Styles: Folk Rock
Roger McGuinn - Guitar, Vocals (in band: 1964)
Gene Clark - Guitar, Vocals (in band: 1964)
David Crosby - Guitar, Vocals (in band: 1964)
Michael Clarke - Drums (in band: 1964)
Chris Hillman - Bass Guitar (in band: 1964)
The nucleus of the Byrds formed in early 1964, when Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby came together as a trio. All three musicians had a background rooted in folk music, with each one having worked as a folk singer on the acoustic coffeehouse circuit during the early 1960s. In addition, they had all served time, independently of each other, as sidemen in various "collegiate folk" groups: McGuinn with the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio, Clark with the New Christy Minstrels, and Crosby with Les Baxter's Balladeers.
By early 1964, McGuinn had become enamored with the music of the Beatles, and had begun to intersperse his solo folk repertoire with acoustic versions of Beatles' songs. While performing at The Troubadour folk club in Los Angeles, McGuinn was approached by fellow Beatles fan Gene Clark, and the pair soon formed a Peter and Gordon-style duo, playing Beatles' covers, Beatlesque renditions of traditional folk songs, and some self-penned material. Soon after, David Crosby introduced himself to the duo at The Troubadour and began harmonizing with them on some of their songs. Impressed by the blend of their voices, the three musicians formed a trio and named themselves the Jet Set, a moniker inspired by McGuinn's love of aeronautics.
Crosby introduced McGuinn and Clark to his associate Jim Dickson, who had access to World Pacific Studios, where he had been recording demos of Crosby. Sensing the trio's potential, Dickson quickly took on management duties for the group, while his business partner, Eddie Tickner, became the group's accountant and financial manager. Dickson began utilizing World Pacific Studios to record the trio as they honed their craft and perfected their blend of Beatles pop and Bob Dylan-style folk.It was during the rehearsals at World Pacific that the band's folk rock sound—an amalgam of their own Beatles-influenced material, their folk music roots and their Beatlesque covers of contemporary folk songs—began to coalesce. Initially, this blend arose organically, but as rehearsals continued, the band began to actively attempt to bridge the gap between folk music and rock. Demo recordings made by the Jet Set at World Pacific Studios would later be collected on the compilation albums Preflyte, In the Beginning, The Preflyte Sessions and Preflyte Plus.
Drummer Michael Clarke was added to the Jet Set in mid-1964. Clarke was recruited largely due to his good looks and Brian Jones-esque hairstyle, rather than for his musical experience, which was limited to having played congas in a semi-professional capacity in and around San Francisco and L.A. Clarke did not even own his own drum kit and initially had to play on a makeshift setup consisting of cardboard boxes and a tambourine. As the band continued to rehearse, Dickson arranged a one-off single deal for the group with Elektra Records' founder Jac Holzman. The single, which coupled the band originals "Please Let Me Love You" and "Don't Be Long", featured McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby, augmented by session musicians Ray Pohlman on bass and Earl Palmer on drums. In an attempt to cash in on the British Invasion craze that was dominating the American charts at the time, the band's name was changed for the single release to the suitably British-sounding the Beefeaters. "Please Let Me Love You" was issued by Elektra Records on October 7, 1964, but it failed to chart.
In August 1964, Dickson managed to acquire an acetate disc of the then-unreleased Bob Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man", which he felt would make an effective cover for the Jet Set. Although the band was initially unimpressed with the song, they began rehearsing it with a rock band arrangement, changing the time signature from 2/4 to a rockier 4/4 configuration in the process. In an attempt to bolster the group's confidence in the song, Dickson invited Dylan himself to World Pacific to hear the band perform "Mr. Tambourine Man". Impressed by the group's rendition, Dylan enthusiastically commented "Wow, man! You can dance to that!", and his ringing endorsement erased any lingering doubts that the band had over the song's suitability.
Soon after, inspired by the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, the band decided to equip themselves with similar instruments to the Fab Four: a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar for McGuinn, a Ludwig drum kit for Clarke, and a Gretsch Tennessean guitar for Clark (although Crosby commandeered it soon after, resulting in Clark switching to tambourine). In October 1964, Dickson recruited mandolin player Chris Hillman as the Jet Set's bassist. Hillman's background was more oriented towards country music than folk or rock, having been a member of the bluegrass groups the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, the Hillmen (also known as the Golden State Boys), and, concurrently with his recruitment into the Jet Set, the Green Grass Group.
Through connections that Dickson had with impresario Benny Shapiro, and with a helpful recommendation from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the group signed a recording contract with Columbia Records on November 10, 1964. Two weeks later, during a Thanksgiving dinner at Eddie Tickner's house, the Jet Set decided to rename themselves as "The Byrds", a moniker that retained the theme of flight and also echoed the deliberate misspelling of the Beatles.
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