Yesterday I posted about a fascinating BBC documentary on the rise of Los Angeles' folk-rock movement—from the Byrds in 1965 to the Eagles in '75. If you haven't viewed it, you should. There's a lot of great information in there about the L.A. scene, told with a clear, dramatic narrative.
But there was something about the documentary's opening that didn't sit right with me. As the introduction unfolded, the BBC seemed to intimate that Los Angeles had been devoid of rock until the Byrds married folk with the electric 12-string guitar. The inference was that something called pop was over here and the upstart folk-rockers from Laurel Canyon were over there—and that the two never overlapped.
All of which sounded a little off to me based on my knowledge of the L.A. music scene at the time. So I reached out to Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine for some insight into the Byrds. Turns out that except for Roger McGuinn, the group didn't play their own instruments on their first hit single, Mr. Tambourine Man. Members of the Wrecking Crew did.
Here's Hal yeseterday on the Byrds's first hit...
"We recorded Mr. Tambourine Man in January 1965 with Roger McGuinn but without the rest of the Byrds [the flip side was I Knew I'd Want You]. I can't recall the other musicians producer Terry Melcher brought in to overdub [see JazzWax note at bottom of post].
"Terry Melcher [Doris Day's only child] was producing the group. We [the Wrecking Crew] had been doing so much work with him that he reached out to us to record several of their singles. The Byrds overdubbed their vocals, of course, and I'm sure they recorded their instruments on other songs once they became known.
"I recall that the Byrds' drummer Michael Clarke hated that I played on Mr. Tambourine Man. He was probably the only drummer in any band who resented me recording and helping to make their first single a hit.
"Soon after we recorded, Terry nearly lost his life on a motorcycle accident in the Southern California desert. The early prognosis was that he would lose both legs. But his mother contacted the finest orthopedic specialists and Terry was nursed back to health, with many years of therapy after his lengthy surgery. Sadly, Terry passed away in 2004 at age 62 from melanoma.
"Not long ago, Roger McGuinn [pictured above] was in Nashville when Larry and I were inducted into the the Musicians Hall of Fame. Roger was part of our induction ceremony and said on camera that the Byrds might not have existed if not for Larry and me.
"None of this takes anything away from the Byrds. They had a great new sound, their music was special, they sang terrific harmonies and changed the direction of rock. But back in '65, a single had to be tight and jump out of the radio with a crisp pop if it stood a chance of becoming a hit. And studio time was expensive, which is why we were called in. Back then, like today, economics played a significant role in recording as well as the end result. [Pictured above: Hal Blaine]
JazzWax note: Roger McGuinn [pictured above]—easily the most imaginative of the West Coast folk-rock guitarists and the movement's most pioneering artist given the songs written and group's vocal sound—provided a link to the listing of musicians on the Mr. Tambourine Man date. Except for Roger, the balance were all Wrecking Crew hands:
- Roger E. Webster (leader)
- Leon Russell, (piano)
- Laurence W. Knechtel (bass)
- Hal Blaine (drums)
- William Pitman (guitar)
- Jerry Kolbrak (guitar)
- James "Roger" McGuinn (guitar)
JazzWax clip: Here's the Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man in 1965 with Roger McGuinn and Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. The Bob Dylan cover changed rock and folk in one fell swoop and ushered in a new era, giving California rock a more laid-back, self-reflective sound and encouraging more artists to write their own songs...