BYRDSONG

Q: How do you make the leap from THIS:

1

TO THIS:

2

?

A: BRING IN THE GUY RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS:

3 

 AND THIS:

4

 

By the time The Limeliters split up in 1965 it’s fair to say they’d fallen several paces out of step with the times. Having started plying their folk trade 1959 at The Limelite club in Aspen, Colorado, the trio of Glenn Yarborough (bass violin/bass), Lou Gottlieb (banjo/baritone) and Alex Hassilev (guitar/tenor) didn’t waste much time in becoming successful, and by early 1960 their debut LP was in the shops. The above LP ‘Folk Matinee’ from 1962 is fairly representative of their records in the first half of the sixties and contains nothing that need trouble us here. Suffice to say I think my Gran liked them. Their records sold in huge amounts, they played hundreds of shows a year, but then those four lads came along from Liverpool and changed everything. In 1963 Glenn Yarborough dropped out to go it alone, and by 1965 it was all over.

Well, not quite. Because in 1968 the folkies temporarily reformed to record a one-off LP for Warner Bros. A lot had happened since 1965, and if a banjo and upright bass were old fashioned then they were positively Pre-Diluvian in the year of student revolts. So, to better reflect the times that had been a-changin’, various top session men, producers and arrangers were brought in to cool things up. Of the 6 arrangers credited on the back of the LP, one was LA’s experimental composer, tape manipulator and all-round musical revolutionary Joseph Byrd. Responsible the absolutely essential psychedelic classic ‘The United States of America’ (surely the only psych LP of the era not to feature any guitars) and the equally amazing but less heralded ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’, Joe was no doubt brought in as an attempt to encroach on the burgeoning hip avant garde rock scene. Quite how the big wigs at Warners thought this combination was ever going to work is anyone’s guess. I mean, I can’t imagine a single instance when a teenager in 1968 would choose to spend his paper round money on The Limeliters instead of The Doors or Iron Butterfly. No wonder the record has ended up in dollar bins the nation over.

Mr Byrd was involved in three songs on the LP. To my ears they are the best three songs on the record. But two of them would also be the best songs in a stack of many well-regarded records from the period. If you don’t believe me, check out ‘Only 18’ and ‘LA In The Summer’ for yourself on these handy dandy videos, as ripped from the perfect condition copy I plucked from one of the better bargain bins out there, and a rather appropriately in the dollar section in Downtown LA’s The Last Bookstore last summer.

 

The Limeliters weren’t the only folk act Mr Byrd worked his magic on. The year before ‘Seeds’ he provided electronic sounds and tape loops for Phil Ochs’ ‘Crucifixion’, the eight minutes and counting epic that closes the Pleasures Of The Harbor LP. It would have been a deep, dark song without all the eerie sound affects of Joe Byrd’s arrangement, but with them it’s a harrowing listen and a very ballsy release Phil Ochs and his label. And, as luck would have it, this is another record that crops up in dollar bins all the time. In fact I’ve bought so many copies to give to fellow music nerds that it must seem like I work as a time-traveling plugger for A&M. I’d say look out for a copy, but you could probably find it with your eyes closed it crops up that often.

After being a key player in the experimental 60s scene, Joseph Byrd  started teaching music at California State University in the early 70s. His recording days weren’t over though, and in 1975 he released  ‘A Christmas Yet To Come’, an album of Christmas carols as performed on synthesizers. The following year he released an album of patriotic music to tie in with the American bicentennial, ‘Yankee Transcendoodle’, again performed on synths. There’s been many other releases since. He’s also written music for commercials, scored films , developed sounds for Mattel toys, and even wrote a food column for a California newspaper. Pretty impressive stuff, but not as impressive as the volte face he The Limeliters complete.

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