Thursday, June 28, 2007
Parsons and Hillman, Part Two
The interview with the Burritos continued with me asking for some history, and soon came the remarks that made Jim McGuinn very unhappy...
(But first a few many-years-later second thoughts: note how dismissive the guys are of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album they recorded as Byrds before splitting off, now generally considered the defining moment for the transition from rock into country-rock. "Mighty Sam" (see below) was likely Mighty Sam McClain, not so old back then, still recording Blues and gospel just a few years ago. And Steve Cropper, of course, was/is one of Stax Records in-house geniuses, an influential white guitarist and an integral part of Booker T. and the M.G.'s.)
Could you tell me something about the old Byrds?
CH: I don't know... The Byrds to me were really together when the five original Byrds were there--and no other time since. The five started out from scratch, you know, like playing on nothing. That was The Byrds. Clarke ((meaning Mike)) was hittin' cardboard boxes, I was playing a $20 red Japanese bass, and McGuinn had an acoustic 12-string. That was the real Byrds. Gene ((the other Clark)) didn't really add that much. It just got stale. We ran through the mill; it had its good moments, but it's long gone.
At what point did Crosby leave, in terms of the records?
CH: He was up till half the album The Notorious Byrd Brothers, then he left. Then the next one came out. Then Gram left. Then I left. It just got to be ridiculous. It's very difficult to work with McGuinn, you know, on anything. He's the type of guy that... it's just a job. He goes up on stage and becomes a musician. Offstage, he's not--he doesn't buy records, he doesn't listen to the radio.
GP: He brings you down.
CH: And he doesn't really keep up with what's happening in music. The last album that they did, it was McGuinn, and the rest his hired group.
GP: He's always found a way to either buy the information or gather the information that he needs to keep up with what's goin' on. He himself doesn't live that life.
Has he got the same people with him now that he had for that album? Clarence White and whoever else?
Chris Ethridge: Wait'll you hear that little fucker play... whoo-ee!
GP: Clarence White has always been right. White's right--but he's an original friend of Chris Hillman. Chris and he played together years and years ago. McGuinn wouldn't know Clarence White from Mighty Sam if it wasn't for Chris. As a matter of fact, he probably never heard of Mighty Sam!
I got to admit I haven't...
GP: Well, Mighty Sam was an old, old Negro from Florida that put out a bunch of really great singles I'm sure you'd love. Model T. Slim's another.
CH: They should have just buried it, let it die; that was it, over. All it is now for McGuinn is ride it out till it ends... just for the money.
GP: A bad influence on children!
CH: It's not a creative, productive thing any more. He pays everybody's salaries every week, and he's the head Byrd.
GP: And everybody still writes all these comprehensive articles on it, like Crawdaddy and all that analytical bullshit.
CH: That's right. You read all this shit about superstar McGuinn.
GP: Singin' like Dylan, thinkin' like Dylan, sellin' like Dylan.
CH: It was the five Byrds together, Gene Clark and everybody. McGuinn just happened to be the last guy holding the bag. But that's what made it--the five together.
Seems to me at one time there was a rumor that White was gonna quit and come with you all.
GP: There's still a possibility of that.
CH: But, you know, Clarence has a family--a kid and one on the way. Clarence was originally asked to join this group, but he didn't want to take the gamble because of his wife and kids. He's been scuffling as long as I've known him. He quit school when he was thirteen and went on the road. He's been a musician since then, shuffling from honkytonk to honkytonk. And he finally gets in The Byrds and gets a salary, and you know he don't want to leave.
GP: But he gives up a lot of studio sessions by bein' on the road. It's a matter of keepin' yourself together and your phone hooked up. That's the way to be a studio musician and in a group at the same time.
Chris E: He loses a lot of money every time he goes out.
GP: Sure he does. Not go out, and then make more money in the studio than just recording with Linda Ronstadt and once in a while with the Everly Brothers. But the Burritos, man, everybody thinks we're just a country and western group. It's country music... but what people don't understand is that country music has as many fine points and as high a line drawn above it as Blues does. And everybody's longing to put it all together and just say it's this or that. They don't know 'cause they can't do it. Many a fine Blues musician has sat in with us and not been able to play what we play. You can't blame it on three-chord music, four-chord music, five-chord music, country music, or any other thing, man. It's just getting into what you do. And we're into it. And anybody who says that we're not is full of shit.
Has anybody said that you aren't?
GP: Sure they have--in Rolling Stone they have. An article written by our friend... by your friend and mine... ((the name forgotten perhaps))
CH: They look at us and they think we're puttin' them on, you know--up there yukkin' along and puttin' them on. That's not it. We're not. It's like he ((Gram)) says, man... everybody thinks, "That's three-chord music, that's easy. Country music is simple; I can cut it." But we've had people like Procul Harum sit in with us and blow it. They can't do it.
GP: You've got to feel it as much as anything else. It's like people have realized... they say, "Steve Cropper and others put all this fine stuff into Blues, even though they're white, because they have this knowledge of technology, and they've made something almost classical out of it." Well, that's what we're doing with country music. Other people are as well. There're just as many old funky artists ((in country)), there's just as much inside of it, there're just as few chords, there're just as many good musicians. And we would like to be able to make it immortal, in time, as Blues is being made immortal by young people. Only, it was created... no, not created, sustained and supported by white people; and it has an amazing amount of technology already in it. One steel player has to take care of as much as four horn players take care of, with nine pedals and a bar and a set of finger picks. That's a heavy job to do. There're very few cats who can cut it.
((Which cues the interviewer to ask more about Sneaky Pete... coming up in the next posting.))