Get Gene In! Induct ex-Byrds member Gene Clark into the Songwriters Hall of Fame
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Gene Clark (born Harold Eugene Clark, Tipton, MO, November 17, 1944) first attained notoriety as a member of the New Christy Minstrels, the popular folk music ensemble, who retained his services as vocalist after seeing him performing onstage in Kansas City in August, 1963. Within a year and a half, Clark achieved worldwide stardom as a founding member of Los Angeles folk-rock/country-rock/psychedelic pioneers, The Byrds. During his tenure as the band’s principal songwriter, Clark appeared on their biggest hits (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, both #1 on Billboard), penned many of their most beloved, influential works (including “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Set You Free This Time,” “Here Without You,” “She Don’t Care About Time”) and was the main composer of “Eight Miles High,” considered by many to be among the greatest singles of the 1960s.
After leaving the Byrds at the height of their fame, Clark embarked upon a fearless solo career that embraced everything from chamber pop (Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, 1967) and progressive bluegrass (The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark, 1968) to acoustic ballads (White Light, 1971) and sweeping cosmic prog (No Other, 1974). His final album, 1987’s So Rebellious a Lover, recorded with ex-Textones leader Carla Olson, has been hailed as a progenitor of the Alt-country movement.
What set Clark apart from most pop/rock writers of his generation was a truly exceptional ability to take typically adolescent subject matter (such as love and loss) and recast it within richly worded narratives that exhibited both strength and vulnerability, amid keening existential angst. The formidable combination of Clark’s stirring, vibrato-laden tenor with his uncommonly poetic lyrics and penchant for minor-key melodies enabled him to carve out a distinguished career as songwriter and performer.
With a back catalogue as rich and eclectic as Clark’s, it is not surprising that his works have been interpreted by a vast array of artists – from virtually every genre of music. Clark’s work has been covered by, among others, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, Richard Thompson, Death in Vegas (with Paul Weller), Hüsker Dü, Iain Matthews, Yo La Tengo, This Mortal Coil, and Soulsavers (with Mark Lanegan). Additionally, two separate tribute albums have been released, The World Turns All Around Him and Full Circle; and Scottish rock band Teenage Fanclub penned a moving elegy to Clark on their 1993 album, Thirteen.
Gene Clark passed away on May 24, 1991, at his home in Sherman Oaks, California, at the age of 46. While he was never to regain the same level of superstardom he saw as a member of the Byrds, his work continues to inspire and excite new generations of fans. In 2014, a veritable who’s-who of indie musicians (including members of Beach House, the Walkmen, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear) banded together for the unprecedented purpose of touring Clark’s 1974 magnum opus, No Other (regularly featured in top-album lists). It was an extraordinarily selfless gesture that conferred upon Clark the widespread, well-deserved acclaim and respect that eluded him in life.
Since 2014, the rediscovery of Gene Clark’s oeuvre has continued apace. Last year saw the release of an archival set of unreleased recordings, The Lost Studio Sessions, 1964-1982, which received universal acclaim. Additionally, the Clark-penned ‘Because of You,’ from 1971’s White Light, was featured in NBC’s hit series This Is Us, and subsequently released on the program’s official soundtrack album.
And 2018 will see the release of no fewer than two more collections previously unreleased material—a testament to his prolific songwriting skills—along with multiple re-releases of his back catalogue (including No Other and White Light), proving that a true artist’s worth is not gauged in dollars, but in the ability to captivate the imaginations of successive generations.
Harold Eugene Clark lies buried in St. Andrew's Catholic Cemetery, Tipton, Moniteau County, Missouri.
—Tom Sandford is a Toronto-based writer/editor. Since 2008 he has maintained a blog called The Clarkophile, an appreciation of Gene Clark's songwriting. Clarkophile.blogspot.com
For more information about Gene Clark, visit the Gene Clark website at Gene-Clark.com
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