Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tools of the Trade: Brian Jones Vox III Teardrop Guitar - 'As Tears Go By'


Vox first started to build guitars in 1961, and in 1962 in order to compete with American instrument makers Vox introduced their iconic Phantom guitar. Most if not all British aspiring and popular rock and roll musicians were using the Vox AC-30 amplifiers as a cheaper alternative to paying taxes and import fees on American made amps. Vox was started by Tom Jennings as a company that could compete with the American companies like Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker. In 1963 the Jennings Company Vox debuted the Vox MK series of guitars often referred to as the Teardrop and Phantom respectively.

The MK III Teardrop because of its use during the ‘Stones’ early ascension to popularity soon became synonymous with Brian Jones. Similarly to Paul McCartney and his Hofner bass and John Lennon and his Rickenbacker 325, when one thought of Jones the guitar was almost an extension of his being.The guitar’s unusual body, unconventional build and use by Jones assisted in making Vox the chosen guitar for many British artists including the Hollies and David Bowie. As they say, ‘Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery’.
The obvious marketing move was to get these instruments into some of the famed British musician’s hands of the time for their use and for some free promotion. At the time (1963) the Rolling Stones were inching toward world domination and superstardom and were just beginning to reap the rewards of their musical genius and instrumental prowess. Their early appearances illustrate that the band had yet to upgrade their gear as a smattering of Harmony, Selmer and Hofner instruments graced their stages. The first level of their ascendant popularity consisted of appearances and promotions. Brian Jones, guitarist and multi-instrumenalist and at the time the cherub faced leader of the ‘Rolling Stones’ was the first lucky recipient of one of Vox’s premier prototypes.

During this era of the Stones formative years Jones can be witnessed playing a quivering slide part over the band’s plethora of blues covers on the MK III, or scrubbing out a chugging metallic brush stroke of rhythm.  In addition to his ‘Teardrop’ guitar Jennings Musical Enterprises also gave Brian a matching Vox MK III 12 string which was handmade by Mick Bennett as was Jones’ 6 string.
Jones prototype guitar was built in Vox’s Dartmouth, England factory and contains minor yet significant differences to the regular run of instruments. The instrument contained two single coil pickups, a three position selector switch for using one or both of the pickups respectively. Under the switch the guitar had both volume and tone control knobs. The guitar setup was based around and somewhat mirrored the popular Fender Telecaster alignment which was also a guitar that many of Brian Jones’ idols played and he also liked himself.

The headstock was arranged with ‘six on a side’ tuning pegs and the Vox logo. The saddle/bridge was also modeled after the American Stratocaster on Brian’s guitar edition with later mainstream editions including a Bigsby vibrato tail piece. The bridge on Brian’s prototype originated from an original 1950’s Strat where it was removed and then affixed to the body of the Vox. (see video) The backside of the instrument shows a ground wire leading from the back of the sustain block leading in lo-fi fashion to the guitars plastic hatch. Many musicians and curators have remarked upon seeing and playing the guitar that upon close inspection it is truly a ‘handmade’ guitar. Lots of personality and mojo contained within.

Also unique to the guitar was its ‘zero fret’ located at the top of the head stock to increase the guitars sustain by holding the strings the appropriate distance above the neck. Finally, as an added bonus the back of the guitar came with a circular snap on protective pad which was designed to protect the guitar from the scrapings of a musicians belt buckle.

The famed Vox was used often by Brian on stage in the bands formative days. It can be seen in action when the Stones debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 25, 1964 as well as the group’s appearance on the Tami Show on where its stannic aesthetic can be witnessed chugging out the R and B stomp critical to the Stones early classics (through Fender amplification). The guitars clean white lines, elegant weeping shape and bristled tone matched perfectly with Jones unique look and personality. Jones used the guitar on stage in 1964 and 1965 and it quickly became a part of his image, the guitar was not used in the studio as often as it is said that its shape made it hard to record while sitting down. While the guitars studio use cannot be tracked perfectly, Jones did use the guitar on the Stones classic ‘It’s All Over Now” where it’s trademark ‘tinny’ tone is a result of the aforementioned single coil pickups.
As quickly as Jones had co-opted the Vox; as was his wont Jones would use a number of other guitars throughout his tenure with the Stones.  Explorers, Les Paul’s and Gretch would also help to create his instrumental arsenal. The Vox MK III’s own handcrafted history in addition to its owner’s own unique musical aura add up to one of rock history’s most recognizable and just plain cool guitars. 

