Roger McGuinn - guitar, vocals; Clarence White - guitar, mandolin, vocals; Skip Battin - bass, vocals; Gene Parsons - drums, harmonica, vocals; Guests:; Gene Clark - vocals on "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" & hits medley; Gib Guilbeau - vocals, fiddle on "Diggy Liggy Lo" & "Louisiana Man"
The Ash Grove will long be remembered as the West Coast epicenter of the traditional folk and blues revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As such, the Los Angeles venue was a critical component, not only in the careers of many important folk and blues artists, but as an educational environment to many younger musicians, songwriters and listeners, providing them with first hand exposure to the best of the best in an intimate setting. Also a focal point for progressive thought, The Ash Grove would have an equally strong impact on the cultural and political perspective of these young emerging artists, laying the groundwork for what would become the cultural revolution of the 1960s. From the Ash Grove's organizational efforts in support of Civil Rights at the beginning of the decade to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations later in the decade, Ash Grove owner Ed Pearl's strong political convictions and the many politically charged events hosted at the venue made it a hotbed of creativity and controversy. In 1969, the club hosted films in support of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution and had scheduled a debate about these highly charge events. Prior to this debate, a group of anti-Castro Cubans living in California threatened Pear l and the club and that April arsonists nearly destroyed the club. Pearl and his crew spent the next several months rebuilding The Ash Grove and his many musician friends, including The Byrds, played benefit concerts to raise money so he could reopen that August. Undaunted, the club continued on as before but in June of 1970, armed men from an Anti-Castro terrorist group entered the club, roughed up Pearl, splashed kerosene on the walls and torched the club again. Fortunately, the clubs experienced less damage from this second attack, the culprits were apprehended and The Ash Grove reopened quickly. However, with many of the traditional folk and blues musicians dying off and many of the younger artists capable of filling much larger venues, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Ash Grove to survive. A month after the second arson attack, The Byrds and blues guitarist Freddie King contributed their services, returning to the club for a three-night stand of benefit concerts held on August 21, 22 and 23, 1970.
Preparing for the release of a new album and with Roger McGuinn the subject of Rolling Stone magazine's monthly interview, August of 1970 would prove a pivotal time for The Byrds. When many of the band's contemporaries had split up or were nearing the end of their creativity, the double album "Untitled" would rejuvenate the band's following. Released a few weeks after the Ash Grove benefits, the album featured both live and studio recordings, with all four members contributing material. 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 indeed 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 both a spiritual and musical unity between the two decades and both critics and fans agreed that this lineup was more accomplished in concert than any previous configuration of The Byrds.
Over the course of the August 1970 Ash Grove run, The Byrds sets would include several notable friends dropping by -- guest appearances included the likes of Linda Ronstadt, John Hammond and Gib Guilbeau; as well as former Byrds members Gene Clark and Gram Parsons. Presented here is The Byrds set from the second night of this run, which includes guest appearances by Gene Clark and Gib Guilbeau. One of the remarkable things about this recording is the ability to clearly hear everything on stage. The Ash Grove largely catered to traditional folk and blues artists. Drums and electric instruments required little or no additional amplification in the small venue, so were not often mixed through the Ash Grove's PA system. Full band recordings taped directly off the house system often suffer from mixes that neglect to capture everything clearly. For this run, Dawson brought in part of The Byrds PA system, which may have been overkill, but allowed him to include everything in the mix and to mix in stereo, which greatly enhances this recording.
The night begins with the standard opener of this era, "Lover Of The Bayou," the McGuinn/Jacques Levy collaboration that would kick off the live half of the "Untitled" album. Like much of McGuinn's original material from this era, the song was written for an aborted stage show project called Gene Tryp, which was based on Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (The stage show's name was simply an anagram of Ibsen's title). Set during the Civil War, "Lover Of The Bayou" is a character study of a Louisiana voodoo man, with McGuinn serving as its witchdoctor narrator. Threatening and tense, this finds the band in strong form, particularly Clarence White, whose unique touch and expert grasp of distortion are largely responsible for evoking the song's sinister tone, which would soon kick off the live half of the "Untitled" album follows. Like much of McGuinn's original material from this era, the song was written for an aborted stage show project called Gene Tryp, which was based on Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt (The stage show's name was simply an anagram of Ibsen's title). Set during the Civil War, "Lover Of The Bayou" is a character study of a Louisiana voodoo man with McGuinn serving as its witchdoctor narrator. Threatening and tense, Clarence White's unique touch and expert grasp of distortion are largely responsible for evoking the song's sinister tone.
