Lost Classics! McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
In the late 1970s, country rock had pretty much run the course – the Eagles had appropriated the best parts of the genre and their watered down music reigned from the top of the charts. The true innovators like Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman of the Byrds were left to cash in endlessly on their past reputations by playing their old songs as part of ridiculous package tours.
That’s where these boys found themselves in 1977, fronting their respective bands on a European jaunt. The promoter had visions of people coming out in hopes of seeing a reunion; it didn’t happen for the most part, but the three did get together in London and that show was heavily bootlegged. Gene Clark, although he had the best voice of the three, was the most unstable – he had legendary bouts of stage fright and an overwhelming inferiority complex that led him to quit the Byrds years before.
Nevertheless, audiences saw sparks when the three got back together and so did Capitol Records, which signed them to a lucrative six-album deal in 1978. They were determined to show people that they weren’t the Byrds. There was some agreement struck years before that any combination of the musicians would not be the Byrds unless all five of the originals (McGuinn, Clark, Hillman, David Crosby and Michael Clarke) were participating.
So in 1979 McGuinn, Clark & Hillman came out, heavy with synthesizers and disco-fied beats and light on the characteristics that made the Byrds stand out. Actually, the three sounded more like the Bee Gees – McGuinn’s trademark 12-string guitar and his nasal lead vocals were gone, and the end result sounds really dated right now. Onstage, the three were able to perform their old Byrds songs so it made some kind of sense. But on vinyl, it was a mess.
Songs like “Don’t You Write Her Off” and “Long, Long Time” had promise, but they didn’t make a dent on the pop charts. By the time the trio went to record their second album, City, Clark was already pretty much a no-show (the record is credited to “McGuinn-Hillman featuring Gene Clark”) and the third album, McGuinn-Hillman (produced by the legendary Jerry Wexler in 1981) was the death knell. Wexler had the group recording songs by outside writers, like Graham Parker and Rodney Crowell. Although one song, “Between You and Me,” was a co-write between McGuinn and Parker. This was pretty much the end of the line for the storied partnership of the Byrds.
Byrd Watcher web site (Lots of good historical info)