The instrument was sold at Sotheby’s auction in 1984 for the blue light special price of $3,200 to the Hard Rock CafĂ©. It has since been displayed for a number of years and now can be located in the Hard Rock’s substantial London vault. It’s obvious the guitar is saturated with some heavy duty mojo.
As a final aside, there is a tall tale that Ronnie Wood picked up one of Brian’s Vox guitars (his 12 string?) to try on while the band was in preparation for the Stones 1989 Steel Wheels tour. The result being that he was quickly met with a sharp ‘Keep yer fuckin’ hands off of it’ by Keef.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Take One: Bob Dylan - 'Hero Blues' 1963-1974 'Find Somebody To Fight'


Bob Dylan’s ‘Hero Blues’ is a composition which surprisingly never found a home on a Bob Dylan official release. Even though the song was never destined for Dylan’s mainstream audience, it retains a mystical history and important slot in Dylan’s colossal discography. Originally recorded on December 6, 1962 for the LP The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the tune has taken on a number of permutations over its varied existence.

Dylan recorded studio versions on both piano and guitar with both featuring his trademark harmonica. The song, while immortalized in the studio also made a few limited live appearances with the early definitive version hailing from the famed Town Hall concert on April 12, 1963 recorded shortly after one of its studio run throughs. Today in the ‘rock room’ I am enjoying the version featured on the Bootleg Series Volume 9 Witmark demos (the guitar/harp rendition recorded in 1963) which has in turn led me through the aforementioned versions, including its return to the live stage for a limited time on the Bob Dylan and the Band 1974 tour after a ten year absence.

As previously mentioned, ‘Hero Blues’ and its compositional metamorphosis was never available on an official release for a number of years. It did leak out on some ‘bootlegs’ for the hardcore. But with the release of the Bootleg Series Volume 9, The Witmark Demos in 2010 and with the rare and hard to find European Copyright Collection in 2012, a studio glimpse has given fans insight into the song and its recording process. With both of the above releases taken into account three takes (1, 2 and 4) from the December sessions and the publishing demo from 1963 are available for enjoyment.  The piano version has not yet seen an official release but was run-through during the sessions for The Times They Are A Changin and followed the above guitar readings.

Content wise the song is based around a theme which Dylan had played within other compositions; that the narrator need to be a fighter in both war and domesticity so his woman has something to be proud of and to speak about. The lyrics contain an attitude that Dylan asserts through his narrator that the most important thing to his girl/love interest is that her man is a ‘hero’, hence the title.  
The subject believes that his ‘gal’ may have too much going on in her head and feels the need to live up to some invisible social standard which he too must strive for. ‘She reads too many books, she’s got nails inside her head, she won’t be satisfied until I end up dead’.  Association with celebrity or in this case more importantly with someone who is putting their life on the line and portrays honor is how the ‘girl’ in ‘Hero Blues’ relates to others. Looking through the lens of how others see us is the crux of the song, but with the Dylan twist of how others see us can be based on our accomplishments or more importantly our representations.
The three takes recorded in preparation for the Freewheelin’ album are all similar in scope with the exception of take 4 lacking the ‘books’ verses. Each respective verse is separated by a simple descending plucked guitar lick. Dylan varies his just slightly with each take with the final take having more ‘aggressive’ vocals.  It has been speculated that ‘Hero Blues’ was tabbed for the Freewheelin’ record but was bumped in favor of ‘One to Many Mornings’. Fingerprints of other Dylan compositions from the same era can be discerned in ‘Hero Blues’ cuts like ‘It Ain Me Babe’ dip from the same well of influence.