A grounding problem was causing a hum in McGuinn's guitar amplifier, but Dawson quickly resolves the issue. The Byrds continue with one of Dylan's unreleased "Basement Tapes" compositions, "You Ain't Goin''' Nowhere," featuring more electric instrumentation than the "Sweethearts Of The Rodeo" recording from two years prior. Skip Battin next fronts the group and shares his ruminations on the Vietnam War with "Well Come Back Home," the compelling album closer for the "Untitled" studio LP. Lightening up the mood with one of the several dog-themed songs the band would record over the years, they next serve up the traditional "Old Blue." This provides fine examples of Clarence using the B-Bender that he and Gene Parsons invented, allowing his Telecaster to emulate the sound of a pedal steel guitar. The medley that first appeared on the "Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde" album surfaces next, beginning with Dylan's "My Back Pages." Here the song is played in truncated form before skillfully segueing into a cover of Jimmy Reed's bluesy "Baby What You Want Me To Do." Prior to performing a few acoustic numbers, McGuinn fronts the group for a sparse arrangement of "He Was A Friend Of Mine," written in the wake of the JFK assassination.
The acoustic portion of this set is a delight, beginning with one of the earliest examples of anyone covering a Lowell George song. Drummer Gene Parsons leads the group on "Willin'" a good year prior to the writer debuting the song with his own band Little Feat. Parson's world-weary vocal is complimented by harmony vocals from White, conveying considerable work went into the sweet vocal arrangement. The group continues the acoustic portion with another song destined for "Untitled," with a romp through Leadbelly's cocaine anthem, "Take A Whiff On Me." White's blazing acoustic finger work is also specifically showcased with the traditional fiddle tune "Soldiers Joy" (AKA Black Mountain Rag).
Easing back into electric material, Clarence White assumes lead vocal duties on "Truck Stop Girl." While not known for his vocal abilities, this is still an engaging performance and proves the group had a keen sense for recognizing songwriting talent, as this song was also written by Lowell George and Bill Payne, soon to be recognized as the founders of Little Feat. A fully electric version of another of the Gene Tryp numbers, "Chestnut Mare" follows. One of McGuinn's greatest songs, this finds soundman Dawson recreating the echoed sound of a canyon within the tiny walls of the Ash Grove and features White's sensitive and delicate finger picking throughout.
Up to this point, the performance has been relaxed and generally laid back, but things kick up a notch with a fiery rendition of "This Wheel's On Fire." Another song sourced from Dylan and The Band's basement tapes, this is unfortunately incomplete due to the tape stock running out midway. When the recording resumes, founding member Gene Clark has joined the group on stage singing lead vocals on one of his finest compositions, "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." Originally featured on the group's debut album, this song dips back to the very beginning of The Byrds career. Following Clark's brief appearance, singer, guitarist, fiddler Gib Guilbeau joins the group onstage, essentially resurrecting the short-lived country/rock outfit Nashville West, which also featured Clarence White and Gene Parsons. Together they head into high energy zydeco-fueled territory with two Cajun classics, "Diggy Liggy Lo" and "Louisiana Man."
Following these enjoyable guests' appearances, McGuinn again fronts the group on a pair of songs from the iconic "Easy Rider" movie soundtrack. With Gene Parsons contributing harmonica, they begin with a haunting rendition of Dylan's "Its Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding," Upon the songs conclusion, McGuinn recreates the sound of a motorcycle crash before continuing with a lovely "Ballad Of Easy Rider." This serves as a quieter reflective moment, but within the first few seconds of "Jesus Is Just Alright," which follows, the intensity level cranks back up. They take this song at good clip, with Battin and Parsons propelling the action behind McGuinn and White. Another "Gene Tryp" number surface with a fine harmony-laden read of McGuinn's "All The Things," also destined for the "Untitled" album.
As they veer toward the end of the set, Gene Clark again joins in for a string of classic Byrds hits, beginning with a medley of "Turn Turn Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" that no doubt delighted the hometown audience. However, it is the improvisational jam on "Eight Miles High" that immediately follows which brings this performance to a blazing close. By 1970, "Eight Miles High" had become an extended jam vehicle and the interplay between McGuinn and White is quite astounding. With McGuinn and White's guitars panned to separate channels in the stereo field, this allows listeners to more clearly enjoy the musical dialogue between the two guitarists. An improvisation begins from scratch and before you know it, the group has created a scintillating raga-oriented jam. For the next 10 minutes, they venture deeper into psychedelic territory that features a propulsive bottom end by Battin and Parsons and McGuinn and White blazing away on their guitars. Eventually, McGuinn and White drop out allowing the rhythm section to solo. Eventually, White and McGuinn begin feeling their way back in; and with the group sizzling again start to maneuver into "Eight Miles High" proper. McGuinn's Coltrane-influenced opening riffs signal the transition and they finally segue into the first verse of this legendary song. However, the group is still cooking so hard that they blaze right off again, never returning to the lyric. After another minute or two of intense interplay, this "Eight Miles High" jam comes to a close, followed by the band's signature outro instrumental, "Hold It," to end the set.
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