mention White and Kleinow trading licks - is a delight. Surprisingly, this laid back number segues directly into a revved up reading of "So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star," with McGuinn and Hillman sharing lead vocals on their best-known songwriting collaboration. With Parsons, Battin, Leadon and Roberts all contributing the "la la la" backing vocals plus hoots and hollers, this is a wild performance. Next, they change the mood again, taking a more somber turn with "The Bells Of Rhymney."
Much like "Break My Mind" played earlier in the set, these musicians continue with another popular song among L.A.'s country-rockers, a cover of Red Simpson's "Close Up The Honky Tonks," best known from the Buck Owens recording. Here McGuinn takes lead vocals on a number that would remain in both The Byrds' and The FBBs' live repertoires. Another delightful surprise surfaces next as Chris Hillman leads the way on "Time Between." One of the highlights of The Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday album, this Hillman-penned tune is considered by many to be one of the first great country-rock ground breakers. It was certainly a clear indicator of where Hillman was heading, years before the FBBs, and remains one of his most beloved songs. Despite the rough, unrehearsed nature, it is fascinating to hear White (who played on the original) and Sneaky Pete also contributing to this live performance.
A string of classic Byrds hits follows, with McGuinn leading the way through "Mr. Spaceman" and a medley of "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" that no doubt delighted the hometown audience. However, it is the 15-minute jam on "Eight Miles High" that follows that will have fans of both bands most intrigued. With double drummers, McGuinn, White and Leadon on lead guitars, and a multitude of percussion, this is one extended blowout. It begins with Clarence White burning over a percolating jam. McGuinn quickly enters, improvising the Coltrane-esque intro, but then lies back, possibly so he could enjoy White and Leadon trading licks. After approximately four minutes, Sneaky Pete starts adding sustained buzzing notes to the fray, which seems to inspire Leadon, who becomes overtly more psychedelic for several minutes. Shortly before the seven-minute mark, the front line drops out and a rhythm section solo begins. Featuring bass, both drummers and various percussion, this sequence is rough and ragged, but doesn't overextend itself. At the ten-minute mark, everyone veers back into the percolating jam. The guitarists continue improvising as McGuinn leads the way through the first verse. The jam immediately continues with all guitars blazing before they finally skid to a halt amidst howling sustain and feedback. During the applause, McGuinn can be heard exclaiming to the audience "And it's not a drug song either!" Needless to say, the Whisky A Go-Go audience has no intention of letting them end here.
For the encore, the full entourage returns to the stage and proceed to deliver two more choice numbers, beginning with a truncated version of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin tune, "I Wasn't Born To Follow," featured on the Notorious Byrd Brothers album a few years prior. Following an all too brief instrumental sequence, this segues into Dylan's "Chimes Of Freedom." Once again, it's a delight to hear McGuinn and Hillman singing these songs together. Despite the tight curfew, the Whisky audience doesn't want the night to end and encourages another encore. At a loss for what to play, McGuinn relays to the other musicians, "We gotta do something hot!" A request from the audience for "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" gets their attention and despite it not being what anyone would consider a "hot" song, they give it a go. With McGuinn on lead vocal and Hillman, Roberts, Battin, Parsons and White all contributing on the choruses, this rises to the occasion. Following a sweet last refrain featuring White adding some striking guitar embellishments, they soar off into The Byrds' signature set-closing instrumental, "Hold It." Despite its brevity, "Hold It" provides one last chance for White, Leadon and Sneaky Pete to blaze away, indeed providing a smoking hot conclusion to this legendary night. (Alan Bershaw)
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