The version on piano and harp from 1963 has its own unique charm and is an all time favorite of the ‘rock room’.  Highlighted by Dylan’s rickety boogie-woogie piano, the song cooks and blows steam with Dylan’s well timed harp blasts. The tune begins with the aforementioned wining harp and Dylan setting the rolling groove with his eclectic piano playing. The lyrics have been updated with the second and third verses differing slightly. I love the character of the piano reading as the tempo wobbles, the harp squeals and Dylan bites.  

The publishing version from May 1963 stays close to the original studio arrangement and also features guitar and harmonica. This publishing performance closely follows the song’s live premier in April of 1963 at the famed Town Hall concert in NYC. That the song was worked out in a number of different ways illustrates that Dylan did have plans for the track whether on one of his LP’s, or for a contemporary artist to issue a cover version.

When Dylan premiered the song live on April 12, 1963 at the aforementioned Town Hall concert, he prefaced the tune with, ‘This is for all the, uh, boys that know girls that want 'em, uh, to go out and get themselves killed.’ What follows is stunning as Dylan plays a definitive version, with hearty breathy vocals and a youthful investment. The song unfolds patiently with Dylan’s harp blasts answering each verse. Stunning. A must hear, as is the entire Town Hall performance.  When Dylan concluded ‘Hero Blues’ that evening the composition was then inexplicably shelved; obscured for more than a decade under the weight of what was arguably Dylan’s most prolific composing era.
Much later, in typical Dylan fashion, he unearthed the song for his 1974 tour set list. The series of dates was Dylan’s return to the road for the first time since 1966. While ‘Hero Blues’ appearance only lasted for two shows, it was used to open both of the inaugural concerts in Chicago on January 3 and 4 1974 as a not so subtle commentary on how Dylan viewed his return to the performing stage and how it was perceived.

Art imitates life, and the duality of the lyrics of ‘Hero Blues’ when performed in 1963 and 1974 both relate to hero worship as both a soldier becoming a hero by giving his life in war and to a lesser extent being an artist/celebrity and being looked to as some sort of savior. In short, the song became relevant to Bob once again but in a more personal way. This man was viewed as some kind of musical savior and was pegged with being the 'voice' of a generation he hardly knew.  The song had been birthed as protest and grew into a commentary on its author.

Whereas in the early 60’s ‘Hero Blues’ fit right in with Dylan’s early topical numbers, in the 1970’s it became an explanation on ‘Dylan’ himself through the eyes of Zimmerman. The circulating recordings of ‘Hero Blues’ from the opening Chicago shows are fiery and eager. The symbolism attached to the song being the show opener is relevant. The Band is hot with Robertson taking a number of clenched guitar breaks lending to the drama of the performance. Danko and Helm walk in a honky tonk lock step with Danko’s plump fretless bass thumps urging along the groove. This Tour 74’ arrangement is reminiscent to the group’s ‘Hollis Brown’ musical approaches.  The 1974 version of the song is a slamming ‘country honk’, with accusatory vocals and fiery attitude.

Similarly to other ‘deep cuts’ in the Dylan catalog (ie: Blind Willie McTell, Abandoned Love) ‘Hero Blues’ made its appearance and then disappeared into the graveyard of Dylan compositions not destined to be featured on an official release. Since its final on stage performance in 1974 the song was never to be heard from again in front of a paying audience. The cut featured Dylan’s typically acerbic wit in addition to his unique portrayal of relationships, hero worship and idolization. For reasons never to be explained Dylan often left the songs his listeners felt to be major compositions left to languish in the vaults. Fortunately for us, there is documentation of these legendary tracks in addition to a critical reassessment of these hidden jewels via the ongoing Bootleg Series.

