Throughout their various lineups, The Byrds certainly saw some huge talents pass through their ranks, from David Crosby to Gram Parsons, from Chris Hillman to Clarence White (not to mention, of course, the group’s one mainstay Roger McGuinn). The best songwriter of the bunch, however, was Gene Clark. Under the spell of Another Side Of Bob Dylan‘s word-drunk poetry, Clark wrote The Byrds’ most indelible — if not most well-known — tunes, with haunting vocals, plaintive melodies and an introspective lyrical vision.
Clark left The Byrds in 1966, reportedly due to his unwillingness to tour (the co-writer of “Eight Miles High” was afraid of flying), but also because of the bitter in-fighting that defined that era of the band. His best work was still ahead of him, though, including fab records with the Gosdin Brothers and Dillard & Clark. He released what is arguably his masterpiece, White Light, in 1971 with session guitarist extraordinaire Jesse Ed Davis serving as producer and arranger. It’s a close to perfect LP, pairing Clark’s beautifully realized songs with a spare-but-still-cosmic country rock sound.
Consisting of just acoustic guitar, harmonica and voice, Omnivore Recording’s new disc of Clark’s solo demos for the record includes embryonic versions of most of the tunes that ended up on White Light, along with a handful of numbers that didn’t make it to the LP. One of those lost songs, the fragile “For No One,” is a bona fide classic, a bewitching piece that recalls Dylan’s hallucinatory solo acoustic 1966 performances. Unlike Omnivore’s recent Townes Van Zandt collection, the demos on Here Tonight don’t necessarily improve upon the previously known renditions of these songs — but they are an absolutely essential companion to White Light. An intimate glimpse of a great songwriter at his most inspired. words/ t wilcox