'Hero Blues' Live 1974


Studio Versions

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Take One: The Byrds - 1965 Single B Side - 'She Don't Care About Time'


Spinning on the turntable today in the ‘rock room’ is the flip side to the famed 1965 7’ Byrds' single ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Composed by Gene Clark, the cut, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ is not only one of Clark’s finest compositions and best renowned songs; but also an influential and important part of the entire pop/rock mid-1960’s discography. 

Released on October 29, 1965 the single ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ b/w ‘She Don’t Care About Time followed the staggering success of the Byrds ‘folk-rock’ cover of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. While in the groups early stages they concentrated mainly on Dylan covers and re-imagining’s of traditional folk numbers, Gene Clark, the band’s primary songwriter, focused on developing his own melodic and lyrical skills. Clark would leave behind the accessibility of other people’s songs and would dive headfirst into exploring his own emotions and dreams through melodic and metered poetry.

 In what would eventually become a bone of contention effecting the dynamics of the group, Clark’s  songwriting skills offered him more money and greater attention than other principals in the band. In an ironic twist of fate Jim (Roger) McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman would later earn greater recognition for being members of the Byrds than Gene would being the principal songwriter in their formatve days. While Clark’s stint in the band would be brief he was the perpetuating force in the group during their most influential and popular era.

‘She Don’t Care About Time’ would not appear on the LP Turn, Turn, Turn and would only be available on the ‘B’ side of the aforementioned ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ single.  Although later appearing on a number of greatest hits compilations; in what would seem to be typical of his musical career, one of Clark’s finest early moments of a composer would be nestled on the flip side of a Byrds' single.
Instrumentally the song was influenced by the Beatles and after its release it in turn influenced the Beatles back. While both groups competed in the charts, as artists and musicians their influence was shared even across the expanse of the Atlantic. 

‘She Don’t Care About Time’ begins with the recognizable and glistening ring of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker guitar. As Michael Clarke’s drums enter one is instantly reminded of the Beatles 1965 single ‘Ticket to Ride’. The sparkling picking and the start/stop tom-tom oriented drum groove definitely share a similar musical aesthetic to the Beatles track.  The song would also in return later be cited by George Harrison as an impetus and influence for his own 1965 song, ‘If I Needed Someone’ which likewise contained soaring and seamless three part harmonies.

The similarities between the two tracks end there though as Clark’s lyrics equal and in the ‘rock room’s modest opinion even surpasses the Byrds’ lyrical contemporaries of the time including the Beatles. Clark’s lyrics evoke a woman comprised of dreams and perfection. Figuratively, the woman does not need to heed time as she is timeless.

As McGuinn’s aforementioned picked intro is dispersed with, Crosby cuts rhythm strokes across the lick. The drums then rumble in with the appearance of the stunning signature Byrd three part harmonies. The vocal melody is the dolloped on top of the sturdy pop backing comprised of Clarke’s uniquely tumbling drums and the muted pluck of Hillman’s bass. Crosby and McGuinn express themselves  deeply through their respective riffs. The contrast lays in-between the central melody and band instrumentation, combining to express the deep originality of the cut. He track is a pop song with an ear worm melody balanced somewhere between the band’s folk beginnings, psychedelic zed minds and fertile musical beginnings.

Clark’s poetic sensibilities are the star of the song. His deft portrail of complex emotions distills a deeper meaning from his lyrical construct. The subject of the song is spectral, the perfect partner, or woman, or in the ‘rock room’s’ opinion the mysterious muse. Clark knows that she or it waits without regret. Time means nothing for a mystery or for a love as deep as the ages. The simple depth of the lyrics and rich artfulness is second only to Dylan in this era.

Mid song McGuinn takes a short quivering solo that quotes Bach while offering a mystical respite before heading back into the verse; as the song has no true chorus. Packed into a two and a half minute flip side, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ sums up the early Byrds and the mid-1960’s folk rock aesthetic, all the while expressing something fresh, yet staying perfectly within its own time. The song has aged well and is well regarded by the band with both Clark and Hillman recording 'cover' versions in both 1972 and 2017 respectively.

Clark’s flight with the Byrds would be turbulent, but stunning in its ascent and brevity. Unfortunately success would shake the young band to its foundation and haunt Clark’s future days as an artist and musician. His songs when examined in hindsight are always ahead of the curve and foreshadowing the next move to come in whichever genre he saw fit to explore.  But the early sides cut when the Byrds were both individually and collaboratively peaking contain a historic alchemy that would never be matched by any of the group’s original principals.





Saturday, August 18, 2018

Take One: Buffalo Springfield - 'A Child's Claim to Fame' - 1967 B Side

The root's of 'Country Rock' are tangled and deep. While the genesis of the movement are often discussed and debated the answers are often closely related. Regardless if  its The Byrds, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield or the Monkees, the mid to late 1960's was littered with examples of rock colliding with multiple genres. This process includes the folk backgrounds of some the composers as well as the blues country influences in their writing. The respective members of many of the bands in this era would end up contributing to and playing with each other on numerous projects.

Spinning today in the 'rock room' is the 1967 single release 'B' side by the 'Buffalo Springfield', 'A Child's Claim to Fame'. Written by Richie Furay, who would later lead 1970's 'Country Rock' pioneers 'Poco'; the song can also be found on the 'Buffalo Springfield's second album, Buffalo Springfield Again. With two other principal songwriters in the group named Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Furay had no original songs featured on the band's debut LP, but that changed with their second release. Furay's songs were sweetly melodic and gently touched with a soft country lilt and his talent as a song smith could not be suppressed. A similar situation to squeezing George Harrison's songs onto Beatle records

Nestled on the flip side of Stephen Stills, 'Rock and Roll Woman', 'A Child's Claim to Fame' was recorded on June 21, 1967 following Monterey Pop and on the solstice of the 'Summer of Love', yet not a drop of psychedelia can be detected. The acoustic based song is looked fondly upon by Furay who has noted that it was quite an achievement for him as a composer. The track spotlights famed guitar gunslinger James Burton on dobro which lends a high and lonesome authenticity to the cut. Burton is a world renowned guitarist and played with Furay idol Ricky Nelson in addition to his extended time with Elvis among others. (he would also play on Gram Parson's debut album)
The track made nary a dent in the charts as the 'A' side 'Rock and Roll Woman' only hovered around the 40's despite being one of the Summer's finest 'A' sides and arguably one of the Springfield's celebrated cuts. The song's influence, importance and recognition by others cannot be understated. Like previously stated the song must also be looked at in the context of its nod to country music. The track sits comfortably with other songs placed in the discussion of  the'Country 'Rock' label. Tracks such as 'Beatles' 'Act Naturally', the 'Byrds' 'Time Between', the Monkees' 'Papa Gene's Blues' and the 'Springfield's' own 'Go and Say Goodbye' from their 1966 debut.

James Burton's tear drop licks and weeping filigrees magnify the song's melodic strengths, melding what is essentially a 2 minute long folk song verse intersected by two instrumental breaks. Stephen and Richie harmonize vocally with Stills going up high in the classic 'Buffalo Springfield' blend. Neil dryly lends his recognizable voice to the end line of each verse. The mono version reveals the beautiful vocal nuances nicely in my humble opinion.

Dewey Martin keeps things simple on drums with a straightforward country clop on the snare rim. Over the head of the verse and leading into the the breaks the softly muted fuzz of Young's guitar lends tasty exclamations of shimmering vibrato. The first solo is then taken by Young and is placed perfectly, emanating a vintage feel with a futuristic sound containing plucky notes and lustrous strums.

The second verse follows, and the solo spot at the end of the second set of verses is taken by Stephen Stills. Stills lends a typically fantastic serpentine acoustic line that dosey doe's with Burton's dobro at just the right times. Stills solo line continues under the book ending Furay/Burton hook as the first verse is then sung again.
The content of 'A Child's Claim to Fame' was inspired by the famously contentious relationship between Neil Young and his band mates. The song is Richie Furay's reaction at the time to Young's constant coming and going from the band and his increasingly erratic behavior. Years later Furay even alluded the Young may have written 'I Am a Child' as a response to 'A Child's Claim to Fame'. The sadness and disappointment in Furay's lyrics illustrates what type of dynamics contributed to the short shelf life of the group and how youth, personality and popularity ended the band before it really started.

Only one more album would remain for the band and that LP, Last Time Around, was a fragmented example of what had originally made the band so great. But for a brief time the 'Springfield' had it all. 'A Child's Claim to Fame', even in its brevity, is an amazing recording and sums up the entirety of the band's experience through its rustic instrumental aesthetic, unabashed lyrics and honest recitation.

A Child's Claim To Fame


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Now Playing: The Kinks - The Forgotten Sides - 'It's Really Good to See You Rocking Out'


Picking through the ‘rock room’ shelves today I have pulled a number of dusty Kinks seven inches for rotation and review. Positively the most underrated of the major 1960s British rock bands, the Kinks catalog continues to reveal inspiring melodies, revolutionary lyrics and clandestine musical magic often packaged in musical snapshots of normal British life.


Unfortunately, the Kinks’ deep wealth of compositional genius was often missed even when served on the veritable silver platter of a single vinyl release. They always remained respected by their contemporaries but their triumphs were often obscured by the ignorance of critical analysis.

Here are five such overlooked U.S./UK Kinks cuts, taken from single releases, all of which should be recognized as ‘klassics’ from the Kinks songbook.

‘SLEEPWALKER,’ (1977): Only Ray Davies could take such creepy stalker content and package it into a bounding syncopated musical bundle. It’s a shame that this song, the title track off of 1977’s Sleepwalker is not recognized as a classic — excepting ardent followers of the Kinks. The song barely slipped into the U.S. Top 50, before quickly before disappearing into the shadows. The crisp funky drum introduction, anything but sleepy, is quickly blanketed by orchestrated Kink guitars and perfectly popping and contrasting Ray Davies vocals.

‘WONDERBOY,’ (1968): Soaked with the aesthetic of the Kinks’ contemporaneous Village Green Preservation Society, “Wonderboy” was apparently lauded by John Lennon — but yet still missed by the listening public at large. The song spins like a psychedelic music-hall show tune, containing airy “la-la” backing vocals, jack-in-the-box piano and harpsichord coloring. Davies’ wry vocal approach underlies the positive lyrical directive and breezy overlapping melodies. Definitely a song of its time, the tune retains its attractiveness and influence even after 40-plus years.

‘[WISH I COULD FLY LIKE] SUPERMAN,’ (1979): This disco-era single soars in on splashy drums, thick skyscraper bass and the addictive mantra of Dave Davies’ rhythmic and muted guitar trills. An attempt to stay relevant in the messy musical climate of the late 1970s, the Kinks were successful, using a then-contemporary approach that combined distorted guitars with a pulsing mirror-ball groove. Davies’ lyrical content in the song is, as always, a unique glimpse into the psyche of a man wishing to be. The song tugged the public’s cape briefly, but made only a brief appearance in the U.S. charts ...only to be found on the dusty shelves of record collections and cut out bins.

‘MONEY TALKS,’ (1974): Gritty, fuzzy and inflated with fat horns, “Money Talks” is a swinging, bubbly tonic, especially for listeners starved for straight rock with no chaser. Tucked away on Preservation Act 2, one of the Kinks most criticized albums of the 1970s, “Money Talks” cashed out early with barely a search of the pockets by the public. Still, irresistible Davies bothers harmonies are intermingled with female backing vocalists in a bombastic and assertive diatribe about the evils and troubles associated with cash.

‘BETTER THINGS,’ (1981): A song that once again enjoyed only moderate success on both sides of the Atlantic, this remains an anthem of endless possibility and hopefulness. Much later, “Better Things” gain belated recognition when unearthed by Ray Davies and Bruce Springsteen for the 2012 tribute album to Davies, See My Friends. The original version begins with a percussive piano, then expands into a motion-picture soundtrack of positivity and glory, a trait sorely missing from current rock compositions. Davies’ vocals quake and shake, the hopefulness of the song stained with the emotion of loss that often accompanies the best wishes for a long time friend.

The tracks above are just a small example of the depth and strength of the Kinks Katalog. While not always hitting the charts with a splash the quality of the music being released by the band never wavered. I hope you enjoy a few of the cuts that bobbed just below the surface but are no less than some of the bands biggest hits.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Now Playing: Gene Clark - 'The Deep Cuts and Lost Tracks'


Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds and one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most intriguing troubadours, has always been suspended in the rock and roll gray area between obscurity and popularity.
Often, throughout a long musical career that concluded with his untimely death in 1991, Clark was in the forefront of musical innovators leading the way to the next big musical movement; whether it psychedelic, country rock, singer/songwriter, or his own brand of ‘cosmic American music.’ Gene was a quiet musical revolutionary. Unfortunately, the more tragic tales and popular musicians have received Clark’s deserving accolades and are now more regularly called the representatives of these labels through their posthumous campaigns.

Peering through the thick haze of drugs and alcohol, picking through the failed album tracks and poor production choices, and inspecting the obscure and dusty melodies, a collection of forgotten yet stellar Gene Clark compositions comes into greater focus. Fans and scholars-in-the-know realize that Clark was and is still considered an innovator and by choosing any of the albums in his extended discography one can be witness to his deep and spiritual contributions to rock music’s melodic creations and lyrical depth.

Clark’s voice will always be remembered for its milky deep baritone, his lyrics for the revealing and detailed glimpse into his minor key reflection of life. If Clark had one hit song during his solo career, or if some enterprising record executive had the foresight and insight to push his records instead of burying them Clark’s musical landscape would be completely different. The deep cuts the ‘rock room is currently enjoying  are each powerful, beautiful and revolutionary in their own unique ways and deserve much more than a cursory mention on some internet list.

While most if not all of Clark’s solo work could be considered brimming with deep cuts, for this list I have distilled my choices to five songs from his discography of 11 solo records, two of them with ex-Byrd partners Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. Depending on your familiarity with the Clark discography, you may have contrary choices to my own, but that’s the beauty of lists such as the following. A collaborative review and constructive discussion of the dusty cobwebbed corners of Clark’s career can reveal long concealed jewels and shine a brighter light on the obvious gifts of his songwriting abilities …

‘ONE IN A HUNDRED’, (WHITE LIGHT, 1971; ROADMASTER, 1972): A song filled with so much promise and melodic strengths that it held a spot on two albums. First recorded in 1970, the song is actually Byrds reunion track, containing all of the hallmarks of a classic Byrds LP cut with contributions from all of the group’s original members. The jingle-jangle guitar is present and accounted for, in addition to thick and sugary sweet harmonies and Clark’s unique vocal melody lines, all of its elements as distinguishable as a finger print.
The Byrds’ version of the song languished in the vaults until the release of the Dutch LP Roadmaster in 1973. In the interim, Clark, aware of the optimistic songs superior strengths, released an alternate version of the track on 1971’s White Light. This stripped down acoustic version is highlighted by Jessie Ed Davis’ serpentine slide guitar and features an airy yet woody arrangement that showcases this song’s internal strengths.

‘STRENGTH OF STRINGS,’ (NO OTHER, 1974): The combination of his refusal to tour as well as the creation of an LP way ahead of its time unfortunately sunk the album No Other before it ever had a chance to leave the ground. Tucked away as the side-one closer on this now unjustly forgotten album, the mammoth “Strength of Strings” contains a beautifully sung wordless introduction, and a slowly ascending main structure that seems to gain momentum as the song rolls forward. Imposing and towering vocals stretch out toward a huge sinking orange sun outlining the cosmic range.
The track is an anomaly; there is no music from 1974 that quite sounds like this. Instruments wrap around one another like a DNA helix, voices take flight, and melodies elicit images of universes colliding and exploding. The song hails from an album that Clark considered his finest moment and that once again fell into the wrong marketplace at the wrong time. ‘Strength of Strings’ is a revolutionary chapter and a song that continues to impress through its historic musical relevancy, one of Clark’s finest moments.

‘POLLY,’ (THROUGH THE MORNING, THROUGH THE NIGHT, 1969): ‘Polly’ hails from one of two albums featuring Gene Clark and Doug Dillard from 1968 and 1969 respectively. Exploring the theme of freedom and flight later reflected in tracks such as ‘Silver Raven,’ ‘Polly’ sways like a weather-worn back porch swing in a smooth Southern breeze. The song moves in the manner of a secret passed between friends, soft and breathy, portraying a resonant sense of loss felt the narrator.
Sparkling acoustic arpeggios in addition to patint strokes across the strings elicit an intimate empty narrator’s room, a slow horse drawn rhythm supports the full community of group vocals that hang delicately in the air. While lyrically brief, Clark’s words, slow and languid expose deeper meaning with every listen. The resulting musical creation is a lacy waltz adding color to the black-and-white outline sketched by Clark’s honeyed vibrato.

‘LONELY SATURDAY,’ (TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY, 1977): After the disappointment felt by the relative commercial failure of 1974’s No Other, Clark returned with another record label and 1977’s release Two Sides to Every Story. Sticking to a theme that seemed to be developing, the record had little success, but the gift of hindsight shows this to be a well-made record containing the usual Clark classics that sit unnoticed like the a beggar on a cold city street. The LP has many choice moments, but the one that sticks with me because of its essential Clark elements is ‘Lonely Saturday.’
The song is a classic country tale of being left behind by a woman who has moved on, but what makes it worthy of inclusion on Clark’s Deep Cuts list is its definitive Clark vocal. You will be hard pressed to find any rock vocals more expressive and saturated with emotion. Weeping pedal steel, honky-tonk barroom piano, and the stale smell of a barren bar stool in conjunction with Clark’s stomach-twisting vocals all add up to a song that will make any grown man cry at the bar.

‘GYPSY RIDER,’ (SO REBELLIOUS A LOVER, 1987): The So Rebellious a Lover LP was subject to positive reviews upon its release, a major change for Clark. It seems that, with the passage of time, some critics and musicians were actually catching up with Clark’s sensibilities. The fruitful collaboration with Carla Olson brought out a number of new Clark songs, the one featured here being one of his finest late-era compositions.
‘Gypsy Rider,’ originates from Clark’s comfort zone, a dusty cowboy ballad dealing with travel, escape and a vagabond searching for answers along the rutted highway of life. Built on Clark’s acoustic guitar and still hearty yet gently quaking vocals, the song balances on the rhythm of the stringed instruments and melody until a tender clip-clop percussion joins in mid-song. ‘Gypsy Rider’ illustrates that Clark’s penchant for melody still remained, despite its arrival toward the end of his tiring existence. Even tucked away on this now-rare album, Clark calls out from the grooves remaining relevant, singing for you.

The above list could go in a myriad of directions with the amount of rare quality material and hidden tracks to be found in Gene Clark’s discography. With a prolific artist such as Clark, material was always being created; he could never turn off the tap; an abundance of material still awaits discovery. If only Gene could have hung on for a few more years and escaped the grasp of his demons, he would have collided with the current renewed interest and respect for his work.

The aforementioned tracks outlined above illustrate that in the shadow-obscured corners of Clark’s catalog there remains in wait beautiful music to find and enjoy. There are more songs to add to this constantly growing list, but for those who wish to begin the journey down the gypsy’s road, the above is a perfect starting point.